No region represents Costa Rica's coastal opulence better than the Northwestern province of Guanacaste. The driest part of the country, Guanacaste is a popular destination among sun worshippers of all types. Its beaches run the gamut, from pristine coves set deep within the wilderness of a national park, to modern resorts complete with four-star hotels, gourmet restaurants and charter boats equipped for sport fishing and other aquatic adventures. Guanacaste's wind-swept beaches, separated by rocky bluffs and backed by patches of tropical dry forest, evoke what southern California's coastline might have looked like a century ago. But unlike California, the forests of Guanacaste are home for troops of howler monkeys, and flocks of parrots.
Stretching south from Costa Rica's border with Nicaragua, down the western edge of Nicoya Peninsula, Guanacaste's coast is divided by rocky points into dozens of beaches. Those on the Santa Rosa Peninsula are wild and isolated, visited only by adventurous nature lovers, dedicated surfers and nesting sea turtles. The Gulf of Papagayo, to the south of that peninsula, features more accessible beaches, many of which slope down into the tranquil waters of Culebra Bay.
That bay's calm and crystalline waters offer excellent conditions for swimming, skin diving, windsurfing and other aquatic diversions. Some of the country's newest luxury hotels overlook Culebra Bay from such beaches as Hermosa and Panama.
Playa del Coco, the region's principal port and a colorful little fishing town, is set in a deep cove with a long beach of dark sand and calm waters, while Ocotal, to the south, lies in a similar but considerably smaller bay.If you follow the coast south from the Gulf of Papagayo, the beaches become more exposed the Pacific's whims, which means the sea can resemble a swimming pool one week and raise waves large enough to please expert surfers the next. At such serene spots as beaches Pan de Azucar, Potrero, Brasilito and Conchal, you won't have to share the beach with crowds of tourists, since relatively few accommodations complement the costal beauty there.
Playa Flamingo's white sand each is attractive enough to justify the handful of hotels that overlook it but the modern fleet of charter boats docked in its marina are as much of a draw for many people. One of Guanacaste's major sport fishing spots, Flamingo provides anglers access to some of the best sail and marlin fishing in the world, and consequently the site of an annual sailfish tournament. Tamarindo, to the south, features a long swath of fine packed sand backed by the best selection of hotels and restaurants available in the region. A popular spot among surfers, Tamarindo has several equally impressive beaches nearby, such as Playa Grande, and important sea turtle nesting beach, and Junquillal, a long stretch of sand bordered by forest with accommodations of its own. As you head south from there, the reads get rougher and the hotels grow scarcer, but the scenery doesn't suffer in the least bit. Nosara is a spectacular spot that combines the charms of long, empty beaches with the wildlife that inhabits patches of rare tropical dry forest. Such beaches as Garza, Carrillo and Islita offer similar combinations of coastal and sylvan beauty, while the pale, hard-packed sand of Samara is complemented by a wider selection of accommodations and is a little easier reach.
Turning towards the Gulf of Nicoya you will find laid-back Montezuma and Tambor featuring a variety of hotels for all tastes and budgets.