Planning on visiting Guanacaste and only have a few days? Check out our sample 5 day Guanacaste itinerary!
As Guanacaste is well known for its beautiful beaches and ocean activities, this itinerary is written for those looking for a beach vacation.
For those who are not renting a car and plan to book tours with transportation, get our Guanacaste day tours discount here!
How to get around this Guanacaste itinerary
You don’t necessarily need to rent a car for this itinerary if you plan to stay in the main towns using one town as your homebase. In that case, booking shuttles and tours is fine. However if you want to explore and move around, then renting a car is a must.
We offer discounts for Mytanfeet readers for car rentals. Click to get your Costa Rica car rental discount.
Where to stay in Guanacaste
As this province is very big, many people have a hard time trying to figure out where to stay in Guanacaste. The capital city of the province, Liberia, is not a big city and most tourists don’t stay there except for flying days.
First, you need to know that Guanacaste is known as a beach destination so most people stay at the coasts. So this itinerary will focus on those who want a beach vacation.
Second, there are 4 main areas that visitors like to go to. The areas are Gulf of Papagayo, Tamarindo, Conchal/Brasilito/Flamingo and Samara/Nosara.
Lastly, this Guanacaste itinerary has one home base in order to maximize the time you have in Costa Rica since you only have a few full days.
And also, if you’re interested in any of the tours and activities below, just contact us and we’ll be happy to help you book them or give more information.
Gulf of Papagayo
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. You can take a private shuttle, the public bus or rent a car.
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. If you stay at Hermosa, Ocotal or Panama, we do recommend renting a car since those beaches don’t really have a downtown. There really isn’t too much there except for a few hotels and restaurants on Hermosa and Ocotal. Playa Panama has just a few hotels and that’s it.
You can also stay at the high end hotels and all-inclusive resorts in the Gulf of Papagayo, which are also around a 30 minute drive. These are Planet Hollywood, Andaz, Kasiiya, 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.
- 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.
Tamarindo is a very lively surfing beach town. It’s the biggest in the area with a few condo towers, several hotels and restaurants on the beach and is home to music festivals and big parties during the holidays.
You can find a lot of good shopping, food, happy hour and parties going on in this beach town. It’s popular with families who are into surfing and like a lively atmosphere. From the Liberia Airport, you can drive, take a shuttle or fly as Tamarindo has its own local airport. It is a 1 hour drive from Liberia Airport to Tamarindo.
- Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort: Beach front hotel in Playa Tamarindo with 3 restaurants and pools.
- Jardin del Eden: Adult only, luxury resort great for couples and honeymooners.
- Esplendor: Nice hotel up on a hill of Tamarindo so you have a nice view. Has infinity pool, spa and restaurant.
- JW Marriott: Upscale Marriott resort on its own beach, about 20 minutes driving from Tamarindo
For cheap accommodation, there are quite a few hostels in Tamarindo like Botella de Leche, Selina and Coral Reef Surf.
If you’re really into surfing and/or don’t want to stay in a busy town, head to Playa Grande or Avellanas instead. There aren’t many hotels and restaurants there so you will need a car.
If you want to stay in Tamarindo, we wrote a dedicated Tamarindo 5 days itinerary using that town as a home base.
Flamingo and Conchal
Conchal is a gorgeous white sand beach and is known to be more exclusive due to the access. There are only two hotels on Conchal: Westin and W Reserva and one large private property with vacation rentals: Reserva Conchal. The closest town to Conchal beach is Brasilito and where you will have to stay if you don’t stay at those resorts.
15 minutes drive away is the white sand beach of Flamingo and its luxury community with luxury hotels and fancy vacation rentals. It is a popular fishing and scuba diving destination.
Potrero and Brasilito are two quieter and cheaper options in between Flamingo and Conchal.
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
- Bahia del Sol: Beachfront resort on Potrero beach next to Flamingo
For families, Samara is an excellent option. This area is less of a party town than Tamarindo and is great for those who are into yoga, surf and wellness. Samara is 2 hours from Liberia Airport and you can drive, take the bus or a shuttle.
You can also check out Nosara, which is an hour north of Samara and more rural. It’s a small beach town that’s also a great destination for those into surf, yoga and wellness. Nosara is about a 2.5 hour drive from Liberia International Airport and has some gorgeous beaches.
Guanacaste Itinerary 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.
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.
If you’re staying down in Tamarindo/Conchal/Flamingo, you can take a snorkel catamaran cruise with Antares or Dream Chaser (Tamarindo), Panache or Lazy Lizard (Potrero) or Serendipity (Flamingo). For the best ocean experience, go on a private snorkeling tour in Flamingo which is a must for families!
If you’re in Samara, you can go kayaking and snorkeling to Isla Chorro. Easy 30 minute kayak ride one way and nice snorkeling at the island.
For scuba divers, definitely take this day to scuba dive Las Catalinas Islands, Isla Murcielagos or the Tortuga Islands!
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.
Palo Verde National Park
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.
Palo Verde National Park is 1.5 hours from Gulf of Papagayo, 2 hours from Tamarindo and Conchal and 2.5 hours from Samara (driving one way).
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. Costs around $30 USD per person if you go directly to the locals at the estuary.
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, 1 hour from Samara, 1.5 hours from Tamarindo and 2 hours from Gulf of Papagayo.
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.
Hacienda El Viejo Wetlands
For a full day of adventure, culture and wildlife, head to Hacienda El Viejo Wetlands. This private estate has their own refuge with wildlife watching boat rides, a cultural tour and rum tour. Fantastic place to experience the best of Guanacaste tradition!
It’s 1 hour and 45 minutes from Samara, 1 hour 15 minutes from Tamarindo, 50 minutes from Coco and 2.5 hours from Nosara. Get a discount off their activities with our Hacienda El Viejo discount!
Bijagua Rainforest Walk and Sloth Spotting
Experience the primary rainforest on this spectacular one day tour from the beach to tropical rainforest. You’ll walk on a 2.2 kilometer trail through a private reserve, learning about the gems of a primary tropical rainforest.
Then you’ll go to a second reserve to see sloths!
You can read more about this Guanacaste rainforest sloth tour in the link and watch our video below.
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! Chill at the pool, go shopping, sleep in, be lazy. If you are up for it, take a surf lesson in Tamarindo or Samara.
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. It is 1.5 hours from Coco, Tamarindo and Flamingo.
For ziplining, go to Diamante Adventure Park (get 10% off!) for an adrenaline filled ocean view zipline, animal sanctuary and traditional farm experience. By Samara, you can check out Wing Nuts Zipline.
If you’re not that keen on ziplining and are more into hiking, we recommend Catarata La Leona hike in Curubande de Liberia. Wild river adventures and relaxing river pools!
Day 6: Fly out
It’s time to go home! Even though your trip was short, you still had a great time with this itinerary in Guanacaste.
Tips for this Guanacaste itinerary
- Many of these tours require a minimum of 2-3 people. For solo travelers, stay in a hostel to join groups.
- Bring 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 very crowded, hot and expensive. September – November is less busy, rainier and is cheaper. But if you don’t want to run into any rain, dry season is the best time (Dec – April and July). Average temperatures in Guanacaste range from 85 – 100 F (29 to 38 C) so bring LOTS of sunscreen and appropriate sun protection.
Read about other things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica in this post.
Check out other sample itineraries!
8 days itinerary: Playas del Coco and La Fortuna. Guanacaste beaches, La Fortuna rainforest and Arenal Volcano. Ideal for those flying in and out of LIberia Airport.
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, Manuel Antonio and Puerto Viejo. Goes to the city, rainforest and beach. You will get to experience both Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
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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