This 10-day vacation includes a self-drive road trip through some of Costa Rica’s most notable beaches. Take in the sites along the Nicoya Peninsula, including plenty of opportunities to snorkel, paddleboard, kayak, and swim your way through each stop. Surfers can catch breaks at several destinations on the list–Tamarindo, Nosara, and Santa Teresa. Take some time to relax, stroll each beach town, and enjoy local Costa Rican fare along the way.

Highlights

  • Surf the advanced “Witch’s Rock” in Playa Naranjo
  • Go on a 2-hour paddleboarding tour of Boca Nosara
  • Embark on a lively nature hike at the Curú Wildlife Refuge
  • Discover the bioluminescent bay off Quesera Beach at night

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Arrive in Liberia and Drive to Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 2 Tamarindo - Private Surfing Lesson Tamarindo
Day 3 Tamarindo - Sunset Catamaran Adventure Tamarindo
Day 4 Drive to Nosara Nosara
Day 5 Nosara - SUP Mangrove Tour Nosara
Day 6 Nosara - Free Day Nosara
Day 7 Travel to Playa Tambor and Santa Teresa Playa Tambor
Day 8 Santa Teresa - Free Day and Evening Bay Tour Santa Teresa
Day 9 Santa Teresa - Free Day Santa Teresa
Day 10 Depart From San José San José

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Arrive in Liberia and drive to Tamarindo

Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Welcome to Costa Rica! Liberia is the northern hub of the Guanacaste Province, an area famous for both its Pacific beaches and inland mountainous regions. You'll get to experience all of it on this self-driving Costa Rican road trip.

After touching down at Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, you'll meet our representative and pick up your rental vehicle. Get behind the wheel and travel about 1.5 hours west to Tamarindo, on the Pacific coast. On the way, you'll pass the tropical dry forest of Guanacaste, until you reach the blue waters of the Pacific.

Get settled into your lodging and take the evening to relax in Tamarindo after your day of travel.

Day 2: Tamarindo - Private surfing lesson

Playa Tamarindo
Playa Tamarindo

In the morning, take a private surf lesson on Playa Tamarindo. Then, take the rest of the day to practice riding the waves on your own, or enjoy some well-deserved relaxation on the beach. 

A must-visit spot near Tamarindo for more experienced surfers is Playa Naranjo, which locals have nicknamed "Witch’s Rock." It's located in a national park, is accessible only by boat, and features a big surf with both left- and right-breaking waves. A few miles beyond, you'll reach Ollie’s Point, another great surfing locale to check out.

If you’re looking for something a bit more Zenlike, take a yoga class at one of Tamarindo's studios. You can also stroll through town and enjoy a meal at a local café.

Day 3: Tamarindo - Private surfing lesson

A sunset cruise on the Pacific
Sunset along the Pacific

Today, you will hit the road again–this time driving south from Tamarindo toward another great surf spot, Nosara. The trip itself only takes a couple of hours, but there are plenty of places you can stop along the way for a drink, food, or a dip in the water.

For example, Playa Avellanas (just south of Tamarindo) is a famous surfing beach (nicknamed "Little Hawaii" for its large waves), and it's also home to Lola's Beach Bar. This is perhaps the most famous watering hole in the Guanacaste Province, thanks in large part to Lolita, the resident pig who doubles as the bar's official mascot.

Once you arrive in Nosara, you'll check into your hotel. If you still have energy, there are other beaches you can explore nearby, such as Sámara and Carillo.

Day 4: Drive to Nosara

There's more surfing opportunities south of Tamarindo
Enjoy more surfing south of Tamarindo

Nosara is home to the Boca Nosara, a river mouth where both the Nosara and Montana rivers converge. Where these rivers meet the ocean, there is a section of mangrove wetlands that host an abundance of marine life. It's also the departure point for many kayak and standup paddleboard (SUP) tours in Nosara. 

Today you'll paddle around, while also taking in the region's exotic flora and fauna. Birders will enjoy the sights of egrets, kingfishers, and spoonbills, and you might even get lucky and spot a crocodile or two. Tours typically involve a stop at a remote beach, where you'll enjoy some fresh fruit.

SUP Tour Duration: 2 hours

Day 5: Nosara - SUP mangrove tour

Paddling the mangrove wetlands in Nosara
Go standup paddleboarding in the mangrove wetlands of Boca Nosara

Nosara is interesting in that it is home to the Boca Nosara, a river mouth where both the Nosara and Montana rivers converge. Where these rivers meet the ocean is a section of mangrove wetlands home to an abundance of marine life. It's also the departure point for many kayak and SUP tours in Nosara. 

Today you'll paddle around while also taking in the region's exotic flora and fauna. Birders will enjoy the sights of egrets, kingfishers, and spoonbills, and you might even get lucky and spot a crocodile or two. Tours typically involve a stop at a remote beach where you'll enjoy some fresh fruit.

SUP tour duration: Two hours

Day 6: Nosara - Free day

Embark on a waterfall hike
Embark on a waterfall hike in Nosara

This is your free day to spend however you please. You can relax in a beachside hammock all day with nothing but a book and the sound of the waves to keep you company. But, if you want to get out and explore, here are some great ideas for nearby excursions below.

You can embark on a 45-minute waterfall hike into the heart of Nosara. This easy-to-moderate trek is ideal for any traveler, young or old. Along the way, you'll cross various running streams until the hike culminates at a natural pool and plunging waterfall where you will, of course, be able to take a dip.

Travel an hour north out of town, past the city of Nicoya, to Barra Honda National Park. This small, protected area is a geological landmark, in that it's home to a network of over 40 limestone caverns, with one major one being open to the public. It makes for a great caving tour, and you can go with a group or on your own (there are tour guides at the cave entrance, and they will provide all necessary safety equipment). If you're traveling on your own, a 4x4 vehicle is recommended to arrive here.

