Costa Rica

Guanacaste Travel Guide

Nicknamed, the Golden Coast, the beach towns of Guanacaste are popular with condo renters, resort tourists, and backpackers alike. During high-seaso, this sunny stretch of land along the Pacific Ocean offers up some most beautiful weather condition in all of Costa Rica.

Location

You’ll find Guanacaste tucked in the northwest corner of Costa Rica. Its border stretches along the Pacific Ocean from Nicaragua and Santa Rosa National Park, all the way down past Samara to Playa Coyote.

Most of Lake Arenal occupies the area around the province’s northeastern border, which is within easy reach of the Arenal Volcano in Alajuela, and the Santa Elena/Monteverde Cloud Forests in Puntarenas.

When to Visit

December through April in Guanacaste is beach lovers’ time, as there is barely any need to look at the weather forecast. Sunny days with blue skies are pretty much the norm during the high season and are one of the main attractions of this region. No matter which beach you go to, the weather is likely to be the same.

From May through June, rain can creep into certain hours of the day, but in general, the mornings will still be fairly sunny and there will still be nice days. From July through November, the amount of daily sun will decrease, while the clouds are rain become more and more prominent.

Once the daily rains hit, the forests and fauna in Guanacaste come alive while sprouting gorgeous colors with a million different hues. If you come to see nature and don’t mind the rain, then the Green Season it’s the best time to visit. If you come early in December before the heat dries everything up, it can still be quite nice too.

Destinations

Busy beach towns like Tamarindo and Playas del Coco dominate the tourist scene, while backpacker tends to migrate to the smaller surfer towns like Samara.

Tamarindo

A busy surf town with resort-style hotels on the beach, and a vibrant nightlife that attracts visitors from all over the world. The waves there are great for both beginners are intermediates, as the beautiful sunsets are bountiful too. After sunset, and before the bars, be sure to look into a Pacific Green Turtle tour, as they lay their eggs here at the secluded beaches near Playa Minas.

Playa Flamingo

A calmer and more luxurious vacation rental area found north of Tamarindo and within easy reach of Playa Potrero, Playa Brasalito, and Playa Conchal, one of the most beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica. Staying here can be pricey, but then any form of luxury most often is.

Playas del Coco

Once a quiet fishing village, Playas del Coco is the main beach town and condo rental central of Gulf of Papagayo that is just a 25-minute drive from Liberia Airport. The amenities and shopping here are some of the best in Guanacaste, and while the beach is not as nice as Tamarindo, you’ll find that the locals and many ex-pat gringos prefer partying here instead.

In fact, they recently open a Hard Rock Cafe in Coco, the other location outside the capital city of San Jose in all of Costa Rica. To get to the quieter, more secluded Ocotal Beach, you’ll also have to drive through Coco.

Playa Hermosa

Located over the hill from Playas del Coco, the beach here is a little nicer, the nightlife a little more relaxed, and the prices, a little more expensive. Playa Panama is also nearby which offers a view of the Four Seasons Golf Resort across the bay.

One thing of note is that monkeys tend to visit the hilly, jutting peninsula that separates Playa Hermosa from Playa del Coco. It also offers stunning views of both directions that look down upon the beaches below. This wonderful little oasis also contains the secluded Playa Penca, a gorgeous little beach at the very with scenic island views.

Samara

A mellow beach town with a hippy surfer vibe that is about as contrasting to Tamarindo as you can find in Costa Rica. Backpackers tend to love chilling here, as do bronzed, ever-smiling surfers.

Beyond the laid-back atmosphere, the stunning sunsets are also one of the main attractions. Be careful of the following wave though, and park your towel at the highest point of the beach. Little waves can see seemingly come out of nowhere and roll up the entire beach stealing towels and belongings when they curl back.

Nosara

Labeled the first ex-pat town in Costa Rica, Nosara is a quiet little surfing village with a penchant for attracting wellness resort visitors and yoga enthusiasts. Tourist activities nearby tend to have the relaxed, nature-loving feel that attracts the gringos to settle here and make it their home.

Best Beaches

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!

