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Costa Rica Destinations: Common Name And Location Misunderstandings

Costa Rica Destinations: Common Name And Location Misunderstandings

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on October 19th, 2017.

Ricky - Playa Hermosa (but which one?)
Ricky; Playa Hermosa (but which one?)

BEWARE! COSTA RICA IS NOTORIOUS FOR USING REPEAT WORDS AND PHRASES TO DESCRIBE DIFFERENT ITEMS

There are more than twenty accommodation options around the town of La Fortuna alone that have the word Arenal in the title. No wonder travellers are confused.
~ Nikki and Ricky, Costa Rica Travel Blog

As we suggest in our blog post Costa Rica Hotel Tip: Can You Name Your Arenal Or Monteverde Hotel?, Costa Rica is notorious for using repeat words and phrases to describe different items. In fact, there are more than twenty accommodation options around the town of La Fortuna alone that have the word Arenal in the title. No wonder travellers are confused. For this reason, travellers planning a vacation to Costa Rica should proceed with caution when selecting the in-country destinations they wish to visit. Not only are some areas of the country easily mistaken for others because names are carelessly and interchangeably used, but many locations share the exact same name, creating a headache for many travellers. Fortunately, knowing this unfortunate reality in advance can avoid confusion and frustration down the line, so taking a minute to familiarize yourself with the correct understanding of each is well worth the time to do so.

LA FORTUNA AND ARENAL: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

The Arenal region of Costa Rica is a well-known and well-publicized one. Guidebook readers know that tourism is booming in the area, as popular attractions such as the Arenal Volcano and numerous volcano hot springs draw visitors in. Come to be known colloquially as Arenal, the town’s true name is La Fortuna de San Carlos, or La Fortuna for short. While these two names–Arenal and La Fortuna–are used interchangeably, the overuse of both words has tricked travellers into believing that two separate towns exist, leaving some to question whether it is Arenal or La Fortuna that they want to visit during their vacation. Since both titles refer to the same area, travel to either La Fortuna or Arenal will lead explorers to the same place.

To add extra confusion to the mix, west of La Fortuna is a town called Nuevo Arenal. This small town is anything but the tourist destination travellers aim to visit with La Fortuna (or Arenal) in mind. Although a prime area for foreign visitors looking to purchase lakeside real estate, the town of Nuevo Arenal must not be mistaken for the town of La Fortuna. It is not the Arenal area that guidebooks rave about and the town most travellers want to add to their trip itinerary.

MONTEVERDE AND SANTA ELENA: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

For those who plan to visit the Monteverde area, we recommend reading our related blog post Santa Elena Costa Rica: Is IT Different Than Monteverde?. In the post, we explain how the region known as Monteverde is comprised of three separate areas: Santa Elena, Cerro Plano, and Monteverde. Since the title “Monteverde” has been adopted by countless guidebooks, most travellers assume that it is Monteverde–not Santa Elena or Cerro Plano–that they should plan to visit. In actuality, Monteverde’s downtown core is the town of Santa Elena itself, the area where most travellers prefer to stay in order to have a hotel within walking distance to the center of town, access a variety of restaurant and shopping options, and be close to other good-to-haves such as banks and grocery stores. Alternatively, downtown Santa Elena’s outskirts (Cerro Plano and Monteverde alike) offer their own set of advantages such as distance from the downtown core and proximity to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, so deciding to stay in Santa Elena directly is not an obvious choice. The point however, is that distinction exists between three regions that are more often than not blanketed by the general term “Monteverde”. If you plan to visit the Monteverde area, in order to make an informed decision as to the best inner region to visit, start by recognizing the differences between each and let personal preference guide your choice.

QUEPOS AND MANUEL ANTONIO: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

As is the case with La Fortuna and Arenal, popular tourist areas are often known by their nickname more so than their official title. The same is true for the town of Quepos, or as the region is more commonly referred to, Manuel Antonio. Just outside of the town of Quepos a road runs toward the Manuel Antonio National Park (as well as Playa Espadilla, the public beach located outside of the park). The national park is the area’s main attraction, as is the park’s prized asset–the Manuel Antonio beach (note that access to the Manuel Antonio beach is available from within the park only and a park entrance fee is required for a visit). Given the ever-growing popularity of the area, the stretch of road between the town of Quepos and the beach/national park is where the majority of hotels are located. Although both Quepos and the beach/national park are on beach level, the road connecting the two is quite mountainous (which is why so many Manuel Antonio hotel options offer incredible views overlooking the pacific ocean). In addition to the magnitude of hotel development in the area, a plethora of restaurants, souvenir shops, and grocery stores exist along this road, making the area a well-suited one to handle the high degree of tourism that the park and beach attracts.

Travellers who plan to visit the Manuel Antonio area should avoid staying directly in Quepos and instead opt for an accommodation option that falls between the town of Quepos and the beach/national park. This being said, when making transportation arrangements to/from the Manuel Antonio area, some transfers are available to/from Quepos only. Domestic flights to/from the Manuel Antonio area are available via the domestic airport nearby Quepos, although additional ground transportation is required to travel between the Quepos airport and any Manuel Antonio hotel. For the majority of shared shuttle services and private transfer services, transportation to Manuel Antonio hotels (beyond the town of Quepos) is more often than not provided.

PUNTA UVA AND PUNTA UVITA: WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?

