Extending over 130 kilometers from Punta Conejo in the north to the Baru River in the south, the Central Pacific Zone features exotic beaches, seaside villages and picturesque towns interspersed amid intimate coves and scenic bays.
The region’s main attractions are its unspoiled beaches and protected wilderness areas which, in some cases, are less than two hours from San José, allowing for quick access. Wilderness areas include wildlife refuges, national parks, and biological preserves. The area’s close proximity to the Central Valley makes it ideal for organizing sporting events, as well as cultural and recreational activities.
Also worthy of note is the scenic beauty along the coastal highway that connects the Caldera area with the Quepos and Manuel Antonio regions.
Visitors will find an abundance of accommodation options that include everything from all-inclusive mega-resorts and luxurious hilltop hotels to romantic hideaways and various budget offerings. The Quepos and Manuel Antonio areas are characterized by upscale, stylish accommodations while further south in Dominical visitors will encounter small secluded cabins and hotels.
Surfing, kayaking, rafting, and hiking are just a few of the activities visitors will find on the action-packed Central Pacific. Many activities are designed to provide visitors with a deeper understanding of the area’s natural and cultural treasures, as well as an enjoyable outdoor adventure experience.
Boasting quality tourism facilities and services, the Quepos–Manuel Antonio area is a favored tourist hot spot. A short three-hour drive from San José, visitors to this area may enjoy rainforest-clad mountains, idyllic beaches, and lovely romantic vistas, as well as luxurious hotels and trendy restaurants and shops. A wide variety of attractions are available that include all-terrain-vehicle tours, mangrove swamp boat tours, sport fishing, canopy adventures, butterfly gardens, horseback riding, bird watching, ultralight flights and more.
Sport – Fishing
Sport-fishing is one of the Central Pacific’s main tourist attractions, drawing enthusiastic anglers from all parts of the world. Various types of sportfishing may be enjoyed in the deep-blue waters off Quepos including both recreational and professional.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park’s 1,687 acres boasts some of the country’s most varied and breathtaking scenery. Surrounded by lush tropical rainforest, the park’s trails offer frequent sightings of white-faced monkeys, sloths, coatis, raccoons, iguanas, and many bird species, as well as the Costa Rican squirrel monkey (Saimiri oerstedii citrinellus), which is endemic (only found here) to Manuel Antonio. Increasingly endangered, at last count, these monkeys numbered only 1,500. The park also encompasses a 35-acre lagoon, a mangrove swamp, and 12 small islets that provide refuge for several seabird species.
This area features some of Costa Rica’s most scenic beaches including Espadilla Sur, Puerto Escondido and Manuel Antonio, a small half-moon beach fringed by lush vegetation and turquoise seas. Connecting the beaches of Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur, Punta Catedral is a majestic promontory that provides spectacular views of the area and features some of the park’s best nature trails.
Visitor services include an information center, a park ranger station, trails, restrooms, drinking water, signage, and several natural lookout points.
Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge
Located in an area of mangrove swamps and pristine beaches, this recently created oceanfront refuge is a prime-nesting site for many birds, as well as the olive ridley turtles which come and lay their eggs between the months of June and December.
As the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park, Quepos has become a thriving center of operations for tour operators, fishing outfits and hotels. It’s an eclectic mix of shops and restaurants betray a large international community drawn here by the town’s multicultural, yet quirky, ambiance.
Quepos first came to prominence as a banana-exporting port. And although banana exports have declined considerably in recent years, the town still maintains an important relationship with banana production activities – old Banana Company structures can still be seen to this day.
The city offers a variety of accommodations, dining and recreation options, as well as spectacular scenery nearby. Its wharf serves as the region’s main departure point for sport-fishing and recreational boat trips.
At just seven meters above sea level, the city of Jacó features a large gray sand beach which is ideal for enjoying the sea and sun. Its proximity to San José makes it one of the most visited beaches in the country by both Costa Ricans and foreigners. Jacó offers one of the most extensive selections of tourist services in Costa Rica.
Shaped in a pleasant curve, its four-kilometer-long beach is bordered by hills and rocky outcrops at both ends. Swimming and surfing are the most popular activities, yet visitors should proceed with caution as frequently there are strong currents and riptides. Visitors can walk or ride horses along the beach, rent mountain bikes and scooters, or take a ride around a go-cart track. Boat travel is possible from Jacó to Playa Escondida, a well-known beach among surfers.
Located not far from Quepos, the Damas mangrove swamps may be toured by boat or kayak and offer visitors the opportunity to marvel at the area’s unique plant and animal life, particularly white-faced monkeys and an infinite number of birds.
Hiking Carara National Park
Originally established as a biological preserve in 1978, Carara National Park is made up of 13,000 acres of both dry and wet tropical forest. The park contains three different life zones and many tree species such as Ojoche, Guanacaste, Cristobal and purpleheart, which are highly valued for their wood. Standing out among the park’s wildlife species are peccaries, ocelots, white-faced monkeys and, perhaps most representative, scarlet macaws, which can be seen with relative ease in this park as well as on the Osa Peninsula. Guides are available at the park entrance to provide information and experienced eyes for spotting animals and birds.
Visitor services include parking, an information center, a park ranger station, drinking water, restrooms, picnic areas, lookout points, signage and several trails, such as Las Aráceas (1,200 meters) and Quebrada Bonita (1,500 meters).