Searching for the ultimate Guanacaste itinerary? Look no further! Costa Rica’s northwestern province, also known as the Gold Coast, offers a unique blend of stunning beaches, lush jungles, and vibrant culture. From exploring the lively nightlife of Tamarindo to soaking up the sun at Playa Flamingo, this region has something for everyone.
When I went to Costa Rica last year, Guanacaste was one of my favourite provinces. So much so, that we went again in April 2023. I created this Guanacaste itinerary to show how you can spend a great 5 days in Guanacaste Province.
I will guide you through the must-see attractions, activities, and hidden gems of Guanacaste, ensuring you make the most of your time in this incredible destination. So pack your bags and get ready for an adventure you’ll never forget!
This Guanacaste itinerary contains affiliate links. If clicked, I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you!
How many days to spend in Guanacaste Province?
The amount of days to spend in Guanacaste Province is totally dependent on the type of itinerary or trip you want to have. Do you prefer a relaxed holiday or an adventure vacation? Are you planning to stick to this region alone? Do you have time for other Costa Rican provinces?
Recommended amount of days to spend in Guanacaste Province: at minimum 4 days
Our stay in Guanacaste Province: 4 days (trip #1), 5 days (trip #2) = total of 9 days
If you need some more inspiration or ideas on planning your other Costa Rica days, head to my 10 day Costa Rica itinerary!
Choosing Where to Stay in Guanacaste
Before I give you some options, you have some homework:
No, not boring homework, chill.
Your first step will be to decide where you want to make your main hub. We chose to make Playa Conchal (close to Tamarindo) ours last year, and for this past April 2023, we stayed in La Cruz, close to Playa El Jobo (north Guanacaste).
However, if I was planning my first time to Guanacaste Province again, 9.5 times out of 10, I would choose Tamarindo.
Let me tell you why…
Tamarindo is a VIBE. It is beach-y, hipster, fun, bumpin’, full of young adults, full of activities, tons of restaurants and bars to visit making a fabulous nightlife. That being said, it is definitely a tourist-y, party town.
If you are the type of traveller that does not do well in busy party towns, consider choosing Playa Conchal, Playa Brasilito or Playa Flamingo for your holiday. I will be listing some hotel options below.
Still not convinced which area to choose? No worries, continue reading this Guanacaste itinerary and it’ll come to you! Continue reading for some great options.
How to Get to Guanacaste Internationally
Flying to Guanacaste
If you are entering Costa Rica internationally, and Guanacaste Province is your first stop, the airport in this region is Liberia (LIR). LIR can be more expensive to fly into compared to SJO (San Jose’s airport). I recommend monitoring flights well in advance and comparing different airlines.
If you choose to fly into LIR, the commute to your destination will be shorter and cheaper. However, if you choose SJO, your flight may be cheaper, but keep in mind you will have to drive about 4-5 hours.
I use Skyscanner to compare, as it always shows the best, cheapest and/or fastest options. You can use the toggles on their website to choose between non-stop, amount of layovers, times you want to depart and return. Make sure to set alerts to be notified of price drops!
Getting to Guanacaste Province via other Costa Rican provinces
Flying within Guanacaste
Short for time? You can always fly between provinces. However, in my opinion, this is not necessary.
The drive can be long for some, (4-5 hours), however, there are many places to stop in Costa Rica. Try your best to fit in some other tourist destinations between place A and B.
If you are set on flying, check out Skyscanner to compare flights & prices.
Driving to Guanacaste
Driving is my number 1 choice for most of my vacations and Costa Rica is no different. We rented a car while visiting Costa Rica and were easily able to get to all of the destinations we had planned to.
Some routes in Costa Rica require a 4×4, many of these unpaved roads are found in the more rural regions. Depending on where you are headed, you will need to know whether or not a 4×4 is needed.
While in Monteverde, Costa Rica, we were staying on a farm and needed a 4×4. However, for our time in Playa Conchal and Tamarindo, a 4×4 was not necessary, as all of the roads were paved and well maintained.
Tip: Check with your hotels & vacation rental to see if a 4×4 is needed before visiting their property.
If you do plan to rent a car, check out Rental Cars for hot deals & discounts!!
Bus to Guanacaste
Getting to Guanacaste Province via bus is a convenient and affordable option for travellers. There are several bus companies that operate in Costa Rica, such as; Empresa Alfaro, La Pampa and Tica Bus, that all offer routes to destinations in Guanacaste.
