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Tambor Area


This region on the Pacific coast is one of the sunniest areas of Costa Rica. The Tambor development has a set of gorgeous mountains in the background with views overlooking a large and calm horseshoe bay, the Bahia Ballena, which means Whale Bay in English. As the name suggests, every year, whales migrate from the north to the bays warm waters to mate and give birth in the midst of the abundant marine habitat found here. The gentle waters found on these shores offers one of the few safe anchorages at the Pacific side of Costa Rica and provide perfect conditions for snorkeling and swimming. Its gentle surf is also ideal for families with small children.

The neighboring village of Tambor is situated in a valley amidst lush green forested hills. It is a modestly-developed cluster of shops, restaurants, taxi, car rental agency, golf course, medical center, ranch and beach hotels including its own airport, the only airport in the region. Local operators in Tambor offer water-ski, surfing, kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, beach volleyball, soccer, tennis, table tennis, billiards, quad bikes, and massage. Live Latin music is featured at the Cantina of Tambor and the area has two 9-hole golf courses. About one-half mile south of the village is a small fishermen community. There is a pier where arrangements can be made for deep sea fishing tours and boat rentals.


Tambor is home to the only airport in the whole Southern Nicoya Peninsula. There are numerous scheduled flights daily that connect to San José, Liberia, Quepos and Punta Islita. Other destinations elsewhere are accessible by charter flights.


Situated alongside Tambor Village is a lovely, 5 mile long, white, sandy beach, Playa Tambor. It has protection from ocean swells at either end by rocky headlands. The shallow waters are exceedingly calm; making it ideal for swimming, snorkeling and diving.


Located at the southern side of Whale Bay this charming little community is a great place to visit, eat and watch the sunset. Every day fishermen come in with their catch and offer many different types of fish, shrimp and lobster. There is even a restaurant located right on site where many people in the local community come to socialize or play a game of pool. Arrangements can be made for boat tours, sport fishing, sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and horseback riding right from the dock.


This is Costa Rica’s first all-Inclusive resort hotel and has 428 deluxe guest rooms. It is located on Tambor’s 5 mile long white sandy beach and is surrounded by a fabulous 5,000 acre nature preserve. The hotel features every conceivable convenience and activity from night time entertainment, superb restaurants, discotheque and casino to a luxurious swimming pool, business center, fitness room, hiking trails, horseback riding, tennis golf and water sports.


This is a sister hotel to nearby Hotel Barcelo Playa Tambor that shares some of the latter’s facilities. The property sits on 3 miles of private beach, and is 1 mile from Curu National Park. It comprises an assembly of sixty-six rental villas that overlook Tambor Beach. The complex is surrounded by one of the most advanced nine hole golf course in Costa Rica together with a clubhouse and a wide range wide range of facilities including swimming pool, tennis courts, solarium, restaurant, snack bar, supermarket, medical service, bank office, discotheque and shopping center.


Cabano, pronounced COH-bah-noh, is a lively and important little town that is located about 8 miles west of Tambor and inland about 5 miles from the Pacific coast. It serves as the main commercial and medical center for the whole southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula . It is also the main crossroad for access to the coastal villages and the gorgeous beaches nearby on Costa Rica’s south Pacific coast, including Montezuma, Cabuya, Mal Pais, Santa Teresa, Manzanillo and the wonderful Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.

Cabano is also the center of the local government. There is a choice of twenty restaurants and bars, nightly movies and regular concerts, a post office, pharmacy, legal services, Banco National, a variety of shops, gasoline station, and a supermarket. A farmer’s market is held on Monday mornings at a vacant lot in the city center where fruit and vegetables are available at inexpensive prices. Health services are available from several dentists, a 24-hour medical clinic and a private ambulance. Serious cases are transferred to Puntarenas or San José.

A major attraction of Cabano is the annual Fiestas Civicas held in February or March of each year. It begins with the tope (TOH-pay), a parade of horse riders from all the surrounding villages and ranches. The parade proceeds from the centre of Cabano to the Plaza de Rodeo where the fiesta runs for three days, with bull riding, a big fair with colorful booths and circus, foodstalls and cumbia dancing at night.


This little village is located on the ocean about 20 miles down the road from Tambor beyond Cabano. It is near the south-westerly tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Montezuma was once a remote fishing village that gained popularity in the 1980s and early 1990s when discovered by younger North American backpackers and surfers. It acquired a widely held reputation among the younger set as a party town. They were attracted not only by the beautiful white sandy beaches and laid-back village atmosphere with its unique town center, but also the nearby nature reserves. Montezuma’s appeal grew in popularity to include other tourists and today remains as one of the choice destinations on the coast. As a result, visitors and expatriates here outnumber the resident Costa Ricans.

