Carara National Park

 A haven to hikers and birdwatchers, Carara National Park offers an amazing diversity of fauna and flora that any nature-lover will appreciate. Nestled along the Central Pacific Coast of beautiful Costa Rica, the park was established as a biological reserve in 1978. Due to its increased popularity, it was upgraded to national park status in 1998.

Bring Your Binoculars

Travelers from around the world venture to Carara National Park in hopes of seeing one of the few Scarlet Macaws left in existence. The part protects one of the last wild colonies as there are said to be around 150 of these gorgeous birds that can be seen at dusk as they head to the coastal mangroves to roost at night.

Scarlet Macaw, Carara National Park, Costa RicaThere are also more than 400 other species to be spotted in this delicate ecosystem. Other birds that enthusiasts are always delighted to spot include the Collared Forest-falcon, Boat-billed heron, Mangrove Black-hawk and the endemic Mangrove hummingbird.


You don’t have to be a bird-lover to enjoy spotting other wildlife at Carara National Park. Crocodiles can be found along the river in abundance which you have a good chance of seeing up close if you take one of the park’s touring boat rides.

The collection of forests, lagoons and marshlands attract an array of wildlife. Hiking on one of the two trails through the park may grant you photo opportunities of monkeys, armadillos, boas, jaguars, Margay cats, white-tailed deer, opossums, tayra, kinkajou and more.

Marvel at the Flora

Carara National Park offers one of the world’s most diverse tree collections. Tall species can be found, draped in creeping vines and epiphytes. Then, when the dry season arrives, the land transforms into a blanket of brilliant yellow flowers.

Getting Here

Carara National Park is in a fairly central location with Jaco about 15 miles south and San Jose roughly 30 miles to the east. You can take a bus from either location but you need to make lodging locations near the park or be prepared to take the last bus back as no camping is permitted on the grounds.

If you are driving in from San Jose, you will follow Avenida 10 to Highway 27. Take this west 34 miles until you reach the town of Orotina. Continue 3 miles and turn left on Highway 34. Follow this scenic, coastal highway 11 miles to the Tarcoles River. Cross the bridge and you are at the boundary of the park. The ranger station can be found 1.8 miles into the park.


The forests of Carara National Park are hot and humid, even in the drier season. Regardless when you visit, be prepared for mosquitoes and other biting insects. Long sleeves and pants as well as a quality repellant are strongly recommended to ensure that you enjoy your visit without being bothered by pests.

Playa Esterillos

Playa Esterillos, Costa Rica is one of the country’s less-developed beach areas. visitors who want to go to a beach that hasn’t seen a lot of commercial development often prefer this area. It’s about 20 minutes away from the town of Jaco, which makes it very convenient for most visitors. The southern part of the beach is home to an estuary, which is what the beach is named after. The northern part contains an active fishing community. The beach has western and eastern divisions called Esterillos Este and Esterillos Oeste. Esterillos Oeste is home to some of the best surfing spots in the area.

Playa Estrillos, Central Pacific, Costa RicaPlaya Esterillos has a history of being a fishing community, and with most of the area being relatively undeveloped, you can see a lot of beautiful, tropical forest in the area. There are a lot of palm trees and almond trees dotting the beach areas. Many tourists choose to stay in eco-tourist hotels that are located further into the forest areas. Some of the national parks that are within reasonable driving distance of this community are Carara National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Marino Ballena National Park. This area is largely unaffected by human interference.

This area of Costa Rica was originally inhabited by the Chibcha people. When the Spanish arrived in the 16th century, a combination of conflicts with the Spanish and disease epidemics contributed to a major loss of the original culture. During Spanish colonial times, Costa Rica was a part of Guatemala, and was considered to be a poorer colony. The country gained independence in 1889, and the central area made most of its income from fishing in the coastal areas and raising crops further inland. A rise in eco-tourism has made this area very popular with visitors from around the world.

Playa Esterillos generates much of its income from tourism. Two hotels are found on the beach, as well as vacation houses. These accommodations provide guests with great amenities. However, they are of a size that does not disturb the area’s ecological habitats. There are also a number of fun water and outdoor activities for visitors that generate necessary income. Kayak, raft and catamaran tours are very popular with tourists. These tours provide unique opportunities to see local wildlife, including colorful tropical birds and playful monkeys. The water is also ideal for snorkeling, and several outfitters rent out snorkeling gear.

