Costa Rica is a fantastic vacation destination for anyone who loves beautiful, tropical, and friendly places. One of the most attractive parts of Costa Rica to visitors from all over the globe is the Guanacaste province.
Guanacaste is one of seven provinces in Costa Rica. It covers nearly 4,000 square miles of area and although over 350,000 people call this province their home, it’s actually the most sparsely populated region in the country.
The majority of the people who live in Guanacaste live on the Pacific coast, but that’s only a small part of the area that the province covers. The inland portion of this northwestern province is massive and it, too, is attractive to many visitors and residents as well. Guanacaste is easy to get to from any place in the world thanks to the airport in the city of Liberia in this province.
Liberia Airport, also known as Daniel Oduber International Airport, is one of two major airports in Costa Rica. When it comes to visiting Guanacaste, this airport is centrally located to everywhere you’ll want to go and it will be perfect for you.
If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica then Guanacaste is an area that you should not miss. Not only is this province beautiful and relaxing, but there are lots of things to do in Guanacaste as well.
Certainly, it’s possible and easy to spend your entire time in Guanacaste, Costa Rica at the beach. There are lots of activities to enjoy there and there are many people who simply want to sit and relax and swim from time to time.
However, if you are looking for more adventure and activities to try on your trip, read on. In this guide, we’ll give you a bunch of great ideas to make your trip to Guanacaste one that you will remember for the rest of your life, and one that will make you want to return to Costa Rica time and time again.
What’s So Special About Guanacaste?
Guanacaste is spectacular in many ways. It’s no surprise that people are drawn to this very special place. Here are some of the many reasons that people love Guanacaste.
The quiet and serene beaches in this region are one of the biggest draws for most tourists who come. However, in addition to the beautiful beaches along the coast, this northwesternmost province has much ecological diversity.
Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse nations in the world; there are twelve different ecosystems represented in this country. This is even more surprising when you realize that overall, Costa Rica is only about the size of West Virginia. Further, in Guanacaste province alone, you can visit nine of the twelve!
In different parts of this province, you can see highland mountain rainforests, cloud forests, semi-deciduous mid-elevation forests, mangrove forests, wetlands, a coral reef, the Pacific coastline, and shallow seas off the coast.
The majority of this province is made up of dry tropical forest, though, and Guanacaste is the only province of Costa Rica where that ecosystem exists. This diversity is amazing and is why there is so much incredible wildlife to see in this area.
If you’re interested in learning about nature and observing animals, you can do a lot of both in Guanacaste. Costa Rica’s national park system is fantastic, and eight of the nation’s thirty national parks are in this province.
On the other hand, if you’re more interested in more active and daring activities, you’ll find plenty of those in Guanacaste, too. Surfing, scuba diving, boating, fishing, ziplining, hiking, and horseback riding are all available to visitors here too.
Relaxation & Pampering
If you’re the type of person who seeks pampering and relaxation on your vacation, Guanacaste can offer that to you as well. Many hotels and resorts in this part of Costa Rica offer spa treatments, massages, and yoga and meditation classes.
Take some time to relax in a hot tub or natural hot spring. You can also enjoy lots of shopping and fine dining in Guanacaste as well. No matter what kind of relaxation you like best, you can find it here.
Another great thing about Costa Rica is the fact that this country and its people are so friendly and welcoming to tourists. In fact, Costa Rica was ranked sixth on InterNation’s list of Friendliest Countries in 2022. Most Costa Ricans – or Ticos and Ticas as they call themselves – are helpful, open, and will be eager to meet you. This is especially true in Guanacaste.
This tropical paradise is even more laid back than some of the busier parts of the nation.
Best Things to Do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Now that you know why people love Guanacaste, you’re ready to book your own trip! However, you may be wondering what part of Guanacaste is best for you.
In this section, we’ll list some of the great activities that you can enjoy in the different parts of this province.
All Along the Guanacaste Coast
There are more than 200 miles of Pacific coastline in Guanacaste so it’s no surprise that many of the most popular activities in this area are directly related to the beach and the ocean.
All along this coastal area, from Puerto Soley in the far north near Nicaragua to Playa Bongo in the far south of this province, there are well over one hundred different beaches to stop at and enjoy.
Guanacaste is an absolute wonderland for any ocean or beach lover; if you are truly dedicated to spending time on the beach, you may not find a need to go anywhere else but one or three or five different beaches within a few miles of where you are staying.
On the other hand, some beach lovers also like variety and there is plenty of that – you can choose a different beach for every day or even hour of your stay, and you can do a different, fun activity at every one of them.
