Guanacaste’s nickname of the “Golden Coast” is aptly given, as this large province in the Pacific Northwest corner of Costa Rica has a plethora of incredible natural attractions and activities.
With killer waves, breathtaking sunsets, exhilarating outdoor adventure and gorgeous white sand beaches, Guanacaste is a province not to be missed. This tropical paradise has nearly everything anyone wants from a trip to Costa Rica with visitors falling in love with its long sunny days and and vast landscapes. Those reasons are also exactly why we have chosen to settle down in Guanacaste.
In this article, I’ll share with you our Guanacaste travel guide so you can get the most of your trip to this exotic province in Costa Rica!
- What to know about visiting Guanacaste
- Best airport
- Where to stay
- Best Beaches
- Things to do
- National Parks
- Our favorite places
- Sample Itineraries
Guanacaste, Costa Rica map
Guanacaste province is around 10,000 km squared or 4000 square miles. The capital city of Guanacaste is Liberia. A fascinating fact about Guanacaste is that it used belong to Nicaragua. The province was annexed to Costa Rica in 1824-25 and July 25 is Guanacaste Day, the official holiday for the annexation of Guanacaste.
What to Know About Visiting Guanacaste
Best Airport to Fly Into
Guanacaste has its own international airport, Liberia International Airport. It is 15 minutes to Liberia city, 25 minutes to the Gulf of Papagayo, one hour to Tamarindo and two hours to Samara, so Liberia Airport is the best airport to fly into Guanacaste.
From San Jose Airport, it is about a 3.5 hour drive to Liberia.
As the capital of the Guanacaste province, Liberia has all the characteristics of a typical Costa Rican city. It’s known as the “white city” thanks to the alabaster church and dust covered buildings in the summertime. Even though Guanacaste’s tourism has grown greatly, Liberia still retains an authentic Guanacesteco flair and authenticity.
It’s the hub for the main public transportation network in Guanacaste and has some small hotels. Most tourists stay in Liberia to be close to the airport or as a resting point between Guanacaste and Alajuela/San Jose.
Like I mentioned earlier, Guanacaste’s favorable weather is one of the reasons why it’s a popular vacation spot for locals and foreigners in Costa Rica. Average temperatures throughout the year barely vary so you can expect sunny skies and hot temperatures for nearly all 365 days of the year.
The dry season in the province is typically a bit longer than the rest of the country with temperatures soaring into the 100s F (38 C) in March and April. If you visit during Costa Rica’s summer, all you will see are clear blue skies and the intense sun!
One downside to the dry season is that everything turns very yellow, sparse, dusty and dry. This is one of the reasons why there is not as much wildlife in Guanacaste, the dryness.
Likewise, rainy season in Guanacaste can get very intense. The rainiest months are September and October, where rainstorms commonly occur in the evenings and night time. We even had a small hurricane and tropical storm the past couple years. For the most part, you can still get clear skies in the mornings.
An upside to visiting during rainy season is that everything turns a lush green, which is more pleasing to the eye.
Average temperatures in dry season (end of November – end of April) are low 90s to low 100s (32 C to 38 C). In rainy season, it is around high 80s (31 C) and very humid. You can read more about Costa Rica weather in this post for more information.
As Guanacaste is one of the more developed provinces catered to tourism and is a popular snowbird/expat destination, prices are generally higher than the rest of Costa Rica. You can still travel on a budget in Guanacaste, but you will need to do more research and plan more carefully.
Where to Stay in Guanacaste
As Guanacaste is a very big province, it can be hard to narrow down where to visit. Here is a map of Guanacaste with popular beach towns, resorts, towns and not as touristy beaches to help you orient yourself. Although Guanacaste is well known for the beaches, the province is also home to beautiful rainforest towns such as Nuevo Arenal, Tilaran and Miravalles. In this guide, I’m going to focus mostly on the beach towns.
Best Beaches and Beach Towns
The nickname of “golden coast” for Guanacaste comes from the plethora of beautiful beaches in the province. You can find some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica in Guanacaste!
Playas del Coco
As the main beach town in the Gulf of Papagayo, Playas del Coco has grown from a quiet fishing village to a popular tourist town and retiree community. Only 25 minutes from Liberia Airport and the best beach town to stay in the Papagayo Peninsula and Gulf.
This busy surf town attracts visitors looking for a fun nightlife, great surfing and beautiful sunsets. Tamarindo is one of the most popular beach towns in Guanacaste. You can read more about Tamarindo in our guide.
As one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, Conchal is a must see. Not only does it have clear turquoise waters, but the shore is made up of sparkling white shells instead of sand! Check out our Conchal beach guide for more.
Playa Flamingo is not too far from Conchal and has an upscale, luxury community. If you’re looking for an ocean view mansion or condo, this is the place to go! Good base for fishing, scuba diving and snorkeling.
