Although some people may believe that Guanacaste’s nickname – the “Gold Coast” – refers to the huge amounts of money that are poured into the region’s real estate market, the name in fact is a reference to the dry climate and gorgeous coastline that the region is well known for. Guanacaste boasts a seemingly endless number of beaches, with shorelines that cater to all types of travelers. Ranging from the luxury resorts that surround the Papagayo Gulf to the great diving of Playa del Coco to the surf/party haven of Tamarindo, Guanacaste has it all.
Guanacaste is, however, much more than just beaches. There is ample hiking and ecotourism opportunities found throughout the northwestern province. With trails and beaches in the Santa Rosa National Park, dry forest, waterfalls and hot springs in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, and exceptional bird watching along the floodplain of the Tempisque River in the Palo Verde National Park, there are seriously great ecotourism opportunities in this (relatively) dry area of Costa Rica.
Santa Rosa National Park is home to remote beaches, sea turtle nesting habitat, and several variations of dry forest. As such, it’s a great place to lounge on the beach, camp, surf, or watch wildlife. Located only 25 miles (42 km) north of Liberia along the Inter-American Highway, Santa Rosa is extremely accessible.
Santa Rosa is Costa Rica’s first national park. It was founded, however, not to preserve the land but rather a historic building. This building, La Casona, played an important role in Costa Rica’s push for independence. In 1856, Costa Rican forces made their stand at La Casona in the battle of Santa Rosa, forcing the U.S. civilian and mercenary William Walker and his men to abandon his attempted conquest and flee into Nicaragua. The present-day building is actually a reconstruction of the original and acts as a museum for both the battle and the park. Behind La Casona is a viewing platform and trails to El Indio Desnudo, Aceituno, Los Patos, Carbonal, Naranjo Valley and the Naranjo-Nancite Beaches. On Naranjo Beach, Esero Real and Murcielago there are camping sites with tables, toilets and well water.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park spans six life zones and an impressive mixture of geological features, including a cinder cone volcano and several hot springs. All of this can be explored by walking along the many hiking trails that wind through its boundaries.
A favorite hike of many is to Blue Lake and the La Cangrejo Waterfall. About three miles (5 km) each way, this hike winds through enormous strangler fig trees and several ecotones – areas of transition between different biological communities – on its way to the waterfall. The 100-ft (31-m) waterfall descends into a deep blue pool. Plunge into the pool’s refreshing water and swim over to a smaller, warmer pool that’s heated slightly by the waterfall. After having your fill of the water, grab a towel and relax along the banks as you take in the stunning scenery. An easier trail with some unique natural scenery is the Las Pailas trail. This 1.8-mile (3 km) trail meanders around gurgling mud pots and fumaroles; it’s always a good idea to bring shoes that can get wet while hiking this trail.
The Rincón de La Vieja Volcano is a stratovolcano, which means that it formed from simultaneous volcanic activity that took place at multiple points and eventually fused together to make a single mountain. Rincón de La Vieja is still active, although its last period of high activity ended in 1975. Due to its ongoing activity, however, visitors are not allowed to hike to the summit.
If you’re a bird-watcher or nature lover, the Palo Verde National Park is for you. This patchwork of marshes, grassland, swamps and lagoons is home to some remarkably fertile habitat. Set at the mouth of the Tempisque River, the 32,266-acre (13,058-ha) park is best known for the large numbers of birds that visit it annually. Many of these birds migrate here during the dry season, when less water is found in abundance throughout the rest of the country. There is little vegetation to obstruct views, and as such the birding is quite good. While visiting the Palo Verde National Park you may spot a Green Heron, Three-wattled Bellbird, Turquoise-browed Motmot, Scarlet Macaw, or the Great Curassow, among others.
The area surrounding this park is mostly made up of dry tropical forests. Due to this, the park plays a key role in sustaining the health of many of the region’s plants and animals. Thankfully, the Costa Rican government has recognized its importance and has taken steps in conserving its vital marshes, floodplains, and seasonal pools.
The park is located 19 miles (30 km) from the town of Cañas and some 49 miles (78 km) from Liberia.
The magnificent beaches of Naranjo and Nancite are critical nesting sites for sea turtles, primarily olive ridleys, pacific greens and leatherbacks. In fact, Nancite is the second-most visited beach by olive ridley turtles in the entire Eastern Pacific and there is a biological station onsite to perform research on the turtles.
The Santa Elena Peninsula is one of the driest and oldest parts of the country. It is primarily composed of an outcrop of peridotite (formed in marine beds with high magnesium and nickel content) and is about 875 million years old. At the time of formation, the Santa Elena Peninsula was actually an island in the middle of the ocean—the rest of present-day Costa Rica had not even been formed then.
Bolaños Island, located to the north of the peninsula, is a 266-ft tall (81-m) rock that is especially important for bird conservation. It is one of the few places in Costa Rica where Brown Pelicans, Magnificent Frigatebirds, and American Oystercatchers nest.
The mountainous areas of Arenal and Monteverde are located to the southeast of Liberia. Set within the fertile Central Highlands, these destinations are brimming with rainforests, mountains, and an unbelievable amount of biodiversity. From Liberia, we can arrange for one way or round trip transportation to either the Monteverde Cloud Forest or Volcano Arenal. If there is anywhere else in the country that you’re interested in traveling to, email us to let us know where and we’ll arrange for transportation.