Costa Rica’s southern Nicoya Peninsula is full of natural beauty and rich in biodiversity. Jagged and mountainous from its volcanic origins, with pockets of shimmering beaches, the landscape is a diverse transition zone between tropical dry forest and wet tropical forest.
The Gulf of Nicoya’s placid waters stretch between the Peninsula and mainland. The tops of underwater mountains rising from the sea dot the Gulf as its many islands. The Gulf is an aquatic paradise rich in marine life and water sports opportunities.
Access to the region is easy; ferries travel several times daily from the Central Pacific port town of Puntarenas to the Peninsula village of Paquera. Additionally, the small airstrip at Playa Tambor receives several national flights daily on both Sansa Airlines and Nature Air (only 20 minutes from San Jose).
The area’s scenery, easy accessibility, and grand abundance of outdoor activities make it a top place to visit in Costa Rica. Stay at Vista Las Islas Hotel & Spa at Playa Organos, near Paquera. This exotic tropical getaway sits up on a promontory above the beach and features 18 rooms with private balcony terraces and ocean views of the Nicoya Gulf and famed Tortuga Island. The boutique luxury hotel can arrange all of the activities listed here on the Nicoya Gulf and southern Nicoya Peninsula. The hotel is conveniently located just a 10-minute drive away from the Paquera ferry terminal.
Top Things to Do & See on the southern Nicoya Gulf and Peninsula
Famous for its sugary white sand beaches lined with tall swaying coconut palms, Tortuga Island is a little piece of heaven. The uninhabited Tortuga Island receives the Nicoya Gulf’s most ecotourism visitors. Around the island, the shallow Gulf waters glow a transparent aquamarine, ideal for exploring the undersea world by snorkeling or scuba diving. With very few ocean currents around the island, average water visibility ranges from 30 to 50 feet or more, especially in dry season (mid-December to April). Warm tropical waters are teeming with giant schools of fish and other marine life.
Vista Las Islas Hotel can arrange for boat tours and also sea kayaking tours, plus snorkeling or scuba diving, to Tortuga Island from the nearby Ballena Bay.
The Curú Wildlife Refuge, between Paquera and Tambor, protects tropical dry forest, beach and mangrove estuaries and rivers. Curú is privately owned and part of a large farm that combines sustainable agriculture and forest management with the protection of wildlife and nature. For eco-tourists, the Curú Wildlife Refuge is a highlight attraction of the southern Nicoya Peninsula. Despite its small size – only 84 hectares (207 acres) – Curú is home to a plentiful and diverse wildlife population spread over five ecological habitats, including tropical dry and wet forest, mangrove swamps and marine habitats. More than 232 bird species, 78 kinds of mammals, 87 types of reptiles, 25 amphibian species, and 500 different plants live in the area.
The entrance to Curú is 6 km after Paquera and 16 km before Tambor. There are several trails within the Refuge, including short, easy trails and long, difficult trails that can take several hours to complete. Curú is open daily from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m. Entrance is $10 per person per day. Vista Las Islas Hotel can arrange guided tours with a naturalist.
The three waterfalls at Rio Grande, near Paquera, are still a hidden “secret” among visitors to the southern Nicoya Peninsula. Vista Las Islas Hotel offers an exclusive tour to the area. It is a 15-minute moderate hike through forest to get to the waterfalls; once there, you can swim in the pristine pools. Lunch, transportation and guide are included in the tour.
Near Tortuga Island, the horseshoe-shaped beach of Playa Tambor opens to the calm Ballena Bay on the Nicoya Gulf. High bluffs surround the pristine, gray volcanic sand beach and its translucent, turquoise water. Snorkeling and scuba diving are popular activities here.
Playa Tambor is a perfect place for families with kids since the shallow waters are exceedingly calm, offering excellent swimming for even the most timid. Low tide exposes a wide swath of fine sand where you can play beach volleyball or soccer. You also can play golf on the 18-hole course at Los Delfines Golf & Country Club by the sea. The valley of Tambor is surrounded by lush forested hills which form part of the Biological Wildlife Corridor of the Nicoya Peninsula.
Tambor is home to the only domestic airport in the southern Nicoya Peninsula. Tambor is a 20-minute drive from Vista Las Islas Hotel.
Just below Vista Las Islas Hotel, Playa Organos is a calm wide bay with a picture-perfect sandy beach, surrounded by jungle. The bay is safe for swimming and you have views to Tortuga Island. Vista Las Islas Hotel can arrange horseback riding and kayaking tours at Playa Organos.
San Lucas Island, in the middle of the Nicoya Gulf, was a penal colony for 117 years until it closed in1991. It had the reputation of being the roughest jail in Costa Rica. In 2008, Costa Rica declared the island a national wildlife preserve. The island is home to a wide variety of wildlife, such as howler monkeys, snakes, deer, pheasants, and at least 8 species of bats. In the waters surrounding the island, there live sharks, rays and sea turtles. Vista Las Islas Hotel can arrange a guided tour of San Lucas Island; 25-minute boat ride each way from Paquera.
Vista Las Islas Hotel can arrange half-day or full-day sportfishing in the Nicoya Gulf or out in the Pacific Ocean. Catch roosterfish, jacks, mackerel, needlefish, tuna, snapper and mahi-mahi inshore, or go for the sailfish, marlin, wahoo or yellow fin tuna offshore.
By Shannon Farley