This beach town further south in Guanacaste is one of the best places to go for families. Samara boasts beginner surf waves, stunning sunsets and a more mellow laid back beach atmosphere than Tamarindo.
Largely known as the first “expat town” in Costa Rica, Nosara is a quiet little surf town that mostly attracts yogis, surfers and retired Americans/Canadians. This area is popular for wellness resorts too.
You can read about other beaches in Guanacaste here.
Guanacaste Resorts and Hotels
Guanacaste has some of the most luxurious and nicest hotels and all inclusive resorts. Popular hotels resorts in Guanacaste are the RIU, Four Seasons, Andaz Papagayo, Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas, Westin Playa Conchal, W Costa Rica, Occidental Langosta, Dreams Las Mareas, JW Marriott, Planet Hollywood. If you are looking to splurge, then you better check out these Guanacaste resorts!
Things to Do in Guanacaste
As Guanacaste is in the Pacific Northwest corner of Costa Rica, there are a variety of fun things to do thanks to the diverse landscapes and terrain. Although it’s known for all the beautiful beaches, visitors can also enjoy a plethora of other natural attractions such as rivers, waterfalls and volcanoes.
The best things to do in Guanacaste are scuba diving, snorkeling, ziplining, hiking, beach hopping, surfing and horseback riding. You can find adventure parks like Diamante Eco Adventure Park, Guachipelin, Ponderosa and Buena Vista that offer multiple activities to get the best bang for your buck. For culture and nature, Hacienda El Viejo offers a fun day learning about the Guanacaste traditions and culture.
You can also do many day trips in Guanacaste to visit other places such as Arenal, Monteverde and Rio Celeste. Since the Nicaraguan border is only a couple hours from Liberia, you can even visit another country! If you’re staying in Gulf of Papagayo or Tamarindo areas, you can do a Nicaragua day trip.
You can read our in-depth guide to the best things to do in Guanacaste here.
National Parks and Refuges
The Guanacaste province is home to a handful of national parks and wildlife refuges. Among them is one of the three UNESCO World Heritage sites in Costa Rica: the Guanacaste National Park since it contains one of the most endangered ecosystems: the dry tropical forest.
Here is a quick overview of the popular national parks in Guanacaste.
Palo Verde National Park
This national park protects the Tempisque River and Valley, which is home to thousands of migratory birds and other animals. Palo Verde is an excellent place to see birds, crocodiles and wildlife. You can read more about visiting Palo Verde National Park in this post.
Santa Rosa National Park
Although this park is not easily accessible, it is popular among surfers because it is home to the famous Witch’s Rock. Santa Rosa also has two important turtle nesting beaches but is mostly off limits to the public. If people visit Santa Rosa, it is usually for Witch’s Rock surfing. Scuba divers and snorkeling enthusiasts can go to the Islas Murcielagos (Bat Islands) marine sector of the park.
Las Baulas National Park
This park was created to protect the leatherback turtles that nest on Playa Grande, a popular surfing beach. Although the number of nesting leatherbacks have sadly decreased the past few years, it’s still very important.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
As the most popular national park in Guanacaste, Rincon de la Vieja is the most tourist friendly with hiking trails, a park office, picnic area and bathrooms. Tourists can hike the trails to see the volcanic mud pots, waterfalls and rivers.
Since it protects the Rincon de la Vieja volcano, one of five in the Guanacaste mountain range, mud baths and hot springs are also a popular activity with several hot spring resorts in the area. This area is home to several adventure parks and lodges such as Borinquen, Vandara, Rio Perdido, Sensoria, Guachipelin and Buena Vista.
Barra Honda National Park
This national park in Nicoya protects a plethora of caves, of which only a few have been explored. Visitors can hike the trails through the dry forest for nice views of the Nicoya Peninsula or take a caving tour to explore the world underneath. Read more about Barra Honda National Park here.
Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Our Favorite Places in Guanacaste
We’ve lived here for over 7 years and have had a ton of fun exploring this huge province. Although we’ve been to many places, there are still so much more to see in Guanacaste!
Some of our favorite places are the Cortes waterfall, Rincon de la Vieja National Park, Rio Celeste (although not technically in Guanacaste but it’s very close), Gulf of Papagayo, Playa Pelada, Guiones, Playa Rajada, Playa Coyote and San Miguel, Las Catalinas, Playa San Juanillo and Playa Marbella/Frijolar.
Sample Itineraries and Ideas
Here is a sample 5 day Guanacaste itinerary we’ve written. One of the best things about choosing Guanacaste as your homebase in Costa Rica is that you can do lots of day trips and see a variety of landscapes, beaches and natural attractions!
Another very popular and easy 1 week itinerary is 3 nights in Guanacaste, 3 nights in La Fortuna. This is very common and that way, you can experience beach, rainforest and volcano!
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