On the mainland south of Puntarenas, the coast road (sometimes signposted as the Costanera Sur) leads down to Quepos and continues, in various states of paving, south to Dominical (covered in Chapter 7). At first, the landscape is sparse and hilly, with the coast coming into view only intermittently, but things improve considerably once you’re past the huge trucks heading to the container port and refineries at hideous Puerto Caldera, the terminus of the new toll road linking San José and the Pacific. About 30km southeast of Puerto Caldera, just across the wide crocodile-ridden mouth of the Río Tárcoles, Parque Nacional Carara encompasses a range of habitats and is known for its rich birdlife. Beyond Carara, and a different beast altogether, is the resort of Jacó, which thanks to its relative proximity to San José is more popular than it might otherwise be. Better beaches (and an expanding surf scene) lie further south, particularly at Playa Hermosa and Playas Esterillos. From here, it’s an uneventful 45km to Quepos and Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, the last stretch along the coast from the hamlet of Parrita comprising a long corridor of African oil-palm plantations, a moody landscape of stout, brooding tree sentinels.
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