One reason to visit Playa Esterillos is the fact that the climate is warm all year long. The water is always warm, although January and February are considered to be the best times to visit for water sports. This is because the water is at its most calm during this time. Temperatures stay consistently warm, with coastal breezes. The months of December to April are considered to be the dry season. This area of Costa Rica sees most of the rain between May and November. Visitors can easily plan their activities around the seasonal changes.

Central Pacific

The Central Pacific Region begins in the north, with Punteranas and heads south to Dominical.  The region offers the closest beaches to San Jose and is one of the most popular tourist destinations of Costa Rica. In early years, the Central Pacific was used as a weekend getaway for the people of San Jose; with drive times of 1 to 2 hours the local Ticos were able to reach some of the finest beaches and vacation getaways. Over the past decade, North American tourists have found the area to be a quick destination experience while still being able to get a taste of all Costa Rica has to offer.

Central Pacific Coast Line Costa RicaPuntarenas to the north, once a thriving port town for world exportation, is still used today as a local vacation spot for Costa Ricans.  Several cruise ships a month make Puntarenas a port of call.  The town has become a more transient point for the non-local tourists. Ferry boats to the Nicoya Peninsula provide a quick and easy way to access the southern portion of the peninsula.
Traveling further south along the Central Pacific one will find Playa Herradura, one of the closest beaches to the capital, San Jose, Herradura is also home to one of the largest and finest marinas, Los Suenos Marriott. Farther along the coast is Jaco, with some of the best surfing in all of Costa Rica.  The town has become a “must” experience destination for the surfer looking for constant waves year round.  Plenty of restaurants, affordable hotel accommodations and sun filled beaches make this a fun and easy to get to destination.

Continuing farther south along the Central Pacific the coastal road leads you through small villages, banana plantations and palm farms, with unbelievable mountain backdrops and spectacular ocean views. Arriving next into the Costa Rican town of Quepos, a small fishing village, which tends to cater to the locals and the fishing industry. Local restaurants, small hotels and shops make this a great place to spend the day.  Quepos is also located just 5 miles north of the city Manuel Antonio and Manuel Antonio National Park.

The sea side village of Manuel Antonio offers a wide range of sleeping accommodations, throughout the winding road leading in from Quepos one will find numerous hotels, inns and a variety or restaurants lining the hills leading into Manuel Antonio.  The spectacular ocean views have contributed to this area becoming one of the top tourist destinations in Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio National Park is a must see destination, picture perfect  white sand beaches surrounded by tropical jungles teaming with Howler monkeys and other wildlife make this a must see national park.

Leaving the Quepos area south along Highway 34, one will travel over bone rattling, pothole dirt roads that depending on the season can make the road unmanageable at times.  The ride south to Dominical takes on average of 1 ½ to 2 hours and will take you through large banana plantations and palm oil tree farms.  Dominical, a quiet laid-back surfing village has become a destination for the hardcore surfer, with drive times from San Jose of about 5 hours. Dominical has been spared the influx of tourists, offering unbelievable waves, long uninhabited stretches of gray white sand beaches the area caters to the surfer, backpacker and people just wanting to “chill out”.

The Central Pacific, with its influx of North American tourists is experiencing the fastest growth in all of Costa Rica. As the influx of tourist increase, so does the amenities they are looking for; chain restaurants, hotels and strip malls. Not to mention the people.

Playa Herradura

Verdant nature comes to mind when one thinks of Costa Rica, and the area of Playa Herradura on the Central Pacific Coast is beautiful and has an abundance of natural attractions, as well as a tranquil beach for swimming and snorkeling. Playa Herradura is located about 6 km north of Jaco. The bay, shaped like a horseshoe, gave rise to the name, which means horseshoe in Spanish. Sport fishing, golf, and visits to nearby Carara National Park are just a few of the attractions in Playa Herradura.

Playa Herradura was featured in the film as the set for the movie, 1492 Conquest of Paradise, and it became more popular after that time. Once a sleeping quiet beach town, it is now visited by more tourists but still has a tranquil beach. With black sand and a shore lined with palms, it appears like paradise.

Los Suenos Marina, Central Pacific, Costa RicaWith Jaco as your destination, the nearby rainforest provides an abundance of tours and excursions, with awesome views and adventure. Zip line can move you through the diverse and spectacular canopy of the forest and an aerial tram is also part of a tour designed to enable visitors to more slowly move through the tropical forest and lush landscape, high above the forest floor. There is also a tour for families and children, which explains and teaches about bio-diversity and the sites within the rainforest. Given the task of designing a tropical shirt or painting a fossil, this tour will inspire curiosity about nature in children. Bird species abound, and a visit to a heliconia garden and snake exhibit is on one of the tours. A 40 foot waterfall and views of the Pacific are all part of the aerial tram experience.

