With so many new flights to Costa Rica opening every year, it’s easy to pop over for a quick visit. If you’re visiting Costa Rica for a quick visit and your goal is to relax, see beautiful beaches and go on an adventure or 2, Guanacaste is a top destination.
Here is a sample 5 day Guanacaste itinerary we personally made for some friends. This Guanacaste itinerary has one home base which is best option in order to maximize the time you have in Costa Rica.
Day 1: Land in LIR airport, head to hotel
Day 1 of your 5 day Guanacaste itinerary is for settling in and getting ready for the next 5 days.
How to get around
You don’t necessarily need to rent a car for this itinerary. Booking shuttles and tours for all the activities will work. However if you want to explore and be on your own time, you can need to rent a car.
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Where to stay
There are 3 main areas that visitors like to go to. The areas are Gulf of Papagayo, Tamarindo/Conchal/Brasilito/Flamingo and Samara.
Gulf of Papagayo
I created a map of the Gulf of Papagayo area for tourists. You’ll see the different beaches, hotel and restaurant recommendations and activities. You can read more information below.
The Gulf of Papagayo is an excellent option if you don’t want to travel far. These are the beaches of Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Panama, Playa Ocotal and Bahia Pez Vela. They are about a 25-35 minute drive from Liberia Airport.
If you want to stay in a town, Playas del Coco is your best option. But if you want to stay in a quieter beach area, any of the other surrounding beaches are great. These are not surfing beaches and are best for those who like to snorkel/scuba dive, fish and relax.
You can also stay at the high end hotels and all-inclusive resorts in the Gulf of Papagayo, which is around a 40 minute drive. These are Planet Hollywood, Andaz, Four Seasons, Riu Guanacaste, Occidental Grand Papagayo and Secrets.
Here are some other hotel recommendations.
- El Mangroove Hotel on Playa Panama: A beautiful beachfront boutique hotel with one of the best seafood restaurants in Guanacaste. Excellent options for couples.
- Hotel Bosque del Mar on Playa Hermosa: An elegant beachfront hotel, quiet and modern rooms.
- Bahia Pez Vela Resort in Bahia Pez Vela: Individual villas, most with ocean view and a short walk to the beach.
- Villa Buena Onda in Playas del Coco: Luxury adult only boutique hotel. Perfect for honeymoons, up in the mountains so has incredible view of Coco beach.
Here is our tourist map below.
Tamarindo is a surfing/backpacker party town, Conchal is a gorgeous white sand beach and Flamingo is another white sand beach with luxury hotels and vacation rentals. Potrero and Brasilito are two quieter and cheaper options in between Flamingo and Conchal.
If you’re really into surfing and/or don’t want to stay in a busy town, head to Playa Grande or Avellanas instead.
Here are some recommendations for resorts:
- Westin Playa Conchal: One of the nicest all inclusives in Costa Rica and right on Conchal beach.
- W Conchal: Brand new resort on Conchal beach.
- Margaritaville: Beach front resort on Playa Flamingo
- Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort: Beach front hotel in Playa Tamarindo with 3 restaurants and pools
- JW Marriott: Upscale Marriott resort on its own beach, about 20 minutes driving from Tamarindo
- Bahia del Sol: Beachfront resort on Potrero beach next to Flamingo
For cheap accommodation, there are quite a few hostels in Tamarindo like Chocolate, Botella de Leche, Selina and Coral Reef.
Here is our map of Samara.
For families, Samara is an excellent option. This area is also a bit less touristy than Tamarindo and is great for those who are into yoga, surf and wellness too.
You can also check out Nosara, which is an hour north of Samara. It’s also a great destination for those into surf, yoga and wellness.
Day 2: Boating/snorkeling
On your first day of this Guanacaste itinerary, it’s time to hit the beach!
If you’re staying in the Gulf of Papagayo, take a private beach hopping/snorkel tour to experience the beautiful hidden beaches. Our friend Marcy runs a boating company that picks up in the Papagayo Gulf beaches and he takes you around to the best beaches and snorkel spots. Read more about his Playas del Coco boat tours here.
For those who really want to make the most of their short trip and experience something incredibly unique, head to the Bat Islands for a snorkeling and boating trip. If you scuba dive, you can take a scuba diving excursion there. Read more about the Bat Islands here.
If you’re staying down in Tamarindo/Conchal/Flamingo, you can take a snorkel catamaran cruise with Antares (Tamarindo) or Panache (Potrero) or Serendipity (Flamingo). For private options, you can go on a private boat tour in Flamingo for snorkeling.
If you’re in Samara, you can go kayaking and snorkeling to Isla Chorro or take a surf lesson.
Day 3: Wildlife Tour
I’m sure you want to see some wildlife so Day 3 is dedicated to wildlife watching. There are a couple options to see wildlife.
Take a leisurely boat ride down the Tempisque River to see crocodiles, monkeys, iguanas, lizards and birds. Learn about the importance of the dry tropical forest and the river.
Tamarindo estuary ride
The national park next to Tamarindo, Marino Las Baulas has a large estuary. Take a short boat ride through the estuary to see crocodiles, birds and monkeys. This is a 2 hour tour which is very nice to do in the morning.
If you are in Costa Rica during rainy season (July – end of November), you can visit Ostional Wildlife Refuge. It’s the best place to see nesting Olive Ridley Sea Turtles and baby turtles hatching. Very close to Nosara and about a 1.5 hour drive from Tamarindo.
Camaronal Wildlife Refuge
You can take a turtle tour in the season or take a guided hike through the private reserve close to Samara to see wildlife.
Day 4: Relax
Day 4 is for you to relax during your Guanacaste itinerary. If you have a car, you can drive around to the nearby beaches. It’s up to you what you want to do!
Day 5: Adventure
For your last full day in Costa Rica, get ready for an action packed day at the foot of a volcano.
This combo adventure tour is one of our favorite things to do in Costa Rica! Zipline through the forest, horseback ride and white water tube down the river. Wind down the day with relaxing hot springs and mud baths!
You can read more about the Guachipelin combo adventure tour here.
Some other ideas for a full day tour are Arenal one day, Nicaragua one day tour or Monteverde one day.
But if you’d rather go ziplining, go to Diamante Adventure Park (get 10% off!) for an adrenaline filled ocean view zipline. Near Tamarindo, you can visit the Black Stallion. By Samara, you can check out Wing Nuts.
Day 6: Fly out
It’s time to go home! Even though your trip was somewhat short, you still had a great time with this itinerary in Guanacaste.
Tips for this Guanacaste itinerary
- If you are traveling solo, keep in mind that many of these tours require a minimum of 2-3 people. Our recommendation is to stay in a hostel and join other groups.
- Since you will be visiting Guanacaste, one of the hottest areas in Costa Rica, you will need plenty of sunscreen and mosquito repellent.
- The best months to visit Guanacaste depends on your preferences. High season is end of December – April and it is extremely crowded and expensive. August – November is less busy and prices go down a bit. But if you don’t want to run into any rain, dry season is the best time (Dec – April).
Check out other sample itineraries!
8 days itinerary: Playas del Coco and La Fortuna. Guanacaste beaches, La Fortuna rainforest and Arenal Volcano
1 week itinerary: Jaco, Manuel Antonio and Uvita (beaches in the Central and South Pacific). Great itinerary if flying in and out of San Jose Airport.
10 day itinerary: San Jose, Arenal and Puerto Viejo. Goes to the city, volcano and beach.
2 week itinerary: Arenal, Monteverde and Guanacaste. Goes to volcano, rainforest, cloud forest and beach. Excellent if flying in and out of Liberia.
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