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Guanacaste Itinerary: A Week in Costa Rica’s Gold Coast

Guanacaste Itinerary: A Week in Costa Rica’s Gold Coast

Look no further than Costa Rica if you’re searching for a dream tropical vacation. Costa Rica is a lovely nation with one of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth. Whether you enjoy surfing, fishing, ziplining, waterfalls, or simply want to relax on a peaceful beach, there’s something for everyone.

We recently spent 1 week in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, and wanted to share our experience with you by making this vlog.

My small family and I put together an itinerary to give you a taste of what it’s like to spend a week in Guanacaste so you can make the most of your trip and the beautiful beaches of the Gold Coast.

I’m going to walk you through my Guanacaste itinerary and trip to one of my favorite places in the world – Costa Rica. If you’re looking for an amazing tropical getaway, look no further than this country and surely this region as well.

I’ll illustrate a summary of some key highlights from our trip – from sunsets on the beach to laid-back beaches to sloths. So pack your bags and come with me on a journey.

Costa Rica Travel Vlog: Spending a Week in Guanacaste [4K]
Watch this video on YouTube.

Let’s get into it!

What to Pack for a Trip to Guanacaste

Determining what to pack for a trip to Guanacaste, very much depends on when you visit and what you want to do during your trip (I’ll get to that later).

Generally speaking, Costa Rica is a country with hot weather but with both a very dry season and a very rainy season.

So, pack accordingly. You’ll definitely want a rain jacket and a bathing suit, but the rest is a personal preference.

For example, if you’re going to be hiking volcanoes or other mountainous areas, I’d bring some warm clothing items such as gloves for when it’s chilly up there. Here’s what I brought…

Red Sea Bag

Bringing a travel backpack like this one is especially convenient for walking around town, hiking in the rainforest, and even when you’re on tour.

You can stuff everything into it; A few days of clothing, toiletries, your laptop (if need be), and anything else you might need.

If you’re traveling with carry-on only, this bag is a great suggestion because it’s less bulky than your standard backpack.

I used to bring my laptop bag but this one is SO much more convenient; It still allowed me to pack everything I needed and was very lightweight.

Clothing

You’ll want to pick out clothes that are comfortable and practical. For pants, I brought a pair of black jeans, some shorts, and some khaki walking pants for when we went around town on the weekend.

For shirts, you’ll want to bring whatever you feel like wearing… but remember that it gets hot so choose clothes that are light in color and aren’t too tight fitting. I brought a couple of t-shirts, tank tops, and button-up shirts.

See Related: Best Lightweight Travel Clothing for Hot Climates

Swimsuit

You’ll definitely want to bring your swimsuit because the Pacific Ocean water in Guanacaste province is amazing – you can swim in it year-round.

I have two pairs several swim shorts for men as well as several pairs of gym shorts.

Then, my wife brought 2 bikinis; one with regular bottoms and one with high-waisted bottoms.

Toiletries

I brought all of the toiletries I would need for myself with a few considerations: If you bring items that are 3oz or less, they can fit comfortably into your carry-on.

This includes sunscreen! For the rest, I packed them in my checked bag (they’re too big to travel within your carry-on).

Here are some suggestions on what you’ll want to bring:

  • Sunscreen – Bring this with you because there’s plenty of sun in Guanacaste. Plus, it will be very expensive in Costa Rica if you don’t bring it with you.
  • Lotion and Moisturizer – If you have extremely dry skin I highly recommend looking into buying a moisturizer here in Costa Rica. Otherwise, just bring it with you.
  • Toothbrush – Don’t forget this one because things are much less hygienic here in Guanacaste than they are back home.
  • Hair Products – If you have certain hair products that you use every day, bring them with you.
  • Shampoo/Conditioner – Bring these if you don’t want to depend on the hotel shampoo.
  • Bug Spray & Sunburn Lotion – You’ll definitely want bug spray (this will be especially important in the wet season) and sunblock lotion.
  • Sunglasses – Bring these if you don’t want to buy them when you get here (trust me, all of this jungle will be very bad for your eyes).
  • Shower Shoes – You’ll want these in order to keep your feet clean when showering.
  • Chapstick/Lip Balm – If you are traveling during the dry season, you’ll be happy that you have this with you on those hot sunny days in Central America.
  • Shaving Razor/Toiletries – Some hotels might offer this but you’ll want to bring these things just in case.
  • Laundry Soap – If you’re wearing clothes beyond the time it takes for them to dry, bring laundry soap with you.

