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The 7 Provinces of Costa Rica – A Brief Introduction

Costa Rica is not a large country in comparison to many others throughout the world.  However, although a smaller nation, it is comprised of enormous diversity throughout its 7 unique provinces. Bordering between Nicaragua and Panama with the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea laying on either side the country is one of many ecosystems and landscapes.

1. Guanacaste

Guanacaste is the one province with a capital city not represented with the same name unlike that of all the other provinces within Costa Rica, its capital is Liberia. However, it does share its name with the Guanacaste tree, the National Tree of Costa Rica. With its grand expansive crown providing shade to the earth, the people, and animals, its wood as a resource the Guanacaste tree also has healing properties.

The province attracts people to its northwestern location for its beautiful beaches along its gorgeous Pacific Coast, taking on the namesake of the Gold Coast.  Boasting white and black sand beaches and beaches made of pink-hued sand, it is one of the most desired beach destinations.

With Rio Celeste’s stunning turquoise waters, exploring the caverns at Barra Honda National Park and mass arribadas of the majestic Olive Ridley turtles it is no wonder Guanacaste’s province has become so popular. Here you will also find one of Costa Rica’s two international airports, The Daniel Oduber International Airport.

2. Puntarenas

Just underneath Guanacaste is the largest province in Costa Rica, Puntarenas spanning along the Pacific Coast to the Panama border, earning the nickname of Pacific Pearl. If you are visiting one of the many popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica you will likely find yourself in the province of Puntarenas.

Manuel Antonio is one of the favorite National Parks to spend the day in with the mischievous monkeys and abundant wildlife within this tropical paradise. The black sand beach of Jaco and its nightlife or Monteverde and its peaceful cloud forests to Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park, all are some of the must-see places in Puntarenas’ province.

The province expands to the surf hideaway of Pavones and the remote wilds of the Osa Peninsula’s Corcovado National Park. The capital of Puntarenas is the ferry point to cross over the Gulf of Nicoya to reach other areas of the province like the rugged terrains of Montezuma and Santa Teresa and the tranquil town of Tambor of the Nicoya Peninsula.

3. Alajuela

The second-largest province in Costa Rica is Alajuela with its capital sharing the same name often being referred to as “the city of mangoes”. It reaches all the way to the Nicaraguan border and to the west of Heredia. Here you will find the Juan Santamaria International Airport and not in San Jose as its name San Jose International Airport tends to confuse. Arenal Volcano National Park and Poas Volcano National Park, are within the province of Alajuela however, they feature completely different landscapes within.

Poas is also one of the widespread regions for growing coffee in Costa Rica in its volcanic rich soil and abundant rainfall. The popular destination of La Fortuna is also here in the province with its hanging bridges, hot springs and waterfall. The third most important wetland in the world lays within providing a safe haven to many of the country’s birds as well as migratory at Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge.

4. Heredia

Heredia is a smaller province in comparison to many of the others, nestled between 4 different borders, the provinces of Alajuela, Limon, San Jose, and above sits Nicaragua. With its capital of Heredia known as the “city of flowers” you will find the National University of Costa Rica.

The province of Heredia is one of diverse landscapes, the clouds rolling through the forests of Barva, the waterfalls and tranquility of La Paz, the stunning crater of Poas Volcano National Park, and all the exotic animals hidden within Braulio Carrillo National Park.

5. Limon

To the right is the province of Limon enclosed by Cartago, San Jose, and Puntarenas, stretching all the way from Nicaragua to Panama along the Caribbean Coast. Its beaches are picture-perfect postcards of tropical beach scenes with the essence of the Afro-Caribbean culture luring many to escape in the laid-back beach vibes like Puerto Viejo.

Much of the history and diversity of the region can trace back to the railroad development of the train from Limon to San Jose and its banana plantations. There is plenty of wildlife and diversity with Cahuita National Park and its protected coral reefs while Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge features beaches, forests, swamps reefs, and nesting turtles.

6. Cartago

Cartago is a province of history, once being that the city of Cartago was the first capital of Costa Rica. The structures throughout stand with Spanish colonial architecture and ruins still lay to be seen from earthquake damage. Located in the province are the volcanic craters of Irazu Volcano with its cool climate and the breathtaking scenery of the tranquil Orosi Valley with its coffee plantations. Tapanti National Park is also within the Cartago’s province where you have the chance to spot the elusive quetzal.

7. San Jose

The nation’s busy capital of San Jose is here in the province of San Jose, where the pace is a bit faster than many other regions throughout Costa Rica. The government offices, concerts, social events, museums, and plenty of shopping, San Jose tends to be the hub for the country. Within the urbanization and busy streets, you can still find the treasures of Costa Rica in all of its parks and culture, it has its own special energy. Urban life is set against the backdrop of green mountain ranges.

At the center of the country, San Jose is a province of many microclimates and is often the most desirable temperature with its milder climate in comparison to many other regions.

Final Thoughts

With 7 different provinces making up Costa Rica there are so many options to explore. The cloud forests, volcanoes, waterfalls, colonial architecture, beach vibes, and rainforests, the choices go on and on. Experiencing each province on its own is an adventure within itself. You are sure to discover one that finds the Pura Vida within you.   

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