People come from all over the world to visit Costa Rica. This Central American nation is beautiful, friendly, and welcoming, and it’s no wonder people who visit once end up returning time and time again.
There are several parts of Costa Rica that are attractive to tourists but few are as popular and as alluring as the towns and beaches in the province of Guanacaste.
Guanacaste is located in the northwestern corner of the country. To the north, it shares a border with Nicaragua and its western border is the Pacific Ocean.
The majority of the province of Guanacaste consists of the northern two-thirds of the massive Nicoya Peninsula, but it also extends into the primary mainland portion of the nation as well.
It’s named for the Guanacaste tree – a common tree that is the national tree of Costa Rica – and about 350,000 make this province their home.
It’s not only a popular area for Costa Ricans and tourists, though – it’s also an area that is home to a vast number of ex-pats from the United States and around the world.
But, where to stay in Guanacaste?
If you’re planning a trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica, you may be wondering where you should visit and where you should stay.
In this guide, you can learn all about the different towns and areas in this region so you can get a better idea of what will best suit you before you go.
Table of Contents
- What’s So Special About Guanacaste?
- Where Are the Best Places to Visit & Stay in Guanacaste?
- Northern Nicoya Peninsula Coast
- Things to Do on the Northern Nicoya Peninsula Coast
- Where to Go on the Northern Nicoya Peninsula Coast
- Central Nicoya Peninsula Coast
- Things to Do on the Central Nicoya Peninsula Coast
- Where to Go on the Central Nicoya Peninsula Coast
- Things to Do in Inland Guanacaste
- Where to Go in Inland Guanacaste
What’s So Special About Guanacaste?
It’s not surprising that people are drawn to Guanacaste, Costa Rica. It is truly a tropical paradise. Costa Rica, in general, is known for its picturesque beaches, mountains, national parks, friendly people, and abundant tropical wildlife. Guanacaste has the best of all of the above.
Some of the most beautiful white sand beaches in the world are in this corner of this country, and some of the best hotels, too.
Almost anywhere in this area, visitors can enjoy spa treatments in the morning, mid-day at a secluded beach, a dip in a Guanacaste hotel swimming pool to cool off, and fine dining at night.
For accommodations, visitors can choose from upscale hotels and some of the most luxurious resorts in the world, all-inclusive resorts, mid-range and budget hotels, hostels, house rentals, or even camping.
Transportation is easy and affordable; you can take public transportation, hire a driver, or get your own rental car.
Everything seems smooth and easy in Guanacaste – because it is. In fact, the Nicoya peninsula has even been recognized by the scientific community as a special and unique place; it’s one of only six “blue zones” in the world – and it’s the largest one.
People who live in blue zones tend to live longer than average due to a variety of factors including climate, culture, lifestyle, and more. The fact that the Nicoya Peninsula is a blue zone says a lot about how truly incredible it is.
Where Are the Best Places to Visit & Stay in Guanacaste?
You’ll be happy with almost anywhere you choose in Guanacaste; you really can’t go wrong when it comes to this special destination. However, different parts of this province do vary greatly from one another.
Even though they’re within a few hours of one another, the beaches of the northern Nicoya peninsula coast are quite different from the beach towns on the central coast, and both of those places are vastly different from the inland portion of this region.
If you’re planning a trip to Guanacaste province and don’t know where to go, this guide below will help. Here we offer a brief summary of the various areas, things to do, and places to stay.
There are hostels, Guanacaste hotels, luxury resorts, and rentals for every budget and for every type of traveler. Costa Rica is for everyone.
Some who visit Costa Rica choose one town and stay there for the duration of their trip. Others stay in several places for a few days each.
Either method is valid on any trip, but especially in Costa Rica. Without a doubt, you’ll have a great time no matter what you choose to do.
Northern Nicoya Peninsula Coast
The northern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula and much of the coast leading all the way up to where the Costa Rican border meets Nicaragua is a very popular area for visitors and ex-pats alike.
It is full of beach towns and every beach town is a little different from each of the others, but they are also similarly lovely and beautiful.
This region attracts visitors of all kinds of travelers so you’ll find options and amenities for all types of people. There are many high-end resorts and restaurants in this area, but don’t let that scare you away if you are a budget traveler – there are options for you, too.
