Guanacaste Province may be the most popular Western Hemisphere destination you’ve never heard of. Located in what many consider to be Costa Rica’s most scenic region, Guanacaste spans a pastoral landscape between nearly untouched Pacific shorelines and towering, volcano-studded mountain ranges. From the provincial capital of Liberia, visitors have easy access to national parks, wildlife reserves, volcano tours, and all manner of outdoor recreation in spectacular settings.
For thousands of years, the Chorotega and other indigenous peoples have called the Guanacaste region home. Roughly translated as “people surrounded by enemies,” the agriculturally focused Chorotegan society thrived despite constant low-level conflict with its neighbors—until the arrival of Spanish conquistadores in 1523, which ultimately wiped them out. Today, reminders of Chorotegan heritage are found everywhere, and tens of thousands of their direct descendants still call the region home.
Guanacaste Province itself gets its name from the guanacaste tree, a huge flowering tree that somewhat resembles the fabled baobab from a distance but grows more and more fernlike as one approaches. In Costa Rica’s sultry western reaches, guanacastes are treasured because of the ample shade they provide. Once your short flight touches down at Liberia’s Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport, you’ll most likely want to find a guanacaste tree of your own and enjoy a sweet siesta in its shade.
The vast majority of visitors to Guanacaste find lodging in Liberia and make day excursions from there. Known as the “White City” due to its wide, white-gravel avenues and whitewashed colonial homes, Liberia features lodging choices that range from spartan to splendid. The Hilton Garden Inn Liberia Airport consistently ranks at the top for convenience and amenities, which include everything you’d expect in a modern hotel. All-inclusive fans flock to Hotel Riu Palace Costa Rica in the nearby beach town of Sardinal, while travelers looking for more local color find it at the rustic Hotel Cabanas La Teca—or one of any number of inexpensive hostels in and around the city.
Guanacaste Province is really all about experiencing nature, and they have an impressive system of national parks to prove it. Visitors to Rincon de la Vieja National Park can peer into the active crater of its crowning volcano, then marvel at the surrounding landscape of mud pots, hot springs, geysers, and fumaroles. The main attraction at Tenorio Volcano National Park is the azure cascade of Rio Celeste Waterfall, where the concentration of volcanic minerals gives the tumbling water an otherworldly glow. Finally, Palo Verde National Park is a prime location for wildlife and bird-watching along the banks of the Tempisque River.
Dining in Guanacaste provides ample opportunity to savor locally sourced ingredients and regional specialties. One of Liberia’s most popular lunch spots, Los Comales is a cooperative venture organized by a group of local women. Popular choices include freshly squeezed juices and Guanacaste’s signature dish, Arroz de Mais (a heaping portion of rice studded with chicken and corn). After lunch, wander the streets and consider the many local coffee shops—like Café Liberia, where guests linger and listen to music in the shade of mango trees.
Beachcombers can find unlimited relaxation and untracked sand in a variety of colors, including white (Tamarindo Beach), grey (Hermosa Beach), pink (Flamingo Beach), and brown (Matapalo Beach). Try a beachfront horseback ride for a commanding view that also keeps your feet dry. When you’re done, find total-body relaxation with a plunge into Tabacón Hot Springs near Arenal Volcano. This eco-friendly, carbon-neutral resort features a swim-up bar so you can feel good while doing good for the planet.
Grab a souvenir
Shoppers will find plenty to like in Liberia, but the lack of a central marketplace district makes finding souvenirs something of a scavenger hunt. Consider joining one of many cultural and shopping walking tours of the city, which combine in-depth discussion of Liberia’s many colonial-style residences with locals-only knowledge of the best tucked-away retail possibilities.