Nicoya, about 78 kilometers south of Liberia , is Costa Rica’s oldest colonial city. Today it bustles as the agricultural and administrative heart of the region. The town is named for the Chorotega chief who presented Spanish conquistador Gil González Dávila with gold. The native heritage is still apparent.
The only sight of interest is the Parroquia San Blas (tel. 506/2685-5109, 8 a.m.–4 p.m. Mon.–Fri., 8 a.m.–noon Sat.) church built in the 16th century, gleaming anew following a restoration and decorating the town’s peaceful plaza. It contains a few pre-Columbian icons and religious antiques.
Try to visit Nicoya on December 12, when villagers carry a dark-skinned image of La Virgen de Guadalupe through the streets accompanied by flutes, drums, and dancers. The festival combines the Catholic celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe with the traditions of the Chorotega legend of La Yequita (Little Mare), a mare that interceded to prevent twin brothers from fighting to the death for the love of a princess.
The religious ceremony is a good excuse for bullfights, explosive fireworks (bombas), concerts, and general merriment. Many locals get sozzled on chicha, a heady brew made from fermented corn and sugar and drunk out of hollow gourds.
The Hotel Venecia (tel. 506/2685-5325, $15–20 s, $28–40 d), on the north side of the plaza, has 37 clean but basic rooms; you pay more for TV and even more for air-conditioning. Newer, nicer units in a two-story unit are to the rear. It has secure parking.
Budget options of similar standard include Hotel Chorotega (Calle Central, Avenida 6, tel. 506/2685-5245, www.hotelchoroteganicoya.com , $8 pp shared bath, $10 s or $15 d private bath, $16 s or $20 d with hot water and TV); and the similarly priced Hotel Yenny (Calle 1, Avenida 4, tel. 506/2685-5050); and Hotel Las Tinajas (Avenida 1, Calle 5, tel./fax 506/2685-5081).
The best bargain is Hotel Multiplaza (tel. 506/2685-3535, Calle 1, Avenidas 5/7, $18 s, $30 d), which has 25 dark but spacious air-conditioned rooms with fans, comfy mattresses, and cable TV, but cold water only. There’s a small café outside. Slightly more upscale, the Hotel Nicoya I (tel. 506/2686-6331, $25 s, $30 d) has eight air-conditioned rooms with fan and private bathrooms with hot water.
The nicest place is Hotel Río Tempisque (tel. 506/2686-6650, www.hotelriotempisque.com , $30–100 s, $50–100 d), on Highway 21, 800 meters north of the junction for Nicoya township, with 30 well-lit, spacious, air-conditioned cabins and 106 smaller rooms in tranquil gardens set back from the road. Each has two double beds, cable TV, refrigerator, coffeemaker, microwave, and pleasing hot-water bathrooms with hair dryer. There’s a swimming pool and whirlpool tub in lush gardens.
An almost identical alternative, Hotel El Regalo (tel. 506/2686-4993), lies immediately north.
The best bet in town is Restaurante Quijongos (tel. 506/2686-4748 or 2686-4142, 11 A.M.–10 P.M. daily), on the west side of the plaza. It serves excellent seafood, including ceviche ($5) and shrimp in oyster sauce ($12), plus meat dishes and casados (set lunches, $3). Ceiling fans help beat the heat, and it has live music on Thursday and Saturday.
There’s a Musmanni bakery at Calle 1, Avenida 1.
Alfaro buses (tel. 506/2222-2666) depart San José  for Nicoya via Liberia  from Calle 14, Avenidas 3/5, at 5:30 A.M., 7:30 A.M., 10 A.M., noon, 1 P.M., 3 P.M., 5 P.M., and 6:30 P.M. daily ($5, six hours). Transporte La Pampa (tel. 506/2686-7245) buses serve Nicoya from Liberia five times daily, via Santa Cruz .
Buses (tel. 506/2685-5032) depart Nicoya for San José from Avenida 4, Calle 3, at 3 A.M., 4:30 A.M., 6 A.M., 8 A.M., 10 A.M., noon, 2:45 P.M., and 5 P.M. daily; for Playa Naranjo  at 5:15 A.M. and 1 P.M. daily; for Sámara  13 times daily 5 A.M.–9:45 P.M.; and for Nosara  at 5 A.M., 10 A.M., noon, and 3 P.M. daily. Buses also serve other towns throughout the peninsula.