When you think of Costa Rica, the bustling streets of San José or the cloud forests of Monteverde might come to mind. But venture a bit further, and you’ll find the Nicoya Peninsula, a lesser-known paradise that’s every bit as captivating. It’s a place where backpackers, surfers, and eco-travelers converge, all in search of the untouched beauty and laid-back vibes that the peninsula is known for.
Stretching along Costa Rica’s Pacific side, the Nicoya isn’t just about its famous surf spots or the picturesque sunsets. It’s a biodiverse haven, where the calls of howler monkeys echo through the forests and sea turtles nest on the shores. The vibrant local culture, infused with a pura vida spirit, complements the breathtaking natural beauty. Whether it’s ziplining through Montezuma’s canopies, diving into the blue waters of the Gulf of Nicoya, or savoring fresh ceviche at a beachside shack, every experience here is memorable.
I’ve ridden waves at dawn, trekked through dense rainforests, and immersed myself in local fiestas. Each adventure, from watching bioluminescence light up the shores to uncovering hidden waterfalls, has left an indelible mark on my traveler’s soul. To help you make the most out of your next trip, here are my top 12 things to see and do on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Ready to jump into all the coolest things to do on the Nicoya Peninsula? As noted above, there’s something for everyone at this serene vacation spot in Costa Rica. So keep reading to discover all these unique Nicoya Peninsula places to visit.
Are you looking to go surfing, snorkeling, and hiking in pristine natural settings? Or would you prefer to immerse yourself in the region’s wellness culture, with yoga retreats and a focus on healthy living, and simply unwind on beautiful, unspoiled beaches? Whatever you’re planning, these must-sees on the Nicoya Peninsula can accommodate your needs. Here’s all the best attractions on the Nicoya Peninsula that you should know about.
Santa Teresa and Malpais are neighboring beach towns that have become a magnet for surfers and beach lovers alike. With consistent waves and a laid-back atmosphere, it’s no wonder these spots are often buzzing with activity. Santa Teresa, in particular, boasts a long sandy stretch perfect for sunbathing, beach volleyball, or simply taking a leisurely stroll.
In the realm of the best things to do on the Nicoya Peninsula, catching a sunset at these beaches is a must. As the sun dips below the horizon, the sky transforms. It paints itself in hues of orange and pink, offering a mesmerizing backdrop against the surfers’ silhouettes catching their last waves. Beyond surfing, the area is rich in dining options. From local sodas serving Costa Rican staples, there are also chic cafes offering international cuisine.
For those looking to explore beyond the beach, nearby you’ll find yoga retreats, horseback riding opportunities, and even ATV tours. Whether you’re an avid surfer or not, Santa Teresa and Malpais are ideal destinations. They provide a perfect blend of natural beauty and local charm.
Montezuma, a bohemian town on the Nicoya Peninsula, is home to one of the region’s most iconic natural attractions: the Montezuma Waterfalls. A series of cascading falls set amidst lush tropical forests, these waterfalls are a refreshing retreat for travelers. The journey to the falls involves a short hike. This hike is an adventure in itself as you navigate through dense vegetation and might spot local wildlife.
The main waterfall plunges dramatically into a natural pool, making it a popular spot for daring cliff jumpers. However, if adrenaline-pumping activities aren’t your thing, you have other options. You can simply take a dip in the cool waters or relax on the rocks, enjoying the soothing sounds of cascading water.
Nearby Montezuma town offers a mix of local eateries, artisan shops, and a vibrant nightlife scene. It’s a place where travelers often find themselves extending their stay, drawn in by the laid-back vibe and natural beauty. When you’re on the Nicoya Peninsula, visiting Montezuma Waterfalls is essential. Exploring the surrounding town gives you a genuine taste of Costa Rican “pura vida.”
The Nicoya Peninsula, with its vast coastline and marine treasures, is a haven for water enthusiasts. And among its gems is Tortuga Island, a must-visit spot for anyone keen on exploring the underwater world. Located just off the peninsula’s southern tip, Tortuga Island is renowned for its exceptional snorkeling and diving opportunities.
Diving around Tortuga Island is undoubtedly one of the coolest things to do on the Nicoya Peninsula. The island’s surrounding waters are a sanctuary of marine biodiversity. Dive deep, and you might find yourself swimming alongside manta rays, playful dolphins, and schools of vibrant tropical fish. The coral formations here are intricate and colorful, providing a home to a myriad of marine species.