This part of the country is reached easily by flying into Daniel Oduber International Airport (also known as Liberia Airport – the airport code is LIR).
This airport is located much closer to the coast than the nation’s other major airport in the central capital of San Jose.
Things to Do on the Northern Nicoya Peninsula Coast
This region is also home to three popular national parks. Santa Rosa National Park and Guanacaste National Park are attached to one another and are in the far north corner of the province and country.
Santa Rosa National Park has historical, military significance in addition to amazing flora and fauna; ten different natural habitats are represented in its 150 square mile area. Guanacaste National Park is almost just as large.
If you visit this area, you may end up spending time in Las Baulas National Marine Park without even knowing it because it runs right along some popular beaches. This park covers a little over sixty-four square miles of the marine area along the coast of Tamarindo Bay.
It was established in 1991 to protect the largest nesting colony of leatherback sea turtles on the Pacific Coast of the Americas. If you time your visit right, you may have the opportunity to see new baby sea turtles hatching.
In addition to visiting the national parks, there are plenty of other things to do during your time in this area as well.
As with any beach destination, you can take part in water sports like boating, fishing, scuba and snorkeling, and surfing. Hikers will love the many trails in the area.
Of course, many people opt to spend their days simply sitting back and relaxing on the beach.
Further, all of the beach towns below have shops to explore and fine restaurants and bars to enjoy. Take a yoga class, enjoy a spa treatment, or indulge in a massage. There’s something for everyone in Costa Rica.
Where to Go on the Northern Nicoya Peninsula Coast
There are a number of amazing destinations and towns to consider in this part of Costa Rica. Here are a few of the most popular.
1. Playa Hermosa/Playas Del Coco/Matapalo
This is a very busy tourist area with plenty to do but you’ll also feel very relaxed and serene on this area’s beautiful beaches.
Budget Hotel – Hotel M&M Beach House; Playas del Coco
This budget property is on the beach and has excellent WiFi. Rooms are small but comfortable and include televisions and private bathrooms.
Mid Range Hotel – Hotel Bosque del Mar Playa Hermosa; Playa Hermosa
Hotel Bosque del Mar is a beachfront, boutique hotel with an outdoor pool and property. It also has tropical gardens and a restaurant on site. Every room has air conditioning and. terrace to look out upon the gardens or the ocean.
Luxury Hotel – Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo; Culebra
This luxury resort is located on the Andaz Peninsula just north of Playa Hermosa; you’ll be able to enjoy both areas easily, but you might not want to leave.
The Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica has four pools, two private beaches, a golf course, a gym, a business center, and four restaurants. Rooms are spacious and air-conditioned.
Rental – Luxurious, Ocean View Home with Infinity Pool and Bar; Playa Hermosa
Wow! This home is exceptional and sleeps six. It’s in a gated community and although it’s not beachfront, you can see the ocean from the private infinity pool, which also has a swim-up bar.
Inside, you’ll find a formal dining area and kitchen, a 70″ television, and more. You’ll love this property for your stay in Playa Hermosa.
2. Playa Flamingo/Las Catalinas/Brasilito/Playa Conchal
Brasilito Bay is a bit south of the above towns and these resort and tourist areas have sprung up around it. It is similar to the Playa Hermosa area, but quite a bit quieter.
Budget Hotel – Conchal Hotel; Brasilito
This hotel is not on the beachfront, but it’s only a three-minute walk to get to it. Every room comes with a patio, a fridge, air-conditioning, and WiFi. A daily breakfast buffet is included.
Mid Range Hotel – Libelula Lounge – Boutique Hotel; Potrero
This hotel is a nine-minute walk to the beach, but it really has everything you need on-site. It has a bar, a restaurant, and a swimming pool. Every room has a terrace, and there are family rooms for groups as well.
Luxury Hotel – Casa Chameleon Hotel Las Catalinas; Playa Flamingo
This is just one of several Casa Chameleon properties in Costa Rica. They’re all adults-only and luxurious. All rooms at this location have patios with views of the ocean. There’s a restaurant, bar, and garden to relax in on-site as well.
