Guanacaste, Costa Rica: Things to Do & Where to Go

Guanacaste is located along the Pacific Coast in the northwestern area of Costa Rica, where it borders the country of Nicaragua to the north. To the east is the Alajuela Province, and to the southeast is the Puntarenas Province.

Guanacaste is the most sparsely populated of all the provinces in Costa Rica. The province covers an area of 3,915 square miles (10,141 square kilometers) and has a population of about 350,000 people. Originally, Guanacaste was part of the country of Nicaragua, prior to their independence from Spain. The territory was annexed to Costa Rica in 1824-1825.

Map of Guanacaste, Costa RIca

Liberia (Capital of Guanacaste)

The town of Liberia is Guanacaste’s largest town and serves as the regional economic and administrative capital. Due to its close proximity to Pacific beaches and surrounding national parks, Liberia provides an ideal stopover point for visitors who want to fully experience the Guanacaste region.

The Tempisque River flows from north to south and draws nature’s border dividing the coast from mountains spanning Guanacaste’s border. In the mountains of Guanacaste, east of the coast, but visible from the beaches, there is an impressive collection of national parks and volcanoes. These parks and peaks span 70+ miles and include Parque Nacional Rincon de la Vieja, Parque Nacional Guanacaste and Parque Nacional Volcano Tenorio.

Guanacaste Lagoon
Photo courtesy of Mike Baird

Starting at the southern point of the man-made Lake Arenal, the Tilaran Mountains stretch to the Pacific coast in the southeast of the province. The mostly two-lane, but relatively flat Inter-American Highway runs north into the Guanacaste Province. This the main artery of land transportation through Guanacaste, offering quick travel to many of the mountain and coastal destinations of Costa Rica. The secondary roads from the Inter-American explore the tropical dry forest down to the beach and into the mountains and volcanoes.

Tourism in Guancaste

Guanacaste is a perfect destination for travelers visiting Costa Rica. Many travelers come to Costa Rica and don’t ever leave Guanacaste. This popular Costa Rican province receives very little rain and has consistent heat from approximately November through April, the dry season. A wet season typically spans from late May to November.

The pace at which Guanacaste’s tourism industry and the market have grown and developed is significantly faster than any other province and area of the country. Guanacaste is home to Costa Rica’s other major international airport, which is located about 10 minutes west of the center of the town of Liberia and a short 35-minute transfer to some of the closest beach towns. Liberia International Airport is an ever-growing and very popular airport for travelers to use. This is the other primary access point for many travelers visiting Costa Rica. For travelers looking to stay at the beach or focus on a specific water sport, such as surfing, deep-sea fishing or scuba diving, the Liberia International Airport makes the most sense for ease of accessibility.

Guanacaste is known for its amazing beaches

Aside from amazing weather and incredible beaches, this area of the country has some magnificent hotels and resorts. It is the most developed touristic area of the country and has something for everyone. Not only are there beautiful beaches, the best surfing waves in the country and a plethora of great resorts, but there are also a large number of volcanoes and National Parks which attract visitors looking to diversify their visit to Costa Rica and explore other environments. Guanacaste is a virtually self-sufficient tourist destination.

Boats on Hermosa Beach (Guanacaste)
Boats on Hermosa Beach (Guanacaste)

As mentioned, the region is extremely popular for its incredible amount of gorgeous beaches. The beaches are very diverse and offer visitors the ability to see many different compositions and colors of sand and rocks. Including a few isolated exceptions in the northern region, generally speaking, the waves in the southern portion of Guanacaste are some of the best surfing waves in the world.

Photo courtesy of Arturo Sotillo

Most travelers tend to gravitate to the Tamarindo, Cocos, Samara and Conchal beaches. Playa Samara is the home of a lively beach scene while Playas del Coco is a more family-oriented community and a great base for scuba divers. There are numerous high-quality dive shops in and around Playas del Coco. Witches Rock and Ollies Point are two areas located off the uninhabited Santa Rosa Park just north of the Papagayo Peninsula. Many of Guanacaste’s small fishing villages have transformed, almost overnight.

To the south of Cocos there are some fantastic beaches including Cuajiniquil, Ocotal, Pan de Azucar, Potrero, Flamingo, Brasilito, Conchal, Langosta, Avellana, Junquillal, Manzanillo, Ostinal, Nosara amongst many more. Many of these beaches have world-class surfing waves; however, not all of them attract the surfing crowd. Many of these beaches are excellent for swimming, fishing, walking and taking photos. Each beach has its own “personality” and beach hopping is one of the best activities to do!

Planning a Costa Rica Destination Wedding? Guanacaste is also a wonderful place to host a destination wedding. The weather tends to be quite dry and fairly predictable, making it a suitable location for a successful wedding. Note: We can plan your entire destination wedding, so contact us if we can help plan your wedding.

With the large increase in tourism as well as retirees and foreign residents,  Guanacaste has become more “touristy” than other areas of Costa Rica. Many coastal towns now have high-rise hotels and resorts and seen a significant increase in the cost of living. Finding authenticity and the Costa Rican lifestyle can be a challenge in Guanacaste, but there are still numerous places available to visit in the picturesque province if you are seeking a more natural or cultural experience traveling through this province.

Popular Destinations in Guanacaste

Considering a Trip to Guanacaste?

For family vacations, we have a number of itineraries that include time in Guanacaste, including a Rainforest to Beach itinerary, Rainforest Escape itinerary, Remote Adventure itinerary and our Costa Rica Collection itinerary and even a Group/Volunteer itinerary.

For honeymoon vacations, our itineraries that include a visit to Guanacaste include our Tropical Paradise itinerary, Remote Couples Adventure itinerary and Secluded Caribbean itinerary.

For travelers wanting more of an adventure vacation, we offer the Avid Explorer itinerary, Spirit Trekker itinerary and our Tico-Panama itinerary. All of these itineraries include time in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Plan a Trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica

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Still exploring?

Head back to our main Where to Go in Costa Rica guide in order to continue your journey and be sure to fully explore all of Costa Rica’s provinces and destinations. We offer a very detailed guide of every province along with popular destinations within each. It’s a beautiful country. You’re going to love your trip!