Nicoya Peninsula Costa Rica

The Nicoya Peninsula is the largest peninsula in Costa Rica. At 37 miles (60 km) wide and 75 miles (121 km) long, it is large and somewhat isolated, with a stretch of coastline that rivals any in the country. The Pacific Ocean here is warm and clear and dotted with islands that at one time were mountains. The coastal towns are muy tranquilo—places where the time of day isn't nearly as important as the type of wave that's breaking.

They are small and friendly, cradling the positive vibes and laid-back, sun-shining culture that the Nicoya is known for. Although several have seen a boom in construction over the past decade, most retain a uniquely mellow and unpretentious feel.

The Nicoya Peninsula has long played an important role Costa Rica's history. Following Central America's independence from Spain in 1821, the peninsula — and much of northwestern Costa Rica, too — became a province of the newly formed Nicaragua. Guanacaste, the name originally given to the area that's still retained today, again traded hands in 1824 when the locals opted to secede from Nicaragua and join Costa Rica. The Guanacaste locals are proud of their history; visitors can still see the province flag waving from many businesses and homes.

Until recently, development in the area was slow. Bad roads and slow ferries made it hard to get to many places on the peninsula. Small towns retained their decidedly local, backwater feeling. All that is changing, however, with better infrastructure — including the recently constructed Friendship Bridge and new international airport in Liberia — and more willingness by ticos to cater to the tourist trade. With these improvements, more travelers are deciding to make Nicoya a part of their trip-and for good reason. There are beaches to bum and waves to surf, parks to explore and sunsets to capture.