There are so many wonderful beaches in this area – it’s challenging to even choose a few of the very best to recommend.
Some of the most popular beaches and beach towns in Guanacaste include Playa Hermosa, Playas del Coco, Playa Flamingo, Playa Tamarindo, Playa Grande, and Playa Conchal in the north and Playa de Nosara, Playa Guiones, and Playa Samara in the south.
However, everyone’s favorite is different; the best thing you can do for yourself during your visit to Guanacaste is to visit a few different beaches to find out which one you personally like best.
See Related: Best Travel Sandals for Beach Vacations
2. Boating & Fishing & Scuba Diving & Snorkeling
All of the beach towns along the Pacific coast will have activities to offer and many of these activities are the same, yet slightly different, from place to place.
Most towns have outfitters who will take you out on a boat for sightseeing, snorkeling, or fishing excursions and this is a great way to see Costa Rica from a different perspective. This Playa Tamarindo: Sunset Sailing and Snorkeling Tour is one great example of the many different boating and snorkeling excursions available;
Also, there are many places that will take you scuba diving if that’s something that interests you. Scuba diving in Costa Rica can be very exciting for beginners and experienced divers alike due to the great diversity of plants and animals that live below the surface in these shallow seas.
If you are already scuba certified, you can sign up for more ambitious scuba trips, but if the sport is new to you, that’s okay too; lots of places offer lessons and pathways to certification as well. Kayaking and paddleboarding are popular in some areas, although other areas are too rough for these types of flatwater activities.
There are many places along the beaches and estuaries that rent out kayaks and paddleboards and they are a great way to see wildlife due to their silent nature.
Surfing is a big deal in Guanacaste and surfers come from all over the world to surf in this area.
Because of this fact, Guanacaste is also a great place to learn how to surf if you’ve never tried it before since there are so many talented individuals who support themselves by offering surfing lessons.
It’s much harder than it looks, but you’ll begin to gain at least a little bit of confidence even after your first lesson, and you can rent a board and spend the rest of your trip practicing if you’d like.
4. Horseback Riding
Horses are common in Costa Rica although they are less frequently used as a form of transportation in this country than they are in neighboring Central American countries.
Still, there are plenty of people in Guanacaste who offer horseback trail riding experiences to eager tourists both along the beach and in the rainforest.
An afternoon riding a horse through the beautiful environs of Guanacaste is a lovely and memorable way to spend a morning or an afternoon.
Many people visit Costa Rica primarily to see the unique and diverse animals that live there. You will see plenty of animals during your visit even if you put little to no effort into looking for them.
Whether you like birds, mammals, reptiles, or amphibians, you can spend entire days quietly observing animals during your Costa Rican vacation if that’s how you wish to spend your time.
Hiring a local nature guide can greatly enhance your experience further.
See Related: Best Sabbatical Destinations
In addition to enjoying the general beach activities listed above, there are many other fun things to do in Guanacaste. The northern coast of this region also contains several fantastic national parks and other fun attractions.
6. North Cost National Parks
Almost one-quarter of the land in Costa Rica is considered a protected area which is fantastic; it’s so great that the powers that be in this nation realized early on how important it was and is to protect the land and the creatures that call it home.
There are three national parks in the northern, coast part of Guanacaste and all of them are worth a visit.
Santa Rosa National Park
Santa Rose National Park covers 191 square miles of Guanacaste and was created in 1966. Initially, this park was intended to protect the site of the 1855 Battle of Santa Rosa.
This battle is very important in Costa Rican history. American mercenary William Walker intended to invade and conquer Costa Rica with the purpose of turning it into a slave state, enslaving the population, and selling them to slavers in America to counter the international restrictions on capturing slaves in Africa.
Mercifully, the Costa Ricans resisted this invasion, thereby keeping Costa Rica a free nation. Walker would try again after he had toppled the Nicaraguan government and established himself as president.
Two further battles against Walker’s Nicaraguan invasions were also won here in later years as well, cementing their status as a people who would not bow to slavers.
Today, this park is known for its immense habitat and flora and fauna diversity; about 250 bird species and 115 mammal species are found within the park. There are many excellent trails in the park and camping is allowed in some areas.
Guanacaste National Park
Guanacaste National Park is attached to Santa Rosa National Park so it’s easily possible to see both parks in one day. This park was created in 1989 and it covers 131 square miles.
Like Santa Rosa, this park is home to hundreds of different kinds of birds and animals and many diverse ecosystems. There are several trails that are well-maintained and you can even view pre-Columbia petroglyphs on the trail that leads to the Orosi Volcano.
