Guanacaste and Northwest
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Things to do in Guanacaste and Northwest

Things to do in  Guanacaste and Northwest

Welcome to Guanacaste and Northwest

In Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province, 400 miles (644 kilometers) of Pacific coastline vie for attention with tropical dry forests, undisturbed rural towns, and volcano-fueled hot springs. The country’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua (which you can easily visit on a day trip), lost control of this territory in the 19th century, although a distinctly Nicaraguan culture lingers. Sites are spread out, so tours can help sure you easily navigate between the places you most want to see. Inland, the region is noted for Rincon de la Vieja National Park, which offers hiking through a tropical dry forest, swimming beneath waterfalls, and soaking in mineral hot springs and mud baths. Summiting the Rincon de la Vieja volcano is every bit as exciting as the more popular Arenal volcano in Alajuela Province, but it’s less crowded and only a day trip from the beach. Additional nature parks dotting the region offer horseback riding; ziplining canopy tours; and opportunities to view sloths, howler monkeys, and lizards that call the forests home. On the coast, find your bliss surfing the swells of Tamarindo or Hermosa beach or soaking up sun rays on the shore. Snorkel among tropical fish at Playa Conchal, take a catamaran cruise out on the open water, or kayak through mangrove forests—all easily accessible from Liberia’s airport.

Top 15 attractions in Guanacaste and Northwest

Tamarindo Beach

Once the site of a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo Beach has become one of Costa Rica's most popular stretches of golden sand. Surfers travel from across the globe to ride Tamarindo's waves, but you don’t need to be a pro to hang 10 here. There are spots nearby that are calm enough for first-time wave riders to learn.More

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is the ultimate “one-stop shop” for Costa Rica’s natural attractions. Expect fuming volcanoes, gushing waterfalls, sky-high ziplines, natural hot springs, and more—all within just a couple of hours of the popular Guanacaste coast.More

Llano de Cortés Waterfall

Llano de Cortés is one of Costa Rica’s most scenic waterfalls, just a short drive from Liberia, which is more commonly the jumping off point to the Pacific beaches than jungle swimming holes. The waterfall is about 40 feet tall and 50 feet wide, creating a gorgeous veil of white water streaming over the rocks. Adventurous visitors can climb behind the falls to sit on the rocks looking outward through the veil, and the warm pool is perfect for wading, swimming and standing under the cascade of water.More

Rio Negro Hot Springs

Nestled in the lush interior of Rincon de la Vieja National Park, these rustic hot springs are fed by a naturally heated river that flows from a nearby volcanic peak. Slather on the mineral-rich mud, and then soak it off in a variety of steam pools, all while surrounded by the untamed Costa Rican rain forest.More

Baldi Hot Springs

Located in the shadow of active Arenal Volcano and surrounded by a lush jungle landscape, Baldi Hot Springs is one of the largest hot springs resorts in the world. Visitors can choose from 25 different thermal pools, plus pampering spa treatments, swim-up bars, and Costa Rican cuisine for a complete day of relaxation.More

Palo Verde National Park

Set on the banks of the Tempisque River, Palo Verde National Park (Parque Nacional Palo Verde) contains more than 15 topographical zones, including mangrove swamps, evergreen forests, and tropical dry forests. The park is a haven for migratory birds, bats, and 250 species of bees, plus mammals like jaguarundis (cat) and howler monkeys.More

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

Situated atop the Continental Divide, this high-altitude forest is literally shrouded in clouds. Wisps of fog trail through the lofty canopy, creating the perfect environment for thousands of animal and plant species. Here you can find wild orchids, colorful birds, and sinuous jungle cats—plus scenic mountaintop vistas.More

Dino Park Blue River

Travel back to a time when dinosaurs roamed the earth at Costa Rica’s one-of-a-kind amusement park, where animatronic dinosaurs inhabit the leafy jungle. Moving, life-size replicas of the giant creatures are a hit with kids and the young at heart, while a nearby hot springs resort offers a way to relax after your prehistoric adventure.More

Diamante Eco Adventure Park

A one-stop shop for adventurers of all ages looking to get their adrenaline fix, Diamante Eco Adventure Park features one of Costa Rica’s longest zipline courses. If that’s not quite your thing, choose from an abundance of other activities, including all-terrain vehicle excursions, horseback riding, and water sports—or just marvel at the sweeping ocean views.More

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Mixto Caño Negro)

Home to more than 200 speices of rare bird, Caño Negro is one of the most biologically rich wetlands in the world. Many mammals and reptiles can also be spotted around the freshwater lagoon, making it one of Costa Rica's best wildlife-watching destinations.More

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens

Tucked away in the mountains, the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens is one of the most popular attractions in the area. The 3-acre (1.2-hectare) sanctuary houses four unique climate-controlled habitats where more than 30 species of butterflies thrive alongside 20 species of arachnids and insects and a colony of leaf-cutter ants.More

Miravalles Volcano

Towering above Costa Rica’s northwestern plains, Miravalles Volcano is the highest peak in the Guanacaste province. The dormant peak’s microclimate makes it one of the best birdwatching spots in Costa Rica, while its refreshingly cool air offers respite from the tropical humidity of the nearby beaches.More
Vida Aventura Nature Park