Many people have chosen Montezuma as a place for retirement. They enjoy a lively and active social life but it is not a place for those interested in peace and quiet. Despite the dynamic activity, the town has the feel of a small village. This may be due to the lack of having large resorts. The small accommodations help give the town a distinct and personalized feeling that is very unique to Costa Rica. Montezuma acquired a fairly large group of immigrants from Italy who have opened pizzerias and other upscale restaurants, including the best restaurant in Costa Rica, “Playa de los Artistas”.

There is a famous waterfall nearby, “Montezuma Falls”, for which the town is also known. The falls are a picturesque feature and are shown on postcards sold throughout the country. The waterfall forms three large pools into which daredevils regularly jump from great heights.


This village is located slightly west of Montezuma and nestled along the jungle-fringed coast with a backdrop of mountains. Although the beaches at Cabuya cannot compete with those of Montezuma, the area has the advantage of nice stretches of deserted beaches and very few travelers. Cabuya is ideal for taking interesting hikes, beachcombing, bird watching and enjoying abundant nature and the unspoiled simplicity of a Costa Rican village community. There are a handful of hotels that offer a variety of fishing, biking, snorkeling, swimming and horseback riding tours.

Cabuya also has the unique distinction of being the only municipality in Costa Rica to have the town cemetery located adjacently on an otherwise uninhabited island. Cabuya Island is a strange little island that is accessible on foot only at low tide.

The village also serves as the entrance to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve which is a relatively safe place for animals to live and breed. As a result of the proximity to the Cabo Blanco reserve, the neighboring areas around Cabuya see a lot of extra wildlife. Similarly, Cabuya Island has an amazing snorkeling and diving area. Part of the sea near the reserve is a protected marine habitat, so the area abounds with tropical fish. Numerous professional divers have remarked that diving at Cabuya Island is the best place on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, because of the large quantity of fish. Also, there is a beautiful fan coral reef along this part of the coast.


Costa Rica’s forest preservation program began in 1963 with Cabo Blanco being the first National Park to be created. It was due to the dedication and foresight of a nature-loving couple, Swedish Olof Wessberg and his Danish wife Karen Morgensen. They recognized the importance of preserving and regenerating the last tracts of tropical rain forest on the peninsula. As a pioneering ecological project, they donated land to Costa Rica which they had previously farmed and was allowed to return to its natural state. Their concern for the environment attracted the support of other like-minded conservationists who helped purchase additional land at Cabo Blanco. This beautiful reserve is now an evergreen forest with rivers and a string of beaches that is home to a host of birds and animals. The park encompasses 3,143 acres of land and 4,200 acres of surrounding ocean, comprising the entire southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve was the initial step in the development of Costa Rica’s extensive national park system which now comprises over a quarter of the land mass and has led to Costa Rica’s successful ecotourism industry.

The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is one of the most popular tourist destinations on the Nicoya Peninsula. The public is allowed access from 8am to 4pm Wednesday through Sunday. There are several miles of hiking trails that are excellent for wildlife observation. The experience provides a great opportunity to see many hundreds of animal and plant species including white faced and howler monkeys, squirrels, sloths, deer, agoutis, raccoons, coatis, peccaries, and anteaters. In addition there are 120 different species of birds that include parrots, trogons, brown pelicans, frigatebirds and boobies. Camping is not permitted and no food or drinks are available.


The Spanish name “Mal Pais” translates as “badlands”. The area near the tip of the peninsula derives the description from the spectacular rock formations that break up the open ocean waves that crash into foam. The village of Mal Pais is sparsely settled, peaceful and quiet, with not much in the way of a commercial center and tourist services. However, the village does have a bank and despite the small population, a surprising number of expatriates live here.

There are a variety of hotels and restaurants scattered along the beach which is a long, wide expanse of white sand alternating with rocky outcroppings. The old growth forest lines the beach. Although the water can get rough for swimming, the waves are very attractive to surfers. The Mal Pais area is continually growing and is attracting more retirees and businesses. In addition to surfing, nature hikes and horseback riding are popular activities.

The conditions that describe Mal Pais also apply to Santa Teresa, which is along the pacific shore about four miles to the north. However, the waves tend to get heavier, faster and steeper towards Santa Teresa. Together, the beaches of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa belong to the best surfing spots in Costa Rica.


This is the idyllic tropical island paradise located about 9 miles northeast of Tambor and about 1 mile offshore. It is one of the most visited locations throughout the entire country. There are numerous coconut palm trees swaying in the breeze; the sand is bright white, the water is clear turquoise and the picturesque views are spectacular. Although just over 3 square miles, the gentle shoreline offers some of the most sought after spots for snorkeling, swimming, birdwatching and generally lazing about the beach or relaxing under a tree. Although named after the Spanish word for turtle, one is far more likely to view brightly colored tropical fish when snorkeling at the volcanic rock reef and observe the many species of birds amidst the exotic vegetation. Many tour companies provide day-long excursions from various locations on the mainland and included superb meals.


