Central Pacific Attractions
The beaches along the Central Pacific costa are the most visited beach destinations in Costa Rica by both foreign and domestic tourists. The beaches of Tarcoles, Punta Leona, Jaco and Manuel Antonio are among the favorites. Proximity and easy access, coupled with a wide variety of affordable accommodation and tourist services, make this area extremely popular.
This stretch of the Pacific coast has seen accelerated urban growth coexisting with ongoing nature preservation efforts. Along the coastal strip of land between the port of Puntarenas and Manuel Antonio National Park, hotels and resorts of all shapes and sizes have sprung up rapidly around beachfront towns and communities, putting tremendous strain on infrastructure. However, this Costa Rican ‘Acapulco,’ unlike its counterpart in Mexico, has fervently preserved the natural environment at the same time.
The strongest natural feature of the region is the proximity of the mountain ranges to the coastline. Here the transition between tropical dry and tropical humid climates takes place, resulting in extraordinary vegetations which spread out over very dissimilar geographical areas from mountainous forests to cattle grazing plains, rice fields, palms and timber plantations.
Visitors who venture away from the tourist centers into nearby mountain roads will get a feel of how Ticos live in the rural areas. Within a short drive, houses will take on different characteristics, as do the way of life. The only constant experience in the mountains and on the coast is the humility and simplicity of The Ticos.
The most important population centers in the Central Pacific region are Puntarenas, Tarcoles, Jaco, Parrita and Quepos.
Leaving the port of Puntarenas on Highway 34 or more widely known as “La Costanera,” traveling southeast along the coast, the beaches of MATA DE LIMON and DOÑA ANA are among those favored by domestic tourists. Between the two is the port of Caldera, an important harbor for cruise ships and maritime commerce. Continuing down this highway there are signs leading to Tarcoles and Jaco.
Tarcoles is a small fishing village where visitors are taken to see crocodiles basking in the sun on the banks of the large Tarcoles River that gives its name to the community. Besides observing crocodiles the attractions in the area include birdwatching, walking through Carara National Park, a ride on the Rainforest Aerial Tram, and a visit to the “Manantial de Agua Viva” (stream of living water), an impressive 656 foot waterfall located on a private property next to the Carara National Park, with 10 natural pools that offer a refreshing dip after a long walk through the forest.
CARARA NATIONAL PARK
Although this is one of the smallest nature parks in Costa Rica with only 20 square miles (52 sq km), visitors will observe some of the most complex and varied examples of Costa Rican wildlife. This park is in the transitional zone and is therefore a prototype of natural life that includes species from the Mesoamerican and Amazonian regions. There are four trails that cut through this protected area. The first trail leads to Laguna Meandrica, which, to the eyes of visitors, appears to be covered with water hyacinths and is the habitat for turtles, crocodiles, butterflies and more than 400 species of birds. The Carara National Park is one of the few that offer a wheelchair accessible trail, which begins next to the parking area at the main entrance. Another more rustic trail connects to Quebrada Bonita which takes three hours to explore. The fourth trail is located along the border of the Tarcoles River which can be explored on horseback.
To the populace of the Central Valley, Jaco is the closest beach and the top choice for a weekend on the beach. It is also a magnet for North American surfers and European backpackers. Anyone can learn to ride the waves here with the abundance of surf schools and surf instructors in the area. Many ticos simply come here to enjoy shopping and the variety of restaurants. In terms of night time entertainment Jaco offers a vibrant scene with bars and discos, nightclubs and casinos. Besides hotels and restaurants there are also a great number of tours and activities to choose from, everything from deep-sea fishing to trips to the volcanoes. Internet cafes abound in town, as do real estate offices.
About 14 miles (23 km) before arriving at the port of Quepos is the town of Parrita, famous for watermelon, cantaloupe, cattle and African palms. The African Palm Tree was introduced here by the United Fruit Company as an experimental option after the loss of banana harvests in the 1940s due to a plague on the plantations in Panama. Between Parrita and Quepos, palm trees blanket both sides of the highway with 14,000 hectares of plantations, which are connected to the dock at Quepos by a railroad. The cultivation of African Palms was successful and nearly substituted the banana plantations in this area. The tree produces a reddish-orange fruit kernel from which oil is extracted and processed and used in products such as cosmetics, caramels, margarine, cooking oil, industrial lubricants and soap.
This community of more than 15,000 inhabitants has grown rapidly in recent years alongside Manuel Antonio National Park as the later gains increasing worldwide popularity as a tourism destination. The town’s history dates back to the 1930s when this small stretch of the Pacific coast was utilized for cultivating bananas and became a major trading center. In the 1980s, with the consolidation of the National Park system and the creation of Manuel Antonio National Park, this small village has become a well known commercial center.
MANUEL ANTONIO NATIONAL PARK
There are more than 628 hectares of land in this stunning beautiful reserve which encompasses three major and lovely beaches. Statistics show that this is the most visited national park in Costa Rica with about 160,000 visitors walking its trails, admiring its flora and fauna, swimming and sunbathing on its white beaches each year. The park’s natural habitat consists of primary and secondary forests, marshes, a coastal wooded area, an 18-hectare mangrove swamp, beaches and a dozen islands off its coast. There are more than 200 species of birds and 100 animal species. It is home to the nearly extinct titi monkey, and a habitat for white-face and howler monkeys, two and three toed sloths, white-nose coatimundis, iguanas and green turtles.