This region of the country stretches from the city of Puntarenas to the mouth of the Río Barú in the area known as Dominical de Osa. It has three cities attractive to tourists and well developed for tourism: Quepos, Jacó and Puntarenas. The region also comprises the islands in the Gulf of Nicoya, as these are mainly accessed from Puntarenas. A wet and rainy climate allows for greater biodiversity in the beaches and hills next to the coast; thus, there is a transition from tropical wet forest to tropical forest to tropical dry forest. These ecosystems provide habitat for numerous plant and animal species that are protected in several wilderness areas. Also included within this zone is Isla del Coco, which, though almost 600 kilometers from the port of Puntarenas, falls under this province’s jurisdiction.
The region’s main attractions are its coast and protected wilderness areas. The coast is made up of numerous beautiful beaches, several of which are less than two hours from San José, allowing for quick access. With regard to wilderness areas, the region features wildlife refuges, national parks and biological preserves. Other important attractions are of cultural and recreational interest, including the various organized events—especially sporting events—that distinguish the region. Also worthy of note is the scenic beauty along the coastal highway that connects the Caldera area with the Quepos and Manual Antonio region.
SAN MATEO CITY
At 254 meters above sea level, San Mateo is a picturesque city that maintains a rural-community feel. It stands out in Costa Rican history as a rest stop for Mora y Cañas’ troops on their way to do battle with William Walker, as well as a “napping point” for hundreds of oxcarts loaded with coffee on the trip to Puntarenas and then packed with goods for the return to San José. It was in these lands that gold was first found in Costa Rica.
Today San Mateo is a stop for tourists on the way to Garabito and Aguirre beaches; fruit stands have been set up on part of the route, as well as an adventure tourism outfit offering canopy tours.
At just seven meters above sea level, the city of Jacó has a large beach for enjoying sea and sun. Its proximity to San José makes it one of the most visited beaches in the country by both Costa Ricans and foreigners. Jacó offers one of the most extensive selections of tourist services in Costa Rica.
Shaped in a pleasant curve, its four-kilometer-long beach is bordered by hills at either end. Swimming with caution, due to strong currents, and surfing are the favorite activities here. Visitors can walk or ride horses along the beach, rent mountain bikes or scooters, or take a turn around a go-cart track. Boat travel is possible from Jacó to Playa Escondida, a well-known beach among surfers.
A mooring place for artisan fishermen, this beach is only suitable for walking and enjoying the scenery.
PUNTA LEONA BEACHES
These two beaches are separated by a point called Punta Leona. The first is known as Playa Mantas and the second, more scenic beach is called Playa Blanca. Both are located in a private biological preserve containing numerous plant and wildlife species that complement the scenic beauty of this coastal area. The beaches are ideal for swimming, sunbathing and walking.
Forming a bay of lush tropical vegetation, this beach is aptly named “Horseshoe Beach” after the shape of its shoreline. Hills at either end of the beach add to the beauty of the landscape. At the north end of the beach is the Los Sueños Marina; at the south, Isla Herradura, a natural refuge for several seabird species. Playa Herradura is great for swimming and various water sports. Camping facilities are available, drawing national tourism to the beach.
An old lighthouse adorns the crest of the tropical forest covering the island. Divers can admire magnificent underwater sites full of colorful fish and marine life.
A long, 10-kilometer beach on the open ocean, Playa Hermosa features strong and continuous waves, making it one of Costa Rica’s most preferred surfing beaches and the site of various national competitions. A wide variety of services is available.
At 6.8 kilometers long, this beach is named after its numerous estuaries (esterillos is Spanish for “little estuaries”). Because of its length, it is divided into two areas: Esterillos Este (east) and Esterillos Oeste (west). The latter features a rocky coast at its north end. Both beaches are ideal for enjoying the ocean, though the waves are strong and constant. Surfing is possible at Esterillos Oeste.
