Guanacaste became part of Costa Rica in 1824; until then, still remains as an independent province. This territory certainly has a very important natural and cultural richness for Costa Rica’s economy.
As one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica, Guanacaste has become a popular destination in Costa Rica for its tropical paradise with a pristine shoreline, beautiful mountain ranges and a number of volcanoes that involve some of the most best places to visit in Costa Rica.
Visitors are drawn to the long summer days, active culture and unparalleled wildlife. Guanacaste is definitely one of the reasons why people visit Costa Rica.
Guanacaste is famous for its spectacular beaches in the Pacific coast with more than 125 miles of extension and also for its cattle ranching production.
There is a great number of activities that can be part of your vacation package in Costa Rica; you can enjoy a lot of activities there: fishing, swim, dive, kayak, surf, stand up paddle board, hike any of the national parks and mountains, horseback riding, visit the hot springs, rappelling, canyoning, white water rafting, zip lining canopy tour or simply relax and take the sun at any of the beaches of this beautiful destination.
Guanacaste is located in the far northwest corner of Costa Rica providing diverse and exotic geographical features. Its main town is Liberia where major facilities for locals and visitors can be found such as hospitals, banks, supermarkets, City Hall, Catholic church, shopping centers, movie theater, among others.
Guanacaste is home to the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia (LIR) one of Costa Rica international airports, so getting to this province is a breeze. And this is one of the main reasons why traveling to Guanacaste has boomed in the recent years, this airport is very convenient and receives both chartered and scheduled flights from across the world, including the United States, Canada and Europe.
Guanacaste is also situated along the Pan-American Highway, or Highway 1, which makes it easy to reach for travelers with a rental car or those taking advantage of public transportation in Costa Rica. Getting to Guanacaste from San Jose can take anywhere from a 4 to 6 hours depending on your final destination within Guanacaste.
The name Guanacaste comes from the indigenous ‘quahnacaztlan’, a native word for the Guanacaste Tree, native from this region and also the national tree of Costa Rica.
The history of this province comes before the arrival of the Spaniards when the area was inhabited by Indians known as Chorotegas, culture from Mesoamerica. During the colonial ages, Guanacaste was not a part of Costa Rica. The inhabitants of Nicoya, Santa Cruz and Cañas decided that they did not want to belong to Nicaragua but to Costa Rica instead, so they announced their Annexation on July the 25th in 1824 to Costa Rica. Until today this date is considered the Independence Day, which was accepted from both countries in 1821.
Although Costa Rica managed to get the province back from Nicaragua, the region still boasts a slightly different personality than the rest of the country, making it a great place to visit for new and seasoned Costa Rica travelers alike.
Most Guanacaste’s terrain is flat, with higher areas such as the Nicoya Peninsula, however the province is bounded on the east by a group of green-swathed volcanoes forming the Guanacaste Mountain range; which features Orosi, Rincón de la Vieja, Miravalles and Tenorio volcanoes, and additional to that it can also be found the Tilarán Mountain Range, which is located in the Abangares district of Guanacaste. The edge of the range is the Monteverde Clould Forest, a major ecotourism destination and the east of the Arenal Volcano and Lake.
Guanacaste is the driest region of Costa Rica, especially the coastal areas. Its climate is highly seasonal.
Guanacaste experiences little rain and consistent heat from November to April (with temperatures going up to 95 F. max. average – 73 F min. average), and a green season from late May to November (with temperatures going up to 87 F. max. average – 70 F min. average).
Its hot and dry climate makes tropical dry forests, the province’s natural vegetation type. The one exception is the highland portion of the province which consists of the upper Pacific slopes in the Guanacaste Mountain Range and the northern half of the Tilarán Mountain Range. The cool, moist conditions along these ridges support luxuriant cloud forests.
The main reason for the diversity in Costa Rica’s weather is the various elevations at which different parts of the country are located. For example, Guanacaste has a dry arid climate as it sits on the lowlands.
The perfect time to plan your vacation to Costa Rica is year around. No matter if you visit during the dry season or during the green season, both provide spectacular advantages. The dry season provides plenty of sunshine, while the green season brings the trees into bloom with explosions of colors and fragrances. The hills become carpeted in brilliant green.