The Carara Biological Reserve, north of Jaco, offers horseback riding and hiking, as well as an abundance of scarlet macaws. The birds are most active at sunrise and sunset, which makes that the best time for hiking the hour-long trail at the reserve.

Golf is a favorite sport of some vacationers. The 18 hole golf course at Las Suenos Resort is La Iguana, and boasts three-toed sloths, monkeys, and toucans as inhabitants who watch the players. Guides here give tours about the surrounding nature, as they go through the course. Alongside a rainforest, with spectacular ocean views, this golf course is challenging and a golf experience to remember.

Surfing is a popular sport at some of the beach area around Playa Herradura. Jaco is a popular surfing spot, and Playa Herradura is rapidly becoming popular with surfers as well.

A visit to Playa Herradura is an amazing holiday in nature, with beaches, rainforests, and wildlife, as well as perhaps, an occasional game of golf.

Playa Hermosa

Nestled along the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica in Puntarenas Province is the lovely Pacific haven of Playa Hermosa. Unlike many of its neighbors, Playa Hermosa is not overcrowded with tourists or the subsequent commercialism found in most resort towns. It is a lovely escape for those seeking to enjoy some quiet relaxation although there are several good restaurants to choose from with live entertainment at some of the hotels.

Though Costa Rica was first visited by Christopher Columbus on his final voyage to the New World in September 1502, evidence of Costa Rican civilization has been found dating as far back as 8000 BC. The name Costa Rica comes from the golden jewelry worn by the indigenous people of the region and means Rich Coast. It was given to this beautiful land by Gil Gonzalez Davila.

Playa Hermosa, Central Pacific, Costa RicaAlthough not highly commercial, there is plenty to see and do in Playa Hermosa! Surfing is a favorite pastime here and the coast along Playa Hermosa is famous for its amazing and consistent surf breaks. Not for the beginner to be sure due to the strong currents, but for the experienced surfer the outstanding waves offer world class surfing. For the beginner, a short trip to nearby Jaco is ideally suited for all surfing abilities. Playa Hermosa is also the home of the annual International Quicksilver Surf Championships each August that brings the best surfers from around the world to compete for the title.

The adventurous traveler will surely enjoy ziplining through the forest canopy, a fun and exciting way to spend a morning or afternoon. Imagine gliding along high above the forest floor, sailing through air along the tree tops of the lush Costa Rican forest.

For those who enjoy the challenge of ocean fishing, the waters off Playa Hermosa offer world class sport fishing. This particular region is home to some of the largest fish found in the Pacific Ocean including bill fish, marlin, tuna, sailfish and more, attracting fisherman from all over. Outstanding fresh water fishing is also widely enjoyed in Costa Rica.

The Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge offers a number of activities available for visitors to enjoy. Wildlife and bird watching are favorites due to the abundant and varied species found within its mangrove swamp and lush forest lands. Hiking trails wind through the forest presenting great opportunities for a photo safari. Scarlet macaws, herons and many colorful bird species inhabit the refuge along with snakes, crocodiles, raccoons and many other species.

The refuge is also home to a protected nesting beach of the Olive Ridley sea turtle, the smallest marine turtle in the world, as well as several different habitats that include mangrove estuaries, ocean, beach and secondary forest areas.


Puntarenas means ‘sand point,’ in Spanish. It is the capitol and the largest city of the province of the same name. It is located in Costa Rica in the Central Pacific region. It possesses beaches that are on the Pacific Ocean, thus effectively making it a touristy spot. However, there is more to Puntarenas than beaches and palm trees.Puntarenas, Costa Rica with Nicoya Peninsula in Background

The city of Puntarenas was originally called Villa Bruselas during the colonial period. In 1519, the Spanish explorer Hernan Ponce de Leon discovered the area. Although Puntarenas was an effective harbor, it was not properly used to reach Costa Rica until 1840 when the coffee production of the island began to become successful. In 1845, the government declared that the Port of Puntarenas was a duty-free port – although Cognac and hard liquor was not considered without taxation. The coffee for the ships was brought to the harbor on oxcarts. These carts were then dragged on an arduous path through the mountains. During the late 1860s, a piece of railroad was erected, one that connected some of the main towns of the province, thus making the transportation of goods somewhat less difficult. The trading port of Puntarenas lasted well into the 20th century, though due to different factors, such as aging and the slow deterioration of the port and its ships, led the province to move the port to another location. This location turned out to be Caldera, which was, interestingly enough, used to anchor ships during colonial times.

