One of the fastest ways to go to the Nicoya Peninsula from San José, the Caribbean, the north or south of Costa Rica, is by crossing the gulf by ferry. In this blog, I will give you the most important information that you need to know to make this experience highly profitable.
And even though Costa Rica is a small country which you can cross in one day from east to west, driving many hours is not what we want to do during our vacation. But there is an option that we can use to relax, enjoy beautiful views at the Gulf of Nicoya and save a lot of time on the highway. For this reason, we will be talking about this beautiful route that is partly on land and partly on the sea, which you can finally consider for your trip.
If you decide to take the ferry, the ferries you will be travelling with have two floors for cabotage (maritime traffic) of vehicles and two others for transporting people. The cars usually go to the lowest part of the boat, while trucks and bigger vehicles or wagons go to the main floor. The passengers on the other hand will be comfortable on the higher floors where they can find food, music, and a nice environment to enjoy the trip.
The sea route crossing the Gulf of Nicoya connects in just one hour and some minutes the maritime landing points that are located at the terminal at Barrio El Carmen in Puntarenas and the terminal of Paquera or the dock of Playa Naranjo, avoiding many hours of a difficult and exhausting trip on the road.
During the trip, you will have a beautiful view of the Gulf of Nicoya, its islands, vegetation, and wildlife. We were lucky and saw some manta rays jumping outside the water just some meters away from the boat, as well as gulls and pelicans flying around us, but later I will give you some more details about the magic of this place.
It has an impressive marine and coastal landscape of humid zones, rocks, extensive mangroves, and great biodiversity. You can also see many rocky islands that fill the Gulf.
Around it is the Tempisque river which constantly leads organic material of great nutritional value for the marine wildlife into the Gulf, which is why mangrove swamps thrive on the coast. In Costa Rica, the mangroves are protected since they are very important for sea life. The birds that nest in their foliage and mud in their roots, protect clams, cankers, and pawns.
Most people living in this zone depend on seafood and fishing in general. But from July to August, fishing is prohibited because it is the time of incubation of sea life.
The lower part of the Gulf of Nicoya is very different from the upper part. There are many mangroves and the area is less populated. Densely forested hills and headlands touch the sea, closing secret bays.
On the way, we can see many islands like Chira, Venado, Caballo, Tortuga, Cedros, Bejuco, Pan de Azúcar and Negritos, which are housing a great number of birds and fauna, but the largest one and the one with the most interesting story is the Isla San Lucas, where the old prison “Cárcel de San Lucas” is located, were the least dangerous prisoners of the country were sent.
The most dangerous prisoners were taken to Isla del Coco and later to the Central Penitentiary of Costa Rica. Over time, the prison was transformed into a prison that housed slightly more dangerous criminals and with the goal of not distorting the initial idea of the place, the prisoners were transferred to the Central Penitentiary. Since 1991 the prison is closed and now administrated by the MINAET (Environment and Energy Ministry).
Nowadays, San Lucas is a wildlife reserve and the old installations a historical centre. Furthermore, this little place in the Gulf inspired the novel “La Isla de Los Hombres Solos” (en: The island of the lonely men) by José León Sánchez, who spent some years in this prison.
There is no problem if you want to take the ferry just for a trip or if you want to cross the beaches of the peninsula of Nicoya. You just need to buy a ticket and wait that the boat arrives at the dock. Actually, the people have to enter the boat walking and just the driver can enter by car, so it is not necessary to have a car to take the ferry. On the other side, there are always public buses waiting for the people arriving with the boat, so you can just take one and continue your trip.
On the ferry, there is a room with air conditioning, a bar, television and comfortable seats where you can relax and wait that the ferry crosses the gulf. But if you don’t want to miss the view, I recommend you to go to the third floor, where you can find tables, a bar with snacks and food, seats and the best view you can get. There are also public bathrooms on every floor of the boat.
Usually, they tell the drivers before the arrival that they can go to their vehicles, this time the companions can join the driver and leave the boat with the car. Once the ferry arrives, people that are not going in a car start leaving the boat from the upper levels at the same time the cars are leaving. After leaving the boat, you don’t have to do anything else, you can just continue your trip to your destination.
If you have planned to visit the beaches of Montezuma, Tambor, Santa Teresa, Malpaís and other places around and you are at the Central Valley, Caribbean or at the South of the country, the fastest and most comfortable way is to take the ferry to Paquera; like this, you are saving at least 4 hours of driving.
Another important point to keep in mind is that you can buy the tickets online and choose the services you need, days or weeks before your trip. The online sales are limited though, so you can also come a little bit earlier and stand in line; the rest of the spaces are being sold at the Naviera Tambor, just crossing the street in front of the boat. Visit this website to buy your tickets.
If you want to know the current timetables and fares, you can consult them on this website.
From the same dock at Puntarenas downtown leave the ferries to Playa Naranjo, so when you are planning to go to Sámara, Nicoya or places around, this is the route you have to take.
There is also an online platform for the tickets of this route, its schedules and costs. Here you can choose the service you need and the page will guide you step by step.
I recommend you to use the ferry because even though Costa Rica is a small country, the distances are getting a lot shorter when you combine land and sea routes. Furthermore, it's a good break for the drivers.
Apdo 799 – 1007
San José, Costa Rica
Licenced by the Costa Rican Tourist Board: Lic ICT OT 294
Liability insurance: Instituto Costarricense de Seguros (INS) Coverage: Territory of the Republic of Costa Rica