Stretching out into the Pacific, the long Nicoya Peninsula encompasses the drier plains of Guanacaste and the forested hills of southern Nicoya, with mangrove forests and lots of wildlife in the gulf.
But its greatest pleasures are along the Pacific shore, which has superb beaches separated from one another by steep, forested ridges. Northern Nicoya, around Tamarindo, is too developed for our liking; we prefer the quieter beaches of the south. There are tranquil coves, like Islita, and excellent surfing beaches towards the tip of the peninsula, where boutique hotels and secluded villas make blissful hideaways in untouched spots far from the crowds. Montezuma is a laid-back hangout with a younger, hippier feel, and both places are within reach of 2 nature reserves: Cabo Blanco and Curú.
The white-sand coves around the pretty fishing village of Malpais have been voted some of the loveliest in the world by Forbes magazine, hidden between rocky outcrops and green jungle. Playa Los Suecos is our favourite (pictured). Sunsets here are spectacular; pick up a bottle of wine in town then head to to the beach with a blanket.
This idyllic island is a gorgeous 45-minute boat ride from Montezuma, with dolphins and turtles swimming alongside. Each tour group (and there will be several) has a barbecue lunch, and there’s a shop where you can rent sea kayaks; you might spot orcas, humpback and pilot whales out at sea.There are superb dive and snorkelling sites, with sunken boats, octopus and sting rays.
1. Playa de los Artistas in Montezuma is idyllic, with tree-trunk tables under palm trees on the beach, and fresh fish roasted in the oven. Get there early for cocktails as the sun sets, and if you plan your visit on a Full Moon, you'll see the moon rise out of the ocean. Totally magical.
2. Clandestina (pictured) is a laid-back Mexican restaurant by the Montezuma Butterfly gardens, with street-style tacos and craft beers.
Photo by Geoff McCabe
Isla de Cabuya (Cemetary Island) is a unique cultural burial site, just off Cabuya; at low tide you can walk out there in 10 mins. You'll see grace sites circled by shells, large family plots, and a 2-faced headstone with eyes open to the sunrise and closed to the sunset.
Photo by Geoff McCabe
At the very tip of the peninsula is the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve - one of the most beautiful in Costa Rica. It offers an incredibly array of wildlife, including monkeys, anteaters, coatis and deer, together with stunning landscapes and the gorgeous Playa Cabo Blanco beach. It can be reached from Malpais if you have a 4x4 vehicle, and local agencies run regular guided tours.