Every blog or website seems to have a different name for this area of Costa Rica, it can be called Guanacaste, the North Pacific Coast, Pacific Northwest of Costa Rica, Costa Rica’s Gold Coast or the Golden Coast of Costa Rica. But I just call it home.
Below are travel tips for the coastline from Tamarindo to Playa Danta. I chose just this specific area because it is home to the the most well-known coastal tourist destinations in Guanacaste. It’s also the coastal area from where the paved road starts to where the paved road ends.
Things to Do:
Guanacaste is known for it’s surfing because it has a variety of waves for beginners, intermediate and advanced surfers. I recommend getting a guide or a surf instructor, even if you aren’t a beginner surfer because they can tell you the best places and more importantly, best times to surf, while avoiding crowds or potential dangers. Even if you haven’t tried surfing, if you are physically able to, I encourage everyone to try it. I’m not a die-hard surfer, but I’m glad that I’ve surfed.
Tamarindo Surf Experience is my favorite outfit and the only ones that I will personally recommend. They have taught my entire family and some friends to surf. They are great with both children and adults and will also take photos if you like. But if for some reason you don’t use TSE, be sure to ask around and get a recommended instructor. Don’t just go with any guy on the beach asking you if you want to surf because there’s a chance you might get hurt, but more likely you’ll just have a bad or frustrating experience.
Frijoles Locos – great shop and place to rent gear in Playa Grande.
If you have enough time in the area, you will want to book a day trip or overnight to Hacienda Guachipelin or Borinquen. They offer adventure options such as horseback riding, waterfalls, zip-lining, canyoning, hot springs, etc. I would say that Hacienca Guachipillin is a little more adventurous with more things to do, and Borenquen is more laid back, but both are good fun.
If you have a big group that wants to snorkel or sail, you’ll want to rent out the Marlin Del Ray catamaran. I believe they have several boats. They serve lunch and drinks and it’s a good way to go snorkeling and see the coast. Serendipity is a smaller outfit for smaller groups, but they serve lunch and can also take you snorkeling or just sailing the coast.
Monkey Park is a small local zoo. The tour guide is amazing because she is enthusiastic about the animals she cares for and she took the time to take us around the whole property and tell us about every single animal. I would recommend going in the morning because we went in the afternoon and it was a million degrees with no breeze.
Diamonte Eco Adventure Park – It is more like what you would think of when going to a zoo in other countries. It is clean and well done, but still has a Costa Rican feel. Lunch is served at the top of a hill where you can watch people zipline on the longest ocean view zipline, or you can participate in zip lining. I would recommend getting there early in the day because they have a lot to do in addition to the zoo – a beach, horseback riding, ATV tours, etc. When I went, the age range of our group was 5 to 75 and everyone had an incredible time.
If it is turtle nesting season while you’re in Costa Rica, watching the turtles lay eggs or the eggs hatch is quite magical. I would call the hotels down in Ostional and ask what the turtle status is before booking. It’s usually in the fall and I believe the turtles lay eggs then the eggs hatch, give or take 40 days later. I’m no tortuga expert, so don’t quote me on this, but it’s a unique and wonderful experience if you can catch it. It’s best to go after dark or first thing in the morning, and you will need a local guide. I recommend Hotel Luna Azul or Azul Ocean Club Hotel. Azul Ocean Club Hotel is further away from the turtles, about a 20 minute drive, but it is a really nice micro-resort, right on the beach with story villas and great service. Hotel Luna Azul is the hotel most locals and expats stay in because it is close proximity to the turtles and it’s friendly helpful staff.
This is a lesser known activity, but check out La Senda labyrinth if you have a chance. It’s the world’s biggest labyrinth that takes about an hour to walk. It took 6 years to build and was created with over 4,000 cactus plants. They are usually only open for events or groups, but in high season you can book individual reservations. They also have horseback riding and canopy tours and brunch or lunch if you plan a group event. Many people go for the pulsing heart of energy that awakens inspiration and spiritual self discovery. But also many people also go because it’s good exercise and good food.
There is also the Guaitil Pottery Tour, which is interesting, but unless you’re an avid potter or deeply interested in pottery, I would recommend it only after you’ve done all of the above or if you happen to be passing it on your way somewhere else. You might spend more time driving to/from this place than you would spend there.
Liberia airport (LIR) is a little over an hour drive from this area. The San Jose airport (SJO) is 4 hours away if there is no traffic. If you fly into San Jose, I don’t recommend doing the drive at night. I actually recommend leaving plenty of time in case the 4 hour drive actually takes 6 or 7. And double-check if you’re flying into San Jose, and don’t accidentally book flights into San Jose, California. (This actually happens a lot.)
Recommended hotels in the area:
In no particular order.
Las Catalinas – Picturesque beachside community with inspiring condos and houses to rent in a remote location. You drive until the paved road ends and you’re at Las Catalinas. I believe it started as just a vacation or second home location, but they are building it out and have added a spa and little stores, and may have a hotel in the works.
