Just 30 minutes from the Daniel Oduber International Airport and 217 kilometers northeast of San José, the Gulf of Papagayo Tourism Pole (PTGP) offers white sandy beaches and lush tropical settings, with a wide variety of activities for nature-loving tourists.
“The bay is rich in marine species due to the abundance of plankton in its waters, which develops in the mangroves in the area,” said Javier Bolaños, the former executive director of the PTGP in the province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica’s North Pacific region.
The PTGP consists of 2,000 hectares of land conceded to Costa Rican and international businesses for tourism development.
“The project was planned to serve as a model of sustainable tourism for the rest of the world,” Morales added.
Currently, the PTGP has 26,450 rooms, including hotels and residential projects. Additionally, the government has invested US$1 million since 2008 in infrastructure, allowing tourists to travel quickly and safely between 17 coastal beaches, according to the Costa Rican Tourism Board (ICT).
According to ICT figures, 42.8% of the investments came from Costa Rica, 33.3% involved mixed capital and 23.8% came from foreign investors. Due to the calm waters found in the gulf, aquatic activities are a top pick for tourists.
“Papagayo has a wide variety of habitats, including coral reefs, rocky areas and sandy bottoms. The depths range from one to 100 meters, which is ideal for snorkeling and diving,” said biologist Álvaro Morales of the Sea and Limnology Research Center (CIMAR) at the University of Costa Rica (UCR). “The gulf is also home to the spotted dolphin, which can be seen in small groups, particularly during the dry season.”
According to Costa Rica’s Directorate General of Immigration, 190,506 tourists visited the PTGP from January to September 2013. In all of 2012, a total of 198,913 enjoyed the area.
“This is the first time that we’ve visited Costa Rica and people recommended Papagayo to us,” said Frank Delacru, a U.S. tourist from San Antonio, Texas, who visited Papagayo in early December. “It’s been a wonderful experience. We went to see the dolphins and go scuba diving. It’s like being in paradise.”
The PTGP was recognized with the ecological blue flag, an initiative introduced in 1996 by Costa Rica’s Ministry of Health and the ICT in recognition of the comprehensive protection of the country’s beaches.
“When the beaches have a blue flag, it means that the sea water is high quality, meaning it’s fit for human consumption. It also has to do with the lack of garbage in the area, the treatment of waste and environmental education,” Bolaños said.
The blue flag is flown over these beaches to let tourists know Costa Rica complies with strict environmental controls.
Prices hover around US$120 per person a night for accommodations for tourists.
Taxis transport tourists between the airport and the gulf, while all of the major hotels have private transportation services for their guests. Taxi prices range between US$20 and US$50, depending on the passenger’s final destination.
Throughout the area, an abundance of restaurants serve typical Costa Rican food, as well as seafood and Italian food.
Spanish is the primary language in Papagayo, but English also is widely spoken by local workers.