In general, the best time to visit Guanacaste is December through April, as it is Costa Rica’s dry season. Visitation in the region is heavier this time of the year, as well as during Easter week, meaning it’s highly suggested to make your Costa Rica tour package arrangements in advance to secure your rooms and services.
Guanacaste is known for having sunny and warm days year-round, with occasional rains in the late afternoons during the green season. The dry season is rather intense in the province, with no rainfall for several months.
If you want to avoid the tourist fuss and get more affordable rates for lodging, the early months of the green season (May-June) are a great time to vacation through Costa Rica.
Visitation during this time of year can still provide for a great expe rience, especially the more eco-tourist attractions. Rivers run higher and even the dry-forests of Guanacaste turn green and lush. However, during the green season roads get muddy and rivers start to swell, making travel throughout the country a more challenging experience.
Guanacaste is famous for its pristine beaches, cultural events, tourist attractions and activities for all kinds of tastes, its local people, and its local cuisine!
Guanacaste is known for its music, which is the most important part of the artistic expression in the province. Music is a relevant element to be admired and respected by local and visitors. Typical music is considered a natural gift in those from the region.
Along with muse, typical dances with beautifully handmade decorated outfits have been preserved over time through the years. Some of the traditional dances are:
As far as local cuisine… corn is an important crop in Guanacaste. There are many typical dishes and beverages derived from this product: handmade tortillas, tanelas, tayuyas, tamales (Costa Rican style), pisque, sweet tamal, corn rice, rosquillas, bizcochos, pozol, pinol, chicha, among others. In many homes there is a mud oven, where all types of breads are prepared and meals are heated.
You can try typical beverages like the pinol, which is made from finely ground white corn and toasted on a local ceramic plate. You can find these popular dishes and beverages in busy areas like markets in Liberia, Nicoya and the famous Women´s Cooperative in Santa Cruz.
Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia (LIR - Liberia international airport code) is one of the major airports in Costa Rica and provides seamless travel to the Guanacaste region, while paved roads facilitate the rest of the journey to the Pacific coast and the Gulf of Papagayo. The region’s best resorts and beaches are just an hour away by car.
This is a very important airport for Costa Rica and it features a great variety of services, such as: migration office, an emergency medical technician’s department, refueling service, a fire brigade department, bank services, telephones, internet, sanitary facilities, restaurant and cafeteria.
In addition to that, only a few minutes from the airport you will find a great variety of hotels, from luxury resorts to boutique hotels or small lodges, car rental services, taxis, banks, restaurants, international and domestic flightsservices.
Liberia's international airport, Costa Rica's second airport in terms of relevance, receives flights from a number of important U.S. cities such as New York, Miami, Dallas, Los Angeles, Houston, and Atlanta. Other cities from where you can take flights to Liberia are: Toronto, Panama, Salvador, United Kingdom, Paris (as of Nov. 2016).
Arriving to the Liberia International Airport is an excellent option if you wish to visit places like:
And many other places of interest that are either in Guanacaste Province or in the neighboring regions.
Daniel Oduber International Airport, better known as Liberia Airport, was inaugurated in 1995 and it is located approximately 8 kilometers from the city of Liberia (10 minutes driving distance) and is 220 Km (136 miles) northwest of the capital city of San José.
If you are planning on driving from San Jose to the Liberia airport it may take almost four hours to get from one airport to the other, it will depend on weather and traffic conditions.
The airport of Liberia in Guanacaste is a very good option if you are planning a trip to Nicaragua, since it is located only 1.30 hrs. away from the border with this neighboring country. The area of the border is called Peñas Blancas and a short trip of a couple of nights to the beautiful Colonial city of Granada is suggested.
The total expenses of crossing this border are around US$ 10 per person and very few countries require a visa to entry Nicaragua.
Papagayo Gulf is home to many of Costa Rica´s All-Inclusive Resorts, from large and well-known chain hotels such as Riu Guanacaste and Riu Palace Costa Rica to Secrets Papagayo Resort (Adults Only).
