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Things to do in Guanacaste and Northwest

Things to do in  Guanacaste and Northwest

Welcome to Guanacaste and Northwest

In Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province, 400 miles (644 kilometers) of Pacific coastline vie for attention with tropical dry forests, undisturbed rural towns, and volcano-fueled hot springs. The country’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua (which you can easily visit on a day trip), lost control of this territory in the 19th century, although a distinctly Nicaraguan culture lingers. Sites are spread out, so tours can help sure you easily navigate between the places you most want to see. Inland, the region is noted for Rincon de la Vieja National Park, which offers hiking through a tropical dry forest, swimming beneath waterfalls, and soaking in mineral hot springs and mud baths. Summiting the Rincon de la Vieja volcano is every bit as exciting as the more popular Arenal volcano in Alajuela Province, but it’s less crowded and only a day trip from the beach. Additional nature parks dotting the region offer horseback riding; ziplining canopy tours; and opportunities to view sloths, howler monkeys, and lizards that call the forests home. On the coast, find your bliss surfing the swells of Tamarindo or Hermosa beach or soaking up sun rays on the shore. Snorkel among tropical fish at Playa Conchal, take a catamaran cruise out on the open water, or kayak through mangrove forests—all easily accessible from Liberia’s airport.

Top 15 attractions in Guanacaste and Northwest

Tamarindo Beach

Once the site of a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo Beach has become one of Costa Rica's most popular stretches of golden sand. Surfers travel from across the globe to ride Tamarindo's waves, but you don’t need to be a pro to hang 10 here. There are spots nearby that are calm enough for first-time wave riders to learn.More

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is the ultimate “one-stop shop” for Costa Rica’s natural attractions. Expect fuming volcanoes, gushing waterfalls, sky-high ziplines, natural hot springs, and more—all within just a couple of hours of the popular Guanacaste coast.More

Llanos de Cortés Waterfall

Llanos de Cortés is one of Costa Rica’s most scenic waterfalls, just a short drive from Liberia, a city more commonly used as a jumping-off point for the country’s Pacific beaches, rather than jungle swimming holes. The waterfall is about 40 feet (12 meters) tall and 50 feet (15 meters) wide and creates a gorgeous veil of white water streaming over the rocks.More

Baldi Hot Springs

Located in the shadow of active Arenal Volcano and surrounded by a lush jungle landscape, Baldi Hot Springs is one of the largest hot springs resorts in the world. Visitors can choose from 25 different thermal pools, plus pampering spa treatments, swim-up bars, and Costa Rican cuisine for a complete day of relaxation.More

Rio Negro Hot Springs

Nestled in the lush interior of Rincon de la Vieja National Park, these rustic hot springs are fed by a naturally heated river that flows from a nearby volcanic peak. Slather on the mineral-rich mud, and then soak it off in a variety of steam pools, all while surrounded by the untamed Costa Rican rain forest.More

Palo Verde National Park

Set on the banks of the Tempisque River, Palo Verde National Park (Parque Nacional Palo Verde) contains more than 15 topographical zones, including mangrove swamps, evergreen forests, and tropical dry forests. The park is a haven for migratory birds, bats, and 250 species of bees, plus mammals like jaguarundis (cat) and howler monkeys.More

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

Situated atop the Continental Divide, this high-altitude forest is literally shrouded in clouds. Wisps of fog trail through the lofty canopy, creating the perfect environment for thousands of animal and plant species. Here you can find wild orchids, colorful birds, and sinuous jungle cats—plus scenic mountaintop vistas.More

Diamante Eco Adventure Park

A one-stop shop for adventurers of all ages looking to get their adrenaline fix, Diamante Eco Adventure Park features one of Costa Rica’s longest zipline courses. If that’s not quite your thing, choose from an abundance of other activities, including all-terrain vehicle excursions, horseback riding, and water sports—or just marvel at the sweeping ocean views.More

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Mixto Caño Negro)

Home to more than 200 speices of rare bird, Caño Negro is one of the most biologically rich wetlands in the world. Many mammals and reptiles can also be spotted around the freshwater lagoon, making it one of Costa Rica's best wildlife-watching destinations.More

Miravalles Volcano

Towering above Costa Rica’s northwestern plains, Miravalles Volcano is the highest peak in the Guanacaste province. The dormant peak’s microclimate makes it one of the best birdwatching spots in Costa Rica, while its refreshingly cool air offers respite from the tropical humidity of the nearby beaches.More

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens

Tucked away in the mountains, the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens is one of the most popular attractions in the area. The 3-acre (1.2-hectare) sanctuary houses four unique climate-controlled habitats where more than 30 species of butterflies thrive alongside 20 species of arachnids and insects and a colony of leaf-cutter ants.More

