- Category: Destinations
- Author: Francis Tran
Into Costa Rica’s Northwest: The Gem of Guanacaste
As a destination, Costa Rica offers an embarrassment of riches. From the top of one volcanic mountain you can see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean. Howler monkeys and toucans inhabit plush rainforests. A day in the cloud forest can be followed by time on a perfect beach, swimming in warm waters or catching a wave to surf.
One of the best places to enjoy the country’s variety is Guanacaste Province in the northwest, with its unrivalled collection of national parks and wilderness areas, and lots of beach attractions to seduce sun and water worshippers. Sometimes known as the wild west of Costa Rica, you can spot sabaneros (cowboys) straight-backed on horse here. While Guanacaste is generally known for its dry climate, it also contains the Nicoya Peninsula, whose southern region enjoys abundant rain annually, making it a transitional zone between dry forest climate and tropical rainforest.
This hilly, lush peninsula is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica. You can find everything here, from wonderful nature reserves to world class hotels and beach resorts. (Or for a true pampering experience, treat yourself to one of Guanacaste’s private luxury villas.) There are quaint rural towns, amazing sunsets and watersports galore, including surfing, fishing, snorkelling and diving.
Considered one of the prettiest and safest beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Samara offers some of the best surfing on the country’s Pacific coast. The beautiful hamlet of Samara is a paradise on the Nicoya Peninsula’s western shore, with white sand standing in contrast to the ocean’s aquamarine waters. Playa Samara attracts Costa Ricans and foreign visitors alike, with a laid-back vibe that is the peninsula’s quintessential quality.
Bars and discos line the beach town’s main strip, beside souvenir and surf shops, making it a place where people let loose. Once the sun sets, locals and visitors join together to have fun in a youthful town that sizzles until dawn.
The area also boasts great sport fishing. A two-kilometre walk down the beach brings visitors to the Tico hamlet of Matapalo and a wonderful snorkelling spot. For birdwatchers, Chora Island is home to feathered swarms that can easily be viewed from a kayak. Finally, Samara’s calm coastal waters are warm and ideal for swimming.
Getting there is not a problem. Transportation to Samara has dramatically improved in recent years with construction of the paved Road 150, which runs south from Nicoya. A small airstrip just outside town allows planes to fly in from San Jose or Liberia via Nosara.
If you wish to take in more of Costa Rica’s natural beauty, visit famous Arenal Volcano. Located three hours northwest of Samara, Arenal is ranked among the top 10 active volcanoes in the world, standing 1,633 meters high. Its park lies within the 2,040-square-kilometre Arenal Tilaran Conservation Area, which boasts eight of Costa Rica’s 12 life zones and 16 protected reserves.
The Arenal Volcano National Park is also popular with birders, since most of the 850 species identified in Costa Rica can be found within its borders. This includes one of the country’s most elusive and beautiful birds, the majestic quetzal.
Try to spot one of these endangered birds. Soak up the sun, take in the breathtaking landscapes and enjoy the diversity that Nicoya Peninsula has to offer.
Check out our previous article focusing on Costa Rica’s ecotourism: A Walk on the Wild Side.