Nicoya PDF Print E-mail
The southern Nicoya Peninsula is one of Costa Rica's most secluded gems. From the hilly interior the mountains sweep down to the Pacific Ocean, creating some of the most beautiful and solitary beaches of Costa Rica.

Nicoya Costa RicaBecause of poor or non-existent roads, this tropical paradise has long been off the beaten track for travelers in Costa Rica. But roads and transportations are improving slowly, and tourism is becoming an important part of the economy. Thankfully, hotels and businesses have still remained small and mostly privately owned, helping to preserve the relaxed and unhurried atmosphere of the peninsula. Travel here is still slow and it is best to resign yourself to a leisurely pace.

As it has always been easier and faster to travel to the southern Nicoya Peninsula by boat from Puntarenas, the region belongs to the province of Puntarenas rather than Guanacaste. Roads connecting to the northern province Guanacaste are still few and in poor condition.

While Guanacaste is known for its dry climate, the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula receives more rain annually, making it a transitional zone between dry forest climate and tropical rain forest. The wildlife here is common to both ecosystems and many animals are seasonal commuters.

The region experiences two extremely different seasons: the dry season begins at the end of November and until May the sun drenches the land. Many trees lose their leaves and cars driving on the rutted dirt roads stir up clouds of dust, covering the roadside foliage and houses with a dull, brown layer. The first rainfalls to relieve the dry season occur in May, initiating the "little summer", a period of rain and showers. Rainfall increases during the following months to becoming very heavy in September to November, when the peninsula turns into a dripping lush rainforest. Temperatures during the rainy season, called winter here, may sometimes drop to 17ēC, while in summer, the dry season, the thermometer may climb up to 38ēC.

It takes a bit longer to travel to the Southern Nicoya Peninsula than to many other parts of Costa Rica, but it's worth it; you will certainly have some beautiful vacations here.

The Gulf of Nicoya which separates the Nicoya Peninsula from the mainland of Costa Rica is a stunning marine and coastal landscape of wetlands, jagged rocky islands and cliffs, extensive mangrove habitat, and high biodiversity.

A geological fault has once caused the land to submerge; leaving exposed only the tops of what were formerly low hills. These are the numerous islands which today dot the Gulf.

Nicoya Costa RicaAt its upper end, the Gulf is shallow and muddy. The Tempisque River washes much soil and organic material into the estuary, and mangrove swamps thrive on the shores. In Costa Rica mangroves are protected because they play an important role for aquatic life. In their foliage birds are nesting and the mud at their roots shelters mussels, crabs and shrimps.

The water in the upper Gulf is rich in nutrients, allowing algae to flourish which feeds fish and molluscs. Most of the area's inhabitants depend on food from the sea. From July to August however, nobody is allowed to fish, as this is the breeding time for maritime life.

The lower Gulf of Nicoya is much different from the upper part. There are few mangroves and the area is even less populated. Densely forested hills and promontories touch the sea, closing off secret bays.

The water here is saltier, clearer and much deeper: between 30 and 180 meters. There are many fish in the lower Gulf but by far fewer shrimp and shellfish.

Currently, only few of Costa Rica's tourists visit this region - an advantage for those who love nature instead of crowds.

Native Pride

Nicoya is the land of the Chorotegas, Costa Rica's strongest indigenous culture. Although a destructive colonization process took its toll, the population's hearts remains true to their legacy. In fact, the town's name pays tribute to its most prominent Indian chief.

Considered the oldest settlement in the country, Nicoya's history dates back to centuries before conquistador Gil Gonzalez Davila took over in the early 1500s. Back then it served as an administrative center for the agricultural communities nearby, with well-defined trade routes traced as far as the Nicaraguan border.

Nicoya Costa RicaAlthough centuries have passed the town seems suspended in time. Ox-drawn plows, machetes and straw hats are common in the countryside where farmers make the most out of their land. Traditional pottery is still a hot commodity and can be purchased on the streets just like it was when the native inhabitants sold it to neighbor tribes. The 500 year old church of San Blas is another living testament to Nicoya's charisma, an old fashioned adobe construction surrounded by a beautiful tree-shaded plaza.

However, the outskirts of the town are a whole different story. Wildlife runs free through the forests and the waves meet the land with enthusiasm rarely seen on other beaches. The infrastructure is more rustic and the natural beauty of the local flora and fauna steals the show.
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