Great place to paddleboard and hike. The paddleboards you can rent at Pura Vida ride are pricier than Tamarindo, but they are much nicer and fewer people are in the water here. Great place to go hiking. Also just an all around great place to spend the day. If you rent equipment or buy food at the coffee shop or restaurant, they are okay with you being here, even if you aren’t staying overnight.
Casa Chameleon – Up the hill from Las Catalinas. Stunning small boutique hotel that is romantic and on an amazing piece of land. You have a 360 degree view there. It’s on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Each room is an individual villa with it’s own little pool. Because of the surround breath-taking views, everyone that works at Casa Chameleon is zen and pura vida. They have an amazing yoga class on Friday mornings that is phenomenal, and I believe they have a yoga class starting on Wednesdays as well.
Reserva Conchal – Large resort with multiple accommodation options, condos, houses and 2 hotels. You can rent condos and should have access to all the amenities – golfing, hiking trails, spa, beach club, pools, beach, fitness center, etc.
Los Altos de Eros – They rock the remote zen Tico vibe. If you want to be off the grid, it’s a great place to go and slow down. It is situated on a densely green piece of land at the top of a hill. They have an amazing spa with a view of the jungle and ocean in the distance across the rolling hills. Good food there, and they are extremely hospitable… unless you bring children. No children are allowed. It’s a very peaceful location and I highly recommend it if you want a remote jungle location. Also a great place to go for a spa day.
Brand new W Hotel is here and it’s phenomenal. I haven’t stayed there yet, but it’s a happy place. I toured the hotel. The rooms are modern, playful and fun with spectacular ocean views. And the W has scored an amazing staff that is a mix of friendly locals and expats from all over the world. It is a hip modern hotel but also had a kid’s club, so it caters to people traveling with and without children, or more importantly parents who want to travel with kids, but not stay at a kid’s hotel. It is inside Reserva Conchal, so I assume you would have access to all the aminities.
JW Marriott – Hacienda Pinilla – excellent for families and/or avid surfers. Little Hawaii surf break is right near the Hacienda Pinilla beach club. Lots of land on the property and other beaches within their gates that you can surf if the conditions are right. Once you drive onto the property, it is probably another 10-15 minutes to the beach club or JW Marriott. Has a great Hacienda feel – open fields, etc. Food here is fine, but nothing noteworthy.
Bahia Del Sol – This hotel has great yoga every morning at 8:30 and good breakfasts. Next to the Sailing Center, the hotel is right on the beach, and you can lounge in really green grace and watch the waves crash. Walking distance to a new brewery and bakery and a few restaurants and pubs. Insider Tip: They have traditional rooms, which are nice. But they also have added new modern rooms that are really nice and large, so when you book, if that’s your preference, ask for this room. If you decide to stay at a different hotel, you can go here and pay for yoga and eat in the restaurant.
Cala Luna in Tamarindo – staff is amazing. Jungle feel. Good food. Has a remote jungle vibe even though it’s right on the coast in the middle of Langosta Beach, on the outskirts of Tamarindo. The walkway between rooms is lush and it reminds me a lot of Le Cameleon in Puerto Viejo. Since they haven’t cut down trees, you can hear and see a lot of monkeys at Cala Luna.
I know there are a lot of other great hotels in the area, but if I were coming here to visit, these are the places that I would want to check out first. If you are unfamiliar with the area and renting an AirBnB, I would recommend only renting in a gated community or in Tamarindo.
Gracia – Gracias is Spanish for grace or gratitude. High up on a hill in Mar Vista with an amazing view of the ocean over the trees and spectacular sunsets, you feel the gracia here. A festive family friendly place with lots of wood decor and warm friendly people. For children, they have a play area, a small low zipline and a pool. Not a giant menu, but what they do, they do well. Since it is in a gated neighborhood, you have to tell the guard gate that you are going to the restaurant. Open for lunch and dinner. Closed Mondays.
Sendito Norte – Restaurant at Casa Chameleon hotel. Food is good any time of the day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner, it is all good. I prefer the menu items for breakfast and lunch, but every meal is great. Sunset is a spectacular performance. They hit a gong when the sun sets and light the pool on fire while you enjoy an almost 360 degree view of the Pacific Ocean and Mountains. Open air location, but seems to always have a breeze because of it’s high coastal location. If you drive to Sendito Norte, there are only a few parking spots on the road so you will most likely have to valet park. Also, at night you will definitely want a designated driver if you are unfamiliar with the pot-hole laced winding mountain-ish road.
Coco Loco’s – Right on the beach in Playa Flamingo. A must. Great place to watch sunsets and if you have children let the run around on the beach. Closed during off season in October, so call before you go.
Deli Cafe – Coffee, bakery, limited menu with mostly sweets, but everything they have is great and the owner and her staff are very hospitable. They have wifi and air conditioning.
Tamarindo Coffee Company – Great place to grab a coffee or bag of freshly roasted coffee.
Shaka – Next door to Tamarindo Coffee Company and has an exceptional veggie burger. It’s a tiny place, 3 tables inside, 2 tables outside.
