Many who visit Costa Rica are amazed on arrival to find that they know more Español than they previously thought. We hear many Spanish words in popular culture these days that reflect tropical culture, like playa, isla, or hermosa, and this familiarity with the language creates a sense of ease when interacting with Tico culture.
Below are some of the favorite local attractions in our region of the South Pacific coast of Costa Rica in their native Spanish names. See how you fare with the translations – we think you will surprise yourself with how fluent you are en Español.
Playa Ventanas (3 minutes north).
Though small, this beach is surrounded by lovely views. Ventanas, or “windows,” gets its name from the rocky head land at its north end, featuring its famous caves that can be explored at low tide.
Playa Piñuela (5 minutes north).
A beautiful, small cove with moderate surf. Piñuela, although rocky at high tide, is great for swimming, especially at its south end. From the warm sand, visitors enjoy views of Isla Ballena off the coast, as well as the area’s steep, mountainous slopes covered with greenery.
Playa Ballena (10 minutes north).
With fine sand and little surf, this breathtaking beach includes a view of Isla Ballena offshore; both parcels, as well as Rocas Tres Hermanas, make up part of Ballena National Marine Park. Humpback whales are present offshore every year from August through October and December through March.
Playa Uvita (15 minutes north).
One of the most stunning beaches on the Southern Pacific coast, Uvita features moderate surf– safe for swimming– as well as estuaries and mangrove waterways. Near the south end of the beach is Quebrada Colonia; this beach is ideal for walking, horseback riding, and observing marine life.
Playa Hermosa (20 minutes north).
Beneath the beautiful Fila Costena mountains, this beach connects to Playa Uvita by the famous Whale’s Tail Formation; visitors explore it at low tide to see different species of crab, fish, mollusk, and algae.
Playa Dominicalito (25 minutes north).
The moderate surf here is perfect for swimming and other water activities. At the south end of the beach lies Punta Dominical, which features a lush tropical forest that entices nature-lovers.
Playa Dominical (30 minutes north).
This beach’s big waves are ideal for more experienced surfers. It is also popular with campers and tourists in general. The beach has a vibrant restaurant, shopping, and nightlife scene.
Río El General.
Flowing out of San Juan Lake in Chirripó National Park, this river becomes the Río Grande de Térraba before emptying into the Pacific. The longest (196 km) and one of the mightiest rivers in the country, this river offers rafting trips through rapids in certain stretches, such as Las Juntas de Pacuar al Brujo. This is the river that eventually flows in front of El Castillo as it empties into the Pacific from one of its seven mouths.
Cascada Pavon (10 minutes south).
The beautiful Cascada Pavon Waterfall is located in Ojochal a short drive from El Castillo. It is accessible via a short walk down a trail to rock stairs that lead down to the waterfall and pool, which is nice for swimming. There is also a side trail to access the top of the “stuck rock.” Locals are known to jump off the rock and plunge into the pool below! No guides are required so there is no cost to visiting Cascada Pavon.
Parque Nacional Marino Ballena (10 minutes north).
Marino Ballena National Park is named after the humpback whales that migrate here each year from December to March to mate and give birth before returning to the frigid waters to the north. The humpbacks from Antarctica come from August to October. Year-round you can see many species of dolphins and sea turtles. Ballena is primarily a marine park with 13,000 acres/5,400 hectares of ocean and 270 acres/110 hectares of land. It was established in 1990, making it one of the newest national parks in Costa Rica. The park contains the largest coral reef on the Pacific side of Central America.
Isla Ballena (10 minutes north– then a boat ride to the island).
Accessible only by boat, or “panga,” this island is an extraordinary place for snorkeling and observing a variety of marine species.
Punta Uvita (15 minutes north).
Rich in marine life, the famous Whale’s Tail features a reef that shelters it from dangerous currents and strong surf, making it a perfect place to swim and cool off in its waters. It’s also a popular spot among snorkelers.
Uvita Mangrove Swamp (15 minutes north).
Located behind Punta Uvita, this mangrove swamp is rich in coastal flora and is home to several species of seabirds, including blue heron, white ibis, and osprey.
Punta Dominical (30 minutes north).
The viewpoints on this rocky hill swathed in vegetation offer views of Dominicalito, Roca Árbol Island, and the stunning mountain and maritime landscape stretching south.
Cascada Nauyaca (40 minutes north).
Gorgeous and pristine, the Nauyaca Waterfalls are tucked away in a secluded canyon. You can hike to the falls without a guide for only $8 per person. The falls, which were on the Tico Times 2015 list of the six most stunning falls in Costa Rica, cascade down the rock face in two tiers, one measuring 150 feet and the other 65 feet. Nauyaca spills into a large crystalline pool, nice for swimming after a long hike. The hike is about 2.5 miles; approximately an hour each way. The trail is very easy in places and moderately difficult in others– overall a relatively easy hike. Crazy thrill seekers occasionally dive from ledges near the top of the falls. The trailhead is about 1.25 miles (2 kilometers) from the main road and parking is available (4-wheel-drive recommended.) Your hosts at El Castillo can help you with planning and reservations if you prefer a horseback tour to the falls.
Parque Nacional Corcovado (45 minutes south– then a 60 minute boat ride).
Corcovado National Park encompasses an area of 424 square kilometers (164 square miles). It is the largest park in Costa Rica and protects about a third of the Osa Peninsula. It is widely considered the crown jewel in the extensive system of national parks and biological reserves spread across the country. The ecological variety is quite stunning. National Geographic has called it “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity.” The park is popular with tropical ecologists and visitors can expect to see an abundance of wildlife.
Isla del Caño (45 minutes south, then a 60 minute boat ride).
Situated 20 kilometers offshore from Drake Bay on the Osa Peninsula, Isla Del Cano is an important island for Costa Rica, both archeologically and environmentally. The waters surrounding this biological reserve are swarming with marine creatures, while the island itself protects several artifacts that date back to pre-Columbian times. Best accessed through Sierpe, it is a popular destination for snorkeling and diving. Your hosts at El Castillo can help you with planning and reservations.
By Alex Swift