A Quick summary

Beaches – The main attraction of the region is the beaches – there’s plenty to choose from and they all boast perfect sunsets.

Destination – Whether you’re looking for a relaxing break or adventure, the region of Guanacaste has a lot to offer and it’s a destination in its own right!

Surfing – The main reason why most people visit the region is to learn surfing – the waves attract both learners and seasoned surfers alike.   

Yoga and Wellness – Some towns are known for their yoga and wellness retreats which draw tourists from all over.

The Gulf of Papagayo

Top Things to Do

1. Explore Tamarindo

    Tamarindo is a lazy beach town known for its surfing waves and white sand beaches. The town is a great base for tourists in this region as it’s got a great selection of hotels, restaurants, cafes, beaches, surf schools and attractions. The town is buzzing with activity all throughout the day – the town’s also got a popular night market with live music and local sellers.

    If you’re planning to visit Tamarindo, Playa Tamarindo is a popular spot but there plenty of great beaches along the coast including Playa Grande, Playa Conchal and Playa Flamingo. Playa Grande is particularly known for its turtle nesting season – if you want to witness this you’ll need to book a night time tour as the beaches are generally off limits after 6pm. The best time to experience this is from October to February.

    Tip: If you’re looking for a base in the region but feel Tamarindo is a little on the expensive side or is too commercial, try Samara and Nosara. Both are cheaper than Tamarindo, less crowded and share a similar vibe albeit less commercial.

    Stalls at Tamarindo night market

    2. Try surfing

      The region is known for its excellent surf conditions with the best waves hitting in the rainy season, making it a year-round hotspot. The beaches cater to all skill levels, from beginners to seasoned surfers; towns like Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, Samara, and Nosara are bustling with surf schools. Surf schools often know the best beaches to go swimming and can advise based on your experience level. There are also surfing camps you can join if your plan to master the art of surfing. You can also choose between group sessions and private classes or you can rent a surf board if you’re a confident surfer.

      Cost: Group sessions cost around $50 and private sessions around $70 per person.

      3. Enjoy some of the best sunsets

      The Gulf of Papagayo, nestled perfectly along the Pacific, offers stunning sunset vistas. Beach clubs and bars line the coast, inviting tourists to savour cocktails as the sun dips below the horizon.

      If you’re looking for a more adventurous sunset experience, afternoon sailing excursions and catamaran tours are available, promising unforgettable views from the open water.

      Cost: Catamaran tours cost around $90 per person

      Beach hopping near Tamarindo

      4. Beach hop along the Gulf of Papagayo and explore Las Catalinas

        Las Catalinas is a burgeoning beach town that is slowly becoming popular with both locals and the international community in Guanacaste. It’s located north of Tamarindo, a 45 min drive from the centre and the architecture is reminiscent of Cinque Terre in Italy. It’s a great place to stop over for a lunch or coffee after beach hopping along the Gulf of Papagayo.

        5. Witness a turtle hatching

        The beach at Ostional experiences a unique biological phenomenon once a year called turtle nesting. This is when hundreds of sea turtles lay their eggs on the beach during the rainy season (and sometimes during other months as well). This is especially popular at the Ostional Wildlife Refuge and was founded for the conservation of the olive ridley sea turtle. After the eggs are laid, they hatch around 45-50 days after. There are other locations like Tamarindo where you can witness this phenomenon.

        Cost:  $30-$50, depending on the tour you take

        Timings : these tours are usually at night

        Walking around Las Catalinas

        6. Go birdwatching at Palo Verde National Park

          Palo Verde National Park harbours a diverse array of migratory and aquatic birds inhabiting various habitats in the park, including mangroves. Beyond birds, the park is also home to crocodiles and monkeys. Exploring the wildlife-rich landscape is best done through a boat tour, offering immersive encounters with the various inhabitants. There are also tours organised by agencies that include lunch and a guide to take you from your hotel and around the national park and back.

          Cost: Shared boat tours cost around $60; organised tours around $120.

          Timings: 8am to 4pm

          7. Explore the towns of Samara and Nosara

          The laidback beach and surf towns of Samara and Nosara are known for their brunch spots, eclectic cafes, wonderful beach clubs and most importantly, gorgeous beaches. Playa Carillo is a personal favourite and a short drive from Samara. Playa Samara is known for its beginner friendly waves and there are plenty of surf schools around.

          Tip: Both towns are great bases if you’re looking for a cheaper and less popular alternative to Tamarindo. It’s worth noting that Nosara is 15min inland and not exactly a beachside town, though it does share a similar vibe.

          Playa Carillo near Samara

          8. Join a yoga session

            Guanacaste is a health and wellness destination and the region is sprinkled with wellness and yoga retreats. If you’re keen to unleash the yogi in you, sign up to a yoga session or join a yoga retreat. Nosara and Samara are particularly known for their yoga retreats.