This is a beautiful 3,000 acre biological reserve that was established in 1983 and lies opposite Tortuga Island on the mainland, about 9 miles northeast of Tambor. The area comprises the Curu River that winds its way through the park, mangrove swamps, hills, beaches and forests. There are just about every species of indigenous fauna and flora that the area has to offer both terrestrial and marine, including more than 115 varieties of birds.

Visitors can stroll along any of 17 trails to explore the grounds and unwind on the isolated white sandy beaches that are lined with palm trees. The water at the beaches are very suitable for swimming and diving because of the gentle waves, slight slope and clarity. There are, in addition, bilingual guided tours that take pleasant and easy walks through the forest and fields pointing out the native trees, plants and wildlife. In season, the rare treat of wild fruits are offered to the visitors.


This is a friendly little village that is perhaps best known for the ferry terminal that is used to reach Puntarenas City across the Gulf of Nicoya. It is a convenient means of connecting the southern portion of the Nicoya Peninsula with the central Pacific coast. Paquera is a tranquil place with a relaxed atmosphere. If staying for a while, the visitor will find that the accommodations are affordable and the restaurants here are fairly decent. There is a gas station in the village as well as an internet cafeé. It is a place where one can buy the freshest sea food, and locally grown fruits and vegetables.


The car ferry service operates two boats, Naviera Tambor and Peninsular, from about 5:00 AM to 10:30 PM daily seven days per week. The schedule is subject to change between high season and low season. The ferry takes an hour and a half to travel between ports and departs the dock approximately every two hours. It is wise to arrive early during the peak season and on weekends because the lines of vehicles can be quite long.

The ferry carries about 33 cars with each trip. If buses or large trucks are onboard, less cars can be accommodated. When arriving at the ferry terminal, it is wise to count the number of vehicles in line in order to determine whether there will be room for your car on the next trip or the trip following. The tickets for the ferry are sold after the ferry arrives and is fully docked. An attendant will walk along the line of cars passing out slips of paper to the first 33 cars. The slip of paper is taken to the ticket office by the driver to purchase the travel ticket. The ticket covers the cost of car transport plus driver. Car passengers (unless handicapped) must leave the car and walk onto the ferry to purchase tickets separately. The ferry has an air conditioned salon where sandwiches and cold drinks are sold. The tickets for the air conditioned salon cost a little more than the regular tickets.


The city of Puntarenas serves as the ferry conduit across the Nicoya Gulf to the south peninsula shore region. Puntarenas has a population of 100,000 and is the Central Pacific’s largest city and commercial fishing center. The geography is unusual because the city is located on a long spit of land protruding into the Gulf of Nicoya and lined with a sandy beach. For most of its length, the beach is bordered by an attractive wide boulevard called el Paseo de los Turistas (the Tourist Walk) with a parallel row of trees. Along the boulevard are beachfront hotels, restaurants, bars, discos, and shops.

Throughout the 20th century, Puntarenas was Costa Rica’s busiest port and center for the export of coffee and other agricultural products. Due to the introduction of containers and the need to accommodate much larger vessels, a modern container port was constructed in the 1980s at nearby Puerto Caldera, to the south of Puntarenas. After losing its shipping business, the city survived primarily on commercial fishing. After decades of decay and neglect, Puntarenas has recently received some long-overdue attention. In 1998, the city initiated a large public works and renovation project that has so far yielded a new cruise-ship docking facility, a convention and recreation center, an aquarium, marine park and museum and an artisans’ row where visitors can stock up on regional arts and crafts.

Puntarenas attracts crowds due to its having a very different character from any other city in Costa Rica. Paying a visit to Puntarenas on weekends and holidays is an old Costa Rican tradition. In addition, thousands of tourists travel through Puntarenas yearly because the city is used as a transfer point for exploring the many beautiful beaches, islands and forests in the surrounding areas. There is a good highway leading all the way from San José so that Puntarenas can be reached in just over 2 hours by car, making it one of the closest beaches from the national capital. The city is also a stopover port of call for many cruise ships that sail the waters of the Pacific Ocean. The luxurious Fiesta Resort Puntarenas is a very popular lodge. It offers many types of all-inclusive packages to visitors and contains the country’s finest casino.

A variety of hotels and restaurants scattered along the beach which is a long, wide expanse of white sand alternating with rocky outcroppings. The old growth forest lines the beach. Although the water can get rough for swimming, the waves are very attractive to surfers. The Mal Pais area is continually growing and is attracting more retirees and businesses. In addition to surfing, nature hikes and horseback riding are popular activities.

The conditions that describe Mal Pais also apply to Santa Teresa, which is along the pacific shore about four miles to the north. However, the waves tend to get heavier, faster and steeper towards Santa Teresa. Together, the beaches of Mal Pais and Santa Teresa belong to the best surfing spots in Costa Rica.

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