» NORTH PACIFIC | GUANACASTE
This region and province is mostly visited for its long, half-moon-shaped beaches and for its dry climate. Most of Costa Rica has a very well defined rainy season that goes from mid-May to mid-November (and thanks to this the country boasts some of the most beautiful rainforests in the world), but Guanacaste is the exception to the rule… its rainy season is limited to sporadic afternoon thundershowers. The different beach towns can be reached (from San José) by car (a 4-hour drive average), bus (5-7 hours) or a short domestic flight (30-45 minutes). Ideally, a trip to Guanacaste should be combined with a small detour to visit Monteverde (cloud forest), the Arenal Volcano, or both… since they are pretty much in the same direction as Guanacaste.
» CENTRAL PACIFIC | PUNTARENAS, HERRADURA, CALETAS, JACÓ BEACH AND MANUEL ANTONIO
This is the closest coastal and beach region to San José and the Central Valley (2-4 hour drive depending on destination). Puntarenas, Caletas, Herradura, Jacó and Manuel Antonio are the most popular beach areas. The vegetation here is greener and lusher thanks to more rain and humidity. It is the transitional type of forest, half-way between the dry forest in Guanacaste and the rainforest in the Southern part of the country. Beaches are smaller, cove-type, and the green vegetation reaches the ocean on gentle slopes from the Talamanca mountain range. There is much more bio-diversity here, and it is common to see monkeys, toucans, sloths, and macaws. The region has some of the finest hotel accommodations in the country, most of them small, 15 to 40 room cozy hotels. Surfing is the King of Sports in this area, especially in Jacó and Manuel Antonio beaches.
» SOUTH PACIFIC| OSA PENINSULA, CORCOVADO AND GOLFITO
This region is the most virgin, untouched rainforest region that you can find in the Americas… except for remote areas in the Amazon Jungle of South America. It is the last frontier, the land of adventure and the place for wonderful experiences, all courtesy of Mother Nature! Most of the hotels are not accessible by road from other parts of Costa Rica, so, in most cases, a combination of a domestic flight, a short car drive and in some cases a boat ride are needed to reach these exotic jungle lodges.
» COCOS ISLAND
For its size, isolation, and state of conservation, Cocos Island constitutes one of the most privileged natural sites in the world. With an important endemism and a unique biological diversity, the island can be catalogued as a natural laboratory, ideal for conducting research about the evolution of the species and for long-term monitoring of the environment. www.cocosisland.org
The Pacific provides Costa Rica´s most consistently exciting fishing, with sailfish, marlin, tuna, wahoo, roosterfish, mackerel, mahi mahi and snapper being caught regularly. It is the abundance of billfish that has made that area famous, with sailfish and marlin being taken in phenomenal numbers. There are plenty of ports out of which you can fish the Pacific. In the northwest province of Guanacaste, charter boats work out of Coco, Ocotal, Flamingo, Tamarindo and Carrillo. Further south, you can fish out of Puntarenas, Tambor, Punta Leona, Quepos and Manuel Antonio, Marina Los Sueños in Herradura Beach, Dominical, Drake Bay, Golfito and Zancudo.
The Pacific has the country´s best diving, with less coral, but plenty of big fish. The most popular Pacific diving area is the northwest, where dive centers in Playa del Coco, Ocotal and Hermosa offer trips to several spots in the Culebra Bay and the Bat Islands (Islas Murcielagos), to the northwest, where divers often see sharks and manta rays. The dive center in Flamingo usually takes people to Santa Catalina Island, about five miles off shore, which is another good spot to see sharks and other big fish. The best visibility and water temperatures in the northwest are found from June to September, though the conditions can change from day to day.
There is good snorkeling in Curu National Wildlife Refuge, and near the beach resorts of Tambor and Montezuma. There is also usually good snorkeling off the second beach in Manuel Antonio National Park, and around the points and islands between Dominical and Marino Ballena National Park. However, the best diving off the Pacific coast is found at several underwater reefs near Caño Island, which can be explored on dive trips offered by some of the lodges in nearby Drake Bay. Contrary to the northwest, the best visibility in the waters around Caño occurs during the dry season, though the water tends to be pretty clear year round.
Cocos Island, a national park located some 330 miles southwest of the Costa Rican mainland, has the country´s best diving by far. While the island is covered with virgin forest, the ocean that surrounds it contains abundant marine life, and the visibility is good year round. Divers at Cocos Island regularly see such impressive animals as manta rays, dolphins and hammerhead sharks, which sometimes gathering in schools of 30 or 40 animals. It takes about 36 hours to reach Cocos Island, and some companies have ships that run regular dive cruises there, which last ten days and include three dives per day.
» SEA KAYAKING
Paddling a kayak on the open ocean can be an exciting way to experience Costa Rica´s marine and coastal wonders, and several companies offer sea kayaking tours along different parts of the Pacific coast. Sea kayaking is much easier than river kayaking, and most trips can be done by people who have never tried the sport before.
A sea kayaking tour is an opportunity to get a close look at the myriad of life below and above the ocean´s surface -from flying fish and sea turtles to frigate birds and pelicans- and to explore some hard to reach offshore islands and coastal estuaries. Outfitters currently offer sea kayaking tours in the Bahia Culebra, out of Guanacaste´s Hermosa Beach, around the islands and estuaries near Manuel Antonio and Curu National Wildlife Refuge, and the Golfo Dulce area, out of Puerto Jimenez and Golfito.