            Cost: One Vinyasa session costs around $20

            9. Pay a visit to the animals at Sibu Wildlife Sanctuary

            Costa Rica is a haven for wildlife and the locals are quite passionate about animal welfare. Sibu Wildlife Sanctuary is a safe abode for many animals that have suffered as a result of human encroachment. Dive into the jungle sanctuary and its ecosystem and learn about the wildlife inhabiting it through a tour.

            Cost:  $60

            Timings : Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday mornings

            10. Spend a day in Montezuma

            Montezuma, with its charming bohemian atmosphere, is a quaint beach town beloved for its hipster vibe. In addition to soaking up the town’s laid-back charm and relaxing on its beaches, visitors can explore its renowned waterfalls. For nature enthusiasts, a short drive leads to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, one of Costa Rica’s oldest reserves. Many travellers opt to pair their Montezuma adventure with a stay in nearby Santa Teresa which is a bustling surf town.

            Beach hopping along the Gulf of Papagayo

            Day Trips from Guanancaste

            1. Rio Celeste (Volcan Tenorio National Park)

              About a 3 hour drive from Playa Tamarindo lies the Tenorio Volcano national park, home to the mesmerising Rio Celeste. This river and its namesake waterfall are famed for their vivid blue hues.  The journey to the waterfall is an easy 30 minute walk from the entrance, involving a descent down a series of stairs. Beyond, you can continue hiking into the untamed and less developed sections of the park, tracing the soothing sound of the stream until you reach a tranquil lagoon. The complete hike, leading you through the park’s diverse landscapes, spans around 3 hours.

              Rio Celeste Waterfall

              2. Tortuga Island

                Tortuga Island, just a short boat ride from Montezuma or Santa Teresa, is renowned for its breathtaking snorkelling spots. Numerous organised tours offer convenient transportation to and from the island, complete with meals and snacks, ensuring a hassle-free and enjoyable experience for visitors.

                Cost:  Tours start at around $120 per person

                How to Get to and Around Guanacaste

                The major towns of Guanacaste can be easily reached from Liberia – the drive is quite short (circa 1-1.5 hours) and roads are in great condition. From San Jose, the drive is much longer, around 5-6 hours, but if you’re travelling from San Jose, I recommend staying over at a destination like Monteverde before proceeding to Guanacaste.

                Tip: While a 4×4 vehicle isn’t necessary for this area as the roads are well paved and relatively flat. The only area you will need a 4×4 is the road to Playa Ostional, if you plan to visit it.

                From Liberia to Tamarindo/ Samara:

                Option 1 – Driving – Driving takes around 1-1.5 hours and is usually the most convenient option.

                Option 2 – Public Bus – There are direct public buses that run, almost hourly, between Liberia’s town centre to areas in and around Tamarindo. The journey lasts around 2.5 hours and costs around $3. This is undoubtedly the cheapest way to get here from Liberia.

                Option 3 – Shuttle Bus – if you’re after comfort and don’t mind paying a little bit more, there are plenty of shuttle bus services that run between the towns. It costs around $30 for a shared shuttle and around $100 for a private shuttle. Samara would cost a little bit more, around a $20 uplift in price.

                From San Jose to Tamarindo/ Samara:

                Option 1 – Driving – Driving takes roughly 4-5 hours but is relatively easy.

                Option 2 – Public Bus – there are direct buses from San Jose to Tamarindo that you can book via the TIG website. Tickets cost around $14. There are two buses departing daily and they take roughly 5-7 hours.

                Option 3 – Shuttle and Private Buses – There are also several options for shuttle bus services. These are a lot more convenient than public buses and a lot less stressful than driving. Prices for shared shuttles are around $70 and for private are around $300.

                Option 4 – Flights – there are direct flights from San Jose to Tamarindo and return tickets cost around $260. This is, of course, the quickest way to get to Tamarindo.

                More views of Playa Carillo

                Best Time to Visit

                The best time to visit Guanacaste is from December to April. Costa Rica experiences two seasons – the wetter green season which runs from May to November and the drier season that runs from December to April.

                Sample Itineraries for Guanacaste

                As Guanacaste is a destination in its own right, I recommend staying here at least 3 days to experience the region.

                2 days – Start with exploring Tamarindo and nearby beaches and if you’re keen, try surfing. Reserve the next day to visit Nosara or Samara and include a yoga session or visit the Sibu Wildlife Sanctuary.

                3 days – Follow the 2 day itinerary above and the third day will entail a full day to explore Montezuma and the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.

                4 days – Start off with basing yourself in Tamarindo for the first 2 days, and follow the 2 day itinerary above. Head down to Santa Teresa for your next 2 days and explore Montezuma and Cabo Blanco. On your fourth day, plan a day trip to Tortuga Island.

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