The climate of Puntarenas is somewhat hotter than the rest of the Costa Rican territory. The temperature reaches about 30 to 30 degrees Celsius in the hottest and coldest months. Because it is located right near the equator the climate is also tropical, lending a hand to the flora and fauna that grow in abundance throughout the island. It is also this same tropical climate that made Puntarenas ideal for coffee production, and it remains so to this day.

Puntarenas today is an important port of call for major cruise liners. Although it does not service trading or cargo ships any longer, it still has a hand in providing coffee.

Tourists can enjoy horseback riding, recreational hiking, adventure tours, bird watching, sun bathing, swimming, snorkeling, photography, sports-fishing and cultural activities when they visit. Through the respective year, the community celebrates historical, religious, artistic or civic events. It’s also a great place to surf. There are architectural wonders to visit while you are visiting, as well. One of these is the old Port Military Headquarters. The Central Church is also an architectural gem to view. The horseback riding can be immensely enjoyed galloping along the beautiful Puntarenas beaches. There’s not a dull moment!


Quepos is a magnificent town located in the Puntarenas province of Costa Rica. Located just 100 miles from the capital of San Jose, Quepos is still a small and traditional town. Although tourism has become a significant industry for the town, several efforts have been made to keep its small size and quiet charms, rather than letting it become another Central American resort town. Its largest attraction is its proximity to the Manuel Antonio National Park, and most visitors staying in Quepos also plan to visit the park.

Quepos has a fascinating history. In the colonial era, a group of native indigenous indians resided in the area we now known as Quepos. The indians were called Quepo, which is how the town received it’s name. Today, a small piece of the original city walls can be found, reminding visitors of the colonial past.

Waterfront, Quepos, Central Pacific, Costa RicaIt is without a doubt that the main attraction in the town of Quepos is the Manuel Antonio National Park, located just a few kilometers away. At 682 hectares in size, it is one of Costa Rica’s smallest National Parks. However, it is also one of the most beautiful and most popular. Hiking is a popular pastime in the area, as well as relaxing at one of the stunning beaches within the park. In an effort to protect the area and prevent overcrowding from increased tourism, the government has limited the park’s capacity to 600 people at a time, which increases to 800 on the weekends. This means that visitors who want to visit the National Park should get there early to guarantee their entry, or risk waiting for someone else to leave or simply being turned away.

Main Street, Quepos, Central Pacific, Costa RicaA prime section of the tourism industry within Qeupos revolves around the ocean, and various recreational sea activities. Surfing lessons are provided to novices, as well as equipment rental for things like rafting and kayaking. Snorkeling is a common pastime in the pristine waters, and SCUBA instructors abound to lead groups of divers deep into the stunning blue ocean. Fishing tours are advertised throughout the town, and Quepos is known for its plethora of deep sea fish, including Pacific Sailfish and Marlin. Several Americans have retired to Quepos with their boats, providing charters for groups or individuals and guaranteeing a catch.

The climate in Quepos is certainly tropical, with relatively high humidity year round. The dry season is from December to March, and the wettest time of year is in September and October. Although the weather may not be enjoyable for hiking, it is the time when the green plants are most vibrant and beautiful, and many of the mountain hikes are deserted, granting you privacy and seclusion.


Dominical is a beautiful beachfront town found in Costa Rica. Located just 45 kilometers south of the larger city Quepos, Dominical is one of the most visited cities within the Puntarenas province. There is no denying that the biggest attraction of Dominical is the ocean. Surfers from all over the world come to this beach to surf the legendary waves, and many professional surfers retire here after their careers have officially ended. While the industry was once reliant on African oil palm plantations, today the bulk of the city’s revenue is derived from tourism. Even if surfing isn’t your idea of a good time, there are plenty of fantastic ways to spend your time in Dominical.

Dominical, Central Pacific, Costa RicaFor many tourists, a trip to Dominical is a great reason to improve their surfing skills, or just stand up on a board for the first time. Luckily, there are countless surfing schools and retired professionals who make their living by giving travelers lessons. Nowhere else in the world can a complete novice receive surfing tuition from those who were once world-class competitors. As might be expected in a surfing town, the atmosphere is very laid back and relaxed, with little need for clocks.

