Costa Rica is not lacking in visitors, and with so many other travelers it can be difficult to leave the tourist area at times. But think about it for a moment; Costa Rica is home to 6% of the world’s biodiversity, and scientists believe there are more endemic species to discover. So if you can’t find any hidden corners in this country, you are wrong with something.
Many of Costa Rica’s dream destinations are remote, in more hidden places in the country, protected by national parks or difficult to access due to challenging dirt roads. But the same effort and time make the trip worthwhile. Put these destinations on your itinerary and discover these hidden places full of wonders.
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1. Cabo Blanco / Cabuya Island
The first on your list: Cabo Blanco Island. This island is located a few kilometers from the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula and consists of a huge rock that juts out of the Pacific. Although this rugged little island is almost devoid of vegetation, it is home to the largest population of white gannets in the country. The name Cabo Blanco comes from the guano that covers parts of this outcrop. You can hire a local fisherman to take you to this extremely remote island to go diving, fishing or whale watching.
The Cabo Blanco nature reserve protects the island, as does a small stretch of coast, which on the other hand contains all the vegetation that is missing on the island – and also all animals. The tufted elk, morpho butterflies, the Catana parrot, armadillos, coatis and various species of wild cats live here. You might miss some of these species, but for sure you won’t be able to avoid the Congos, which scream so loudly they swing between the trees that can be heard from miles away.
In contrast to Manuel Antonio National Park, which is further south on the Pacific coast and has year-round visitors, this nature reserve is quieter and more peaceful. You can stay overnight in the small town of Cabuya or drive to MalpaÃs. The latter is a laid-back city where surfing predominates, which Costa Ricans love so much that there is a very famous musical group in the country that bears the city’s name. You’ll have to take a bus back to Cabuya to get to the park, but the secluded, scenic route is well worth it.
2. San Gerardo de Dota
Less than 3 hours south of the capital, this rural town in the Talamanca Mountains is almost devoid of tourists and tourist infrastructure, apart from a few environmentally friendly hotels and lemonades (typical restaurants). But San Gerardo de Dota is one of the few places in Costa Rica that you can see the quetzal. To give you an idea, another of its habitats is in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which receives more than 250,000 tourists each year. Although it is becoming more and more popular among bird watchers, San Gerardo de Dota remains unknown to most international visitors.
In addition to an amazing bird life (with more than 200 species besides the quetzal!) The Los Santos Forest Reserve offers you endless green paths, often covered with fog. The ecosystems of these mountains reach a height of 3,600 meters above sea level and are arranged in layers on top of one another, with dense oak forests on the heights and the rainforest below. Peccaries can be seen through the lowlands, while the Savegre River offers spectacular trout fishing.
3. Punta Manzanillo
The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is unique in the country. You won’t find the typical Gallo Pinto on the table here, as this region has a special charm for the Afro-Caribbean culture. There you can taste the hottest food, listen to the loudest music and enjoy the hottest water.
You start by driving south until the road ends. At the southern end of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, you’ll find a quiet beach in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. It’s called Punta Manzanillo and it will make your heart beat faster with its sapphire-colored waters, almond-fringed sands, and wildlife including sloths, monkeys, toucans, and tropical fish.
Within the reserve, wetland palms protect tapirs, an endangered species, as well as a wide variety of wildlife. It’s like an Eden, but more exotic. When you’re done exploring the refuge, enjoy seared yucca or rondÃ³n, a local soup, in one of the lemonades.
4. Ostional National Wildlife Reserve
Near the impressive Las Baulas National Marine Park is the Ostional Wildlife Reserve, the main site for the annual arrival of Kemp’s Ridley turtles. This phenomenon consists in the arrival of hundreds of female sea turtles, known locally as the Olive Ridley Turtle, who come to the coast during a season lasting several months.
You will arrive in groups, usually a few days before the new moon, when the night is at its darkest. Hundreds of turtles congregate in coastal waters for days, increasing their numbers. And then at the same time, as if by a secret signal, they begin to come ashore to lay their eggs. The first group always arrives at night – hundreds at a time – then the others rise in a steady wave over the next few days.
Although there are tours that run through the place, it’s not saturated with tourists, probably because the show takes place in the dark. Arrival is possible at any time between July and December. However, the high season is between August and November.
Note: The environment in which the turtles lay their eggs is extremely delicate so it is important that you travel with an experienced guide. Not only might you get into trouble walking in alone; You could risk crushing the eggs or damaging the delicate ecosystem. Remember to be smart and respectful of nature!
5. Matapalo Beach
Located on the southern tip of the wild Osa Peninsula, Playa Matapalo is a laid-back and windy surf beach almost at the end of the road. It’s a 6- to 7-hour drive from San JosÃ©, which avoids the crowds on the beach as most prefer to visit Tamarindo or JacÃ³.
There isn’t much to do in Matapalo and that is what makes it so special. It’s a place where you don’t have to book a tour or take part in group activities – it feels far from the rest of the world. It’s a place to read a book on the beach or just watch the tide rise and fall. It’s close to Corcovado National Park without being inside the park’s boundaries, so you can enjoy the splendor of the area without paying a park entrance fee. If you want to take a day trip to the park, you are half an hour from the park office.
You should always keep this tip in mind: Sometimes the best places in Costa Rica are hidden.