Updated January 2021, originally posted February 2017.
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One of the most popular regions to explore in all of Costa Rica is Guanacaste. With incredible resorts and hotels, access to the beach, and outdoor adventure, it’s the ultimate place to escape for a week.
It comes with no surprise that anyone landing at Liberia Airport in Costa Rica is heading to the beach. The crystal turquoise waters beckon travelers around the world to come for a relaxing escape. Many retreats to Costa Rica’s top hotels perched high above the coastline, offering peaceful, panoramic views. During the day, time is spent either leisurely around the pool or out exploring Costa Rica’s grand landscape.
Situated in the northwest region of Costa Rica, the Guanacaste Province is rich with many experiences, whether you’re an adventure seeker or looking for a relaxing escape. The “Pura Vida” mindset sets the tone as easy going, and life is filled with passion, giving visitors a unique vacation.
Whether you’re looking to go for a long weekend or adventure for a week, this is the ultimate guide for the best hotels and things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
The Ultimate Travel Guide to Guanacaste, Costa Rica
What to Know Before Visiting Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Getting to Guanacaste, Costa Rica: The region is best reached by direct flights into Liberia from airports like LAX. To reach the popular resort area of the Papagayo Peninsula, expect about a 30-45 minute drive. Be sure to pre-arrange transfers in advance if you do not plan on renting a car yourself. Use Google Flights to find the cheapest flights.
Language: Spanish is Costa Rica’s language. You will find that English is widely spoken.
Currency & Money: Most vendors accept USD and credit cards, though it is advised to keep some local currency on you.
Renting a car: Renting a car is incredibly easy and a great way to explore the province. Be sure to get full coverage insurance to insure precaution. One thing to be aware of is the trunk not closing properly, as you should keep no valuables in sight. During our trip, our trunk didn’t close properly, and later realized it could have been a huge opportunity of error.
Bring: Bug spray is an absolute must, and one with high levels of Deet is recommended.
Frequently Asked Questions About Guanacaste
Is Guanacaste, Costa Rica safe to travel to?
Generally speaking, it is safe to visit and the locals are incredibly kind. As with any new destination, take the necessary precautions for safety. One plus is that this region is often spared from natural disasters like hurricanes, so it can be considered a safe place to visit year-round.
What is Guanacaste, Costa Rica known for?
It is home to some of the best coastline along the Pacific Ocean where pristine beaches are available. Inland and closeby, you’ll find other popular areas to explore like the local mountain ranges and volcanoes in the country’s parks and nature reserves. In the Papagayo area, the top hotels are found here for those looking for luxurious resorts. Many travelers come here to have a relaxing vacation that is in a serene setting.
What airport do you fly into for Guanacaste, Costa Rica?
You will fly into Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia (LIR) to access the province of Guanacaste. From the airport to the Papagayo area, expect around a 45-minute drive.
What is the best time of year to visit Guanacaste, Costa Rica?
The dry months from December to April are the most ideal if you’re looking for a fewer amount of rainy days. However, off-season may present better price points for hotels.
What are the entry requirements for Costa Rica?
All countries are allowed to enter by air as long as they meet the country’s visa and COVID-19 entry requirements. For more information, please see this link.
The Best Hotels in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Hotels and Resorts in Peninsula Papagayo
Where you choose to stay in the area of Guanacaste is completely up to you and the experience you are looking for. It is good to note that some of the hotels may have more remote locations that require a rental car or hired drive to go explore the local area. You’ll find this a lot with the resorts in the Peninsula Papagayo area. I stayed at the Andaz and found that frequently we had to hire a driver to go visit nearby sights. It would have made more sense to rent a car for the entirety of the time to be able to go explore.
For those who are looking to be closer to surf towns and beaches, you’ll like the area of Tamarindo. There are several upscale hotels here for couples and great family resorts. You will want to consider booking a rental car as well.
The Andaz Peninsula Papagayo Hotel & Resort
Located in the area of Papagayo Peninsula, the Andaz is an incredible hotel for those looking for a relaxing escape with the opportunity for adventure (Read the full review here). Its luxurious rooms overlooking the Culebra Bay are memorable, the food is incredible, and the service is truly special. FIND THE BEST RATES HERE
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
One of the top hotels in Central America, The Four Seasons opened a beautiful hotel that has its own 18-hole golf course right on site.
FIND THE BEST RATES HERE
One of the only all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica, Secrets has a stunning location on the peninsula. Hiking trails are nearby and plenty of areas to relax in. FIND THE BEST RATES HERE
El Mangroove, Autograph Collection
High design and upscale amenities define this intimate boutique hotel. There are two restaurants on location and a beautiful pool area to enjoy.
FIND THE BEST RATES HERE
Hotels and Resorts In or Near Tamarindo
Tamarindo Bay Boutique Hotel
A boutique, adults-only property known for its proximity to shops and the beach of central Tamarindo. FIND THE BEST RATES HERE
Cala Luna Luxury Boutique Hotel & Villas
A zen-focused boutique hotel that is a close walk to the beach. Very popular for romantic getaways for couples and their bungalow suites. FIND THE BEST RATES HERE
JW Marriot Guanacaste Resort & Spa
For the best family resort that has all of the activities and beach access, look no further. FIND THE BEST RATES HERE
Casa Chameleon Hotel at Las Catalinas
Not directly in Tamarindo, but just north is Casa Chameleon. It’s a luxury, adults-only boutique hotel that overlooks the ocean. FIND THE BEST RATES HERE
When it comes to booking a private rental, look no further than Airbnb:
Where to Eat in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
You’ll find that you can enjoy a lot of your meals right at your own hotel if you’re located in Papagayo Peninsula, hence the recommendations. If you venture out or located in Tamarindo, there are several options from casual to fine dining. My suggestion is to always call ahead to be sure whether or not a reservation is mandatory for hotel restaurants.
