The Guanacaste province offers tourists an unforgettable vacation with its year round sunny weather, fascinating culture and spectacular natural attractions. Guanacaste is also known for some of the most beautiful beaches in the country (hence the nickname golden coast) and exciting adventure activities, making it an excellent destination for all travelers.
If you’re planning a trip to Guanacaste, picking what to do is crucial to having the time of your life in Costa Rica. Due to the sheer amount of activities available, it may be a bit overwhelming since they all sound incredible. So in this post, we’re going to narrow down the best things to do in Guanacast including our favorites. We have lived in this province for 8 years and have done a lot of activities!
*Updated June 2020*
The Guanacaste province is huge and has beaches, volcanoes and dry and tropical rainforest. It also includes small inland towns like Nuevo Arenal, Cañas and Tilaran.
The map below has all the places mentioned in the post as well as some of our favorite beaches.
Planning Your Visit to Guanacaste
Most people who visit Guanacaste are visiting for a beach vacation. A lot of people pick one place as a home base which is perfectly fine. It’s easy to plan and you have many options for activities. Popular beach towns for home bases are Tamarindo, Flamingo, Brasilito, Playas del Coco, Samara and Nosara.
Guanacaste is also home to the most amount of all-inclusive and boutique resorts in Costa Rica. For a luxury stay, check out Westin Conchal, Dreams Las Mareas, JW Marriott Guanacaste, Planet Hollywood, Four Seasons, Secrets, Occidental Papagayo, Riu Guanacaste and W Costa Rica. There are also small luxury boutique hotels like Borinquen, Andaz Papagayo, Los Altos de Eros, Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas, Hotel Villas Playa Samara, Azura Beach Resort and Gilded Iguana.
Fly into Liberia International Airport as that is the hub for Guanacaste. It is about a 25 minute drive to the Papagayo Peninsula, 1 hour to Tamarindo/Conchal and 2 hours to Samara. From San Jose International Airport, it is about a 3 hour drive to Liberia.
For more details, plan the perfect vacation to Guanacaste, Costa Rica in this link.
As we have lived in this province for 8 years, we’ve planned many trips for friends and families that came to visit.
Most of them we would stay 4 days in Guanacaste and 3-4 days in another destination. But we’ve had many friends who stayed with us for an entire week and did day trips. Here are some ideas.
- Playas del Coco homebase: Day 1, land at airport, drive to your hotel and rest. Day 2, snorkeling, beach hopping and fishing. 3rd day, walk around town, visit beaches by car, shopping. Day 4, Day trip to Rincon de la Vieja National Park/Rio Celeste for hiking. 5th day, Visit Tamarindo and take a surf lesson. Day 6, Ziplining. Day 7, Fly out
- Tamarindo homebase: Day 1, land at airport, drive to hotel, rest. Day 2, snorkeling, boating. 3rd day, Check out town, visit Langosta beach, shop. Day 4, Rio Celeste hike. 5th day, Conchal beach. Day 6, fly out.
- Nuevo Arenal: Day 1, land at airport, drive to hotel. Day 2-5, spend at hotel in Nuevo Arenal for birdwatching and activities on Lake Arenal. Day 6, move onto a beach town or to La Fortuna.
For more ideas, check our 5 day Guanacaste itinerary.
Things to do in Guanacaste: Surfing
With 200 kilometers (124 miles) of coastline, this province has some of the best surfing in the Central America. And with so many surfing beaches, there are waves for everyone of all levels.
For beginners and first timers, the best spots are Tamarindo, Avellanas, Samara and Playa Grande for classes. Nosara is also an excellent place for beginners and intermediates. For those wanting to improve or get more into surfing, there are many week long camps.
For the hardcore surfers, skip the beaches and jump on a boat to Witch’s Rock. It’s one of the best spots in Latin America. When a swell hits, waves climb up to 6 meters (20 feet) with an offshore break. It’s known that even when there are “no waves” it’s still good at Witch’s Rock! Another excellent spot you can visit is Ollie’s Point.
Visit Different Beaches
You HAVE to see more than one beach during your trip. There are so many beautiful beaches in Guanacaste, it’s an absolute must to spend at least one full day visiting different beaches. It’s also the best free thing to do in Guanacaste!
We also like to hop in our 4×4, find a random beach on Google Maps and explore. This is the best free thing to do in Guanacaste!
Guanacaste is one of the best places in Costa Rica for ziplining. You can find all sorts of ziplines here! Long ones, family ones, beginner ones and many more. You can zipline upside down, over a river, laying down, tandem, in the dark and from mountain to mountain!
A few of our favorite canopy tours are the one at Guachipelin in Rincon de la Vieja, Diamante Eco Adventure Park and Black Stallion in Tamarindo. The zipline tours at Guachipelin also include an optional rappel, tarzan swing and rock climb in a canyon which is super fun! Diamante has the longest ocean view zipline superman style!
