Placencia, a true beach-holiday strip on the mainland, is enduringly popular with North American expats and tourists. Perched at the southern tip of a long, narrow, sandy peninsula, the village has long enjoyed a reputation as 'the cay you can drive to' – a fully-paved 27-mile road heads off the Southern Hwy via Maya Beach and Seine Bight to the tip of the peninsula.
Flores & Santa Elena
With its cubist houses cascading down from a central plaza to the emerald waters of Lago de Petén Itzá, the island town of Flores evokes a Mediterranean ambience. A 500m causeway connects Flores to its humbler sister town of Santa Elena on the lake shore, which then merges into the even homelier community of San Benito to the west.
Coclé is known to Panamanians as the land of salt, sugar and presidents. More salt has been reclaimed from the sea, more sugar refined and more Panamanian presidents have been born here than in any other province. These facts are the source of great civic pride, but Coclé offers a lot more than table condiments and political legacies.
To Corcovado via Puerto Jiménez
Of the two principal overland routes to Parque Nacional Corcovado, the Puerto Jiménez route on the eastern side of the peninsula is much more ‘developed.’ Of course, as this is Osa, development doesn't amount to much more than a single road and a sprinkling of villages along the coast of Golfo Dulce.
Panamá Province has a rich history of pirates, plunder and pearls. Although it's the most populated province in the country, Panamá can be as big or as small as you want it to be. Tranquil rainforests and sizzling beach scenes are yours to explore, and the comforts of the capital are never more than an hour away.
Isla de Ometepe
Ometepe never fails to impress. Its twin volcanic peaks, rising up out of Lago de Nicaragua, have captured the imagination of everyone from precolonial Aztecs (who thought they’d found the promised land) to Mark Twain (who waxed lyrical about it in his book Travels with Mr Brown) – not to mention the relatively few travelers who make it out here.
Quepos to Uvita
South of Quepos, the well-trodden central Pacific tourist trail begins to taper off, evoking the feel of the Costa Rica of yesteryear – surf shacks and empty beaches, roadside ceviche vendors and a little more space. Intrepid travelers can have their pick of any number of deserted beaches and great surf spots.
To Corcovado via Bahía Drake
On the western side of the Península de Osa, the Bahía Drake route is one of two principal ways to reach Parque Nacional Corcovado. The route starts in the town of Sierpe in the Valle de Diquís, at the northern base of the peninsula, from where the Río Sierpe flows out to Bahía Drake.
Mal País & Santa Teresa
Get ready for tasty waves, creative kitchens and babes in board shorts and bikinis, because the southwestern corner of Península de Nicoya has all that and more. Which is why it's become one of Costa Rica's most life-affirming destinations. Here, the sea is alive with wildlife and is almost perfect when it comes to shape, color and temperature.
Manuel Antonio Village
As you travel the road between Quepos and Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, the din from roaring buses, packs of tourists and locals hunting foreign dollars becomes increasingly loud, reaching its somewhat chaotic climax at Manuel Antonio village. Hordes descend on this tiny oceanside village at the entrance to the country’s most visited national park.
One of Costa Rica's most isolated destinations, Bahía Drake (drah-kay) is a veritable Lost World, bordered by Parque Nacional Corcovado to the south. In the rainforest canopy, howlers greet the rising sun with their haunting bellows, while pairs of macaws soar between the treetops, filling the air with their cacophonous squawking.
Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and Punta Uva
A 13km road winds east from Puerto Viejo, through rows of coconut palms, alongside coastal lodges and through lush lowland rainforest before coming to a dead end at the sleepy town of Manzanillo. The road was paved for the first time in 2003, dramatically shortening the amount of time it takes to travel this route.