Costa Rica’s Gold Coast in the province of Guanacaste is home to white sand beaches, laid-back beach towns, surfing, and eco tourism, in one of the most biodiverse co untries on the planet
by Nubia DuVall Wilson
Gorgeous weather simply prevails in Costa Rica, home to some of the most beautiful natural scenery in Central America. Spanning 200 miles, from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea, this nation offers a variety of lush rainforests coupled with rugged landscapes—a mecca for ecotourists and/or remote beaches. The Guanacaste Gold Coast region in the northwest is one of the most popular destinations for its diverse set of beaches, volcanoes, forests, a great nightlife scene, and luxury hotels.
About Costa Rica
One can travel across Costa Rica from coast to coast in just three hours by car (or 45 minutes by plane). To preserve its natural beauty, the country mandates that 70% of its land remains undeveloped, and a number of the 300 beaches here are part of national forests or nature reserves, making it possible to observe wild creatures while sunbathing. The nation is divided into seven provinces: San Jose (the capital); Alajuela; Cartago; Heredia; Puntarenas; Guanacaste; and Limon. Currency is the Colon, but U.S. dollars and credit cards are also accepted. There are four international airports: Juan Santamaría Airport in Alajuela; Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia; Tobías Bolaños International Airport in San José; and the Limón International Airport. The most popular time to visit is December through April, which is the dry season.
The incomparable beauty of this province’s landscapes, which range from tropical dry forests to lowland mountain forests, has made it one of the most heavily visited areas by locals travelers. With more than 400 miles of coastline along the Pacific Ocean, the area spans from the border of Nicaragua to the Bongo River estuary in the Nicoya Peninsula. It houses important features of Costa Rica’s cultural and natural heritage, including a significant number of protected areas— aquatic, land, mountain, and coastal ecosystems teeming with flora and fauna. Flights to Guanacaste arrive at the Daniel Oduber International Airport.
Located south of Brasilito, this is one of the few Pacific Coast beaches with crystal clear waters like those in the Caribbean. (Its mile-long inlet gets its name from the the beach’s sand, composed of billions of shell fragments.) Lined with lush vegetation and a mangrove, Playa Conchal is ideal for swimming, hiking, horseback riding, boat excursions, and diving.
Tamarindo is one of the biggest and most developed coastal towns in Guanacaste, with a plethora of restaurants, shops, and bars within walking distance of the beach. Decades of build-outs have transformed a once sleepy hamlet into a thriving regional hub known for nightlife. Its long, rocky beach offers waves as high as 12 feet during November and December, and it and nearby Playa Grande are separated by Central America’s largest mangrove estuary, Estero de Tamarindo. Popular activities include fishing, surfing, hiking, sailing, diving, and snorkeling.
A great option for surfers and/or those who desire a more remote option, this is a white sand beach that the locals call “Little Hawaii” because of its 18-foot waves (general swimming is not recommended because of the strong currents). Just six miles from Tamarindo, travelers venture here to take surfing lessons from the Avellanas Surf School (board rentals are also available), to sunbathe, or have a picnic while watching the sunset.
Where to Stay
The Westin Golf Resort and Spa, Playa Conchal,
This is an all-inclusive and awardwinning resort alongside the secluded Conchal Beach, where the crystal-clear water is always a comfortable temperature for swimming, snorkeling, or surfing. The hotel features a lagoon-style fresh water pool with a kids’ area and swim-up bar, the Reserva Concha 18-hole Robert Trent Jones II golf course, a fitness studio, three floodlit tennis courts, and a spa. Guests of the Royal Beach rooms and suites enjoy a range of additional amenities, including exclusive access to the Royal Beach Club Lounge and to the adults-only Royal Beach Club Pool with bali beds and a swim-up bar. The Family Club Lounge serves daily breakfast and evening happy hour, and the Family Concierge provides private check-in and checkout, daily turndown service, video games on request, and a Welcome Kids package.
From Latin fare to Asian fusion, a diverse range of dining experiences are available at the Westin’s more than ten restaurants and bars. The all-inclusive package encompasses à la carte or buffet breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks at any of the eateries, as well as all beverages, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Reservations are required at all à la carte restaurants. Visit the open-air Cauri Lobby Bar & Bistro to sip on cocktails such as the Geisha (made with sake, Grand Marnier, and passion fruit juice) or fresh smoothies and healthy juices served at the Westin Fresh by the Juicery. Latin fusion dinner is served at Las Candelas, where one can enjoy seafood like grilled tuna filet with cilantro butter or for the meat eaters, a fabulous smoked pork chop with pineapple.
For luxurious beachside accommodations, the 1,100-square-foot Luxury Villa Suites offer partial ocean views, a furnished glass-enclosed terrace with a whirlpool, a living room with adjacent full bathroom, and a dining room table that seats four.