Smaller family owned all-Inclusive hotels such as Casa Conde Beachfront and Villas Sol Playa Hermosa are also available in Papagayo Gulf. Small intimate hotels in close proximity to lots of national parks such as Santa Rosa and Rincon de la Vieja are also available.
The Papagayo Gulf is untamed and very beautiful. If you want to get away from people and experience the nature of Costa Rica at its fullest, this is a great area to explore on your own, with your couple, family or with a group of friends.
Papagayo is located 45 minutes from Daniel Oduber International Airport. Rest and relaxation always go hand in hand in the Gulf of Papagayo, with mesmerizing ocean views and intimate settings and activities, as well as lush tropical greenery at every turn. If you enjoy sunny days, this is your spot.
Traditionally known as a paradise for bird watchers and nature lovers, Papagayo is also a charming experience for those interested in relaxation and fun. Papagayo's beaches offer their visitors requirements that commonly good beaches are usually judged for, such as calm waters, scenery views, texture and color of the sand. Mosquitoes are rarely seen or felt, which makes beach enjoyment a pleasant one specially at sunset.
Palm trees rise up from the beaches giving shade to those taking advantage of the ocean. Spectacular sunsets are a regular component in the scenery along the Pacific coastline of the Gulf of Papagayo.
From calm waters with great swimming, to the finest sand beaches with magnificent panoramas, Papagayo is a perfect destination to enjoy nature and relax.
As Guanacaste spans the northwestern corner of Costa Rica, it should not surprise anyone that this province is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.
There are some mighty fine places to both the east and west of Liberia. Head west and you will hit the Pacific Ocean and a smattering of chilled-out beaches. Sitting between two mountains, Hermosa Beach is a great location for travelers who wish to have a laid back experience away from crowds. You´ll find a quiet community that borders a calm section of ocean that’s great for swimming, or Ocotal Beach, which is known for its outstanding sport fishing and superb scuba diving.
Any of those beaches are near Rincon de la Vieja National Park; which is about 2 hours from Liberia town. Visitors to the park can ride horses, take mud baths, or swim beneath waterfalls, while they enjoy the abundant forests and hiking trails. Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a great alternative to spend time along the sunny Guanacaste beaches.
Tamarindo Beach is held in high esteem by many and for good reason: it has solid surfing, nice international restaurants, and a fun nightlife. Tamarindo is sunny throughout nearly the entire year, and the weather remains pleasant without much humidity.
To the east of Liberia you can find rainforests and mountains too, including the Rincón de la Vieja National Park.
Visitors can do everything from any of those beach locations including surfing, ATV Tours, snorkeling, zip line, horseback riding, hiking and more. Other pristine shorelines in this region include Playa Panama, Playa Grande, Pan de Azúcar, Playa Ocotal, Playa Flamingo and Playas del Coco beaches.
There are many different kinds of activities being developed related to relaxation, health, adventure, culture, sports, nature and recreation. Any of the following can be included as part of your vacation through Costa Rica:
Horseback riding: Guanacaste is mainly a rural region, so this activity can be taken all over in the coastal communities or mountain areas. Horseback riding tours are available from most hotels.
Diving: This activity can be done for recreation or adventure and is growing in Guanacaste due to the excellent sites with great diving conditions. Some of the more noteworthy areas are the Papagayo Gulf and Santa Catalina Islands.
Sport Fishing: This is one of the main attractions in the North Pacific, whether it is for fun or commercial. There are also tournaments where various world records have been broken for long-nose fish which are returned to the sea.
Bird Watching: This activity takes places mainly in the protected areas like Curu, Bolaños Island, Palo Verde and Tenorio Volcano National Park, to mention the most important sites.
Canopy / Zip Line Tours: Your adrenaline might show up when taking this tour. Traveling from the canopy of a tree to another hanging through one cable is adventurous. You can get to see monkeys and birds from the tree platforms or while you travel through the forest.
Local Arts and Crafts: These handmade articles can be found in Guaitil, Santa Cruz and San Vicente, Nicoya and they are made from pure clay, following traditional techniques thought by the Chorotega indigenous people. You can find ornaments, jars, flower pots, vases, plates, ocarinas (musical instrument) and other pieces.
