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Costa Rica - Central Pacific

General Information

The Central Pacific nestles some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Playa Herradura, Jaco Beach, and Hermosa are the most popular. Jaco Beach boasts a thriving and lively real estate growth. Residential and commercial property in various Central Pacific locations including Quepos and Manuel Antonio is selling rapidly.

Located in between Jaco and Quepos, Playa Esterillos and Bejuco Beach are the newest locations of interest among real estate buyers in Costa Rica. Playa Matapalo is also a popular location. The Central Pacific offers a fabulous atmosphere.

Manuel Antonio is the most visited National Park in Costa Rica and nightlife at Jaco is absorbing and thrilling. South of Jaco, Playa Hermosa is known as a surfer's paradise. Playa Herradura with an 18-hole golf course and marina is attracting a wealthy retiree crowd to the Central Pacific.

Costa Rica's mid Pacific coast ranges over 500 miles from the top of Puntarenas to the Panama frontier. This expanse of coast line varies from bustling port cities welcoming cruise and cargo ships, to wide, white beaches with powerful waves -long favorites of the surfing crowd- to jewel like half moon coves like Manuel Antonio. Visitors can find enough options to spend their entire vacation in the region, even if the activity of choice is meditating in the sun.

A full spectrum of beaches and picturesque can be encountered along the coast, with varying degrees of development. Towns can range from stretches of beachfront property with extensive choices of hotels, restaurants and tourist activity, to nearly deserted beaches containing a cabin or two. Due to its ecological significance as a transition zone between Guanacaste's tropical lowlands and the more verdant pacific coast, this region boasts both national and private protected areas.

The region starts in the city of Puntarenas, a narrow finger of land jutting into the Golfo de Nicoya. In the 19th century this port city served the entire country, but as development increased and Puerto Limon was established on the Caribbean coast, Puntarenas gained more significance as the closest beach area of the Central Valley. Several hotels and resorts still draw busy Costa Ricans for a quick and easy weekend at the beach.

Nearby Puerto Caldera now provides the pacific coast with its port city. Several cruise lines harbor there en route to the Panama Canal, allowing their passengers to enjoy various exciting day trips along the coast or further a field. Visitors traveling in this manner can now plan trips across Costa Rica and rejoin their ships a few days later in Puerto Limon. Cargo ships from Central America and all over the world unload goods and take on shipments of Costa Rican products. Differing from the sport fishing that takes place further down the coast, this area is a hub of the fishing industry and numerous restaurants offer the fresh and delicious fare.

A drive to the pacific coast brings visitors to bridge over the Rio Grande de Tarcoles. Whether in a rental car, or with a tour bus, make sure to stop in the other side and view the numerous American Crocodiles nearly always found sunning on the banks. These creatures range in size, but it wouldn't be unusual to spot an extended family of 10 to 12 foot giants lazing around the water's edge.

The transitional nature of the region is exemplified beautifully in this private reserve. One of the closest wildlife observation spots to the Central Valley, this 11,600 acre reserve is home to species common to both dry lowlands and the humid southern coast, several of the endangered. In fact, one of the largest populations of scarlet macaws in Costa Rica finds sanctuary in this reserve. The largest species in the parrot family, these brilliantly flamboyant family creatures migrate at dusk from the Carara forest to the swampy mangroves, providing a nightly, display for visitors. Only certain trails are open to tourists, but professional guides -some of whom have spearheaded programs to  increase the macaw population- are available to hike in restricted areas. Insect repellent, sun hats and binoculars are recommended.

Jaco beach is one of the closest towns along the mid-Pacific coast to San Jose. This laid-back area provides a large range of options for accommodations, within nearly any budget.

Activities, both on and off the water are abundant, including horseback riding, fishing and kayaking. Instructors are available for many of the water sports, and visitors often find themselves paddling along side of manta ray or dolphin. Of course, surfing still reins supreme in Jaco, as the waves in the area are said to be among the best in the country, while the town offers many activities for when the sun goes down.

