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Costa Rica Destinations: Common Name And Location Misunderstandings

Costa Rica Destinations: Common Name And Location Misunderstandings

Last updated on July 22nd, 2021 at 12:03 pm EST

Confusing Costa Rica destinations and similar-sounding names

Traveler beware! Costa Rica is notorious for using repeat (or similar) words and phrases to describe different locations. In the La Fortuna area alone (home to the Arenal Volcano), more than 20 accommodations have the word “Arenal” in the title. Some beach names, like Playa Hermosa and Playa Manzanillo, for example, apply to multiple beaches around the country. A few destinations, like Monteverde and Santa Elena, have different names but are erroneously assumed to be the same place. If you’re planning a vacation to Costa Rica, choose your destinations (cities/towns, beaches, and accommodations) mindfully, and be sure to record the exact name and address of the Costa Rica destinations you select. Doing so will help avoid confusion and frustration during your trip.

La Fortuna vs. Arenal

Costa Rica’s Arenal region is well-known and frequently visited by many travelers. Popular attractions including the Arenal Volcano and several hot spring properties draw in visitors. Colloquially referred to as “Arenal,” the heart of the region is the town of La Fortuna de San Carlos, “La Fortuna” for short. The interchangeable use of the two names—Arenal and La Fortuna—tricks travelers into believing that two separate destinations exist, and while an argument can be made that the town (La Fortuna) and the area at large (Arenal) are two different entities, for the purposes of tourism, they both refer to the same place.

Adding extra confusion is the small community of Nuevo Arenal, which sits roughly 45 kilometers (less than an hour’s drive) west of La Fortuna. Though it sports “Arenal” in its name, Nuevo Arenal is its own Costa Rica destination and is not considered part of La Fortuna.

If you plan to stay overnight in La Fortuna or the Arenal area at large, double-check the name of your accommodation to avoid ending up at the wrong place. Here are some of the accommodations options in the Arenal region that have similar-sounding names:

  • The Springs Resort & Spa, the Arenal Springs Resort & Spa, and Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa
  • Arenal Volcano Inn, Arenal Country Inn, Arenal History Inn, Arenal Observatory Lodge, Arenal Manoa, Arenal Lodge, Arenal Oasis, Arenal Kokoro, Arenal Montechiari, Arenal Rabfer, Arenal Tropical Gardens, and Arenal Roca Lodge
  • Jardines Arenal, La Pradera del Arenal, Lavas del Arenal, Castillo del Arenal, Brisas Arenal, Selvita Lodge Arenal, Miradas Arenal, Eco Arenal, and Villas Vista Arenal

Monteverde vs. Santa Elena vs. Cerro Plano

Most travelers don’t know that the small town of Santa Elena serves as the center of Costa Rica’s Monteverde region, a known tourist destination. Though most travelers say they’re bound for Monteverde, many actually visit Santa Elena or the neighboring community of Cerro Plano. We address the differences between each in our blog posts Monteverde Cloud Forest Or Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve? What’s The Difference? and Santa Elena Costa Rica: Is It Different Than Monteverde?, but here’s a brief overview for your convenience:

The popular tourist destination of Monteverde, or Monteverde at large, is comprised of a downtown core (Santa Elena) and two communities on the outskirts (Cerro Plano and Monteverde). The most concentrated offering of restaurants, shops, services, and tourist offices is found in Santa Elena; additional establishments fall along on roads that depart from the town and travel toward area attractions including the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, among others. If you plan to stay overnight in the Monteverde region, be aware that your decision to stay in Santa Elena, Cerro Plano, or Monteverde will determine your proximity to area services and activities.