See Related: Best Travel Accessories

Where to stay in Guanacaste Province

If you’re looking for a place to stay in Guanacaste province, there are a few areas that are popular with tourists.

The first is the Gulf of Papagayo, which is known for its pristine beaches. Another popular area is Tamarindo, which is known for its nightlife and restaurants. If you’re looking for something a bit quieter, Conchal and Brasilito/Flamingo are great options.

And finally, Samara/Nosara is perfect if you’re looking for a relaxing beach town to stay in.

These are some of the best hotels and resorts in Guanacaste province:

El Mangroove

Umbrellas, Loungers, and Pool in El Mangroove Papagayo
Photo by Booking.com

If you’re looking for a luxury resort, El Mangroove is the perfect option. Offering incredible views of the sea and overlooking Flamingo Beach, this hotel has amazing amenities including private beach access and several pools to choose from.

There’s also a spa on-site and an entire Italian restaurant that serves authentic pasta and pizzas. Hammocks are available on the beach, a perfect place to relax after a long day of exploring Costa Rica’s beautiful beaches.

Guacamaya Lodge

Large Pool and Nipa Huts in Guacamaya Lodge Pool
Photo by Booking.com

If you’re looking for a more secluded resort or hotel, this is one of Guanacaste’s best options.

Not only does it have incredible views and amazing amenities, but this resort is also on-site with a variety of adventures including horseback riding, ATV tours, and floating down the river in kayaks.

This is one of Guanacaste’s best resorts for weddings as well – it has both indoor and outdoor wedding venues available.

La Mansion Inn

Pool and Landscape Sceneries in Hotel La Mansion Inn
Photo by Booking.com

This is another luxury resort option in Guanacaste.

This resort is one of Guanacaste’s best resorts for weddings and honeymoons because it has a romantic atmosphere, a river running through the middle of the property, and incredible panoramic views from all angles. Relax by the pool or take part in an adventure tour on-site.

Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel

Pool and Roof Aerial View of Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel
Photo by Booking.com

If you’re looking for a unique boutique hotel in Guanacaste, this is a perfect choice. This 10-roomed property has been affectionately dubbed “home away from home” by many people because it offers amenities that travelers need at an affordable price.

All of the rooms are pretty small but they have comfortable beds and the property is located centrally in Playa Conchal, which makes it easy to get around.

Casa Conde Hotel

Buildings with Lit Lights and Big Pool in Casa Conde Hotel
Photo by Booking.com

This hotel is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a budget hotel option in Guanacaste province. Being located right near Flamingo Beach means that you’ll be able to enjoy the best of Guanacaste while not spending too much money.

It is pretty basic, however – the best part about this hotel is definitely its location. The rooms are nothing special but they’re clean and comfortable for travelers on the go.

The Jaguar Village

Series of Building in The Jaguar Village
Photo by Booking.com

We stayed at a vacation rental called The Jaguar Village which overlooks the Bay of Papagayo. Each night was a sprawling orange sunset across the ocean with an infinity pool.

We couldn’t have asked for more. In this area, there are a ton of great luxury resorts and all-inclusive resorts like El Mangroove, The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica, Planet Hollywood, Secrets Papagayo, and several other well-known spots.

Personally, I’m not a big resort person for an extended period of time. We like getting to know the locals and we definitely love excursions.

For one night on our trip, we made our trip to Tamarindo an overnight stay and we stayed at the beautiful El Capitan Suizo resort right on the beach of Playa Tamarindo.

Where to Eat in Guanacaste Province

Guanacaste province has many amazing places to eat so you won’t be hungry while you’re exploring all of the provinces has to offer.

For breakfast, head out to La Mansion Inn or El Mangroove where they’ll serve up some tasty options including pancakes and fresh juice.

Further along, Papagayo Seafood Restaurant offers many seafood dishes as well as other traditional Costa Rican dishes like “Casado” and “Pargo Frito.”

For those with a sweet tooth, Mango Cafe is the perfect place to go. Not only does this cafe offer up delicious desserts like chocolate cake and flan, but it also offers homemade ice cream!

Finally, if you’re looking for lunch or dinner options that are authentic Costa Rican, Casa de las Pizzas is a perfect choice.

Next, head southeast to Tinamaste which borders the park, and after you cross over into Guanacaste head east on that road to Tanganrica then northwest onto Liberia- Hwy 21. From here it’s less than two hours drive to Santa Rosa National Park entrance and the Liberia Airport.

