Guanacaste (Costa Rica) Travel Guide

The province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica, has so much to offer!  From the hot weather, gorgeous beaches, and natural surroundings, the “Gold Coast” as it’s often called is a very popular destination for tourists and locals alike.  I studied abroad in this region, did real estate in this region, and visit every year. Today I’ll talk about things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, in hopes of helping you make a highly memorable trip.

Where is Guanacaste?

The province of Guanacaste is situated in the upper left corner of the country, (northwest).  Liberia, where you will most likely fly into, is the capital of Guanacaste.

Flying Into Guanacaste, Costa Rica

As I mentioned above most people who visit the gorgeous Guanacaste beaches fly directly into the area by landing at the Daniel Oduber International airport in Liberia.  This gets you closest to the beaches, and in about 25 minutes on paved roads, (some of the best in the country) you can be in the Papagayo Peninsula.  It’s about an hour to Conchal Beach, and a little further to Playa Tamarindo, which both are huge draws for tourists.

If you want to get to Guanacaste from San Jose’s airport, it’s usually over three hours in comparison.  Many people do this as the SJO airport does have more flights.

Where to Stay in Guanacaste

Guanacaste is very popular for beach vacations.  However, there is much more than just beaches in this region.  You’ll find mountain towns and exciting rain forest excursions more near the Arenal Volcano, in particular in the towns of Nuevo Arenal and Tilaran.

Guanacaste Resorts and Hotels

There’s no lack of resorts for all budgets in Guanacaste!  You can find something as cheap as a hostel, all the way to the iconic Four Seasons flagship property.  Here’s a short list of pages we’ve created about the various options in Guanacaste:

Transportation in Guanacaste

You’ll do yourself a huge favor if you rent a car.  This is a big region and getting public transportation is not only tricky, but you’ll also lose the ability to make pit stops for sight seeing.  You’ll really get more out of your trip if you rent a car.  I usually do this through Discover Cars, which is a booking engine with exclusive deals with both local and global brands.

If you have a quick trip or are interested in only staying in one resort and don’t want to leave, you do have the option of booking shuttles to and from your resort.  Below is a link to a local company that I’ve used in the past that can get you anywhere you need to go from door to door.

>> Door to Door Transportation

What is the Weather Like in Guanacaste?

I find the climate to be the most appealing part of Guanacaste.  Having lived in the often chilly, windy, and foggy San Jose suburb of Escazu, I always enjoy the climate change and the heat of Guanacaste.  You’ll find the coastal weather to average between 85 and 100 degrees most of the year with clear blue skies except for the rainy season.

The most busy time of the year is the dry season, which runs from December until April typically, and you won’t see as much rain on the coast as you will in say, the San Jose area.  The month of March, the busiest of all months, is very hot and dry.  While the dry season is appealing to most, the wildlife isn’t in full effect as everything is dry.  You will see wildlife, don’t get me wrong, but you’ll see more in a tropical rain forest vs. this dry tropics area.

The rainy season, on the other hand, varies greatly.  This season goes until November and starts some time in May.  You’ll see the September and October months as the ones with the most rainfall, especially as the day goes on.  On the bright side, the trees are vibrant, flowers blooming and full of color, and you’ll have a picture perfect backdrop at all times.

Which Beach Towns are Popular in Guanacaste?

Everyone has their favorite beaches and beach towns, but for me, I like hitting multiple beaches for photo opps and there’s a few towns that offer more in terms of food and entertainment, so let’s highlight those below.

Conchal

Playa Conchal

To me, this is where we typically end up.  We love staying at the W Conchal and really disconnect.  The beach is gorgeous, the water a great blend of blue and green, but what makes this unique is the shoreline is filled with white shells instead of the typical sand.  This is a gated, luxury community called Reserva Conchal. There’s a cute little town of Brasilito just a couple miles away that has everything you need at prices cheaper than the resorts convenience stores offer.

Flamingo

The Flamingo Marina
The Flamingo Marina was recently renovated and expanded.

Another affluent town nearby is Playa Flamingo.  You’ll find the marina here and be able to charter fishing very easily in this town.  You can rent hilltop villas, condos, or even mansions in this must-see town!  The strip of beach is one of the only with a road that lines up right next to it, offering a really cool vibe and great place to relax and take photos.