Nearby attractions include the Arenal volcano and Liberia (the capital, and largest city in Guanacaste), Rincon de la Vieja National Park, and Santa Rosa National Park. Other nearby beaches include Flamingo, Tamarindo, and Langosta.
El Mangroove, Gulf of Papagayo, marriott.com, $$
Part of the Autograph Collection by Marriott, this resort is located off the Gulf of Papagayo in Guanacastespans and spans 17 acres—a sustainable allsuite boutique and lifestyle retreat with a modern design that incorporates Costa Rica’s natural beauty through wood and water elements, along with bamboo, stone and natural furnishings. In addition to 85 luxurious suites with either hammocks or sofas in the living areas, there is a 130-foot pool with sweeping views of the Gulf, live music and events in the evenings, onsite bicycles, and a spa and fitness center that includes outdoor “wild-fit” areas and multi-functional exercise decks. The hotel is just 20 minutes from Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, making it the closest beachfront resort to an international airport in the country.
The 1,668-square-foot Presidential Suite (named “Mangle”) includes a king sized bed, living room with sofa bed, a furnished outdoor terrace with private plunge pool, and a sundeck with direct access to the beach. There is also a kitchen with a private chef station. The top floor Canopy Suites are 1,200 square feet and feature a terrace, living room, king-sized bedroom, and a hammock.
There are two dining options on the property. Makoko is the central eatery, serving breakfast and dinner with farmto-table and ocean-to-table-inspired menu. Matiss is an oceanfront restaurant on a teak deck surrounded by sand, with a laid-back atmosphere and a delicious fresh, casual, and contemporary menu.
The resort’s boats offer guests experiences on Papagayo Bay, such as fishing or surfing trips, beach hopping, sunset tours, and dolphin expeditions. In addition, paddleboards, bicycles, and kayaks are available on-site to explore the bay or the artsy neighboring town of El Coco.
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica,
The only Forbes 5-Star resort in Central and South America—this has ushered in a new level of luxury for discerning travelers via its culinary offerings, spa, Arnold Palmer championship golf course, and luxurious accommodations. The 182 guestrooms (including 25 suites, 20 villas, and three estate homes) capture the character of Costa Rica through rattan and bamboo furnishings, local artwork, and indigenous wood and stone finishes.
The one-bedroom Villa with Plunge Pool is perfect for couples. At 1,700-square feet, this accommodation is set on a hillside and offers guests an outdoor dining patio, deck, and well-equipped kitchen with state-of-the-art stainless steel appliances. The beach, restaurants, and resort facilities are a five-minute golf cart ride or 10-minute walk away. Inside a private gated area, the largest residence estate at the resort is Casa del Cielo, which offers three king bedrooms and two double beds, sleeping up to 10 adults and four children. At a massive 6,700 square feet, the home offers an infinity pool, living area that spills out into the pool deck, master baths that include free-standing tubs with views of the ocean, a Viking barbecue, and panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Bahia Culebra. Its Pura Vida for All program includes a Wellness Conciergeto help set and achieve personal goals— whether losing weight, gaining muscles or simply shedding stress.
Las Baulas National
Famous for hosting the largest nesting colony of leatherback sea turtles (bauals in Spanish) in the world. Each year, Playa Grande, located in Las Baulas, welcomes more than 800 female turtles that lay eggs on its shores during the nesting season from November through April. From April to September, the babies hatch and scamper to the sea. Witness this activity at night through the turtle tours offered by the Las Baulas ranger station in Playa Grande.
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park,
This is the largest volcano in the country’s northwest, and comprises a remote volcanic complex in the Guanacaste Range. At least nine eruptive vents are located within a nine-mile wide crater. The twin cone of the Santa Maria volcano (the highest peak of the complex) features an inactive crater 1,640 feet across. Cleanse and relax in the mineral-rich waters in the waterfall swimming areas and/or in the soft volcanic mud pools open to the public.
Monteverde Cloud Forest,
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve houses 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity, contributing greatly to scientific research, among other endeavors. While visiting, travelers can step on the Continental Divide, where one foot will be on the Caribbean and the other on the Pacific side. It features 3,021 known species of plants, of which 755 are trees. Daytime and evening tours are available.
Where to Eat
Dragonfly Bar and Grill, Playa Tamarindo,
Since it opened in 2005, this has been regarded as one of the top restaurants in Tamarindo, offering fresh local cuisine and a great selection of wines, cocktails, and craft beers. A short walk from downtown, it’s just 100 yards behind Hotel Pasatiempo on Corona Street and offers an intimate culinary respite for travelers. At the bar, try a Costa Rica’s Brewing Company beer or a Tequila Mockingbird cocktail with tequila, fresh watermelon, and lime juice, plus muddled jalapeño and basil. Start the meal with homemade beef empanadas with chimichurri sauce, then tuck into a Buddha Bowl, with sweet chilli marinated tofu, quinoa, broccoli, mushrooms, and other vegetables, topped with toasted sesame seeds, fresh cilantro, and spicy peanut dressing.