See Related: When is the Best Time to Travel to Puerto Rico? (Ranked)

7 Days in Guanacaste, Costa Rica Itinerary

Let’s start with a day-by-day Guanacaste itinerary so you can get a flavor of how to have an amazing trip to Costa Rica’s Gold Coast.

Day One: Playas Del Coco

Building, Palm Trees, and Skyline in Playas del Coco

For the first day, we made the short drive into the small town of Coco or Playas Del Coco which is a cheeky beach town with roaming ex-pats and locals.

The main street is a long stretch of restaurants and fish markets with a lot of live music at night. It can get busy on weekends but all in all, it’s a wonderful little town to explore.

It’s a great beach destination to get a feel for what it’s like visiting Guanacaste.

See Related: 10 Best Things to Do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Day Two: Arenal National Park

Backpacker in the Forest of Arenal National Park

During this trip, we didn’t make it to Arenal National Park and the hot springs. Not because we didn’t like it but because we wanted to explore other spots in Guanacaste.

Arenal is absolutely phenomenal. The national park is underpinned by the iconic Arenal Volcano one of the many active volcanoes located in Central America. The park has a few different trails ranging from easy to difficult. But the challenge of the hike is completely worth it as you will be treated to stunning views of Lake Arenal and of course, Arenal Volcano.

If you find yourself in Guanacaste without going to Arenal National Park, it’s truly a missed opportunity. Photography-wise, it’s a gold mine.

Consider booking a night at one of the many Arenal hot springs resorts. The last time we were in Costa Rica, we stayed at The Hot Springs, which was one of the more legendary experiences I’ve ever had at a resort.

Even though it’s a national park, you can still take on one of the many canopy tours or ziplines. Previously, we did a zipline in Arenal through the clouds and the amazing Arenal hanging bridges.

While you are there make sure you visit the La Fortuna waterfall. It’s an easy 20-minute drive out of La Fortuna. You can spend the day there but be back in time for dinner since this is also where all the restaurants are located.

Day Three: Explore the Car-Free Town of Las Catalinas

Watch our Youtube Video visual travel guide of Las Catalinas below.

Las Catalinas, Costa Rica: Visiting This Car-Free Beach Town
Watch this video on YouTube.

On the third day, we made the trip to Las Catalinas. We heard so much about this town and the luxurious resorts that it had to offer both before we left for our trip as well as when we got there.

Our rental car office even asked if we heard about it! It was about a 45-minute drive from our vacation rental and was a decent day trip. The drive there was very very unique. We went through the dirt road of the Monkey Trail which entailed driving through a river. Welcome to Costa Rica!

Once we got there, it was one of the freshest coastal towns I’ve ever visited. Most coast towns we’ve explored have been from Italy or France.

Day Four: Go on a Zipline at Eco-Diamonte Adventure Park or Nosara

Centrally located within Guanacaste is Eco-Diamonte Adventure Park which offers several adventure experiences including the longest zipline in Costa Rica, a wildlife sanctuary, ATV tours, a horseback ride through the tropical forest, and/or a canopy tour.

It’s a pretty well-done experience regardless of what you do. You can purchase a full-day experience with several activities or just choose one of the many activities ala-cart.

Day Five: Stay Local and Recharge at one of the many Guanacaste Beaches

Aerial View of Playa Hermosa Coast

Okay, having fun yet? Costa Rica is full of adventure. But after a few days of running around hitting the national parks and activities. Now is the time to enjoy the Pacific Coast low and slow. Like grab a few coconut and rum drinks and just relax type day.

There are so many great beaches along Costa Rica’s Gold Coast including Playa Hermosa, Playa Panama, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Grande are few but Playa Conchal is probably the most popular.

You’re not going to find any cheap places to stay though in this beach town. The two cheapest options are Hacienda Pinilla Club Hotel which starts at $91 per night and Tamarindo Diria which starts at $153 per night.

Being that we were located on Papagayo Bay, we visited some of the local favorites of Playa Hermosa and Panama.

Day Six: Visit Tamarindo

Man Holding Surfboard in the Sunset of Tamarindo

On the sixth day, we drove about an hour and 15 minutes to Tamarindo, a town that we hadn’t been to before and has been on our list to visit. This town is a well-known surf mecca due to its easy, consistent flow of waves along the ultra-blue Pacific coast.

This is one of the more busy towns in the entire country but for good reason. It has great vibes and is an excellent beach town experience.

Some of the best things to do in Tamarindo include swimming, surfing, sunbathing, and enjoying the incredible nightlife. The town is also home to some great restaurants and bars, so be sure to check those out while you’re there.

