North Pacific: Guanacaste: Beauty Everywhere

The North Pacific region of Costa Rica consists entirely of the Guanacaste Province . Among other marvels, the region offers volcanoes, caves, rivers, cattle ranches and beaches, making it one of the most popular areas for vacationers from all over the world. The sun is the prominent feature of this area, which is full of beauty everywhere the eyes roam.

Summer is present year-round, and the rainy season here is drier than in the rest of the country. The beaches, some filled with vacationers and others quite virgin, await with marked gracefulness, offering the indescribable sensation of white and black sand under the feet, while the clear, warm waters of the Pacific caress your skin.

The North Pacific region has a variety of national parks and beaches for every need, from the relaxing and bohemian Tamarindo, to the luxurious resorts of Carrillo and Hermosa.

Living in the Sun!

Where to begin? Liberia is the capital of the province and, together with Nicoya , is one of the two main cities in this region.

Liberia is a mixture of tradition and modernity. Home to historical buildings, wide streets and sprawling farmland, Liberia also has a range of hotels, malls and services for the tourist. Using Liberia as a departure point, many options are available.

At Santa Rosa National Park you will find two of the region’s most famous beaches: Naranjo Beach, special for surfers and known as Witch’s Rock, and Nancite, where thousands of turtles arrive every year to nest.

Other good beaches to visit are Hermosa, which is famous for its beautiful sunsets; Pan de Azúcar, for quiet and isolated calm; Playas del Coco, best known for its joyful nightlife after the sun sets; and Ocotal, with black shining sands. All these beaches are excellent for snorkeling.

Flamingo, with its big hotels, white sand and clear waters, and Brasilito, a small fishing town near the beach, are important fishing villages. Also, Conchal, one of the most stunning beaches with its turquoise waters and elegantly colored sand formed by millions of tiny shell fragments; Langosta, a must-see for bird and turtles lovers; and Avellanas, a world-class surfing beach.

Nicoya, founded by a Spaniard in 1523, is considered the oldest city in the country. Its name means “with the enemy on both sides.” Once the center of Chorotega indigenous territory, it is full of history and legends. Nicoya’s main church was built in the 16th century and it has a religious museum with historical objects from the colonial period.

Tamarindo Beach is one of the region’s most popular beaches, packed with restaurants, hotels and aquatic activities. Tamarindo is known for its perfect waves, especially for surfers, and its enchanting nightlife. It is everything one would expect of an alluring and youthful beach town.

Separated from Tamarindo by a saltwater estuary (Estero Tamarindo), lies Playa Grande. The Tamarindo estuary is the native mangrove habitat of many species of birds and animals. Boat tours are readily available. Herons, egrets, kingfishers, ibises, alligators, iguanas, howler monkeys and others species will delight nature lovers. Playa Grande is one of the preferred nesting sites for the giant leatherback turtle. This beach is surrounded by dry forest and is a truly paradise for surfers. It forms part of the Marino Las Baulas National Park.

Other nice beaches are Nosara, a good place to observe wildlife; Junquillal, great for those looking for a quiet and serene spot; Sámara and its magnificent coral reef where you can do snorkeling and diving; Ostional, another home for turtles; Negra, one of the best for surfing; and the extraordinary Carrillo, framed by a stylish line of palms. At the beach’s end and up the hill awaits a magnificent panoramic view of the bay.

Following the coast line on a map shows that beaches here are continuous, sometimes separated by just a small piece of land or rocky bluff. It’s easy to visit many of them in a few days and each one has its particular charm.

Lose yourself in nature

Guanacaste is not only about beaches, it is about forests, too, and traveling to the northwest visitors will find the Santa Rosa National Park, Costa Rica’s first national park. The park also has the largest swath of tropical dry forest in Central America.

Created in 1971, it protects important biodiversity and preserves the memory of an historic military battle, fought in 1856. In that year, North American invaders landed in Costa Rica in an attempt to conquer the Central American isthmus. But Costa Rica ‘s citizens came to its rescue, defeating the invaders in the shortest battle in our history, it was over in 14 minutes!

In 2001, the park’s centerpiece, an ancient house that commemorated the battle, was set ablaze by arsonists. But through financial contributions from the Costa Rican people, the classic house was rebuilt as an exact replica and it is now an important historical museum.

Walking along the trails of this dry forest park, visitors can spot animals such as armadillos, ocelots, tapirs and monkeys, as well as diverse vegetation including calabash, hibiscus, bullhorn acacia and wild cherry.

Another important location is the Guanacaste National Park, also located in the northern part of the province. The park was created in 1989 with the objective of preserving rainforests near the volcanoes Cacao and Orosí, both part of the Guanacaste Mountain Range. The park has innumerable refuges and protected areas with nearly 300 species of birds and more than 5,000 species of butterflies.

Another park with hundreds of bird species is the Palo Verde National Park, located between the Bebedero and Tempisque rivers, 19 miles south of Cañas.

Palo Verde is home to several migratory bird species that each year journey from the north in search of food and better weather. The list includes herons, toucans, storks, rose spoonbills, waterfowls, scarlet macaws, egrets and parrots, to name just a few. The park is widely visited by scientists and students because of its importance as a fauna study center.

Located 14 miles northeast of the city of Nicoya and near Palo Verde, is the Barra Honda National Park, created in 1974. This park is unique for its mountainous terrain that hides an intricately large system of caves, another must-see for adrenaline-seekers.

The numerous caves are famous for their beauty, housing stalagmites, stalactites, columns and intriguing, strange formations resembling flowers, popcorn and the well-known teeth of shark. The most attractive and interesting of these galleries are Santa Ana; the Terciopelo (Velvet), which has lots of unusual formations including the Órgano (Organ),which produces diverse sounds when struck gently; and La Trampa (the Trap), which has the deepest precipice, a vertical entrance some 30 meters long. Speleologists and specialists from around the world come to study this magical gift of Mother Nature.

With its abundance of nature and fascinating history, Guanacaste should not to be missed.

Travel Tips

Liberia is one of the main access points to the region’s numerous attractions. The country’s second international airport is located in Liberia, making the province a short flight away. By land, various bus lines run from San José. Also, you can rent a car and take the Bernardo Soto highway.

To reach Nicoya from San José, take the Bernardo Soto highway to the Pan-American Highway. In Limonal de Abangares, turn right and travel about 3 miles. There, cross the Taiwanese Friendship Bridge over the Tempisque River .

The entire province offers a great variety of tourist infrastructure, including five-star services, cabins for backpackers and camping facilities. Outdoor activities, like surfing, kayaking, diving, snorkeling and horseback riding are available to adventurers. Lessons are often available for diverse activities.

The best time to dive and snorkel in Guanacaste is during the rainy season, as the water is clearer.


Next North Pacific: Rincón de la Vieja National Park: A Surrealistic Experience
Costa Rica Travel: Travel Information & Tips

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