Merkadito – Outdoor dining courtyard in Tamarindo, just opened last year, and all the restaurants here are very good. And they have a landlocked boat that sells drinks. It is like an outdoor tropical food court, with tables in the middle and everyone can get food from different restaurants. There is a small playground for younger children.
SurBox – Breakfast, lunch and now dinner. Reliably good. Small cafe across from a cow field run by two Canadians. It is positively embarrassing how many meals a week I eat here. Food and service are always consistent and good.
La Reina in Villa Real – Tiny cafe, a dive, but great Venezuelan food. A whole in the wall, but tasty arepas and fresh juices like passionfruit. Good for lunch, but I believe they are also open for breakfast and dinner. Has air conditioning.
Lemonada at Las Catalinas – Honors traditional plates with fresh local options like patacones, ceviche and fresh lemonades, but also has hamburgers, fish and tapas. Right on beach, under trees, great for lunch because it is shaded with a breeze. Has swings and a play area for children. Good fresh juices and mixed drinks.
Angelina’s – yummy pizza, only open for dinner. Open-air dining with friendly staff, but no view.
Hidden Cafe – Lunch only, open 12 to 5, usually. As it’s name suggests, it is hidden. It’s on the 2nd floor a shopping center called Paseo Del Mar between Huacas and Reserva Conchal. They have fun indoor swings and a small play area for children. It just opened so it still has that clean new restaurant feel.
Papaya’s – Restaurant in hotel Conchal in Brasalito. Great for dinner. In high season they have live music on the weekends, and in low season they don’t and it is quiet and uncrowded and peaceful. I enjoy it both times of year. They have enthusiastic hosts and impressive specials.
La Locanda – Local pizza in a shopping center. Pizza is very good, however in full disclosure, I don’t recommend eating here during rainy season because it gets buggy. They have an enclosed area, that would, in theory, would allow them to close the doors, but every time I go they still have all the doors open. But they made the list because they make a solid pizza.
Forketta – A fun place in Potrero to grab dinner. Open air place right on the side of the road with good pizzas, pastas and communal tables. It’s right next to Perlas, which is better known for it’s drinks than it’s food.
Beach House – Colorful little house right on the beach. Open for lunch and dinner. All outdoor or open-air dining. Food is consistent and reliable. They have seafood, sandwiches, curry, etc. I’ve been told you can catch your own fish and take it to them and they will prepare it for you, but I haven’t done that yet.
Pots and Bowls – Healthy breakfast and/or lunch. Small place, but friendly staff and good food, such as avocado toast, juices and coffee.
RipJack Inn – I believe serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. May close or alter it’s hours during slow season. Near the beach, but you can’t see the beach from the restaurant. Even though it’s a hotel a lot of locals eat here.
Green Papaya – In Tamarindo. A cool place with healthy options and has swinging chairs at their tables outside. Has air conditioning inside.
Pangas – The place to watch the sunset in Tamarindo. Call before you go because Pangas is often closed for events and also requires a reservation during busy season. Pangas is right on beach near estuary in Tamarindo. Has fresh food with a local flare. Sunsets are amazing here. Do not swim in the estuary. There are cocodrilos – crocodiles.
La Princesa Cafe – It is literally just a counter, but it is the best bagels in Guanacaste. They also have good breads and sandwiches. But the bagels are what I go for.
Nordico Coffee House – In Tamarindo. Best coffee place in Tama. Has wifi and sometimes even air conditioning.
Tamarindo Juice Cafe – Great place for fresh juices and take-away healthy bites.
Pico – Breakfast/lunch. Great place to grab a coffee and watch surfers in Tamarindo. Small modern restaurant right on the beach.
Many restaurants and stores change their hours or are closed completely in October and beginning of November for low season.
Sometimes hotels and tours have special rates on their websites, if they have a website, so check there before you book online.
Most restaurants already include a 10% tip on the bill, and if you chose to leave an additional tip, they prefer you do that in cash, either US dollars or colones.
Restaurants will never bring you the bill at the end of a meal, so you always have to ask for it, “la cuenta, por favor.”
Everywhere accepts US dollars, but you will usually get change in Costa Rican colones.
Don’t leave anything on any beach, or it will get stolen – flip-flops, water bottle, etc. It doesn’t even have to be something you consider a valuable. It is valuable to someone.
Most people in this part of Guanacaste speak English, but they still appreciate tourists trying to speak Spanish to them.
There is a relaxed excitement to Guanacaste. People are rarely in a rush and there aren’t a lot of traditional touristy things to do such as museums, shopping, waterparks or themeparks. So in Guanacaste, actually get to enjoy the little moments here, like when an iguana walks under your table at a restaurant, or a bird lands on your head, or when you watch a mama monkey carrying her baby or you get stopped because a parade of pizotes are crossing in front of your car. Or when you catch the perfect wave or see sea turtles mating from a paddle board. If you’re looking for a big grande vacation, Guanacaste isn’t your place, but if you’re looking for an enchanting place with a little bit of magic, then you’re coming to the right place.