For those who aren’t into diving, snorkeling offers a window into this aquatic wonderland without the need for deep descents. The clarity of the water ensures that even from the surface, the views are nothing short of spectacular.
Many local operators offer comprehensive day trips to the island, often complemented by a beachside lunch and options for kayaking or beach relaxation. With its untouched beauty and rich marine life, Tortuga Island is a slice of paradise waiting to be explored.
If you’re a nature enthusiast, the Nicoya Peninsula won’t disappoint. One of its standout attractions is the Curu Wildlife Refuge, a biodiverse haven that showcases Costa Rica’s commitment to conservation. Located near Paquera, this refuge is a prime example of how tropical dry forests and mangroves can coexist in harmony.
The refuge spans several habitats, from mangroves and tropical forests to pristine beaches. As you hike its trails, you’ll likely spot a variety of wildlife. White-faced capuchin monkeys swing through the trees, while scarlet macaws add a splash of color to the green canopy. The trails are well-marked, catering to both casual walkers and avid hikers.
But it’s not just about the land. The marine life here is equally impressive. With its protected bay, Curu is a nesting site for several sea turtle species. If you time your visit right, you might witness the magical moment when hatchlings make their first journey to the sea.
For those looking to immerse themselves in nature, Curu Wildlife Refuge offers a genuine and unspoiled Costa Rican experience. It’s a reminder of the beauty that exists when nature is allowed to thrive undisturbed.
When you think of Costa Rica, lush rainforests and diverse ecosystems come to mind. And the Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve is a testament to that image. Located at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, it’s the region’s first protected area and a beacon for conservationists worldwide.
The reserve boasts two main trails that cater to different fitness levels. The shorter trail, Sendero Sueco, offers a gentle walk through the forest. Meanwhile, the longer trail, Sendero Cabo Blanco, leads you to a secluded beach with views that are worth every step. Along the way, you’re likely to encounter howler monkeys, coatis, and a myriad of bird species.
Among the unique things to do on the Nicoya Peninsula, a visit to Cabo Blanco stands out. It’s not just a hike; it’s an opportunity to witness conservation in action and understand the importance of preserving such pristine habitats. Whether you’re a birdwatcher or a hiker, Cabo Blanco is a great destination. For those looking to escape the tourist trail, it offers an authentic slice of Costa Rican wilderness.
Playa Samara is not just another beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula; it’s a destination that has captured the hearts of many. Its laid-back vibe seamlessly blends with the local culture, offering visitors a genuine taste of Costa Rican beach life. The bay is protected by a coral reef. This ensures that the waters remain calm, making it an ideal spot for families, swimmers, and those wanting to try stand-up paddleboarding.
A stone’s throw away is Playa Carrillo. This beach is the quieter cousin of Samara, less touched by commercial activities. Its crescent-shaped shoreline, fringed with towering palm trees, provides a picturesque setting for those seeking tranquility. Whether you’re laying down for a sunbath, having a picnic, or simply taking in the views, Carrillo promises serenity.
Back in Samara, the town is buzzing with life. From dive shops, you can embark on underwater adventures. Beach bars serve the freshest of cocktails, and local eateries dish out Costa Rican flavors, ensuring there’s something for everyone. For budding surfers, the gentle waves of Samara act as a welcoming playground. Amidst all this, some simple pleasures truly stand out. Enjoy a cold beverage, feel the softness of white sand underfoot, and listen to the rhythmic sound of waves crashing.
When looking for Nicoya Peninsula things to do, Nosara stands out, especially for those seeking a blend of adventure and relaxation. This coastal town has gained international acclaim for its yoga retreats and wellness centers. Travelers from all over the globe flock here to rejuvenate their minds, bodies, and spirits.
Nosara’s beaches, particularly Playa Guiones, offer more than just sunbathing spots. They’re renowned for consistent surf breaks, attracting both beginners and seasoned surfers. Surf schools dot the shoreline, ready to guide newcomers to ride their first wave.
But it’s not all about surfing and yoga. The Ostional Wildlife Refuge nearby is a haven for olive ridley sea turtles. If you time your visit right, you might be in for a treat. You could witness the awe-inspiring arribada, where thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
Dining in Nosara is an experience in itself. The town boasts a diverse dining scene. From local sodas serving traditional Costa Rican dishes, there are also upscale restaurants offering gourmet international cuisine. After a day of activities like yoga, surfing, or turtle-watching, relaxation is key. There’s nothing better than indulging in a meal that satisfies both your hunger and your soul.