As a result of their similar-sounding names, Punta Uva and Punta Uvita are commonly mistaken for one another. Rest assured, two separate towns exist. While Punta Uva is a small coastal area in the southern Caribbean region of the country approximately seven kilometers south of the more well-known Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Punta Uvita is a small coastal area on the Pacific side of the country that is located between Dominical and Drake Bay. Although both towns are similar in style, misunderstanding one area for the other could change your trip plans significantly, so be sure to reconfirm your preferred destination with any and all transportation service providers you opt to use throughout your trip to ensure that you end up on the side of the country you intend to visit.

PUERTO VIEJO X2, PLAYA HERMOSA X4, MANZANILLO X4, AND MATAPALO X4: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?

Costa Rica has seven provinces: San Jose, Cartago, Limon, Heredia, Alajuela, Guanacaste, and Puntarenas. For the most part, travellers do not need to concern themselves with being able to identify the province they intend to visit during their trip, unless of course they intend to visit one of a number of towns or beaches that shares its name with another area of the country. In these cases, quoting the province following the name of the town/beach you wish to visit can help ensure that you end up at the location of your choice, and not simply the location you can name.

The following is a list of destinations that shares its name with at least one other area of Costa Rica. If any of the following locations are listed on your trip itinerary, take a moment to double-check that the town/beach you reserved your accommodations at and arranged your transfers to and from is the specific town/beach you wish to visit.

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo (province: Heredia): This Puerto Viejo is formally known as Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui and is a town admired for its lush surroundings and nearby eco-lodges/biological station.

Puerto Viejo (province: Limon): This Puerto Viejo is formally known as Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (or informally known as Puerto Viejo de Limon) and is a popular beach town located along Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast (pictured at the bottom of this post).

Playa Hermosa

Playa Hermosa (province: Guanacaste): This Playa Hermosa is a small beach town located along Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Coast, sandwiched between the popular beach town of Playa del Coco to the south and the Papagayo Gulf to the north (pictured at the top of this post).

Playa Hermosa (province: Puntarenas): This Playa Hermosa is a small surf community located along Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast, found along the stretch of land that runs between Jaco and the Esterillo Oeste (West) and Esterillo Este (East) beaches in the direction of Manuel Antonio.

Playa Hermosa (province: Guanacaste): This Playa Hermosa is a beach located on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, northwest of the surf community of Santa Teresa and Manzanillo beach.

Playa Hermosa (province: Puntarenas): This Playa Hermosa is a beach located along Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast, found just northwest of Punta Uvita in the direction of Dominical.

Playa Manzanillo

Playa Manzanillo (province: Limon): This Playa Manzanillo is a small beach town located along Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, southeast of the popular town of Puerto Viejo (de Talamanca) and not far from the Panama border.

Playa Manzanillo (province: Puntarenas): This Playa Manzanillo is a beach located on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, northwest of the surf community of Santa Teresa.

Playa Manzanillo (province: Guanacaste): This Playa Manzanillo is a beach located along Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Coast and part of the Papagayo Gulf.

Playa Manzanillo (province: Puntarenas): This Playa Manzanillo is a small town located on the east side of Costa Rica’s Golfo Dulce (Osa Peninsula) nearby the Panama border.

Playa Matapalo

Playa Matapalo (province: Puntarenas): This Playa Matapalo is a beach located along Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Coast, found along the stretch of land that runs between the more popular areas of Manuel Antonio and Dominical.

Playa Matapalo (province: Guanacaste): This Playa Matapalo is a town located inland from Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Coast, nearby popular Conchal beach to the north and Tamarindo beach to the south.

Playa Matapalo (province: Puntarenas): This Playa Matapalo is formally known as Cabo Matapalo and refers to the coastal area at the southern tip of Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula.

Playa Matapalo (province: Guanacaste): This Playa Matapalo is formally known as Punta Matapalo and is a beach located on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula (within the boundaries of the Guanacaste province), west of Samara beach.

GUANACASTE, THE NICOYA PENINSULA, AND THE OSA PENINSULA: WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES?

Geographically speaking, Costa Rica is small. From a large-scale perspective, it cannot compare to travel across Canada, the US, or Europe as its landmass is only a fraction of the size. This being said, as tiny as Costa Rica may appear on a map, making one’s way around the country is not as quick a task as many travellers think. Costa Rica’s mountains, rain season, and far-from-standard road conditions (in some areas of the country) are challenges that drivers (both international visitors and tourist professionals) regularly face, which can quickly make a swift road trip a long and drawn out one.

So, why does this matter? The truth is, it shouldn’t, at least to those travellers who are able to leave their expectations at home and embrace the good and the bad that comes with the country they have chosen to visit. However, understanding that point B is not always quick and easy to get to from point A is an important lesson to learn, and one worth learning before traveling to Costa Rica. We often hear travellers refer to either Guanacaste, the Nicoya Peninsula, or the Osa Peninsula as the location they plan to visit during their trip. While this information narrows down the region of the country they have selected, travellers should also be able to identify exactly where within the chosen area they intend to go to. We recommend that travellers know so in order to be able to examine their location in relation to everything around them, such as in proximity to popular attractions, dining options, shops, and nearby towns/beaches. After all, maps are great at telling travellers where to go, but they are limited in their ability to describe the travel experience that will likely be had along the way. Since travellers are not always equipped to recognize whether a multi-hour, inconvenient, or uncomfortable drive is ahead of them when they set out to visit “the next town over”, we caution travellers to look past location proximity on a map (as short as some routes may seem) and instead aim to obtain a more comprehensive understanding of the area(s) they plan to visit. Doing so is the very best way we have found that travellers can avoid misunderstandings and mishaps throughout their vacation. After all, educated travellers make the happiest travellers!

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca... not Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui!
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca… not Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui!

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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