Introduction to the Nicoya Peninsula
The Nicoya Peninsula juts out into the Pacific Ocean from Costa Rica’s northwest province of Guanacaste. Within this tropical peninsula is a mountainous and sparsely populated area with an abundance of wildlife. It has a stunning coastline with dramatic and unspoiled long stretches of sandy beaches backed by jungle, many of which are only accessible by dirt tracks. The small villages in the Nicoya Peninsula have an authentic ‘Tico’ charm and people in the region live a simple, rural way of life built around farming.
Tourism in Nicoya is centered along the peninsula’s stunning Pacific coastline and the beaches are without a doubt some of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. Dotted along the coastline are a number of small fishing villages, each with its own appeal, but all sharing a laid-back atmosphere suited to those who come to enjoy the region’s spectacular nature by diving, snorkeling, surfing, wildlife spotting or hiking. Sámara and Carrillo are two of the most visited beach towns. Situated in a large bay with a long, gentle white-sand beach, Sámara has one of the region’s best swimming beaches. Carrillo is a quieter, less developed town with an idyllic, palm-fringed white sand beach. In the morning you can still see fisherman bringing in their catch for the day and the beaches are pristine and often deserted.
What not to miss in the Nicoya Peninsula
Buena Vista Beach
Off the beaten path, Buena Vista beach is a hidden gem tucked away at the end of a dirt track to the north of Nicoya Peninsula.
Kayak along the Buena Vista River to see blue herons, roseate spoonbills and maybe even a few crocodiles. From there you can weave through mangrove tunnels, enjoying the sights and sounds of this untouched jungle.
Stand-Up Paddle Boarding
After a quick introduction to the basics of stand-up paddle boarding you’ll be able to head out to explore the dynamic coastline and views of the Nicoya Peninsula. Stand-up paddle boarding is much easier to learn than it looks, and it is a great and fun way to get some exercise while on vacation and to enjoy some unique views of the coastline.
Take to the waves and catch some surf off the golden beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula with a professional surfing instructor. The Nicoya Peninsula is a great place to learn to surf and by the end of the lesson you’ll have a great chance of standing up on a wave and riding it back to the shore!
Between July and January the Olive Ridley, Leatherback, Hawksbill and Black Sea Turtle all lay their eggs in the sands of the Camaronal Beach Reserve. This is one of the world’s most important nesting locations and the Camaronal Reserve is essential for the continued survival of these endangered animals.
Samara Beach is a beauty, but just along the coast, the palm-fringed Carrillo Beach is just as nice and much less crowded. It’s a short cab ride away or a fun 45 minute walk, during which you can usually spot a monkey or two.
What you need to know
When to go
The green (rainy) season begins around May with frequent showers building to a peak from September to November when the region becomes a lush, green paradise. The dry season is very long in Nicoya, beginning around November and lasting all the way through to April. The beginning of the dry season is the most beautiful time to visit as skies are clear and blue and the forest is a vibrant green after the soaking from the rainy season. Towards the end of the dry season, cars driving along the dirt roads kick up dust and the forest loses a little bit of its shine…but it is soon restored to its full glory as the green season kicks in again.
How to get there
The Nicoya Peninsula is easily reached from Costa Rica’s international airport in Liberia. Small airstrips also serve Tamarindo, Nosara, Punta Islita and Tambor, with regular flights from San José.
There are a number of public buses to the Nicoya Peninsula with the region’s main inland hubs found in Santa Cruz and Nicoya. Private shuttles also run to the major beach destinations and there are fast boat services between Jacó and Montezuma.
Where to stay
The Nicoya Peninsula is one of the hottest centers for tourism in Costa Rica meaning there are plenty of accommodation options to suit all budgets from simple and boutique B&Bs to luxurious oceanfront hotels and everything in-between. Even the smallest villages and most deserted beaches have a handful of accommodation options. Due to the area’s popularity the best accommodation gets booked up quickly, so make sure to plan well in advances especially if you’re traveling during high season. It’s also worth noting that some accommodations are closed between September and October.
Samara can be reached by any of the destinations in Costa Rica by road and between many there are shuttle services to Samara. Alternatively if you’re renting your own vehicle to reach more remote places especially along the roads less traveled, you will need a 4WD vehicle. Keep in mind that during the rainy season many roads are impassable especially along the southwestern coast of the peninsula. Make sure to ask at your accommodation about the conditions of the roads before heading out.