There are many hotels to choose from here including the El Capitan Suizo (where we stayed). We booked a room directly on the beach and was well worth it! The pool had howler monkeys hanging out above the pool bar.

Beyond that, there are also some great budget options even some really cool hostels, a vegan hotel (it’s amazing), and mid-range options in Tamarindo as well as some great local spots to choose from.

So be sure to check out Tamarindo if you want a nice little beach town with all the amenities. The name of the town means ‘Tamarind’ in Spanish and ‘big surf.’

If you do plan on going to Tamarindo, keep in mind that it’s a surfer town and there can be some serious waves in the ocean.

So if you’re afraid of big, blue waves then maybe attempt to avoid going during peak season that runs from December to April when these huge swells come crashing in.

Spring and summer are calmer but still very beautiful with calm waters and smaller waves.

Day Seven: Santa Rosa National Park or a Boat Excursion

Costa Rica is filled with some of the best national parks in the world. Santa Rosa National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that makes no exception.

It’s a great way to escape the heat and humidity that can be very hard on your body as you travel through this region of the country.

This park is home to Guanacaste’s largest forest and is filled with wildlife including iguanas, sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, snakes, deer, and plenty of birds.

This park also includes the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park where many tourists explore natural hot springs, bubbling mud pots, volcanic craters, and fumaroles.

After visiting a few of these spots, we spent the last couple of days enjoying Playa Hermosa, Playa Panama, and the rest of the Bay of Papagayo area.

If you’re not a big traveler, Playa Hermosa might be one of the best beaches in Costa Rica that you’ve ever heard of. It’s absolutely stunning and has everything from long stretches of beach to rocky cliffs, tide pools, and even a few caves.  

In addition to the great snorkeling/scuba diving/snorkeling/etc, the people here are extremely friendly.

Playa Panama is a super laid-back beach town in Guanacaste. While it’s not known for much other than surfing and having great sunsets, we really enjoyed our time there with the surfers and locals.

I would say that even though Playa Hermosa is a better beach, Playa Panama is the best place to get a taste of what Costa Rica’s culture and people are like.

During this trip, we also got to see some incredible sunsets in multiple locations. While at Playa Hermosa one day we watched the sunset over the Bay of Papagayo. It’s something that’s pretty hard to beat.

Day Eight: Return to San José (If that’s where you are staying)

Costa Rican Flag on the Peak of  Cerro La Asuncion Mountain in San Jose

After spending seven days in Guanacaste, you should consider heading back to San Jose to return your rental car and get settled before departing the beautiful country of Costa Rica.

Personally, we departed out of Liberia Airport but you should consider giving yourself an extra day if you fly out of San José or Santa Cruz.

Plus, there are some great spots in both of those cities to explore as well.

Guanacaste Itinerary: Final Thoughts

After a week in Guanacaste, we have to say that it was definitely worth the visit! The tropical rainforest is unlike anything else in North America, there’s a magnificent volcano and the beaches were beautiful. Not only that the people were friendly, and there was plenty to do.

We would highly recommend spending some time here if you get the chance – whether you’re looking for a relaxing vacation or an adventure-filled trip. Thanks for joining us on our Costa Rican journey.

If you liked learning a bit about how we travel, please subscribe and join us on our journey around the world.

Pura Vida and Cheers.

FAQ

What is Guanacaste Costa Rica known for?

Guanacaste has gained a reputation as a tropical paradise with beautiful mountains and many volcanoes. Visitors enjoy long summers of activities, culture, and unparalleled biodiversity amongst others.

Guanacaste is renowned for its spectacular mountains and volcanoes, which have earned it the name “Tropical Eden.” Several tourists come to Guanacaste each year to take in the warm weather, beautiful scenery, and diverse wildlife.

Costa Rica is a well-known place because of its idyllic beaches, rich history, and active volcanoes. But what makes Guanacaste so special is the good times you can have here while enjoying all of the natural beauty.

You can go surfing on some of the best beaches in Central America here, and there are waves of all types to challenge beginners and experts alike.

What is the Gold Coast in Costa Rica?

The gold coast is the northwest coast of Guanacaste territory which runs in a narrow strip from Punta Burica in Nosara through to Bahía Salinas near Tamarindo. This sun-kissed stretch of coastline is famous with visitors as its beaches are beautiful and life is simple here.

What beach in Costa Rica is known for?

Manuel Antonio is considered Costa Rica’s best beach for many reasons.

What airport do you fly into for Guanacaste, Costa Rica?

You fly into the Liberia Guanacaste Airport (LIR) if you’re traveling to Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

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