Dino Park Blue River

Travel back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth at Costa Rica’s one-of-a-kind amusement park, where animatronic dinosaurs inhabit the leafy jungle. Moving, life-size replicas of the giant creatures are a hit with kids and the young at heart, while a nearby hot springs resort offers a way to relax after your prehistoric adventure.More
Santa Rosa National Park

Santa Rosa National Park

Santa Rosa National Park (Parque Nacional Santa Rosa) encompasses much of Costa Rica’s Santa Elena Peninsula and is one of the country’s oldest protected areas. Thick jungles and mangrove forests give way to rolling ocean and white beaches along the country’s coastline, while further inland, dry tropical forests teem with flora and fauna.More
Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo)

Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo)

Palm-lined, grey-sand Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo) enjoys the kind of wild beauty that characterizes Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast. Largely off the beaten beach path, this long flat beach has long attracted the surfer crowd with its strong riptides and two river mouth breaks. A couple sleepy hotels and beach bungalows offer surf-side accommodations, but walk a few minutes in either direction, and you’ll likely have the beach completely to yourself.While Playa Matapalo’s strong currents and big waves mean it isn’t ideal for swimming, it is a wonderful beach for secluded sunbathing or for catching a sunset over the Pacific.More
Las Pumas Rescue Center

Las Pumas Rescue Center

Las Pumas Rescue Center (Centro de Rescate Las Pumas) rescues and rehabilitates wildlife and advocates rainforest conservation efforts in the Guanacaste Province near Cañas, Costa Rica. The sanctuary sits on an old farm in the heart of the Santa Rosa Sector Guanacaste Conservation Area (Area de Conservación Guanacaste), both a network of protected areas and a World Heritage Site. The center rescues large cats primarily, but it also works to provide a safe home to monkeys, deer, parrots, and other animals.More
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Top activities in Guanacaste and Northwest

Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall Tour
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Full Day Nicaragua Tour from Costa Rica
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Sunset Catamaran in Playa Flamingo
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Guanacaste Snorkel and Sunset Cruise
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Guanacaste Snorkel and Sunset Cruise

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All about Guanacaste and Northwest

When to visit

Guanacaste is best visited in the dry season, which runs roughly from December through the middle of May. This is also the most popular time to visit, so expect to pay a premium on lodging. The early months of the rainy season offer good value for money (especially as most rainfall occurs in the afternoon). However, hiking trails in the region can get muddy in the rainy months.

Getting around

The best way to get around Guanacaste and the Northwest is to rent a car or hire the services of a taxi driver. If you’re on a strict budget, you might want to stick to taking the local bus. If you plan on taking a day trip to nearby Nicaragua, you’re best off joining a guided tour, as most rental companies don’t want you taking their vehicles across the border.

Traveler tips

At first glance, El Callejero Food Truck—with its garage door entryway and location next to a car battery store—looks more like an auto repair shop than one of the best burger spots in Liberia. Looks can be deceiving, and inside you’ll find wooden picnic tables carefully arranged along manicured, pebble-lined pathways and oversized fairy lights suspended from a canopy of trees overhead.

People Also Ask

What is Guanacaste, Costa Rica, known for?

Tropical forests meet beautiful beaches in Guanacaste, a Costa Rican province famed for its biodiversity and natural beauty. Its expansive grasslands lie between volcanoes and the sea, and conservation areas such as Palo Verde National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve provide essential habitats for birds, butterflies, and sloths.

What is there to do in northwestern Costa Rica?

Most visitors go to northwestern Costa Rica for its spectacular natural beauty, whether they’re lounging on Papagayo beaches, paddling into Tamarindo surf breaks, or hiking the Monteverde cloud forest. Birdwatching, hiking, and wildlife tours are top activities, as is horseback riding through national parks such as Rincón de la Vieja and Santa Rosa.

How many days do you need in Guanacaste?

A week is enough to get a taste of Guanacaste parks and beaches. First spend several days inland, spotting birds and wildlife in a conservation area such as Rincón de la Vieja or Santa Rosa National Park. Next, head to the coast for some well-earned sun and sand.

What sorts of tourist activities are popular in Guanacaste?

Guanacaste tourist activities are all about the natural world. It is one of Costa Rica’s top destinations for walking and horseback riding, and many travelers seek out birds, butterflies, and wildlife including sloths. On the scenic Pacific coast, beaches are for swimming, surfing, and watching yearly sea turtle hatches.

What is the number one tourist attraction in Guanacaste?

Tamarindo Beach is Guanacaste’s top tourist attraction and is among Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. This laid-back surf town has an energetic party scene, but the shoreline itself is the real draw. Here, golden sand lights up at sunset, and surfers make the most of rolling swells from the Pacific.

Is Guanacaste safe for tourists?

Yes, Guanacaste is considered safe for tourists. While petty crime does occur, the Costa Rican government invests additional security resources in areas where travelers congregate. Since nature is a major draw, it’s essential to follow basic precautions—keep your distance from wildlife, stay on hiking trails, and follow local weather advisories.


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