Rental – Villa Fugata Flamingo; Playa Flamingo
If you like pink, you’ll love this rental property which embraces the bright color of the flamingo throughout.
This property is on a cliff one hundred feet above the ocean below; the sunset views are spectacular. It sleeps four in three beds and has two full baths. You’ll love the private infinity pool and professional kitchen.
3. Tamarindo Beach/Tamarindo Bay
This area is a very busy and happening tourist area that is also home to many ex-pats from the United States and around the world.
There are high-rise resorts, gated communities, and parking can be a challenge.
Still, many people love this area because unlike most places in Costa Rica, there is actually some nightlife here. Many people fall in love with Tamarindo upon arrival and never go anywhere else in the country.
Budget Hotel – Playa Grande Surf Camp; Playa Grande
This well-rated hotel on the north portion of Tamarindo Bay is great for surfers or for anyone who loves the beach.
Rooms are clean and air-conditioned. It’s a hostel so there’s a shared kitchen and lounge area and you’ll also be able to enjoy the property’s pool, hammocks, and BBQ area as well.
Mid Range Hotel – Ten North Tamarindo Beach Hotel; Tamarindo
Ten North Tamarindo Beach Hotel is only a three-minute walk from the beach and it offers a variety of room types for varied travelers including regular rooms and one to two-bedroom apartments. There is also a pool, excellent WiFi, and free parking.
Luxury Hotel – Tamarindo Bay Boutique Hotel; Tamarindo
If you’re looking for an adults-only hotel in the middle of it all, then the Tamarindo Bay Boutique Hotel is an excellent choice.
This property is an eleven-minute walk from the beach, but only about a three-minute walk from the center of Tamarindo’s city center. The rooms here are very comfortable and breakfast is included.
Rental – Casa Cielo Vista; Tamarindo
Are you traveling with a large group? This 7,000 square foot luxury property sleeps up to nineteen people in seven bedrooms.
There are incredible views from every room in the house; there are balconies on all sides, and an infinity pool offers views of the ocean. Breakfast and daily maid service are included. It’s just a short walk to the beach and downtown.
Central Nicoya Peninsula Coast
The central coast of the Nicoya Peninsula is a bit harder to get to, and that makes all the difference. There are roads that go to Nosara and Samara and other nearby towns, and many are paved, but sometimes they can be unpredictable and, in the rainy season, even impassable.
Still, plenty of people make their way to these sleepier, quieter beach towns in the southern portion of Guanacaste, so there’s no reason that you shouldn’t check them out too.
These towns on the central coast draw a lot of hippie and surfer types, but all types of travelers end up in this area and love it too. There’s not much to do at night, but other than relax, what else would you want to do anyway?
This part of Costa Rica is wonderful if you really want to get away from it all. You’ll feel like you’re a million miles from everything else, and for many, that’s the whole point of going on vacation.
Things to Do on the Central Nicoya Peninsula Coast
There are many fun things to do in this part of the Nicoya Peninsula also. Of course, surfing is a major pastime here and you could take some lessons between naps on the beach.
Local operators will take you out on boats for sightseeing or fishing, and there are jet skis and paddleboards to rent for the independent and adventurous.
You can enjoy spa treatments and fine dining in this area, too. There are plenty of wonderful things to fill your days – just remember that everything, including you, moves a little slower in Costa Rica, and there’s nothing at all wrong with that.
This area does not contain any national parks, but there are two national wildlife refuges here: Ostional, which is north of Nosara, and Camaronal, which is south of Samara.
Both are on the coast and are dedicated to protecting the diverse marine and land animals in this area; both are worth a visit.
Where to Go on the Central Nicoya Peninsula Coast
There are a number of tiny towns in this area along the coast and most have at least one accommodation to offer, but if you want to be near a variety of stores and restaurants, your options are Nosara and Samara.
Nosara is the quieter and slightly fancier of the two towns. There are a lot of spas and high-end accommodations in Nosara, but there are affordable options, too. Nosara doesn’t have much of a central business area, but some people love it for that reason in particular.
