Nicoya Peninsula is home to some of Costa Rica’s best-known beaches, several of which are easily accessed from San José on the new Caldera Highway. Each offers a distinct experience, from the coves of chilled-out Montezuma, a former fishing village, to the forest-flanked coastline of Mal País and Santa Teresa, to the huge waves of Jacó and Playa Hermosa, two of the most popular places to surf in the country. Further south, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio has several extraordinary beaches, with white sands and azure waters.
The best travel tips for visiting Nicoya, Costa Rica
Visiting the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is an experience unlike any other. With its pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and unique cultural heritage, Nicoya is a haven for nature lovers and adventure seekers alike. Whether you're exploring the stunning coastline, hiking through the jungle to hidden waterfalls, or discovering the traditional Costa Rican way of life in charming local towns, there is no shortage of things to see and do.
But it's not just about the activities; Nicoya's laid-back atmosphere and friendly locals make for an unforgettable holiday where you can truly disconnect and unwind. So if you're looking for an off-the-beaten-path destination that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated, look no further than the Nicoya Peninsula
Things to do in Nicoya Peninsula
Nicoya offers a wealth of activities and experiences that are sure to delight visitors of all ages and interests. From surfing and hiking to wildlife watching and cultural immersion, there is no shortage of things to do in Nicoya. These are the best things to do.
#1 Enjoy the beaches
The Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica is home to some of the most beautiful and unspoiled beaches in the world. From the world-renowned surf breaks of Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Guiones to the quiet seclusion of Playa Carrillo, there is a beach for everyone on this tropical paradise.
Playa Santa Teresa
Located on the southwestern tip of the peninsula, this is a haven for surfers and beachgoers alike. With its long sandy beach and consistent waves, Santa Teresa has become a mecca for surfers from around the world. But it's not just the waves that make this beach special - the natural beauty of the surrounding jungle and the laid-back atmosphere of the town make it an ideal destination for those looking to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
Just north of Santa Teresa lies Playa Guiones, another world-class surf destination. But Guiones is more than just a surfer's paradise - the beach is also known for its stunning sunsets and a wide variety of activities, from horseback riding to yoga retreats. With a lively town center and plenty of options for dining and accommodations, Guiones is a great spot for those who want a mix of adventure and relaxation.
If you're looking for something a little quieter and more secluded, Playa Carrillo might be the perfect choice. Located on the Nicoya Gulf side of the peninsula, Carrillo is a tranquil beach with calm waters and soft, white sand. The beach is backed by lush vegetation, and there are plenty of shady spots to relax and enjoy the scenery. While there aren't as many restaurants and hotels in the area, Carrillo is a great place to get away from it all and enjoy the natural beauty of the area.
#2 Explore the rainforest
This region is a nature lover's paradise, and the region's lush rainforests are one of its most precious resources. With a variety of reserves and parks to explore, you can immerse yourselves in the natural beauty of the area and get up close and personal with a wide variety of wildlife.
Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve
This is one of the most popular rainforest destinations in Nicoya. Located at the tip of the peninsula, the reserve encompasses over 1,100 hectares of protected land and is home to a diverse array of flora and fauna. You can hike through the jungle and spot animals like monkeys, coatis, and armadillos, or explore the beach and rocky cliffs along the coast. With stunning views and a peaceful, unspoiled atmosphere, Cabo Blanco is a must-visit for nature enthusiasts.
Curú Wildlife Reserve
Curú Wildlife Reserve, situated on the southern end of Nicoya, is another popular destination for rainforest exploration. With over 1,500 hectares of protected land, Curú is home to a variety of habitats, from mangroves to dry tropical forest. You can take guided tours to see the reserve's resident wildlife, including howler monkeys, iguanas, and sea turtles, or simply wander through the forest and soak up the beauty of the area.
For those looking to combine their rainforest exploration with a refreshing dip, Montezuma Waterfalls is a must-visit. This series of cascading waterfalls is nestled in the heart of the rainforest, offering a stunning backdrop for swimming and hiking. You can follow the river upstream to discover hidden pools and smaller waterfalls, or simply relax and take in the natural beauty of the area.
