Southern Pacific Attractions
To visit the southern Pacific region of Costa Rica is to experience the country’s last tourism frontier, an area waiting to be discovered. It is no surprise that most of the attractions and activities available in the region are classified as ‘adventure tourism.’ Here is an area of impressive geographical contrast, from pristine, deserted beaches to the highest mountain peaks, traversing intermediate areas with seductive jungles, rivers, streams and waterfalls. At various points along the coast, one can descend from a vacation home perched high up in the mountain with panoramic views down to the white waters of a surf beach in a matter of minutes. At other points, emerald jungles that never see human footprints plunge dramatically into the deep blue ocean pierced by rocky outcrops.
The biological intensity of this region explains the presence of some of the most important national parks and nature reserves in the country, such as the Las Cruces Biological Station, Ballena National Marine Park, Isla del Caño Biological Reserve, Chirripo National Park, the Biosphere Reserve which is a part of the Friendship International Park, and Corcovado National Park, described by National Geographic as the most biologically diverse area on earth.
In this naturally enchanting playground, there are endless opportunities to swim, surf, observe whales and dolphins, trek through jungle, zipline over wildlife reserves, kayak through mangrove swamps, ride to waterfalls on horseback or go game fishing. Whatever you do, you can count on enjoying a spectacular sunset at the end of the day, preferably from one of the many beaches near your hotel or vacation home.
From Guapil Beach just north of the Baru River down to Punta Ventanas and beyond, a string of beaches run parallel to the coastal highway known as “La Costanera”. Each beach is unique and they are all attractive. Apart from the popular surfing beaches, you are likely to encounter no one other than pelicans and other aquatic birds.
About 10 minutes from Dominical on the road north to Quepos, Manuel Antonio and Jaco, this beach is long and deserted with plenty of shade. You can stroll through a palm grove, past the site of a deserted village to a scenic estuary at the northern end of the beach, or walk towards south on a sandy trail that runs parallel to the beach that leads to Baru Beach. From Baru Beach, you can carry on walking (on the beach, as the trail stops here) all the way to the mouth of the Baru River (20 to 30 minutes), where you will be standing across from Dominical Beach. The entrance to Guapil Beach is not well marked but there will always be locals in the area who can point the way.
Baru Beach is accessed by the same small road that leads to the famous Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge. Instead of turning into the refuge, proceed straight for another hundred meters or so and you will arrive in a well marked parking area. Like Guapil, this beach is mostly deserted except on Sundays and holidays. There are signs all along this beach with warning of strong currents and riptides and swimming is not recommended.
Long well known as a surfing beach, Dominical beach offers a tranquil section for those seeking solitude and reflections at the southern end of the mile-long beach, where the ambiance is relaxing and peaceful. Towards the middle and north parts, you are like to encounter surfers from all over the world, as well as those who call Dominical home. This area has a quaint mix of hostels, shops, restaurants, bars, water sports kiosks and internet cafes. The atmosphere becomes animated during surfing tournaments. For visitors these occasions offer a social experience and an opportunity to mingle. Also, the larger Dominical area has a sizable population of North American homeowners, giving the small community an international feel. Surfing lessons, wear and gear are all readily available.
South of Dominical and a stone’s throw from La Costanera, Dominicalito is a scenic beach with interesting rock formations at both ends of the 2-km stretch. The beach is bordered by a small rocky cove at the north and Dominical Point at the south. The sunset on Dominicalito Beach is known to take one’s breath away by the sheer intensity of its colors. This is a favorite everyday beach among local residents for walking and jogging.
SAN MARTIN BEACH
The short trail to San Martin from the main road lies next to a large private gated garden compound - the beach signage can be easy to miss. The beach is at the end of a sharply descending footpath. Tiny by comparison, San Martin beach is in a world of its own in a small hidden cove, perfect for solitude and privacy.
PUERTO NUEVO BEACH
One of the most picturesque beaches on the southern coast, Puerto Nuevo has almost-white powdery sand and calm surf. The beach is mostly deserted except on Sundays and holidays, when it transforms into a bustling playground. During the golden hour before sunset, with its gentle surfs and a flat wide beach, Puerto Nuevo fulfills the image of a tropical paradise.
Wild and beautiful, Hermosa Beach stretches for miles; the northern end of the beach is a little pebbly, but it is popular with surfers. To the south, the beach becomes flat and sandy and one can enjoy a long and peaceful stroll, often without another soul in sight. The beach is easily accessed by vehicles at two separate entrances.
Perhaps one of the most beautiful beaches on the Pacific Coast is Uvita Beach, which is well-known for marine life that exists around the Uvita Point, one of the preferred places for scuba diving and snorkeling. The Uvita Mangrove Swamp is where you can spot many aquatic birds, such as the Snowy Egret, White Ibis and the Osprey. Uvita Beach is especially well-known for its ‘whale tail’ formation, a kilometer-long sand bar with gently lapping waves on both sides, leading to an impressive sprawl of layered coral rocks at the fin of the whale’s tail. The sand bar is best accessed during low tide, with the long sweep of Hermosa Beach on one side and Uvita Beach on the other.
Colonia is a favorite ‘Picnic’ beach with picnic tables and chairs lining the beachfront in both directions from the national park’s gate. On Sundays and holidays Costa Rican families gather here for day-long revelries, bringing music, food and toys for kids. The park gate is manned on Sundays and festive days and there is a park fee of US$6.00 per foreign visitor. If you can convince the guard that you are a local resident, you may only pay 600 colones. The shower facility here although basic is an advantage.