Sport Cycling: Picturesque trails are available for those bikers interested in exploring unique sites, landscapes that may help you catch your breath while looking at the beach for mountains!
Hiking: There is no limit to the number of hiking trails in the area where you can take in many different natural, architectural, cultural, religious and commercial attractions.
Photography: Due to the climate conditions of Guanacaste, the rich flora and fauna, as well as many natural, cultural and architectural landscapes, this activity is becoming more popular among visitors.
Historical and Architectural Sites: in Guanacaste we got important architectural and historical buildings with significance as well as national monuments that are “must see” in Abangares, Bagaces, Cañas, Liberia and Santa Cruz.
Food Tasting: Typical towns always have small diners, cafeterias or restaurants, where you can enjoy Guanacaste cuisine. Cañas, Tilaran, Liberia and Santa Cruz are also known for their traditional dishes and beverages.
Rural Visits and Local Activities: As far as rural tourism, here are some activities offered by locals in Guanacaste:
Activities: Boat Tours along the Tempisque River and through Palo Verde National Park where crocodiles can be seeing, as well as birds, monkeys and other species.
Located in Santa Barbara de Santa Cruz is Casa del Sol, which is a project the relies solely on solar panels. Here you can try food prepared only with solar energy.
The popular Bull Ring: In almost every town in Guanacaste, there are bull rings, where a popular activity is held, whereby riders try to stay on the bull as long as possible. Riders include men, young people and sometimes even children! And right now this activity is so popular that here is a riding championship where riders for all over the country come to participate. Bulls from Guanacaste are well known and famous!
La Lagarteada (the Crocodile hunt) in Ortega, Bolson, Santa Cruz: For many years and based on the local interest in a crocodile fat that according to local traditions, has many curative qualities. It always takes place on every Holy Friday where a groups of make look for the largest crocodile possible along the Tempisque River and try to capture it with a net (without killing it).
Then they have in in a basing designed for this purpose in Ortegan downtown for all neighbors to see it. The following Monday, after Resurrection day, they return it to its habitat. Food and local drinks cannot be missed those days!
Cultural Week in Liberia, the White City: During the first week of September two things are celebrated: Guanacaste was founded in Set. 4, 1769 and Liberia was established in Set. 3, 1836, thus for the last 17 years the Cultural Association has celebrated every year with a different theme such as education, culture or architecture. Music, dancing performances, local art, typical food and drinks cannot be missed during that week.
Traditional passing of the Niño Dios (Child Jesus) in Liberia: For a long time, Liberia locals have venerated the Niño Dios (Child Jesus) statue belonging to the family Valdelomar Baltodano.
Locals start by drinking some chichi (fermented corn) and pinolillo (cornmeal with cacao base drink) before the statue is carried to Nuestro Señor de Agonia chapel, where a little portal has been made to hold the figure to be admired by followers.
Guanacaste is well known for its beaches and the sun, which is exactly what visitors find along its coastline, with a great variety of resorts, boutique hotels, lodges and restaurants. Some are luxury ones, others more modest, but they all guarantee that guests have the perfect option for each budget.
At Travel Excellence we have carefully selected the best resorts in Guanacaste for you to choose from. You will find a selection of hotels in the main areas of the Northern Pacific. Starting with Liberia, you will find the convenient airport hotel: Hilton Garden Inn Liberia Airport, just 5 minutes away from Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR).
Within 30-45 minutes from the airport you will find Papagayo Gulf surrounded by unspoiled dry tropical forest. It provides the ideal setting for nature lovers and beachgoers, even for those interested in visiting the national parks of Guanacaste, or simply who want relax along the beach. Some of the top rated beachfront resorts are Playa Hermosa, Playa Panama and Peninsula Papagayo, including:
If you are into surfing, shopping, and having access to a great variety of restaurants, then Tamarindo may be the destination for you. Just one hour away from the Liberia Airport, Tamarindo has become a developed area with great opportunities and facilities for its visitors.
Tamarindo offers a blend of white-sand beaches and mangroves, iguanas and sea birds, making it the perfect place for those wishing to live in harmony with nature. While Tamarindo shows an ongoing development, the area still provides a laidback vibe.