If you are starting in San Jose, there are bus routes to Guanacaste Province. These rides take about 5-6 hours and are quite affordable. However, please note that buses in Costa Rica can be overcrowded and uncomfortable during peak travel time.
Tip: Check with your bus company of choice if they can fit your luggage/baggage!
How to Get Around Guanacaste
Driving in Guanacaste
Driving is my favourite option for getting around Costa Rica! I love the freedom and flexibility that comes with having your own car.
Petty theft is something you should be aware of. Always keep valuables with you! Do NOT leave anything important in the car. There are people that can watch your car, they do accept a small fee (a few colones), however, this is not enforced, and it is to your discretion.
Rental Cars has many options and companies to choose from for good prices!
I cannot stress this enough; AVOID driving at night. It is TRULY not safe. The roads are not well lit and not all roads are well maintained!!
Bus within Guanacaste
Getting around Guanacaste province by bus is a convenient and affordable option for budget friendly travellers.
Bus companies include; Empresa Alfaro and Empresa Tica Bus. These buses offer routes to various destinations in Guanacaste. The cost of bus fares within the province is usually inexpensive, typically costing a few USD per route.
Additionally, bus travel is a great way to meet locals and experience the culture of the region. However, make sure to plan ahead, as some routes may have limited schedules!
I personally have not travelled by bus in Costa Rica and have no tips/advice. I prefer driving in Costa Rica.
Vacation Rentals & Hotels in Guanacaste Province
Remember that homework I gave you? Choosing your main hub? If you still haven’t figured it out, come back to this after reading the Guanacaste itinerary below.
Vacation rentals and Airbnb to be fairly affordable in Costa Rica. We were able to stay for less than $100 per night for a private room or whole rental unit. I prefer to travel in vacation rentals, as it helps me to feel a sense of “at-home”, while on vacation.
Hotels can be more expensive in Guanacaste province, as many of the hotels are resort style, beachfront properties. Keep this in mind while looking up where to stay.
Some Guanacaste hotels or hostels are also surf schools. If you are visiting to surf, look into this type of lodging.
Luxurious All Inclusive Resorts in Guanacaste Province
One of my good friends got married here this past April and the resort is SPECTACULAR. It is definitely expensive, but so, so worth it (if purchased in all-inclusive form, you can find deals for around $2000.00). Otherwise, expect to pay anywhere from $400.00 – $600.00 per night.
The resort is seated on a GORGEOUS beach, equipped with so many pools (I could not even count), is regularly visited by monkeys, and the alcohol pour is wonderful (if you ask me). Dreams Las Mareas is family friendly with multiple water and land activities offered, tours available and delicious restaurants to indulge in.
The resort is located in the northernmost part of Guanacaste, on Playa El Jobo, closer to Nicaragua.
This all-inclusive, luxurious Tamarindo resort, offers a large range of amenities and activities making it a popular destination for travellers. Occidental Tamarindo has multiple swimming pools, a full-service spa, fitness centre, tennis courts and MANY restaurants & bars.
The resort is on a private beach, only accessed by it’s guests, Playa Langosta. If this isn’t enough, Occidental Tamarindo is also a short distance to other popular and gorgeous beaches; Playa Avellanas and Playa Grande.
This is only a small percentage of what is offered at this resort. From kayaking to horseback riding, there is something for everyone!
Check here for prices & deals at Occidental Tamarindo. Prices range from $200 – $400 nightly, and can be upwards of $600+ in high season.
Another luxurious beach front property in Guanacaste!! The Westin Reserva Conchal is made for the golf lover in you, (or in your family).
Can’t go on a trip without your partner looking for somewhere to play golf? Look no further, you can hit up the beach while they play their 18-holes, but this time, you are in gorgeous Costa Rica.
Spend your days relaxing by the infinity pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean or quickly walk over to Playa Conchal to swim in one of the most pristine beaches in Costa Rica!
Like most Costa Rican resorts, this one offers many activities and excursions for all interests!
Guanacaste Mid-Range & Budget Hotels
If resorts aren’t your style, I get it, they aren’t mine either. Guanacaste province has many affordable & budget hotel options to choose from all along the Pacific Coast. Prices will vary depending on your “main hub”. Tamarindo tends to be pricier than the other lesser known beaches.