Playa Conchal

One of the most picturesque beaches in Costa Rica, the shoreline of Playa Conchal is made up of tiny, white, sparkling seashells that cover up its golden sands. The contrasting white-gold view really brings out the clarity of the beach’s clear turquoise waters and makes for a must-visit if you’re in the Tamarindo area.

Playa Penca

A truly hidden gem at the end of the peninsula that separates Playas del Coco and Playa Hermosa. Many boat tours leave from Coco to visit this beach, but walking along the trail will allow you to see panoramic views of both beach towns, as well as, some monkeys too along the way.

Playa Naranjo

Located deep in Santa Rosa National Park, Playa Naranjo (orange in Spanish) is well known for its fruitful sunsets that paint the sweetest skies and reflecting ocean hues. When the big, rolling waves crash over the sun on the horizon, it makes for one of more serene, postcard-perfect sunsets found in all of Costa Rica.

Do note that the path through Santa Rosa Park to the beach is more off-roading than actual road and any accidents that happen here are NOT COVERED in your rental car insurance. There is hardly any room to turn around on the road, and even in a decent 4×4 vehicle, you’ll find quite a few stretches that are much easier to walk past than to drive over.

Playa Tamarindo

Hotels line the main beach in Tamarindo, providing easy access to the sun and surf, and needless to say, it’s getting really busy. The real Playa Tamarindo, however, is found just outside of town and is where you can truly feel like you’ve found a glorious oasis.

How To Get There

Typically, you’ll fly into Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport located south of Liberia and then make your way south, before veering off to the beach destination of your choosing.

When driving from San Jose, many people just head straight to Liberia without stopping. Some exceptions would be veering off at Bagaces to see the waterfall (Catarata Llanos del Cortes) or to visit the Palo Verde National Park. You could also stop by the Ponderosa Adventure Park (Africa Safari) to see the giraffes and zebras, before ziplining by their little waterfall.

When arriving in Liberia, you’ll generally be heading south past the Liberia Airport and beach towns of Guanacaste. When heading in a northeastern direction, you can see a little bit of history at the Santa Rosa National Park or take in the volcano views at the Guanacaste National Park. Do note that both of these places require a 4×4 vehicle and even then you might need to drive very carefully on some of the roads, especially in Santa Rosa when heading towards Playa Blanca.

By Plane

When visiting the beaches of Guanacaste, you’ll generally fly into Liberia Airport (LIR) which is about a 30-minute drive to Playas del Coco or Playa Hermosa (Gulf of Papagayo), a 1-hour drive to Tamarindo or Playa Flamingo, and a 2-hour drive to Samara or Nosara.

When arriving via San Jose, you’ll have an option to fly domestically to Tamarindo Airport (TNO), where you can easily get to Playa Flamingo or head further south to Nosara and Samara.

By Car

If driving, you’ll generally head to Guanacaste’s capital city of Liberia, then head southeast on Highway 21.

From here you can veer east toward the Papagayo gulf via Highways 253/254 tp Playa Panama/Playa Hermosa or via Highway 151 to (Playas del Coco/Ocotal)

When continuing south, heading east on the 155 will bring you Tamarindo/Playa Flamingo, while branching off at the 150 in Nicoya will bring you to Samara/Nosara.

You can also head northwest from Liberia on Highway 1 towards the Nicaraguan border to visit the Guanacaste National Park or Santa Rosa National Park. North of Liberia there’s also the Rincon de la Vieja National Park where you’ll find spas with volcanic mud baths and few more waterfalls.

By Bus

When entering Guanacaste you’ll make your connection at the main bus terminal in Liberia. Depending on your final destination, your bus will likely follow one of the driving routes mentioned above with roughly 45 to 90 minutes added to your travel time.

Shared Shuttle Buses

For those not renting a car and wanting to save money on transport, there are a few companies like InterbusCosta Rica Shuttle, and RideCR that offer door-to-door pickup and drop-off services across all the major tourist towns in Costa Rica.  

On long rides, such as Playas del Coco to Puerto Viejo (8-10 hours), you will seamlessly switch shuttles at a rest stop along the way.

Private Shuttles

Unless you’re going to/from the airport, private shuttles can be quite expensive when transferring between cities, and at times it will cheaper to just rent a car yourself.

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