Much of Costa Rica's advertising is done "word of mouth", and many visitors wax poetic about the picture post-card views of Manuel Antonio. Visitors enter the area through the fishing village of Quepos, where sport fishing enthusiasts from all over the world come to try their luck for sailfish, marlin or tuna, among others. Once a banana - exporting town, Quepos has recovered nicely by means of tourism, with a multitude of first rate restaurants and quite a few choices of hotels.

Nearby Isla Damas provides an important destination for those interested in experiencing the incredible wildlife that Costa Rica has to offer. Whether by gently kayaking along with a guide or hopping a safari boat, a trip through the beautiful estuaries and mangrove forests will provide up close viewing of monkeys, sloths, marine birds and reptiles. There's even a floating restaurant on the estuary where visitors can enjoy a typical lunch while comparing notes about the day's animal count.

Just up hill from Quepos is the village of Manuel Antonio. A seven kilometer road winds up the slope, passing many small elegant hotels in a variety of price ranges. Owned by tropics-lovers of many nationalities, these hotels offer many options of style and level of seclusion. Several provide their guests with Breath taking Ocean views, with amenities such as " infinity pools" and Jacuzzi's in which to enjoy the sunset in style. Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the smallest, yet most visited in the country, remains one of the remaining Habitats of the mono titi-or squirrel monkey. But to the forest corridor that still remains into the hills outside the park, these and the other 3 species of monkey found in Cost Rica  -the howler, white faced and spider monkeys- all often can be sighted poolside from your hotel. In fact, sometimes guests can be heard laughing about their early wake ~ up call courtesy of their neighborhood howler alpha male!

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the gems of the country's protected areas. To one side, the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific, to the other, and flank white sand beaches the 600-plus hectares of rainforest. Trails lead along the seaside section of the park, including one that leads to the unique "tombolo" formation of Cathedral Point. A "tombolo" is an island that become connected to the mainland by a neck of land, formed by sand deposits over thousands of years. The picturesque view has become one reason Manuel Antonio has such year round visitation. The fact that the park includes one of the best snorkeling beaches found on the mid-Pacific coast, as well as over 100 species each of mammals and birds only adds to its popularity!

Central Pacific map by Google

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Travel Tips

Take the highway out of San Jose to the west toward Alajuela. You'll exit into highway 34, which will swing to the south and on down toward the coast. From there, you'll follow the coast road to the east. If planning on heading across the Golfo de Nicoya, go to Puntarenas for the ferry. Flights are also available to the mid-Pacific town of Quepos, as well as Playa Tambor on the Peninsula de Nicoya.


Temperatures hover in the eighties in this tropical area. During the rainy season. May through November, the climate gets very humid but lends to the tropical atmosphere as well as often bringing the temperatures down a bit.

What to bring

With the humidity come the mosquitoes. Be sure to bring along insect repellent as well as soothing aloe lotion to relieve the itching. When hiking, avoid perfume and fragrant shampoos, this only attracts biting insects. As with other areas of Costa Rica, a hat, sunglasses and sun block are wise choices. Lightweight cotton clothing, sturdy hiking shoes for trails, as a rain poncho and snorkeling equipment are all you should need for this area.

Things to do

  • Birdwatching
  • Fishing
  • Diving
  • Snorkeling
  • Walking
  • Rafting
  • Horseback Riding
  • Swimming
  • Surfing

Places to go

Isla Tortuga - Located off the coast of Puntarenas, this privately owned island has pristine beaches and nature trails.

Carara Biological Reserve - Located where the dry and moist ecosystems converge, this reserve is home to monkeys, crocodiles and other wildlife. Guided hikes are available.

Manuel Antonio National Park- Dry tropical forest with wildlife, nature trails and beaches.

Isla Damas - Protected estuaries and mangrove forests. Great spot for kayaking.

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