Budgeting further, why don’t you try a hostel? Hostels in Costa Rica are a great place to meet people and join free & cheap activities. I highly recommend the Selina hostels! Additionally, Tamarindo has many surf hostel combos.
GUANACASTE ITINERARY: The Best Guanacaste, Costa Rica 5 Day Itinerary
Welcome to my ultimate Guanacaste itinerary! Located on the stunning Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Guanacaste is a gorgeous province that offers a diverse array of activities and attractions.
From world famous beaches to national parks, Guanacaste is for the nature lover in you! This itinerary will guide you through some of the best places to visit and things to do in Guanacaste. Pack your bags and sunscreen for an unforgettable trip to Guanacaste, Costa Rica!
This itinerary is a little different from my other Costa Rica itineraries. I wrote this with the idea that each 1-2 days is spent in a different town (or beach), resulting in this 5 day Guanacaste itinerary.
If you are wanting to spend most of your time in one of these towns or beaches, use this as a stepping stone to create your specific itinerary.
For food & restaurant recommendations, skip down to the end of this Guanacaste itinerary for some of my favourites!
Day 1: Playa Flamingo Beach Morning & Sunset Boat Cruise
Morning: Playa Flamingo Beach
Spend your morning at one of the most gorgeous beaches in Costa Rica (in my opinion). Playa Flamingo is a beautiful, white-sand beach with CRYSTAL clear waters.
Pack your beach supplies, a blanket and snacks to relax and soak up the Costa Rican sun. Please be careful, the sun is STRONG. Don’t forget your sunscreen! Cool off with a dip in the perfect waters of Playa Flamingo to end your morning.
Playa Flamingo is a well known snorkelling and scuba diving spot for colourful coral reefs. I recommend saving this for the afternoon during your catamaran cruise! If not, rent some equipment from a local vendor and head to sea!
Afternoon: Playa Flamingo Catamaran Cruise
After much research, I came to the conclusion that the best place in Guanacaste for a catamaran was a sunset cruise off of Playa Flamingo, and man oh MAN, was I correct.
The Playa Flamingo sunset cruise by Lazy Lizard EXCEEDED all expectations. You can take my word for it, or check out their perfect rating on TripAdvisor here!
The boat cruise starts at around 2:00 PM in the afternoon following a complimentary pick up from your Playa Flamingo accommodations. If you are staying outside of the Playa Flamingo area, (as we were), you are given a location where it is safe to park your car along the beach.
The cruise sets off to gorgeous coral reefs where you can spend time snorkelling or swimming. Once you come in from your swim, you are fed a DELICIOUS meal. The tickets mentioned “snacks”, I am here to tell you it was more of a meal; we ate tacos and had a buffet of colourful salads and sides.
With unlimited drinks and tropical music, you will then set off into the sunset for some of the most gorgeous views Costa Rica has to offer.
For the price, this cruise is of GREAT VALUE. The sunset catamaran costs about $90 USD per adult and $70 USD per child.
This company also offers a morning catamaran that may be more appealing to you. The morning cruise is more family friendly, whereas the sunset catamaran tends to have more of a “young adult, party” vibe.
Day 2: Tamarindo
Morning: Surf School
Spending at least ONE day in Tamarindo is a must for anyone visiting Costa Rica, I would push it to 2 days. Tamarindo is one of the most popular beach towns in Guanacaste province. Known for its world-class surfing and gorgeous beaches, there is plenty to do for the beach bum in you!
Get ready for an active morning of surf lessons!! There are an abundance of surf school options in Tamarindo. Whether you are staying at a surf hostel, getting a private lesson or joining a group surf class at a nearby school, you will have a blast!
If you are doing this for the fun experience, I recommend a small group class. Many of the surf school options in Tamarindo offer lessons for all levels of surfer and include board rentals with or without lessons!
Check out these surf schools that offer lessons for all levels of surfer:
- El Muda Surf: El Muda Surf has PERFECT reviews. If you don’t stand on the board, you are guaranteed your money back!! This is a great deal for beginner learners!
- Iguana Surf School: Another perfect rating surf school in Tamarindo for you to learn surfing in a positive & supportive environment!
Afternoon: Tamarindo town & beaches
After spending your morning getting beaten up by wives (haha), spend some time walking through the town of Tamarindo. Tamarindo has a unique charm; laid back, healthy and bumpin’, is what I would call it.
Grab some lunch at El Mercadito de Tamarindo, my favourite place was the Arepas Doña Ana. If you are looking for something else, I can almost guarantee you will find it here. There are so many food options to choose from at El Mercadito!
