On the Nicoya Peninsula, Bahia Ballena, so named for the whales that gather there in mid-winter, is a bay consisting of Playa Tambor and Playa Pochote at the northern end. Tambor is a small, secluded fishing village along a gray sand beach lined with palm trees. It is in this dreamy setting that the International Barcelò chain hotel complex was set up. Despite the presence of the resort, the beaches of the bay remain very quiet and suitable for swimming.
On the other side of the Gulf of Nicoya is the main city of the province Puntarenas. Once the leading port for coffee exports, the construction of the Atlantic railroad in 1890 put an end to its growth. To the north and south of the city are long beaches surrounded by swamps and the ocean. These mangrove swamps are ideal for birdwatching and are a major ornithological attraction. Scattered in the gulf, there are many islands, some of which can be visited, including San Lucas Island, which was for 400 years one of the most famous prisons in Latin America.
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