Just a few miles south of Nosara are some more stunning beaches ideal for surfing and/or swimming. On a self-drive tour, you can make your way down the Nicoya Peninsula to the prime surf destination of Playa Guillones–the breaks here are ideal for beginner and intermediate wave riders–then travel further down to Sámara, a little coastal community known for its art galleries, laid-back vibe, and beautiful beach. Finally, hit Playa Carillo, a wide and inviting beach relatively free of the touristy crowds.

Day 7: Travel to Playa Tambor and Santa Teresa

Playa Santa Teresa
Playa Santa Teresa

This morning, you'll drive south to Santa Teresa, renowned for its excellent surf, beautiful beaches, and a friendly, laid-back atmosphere. After checking in to your hotel, the rest of the day is yours to surf or explore. One idea for the afternoon is to visit Playa Tambor, which is set on Bahía Ballena and is renowned for its beautiful beaches and abundant marine life. Or, rent a kayak or standup paddleboard at the nearby fishing village of Pochote for a paddle through the mangroves. Along the way, you'll spot water birds like egrets, herons, and ibises. 

Here are a few restaurant recommendations for your stay in Santa Teresa: 

  • Enjoy a meal with your feet in the sand at Banana Beach, which offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as well as potent tropical cocktails) overlooking the water, but note that it is cash-only
  • Burger Rancho serves up a long list of patties (including veggie options), as well as salads, seafood, and smoothies in an airy, wood-filled space that includes TVs for watching the latest game
  • Zuma Restaurant is a favorite for Israeli fare, like hummus, shish kababs, and falafel, as well as Costa Rican dishes; you can also expect a lengthy menu of smoothies that hit the spot for breakfast or a healthy post-surf snack
  • Soda Tiquicia is an easy stop for casados (traditional Costa Rican meals with rice, meat, beans, and salad) in a casual, family-friendly space

Day 8: Santa Teresa - Free day and evening bay tour

The golden sands of Playa Tambor
The golden sands of Playa Tambor

Make your way to Playa Tambor, where you'll have the morning and afternoon free to explore as you’d like. Some recommended options include:

  • Nature hiking in the Curú Wildlife Refuge: Located in Paquera, this private refuge is considered one of the best places in the Nicoya Peninsula for nature and wildlife lovers. Here, you'll find lots of different ecosystems with a wide variety of species, such as monkeys, iguanas, and macaws, on this 90-minute guided hike. You'll also learn about organic agriculture, sustainable use of the land, animal behavior, and how the locals use various plants as natural remedies and medicines.
  • Curú Wildlife Refuge and Isla Tortuga: Combine a trip to Curú with a stopover at the neighboring Isla Tortuga, one of the region's best snorkeling spots. Take a boat from Curú to the snorkeling spot, about 15 minutes away. When you've had enough snorkeling for the time being, head toward the island for some fresh fruit and play time on the beach. After a two-hour break, sail back to the beach at Curú on a different route that will take you by the majestic Rainbow Rock formation jutting out of the sea.
  • Horseback riding: Explore the beautiful Nicoya Peninsula from a different vantage point and go horseback riding on the beach, through the jungle, inside the Curú Wildlife Refuge, or in the hills above the bay. 
  • Fishing: Try your hand at fishing informally, or ask your guide about booking a half-day, deep-sea fishing trip, where you can catch marlin, tuna, mahi-mahi, and more.

You can also simply relax on the golden beaches of Tambor, where the waves are placid and the sand is flat at low tide–perfect for soccer or beach volleyball. Or, maybe go for a peaceful walk along the 2.5-mile-long beach path around the bay.

In the evening, set out on a bioluminescent tour of the bay. This three-hour interactive trip starts with a short sea kayaking excursion from the beach at the Curú Wildlife Refuge to Quesera Beach, about a 20-minute paddle away. Take a break on the fine white sands of Quesera, and watch the sunset as you snack on fresh fruit and sip on refreshing drinks.

Feel free to take a dip in the crystal-clear waters as your guide explains the phenomenon of bioluminescence emitted by the surrounding flora and fauna. Then, don your snorkeling mask and follow your guide to the best spots to observe the natural, neon-blue light in the water around you. 

Kayaking Distance: 3.75 miles

Day 9: Santa Teresa - Free day

Get into warrior pose at one of several yoga studios
Take a yoga class in Santa Teresa

Today, you’ll have the freedom to explore Santa Teresa and the nearby area. When it comes to activities, there's something for everyone: 

  • Playa Santa Teresa has some of the best and most consistent waves in all of Costa Rica, making it a great choice for beginners who want to try a surf lesson
  • Go on a guided horseback ride through the hills of nearby fishing hamlet Mal País, ending with a sunset ride along the beach
  • Unwind with a yoga session (there are several studios in town) or a standup paddleboarding lesson along the shore
  • Spend the morning sportfishing for mahi-mahi, tuna, sailfish, and marlin, then bring your catch to Banana Beach Restaurant and have them prepare it for you
  • Rent an ATV to explore the forest trails and visit some of the area's more remote beaches

Day 10: Depart from San José

Teatro Nacional, an opulent Neo-Classical building constructed in the late 19th century, which offers free guided tours
Teatro Nacional in San José

After breakfast, you'll drive back to San José to catch your flight back home.

Before your departure time–remember to be at the airport 3 hours before your flight–you will drop your car off at the car rental agency near the airport. From there, a free shuttle will take you to the airport. Safe Travels!

Map

Map of Costa Rica: Nicoya Peninsula Tour - 10 Days
Map of Costa Rica: Nicoya Peninsula Tour - 10 Days