Spend the rest of your afternoon and evening on the beach. Playa Tamarindo is one of my favourite Costa Rican sunsets to date. Grab a drink at one of the many beach clubs/bars and then sit back and enjoy the colours of the evening.
Day 3: Beach Day at Playa Conchal & Playa Mina
Morning: Playa Conchal
Ok, I bet you are tired after surfing… Let’s tone it down for today and enjoy two of my favourite beaches.
Start the day off at Playa Conchal. This gorgeous beach is unlike most, instead of white-sands, the ground is made up of millions of tiny crushed seashells.
I found the morning to be a gorgeous time on Playa Conchal, however, shade can be hard to come by. If you are a shade hunter like me, bring a beach umbrella if you can!
Parking at Playa Conchal
For public access to Playa Conchal, there is parking next to the beach by Puerto Viejo (we opted for this lot). There is parking on the opposite side, by Playa Brasilito as well, you then have to walk down the beach to get to Playa Conchal.
Afternoon: Playa Mina
Playa Mina was my favourite beach in Guanacaste. The quiet, off the beaten path vibe this beach gave me, truly created an exceptional experience.
While visiting, you will probably be one of VERY few tourists, if not, people in total, on this beach. We visited in the late afternoon/evening and were one of two couples enjoying the calm waters.
Bring some snacks & beer and sit back on the sand while the day passes by.
Getting to Playa Mina can be a bit challenging, on maps, it can be labelled as “Playa Zapotillal” or “Playa Mina”. Follow the dirt road down all the way until you see the beach. You can park your car within a few steps from where you want to set up on the beach.
Day 4: Day Trip to Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja (Rincon de la Vieja National Park)
Full Day: Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja
Head out for the morning for a full day at Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja.
Hours of the park: The park is open from 8:00 AM – 3:00 PM Tuesday-Sunday. Closed on Mondays.
Getting to Rincón de la Vieja National Park
You have a few options for getting to Rincón de la Vieja. There are buses that go to the park from Liberia. If you are starting off from another town in Guanacaste, I recommend getting to Liberia first to transfer.
For example, the bus companies from Tamarindo to Liberia include; Sociedad Tralapa, La Pampa, etc. Upon arrival in Liberia, you will transfer to another bus company called Grupo Tranbasa to get to Rincón de la Vieja.
Rome 2 Rio shows transport routes and costs, click here to find your route!
You can also do the drive from your accommodations. For reference, the drive from Tamarindo is about 1.5 – 2 hours in length.
The most popular entrance of the park is Las Pailas. The gates are monitored and you must show you reservation code (ie. for the hot springs), if not, you will pay the park entrance fee here.
You will then drive through the grounds of Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin to get to hiking trails, waterfalls and hot springs. (Don’t be fooled, I put the address of the hotel in Waze, instead of the Rio Negro hot springs and still had to drive a few extra kilometres more). There are also road and direction signs throughout the drive.
TIP: Download Waze and PLEASE do NOT drive in the dark.
Tours to Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja
A great option for seeing Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja is joining a tour company. Guided tours offer a simpler and relaxing day with less navigating or bus transfer stress.
There are many tour companies that run from all over Guanacaste and offer hiking, waterfalls, hot springs, zip lining and a combination of any of these activities.
If you want a tour with transportation, hiking, hot springs, a waterfall swim & lunch included, click here for tickets!!
What to do at Rincon de la Vieja National Park
For your day itinerary at Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja, I recommend doing a mix of different activities. I love a good mix of hiking and relaxation and this is the perfect place to do it!
Rincón de la Vieja National Park has many hiking trails. The most popular trail in this park is the Las Pailas Trail. This trail will take you through volcanic craters, mud pots & hot springs. It is 3.5 kilometres with a length of about 2-3 hours.
La Cangreja Trail goes through a forest to the gorgeous La Cangreja waterfall. This is a longer trail, about 6 km in length, taking approximately 5 hours to complete.
Other popular trails to check out while visiting are; Sendero de los Monos, Santa Maria and Escondida Waterfall Trail.
For hiking in Rincón de la Vieja National Park, I recommend downloading the free app AllTrails to download and look up which hikes you want to do! Click here for a list of the best hikes in Rincon de la Vieja National Park!