Vida Aventura Nature Park

Situated in the heart of the Guanacaste area adjacent to the Rincon de La Vieja National Park, Vida Aventura Nature Park offers the perfect mix of adventure and nature. Allot a whole day here to zip line, ride a horse and then wind down in the hot springs.Vida Aventura Nature Park features El Gavilan, a zip line and canopy experience that ensures a full rush of adrenaline. As you zip through the air, take in the views of ancient lava canyons and the Rincon de la Vieja and Miravalles volcanoes. Explore the biodiverse Costa Rican jungle while helping to support conservation efforts—a win-win situation. There are also nature trails all over Vida Aventura that are great for families and those looking to spot some wildlife.Visitors can hop on a horse to learn how to drive cattle Guanasten style and to see the tropical dry forest area of the nature park, all before taking advantage of the site's thermal pools. Unwind and relax with a volcanic mud treatment, or stay active by checking out El Resbalon, the nature park’s water slide.More
Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo)

Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo)

Palm-lined, grey-sand Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo) enjoys the kind of wild beauty that characterizes Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast. Largely off the beaten beach path, this long flat beach has long attracted the surfer crowd with its strong riptides and two river mouth breaks. A couple sleepy hotels and beach bungalows offer surf-side accommodations, but walk a few minutes in either direction, and you’ll likely have the beach completely to yourself.While Playa Matapalo’s strong currents and big waves mean it isn’t ideal for swimming, it is a wonderful beach for secluded sunbathing or for catching a sunset over the Pacific.More
Las Pumas Rescue Center

Las Pumas Rescue Center

Las Pumas Rescue Center is located in the Guanacaste area near Cañas and serves to rescue, rehabilitate and ensure good conditions for wildlife in Costa Rica. The rescue center primarily caters to larger cats, but there are a number of local species that have benefited from the services at Las Pumas. In addition to the large cats, monkeys, deer and even parrots have been treated here, as well as two toucans that were rescued in 2007 after two men were caught trying to sell them.The center was established in the midst of deforestation in the 1960s to promote wildlife rehabilitation and conversation efforts. The site fights against hunting, deforestation and poaching of wild animals in Guanacaste by taking in animals that have been removed from their natural habitat, seized by authorities or even brought in by concerned citizens.It’s important to note that Las Pumas Rescue Center is not a zoo. Animals are rehabilitated with a goal of returning them to the wild; however, that isn't always feasible. Animals unfit to be released are continually cared for.More

Top activities in Guanacaste and Northwest

Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall Tour
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Blue Dolphin Sailing Adventure

Blue Dolphin Sailing Adventure

Full Day Nicaragua Tour from Costa Rica
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Sunset Catamaran in Playa Flamingo
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Diamante Eco Adventure Park Day Pass with Lunch
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Tamarindo Estuary Boat Safari
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Tamarindo Estuary Boat Safari