Playa Tambor, nestled in a horseshoe bay, offers a serene escape from the more tourist-heavy spots on the Nicoya Peninsula. Its gentle waves make it a family-friendly destination, perfect for those looking to relax by the sea without the hustle of crowded beaches.
The town itself has a laid-back vibe, with local fishermen often seen hauling in their catch of the day. For those interested, fishing trips can be arranged, giving you a chance to try your hand at reeling in something fresh. Nearby, the lush Tambor Hills provide hiking opportunities, where you can spot diverse wildlife and get panoramic views of the bay.
Golf enthusiasts will appreciate the challenging course at the Tambor Tropical Beach Resort. The course is set amidst a backdrop of verdant hills and the azure sea. After a day of activities, the local restaurants won’t disappoint. They serve a mix of Tico favorites and international dishes, often prepared with freshly caught seafood.
For travelers seeking a mix of relaxation, local culture, and a touch of adventure, Playa Tambor is a must-visit on the Nicoya Peninsula.
If you’re the adventurous type, Barra Honda National Park is your ticket to an underground world on the Nicoya Peninsula. This isn’t your typical national park. While it has beautiful dry tropical forests and hiking trails, its main attraction is the intricate system of limestone caves.
The park has around 42 caves, but only a few are open to the public. The most famous, Terciopelo Cave, offers a challenging but rewarding exploration. Visitors are equipped with helmets, lights, and guidance. With the help of experienced park rangers, they descend into the depths to witness stunning stalactite and stalagmite formations. It’s a surreal experience, feeling like you’ve stepped into another world.
Above ground, the hiking trails provide opportunities to spot monkeys, coatis, and a variety of bird species. The viewpoints offer panoramic vistas of the Nicoya Gulf, making the trek utterly worthwhile.
Additionally, Barra Honda National Park is steeped in history. The caves were once thought to be ancient indigenous burial sites. Artifacts have been discovered, hinting at the rich cultural heritage of the region. The park also plays a crucial role in conservation, protecting not just the caves but also the diverse flora and fauna that call this place home. Educational programs and workshops are often held, aiming to raise awareness about the importance of preserving this unique ecosystem.
Whether you’re delving into the subterranean wonders or hiking up to scenic overlooks, Barra Honda promises a unique blend of adventure and natural beauty.
One of the best things to do on the Nicoya Peninsula, especially for wildlife enthusiasts, is visiting the Ostional Wildlife Refuge. This protected area is globally renowned for its olive ridley sea turtle nesting events, known as “arribadas.” During these events, thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs, creating a spectacle that’s both humbling and awe-inspiring.
The arribadas usually occur between July and December, with the peak months being September and October. It’s a natural phenomenon that attracts researchers, conservationists, and tourists alike. While the sight of countless turtles is the main attraction, the refuge itself is special. It is a haven for various wildlife, including iguanas, coatis, and numerous bird species.
If you’re planning a visit, it’s essential to go on a guided tour. Not only will you gain insights into the turtles’ behavior, but you’ll also learn about the conservation efforts in place. Additionally, you’ll ensure that your presence doesn’t disturb these magnificent creatures.
Many of the guides are locals. They provide a unique perspective on the importance of the refuge to the community and the broader ecosystem. Remember, this isn’t just a tourist attraction; it’s a vital nesting ground, and respecting the environment is paramount. Whether you’re a nature lover or a budding biologist, the Ostional Wildlife Refuge is a destination to consider. For those just looking for a once-in-a-lifetime experience, it promises an unforgettable encounter with nature’s wonders.
Tamarindo is known for its excellent surf conditions. It attracts both beginners and seasoned surfers. If you’ve never surfed, Tamarindo offers the perfect opportunity. Numerous surf schools dot the shoreline, offering lessons for all levels.
But there’s more to Tamarindo than just waves. The town is bustling with activity, from its vibrant nightlife to its array of shops selling local crafts and souvenirs. Foodies will appreciate the diverse culinary scene, with restaurants serving everything from traditional Costa Rican dishes to international cuisine.
For those wanting more than just the beach, nearby estuaries have something special. They offer kayaking and boat tours, showcasing the region’s rich biodiversity. Birds, monkeys, and even crocodiles can be spotted in these waters. The surrounding area is also a treat for nature lovers. It boasts hiking trails leading to hidden waterfalls and panoramic viewpoints.
