Annually, over a million people fly into Costa Rica’s Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) airport. Most of these passengers don’t stick around, they grab a car or shuttle and head to Monteverde or Arenal or Nosara. But before you make plans to blow off Liberia, here are a few things you can see and do in this traditional Costa Rican city.
First off, when you are leaving the Liberia airport, don’t miss the stone ball in the middle of the airport road median right before you get to the stop sign at the main road. This mysterious spherical stone ball was made over 2,000 years ago and was found at the Palmar Sur archeological site near the Térraba River in Puntarenas, Costa Rica. Many spheres or “esferas” have been found in this location. If you’re wondering where the location sits, it’s called the Site Museum Farm 6 (El Sitio Museo Finca 6) on google maps, approximately 30 minutes south of Ojochal.
Locals refer to these as Diquís Spheres or Las Bolas (the balls). More of these spheres are also on display at the National Museum of Costa Rica in San José. As the story goes, these orbs were discovered when the United Fruit Company stumbled across them while cleaning the jungle for their banana plantation in the 1930s.
The original significance of Las Bolas is unknown, but now they are a national symbol of Costa Rica, and the Stone Spheres of the Diquis have been added to the list of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites.
Now, on to more things to see that aren’t at the airport…
WHAT TO DO
Llanos de Cortez Waterfalls – One of the easiest waterfalls to access in Costa Rica. Only about a 5 minute walk from the parking lot. It is beautiful and it has shallow water that is great for children to play in. There’s a beach and rock area where you can sit and lounge for hours. In my opinion, it doesn’t have the wow factor of the turquoise waterfalls at Rio Celeste or La Fortuna, but it is the best waterfall to hang out and spend the day. (If you want to go chasing waterfalls in Costa Rica, see my blog on the best waterfalls to visit.)
Ponderosa Adventure Park – Only about 15 minutes from downtown Liberia. It is a zoo/safari/adventure park.
Rincon de la Viejo – This volcano in a National Park combo has hiking and waterfalls (for an additional fee). You can get to nearby hot springs too.
Vandara – Hot Springs and an all day adventure. They offer zip-lining, horseback riding, an adventure slide, hot springs, mud therapy and you can get a relaxing massage. Also you can walk through their organic garden and learn about the traditional Costa Rican trapiche, a mill that is used to extract juice from sugar cane. (Vandara is 30 minutes from downtown Liberia.)
Hacienda Guachipilin – One of the best places to go to pack the most adventure into one day. Hacienda Guachipilin is Vandara on steroids. They have nature tours, canyon zip lining, tubing the Rio Negro River (class III Rapids), waterfalls, volcano heated hot springs, mountain biking, horseback riding and also have a butterfly garden, frog habitat, serpentarium and views of the volcano. You don’t have to stay at the hotel to take advantage of their adventure tours or a la carte activities. (All of this is only 30 minutes from Liberia.)
Dino Park – If you have a young dinosaur enthusiast traveling with you and have time for a drive, this is a good spot to go. (The Dino Park is an hour and a half from downtown Liberia.)
Diamonte Eco Adventure Park – Enjoy the thrill of the world’s longest ocean view zipline, a variety of local animals, ride an ATV, or horse, and grab a good traditional Costa Rican lunch with a stunning view. You can also walk to the beach for snorkeling, paddleboarding and kayaks. (Diamonte is about 45 minutes from downtown Liberia.)
If you’re more interested in soaking up traditional Tico culture, you can experience some of Costa Rica’s history at Museum Guanacaste which is a renovated jail across from the Masala Indian restaurant in downtown Liberia. The entrance is a little intimidating as there are no signs and from the outside the giant white building still looks like a fortress.
You can also see a traditional church at Iglesia La Ermita de La Agonia in downtown, right next to it there is a park with a playground for children.
WHERE TO STAY
I have to admit that there are still relatively few places to stay in Liberia that I would recommend. However, the Hilton Garden Inn across from the airport is a great place to stay. It sits alone patiently waiting for other airport hotels to arrive. It is the tallest building in the area so it has a view of the airport, green fields and mountains in the distance. It fills up often in high season because it doesn’t have any competition by the LIR airport, so book ahead of time.
If you want to head towards the ocean from Liberia, there are many options:
Autograph Collection’s El Mangroove Resort on the Papagayo bay is a beautiful beachfront property that sits only 20 minutes from the LIR airport. If you are traveling with children, I highly recommend this resort as they have an excellent kids club that is included with your stay. And the Bigfoot statue at El Mangoove in Guanacaste is a smaller scale version of the Idan Zareski statue in Escazu, Costa Rica.
Casa Conde is a beachfront family friendly hotel/resort that sits right next to the El Mangroove Resort and is only 20 minutes from the LIR airport.
Hyatt’s Andaz Costa Rica Resort at Peninsula Papagayo is only 30 minutes from the Liberia airport. They have beachfront dining, world class golf, live music and the fabulous Onda Spa.
If you go towards the mountains, there are options as well:
Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa – Borinquen is a lovely traditional Costa Rican gem with horseback riding, canopy zip lining, pools, spa, hot springs on the property, a restaurant and there’s a tire swing that my kids are crazy about. Borinquen is about 50 minutes from downtown Liberia, and about an hour and 5 minutes from the airport. (Borinquen is only about 20 minutes from Vadara.)
Hacienda Guachipelin – Great traditional Costa Rican hotel with restaurants, spa and pools. But even if you don’t stay here, it is still a great place to go for the day and enjoy their adventure center. (Guachipelin is about 30 minutes from downtown Liberia.)
WHERE TO EAT
In Liberia, there are lots of options for dining, I’m just highlighting a few:
Posada Real Cafe – Great coffee shop for breakfast/lunch. They have the best waffles in Guanacaste.
Taqueria Mazatlan – For casual kid-friendly Mexican food with the ambience of a shopping center parking lot. Open air outside seating make this a great option if you are in Liberia or don’t want the fuss of a formal restaurant.
Masala Indian Restaurant – Friendly staff at this casual kid-friendly Indian restaurant in downtown Liberia make it a fantastic place to grab lunch or dinner.
Liberia Social – Creative cuisine and artistically presented dishes at this downtown Liberia restaurant make it one of the best restaurants for dinner in Liberia.
POPS – Pop by a Heladería POPS while in Costa Rica. POPS is a famous Costa Rican ice-cream shop that now has locations all over Costa Rica. There are 2 locations in Liberia, one across from the airport and one downtown.
Outside of Liberia, but nearby, there are lots of dining choices as well:
Aqua Sport – Great spot right on the beach with tables in the sand and a swing for kids to run around and play. The food won’t wow you, it’s traditional bar food with seafood options, but it is a great relaxed place to ease into your Costa Rican vacation after getting off the plane in Liberia.
Abbocato – For dinner (Open seasonally, not open in off season.) You can also take cooking lessons here.
Ginger Restaurant – Both locals and tourists rave about this Asian-inspired tapas restaurant in Playa Hermosa (Open seasonally)
If you feel like I missed something amazing in Liberia that travelers need to know about, please add it the comments below and I will check it out next time I am in Liberia. Thanks so much for reading!
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