One of the most isolated beaches along the south coast, Arco Beach is perhaps the most spectacular. With no motor road access at all, the beach is a perfect example of where rainforest meets the sea. Near-perpendicular cliffs of hundreds of meters high tower over a wide, flat, sandy beach, giving beachcombers an awesome experience. Arco beach can only be accessed via a short trail over a small headland at the northern end of Ballena Beach, and is best enjoyed one hour before and after low tide. Park tickets need to be purchased at the Playa Ballena entrance. For precaution, inform the ticketing staff of your intention to hike over to Arco beach so they can advise you on the tide conditions.
One of the most significant beaches, Ballena Beach, together with the island of the same name, forms part of the Ballena National Marine Park. Between the months of August and October, and from December to April, these coastal waters are visited by Humpback whales, the sighting of which will make your vacation truly unforgettable. On land, the Ballena area teems with wildlife, with hundreds of species of birds. Many park wardens live along this beach and the park entrance here is always manned. The charge is 600 colones for residents and $6 for tourists. There are outdoor showers, picnic tables and recycle trash bins. The beach has light-beige powdery sand which is especially enjoyable for strollers during low tides.
Playa Pinuela is a well-maintained small fishermen beach at the southern edge of the Ballena National Marine Park. From the beach one can enjoy a clear view of the ‘Three Sisters’ rocks, with the larger ‘Ballena’ rock further in the background. The beach is generally calm and gentle, making it a popular shelter for fishing boats, and a landing point for fishing excursions. On Sundays and holidays (or whenever the park gate is manned), a park fee of $6 is collected from foreign visitors.
Ventanas Beach is home to a famous ‘Blow Hole’ that is an attraction in itself. At high tide, the force of water surging through the semi-submerged tunnel creates an impressive spectacle; at low tide, swimmers enjoy the thrill of swimming inside it. A local family who lives onsite offers guarded parking on their compound for a small fee; from there it is a 2-minute walk to the beach. Ventanas Beach does get crowded on Sundays and holidays. Locals regard this beach as a safe swimming beach, which makes it extremely popular.
“The world’s longest ride-able left break” is what attracts many world-class surfers to this remote Costa Rican beach near Punto Banco, about 45 km south of Golfito. Those who don’t dare surf these awesome waves will enjoy the stunning scenery of the rocky coastline.
RIVER TERRABA AND DRAKE BAY
With a length of 160km, The Terraba River forms one of the most extensive river basins in the country, containing 2171 square kilometers. Thanks to the numerous mouths and deltas of the Terraba River, we have one of the most important wetlands in Central America. The river originates in the Talamanca Mountain Range at San Juan Lagoon in Chirripo National Park, and begins its downhill flow with the name Rio El General; by the time it empties into the Pacific Ocean its name is Rio Grande de Terraba. Rafting and Kayaking tours are offered on sections of this river.
Beyond the large Terraba River delta, on the northern edge of Osa Peninsula, we have DRAKE BAY, a place that inspires many to say, “you have to see it to believe it!” Its geography is distinguished from all other coastal areas in the country, mainly due to the very high humidity that exists in the Osa Peninsula which gives it the extraordinary biodiversity. From this point visitors take tours to Caño Island to fish, snorkel or scuba dive, as well as to Corcovado National Park to the south. At Drake Bay you can walk or ride on horseback to places of incredible natural beauty. If you visit in February you will enjoy the official celebration of the historic arrival of the famous Sir Francis Drake.
Spectacular coastline, towering mountains, deserted beaches and emerald rainforests make up the scenery along Costa Rica’s south Pacific coast, and Dominical is uniquely situated at the crossroad between the central and the southern Pacific where such dramatic scenery begins to unfold. Within an hour’s drive to the north and south, more than a dozen beaches and coves, mostly deserted, all pristine, can be accessed.
Traveling south from San Jose on the Inter-American Highway, you eventually reach the district of Perez Zeledon in the spacious river valley of San Isidro de El General, near the southern border of Puntarenas province. Here, the town of SAN ISIDRO serves as the main passageway to the Southern Pacific region; its economic, social and cultural developments have turned it into a vibrant city and the focal point of many nearby communities. Visitors can find a rich diversity of shops, tourist facilities and services here: lodgings, restaurants, inter-city and cross-country transportation, agencies for travel, tours and real estate. Medical facilities and pharmacies are abundant. Reputedly the fastest growing city in Costa Rica, this town has welcomed many new immigrants in recent years especially from North America.
For many tourists this is where their southern Pacific adventures begin. It is in this small community, located 15km from Palmar Norte and Palmar Sur, where you board a small boat on the Sierpe River that takes you to Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula. During the trip, an experienced guide will point out the many species of wildlife encountered. There are also larger boats that take visitors to Caño Island to scuba dive, watch whales and dolphins, or to go deep-sea fishing.
This community, located across the Golfo Dulce from Golfito on the northwestern edge of the remote Osa Peninsula, provides the easiest direct access to Corcovado National Park. You can get there via the Inter-American Highway: at the town of Pierdras Blancas, take the Highway 245 turnoff that will lead you around the eastern boundary of the Golfo Dulce to Puerto Jimenez. Alternatively, there is also a daily launch service that will take you from the port of Golfito to Puerto Jimenez, which has many well established tourist businesses.
The creation of a Duty-Free Zone in Golfito on the Golfo Dulce has facilitated the purchases of tax-free goods by Costa Ricans nationals and foreign home buyers who flock here to find household equipments and goods for their new homes. The town which previously was entirely dependent on ecological tourism has experienced an economic boom as a result.
In 1951, the Italian Agricultural Colonization Society in Italy established an agreement with the Costa Rican government by which an Italian colony was founded to develop this fertile mountain area near the Panamanian border. The lovely town of San Vito came into being, a curious combination of Italian and Costa Rican cultures. There is a good reason why it is said that here you can enjoy the best pizzas in the country, as well as the best ragú recipes for pasta.