Just to the south, Playa Bejuco is an extension of Esterillos Este and features similar conditions. Among its attractions is fishing from the beach or in the Bejuco estuary. Its length makes it great for walking and horseback riding; photography, sunbathing and relaxing swims in the ocean are also appealing activities.
Also known as La Bandera, this beach is located less than 10 kilometers from Parrita. It features a large number of palm trees and strong surf, requiring caution when swimming. At its south end is the mouth of the Río Parrita, a popular place for fishing.
PLAYA PALO SECO
This considerably long beach is excellent for sunbathing, walking along the shore and other activities. A wide estuary practically surrounds it and, together with the ocean, forms Isla de Palo Seco.
PALO SECO ESTUARY
This estuary’s excellent climate and environment make it highly favorable for fishing, waterskiing, boat trips and regattas.
MANGLARES DE DAMAS
These mangrove swamps may be toured by boat or kayak. During the trip, visitors will be delighted to observe the unique flora and fauna, particularly white-faced monkeys and an infinite number of birds.
CAVERNAS DE DAMAS
These caverns are part of a 500-hectare tract set aside to protect the premontane forest. The caves contain rooms of different sizes, with stalactite and stalagmite formations.
RAINMAKER CANOPY WALK
Located on a private preserve in the Fila Chonta mountain range, these bridges are an exceptional attraction thanks to the spectacular scenery enjoyable from their heights.
The seat of the Aguirre canton, Quepos maintains an important relationship with banana production activities in this part of the country; old Banana Company structures are still preserved to this day. The city offers a variety of accommodation, dining and recreation options, as well as spectacular scenery of the coast. Its wharf serves as a departure point for sport-fishing and recreational boat trips.
PLAYA BOCA VIEJA
Located in Quepos, this beach is frequented by the city’s residents. It sits between the mouth of the Río Paquita and the Boca Vieja, from which it gets its name. Walking along the beach and swimming are popular activities, as well as boat tours on the Río Paquita.
This is a rocky promontory featuring forested areas and light-sand beaches. From its viewpoints, visitors can take in the beauty of the calm, blue sea. Several hotels are located on the point’s upper elevations, which offer sweeping views of Manuel Antonio National Park and the entire coastal region from Quepos to Esterillos Oeste.
FEAST OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION
This public religious festival is held on December 8 in Quepos. Locals prepare delicious typical foods and celebrate their faith in various religious ceremonies.
PLAYA DE ESPADILLA NORTE
Espadilla Norte is very popular for swimming and various water sports, such as surfing, kayaking, boat trips and jet skiing. A variety of tourism services is also available.
This clean, clear river is the perfect place for visitors to enjoy whitewater rafting (Class III) or swimming in calmer spots, as well as the lush greenery and many birds along its banks.
Class III and IV rapids make running this river exciting, while varied landscapes from wooded areas to African palm plantations delight the eye.
Stretching straight for 11 kilometers between the mouths of the Naranjo and Savegre rivers, this beach is suitable for surfing and other beach activities such as sunbathing, walking and relaxing. The Estero Negro (“Black Estuary”) sits at the mouth of the Río Naranjo. Isla Mogote may be seen from the beach.
More than eight kilometers long, this beach offers a beautiful coastal landscape, little explored. From the beach, the nearby Fila Costeña mountains can be made out; at the north end of the beach, Isla Mogote and Punta Serrucho in Manual Antonio National Park may be seen in the distance.
This long beach is surrounded by a lush natural landscape made up of forest and mangrove swamp. Near the beach is Hacienda Barú, a private nature preserve where visitors can take canopy tours to observe the rich biodiversity. Olive ridley and hawksbill turtles nest on this beach from September to October.
Tourist activities allow deeper understanding of natural and cultural tourist attractions, as well as a close relationship with nature, adventure and sports and recreation.
This activity may be enjoyed on the coast, in the communities or in the mountains of this region. Horseback tours are offered by tourism companies, landowning associations or families that rent horses.