Las Baulas Marine National Park
Most of the 167 square mile area of Las Baulas Marine National Park is water, but it also includes many of the most popular beaches in this part of Guanacaste.
This national marine park was established in 1991 to protect the animals that live in this area – leatherback sea turtles in particular.
Female leatherbacks come ashore in this area between October and May to lay their eggs; it’s illegal to disturb them, but they are amazing to observe from a safe distance.
7. Other Things to Do In Guanacaste: North Coast
National parks and beach activities aren’t the only things awaiting you in Guanacaste, though. Many people enjoy shopping in this area.
There are stores in every beach town that offer items made locally that you can’t find anywhere else in the world. The same goes for casual and fine dining; meals at restaurants in Guanacaste are special because the hospitality in this part of Costa Rica regularly goes above and beyond.
You also might enjoy a day trip to the nearby Diamante Eco Adventure Park. This attraction is just outside of Matapalo in the dry forest foothills. It offers ziplining adventures, horseback riding, ATV adventures, a wildlife sanctuary, cultural tours, gardens, and more. It’s easy to spend a morning, afternoon, or even an entire day at this park. This tour includes admission and lunch.
If you instead choose accommodations on the central coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, there’s plenty to do in that area, too. This part of Guanacaste is a bit more difficult to reach due to its distance from Liberia International Airport, so it’s a bit quieter and is even more relaxed than the beach towns to the north.
However, don’t let that fool you – there are still many great things to fill your days in the area around Samara and Nosara.
8. Central National Parks
This part of Guanacaste only has one national park, but it also has two important wildlife refuges. All three of these sites are worth visiting and you can count on seeing a lot of animals during your exploration of them.
National Wildlife Refuge Ostional
Like Las Baulas National Marine Park described above, this 33 square mile wildlife refuge, the National Wildlife Refuge Ostional that is near Nosara is one of the most important areas in the world for nesting sea turtles.
Olive Ridley sea turtles flock to this area to lay their eggs and, without a doubt, this refuge is helping to keep this species of turtles safe for the future.
You can observe the turtles at night on an organized night tour with a guide; during the day you’ll need to stay with a group or guide as well to make sure the turtles stay protected.
Camaronal National Wildlife Refuge
This tiny national wildlife refuge is about ten miles south of Samara and – you guessed it – it was also created to help keep the nesting sites of hawksbill, leatherback, and olive ridley sea turtles protected.
Unfortunately, there has been a lot of development in this area in recent years and the future of this refuge is uncertain. Visit while you can, but don’t bother the turtles.
Diria National Park
This national park is different from the others mentioned so far in that it is a bit inland and at a high elevation. It’s about an hour from any of the beach towns in this area; it was established in 1991 and has an area of 11 square miles.
Even in its small area, it protects fine examples of tropical dry forests and highland mountain rainforests. There are two trails and plenty of animals to see. When planning to stay longer you find hotels or rentals to book near the Diria National Park at Booking.com.
So many people visit the beaches of Guanacaste that many forget or don’t even realize that there is much to see and do in the inland portion of this province.
Although there is a lot of coast in Guanacaste, there is even more inland area, and in that area, you can see volcanoes, tropical dry forests, the Tempisque River, coffee plantations, waterfalls, and much wildlife as well. The inland portion of Guanacaste is definitely worth exploring. Check out the below suggestions for varied things to do inland.
9. Inland National Parks
As with the other two parts of Guanacaste, you can find several protected, national parklands in the inland portion of the province. These differ greatly from the coastal ones and you’ll see many exciting things in each of them.
Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde National Park is right in the middle of Guanacaste. It was established in 1978, is about 71 square miles in size, and contains the majority of the Tempisque River valley within its borders.
This park protects vast marshes and wetlands; during the dry season, birds come from all over to spend time in this park. You can also see the tropical dry forest ecosystem in this park. It’s considered the most endangered ecosystem in this part of the world.
A great way to see Palo Verde National Park is by boat. This Half Day Jungle River Cruise will give you the opportunity to see many animals and is led by a bilingual guide.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Just northeast of Liberia and east of Guanacaste National Park in the northern part of the country you’ll find Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
This park is named for its main attraction: the Rincon de la Vieja volcano – it last erupted in 2017 and could again at any time – but there’s much more to see here too. This park has several moderate and challenging hikes and numerous beautiful waterfalls.
Over 300 species of birds have been spotted in the park. It’s one of Costa Rica’s newest national parks – it just became one in 2015.
Barra Honda National Park
Barra Honda National Park is not far from the city of Nicoya in the central part of the province. It is not really like any other national park in Costa Rica because the most beautiful part of this park is underground!