Operators have paid Viator more to have their experiences featured here

Recent reviews from experiences in Guanacaste and Northwest

Incredible day trip!
Alesha_L, Feb. 2023
Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall Tour
If you are staying in the Guanacaste province, this will give you an opportunity to see a greener, lush part of Costa Rica.
Amazing ! <3
Naomi_S, Oct. 2022
Volcano Hike, Waterfall Swim & Hot Springs Combo on Rincon de la Vieja
After that we went to see the waterfall and omg it was so perfect !
Great experience!
Joe_W, Sep. 2022
Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall Tour
It was such a fun way to see different parts of the rainforest.
Rema_V, Aug. 2022
Zipline and Hanging Bridges Combo Tour in Monteverde Cloud Forest
We were a group of 11 with kids and everyone had a blast!
Great excursion..: long day
Alexandra_G, Dec. 2021
Arenal Volcano and Hot Springs Day Trip from Guanacaste
Hot springs were nice at a hotel.
Atv tour first time
Destiny_S, Apr. 2022
ATV Tour Real Adventure Through Tropical Forest & Beach
Would definitely recommend if you’re looking to see the more local side of Guanacaste.
Mega Combo Tour in Guanacaste
Leanne_L, Mar. 2022
Mega Combo tour: Tubing,Canopy & Hot Spring from Playa Flamingo
Carlos was great and even stopped on the way to our activities to get coffee and snacks.
Miller makes the experience special
Perry_M, Feb. 2022
Beach-mountain & Sloth Refuge Buggy Tour
Very beautiful to see un-developed beach.
The Hot Girl Tribe takes Costa Rica!
Najah_V, Oct. 2021
Papagayo Gulf Private Sunset Boat Tour
We got to see dolphins, stingrays, and turtles.
Perfect service!
Mia_J, Jun. 2021
Transportation and Shuttles To W CR Reserva Conchal
I apologize that the driver’s name has escaped me but he was easy to find as soon as we walked out of the airport (holding a sign with my name), spoke very good English and provided the perfect tour of Liberia, Guanacaste and every area in between as made the trip to the hotel.
Amazing combo trip!
Danielle, Mar. 2020
Guachipelin Adventure Volcano Zipline Horseback River Tubing Combo
At first we were a bit confused about the order of the activities, but the tour guide ended up being a fantastic guide and made the experience unforgettable for us.
A Perfect Day Excursion
bk23232019, Nov. 2019
Llanos del Cortez Waterfall and Coffee Tour from Guanacaste
While staying in Tamarindo, we were looking to fill a couple days with fun activities.
Amazing Views & Great Ziplining Tour guides
Nytasha_G, Jul. 2019
Amazing Mega Zipline (25 lines) over 11 Waterfalls
We were able to see more of Costa Rica on our drive to/from Adventure Park.
Great Experience!
Jason_D, Jun. 2018
Diamante Eco Adventure Park Day Pass with Lunch
Started with the animal sanctuary and it was pretty cool to see all the animals that live in Costa Rica.
This tour was the highlight of my...
cboria2199, Jul. 2017
Zipline Horseback and Thermal Pools at Vida Aventura Ranch
The horse I had went crazy, and I winded up falling off of the horse, but I broke my fall by falling on the side of my body.
I would recommend this day adventure...
Janell G, Mar. 2018
Guachipelin Zipline, River Tubing, Horseback Ride, Hot springs & Lunch Combo
I would recommend this day adventure for any family with kids over 8 yrs.
Miller is outstanding on this tour...
Woodrow T, Nov. 2017
Beach-mountain & Sloth Refuge Buggy Tour
Miller focuses on getting you to see the best beaches I have ever seen in my Life.
This was an incredible tour. Our...
Lenore Caston M, Dec. 2017
Guachipelin Adventure Volcano Zipline Horseback River Tubing Combo
Lunch was really good, and the hot springs soak at the end was exactly what we needed to undo all of the adventuring of the day.
It was an excellent well organized...
Michelle H, Jun. 2015
9-Day Best of Northwest Costa Rica from San Jose: Arenal Volcano National Park, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Guanacaste
Some of the activities were strenuous, and they ensured she was safe every step of the way.
I had a fabulous tour
Jane W, Sep. 2014
Zipline Horseback and Thermal Pools at Vida Aventura Ranch
It was a beautiful day and we also enjoyed the horseback riding, mud bath and hot springs.
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All about Guanacaste and Northwest

When to visit

Guanacaste is best visited in the dry season, which runs roughly from December through the middle of May. This is also the most popular time to visit, so expect to pay a premium on lodging. The early months of the rainy season offer good value for money (especially as most rainfall occurs in the afternoon). However, hiking trails in the region can get muddy in the rainy months.

Getting around

The best way to get around Guanacaste and the Northwest is to rent a car or hire the services of a taxi driver. If you’re on a strict budget, you might want to stick to taking the local bus. If you plan on taking a day trip to nearby Nicaragua, you’re best off joining a guided tour, as most rental companies don’t want you taking their vehicles across the border.

Traveler tips

At first glance, El Callejero Food Truck—with its garage door entryway and location next to a car battery store—looks more like an auto repair shop than one of the best burger spots in Liberia. Looks can be deceiving, and inside you’ll find wooden picnic tables carefully arranged along manicured, pebble-lined pathways and oversized fairy lights suspended from a canopy of trees overhead.

People Also Ask

What is Guanacaste, Costa Rica, known for?

Tropical forests meet beautiful beaches in Guanacaste, a Costa Rican province famed for its biodiversity and natural beauty. Its expansive grasslands lie between volcanoes and the sea, and conservation areas such as Palo Verde National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve provide essential habitats for birds, butterflies, and sloths.

What is there to do in northwestern Costa Rica?

Most visitors go to northwestern Costa Rica for its spectacular natural beauty, whether they’re lounging on Papagayo beaches, paddling into Tamarindo surf breaks, or hiking the Monteverde cloud forest. Birdwatching, hiking, and wildlife tours are top activities, as is horseback riding through national parks such as Rincón de la Vieja and Santa Rosa.

How many days do you need in Guanacaste?

A week is enough to get a taste of Guanacaste parks and beaches. First spend several days inland, spotting birds and wildlife in a conservation area such as Rincón de la Vieja or Santa Rosa National Park. Next, head to the coast for some well-earned sun and sand.

What sorts of tourist activities are popular in Guanacaste?

Guanacaste tourist activities are all about the natural world. It is one of Costa Rica’s top destinations for walking and horseback riding, and many travelers seek out birds, butterflies, and wildlife including sloths. On the scenic Pacific coast, beaches are for swimming, surfing, and watching yearly sea turtle hatches.

What is the number one tourist attraction in Guanacaste?

Tamarindo Beach is Guanacaste’s top tourist attraction and is among Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. This laid-back surf town has an energetic party scene, but the shoreline itself is the real draw. Here, golden sand lights up at sunset, and surfers make the most of rolling swells from the Pacific.

Is Guanacaste safe for tourists?

Yes, Guanacaste is considered safe for tourists. While petty crime does occur, the Costa Rican government invests additional security resources in areas where travelers congregate. Since nature is a major draw, it’s essential to follow basic precautions—keep your distance from wildlife, stay on hiking trails, and follow local weather advisories.


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