Adventure enthusiasts have a lot to choose from. They can try zip-lining, horseback riding, or even deep-sea fishing. All these activities are available in and around Tamarindo. In essence, Tamarindo offers a mix of adventure and relaxation, making it a must-visit spot on the Nicoya Peninsula.
Mal País, located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, isn’t just a surfer’s paradise. It’s also home to some of the most exhilarating canopy tours in Costa Rica. Imagine zipping through the treetops, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the dense tropical rainforest on the other.
Among the coolest things to do on the Nicoya Peninsula, the canopy tours in Mal País truly stand out. As you glide from tree to tree, you’re not just getting an adrenaline rush; you’re also getting a front-row seat to the diverse wildlife of the region. Scarlet macaws, howler monkeys, and even the occasional sloth might be your audience.
But the adventures in Mal País don’t stop at the treetops. The area is also known for its pristine beaches, perfect for sunbathing, snorkeling, and even horseback riding along the shore. The nearby Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve has hiking trails. These trails meander through the forest, leading to secluded waterfalls and showcasing the area’s rich biodiversity.
Local operators prioritize safety above all. They ensure all equipment is up to standard, and guides are knowledgeable in treetop navigation and local ecology. Whether you’re a thrill-seeker or just someone looking to see the rainforest from a new perspective, Mal País offers an unforgettable canopy experience.
Looking for more content on the top things to do on the Nicoya Peninsula? Here are some popular questions (and answers) I get that will help you plan your trip to Nicoya Peninsula:
Reaching the Nicoya Peninsula is relatively straightforward. Most travelers fly into Liberia or San José. From Liberia, it’s a shorter drive to the peninsula. However, if you’re coming from San José, consider taking a ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera. This route offers breathtaking views and a unique travel experience. Whichever way you choose, the journey promises to be part of the adventure.
Costa Rica is one of the cheapest places to fly to. The ideal time to visit the Nicoya Peninsula is during the dry season, which runs from December to April. This period promises sunny days and vibrant nightlife. However, the green season, from May to November, has its charm. While you might encounter rain, the landscapes are lush, and there’s tranquility in the air. Plus, it’s less crowded, making it perfect for a serene getaway.
Generally, the Nicoya Peninsula is safe for tourists. However, as with any travel destination, it’s crucial to exercise caution. Avoid isolated areas, especially after dark, and always be aware of your surroundings. Secure your belongings and valuables. Engaging with locals can also provide insights into areas to explore and those to avoid.
The Nicoya Peninsula is a treasure trove of experiences. It’s renowned for its stunning beaches, perfect for sunbathing and surfing. Beyond the coast, you’ll find vibrant towns brimming with culture and history. The local cuisine is a treat, and the wildlife, especially in protected areas, is diverse. Whether you’re an adventurer or a relaxer, the peninsula caters to all.
Yes, renting a car is a fantastic idea. It offers the freedom to explore hidden gems at your own pace. While the main roads are in good condition, be prepared for some rugged terrains as you venture off the beaten path. Always check local road conditions, especially during the rainy season, and ensure your vehicle is equipped for the journey.
Absolutely! Nicoya in Costa Rica is a gem waiting to be explored. It’s a blend of pristine beaches, lush rainforests, and vibrant local culture. The region offers a unique “Pura Vida” experience, away from the typical tourist traps. Whether you’re into surfing, hiking, or just relaxing by the beach, Nicoya promises a memorable getaway.
Nicoya is renowned for being part of the Blue Zones, areas where people live longer, healthier lives. Besides its longevity secrets, it’s famous for stunning beaches, rich biodiversity, and vibrant local traditions. The peninsula boasts archaeological sites, surf spots, and a unique blend of indigenous and colonial heritage, making it a diverse travel destination.
Wrapping up a trip to the Nicoya Peninsula leaves you with more than just memories; it’s an experience that genuinely changes you. This isn’t your typical tourist destination. It’s a place where nature meets adventure, and where every turn introduces you to something unexpected.
From the laid-back beach towns to the dense jungles, Nicoya offers a slice of Costa Rica that’s raw and relatively untouched. If you’re looking to dive deep into Costa Rican culture, surf some epic waves, or just find a secluded spot to relax, this peninsula has got you covered. Don’t just take my word for it; pack those bags and see for yourself. The Nicoya Peninsula is waiting.