Many other secluded beaches but still unique for rest and relaxation are Nosara, Samara and Islita, which along the coast of Guanacaste will complete a matchless natural offer. Those destinations are giving Guanacaste its reputation. Sport fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving around corals and birdwatching are just some of the activities that can be explored from any of the hand-picked hotels in this region: Punta Islita -which is a perfect location for families looking for a secluded and exclusive vacation place or for newly married couples in their honeymoon-, The Harmony Hotel, Giada, and Nammbu Hotel.
Embedded in the Guanacaste Mountain Range are the Tenorio and Miravalles where Rio Perdido Hotel is found, and Rincon de la Vieja volcanoes, the latter surrounded by the national park of the same name. Hacienda Guachipelin –this is a great place for your Costa Rica vacation if you are looking for adventure, culture, and relaxation at the same place-, Buena Vista Lodge, and Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa are three of the lodges that can be found in Rincón de La Vieja location.
Guanacaste is clearly a privileged land in Costa Rica. The mixture dry and rainy forests, extensive low lands, warm beaches, and an imposing volcanic range; it provides its visitors a natural world expecting to be explored.
[Map showing the exact location of Guanacaste in a Costa Rica map]
Liberia is set within the northwest reaches of Costa Rica, in Guanacaste province where visitors have smooth access to some of the Costa Rica’s most attractive white-sand beaches, and impressive volcano-studded rainforests.
Liberia is Guanacaste´s capital city and as such acts as a gateway for the entire province. The Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) allows for easy travel to and from the area.
Whether you’re coming from another part of Costa Rica or an entirely different country, you won’t have any trouble getting to Liberia and on to the places that you’re interested to visit. From Liberia you can visit the protected areas: Santa Rosa National Park, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, Tenorio and Miravalles Volcanoes, to name a few. While you within 30 min.-1.30 hrs you can visit the pristine shoreline through the Northern Coast.
Liberia... the gate to Costa Rica!
A great urban development has been seen in the last few years in Liberia, Guanacaste which include the Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), receiving nowadays scheduled flights from major airlines coming from USA, Europe and charter flights from Canada.
Its location, only a few miles from the closest beach, makes it an ideal gateway to some of the most spectacular and exclusive destinations in Costa Rica. That's why each year thousands of visitors from all over the world choose the Liberia, Costa Rica Airport as their entry point to Costa Rica.
The Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport is located 12 Km West of the city of Liberia, Guanacaste and about 40 Km East from the Papagayo Peninsula and 79 Km Northeast from Tamarindo, Playa Conchal and Flamingo areas. The border with Nicaragua is about 95 Km northeast. The distance between the Liberia, Costa Rica Airport and the San Jose, Costa Rica Airport is approximately 220 Km or about 137 miles (approximately 4 hours driving time).
“White City” is how Liberia is locally known not only for the wide streets, but also for the old buildings and bahareque homes.
In Liberia you can find a combination of old buildings, customs and traditions. Modern facilities including shopping centers and other businesses are also found in this location.
It is one of Costa Rica's oldest towns, a fact that is clearly visible in the colonial appearance of many buildings. The main street in Liberia, Guanacaste extending various blocks from north to south, is lined with ancestral homes and is part of the historic district.
The historical constructions have been restored and give Liberia its identity. Locals use adobe and bahareque materials as well as lime, which give houses their white color and gives Liberia the “White City” name.
Many ranches surround the Liberia area, and the town plays a vital role in Costa Rica's cattle industry. It provides a market for farmer's goods, both locally and through international export. Rodeos are a timeless tradition in Guanacaste, and they are the most popular of sporting events.
From all over the region, rodeos draw many locals who are intrigued by the chance to see brave cowboys hurled by infuriated bucking bulls.
July 25th, 1812 is a historic and emblematic date as Guanacaste became independent from neighboring Nicaragua. Every year on that day great celebrations take place in the province. They include an annual horse parade, bullfight, and rural fair- all making for a lively cowboy fiesta.
