Getting to and around the Southern Nicoya beaches
Visiting the Nicoya Peninsula’s southern beaches: The Naviera Ferry Tambor
Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is known for its arid climate and windswept cattle and horse ranches; four national parks, including a marine preserve; hundreds of miles of crystalline beaches lined with renowned world-class waves; and the iconic Guanacaste tree whose massive, mushroom-shaped canopy shades sleepy herds of Brahmas from the fierce noon-day sun.
The peninsula is situated on Costa Rica’s northwest Pacific Coast and encompasses portions of both the Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces. Nicoya, the region’s principal town is located roughly in the peninsula’s center and is approximately 200 km from San Jose. On average, driving from the capital to one of the popular beach town’s dotting the Nicoya coastline takes between four to five hours and entails one of three options: a ferry ride across the southern Gulf of Nicoya, crossing the Tempisque Bridge; or, for the northernmost beaches, passing through Liberia – the largest northern municipality and commercial hub along the Pan-American Highway.
Travellers are advised to exercise caution when driving in Costa Rica. Traffic jams in the Central Valley are common, as are poorly-marked roads and ongoing road repair or construction. Locals are known for being somewhat aggressive drivers — such as passing on the right or not observing the speed limit —hence it’s important to take it slow and remain vigilant. If at all possible, try to avoid driving on any of the larger roadways at night.
The Naviera Tambor Ferry – Tambor, Montezuma, Mal Pais and Santa Teresa Beaches
In order to visit any of these popular beach towns on the southern-most tip of the peninsula, it’s necessary to catch the Naviera Tambor Ferry from Puntarenas (on the mainland) to the small port-town of Paquera. From San Jose take Route 27 north towards Liberia via Orotina and Caldera, and then exit onto the ramp for Route 23 to Puntarenas. Note that Route 27 is a toll road, so you’ll require up to $6 USD in local currency to complete the one-way drive (depending on your point of departure).
The port is located at the northernmost tip of Puntarenas, following the main road through town (Centenario/Av. Central), and is relatively well marked. Once you’ve arrived, wait in the Tambor Ferry line until a Naviera Tambor employee gives you a vehicle pass (ficha). At this point you (or a passenger) will go to the Naviera office to buy the required tickets with cash-only, USD are also accepted. You or your passengers will not be permitted to enter the ferry without pre-purchased tickets. A regular passenger vehicle runs roughly $20 (11,400 colones), each adult passenger $1.50 (810 colones), and children $0.85 (485 colones). Prices and ferry times are subject to change so plan ahead.
During Costa Rica’s high season—from approximately November 15 to April 15—the ferry offers regular crossings six-times per day to and from Paquera and Puntarenas (see table for the current schedule). Unfortunately, drivers cannot reserve the service ahead of time. In addition, at least once per year, usually during the low season, one (of the two) ferries will be taken out of service for repairs. During this undetermined period of time the ferry schedule will be reduced. For this reason, or any other unforeseen setback, it is wise to arrive at least one-hour ahead of the ferry’s scheduled departure time.
After crossing the Gulf of Nicoya, taking approximately 70 minutes, take the main road (Route 160) from Paquera to Cobano. En-route you’ll pass a number of resorts and small pueblos, including Tambor, before arriving in Cobano – the main service-town with a local bank, police station, pharmacy, supermarkets, and clinic. From Cobano, you can either head due south to Montezuma (7 km) or northwest to Mal Pais and Santa Teresa (12 km). Note that roads on the southern tip of the peninsula are often unpaved and notoriously crummy, so expect longer driving times and enjoy the scenery!
For more ferry information see: www.navieratambor.com or call + 506 2661-2084.