Guide to Costa Rica: Pacific Coast
A guide to Costa Rica's Pacific coast from Nicoya Peninsula in the north to the Osa Peninsula in the south.
There are many beautiful beaches spanning Costa Rica's Pacific coast with some quite spectacular hotels.
Rather than concentrate on the larger resorts of Jaco and Tamarindo, the following are some of our favourite beach destinations, which still retain their character and are not too touristy.
The laid-back villages of Nosara and Samara on the Pacific coast provide a welcome antidote to the busier resorts further north.
Once nothing more than small fishing hamlets, both have grown to include a good selection of hotels, beachfront cafes and restaurants, but still retain a peaceful, local atmosphere.
The beaches here are some of the best in the country and are fringed by tropical forest or mangroves. Surfing, horse riding along the beach, nature walks and mountain biking are all on offer if you want to be active.
As there is little development down here it's best to have your own hire car to give you the freedom to explore should the mood take you.
Set on the Central Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio is possibly the most scenically beautiful national park in the country, with lush tropical forest fringing pristine white sandy beaches.
The park itself includes four sheltered beaches, which stretch along the undulating coastline. The first of these is separated by a natural land bridge or 'tombolo'
, formed over many years by sand accumulation.
A trail leads from the main entrance to the park, winding up through the forest to open out at Punta Catedral (100m), revealing stunning views across the jungle-covered tombolo and out to sea.
White-faced Capuchin monkeys clatter around in the treetops, while coatmundi and iguanas scurry about the forest floor. Other common sights include sloths, toucans and parakeets.
The park's beauty has made this area understandably popular, and the village has grown in recent years into a bustling town, with a variety of cafes and restaurants.
Most hotels are located among the trees on the hillside overlooking the sea.
The large rolling waves off the beaches of Dominical have made this Central Pacific resort very popular with surfers.
The once tiny fishing village has certainly grown in recent years, but it still retains the charm that now, sadly, eludes some of its larger neighbours further up the coast.
Playa Dominical stretches for around 4km along the coast and is smattered with a selection of hotels, lodges, cafes and restaurants.
In fact the food here is some of the best in Costa Rica, with a great selection of seafood restaurants to suit every pocket. The small 'sodas' (snack bars) selling fresh lobster and crab are not to be missed.
One of the greatest draws of Dominical is its proximity to Corcovado National Park, which can be easily accessed on a day trip for a chance to see some truly incredible wildlife. Tours tend to sell at a premium locally, so it is worth booking in advance.
There is also plenty to do around Dominical itself, including horse riding and walking tours to the nearby Nauyaca Waterfalls.
Strong swells and rip tides make this an unpredictable area for swimming, but excellent diving and snorkeling opportunities can be found on day trips to Caño Island, or along the coast at the Marino Ballena National Park.
Stretching over the western flank of the Osa Peninsula, the Corcovado National Park is, according to National Geographic Magazine, the most biologically diverse region in the world.
Boasting the largest remaining stretch of tropical lowland forest on the planet, the park is home to thirteen major ecosystems, 140 species of mammal, 400 bird species and 116 amphibian and reptile species.
Osa also harbours the largest population of Scarlet Macaw in Central America, more than 100 species of butterflies and six of large cat, including the elusive jaguar.
In layman's terms, this astounding biodiversity means you can expect some truly fantastic wildlife viewing. Within a few days it is not unusual to spot Howler, White-faced Capuchin and Spider monkeys, two and three-toed sloth and Silky Anteater, not to mention a variety of colourful parrots, toucans and hummingbirds.
The marine life rivals that of the forest and the Isla del Caño Biological Reserve, 20km off the coast of the peninsula, is a particular hotspot for scuba divers or snorkelers.
The water here is clear and calm, perfect conditions to see the stingrays, manta rays, moray eels, barracudas and variety of other fish and shark species that inhabit the reserve.
If you don't want to get your hair wet a boat trip across the Golfo Dulce or to Caño Island provides its own excitements, with pods of dolphins playing chase in the wake. From December to April the park also falls into the migratory path of humpback whales.