It is no coincidence that Costa Rica translates to “Rich Coast” in English. The small country is flanked on either side by two oceans, both with distinct personalities and characteristics. The Caribbean Sea lies to Costa Rica’s east and the Pacific Ocean lies to its west. There are 12 different ecological zones within the country between these two bodies of water. It should then come as no surprise that Costa Rica’s coastal and marine ecosystems are equally diverse. The following five destinations are highlights of the Rich Coast that we believe capture this diversity. Even just one of these highlights will leave even the most seasoned traveler with a truly unique coastal experience.
There are several destinations along Costa Rica’s coastlines that are known for turtle nesting, but Playa Ostional is a stand out. The beach of Playa Ostional is home to a rare natural phenomenon known as arribadas or “arrival” in Spanish. For generations, masses of Olive-Ridley Sea Turtles have annually traveled to bury their eggs in the beach’s black sand. Turtle nesting at Playa Ostional typically takes place in the green season between August and November. If you have the opportunity to visit during an arribada, check in at the ranger station at the southern end of the beach. Playa Ostional, now Ostional Wildlife Refuge, is strictly monitored by environmentalist who aim to protect this natural marvel in an effort to keep the turtles coming back.
Marino Ballena National Park
Marino Ballena National Park is a national marine park situated on the South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Named for the whales that frequent the shoreline and for the remarkable whale’s tale formation seen from above, Marino Ballena National Park is a great destination for snorkeling and, of course, whale watching. Enjoy a day exploring surrounding beaches. The beaches here enjoy habitually stunning sunsets. And if the tide is low, you can actually walk out onto the whale’s tale sand bar for a panoramic view.
Marine Life: Breathtaking Beaches, Humpback Whales, Dolphins, Tropical Fish
The Gulfo Dulce, just off the Osa Peninsula, is one of only three tropical fjords in the world. This alone illustrates the breadth of unique underwater marine life in this area. Protected from the wild waters of the Pacific Ocean, the Gulfo Dulce is generally calm, hence its name, “Sweet Gulf.” Sea kayaking, snorkeling, and estuary cruises are all fun ways to explore the area. Humpback Whales also frequent the gulf, attracted to the calm waters. The little Gulfo Dulce is surrounded by some of the most remote rainforests in the world. So if you’re passionate about wildlife of both land and sea, the Gulfo Dulce is your destination.
Highlights: Humpback Whales, Dolphins, Tropical Fish, Snorkeling, Watersports
Off the South Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, about 45 minutes away from Marino Ballena National Park by boat is Cano Island. Cano Island is one of the best destinations in Costa Rica for snorkeling and diving. The water surrounding the island is clear, especially in the dry season, and the fish are plentiful. Boat tours to the island can be arranged from the Osa Peninsula by your lodge or from the South Pacific beaches near Uvita with local tour companies.
Highlights: Coral, Manta Rays, Parrot Fish, Snorkeling, Diving
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park, situated on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, has the country’s largest living coral reef – a true paradise for divers and snorkelers. Copious tropical fish and marine life inhabit these warm waters. Local guides know the best places to see marine life at any given time so it’s worth it to prearrange a tour with your hotel or in town. Tip: To see more marine life, travel in the dry season when the water is most clear.
Highlights: Nurse Sharks, Manta Rays, Sea Urchins, Coral Reef, Tropical Fish, Dolphins, Jelly Fish, Snorkeling, Diving
About the Author:
Sarah Meils is one of the travel writers behind Costa Rica Experts, a Costa Rica tour operator specializing in custom vacation packages to Costa Rica, Panama, & Nicaragua. Costa Rica Experts aims to inspire and provide travel resources for new and returning travelers to Costa Rica.