Visiting Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

As a true mecca for beaches, surfing, snorkeling, and other tropical activities, even Costa Ricans dream of visiting the Nicoya Peninsula.

surfing at Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Extending out from Costa Rica’s northwest into the Pacific Ocean, the Nicoya Peninsula boasts excellent beaches for relaxing and surfing. It’s a corner of Costa Rica that began drawing international tourism relatively recently, so it combines authentic Costa Rica with comfort and luxury.

The Nicoya Peninsula is also a Blue Zone — one of the places with the longest-lived people on earth.

What’s their secret? Read on to find out, and to plan your perfect Nicoya Peninsula trip.

How to get to the Nicoya Peninsula from San José or Liberia

Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia, Guanacaste began receiving regular international service in 1995. It now welcomes about a million passengers annually and is a significant driver of tourism to the Nicoya Peninsula.

That’s for good reason: From the Liberia airport, you’re less than an hour’s drive to spectacular beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula. Follow Route 21 south, and take your pick of right-hand turns toward the Pacific Ocean. (Route 151 to Hermosa Beach and Route 155 to Tamarindo Beach are popular choices.)

If you’re visiting the Nicoya Peninsula from San José or elsewhere on the Costa Rica mainland, you have several transportation options. The most straightforward is to drive north on Route 1 to Liberia, then head south into the peninsula as detailed above.

More adventurous (or time-conscious) travelers can consider domestic airlines, which offer service between San José and Liberia or can fly you directly to the Nicoya Peninsula towns of Tambór, Tamarindo and Nosara.

Finally, you can take the Paquera ferry, which carries passengers (and cars) on a picturesque journey from the port city of Puntarenas across the Gulf of Nicoya to the southern Nicoya Peninsula.

Roads in the southern Nicoya Peninsula are frequently in bad shape. If you intend to drive, research your route carefully beforehand — particularly during the rainy season, when you may face river crossings. If you must drive, we recommend a larger vehicle with four-wheel drive.

Why is the Nicoya Peninsula a Blue Zone?

Let’s be honest: If residents of the Nicoya Peninsula had discovered the secrets of longevity, everyone in the world would know them by now.

That said, there are some hints as to why the Nicoya Peninsula is one of just five Blue Zones on earth.

According to National Geographic, the longevity of Nicoya Peninsula residents “lies partly in their strong faith communities, deep social networks, and habits of regular, low-intensity physical activity.”

Others have attributed the Blue Zone to a diet rich in traditional Costa Rican foods — rice, beans, corn tortillas, plantains and other regional fruits, and high-antioxidant local coffee.

Of course, a trip to the Nicoya Peninsula might not add years to your life, but you can take advantage of plenty of activities — watching stunning sunsets, practicing morning yoga or experiencing rainforest meditation, for example — that will help you feel like a new person.

Things to do on the Nicoya Peninsula

Costa Rica has more than 800 miles of coastline, and some of the best stretches of it are on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Whether you’re looking for a secluded beach or strong swells for surfing, you can’t go wrong on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Sámara Beach and the surrounding town are perfect for a family vacation, with plenty of outdoors (and underwater) activities for everyone. Nearby, at Nosara, you’ll find a similarly beautiful beach with a heavier focus on surfing and yoga.

In the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa is a pure backpacker’s heaven, with miles of beach for surfing, walking or meditating.

Santa Teresa is also home to an immense, all-natural tide pool that is perfect for snorkeling. Those more interested in snorkeling should check out the water by Montezuma and Cabuya Island, which are protected by the Cabo Blanco Absolute Nature Reserve.

At the Nicoya Peninsula’s southern tip, Cabo Blanco has wildlife, hiking and white-sand beaches. Cabo Blanco was Costa Rica’s first nature reserve, and it marks the beginning of the country’s impressive stance on environmentalism and conservation.

Best beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula

Samara Beach in Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica
Samara Beach in Nicoya Peninsula is great for families and sunbathers

Not everyone likes the same qualities in a beach, so making a definitive ranking of Nicoya Peninsula beaches difficult. However, there are several standout beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula. Here are some of our favorites:

  • Santa Teresa: If you love to surf, you’ll love Santa Teresa. The breaks are consistent, and there are nearby options for everyone from beginners up to expert-level surfers. The miles-long beach is beautiful, too.
  • Samara: This is a smaller beach town, with calmer waves suitable more for swimming than surfing. It’s ideal for sunbathers and for families.
  • Ostional: From August to December, hundreds to thousands of sea turtles come ashore on this beach to lay their eggs in what’s known as an arribada. It is truly a sight to behold. Use a licensed tour operator to ensure you don’t negatively impact this natural marvel.

When to visit the Nicoya Peninsula

The most popular time to visit the Nicoya Peninsula is during the dry season (December – April). Though it will be more crowded, there is plenty of beach for everyone.

Visiting during the rainy season (May – November) means smaller crowds but more difficult travel. Remember, driving through parts of the Nicoya Peninsula can become virtually impossible throughout these months.

December is a popular option, as it’s the beginning of the dry season and you can often still find sea turtles nesting at Ostional Beach.

Summary: Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica

Tourism to the Nicoya Peninsula continues to grow, and for good reason. The combination of nature and culture makes it quintessential Costa Rica.

You can surf excellent waves at dawn, eat delicious local fruit and coffee for breakfast, and clear your mind with a meditation session in the rainforest — all before lunch.

Your body will thank you for the sun and relaxation. While your Nicoya Peninsula experience won’t necessarily extend your life expectancy, it will almost certainly add joy to your days.