Budget Hotel – Selina Nosara; Nosara
Selina is a popular and affordable hotel chain in Central America and this property of theirs is especially nice. It’s a twelve-minute walk to the beach, but there’s a restaurant, bar, and swimming pool onsite. You’ll also have access to the kitchen and shared lounge in this hostel as well.
Mid Range Hotel – Green Sanctuary Hotel; Nosara
The Green Sanctuary Hotel is a property that is constructed out of shipping containers, and that in itself makes it memorable. It’s a nine-minute walk from the beach but there’s a pool, spa, and wellness center at the hotel, and every room has air-conditioning and a mini-bar.
Luxury Hotel – Hotel Boutique Lagarta Lodge; Nosara
This classy property is located right on the beach and every room has a balcony and private bathroom. There is also a hot tub, a swimming pool, and a lovely garden. The on-site restaurant is excellent, and the concierge will be available to help you plan your local adventures.
Rental – Hideaway Penthouse with Beach View Inside Wildlife Refuge; Nosara
You’ll love this one-bedroom property that is only steps away from Playas Pelada and Playa Nosara because it’s located inside the Ostional Wildlife Refuge.
You can expect to see sea turtles, birds, and other wildlife where the Montana and Nosara Rivers flow into the Pacific Ocean.
This guesthouse is 1000 square feet, has a kitchen, and sleeps two; there is also a nearby pool that you’ll share with the owners and any other guests on the property.
Samara is more of a traditional beach town than Nosara. It’s easy to get around on foot and there are numerous restaurants and stores to try. The beach in Samara is spectacular.
Budget Hotel – Woodstock Hostel; Samara
This popular hostel is often sold out, so move quickly if you want to stay there. It’s only three minutes from the beach on foot and is close to everything in Samara.
Since it’s a hostel, you can expect a shared lounge and shared kitchen, and there’s WiFi throughout the property. This hostel offers dorm rooms and private rooms, too.
Mid Range Hotel – Fenix Hotel; Samara
The Fenix Hotel is a bit south of town, but you may not want or need to go there once you arrive and check in. This mid-range property has a private beach and a swimming pool.
Every room has a patio, seating area, and full kitchen, and the grocery store is only 150 feet away. Locals sometimes sell pastries and fresh-caught fish outside.
Luxury Hotel – Azura Beach Resort; Samara
The Azura Beach Resort is an adults-only property right on the beach. There’s a twenty-four-hour front desk to serve you anytime you need.
Rooms include private bathrooms, flat-screen cable televisions, and more. This property is all-inclusive so you can enjoy the restaurant, bar, and other amenities to your heart’s content.
Rental – Villas Eden Blu Paradiso; Samara
Rent one of four identical, very modern villas in this gated community. All have ocean views, three conditioned bedrooms, three bathrooms, televisions with cable, lap pools, and full kitchens.
The views from the deck are amazing and this property is only five minutes from the beach and town.
Most people come to Guanacaste for the beaches, but that’s not all there is in this large and diverse province.
The inland part of Guanacaste has a lot to offer, too. Many people are surprised to learn that this province reaches eastward and inland almost a third of the way across the country.
This means that Guanacaste province does not only include many beautiful beaches on the northwestern coast, but it also includes mountains, forests, waterfalls, rivers, and volcanoes. It’s a different type of vacation, but it’s one that some travelers prefer over beach towns.
Things to Do in Inland Guanacaste
This part of Guanacaste has so much to offer for adventurous travelers. First, there are several national parks in this region. Palo Verde National Park is one of the most biodiverse areas in Costa Rica; it includes over fifteen types of ecosystems in just seventy-one square miles of space.
Barra Honda National Park exists to protect a vast underground cave system which, depending n the time of year, you may be able to explore with a guide. Rincon de la Vieja National Park includes one dormant and two active volcanoes.
If you’re interested in history, you might also visit the El Farallon National Archeological Monument in this part of the province. There you’ll see petroglyphs that are over a thousand years old. Or, if you like waterfalls, you could hike to Llanos de Cortes Waterfall, Las Chorreras Waterfall, or others.
If all that sounds like a lot to you, then you may just enjoy relaxing by the pool at your hotel or in a hot spring or thermal river. There’s plenty to do in this area, but it’s also fine to do little or nothing at all.