Hiking is a good way to take in various tourist attractions: natural parks, beaches, ecotourism trails, historical buildings, architectural monuments or cultural tours around various communities of interest.
The region features picturesque roads and adventure or relaxation sites for touring on regular or mountain bikes. Beaches and mountains also make for interesting rides.
Well developed for tourism, the Quepos–Manual Antonio area is very attractive to tourists, offering mountains and high places as well as quadricycle or all-terrain-vehicle tours. Tourists can walk over suspension bridges, tour mangrove swamps by boat, visit butterfly gardens, go horseback riding, dolphin- or bird-watch, go sport-fishing or enjoy an ultralight flight.
ARCHITECTURAL AND HISTORICAL SITES
The city of Puntarenas features a small old town with the characteristics of a historical center. There are buildings of architectural and historical interest as well as National Monuments, such as the old Port Military Headquarters facilities, Parque Mora y Cañas and the Central Church. San Lucas Island and the old San Lucas Penitentiary may also be visited.
Bird-watching can be enjoyed in various public and private protected areas, including Negritos, Pájaros, Cabo Blanco, Carara and Curú, as well as other fine spots.
Diverse flora and fauna in natural areas, stunning coastal landscapes and cultural interest make taking photos and video a highly popular tourist activity.
Sport-fishing is one of the Central Pacific’s main attractions. Artisan, recreational or challenging sport-fishing may all be enjoyed in the Quepos area.
RURAL TOURISM ACTIVITIES AND SERVICES
Rural tourism activities and services offered in the Central Pacific and their corresponding locations within the region are as follows:
El Silencio Lodge is located 35 kilometers from downtown Quepos on the Quepos–Dominical coastal highway. Cross the Río Savegre and go six kilometers to arrive at the El Silencio Cooperative. Activities: Horseback riding or hiking through natural protected areas with panoramic views of the Savegre Valley and the Pacific coast. Waterfalls, rafting and kayaking trips on the Savegre.
Ecoturismo Comunal Quebrada Arroyo is located 25 kilometers east of Quepos on the highway to Londres. This association allows visitors to learn about their rural community and lifestyle while enjoying nature. Activities: Wooded trails ideal for bird-watching and enjoying waterfalls and viewpoints.
Throughout the year, community activities are held celebrating historical, religious, sporting, civic or artistic events. Fairs are also held to raise funds for community development.
PLAYA HERMOSA WILDLIFE REFUGE
This recently created refuge comprises the strip of beach where the mangrove swamp is. Birds and nesting olive ridley turtles may be seen here.
MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
Manuel Antonio National Park’s 683 hectares boast some of the country’s most varied and breathtaking scenery. Surrounded by lush, very wet tropical forest, the park’s trails offer sightings of white-faced monkeys, sloths, coatis, raccoons, iguanas and many bird species, as well as the Costa Rican squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus), which is endemic to Manuel Antonio—that is, it is found only in this part of the world. Increasingly endangered, at last count these monkeys numbered only 1,500.
The park also protects 12 islands that serve as excellent refuges for several seabird species, as well as several stunning beaches (Espadilla Sur, Manuel Antonio and Puerto Escondido), a 14-hectare lagoon and a mangrove swamp. Connecting Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur beaches, Punta Catedral is a place of great natural beauty. Visitor services include information, a park ranger station, trails, restrooms, drinking water, signage and several natural viewpoints.
The park is closed on Mondays
FINCA BARÚ DEL PACÍFICO NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Located two kilometers north of Dominical, this private refuge shelters a mangrove swamp in which crocodiles and caimans may be observed. Birds abound, including herons (boat-billed and others) and brown pelicans. Sea turtles such as the olive ridley and hawksbill nest on the beach, which is named after the park. Several kayaking and horseback riding tours are available for enjoying everything this refuge has to offer.