This limestone cave system is full of stalactites and stalagmites and numerous rare animal species. Short cave tours are offered to visitors and there are also above-ground trails to enjoy.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Tenorio Volcano National Park is in the northeast corner of Guanacaste; in fact, half of the park is in the neighboring province of Alajuela.
It’s located close to Lake Arenal and Arenal Volcano National Park (also in Alajuela province) so you could easily link visits to these places into one single trip.
There are two major attractions in Tenorio Volcation National Park. One is the volcano for which it is named.
The second draw is the Rio Celeste which is a light blue river that gets its unique color from sulfur and calcium carbonate emitted by the volcano. Trails through cloud forest and rain forest here are quite lovely.
Monumento Arqueologico Nacional El Farallon
If you’re interested in pre-Columbian history then you’ll love a visit Monumento Arqueologico Nacional El Farallon. This archeological site that’s about halfway between Palo Verde National Park and Tenorio Volcano National Park.
It’s not easy to access and you’ll need four-wheel drive, but if you’re brave enough to make your way to this 925 square foot rock wall, you’ll be able to view dozens of petroglyphs made by the Corobici indigenous people thousands of years ago. It’s quite breathtaking.
10. Other Things to Do in Guanacaste: Inland
If you don’t want to fill all of your time in this area with national parks sites, then there are other fun things to do in the inland portion of Guanacaste as well.
Llanos de Cortes Waterfall
There are quite a few waterfalls in inland Guanacaste that you can visit but one of the most popular is Llanos de Cortes. This waterfall is only about thirty minutes from Liberia and once you arrive it’s an easy five-minute walk from where you park.
Swimming is allowed and there’s a sandy area to relax so bring your bathing suit. It’s gorgeous! Don’t have a car? This tour will get you there; it includes a guide, transportation, entry, lunch, and a stop at a sloth sanctuary, too.
There are numerous commercial hot springs in this part of Guanacaste and you can’t say you’ve had the full Costa Rica experience if you haven’t gone on a hot springs day trip, so here’s your chance.
Thanks to all the volcanoes in Costa Rica, there are hot springs in many areas but tropical, natural hot springs are the best kind. Try Rio Negro Hot Springs, Las Hornillas Volcano Hot Springs, Vanddara Hot Springs, or Rio Perdido (it’s a thermal river!).
All are fantastic. If you can’t decide between visiting a volcano to do some hiking, swimming at a waterfall, and checking out a hot spring, you don’t have to.
This Volcano Hike, Waterfall Swim, & Hot Springs Combo on Rincon de la Vieja has it all and the tour operator will even pick you up and drop you off at your hotel.
There are so many opportunities for ziplining throughout Costa Rica and all over Guanacaste; you should give it a try if you haven’t before – it’s so much fun!
Ziplining is a great way to go deep into the rainforest and see it the way that the birds and other creatures see it from above. Flying through the trees on a cable is an adventure that you will remember always. This 5-Hour Rainforest Canopy Zipline Tour includes transportation from your hotel and is a great place to start.
Where to Stay in Guanacaste
There are hundreds of excellent accommodations in this part of Costa Rica and there are options for every type of traveler and every budget. Here are a few great hotels, resorts, and rentals to consider.
Budget Hotel – Playa Grande Surf Camp; Playa Grande
This well-rated hotel on the north portion of Tamarindo Bay is great for surfers or for anyone who loves the beach. Rooms are clean and air-conditioned.
It’s a hostel so there’s a shared kitchen and lounge area and you’ll also be able to enjoy the property’s pool, hammocks, and BBQ area as well.
Mid Range Hotel – Green Sanctuary Hotel; Nosara
The Green Sanctuary Hotel is a property that is constructed out of shipping containers, and that in itself makes it memorable.
It’s a nine-minute walk from the beach but there’s a pool, spa, and wellness center at the hotel, and every room has air-conditioning and a mini-bar.
Luxury Hotel – Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo; Culebra
This luxury resort is located on the Andaz Peninsula just north of Playa Hermosa; you’ll be able to enjoy both areas easily, but you might not want to leave.
The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica has four pools, two private beaches, a golf course, a gym, a business center, and four restaurants. Rooms are spacious and air-conditioned.
Rental – Villa Encantada; Nuevo Arenal
Your group of up to fourteen people will love this lakefront nature eco-preserve estate on forty acres. It’s very private and features a waterslide, a spring-fed swimming pool, a private nine-hole Par 3 Golf course, kayaks, hiking trails, fishing, and more.
Inside there are four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two fireplaces, a washer and dryer, WiFi, a fully equipped kitchen, and satellite televisions. This property will be one that you’ll never forget.