Quepos vs. Manuel Antonio

Along Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast sit the port town of Quepos and the neighboring community of Manuel Antonio. Though Quepos is bigger, most travelers station themselves in Manuel Antonio, which abuts the Manuel Antonio National Park. Both areas offer a plethora of restaurants, shops, services, and tourism offices, but the best selection of accommodations (ranging from hostels to resorts) exists in Manuel Antonio. Unless you plan to frequent Marina Pez Vela, a bustling marina in Quepos, stick to the Manuel Antonio area when selecting Costa Rica destinations for your trip.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca vs. Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui

Both nicknamed “Puerto Viejo” for short, the destinations Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui couldn’t be more different from each other. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a popular beach town that sits along Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. It has a laid-back vibe, decent surf, and a handful of activities. In contrast, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui is a local town that serves as the hub of Costa Rica’s Sarapiqui region, an inland area prized for its rainforest research. The Sarapiqui area at large is home to the Sarapiqui river, several rainforest reserves, and great bird-watching. To ensure you visit the Puerto Viejo you wish to experience, be sure to book accommodations and transportation services for the correct one—either Talamanca or Sarapiqui.

Punta Uva vs. Punta Uvita

Due to their similar names, the Caribbean coast’s Punta Uva and the Pacific coast’s Punta Uvita are sometimes mistaken for each other. Both refer to areas of the coast where the mainland protrudes into the water, creating a point. Punta Uva is nestled between the beach towns of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manzanillo in Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean region. The small seaside community of Punta Uva is named after the point. In contrast, Punta Uvita sits between the villages of Dominical and Ojochal in Costa Rica’s central Pacific region. It forms part of the whale-tail sandbar that juts out into the ocean within the Marino Ballena National Park, and is only visible during low tide. The part-coastal, part-inland community of Uvita (and Bahia) is named after the point. Regardless of which destination you plan to visit, be sure to verify the name to avoid ending up on the opposite side of the country.

Costa Rica beaches and beach destinations

The following are the names of Costa Rica beaches or Costa Rica beach destinations that are used more than once in Costa Rica. If any of the following places are on your trip itinerary, take a moment to confirm whether you’ve booked the correct place.

Playa Puerto Viejo

In the Limon province and along the southern Caribbean coast is Playa Puerto Viejo, a beach that fronts the town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.

In the Guanacaste province and along the northern Pacific coast is Playa Puerto Viejo, a beach that connects with the west end of Playa Conchal.

Playa Hermosa

In the Guanacaste province and along the northern Pacific coast is Playa Hermosa, a popular beach town and beach sandwiched between Playas del Coco and the Papagayo Gulf.

In the Puntarenas province on the Nicoya Peninsula is Playa Hermosa, a remote beach just northwest of Santa Teresa.

In the Puntarenas province and along the central Pacific coast is Playa Hermosa, a small surf community and beach just south of Jaco.

Also in the Puntarenas province and along the central Pacific coast is Playa Hermosa, a beach on the northwest side of the whale-tail sandbar in Uvita (Bahia).

Playa Manzanillo

In the Limon province and along the southern Caribbean coast is Playa Manzanillo, a beach that fronts the town of Manzanillo.

In the Puntarenas province and on the Nicoya Peninsula is Playa Manzanillo, a remote beach northwest of Santa Teresa.

Also in the Puntarenas province but along the southern Pacific coast is Manzanillo, a tiny community between Zancudo and Pavones.

In the Guanacaste province and along the northern Pacific coast is Playa Manzanillo, a small beach on the east side of the Papagayo Gulf.

Playa Matapalo

In the Guanacaste province and along the northern Pacific coast is Matapalo, a small, inland community south of Playa Conchal.

In the Puntarenas province and along the central Pacific coast is Playa Matapalo, a tiny community sandwiched between Quepos and Dominical.

Also in the Puntarenas province but on the Osa Peninsula is Cabo Matapalo, a coastal community south of Puerto Jimenez.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Have you run into any Costa Rica name misunderstandings of your own? What confused you during your travels?

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Costa Rica Destinations: Common Name And Location Misunderstandings
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Costa Rica Destinations: Common Name And Location Misunderstandings
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Avoid confusion, frustration, and travel mistakes by learning how to correctly identify similarly named Costa Rica destinations, including towns and beaches.
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The Official Costa Rica Travel Blog
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