Day Trip to a National Park
There are several excellent national parks in Guanacaste for hiking. The best ones are Rincon de la Vieja National Park, Tenorio Volcano National Park (Rio Celeste) and Barra Honda National Park. Barra Honda also runs cave tours which is fascinating. For wildlife, Palo Verde National Park is the best.
In fact, one of the four UNESCO World Heritage sites in Costa Rica is the Guanacaste National Park!
These national parks are 40 minutes to 3 hours driving one way. There are also many wildlife refuges and private reserves such as the Camaronal National Wildlife Refuge by Samara.
Some people also do day trips to Arenal Volcano National Park,. It’s quite far (4 hours one way) but if you want to see the rainforest and volcano, this is an excellent option.
Llanos de Cortes Waterfall
Although Guanacaste is very dry, you can still find some beautiful waterfalls. Our favorite is the Llanos de Cortes waterfall near Liberia. This tall, gushing waterfall is like an oasis in the desert!
You can visit the Cortes waterfall in the morning and schedule another activity in the afternoon, such as ziplining. We always bring our friends and family to this waterfall. It’s one of the best cheap things to do in Guanacaste and one of the best places to visit for families.
See Turtles at Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Ostional Wildlife Refuge is one of the best places to see turtles in Costa Rica. This reserve was created specifically to protect the beaches that two types of turtles lay their eggs on, the Olive Ridley and Leatherback sea turtles. During peak turtle egg laying season, thousands of turtles come upon the Ostional shores.
Turtle season in Ostional is around May – January. The best months to see turtles at Ostional is September – November. During this period of time, tens of thousands of turtles lay their eggs all day long! This type of natural phenomenon is called an arribada, observed in 7 places in the world.
It’s right next to Nosara and about a 1.5 hour drive from Tamarindo.
Scuba diving is one of the must do things in Guanacaste for ocean lovers. The Gulf of Papagayo has great diving with amazing spots such as Bat Islands (Islas Murcielagos) and Catalina Islands. Swim with eagle rays, turtles, sharks and other creatures of the sea. Flamingo, Tamarindo, Playas del Coco and Playa Ocotal are excellent launch points for scuba diving in Guanacaste.
Likewise, the Catalinas Islands off of Playa Flamingo are great for scuba diving and this is where I did my PADI open water certification.
And if you don’t have your certification, you do a discovery dive or go snorkeling!
Snuba is another option for those who want to go beyond snorkeling. Snuba is like scuba diving but instead of a tank, you’re breathing through a tube connected to a raft on the top. You can stay down around 6 meters (20 feet) for a long period of time.
We did snuba in Guanacaste and it was an awesome experience. It really made me want to get my scuba diving certification!
Fishing lovers will have a blast fishing in Guanacaste. Many of the popular beach towns started out as fishing villages and is how many locals still make their living today.
You can book inshore or offshore fishing trips up and down the Guanacaste coast. You can catch snappers, mahi mahi, groupers and wahoo on inshore fishing trips. On offshore trips, you can go sport fishing and wrestle marlins, roosterfish, groupers and more. There are many sport fishing charters in Flamingo, Coco, Samara and Tamarindo.
If you catch fish like snapper or mahi mahi, you can take it with you to eat for dinner which is awesome. Many restaurants will cook it for you if you bring it to them.
The best way to explore the beautiful coasts of Guanacaste is by boat. Go on a sunset cruise on a catamaran, enjoy a booze cruise or take a private boating tour. Whichever one you do, it’ll be a wonderful experience. Many tours take you to nearby beaches to swim and snorkel a bit bring you back under a stunning sky for the sunset tours.
You can also go on an open sailing tours which are really nice. Some good ones are Antares in Tamarindo, Panache and Lazy Lizard in Potrero, Serendipity in Flamingo, Kuna Vela in Playas del Coco and Samara Adventure Company in Samara. Marlin del Rey in Tamarindo and Coco is a good one for groups of friends.
Sailing is a must and one of the very best things to do in Guanacaste to see the beautiful ocean and coastal views!
Up in the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano area, you can relax in the natural hot springs. Many of the hotels like Guachipelin, Vandara, Rio Perdido, Borinquen and Buena Vista have their own.
For our favorites, Rio Perdido, Borinquen and Guachipelin are some of our favorites. Borinquen and Rio Perdido are also excellent places to stay for a night or two in the mountains of Rincon de la Vieja.
Our Favorite Guanacaste Tours
- Guachipelin combo tour
- Buena Vista combo tour
- Kayaking and snorkeling Isla Chorro (Playa Samara)
- Hacienda El Viejo cultural, rum and wildlife watching tour
- Tamarindo estuary boat ride
- ATV in Tamarindo
- Rio Perdido hot springs
- Snorkeling and fishing from Flamingo
- Discovery scuba dive from Flamingo
- Snorkeling, fishing, beach hoping and surfing in Gulf of Papagayo
- Scenic helicopter tours with Adventure Air Costa Rica
- Miravalles volcano walk
- Hiking Rincon de la Vieja National Park
- Ostional turtle viewing
- Rio Celeste hike