Chao Pescao at Andaz Costa Rica: A lively tapas bar, that serves local cuisine with a twist and fresh cocktails. Be sure to try the house drink and order the chicken arepas.
Ostra Restaurant at Andaz Costa Rica: This is where elevated cuisine meets Costa Rican flare. Try the ceviche, indulge in one of the entrees, and save room for dessert!
Rio Bhongo at Andaz Costa Rica: A casual restaurant with a wide variety of options, like tacos, salads, and sandwiches.
Lola’s at Playa Avellana: If you take a drive down the coast, be sure to plan your day around this happening spot on the beach. Try their tacos with freshly made tortillas.
La Bodega in Tamarindo: A great local spot for cheap fare and coffee. You can get food to go here as well.
Seasons by Schlomy in Tamarindo: A restaurant with international food famed for the chef.
Bamboo Sushi Club in Tamarindo: The fish has never been fresher, and this is the place to eat the local catch. Their sushi is really popular amongst the locals and ex-pats who live here.
Surf Shack in Tamarindo: Come here for a casual bite for burgers & wings. The atmosphere is really laidback for the region.
Sprout in Tamarindo: A healthy, hidden gem that serves a great breakfast.
What to Do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Experience Santa Rosa National Park
One of the most amazing parks and nature reserves, the Santa Rosa National Park is home to several experiences from beaches to natural forest growth. You can explore mangrove swamps, oak forests, marshlands, serene beaches. You can self-tour or hire a local guide to bring you through the highlights of Santa Rosa.
Go Birdwatching in Palo Verde National Park
One of the densest areas for local birds is in Palo Verde. There are over 280 species of birds here, so you will not be surprised to see species like the scarlet macaw and caracaras. There are a lot of attractions here at Palo Verde, some of the top ones include Sendero La Roca which is a trail that takes you to a lookout over Palo Verde’s lake.
For those looking to be more adventurous, you may enjoy hiking Sendero El Guaycayán or Cerros Calizos. Another popular thing to do in Palo Verde is a boat tour to Isla Pájaros to spot the largest colony of black-crowned night heron.
Adventure in Tenorio Volcano National Park + Rio Celeste Waterfall
For those looking to chase a beautiful waterfall, you’ll want to head to Tenorio Volcano National Park. Home to Celeste Waterfall, known for its turquoise color, brings in tons of visitors who are looking to marvel at it. Be prepared for a two-hour hike each way, it is a strenuous activity to do but well worth the effort.
Another option for a great waterfall is at La Fortuna.
Have an Epic Beach Day at Lola’s + Playa Avellena
This happening beach club is the spot to come watch the surf, have a few drinks, and kick back on a beautiful beach. Their onsite restaurant also means you don’t have to leave for food. I spent an entire day here on my trip relaxing on the powdery sand, sunbathing, and dipping into the ocean. I loved that we could enjoy the food right there and there were fresh coconuts for sale on the beach.
Go Beach Hopping With a Rental Car
One of the best activities I did while visiting Guanacaste was hopping from one beach to the next on the day we rented a car. We visited a few different beaches like Playa Flamingo, Playa Avellanas, and Playa Conchal. They are all quite easily accessible and some have amenities vs others are more remote.
Visit Rincon de la Vieja National Park
If you’re looking to get a view or experience of the local volcanoes in this part of Costa Rica, then consider visiting Rincon de la Vieja. It is home to the famous Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and other active geothermal sites in the area. In this national park, it is possible to see hot springs, mud pots, geysers, and more.
When you enter the park, there is a great trail that is almost two miles long called Las Pailas Loop and you can see some geothermal activity. Alternatively, you could hike the summit but be prepared for a strenuous full-day hike.
Explore the Beach Town of Tamarindo + Surfing
One of the coolest beach towns in Costa Rica is in the province of Guanacaste, called Tamarindo. It’s a very laidback destination with plenty of shopping, beach hotels, and surfing.
It makes for a great day trip if you’re at a resort and are looking to go somewhere for the day. Take a look at the recommended restaurants above as well for your time there.
Get Out on The Ocean
With premier access to the Pacific Ocean, there are a few ways to experience it. Some of the most popular are scuba diving, paddle boarding, and snorkeling. I would highly recommend having your hotel help you find a reliable guided tour to do so.
The amount of sea life here is incredible and you won’t be disappointed however you choose to experience it. One other epic activity to consider is a sunset catamaran tour. It’s a popular activity at the resorts in the Papagayo Peninsula.
Go Whitewater Rafting on the Tenorio River
If you’re looking for a real boost of adrenaline, you can certainly go whitewater rafting on the Tenorio River. Along the way, you’ll see lush scenery and pass by wildlife. You will want to book with a reputable company for your time and consider safety precautions for this trip. I would advise again for your hotel concierge to help arrange this kind of tour.