Where to Go in Inland Guanacaste
The towns in this part of Guanacaste are smaller and less touristy and you may find it difficult to get around without your own rental car.
However, the less-touristy aspect is a big draw for many who come here. There aren’t a lot of towns and shops in this region (other than in Liberia), so be prepared when you head to your hotel or out on any adventure.
However, some people are drawn to this area because it has many more businesses and services and because it’s centrally located to all of the other places mentioned in this guide.
Budget Hotel – Hotel Dodero; Liberia
This budget hotel is very affordable and it’s well-rated by travelers, too.
Rooms are private but bathrooms are shared; there’s also a shared kitchen and lounge area. You can enjoy the garden and terrace and an a la carte breakfast each morning. The hotel is eight miles from the airport, but the front desk will arrange a shuttle for you for a fee.
Mid Range Hotel – Hotel Villa Hermosa; Liberia
Hotel Villa Hermosa is a lovely property in a private area of central Liberia. All rooms are air-conditioned and have flat-screen televisions and private bathrooms. There is also a shop, a shared kitchen, and a shared lounge area on site.
Luxury Hotel – Hilton Garden Inn Guanacaste Airport; Liberia
One of the nicest hotels near the Liberia airport is the Hilton Garden Inn; the airport is just across the street and the hotel provides a free shuttle to and from it.
Comfortable, stylish rooms include WiFi, microwaves, and refrigerators. An onsite restaurant offers lunch and dinner, and there is a gym and a pool on the property as well.
7. Nuevo Arenal
Nuevo Arenal is a very small town on the shores of Lago de Arenal. It’s quite close to La Fortuna, a popular destination in Alajuela province, but it’s much quieter and more serene. It’s a great place to stay if you want access to the national parks in this area and also to La Fortuna. Most properties have beautiful views of the lake.
Budget Hotel – Agua Inn; Nuevo Arenal
The Agua Inn is only set back about 650 feet from the lake, but you’ll feel secluded in the rainforest in this accommodation. The rooms here are beautiful and the food nearby is fantastic as well. There’s also a pool on-site and lots of opportunities for quiet and relaxation.
Mid Range Hotel – The Gingerbread Restaurant and Hotel; Nuevo Arenal
In this hotel, you’ll find one of the best restaurants in the area, and the hotel isn’t too shabby either. Some rooms have air-conditioning, but you might not need it at this elevation.
Rooms are clean, comfortable, and attractively decorated. There’s lots of wildlife on the property and views of Lago de Arenal.
Rental – Villa Encantada; Nuevo Arenal
Your group of up to fourteen people will love this lakefront nature eco-preserve estate on forty acres.
It’s very private and features a waterslide, a spring-fed swimming pool, a private nine-hole Par 3 Golf course, kayaks, hiking trails, fishing, and more.
Inside there are four bedrooms, three bathrooms, two fireplaces, a washer and dryer, WiFi, a fully equipped kitchen, and satellite televisions. This property will be one that you’ll never forget.
8. Rincon de la Vieja Volcano
If you’re interested in exploring this national park, you might as well stay near it. The hotels in Rincon de la Vieja Volcano area serve hikers who plan to check out the park and hot springs enthusiasts, too.
There’s no real town in this area – but the hotels have everything that you’ll need for a great vacation.
Budget Hotel- Pochote Lodge; Guayabos
Pochote Lodge is a budget property but it has everything you’ll need for a stay near this national park. Rooms come with patios, private bathrooms, and kitchenettes; outdoors you can enjoy the beautiful garden.
Mid Range Hotel – Casa Rural Aroma de Campo; Curubande
It also has a great restaurant that serves Belgian and Costa Rican dishes; breakfast is included. The rooms are bright and lively and don’t have air conditioning, but come with fans and mosquito netting.
Luxury Hotel – Buena Vista del Rincon Eco Adventure Park Hotel & Spa; Liberia
You’ll love this classy yet affordable eco-resort. As the name implies, this is also the site of an eco-adventure park where you can hike, horseback ride, observe wildlife and more.
Spa services are available and there’s also a pool. Log bungalows include lake views and private bathrooms, and the on-site restaurant offers three tasty meals a day.
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