The Nicoya Peninsula is one of the world’s blue zones and the largest province in Costa Rica, it is made up of the Northern Province of Guanacaste and the southern area of Puntarenas Province. The trees engulf the roads with sounds of the monkeys echoing through the miles and miles of jungles. The beaches boast the most beautiful and vibrant sunsets in the country. It is as if you are entering a scene from a tropical paradise movie, there is nothing else like it in Costa Rica.
If your destination is the Nicoya Peninsula then you will be arriving at the Liberia International Airport in Guanacaste which is also known as Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport. This is a small airport however it offers many car rental services to help you on your journey. You can find Budget, Enterprise, National, Green Motion, Alamo, Avis, Sixt, Solid, Diekcant, Hertz, Adobe, and Payless providing services out of the Liberia International Airport.
However, due to the small size of this airport, many of the car rental companies will not have an on-site office. They do make the process very easy and stress-free though. If your car rental company does not provide a physical location here then all you need to do is collect your baggage, clear customs with your entry stamp and simply exit the airport. There will be a designated representative waiting outside holding a sign with the name of your car rental company ready to assist you. The company will offer a shuttle to its location which is usually quite close to complete the necessary paperwork and transactions.
It is always best to plan in advance when renting a vehicle to ensure the best option is available especially during the peak travel season. Costa Rica’s Easter week (known as Semana Santa in Spanish) and also spring break for many. Christmas and New Year’s are extremely busy and you may find nothing is available.
What kind of car do I need to rent?
You do not want to explore this region in an economy or compact car as this car can easily become damaged from the unmaintained and rough roads.
When renting your vehicle for the Nicoya Peninsula ensure you are renting a 4×4 (4WD), it is the most reliable and best investment for your exploration. The Mitsubishi Montero, Suzuki Grand Vitara, Toyota Land Cruiser, Chevrolet Tahoe, Land Rover Defender are all 4WD that will give you security and protection. You will feel safe and secure during your travels on the rugged roads of this area of Costa Rica.
When you first venture out you will find that the highway is paved and easy to travel on, however, the further you drive down the peninsula the more you will appreciate that you rented the 4 x 4 as the roads become less maintained and rural.
What to explore and do in the Nicoya Peninsula?
Exploring the Nicoya Peninsula is a time to unwind and appreciate the slower-paced life, the coastal towns are laid back with a relaxed atmosphere of swimming, surfing, and wellness.
If you are visiting from October to February you may want to make Tamarindo your first stop. It is only an hour’s drive from the Liberia International Airport.
Las Baulas National Park
Las Baulas National Park hosts the Giant Leatherback turtles at Playa Grande where you can bear witness to them laying their eggs. These tours take place in the evenings guided by an experienced ranger. If you want to do some turtle watching during the day you should continue to the Nosara area.
Nosara area and Ostional Wildlife Refuge
At Ostional Wildlife Refuge millions of sea turtles are born here and June to December is a very busy month for them. September and October offer the highest peak; however, this is entering the rainiest months in Costa Rica where driving can become tricky. During the rainy season, it is a necessity to have a 4×4 as it will give you the traction to stay out of the ditch and keep you and your family safely on the road. This terrain can become flooded especially during the height of the rainy season when roads are washed out at times or the potholes become incredibly deep and full of water.
The beautiful white sand beach of Nosara is a wide-open space as there are no properties scattered along the shore. However, you may be interested in some adventure and fun after traveling in your rental. Instead of walking through Nosara to explore, you can see over 11 km from above in a zip line canopy tour. You have the chance to stop at a natural waterfall, flying throughout the jungle and a spectacular view of the coastline giving you an exciting way to see the town.
Playa Samara and Belen Waterfall
As you continue along the Pacific Coast, the small village of Samara is where you will want to stop and enjoy the beach. The waves are calmer at Playa Samara because of the coral reef which is perfect if you have children providing a relaxed place to swim. Samara has a hidden waterfall that is popular amongst the locals and is only 20 minutes away.
You will need to venture onto a dirt road; however, your 4WD rental can get you there handling any part of the road that is uneven. Pack yourself a picnic and enjoy your time in this natural setting, the essence of Costa Rica. It is only a short five-minute trail walk and then you arrive at the Belen Waterfall where you and your family can have your private swimming pool amongst the rocks. It is best to only visit this hidden waterfall during the dry season and not May to November as it could become dangerous with the high water levels. During the other months the water pools are calm, refreshing and a memory you will look back on for a lifetime.
The southern portion of the Nicoya Peninsula is where your 4×4 rental becomes your key investment on your exploration as you make your way to Santa Teresa and Montezuma. The roads in these rural areas are complicated at times with a lot of loose gravel and very deep potholes regardless of which season it is. The 4×4 will give you the clearance you need to maneuver over these large dips without damaging the vehicle.
There is only one dirt road going through the town of Santa Teresa, however, there are numerous great food stops all along the way whether you want vegan, vegetarian, classic Costa Rican soda restaurants, Mediterranean, or simply a delicious pizza. Santa Teresa caters to all culinary tastes, however; the town has a strong focus on health and wellness.
Many visit this southern part of the coast for the chill beach vibes, yoga, and world-class surf. It is a great place to learn to surf and there are countless teachers regardless of your experience. If surfing isn’t on your list of activities, then perhaps you want to try one of the numerous yoga classes offered in Santa Teresa.
Many classes are donation-based and you can find morning yoga on the beach, traditional yoga, and even aerial yoga amongst the countless variety of teachings offered in this wellness-driven town. Another option is to simply enjoy the stunning coast and soak up the sun on the palm tree-lined beach.
There are miles upon miles of tide pools from Santa Teresa to the nearby Mal Pais which is a reason on its own to spend time here. The beach is long and spacious and you will never need to share your tide pool with anyone other than your family. It is easy to spend the day here, forgetting about any worries watching the sunset in a mosaic of vibrant colors.
The Montezuma Waterfalls
Montezuma is only forty minutes away from Santa Teresa and you want to add this small village to your itinerary where you will be immersed into the jungle. The 4×4 can handle this rough terrain whether it is green or dry season gripping the road along all the winding roads. The Montezuma Waterfalls is clearly labeled at the road and is a short trek into the jungle, just be sure to bring good walking shoes for the landscape. It has three different cascades and the first waterfall even offers a rope swing into the pool of water if you are brave enough. The town and beach are quiet but you can find many great places for souvenirs and delicious dining with a gorgeous view of the water.
If you have time on your adventure and are not returning to the Liberia International Airport then head towards the village of Paquera where you can take the ferry crossing over the Gulf of Nicoya to Puntarenas which is the gateway to the rest of Costa Rica. With your 4 x 4 rental, there is no limit to where you can explore in Costa Rica letting your imagination lead you on to your next adventure knowing it can safely handle any weather and terrain.
And here ends our journey through the Nicoya Peninsula. If you want to discover more about car rental in Costa Rica, you can continue reading our Guide to Rent a Car in Costa Rica, or our Ranking of the Best Car Rental companies in Costa Rica.