With killer waves, breathtaking sunsets, exhilarating outdoor adventure and gorgeous beaches, Guanacaste is one of the most visited tourist destinations. Aptly nicknamed “the Golden Coast of Costa Rica,” this province has everything for the ultimate tropical vacation.
Plan your trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica with our guide.
Guanacaste province is around 10,000 km squared or 4000 square miles located in the Northwest corner of Costa Rica. The capital city of Guanacaste is Liberia.
Interesting fact: Guanacaste used to 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.
Guanacaste, Costa Rica Airport
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.
From San Jose Airport, it is about a 3.5 hour drive to Liberia.
Guanacaste, Costa Rica Weather
Guanacaste’s favorable weather is one of the reasons why it’s a popular vacation spot for locals and foreigners.
On the coasts, average day time temperatures throughout the year vary little, between 85 f to 100 F (29 to 38 C) so you can expect sunny skies and high temperatures for nearly 365 days of the year.
Guanacaste’s dry season (December through April) is typically a bit longer than the rest of the country and the coast doesn’t rain as much as other areas in Costa Rica.
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 (May through November). The rainiest months are September and October, where rainstorms commonly occur in the evenings and night time. Morning are generally clear though cloudy.
An upside to visiting during rainy season is that everything turns a lush green, which is more pleasing to the eye.
You can read more about Costa Rica weather in this post.
Where to Stay in Guanacaste
As Guanacaste is a very big province, it can be hard to narrow down where to visit. In this guide, we are focusing on the beach towns and you can click here to see an interactive map with recommended places to stay
Best Beach Towns in Guanacaste
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.
As one of the most popular beach towns in Guanacaste, Tamarindo attracts visitors looking for a fun nightlife, great surfing and beautiful sunsets. About 1 hour and 15 minutes from Liberia International Airport.
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.
For those looking for something a little less touristic and expensive, check Potrero, the quiet local town by Flamingo.
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 beautiful surf town that attracts more luxury travelers, surfers and yogis.
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! The main beach town by Conchal is Brasilito.
You can read about other beaches in Guanacaste here.
Guanacaste Resorts and Hotels
Guanacaste has the most all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica. There are also many luxury hotels. Popular hotels resorts in Guanacaste are the RIU, Four Seasons, Margaritaville Beach Resort Playa Flamingo, Villas Playa Samara, El Mangroove Autograph Collection, Secrets, Andaz Papagayo, Westin Playa Conchal, W Costa Rica, Occidental Langosta, Dreams Las Mareas, JW Marriott and Planet Hollywood.
Things to Do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
There are a variety of fun things to do thanks to the diverse landscapes and terrain. Besides 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, sunset cruises, 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 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 caves and dry forest. 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
Camaronal National Wildlife Refuge
This is another wildlife refuge that protects turtles. Near Samara.
Our Favorite Places in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
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, La Leona waterfall, Rio Celeste (although not technically in Guanacaste but it’s very close), Playa Carrillo, Gulf of Papagayo, Playa Pelada, Guiones, Playa Rajada, Playa Coyote, Playa San Juanillo and Playa Marbella/Frijolar.
Sample Itineraries and Ideas
Here is a sample 5 day 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!
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