#3 Visit Montezuma
Visiting Montezuma is an exciting and unique experience that anyone interested in outdoor adventure will enjoy. Famous for its surf spots and colourful sunsets, there's something to do each day without having to sacrifice the tranquillity of feeling like you're on holiday. It's possible to go scuba diving with its abundance of reefs and coastlines, take a stroll through El Chorro Waterfall or witness the teeming wildlife surrounding Montezuma.
Montezuma is also a great way to learn more about Costa Rican culture; restaurants serve up traditional cuisine, there are several local markets offering souvenirs and skilled artisans demonstrating their crafts around town. Despite being off the beaten track compared to other coastal towns in Costa Rica, visiting Montezuma is just what one needs for a healthy dose of escapism from everyday life.
#4 Outdoor activities
Whether you're looking to ride the waves, explore the rainforest canopy, or simply take in the breathtaking scenery, Nicoya has something for everyone.
Surfing and other water sports are a major draw for travellers in Nicoya, with world-renowned surf breaks like Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Guiones attracting surfers from around the globe. But surfing is just the beginning - the area also offers opportunities for stand-up paddleboarding, kayaking, and even sport fishing. With warm water and consistent waves, Nicoya is the perfect destination for water sports enthusiasts of all levels.
For those who prefer to explore the area on land, horseback riding is a popular activity in Nicoya. Guided tours are available for riders of all levels, with options to explore the beach or the mountains. Horseback riding on the beach is a particularly popular option, with the chance to take in the stunning ocean views and spot wildlife like iguanas and crabs.
For an adrenaline-fueled adventure, canopy tours like zip-lining are a must-try activity in Nicoya. There are several tour companies in the area that offer zip-lining and other canopy experiences, allowing you to soar above the rainforest canopy and take in the breathtaking views from above. Other activities like rappelling, hanging bridges, and Tarzan swings are also available for those looking for a more heart-pumping experience.
#5 Wildlife watching
There are several wildlife tours available in Nicoya that offer you a chance to get up close with some of the area's most fascinating creatures. One of the most popular wildlife tours is the turtle nesting tour, where you can observe the nesting and hatching of several species of sea turtles, including the Olive Ridley, Leatherback, and Hawksbill turtles.
Another popular tour is the birdwatching tour, where you can spot a variety of colourful birds, including toucans, parrots, and macaws, in their natural habitat. Finally, monkey and other wildlife spotting tours offer you an opportunity to see howler monkeys, spider monkeys, and other animals that call Nicoya home.
#6 Indulge yourself in yoga and meditation retreats
Nicoya is the perfect destination for your next luxury yoga and meditation retreat. Spend a rejuvenating few days surrounded by breath-taking scenery - from serene beaches to tropical jungle - as you practice mindful activities such as outdoor hikes and soothing soaks in natural hot springs.
Experience the beauty of Costa Rica’s fertile terrain and develop healthy habits that you can take home with you, such as morning yoga sequences, restorative postures, guided meditations and healthy meals using local fresh produce. Put aside the stress of daily life and reconnect with your true nature in nature - Nicoya awaits!
#7 Explore the coastal town of Sámara
Nestled on the west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, the charming coastal town of Sámara is a must-visit destination for travellers seeking an authentic taste of Costa Rican culture. Known for its beautiful beaches, vibrant nightlife, and laid-back atmosphere, Sámara is a hub of activity and adventure.
Whether you're looking to relax on the beach, explore the local markets, or try your hand at surfing, Sámara has something for everyone. With its warm, welcoming community and breathtaking natural beauty, this town is the perfect place to immerse yourself in the beauty and culture of Costa Rica.