Liberia offers entertainment, bars, great food and accommodations. Hilton Graden Inn Liberia Airport is one of the hotels in Liberia we can make arrangements for you.
Due to the short distance to the coast line main beaches: Papagayo / Hermosa (40-minute driving time) or Tamarindo / Conchal / Flamingo (1 hour driving time) most of visitors opt for going straight to the beach upon arrival. Dry season is one of the busiest times to travel, thus visitors are suggested to make their arrangements weeks in advance.
Driving San Jose to Liberia usually takes around 4.5-hours along the Inter-American Highway, a length of 145 miles (234 km).
Liberia town itself is steeped in history and for a great time it traded hands between Nicaragua and Costa Rica. It has all of the amenities that generally accompany a larger city. However, most visitors don’t spend much time in the city bur rather to move on to the Pacific coast beaches or inland rainforests that are set nearby.
Needless to mention that if you end up spending the night in Liberia, you’ll get a glimpse of an authentic Costa Rican town. Cruise the city’s central park and sip on Jugo de Caña (sugar cane juice) or slurp down some Copos (snow cones) from local vendors in the park or any town street, they are great!
'Liberia’s location provides travelers with easy access to beaches, rivers, mountains, rainforests, ranches, and even an entirely different country. What you end up doing totally depends on your interests and the amount of free time you have to explore the surroundings.
You can get as daring and adventurous as you want, or else take things down a notch and engage in some real time relaxation, which is very valid in a vacation! The choice is totally yours!
So if you’re into getting wet and see some nature, try out one of the river rafting trips down the Colorado or the Corobicí rivers. If some exploration in the last remaining protected tropical dry forest in the world, then a visit to Santa Rosa National Park may be a great alternative for you.
More traditional ways to have fun and still learn and explore include horseback riding tours across the beach or mountains, canopy tours through the rainforest, and hikes within one of the many volcanic national parks (Rincon de la Vieja, Arenal, and Miravalles). In one tour you can even test your skill as a cattle hand and spend the day learning how to ride horses and lasso, rope and tie calves if you feel into that.
There are certainly other activities that are slower-paced and often quite relaxing. You can spend the day enjoying a massage at one of the area’s spas or simply lay down on the beach and relax while reading your favorite book.
Cultural activities include a visit to Liberia town and also a one-day outing to the historical Nicaragua Cultural Tour. During these, you’ll be led down century-old streets and visit important cultural attractions including plazas, churches and restaurants.
Needless to say, there is something for everyone in this land. If you’re running low on time, however, and are looking for a way to explore several of the mentioned activities more quickly, a combo tour could be perfect.
These tours combine several exciting activities – such as canopy tours, hanging bridge walks, and spa visits, such as the Buena Vista Combo Adventure – all into one day.
There is a great variety of culinary options for you to enjoy the flavors of Guanacaste local food and drinks. So, not only there are alternatives for those looking for typical dishes but also for those seeking to try the best of Guanacaste´s gourmet / fusion cuisine!
Pizza Pronto: An old-world pizzeria is what you find at this venue, where the wood is stored right next to the smoking courtyard oven. You can have a romantic time while enjoying a simple pizza, pasta or a salad.
Café Liberia: a beautiful restored colonial building has wooden furniture and frescoed ceilings, that together create a romantic ambience for a gourmet coffee. This venue offers live music and some occasional performances.
Copa de Oro: Family restaurant offering local cuisine to locals and tourists. Try the rice and seafood house specialty: Arroz copa de oro.
Toro Negro Steakhouse: located in a beautiful colonial building, this family-friendly restaurant offers its clients an international menu specialized in meat, including New York strip, filet mignon and burgers. A rustic interior and an outdoor balcony are two great settings to enjoy the chosen dish.
Los Comales: This is a local spot run by a group of women where you can come for a traditional Guanacaste fare. Locals frequently visit this restaurant so it tends to be crowded.
El Meson Liberiano: This Liberia house is now one of the nicest restaurants in town, offering modern presentations of pretty traditional food. Service is good, but what makes this restaurant special is the delightful back patio as the wooden tables are shaded by a big mango tree.
[Map showing the exact location of Liberia in a Costa Rica map]