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 Nicoya Península South

Discover the diversity route

In response to an invitation from the ICT (Costa Rican Institute of Tourism) and several Tourism Chambers of the area, we embarked on a tour to discover the Southern Coastal area of the Nicoya Peninsula.

Our three intense and tiring days of exploration turned out to be surprising from beginning to end.

Historically, Southern Nicoya had been left out of the most visited tourist circuits - not because of lack of merit but rather due to lack of accessibility. As the roads network from Guanacaste and connectivity via ferry from Puntarenas have improved substantially, tourism has been growing and the available offerings have been diversifying by leaps and bounds.


In a visionary decision, the neighboring communities of Paquera, Tambor, Cóbano, Montezuma, Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen and Mal País have come together and become organized to shape a different destination, one that has plenty to offer.


The Diversity Route as a joint entity is a different circuit, is a destination that is truly something else.

No doubt a potential jewel which will be conserved as much as possible in its untamed form – without much polishing – as their inhabitants have decided to preserve the rustic spirit and its natural essence as present and future development guidelines.



Our adventure toward the southern Nicoya starts in Puntarenas, when on a cloudy day we boarded the comfortable Tambor III ferry to cross the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya and reach the pier at Paquera on the southeast corner of the peninsula.  We were received with great hospitality, and immediately boarded a boat to go on a tour of the coast with its tens of islands and isles that populate the local waters.

Despite the proximity to Guanacaste, visiting the southern part of Nicoya is a radically different experience.

Coastal seascapes of calm waters, a climate less dry in the summer, a smaller scale and very personalized tourist industry, plus small and picturesque little towns, provide a background very different to that found further north, in the progressive and modernized Guanacaste.


At the flora and fauna level, the area has a unique quality that translates into a large variety of species: this being an area of climatic transition between tropical dry forest and tropical rain forest, it’s possible to simultaneously observe in this area the species from both ecosystems – thus broadening not only the diversity of fauna that can be seen here, but and also the possibilities of interactions that can be observed.



An excellent observation site is the Curú Wild Life Refuge located between Paquera and Tambor. Here animals are plentiful and roam freely, uninhibited by the presence of visitors.

When it comes to landscapes, diversity is also manifested in a grand way: countless bays hidden among the rocky estuaries, dense coastal mangroves, beautiful islands and little isles sprinkled all over the coast form quiet canals surrounded by rock formations and mountains covered by an evergreen jungle which hangs towards the ocean as if seeking to dive into it.  And amid this scenery, also hidden between bays and forests, you find elite boutique hotels accessible only by sea.


This is the ideal area to enjoy quiet sessions of kayaking, sport fishing, diving or snorkeling.  Touring the famous San Lucas Isle is fascinating, a former jail now transformed into a site of great historical value which is also a wildlife sanctuary.

Tambor Beach from the airplane.

West of Paquera, after visiting Curú, we come to Tambor- a picturesque fishing town inserted in a spectacular bay and a gigantic beach, intersected by the mouth of several rivers and estuaries. In addition to beach activities, Tambor is an ideal place to observe the fauna, particularly the fowl, either while touring the Pánica River or the mangroves, or by land, while riding on horseback through the beaches and forests. 

In all this area a successful program of reintegration

  of scarlet macaws is being developed.

Tambor is also a perfect spot from which to take a tour of the Tortuga Island, a nearby archipelago of gorgeous scenery, beautiful vegetation and impressive turquoise waters.

Isla Tortuga

Continuing to the west moving away from Tambor, the landscape changes and the diversity route offers us new sights.  Arriving at Cóbano we can choose to take the road to the left towards Montezuma or follow the one on the right to reach the area of Manzanillo, Mal País and Santa Teresa, famous surfing destinations.


We choose first the left route heading to Montezuma, once a famous hippie enclave transformed today into a pleasant tourist town with a very familiar atmosphere during the day that turns into a party town at night.  In addition to the usual beach activities, from here you can visit magnificent waterfalls, the unusual Cemetery Isle or the Absolute National Preserve of Cabo Blanco.

Montezuma downtown.


On the way to Cabo Blanco, it is worth the time to stop at Cabuya to see an ancestral ficus of over 72 feet in diameter, declared by the INBIO (National Biodiversity Institute) as the “Exceptional Tree of 2009”.


Another area attraction is the Isla Cabuya, a very old cemetery some 100 meters from the coast but accessible on foot during low tide.

This ancient graveyard that the indigenous people used since pre-Hispanic times continues being used these days as a cemetery but it has also become an important tourist attraction.

The Cabo Blanco Absolute National Preserve, very close to the cemetery, is the oldest natural preserve in the country and a sanctuary for an ample variety of marine fowl and as well as mammals such as porcupines, anteaters, coyotes, deer, monkeys and coatis along with elusive felines such as jaguarondis, margays and ocelots.

The preserve combines areas of dry forest with others of tropical cloud forests, hosting in excess of 160 arboreal species – among which are gigantic specimens of Pochote 150 ft. high or an American mahogany over 200 ft. high.

Once more taking the route to the north, the calm waters seen in the protected southern area soon become more dynamic and restless, making it obvious that we are now looking towards the west, towards the open seas.  The coastal area of Mal País, Playa Carmen, Santa Teresa, Playa Grande and Avellanas is an extensive chain of beaches and communities where surfing and their nightlife are the absolute main attraction although it also has many other possibilities such as diving, fishing, snorkeling, canopy, wild life observation, horseback riding and observation of cetaceans. About this area…we’ll tell you much more in the next issue.



How to get there:

You can go via the Puntarenas Ferry or one can choose to fly from Liberia or San José to Playa Tambor on either Sansa or Nature Air. Another option (albeit somewhat lengthier), is to go from Guanacaste on route 21 from Nicoya to Paquera.

An option reserved exclusively for the adventurous is going to Manzanillo from Sámara, on the western part of the Peninsula, taking route 160 – but this route can only be travelled during the dry season and in a 4x4 vehicle. (Rivers and estuaries must be crossed).

We now invite you to read the other articles of this issue on this virtual version of the magazine.



Visit our latest issue on virtual paper
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