Gulf of Nicoya Information

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Gulf of Nicoya Overview

The Gulf of Nicoya region features two strips of beach towns surrounding the Gulf of Nicoya, each offering their own flavor of fun and adventure. Among these coastal hot spots are Puntarenas, Jacó, Manuel Antonio, Tambor, and Mal Pais. Manuel Antonio offers the highest likelihood of wildlife spotting in its preserved national park, while Tambor gets the glory of hosting beautiful whales in its Ballena Bay each year. While Mal Pais gets high praise from surfers, Jacó is known for its party-like atmosphere. Puntarenas, covering a larger area on its own, is one of the more popular beach areas because of its proximity to the country’s capital. Each one of these beach towns has its share of luxury resorts and fun activities, and each has hidden-away gems just waiting to be discovered. 

Pura Vida is a way of life in Costa Rica.

Mapping Out Costa Rica

Eco-friendly explorers enjoy the Arenal Volcano/Monteverde area for its hiking tours, thermally heated rivers, and amazing forest views. On the other hand, beach lovers are at home in the Guanacaste Beach region, which offers gorgeous turquoise water and powdery white sand for an experience in paradise. The Gulf of Nicoya region is made up of fun-loving beach towns with surfers and adventure seekers breaking waves, exploring the forest, and partying on the beach. And San Jose, the capital city of Costa Rica, is home to the country’s cultural dedications, offering authentic shops and the coolest of the country’s youth. 

Ballena Bay in Tambor

The coastal line that marks the beginning of the Ballena Bay in Puntarenas is in the shape of a whale’s tale. And Ballena Bay just happens to be where whales migrate to mate and birth their calves each year.


The best time to visit is from December through April, when whale watching is the biggest attraction. And you'll have a perfect view of the bay from the Barcelo Tambor Beach resort, which is located directly on Tambor Beach's volcanic sand. 


Tambor Beach's cleanliness won the Barcelo resort a Costa Rican Institute of Tourism Blue Flag award for its dedication to sustainability. So enjoy the environmentally friendly hotel's sand, or snorkel in the bay when you're not out admiring the whales. 

Whale watching on Ballena Bay is popular in the Gulf of Nicoya.
Jaco is a great little town in the Gulf of Nicoya.

Jacó: Surf's Up in Party Town

Grab your best friends and pack your dancing shoes, because Jacó is where you'll find the best nightlife in Costa Rica. And when you've had your fill of partying, you can find out what else this beach town has to offer, too.


Because it's one of the closest beach towns to the capital, it's also one of the most visited. Surfers from all over the country hang out in Jacó for the fun waves, great parties, and beautiful scenery. 


And if you haven't exactly mastered surfing but like watching the experts hit the surf, you could try taking lessons. Beachfront resorts like the Best Western Jacó offer classes to help you brave out your first wave. And after the sun sets, you can hit up the best bars and nightclubs to celebrate.

Santa Teresa/Playa Carmen (Mal Pais)

Mal Pais makes up the surf towns of Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen, off the Gulf of Nicoya. Just as you’d expect from a surfing environment, the atmosphere in Mal Pais is relaxed and stress-free.


It’s the place to go to step away from the everyday and unwind surrounded by nature. And while the area’s main attraction are the waves, Mal Pais is also close to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve. At the reserve and from boating tours of the gulf, see if you can spot dolphins and whales in the sea.

Mal Pais is the surfing hotspot in Gulf of Nicoya.
Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls in Gulf of Nicoya

Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls

An experience in paradise is only complete with a trip to a butterfly-filled meadow of floral and cascading cliffs. The picture-perfect Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls near Jacó are sights not to be missed in Costa Rica.


The tropical and beautiful scarlet macaw and toucan birds are home in the gardens, and the diversity of flowers and vegetation is striking. Don’t forget your camera if you visit. The landscape from this point of view is the perfect vision of Costa Rican beauty, and you’ll want to capture it.

The Crocodiles of The Tárcoles River (Plus, Basilisks And Iguanas)

There are plenty of beautiful bodies of water in Costa Rica and, admittedly, this river is not one of them. But while the Tárcoles River may not be the most gorgeous, the American crocodiles calling it home are enough to take your breath away. 


It makes its way along the central Pacific coast with crocodiles slithering through it. And if you're adventurous enough to tour it on an excursion, you'll be guaranteed sightings of creatures that are up to 20 feet long. 


And like the best parts of Costa Rica, the river is also a great spot for bird watching. Keep an eye out for the beautiful scarlet macaw flying around the river. 

Tarcoles River in the Gulf of Nicoya

Gulf of Nicoya Quick Facts






The Colon. U.S. dollars and major credit cards are widely accepted.



The outlets are 110 V, with standard U.S. two-prong plugs.



All U.S. citizens must have a valid passport when traveling to and from Costa Rica.


Drinking Water

The water is potable, but bottled water is recommended in areas surrounding the coast.


Time Zone

Central Standard Time (UTC/GMT - 6 hours)


Peak Season

Dry Season, December - May



High* Low* Precip.*
January 75°F 58°F 0.6 in.
February 75°F 58°F 0.2 in.
March 78°F 58°F 0.8 in.
April 79°F 61°F 1.8 in.
May 80°F 62°F 9 in.
June 80°F 62°F 9.5 in.
July 78°F 62°F 8.3 in.
August 77°F 61°F 9.5 in.
September 79°F 61°F 12 in.
October 78°F 60°F 11.8 in.
November 77°F 60°F 5.7 in.
December 75°F 58°F 1.6 in.

*Historical averages.