#8 Go snorkelling and scuba diving in Manzanillo
With its stunning turquoise waters and vibrant marine life, this is the perfect snorkelling and scuba diving destination. Whether you're floating around the depths of the ocean observing schools of colourful fish or exploring sunken ships among other mysterious coral reef structures, Manzanillo has something to offer everyone looking for an unforgettable adventure in the aquamarine paradise that is the Pacific Ocean.
Best cities to stay in Nicoya
The Nicoya Peninsula is home to several charming towns and cities that offer a unique blend of Costa Rican culture, natural beauty, and adventure. Some of the best cities/towns to stay in Nicoya include:
A laid-back beach town known for its world-class surf breaks, vibrant nightlife, and bohemian vibe. This is the perfect destination to immerse yourself in local culture, dine at delicious restaurants, or just kick back and relax on a secluded white sand beach while taking in the stunning sunset views.
A small, bohemian town with a hippie vibe, surrounded by lush rainforest and home to stunning waterfalls, art galleries, and a lively nightlife. With its beautiful beaches, magnificent sunsets and a myriad of natural landscapes to explore, staying in Montezuma is the perfect way for you to immerse yourself in one of the most extraordinary tropical destinations around.
A bustling tourist town with a lively beach scene, plenty of restaurants and bars, and easy access to nearby national parks and natural attractions. A stay in Tamarindo offers you a unique opportunity to connect with nature, immerse themselves in local culture and indulge in an array of exciting activities — perfect for those seeking relaxation or adventure.
How to get around
Travelling around in Nicoya is easy if you have your own car, but even if you don’t, there are plenty of options to get around this peninsula. These are your best options.
Renting a car is a great option for those who want to explore Nicoya on their own. There are several car rental companies in the area, and you can choose from a variety of vehicles, including SUVs and 4x4s.
Public buses are a budget-friendly option for getting around Nicoya. The local bus system is reliable and connects Nicoya to nearby towns and cities. You can also take the express bus, which runs between Nicoya and San Jose.
Popular routes from Nicoya:
How many days do you need in Nicoya
The number of days needed to visit Nicoya, Costa Rica would depend on your interests and the activities you wish to pursue. Nicoya is a region of the Guanacaste province known for its beaches, surfing, and ecotourism.
If you are interested in exploring the beaches and surrounding natural areas, a stay of at least 3-4 days would be appropriate. However, if you are looking to fully immerse yourself in the local culture, sample traditional cuisine, and explore historical landmarks, you may want to plan for a longer stay of around 5-7 days.
What is the best time to visit
The best time to visit Nicoya in Costa Rica depends on what you're looking for. The dry season in Nicoya typically runs from December to April, with warm, sunny days and lower humidity. This is the peak tourist season, and you can expect larger crowds and higher prices. However, the dry season is the best time for outdoor activities, such as hiking, surfing, and wildlife watching.
The rainy season in Nicoya runs from May to November, with more frequent and heavy rainfall. While the rainy season can bring cooler temperatures and high humidity, it is also the best time to see lush green landscapes and experience the region's natural beauty. Additionally, there are fewer tourists during this season, which can lead to lower prices and quieter beaches.
How to get here
The quickest way to get to the southern Nicoya Peninsula is to fly to Tambor Airport. Failing that, the most direct route is on one of the daily ferries from Puntarenas to Paquera or, less usefully, Playa Naranjo. Buses generally meet these ferries and travel on to Cóbano and Montezuma.
Driving here from northern Guanacaste and Liberia is relatively straightforward (from San José it’s still faster to take the ferry). Hwy-21 runs all the way to Lepanto (137km from Liberia and 116km from Tamarindo). The highway reverts to a narrower, bumpier road for another 9km to Playa Naranjo, before becoming a bone-shaking gravel track for the remaining 24km to Paquera. Normal cars can usually pass this section, but it’s not advisable in heavy rain.
From Paquera the road is surfaced again to Cóbano, though it remains narrow and pot-holed throughout. The road between Cóbano and Montezuma is only partly surfaced and south of Montezuma the roads are all rough dirt tracks, best tackled in 4WD vehicles only.