Great Escapes: In Guanacaste, Costa Rica, Biodiversity, Rustic Beauty, and the Pura Vida Lifestyle

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Weaving along Costa Rica’s northwestern shoulder along the Pacific Ocean, Guanacaste Province—also known as the Gold Coast—is one of the most visited regions in the country, and for good reason. Five-star resorts and boutique hotels mingle with dry tropical forests and the province’s namesake mountains, while a string of virgin beaches attract sun worshipers and surfers.

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The culturally and ecologically diverse region includes much of the Nicoya Peninsula and reaches north to the Nicaraguan border. Most of the province is known for hot, rain-free days, but arid conditions fade as one travels inland, where primary and secondary rainforest reveal natural wonders and wildlife in Tenorio Volcano National Park.

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As Guanacaste’s largest and most developed beach town, Tamarindo buzzes with travelers from across the globe yet emits the laid-back vibe one would expect from a surfing destination. Its center is studded with mom-and-pop shops, “sodas”—the casual, family-owned eateries peppering Costa Rica—and fun nightlife options.

About 90 minutes north of Tamarindo, Peninsula Papagayo is a 1,400-acre private community bordering a protected wildlife area that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site. This ecological wonderland offers some of Costa Rica’s most exclusive properties, not to mention wellness, quiet, and adventurous outdoor pursuits through Papagayo Explorers Club.

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Like the rest of the country, Guanacaste’s rustic beauty, biodiversity, and friendly locals—referred to as “Ticos” and “Ticas,” the names that Costa Ricans proudly gave themselves—are an undeniable draw. But at the heart of Costa Rican Culture lies the carefree “Pura Vida: lifestyle, celebrating life’s simplest pleasures: nature, people, food, and wellbeing.

Juliana Barquero, Unsplash

STAY

W Costa Rica Reserva Conchal overlooks one of the country’s most beautiful beaches: Playa Conchal. Guests can expect five-star luxury, with contemporary rooms marked by brilliant colors and bold patterns, two pools, a golf course, fitness center, and a spa. This chic resort lies an easy one-minute walk from the beach and 13 miles or a 40-minute ride from Tamarindo.

Kasiiya Papagayo’s
zero-impact property features just nine tented suites, seven on the beach and two on the cliffside. Sprawled out on 123 acres, the out-of-the-way resort provides luxury in a private island atmosphere, just one hour from Liberia Airport. The all-inclusive eco-lodge features many amenities, including two restaurants, an on-site shaman performing healing healing therapies, and wellness activities in the jungle.

Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo is a welcome respite with luxe rooms and suites. The property’s “Private Retreats” promise the ultimate sojourn, complete with private pools, full kitchens, personalized, chef-prepared dinners, and stargazing.

Kasiiya Papagayo’s zero-impact property features just nine tented suites, seven on the beach and two on the cliffside.

Kasiiya Papagayo

EAT & DRINK

For breakfast or lunch, Soda las Palmas in Villareal is as local as it gets. Hungry patrons devour heaping plates of shrimp and rice, black beans, plantains, and other Costa Rican delicacies in the quaint eatery frequented by natives, expats, and tourists.

The Cordon Bleu-trained Israeli chef Shlomy Koren prepares upscale Mediterranean-inspired fare at Seasons by Shlomy in Tamarindo. Set poolside in Hotel Arco Iris, the restaurant churns out sashimi, mahi-mahi, seafood risotto, beef tenderloin, and vegan and gluten-free dishes. Guests can also bring their catch, and the kitchen will cook the fish to order. Live music often accords dinner.

Canadian expats Kris Laamanen and Danielle Davidson opened Dragonfly Bar & Grill in 2005. Also in Tamarindo, the open-air restaurant focuses on seasonal fusion while highlighting Costa Rican ingredients on its well-rounded menu, from empanadas to whole fish. Dragonfly also has a good-size bar, so it’s an excellent spot for a drink before or after a meal.

In Playa Hermosa, Ginger offers tapas and small plates infusing the flavors of India and Southeast Asia into roasted beet hummus, lentil stew, lobster summer rolls, and its namesake signature ahi tuna. The cocktail scene is top-notch here; choose from sangria, martinis, margaritas, mojitos, tropical fruit libations, and New World wines, many from Argentina.

About 10 minutes away, Zarpe is a charming boutique bar where veteran mixologists can shake or stir a beverage using your spirit of choice. Located in the busy tourist town of Playas del Coco, it’s arguably one of the best drinking dens in Costa Rica.

EXPLORE

Rio Celeste waterfall.

Tracy Kaler

An unspoiled shoreline is one of Guanacaste’s most alluring attributes. Playa Conchal’s idyllic coast consists of a powdery white beach on the south end and millions of shells on the north end, hence the name. The glassy turquoise waters are ideal for snorkeling and scuba diving. With pink sand sparkling on its shores,

Playa Flamingo is another lovely beach and home to the only full-service marina between Acapulco and Panama. Due to its ultra-clean waters, this patch is renowned for deep-sea fishing. Playa Tamarindo is Blue Flag-certified as it’s safe and clean. Beachfront cafés, surfers, and spectators lend this beach a lively atmosphere, and there’s plenty of space to stretch in the sun.

Beyond water activities, Guanacaste is prime for off-road adventures and horseback riding. Since the province continues to preserve its rich cowboy culture that dates to the 16th century, one might see “sabaneros” in more remote areas. Hailing from local ranches, these cowboys herd cattle, traversing back roads, pastures, woods, and villages.

A striking waterfall gushes in the tiny town of Bagaces, located off the beaten path about 10 minutes from Route 1. Llano de Cortés draws Costa Rican families for swimming as well as picnicking in the adjoining forest, so you’ll likely find a few tourists here . This giant waterfall cascades over visible moss-covered rocks to calm, crystal-clear waters below.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park is home to an active volcano and some of the region’s most impressive flora and fauna. On horseback or one foot, discover howler, spider, and white-faced monkeys, toucans, parrots, and protected orchids such as Guaria Morada, Costa Rica’s national flower.

Set in Tenorio Volcano National Park, the Rio Celeste waterfall plunges nearly 300 feet into an aquamarine-colored lagoon. The 3.7-mile hike and 250 descending steps are worth the trek for a close-up look at one of the country’s most awe-inspiring wonders.

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Credit: www.marketwatch.com /

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