Playas del Coco

Further away is Playas del Coco, at least in terms of being around Conchal and Flamingo, but this offers an entirely different experience. While not as luxurious, you’ll find many accommodations for all budgets and a bustling, vibrant town filled with stores, dining, disco’s, and even a casino.  This is one of the closest beach towns to the Liberia airport and very popular.  Nearby you’ll also find the much more quiet black sand beach of Ocotal, and the retirement-friendly Playa Hermosa.  Every beach here is unique!

Tamarindo

Speaking of partying, Tamarindo was the first beach I made it to in Costa Rica and it’s one I keep coming back to.  Even when we stay in Reserva Conchal, we make a day or night trip here as they offer the best restaurants and best vibe in the area.   A true surf town with all the amenities, you will find awesome sunsets, a surfer’s paradise, and energetic nightlife.

Nosara

This is a town that attracts a few types of people:  expats, yoga enthusiasts, and surfers.  It’s also a pretty luxurious spot with a lot of wealthy people buying gated spreads to be away from it all.

Things to do in Guanacaste

There is no shortage of activities and things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.  Below are some of the most popular activities that draw people to this region.

Beaches

Playa Tamarindo Witches Rock
Witches Rock can be found off the beach of Playa Tamarindo.

As I mentioned above, the beaches bring people here from all walks of life.  There are so many options when it comes to a beach vacation, and not just from the list above, there are many more!  So if you try to book something and it’s not available, know that there are so many options to choose from and you really can’t go wrong.  Especially if it’s your first time.  Rent a car and see as many as you can.

Surfing

Surf

While I’m not a surfer, there is no denying that the 124 miles of “rich Coast” (that’s what Costa Rica translates to by the way) draws surfers from all over the world to Costa Rica.  It’s also free, so there’s that!  Surfing in Costa Rica is a MAJOR attraction, and it has its own subculture in many towns.

National Parks

If you are looking for National Parks in Costa Rica, you’ll find plenty of them in Guanacaste.  You’ll also encounter many wildlife refuges.

Ziplining

One of the most popular activities in Guanacaste is ziplining.  You’ll find this in many areas of the country, but the most of it happens in the Guanacaste province.  Here’s a link to a few local tours in case you are looking to pre-book prior to your trip.

Waterfalls

To me, there is no more unique setting than the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall.  Located in Bagaces, this is away from the beaches, but if you are on the Panamerican highway, you’ll want to stop here to see this!

Llanos de Cortez
This is waterfall you must see to believe.

Water Activities

From bouncing off the waves, to snorkeling, scuba diving, or even jet skiing, you’ll find all of this available to you in Guanacaste.  If you are more inclined to relax, there are many boat tours you can take in, or even enjoy a sunset cruise on any boat or catamaran.

Sport Fishing

If you are angling for a good time (pun totally intended), you won’t find many better areas to fish than Guanacaste!  Most of the built up beach towns had humble beginnings as fishing villages before the big resorts came in and tourism took over.  A lot of locals still catch fish to sell at the market and in grocers, and to me, the fresh caught snapper and wahoo is a big reason I enjoy Costa Rican cuisine.  You’ll also find plenty of mahi mahi, grouper, of course, yellowfin tuna.  You can book charters out of beach towns like Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo, Coco, and others.  The marina in Playa Flamingo is my preferred choice for starting a fishing tour and you can opt for a half day or full day, depending on your desire to spend time on the water and appetite to reel in a trophy fish like the prized Blue Marlin!

Once you catch the fish, it’s yours to keep.  A lot of the local restaurants are happy to cook your fresh fish for you.

Summary

There’s plenty to see and do in Guanacaste as you can see!  A lot of our musings are trip reports and reviews of destinations and excursions in Costa Rica, since we spend so much time there. If you ever have any questions or need help with an itinerary, please comment below or reach out to us via email.

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About 

Tim Schmidt is a 20+ year Entrepreneur and Digital Marketer. A Fort Lauderdale-based "Digital Nomad," he enjoys traveling as much as possible with family and friends. AllWorld is his escape to document all of his adventures, including being a hardcore "foodie." He has property in Costa Rica and visits several times each year and is happy to offer his expert advice for planning your trip.

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