We were feeling a little lazy when visiting, and did one of the shorter waterfall trails, the Rio Negro Waterfalls Trail that included 4 waterfalls!! This trail is located right across from Rio Negro hot springs and is a great pairing to a relaxing hot springs day.
Rio Negro Hot Springs
Spend the rest of your day jumping from one hot spring to the next. They are HOT (duh, as per the name), ranging from about 36°C to 40°C (97 – 104°F). The day was already hot, so I found it difficult to sit in hot water at the same time, but once I got over the initial heat, it was soooo relaxing.
There is also a mud bath at this hot spring, lather yourself up in that mud and feel it working on your skin!
Tickets can be purchased through Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin’s website here! They are timed entry tickets. Once inside the park, you can stay all day!
HOT TIP: do not wear chemical spray sunscreen before you put on the mud, you will turn ORANGE. ALSO do NOT wear a nice, new, or WHITE or light coloured bathing suit, it will ruin it.
For other hot springs in Costa Rica, check out this list of the best hot springs in Arenal, Costa Rica!
Dinner at Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja
If you are visiting the park without a tour, head over to Hotel Rincón de la Vieja Lodge for some dinner. Our portions were huge and it was very filling after a busy day of hiking and hot spring-ing!
Make your way back to your Guanacaste accommodation! PLEASE, DO NOT DRIVE IN THE DARK!
Day 5: Extra Day in Tamarindo (Optional)
This Guanacaste itinerary would not be complete without a full day of relaxation and doing whatever your heart desires!
I strongly recommend you spend an extra day in Tamarindo. Immerse yourself in the PURA VIDA lifestyle & culture and just go with the flow! Maybe you feel like surfing again, or visiting some of the beaches in the area. Maybe you want to spend time with people you have met at some beach-side bars!
An option for a relaxing day could include a day pass at an all-inclusive. Many resorts in Guanacaste offer day passes, you can use the amenities and eat & drink to your hearts content. Maybe you want to go shopping for souvenirs for your loved ones… or yourself, haha.
The options are endless!
Where to Eat in Guanacaste
If you’re wondering where to eat in Guanacaste Province, you’re in luck. The region is KNOWN for its fresh seafood. If seafood isn’t your jam, don’t worry, this region is also great for vegetarians, vegans & meat lovers!
These were my TOP 3 places to eat in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.
El Mercadito de Tamarindo: Food & Cocktail Market
Easily my favourite place to eat in Tamarindo. I say the phrase, “there is something for everyone”, all the time, but I have to use it for this place! There are SO MANY food vendors to choose from.
Live music, cocktails and whatever you want to eat (sandwiches, poke bowls, ice cream & more), this place makes for a great night out.
My favourite was Arepas Doña Ana. Arepas are a South American food, corn dough filled with meat and cheese (or toppings of your choice)! If you eat here, also try their tequeños (Venezuelan fried cheese sticks mmm).
Origami Street Food CR
This food truck in Huacas is EXTRAORDINARY!! 10/10 food.
You can find this off of Route 180, the road that will take out down to Playa Brasilito & Playa Flamingo. I strongly recommend stopping here. Additionally, there are some other food vendors and fruit markets in this area, if this is not your cup of tea.
We tried a few different types of bao!
La Casita del Pescado
La Casita del Pescado is a beachside restaurant beside Playa Brasilito. The restaurant specializes in seafood, the name of the restaurant translates to “The Fish Cottage”, therefore, you know you will be getting some fresh food from the ocean!! We chose shrimp & calamari meals. The portions were huge and the seafood was insanely fresh.
This restaurant is a great place to park yourself during the day to watch the waves or for a lovely beach sunset!
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Final Thoughts on Guanacaste Itinerary
A visit to Guanacaste, Costa Rica, is an adventure you won’t forget. From its stunning beaches to its lush forests, there is something for everyone to enjoy!
Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, or both, this detailed Guanacaste itinerary will help you make the most of your time in this gorgeous province. With so many incredible sights and experiences to discover, it’s no wonder why Guanacaste has become a must-visit destination in Costa Rica.
So, start planning your Costa Rica trip today with this Guanacaste itinerary! If you need more Costa Rica inspiration, head over to my 10 day Costa Rica itinerary!
Joanna Neander is the author and creator of Plan Before Land. She is dedicated to creating detailed travel itineraries from around the world. Joanna’s most visited continents include, North America, Central America & Europe. Asia coming soon! Join along on Joanna’s travels!