There are also plenty on recreational activities not based around a surfboard. Dominical is one of the only places in the world where you can see whales from both the Northern and the Southern hemispheres in one location. For over 9 months of the year, a variety of whales can be spotted by the naked eye from the shoreline. For a closer look, whale watching tours take you five miles offshore to the Marino Ballena National Park, where humpback whales, along with 5 other species, can be seen. Boat trips can last for an afternoon or a whole day, and many include snacks, a lunch, or a chance to snorkel out at sea.

Head away from the coastline and is it apparent that inland Dominical also have much to offer. Several companies have set up adventure tours that give visitors a chance to try new activities like horseback riding, zip-lining, or exploring caves. The incredible mountains offer great hiking paths, and several waterfalls dot the landscape. Dominical is home to rapids up to class 4, and trained guides will lead visitors, guiding their boats over the toughest sections.

There are several accommodation options in Dominical, ranging from inexpensive guest houses on the beach for backpackers on a budget to eco-lodge resorts set atop the mountains. Restaurants dot the shoreline, and many are open until the late hours of the night, transitioning at dark into a casual seaside bar. A combination of Costa Rican specialties and international favorites are found in most restaurants, catering to all types of clientele.


Jaco, Costa Rica is a town of about 10,000 located on the Central Pacific Coast. A beach town, Jaco stands out for its great fishing, beaches and night life. As more and more tourists are discovering Costa Rica, this area has become more and more popular with visitors.

Jaco is a combination of a modern town with an older Costa Rican culture. It features up-to-date resorts along with family style accommodations at the southern end of town. Most tourists arrive to Jaco at the Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose. This airport is located about 80 miles from Jaco. Options to arrive in Jaco include taxi, shuttle bus, local bus or car rental. It is a good idea to reschedule a shuttle bus with your reservations. Many shuttles will run directly to local hotels. Renting a car is also a good idea if you don’t mind driving in a foreign country. Most roads are safe and well maintained. This gives you the option of seeing more of the surrounding area.

Jaco, Central Pacific,Costa RicaThere are a variety of places to stay in Jaco. This include hotels, resorts, privately owned apartments or condominiums and houses converted to inns. It is best to reserve a residence in advance. While a choice of staying depends on your group and economics, some good local choices are Morgans Cove Resort, Club de Mar, and the Bahia Encantada condominiums.

Jaco is famous for its party life. Some great choices are the Monkey Bar, Pancho Villa, Backyard Bar, and the Club Vibe which opens from midnight to dawn. Most other bars close at 2:30 AM. Another choice is the Beatle Bar, which is an adult’s only bar. Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica, and the center for this in Jaco is the Beatle Bar. For the sports minded, the Los Amigos Sports Bar and Grill is also open to 2:30 am and features both a bar and dining areas. In addition, many resorts have their own night life bars and areas.

Fishing is another popular attraction in Jaco. There are many tour boats that can be hired to take tourists out for deep sea fishing, or local catches from the rivers. Along the beaches it is easy to rent boogie and surf boards. Most rental stores also provide training classes for those new to the sport.
The beach establishments also rent other items to bring to the beach with you. Beach access is free in most cases. A most important items to bring are beach shoes or swimming shoes. The beaches here feature black sand and this becomes quite warm in the afternoon with bear feet. The temperature in Costa Rica is pretty consistent, with the highs being 85-90 degrees in the afternoon. The non-rainy season here is between December to April.

If you have a car, there are several side trips that are fun to do. Driving north from Jaco, you can visit the city of Herradura and its quiet beach, the Villa Caletas hotel, the Punta Leona Resort and Playa Blanco. Continue on to the bridge over the River Tarcoles, park and watch the crocodiles in their natural habitat. South from Jaco, you can visit the Playa Hermosillo, the Manual Antonio National Park and the Mono Azul sloth rescue project.

In town, Jaco has several shopping malls, shops and stands that feature jewelry, surf clothes, fabric and assorted Costa Rican handicrafts. The El Galeone Mall has several floors and features the popular Costa Rica Coffee Experience and the Guacamole clothing store. Taxis are readily available to travel around the city. Official taxis are red. It might be best to have your hotel or store arrange a taxi to take you back to your accommodations. There are private taxis as well, and not all of these can be trusted to charge the usual fare.