Costa Rica's Pacific Coast has become its Gold Coast, a region now accessible by direct international air through the newly expanded airport at Liberia. With the beauty of beloved Quepos (home to many US expatriates) as its original anchor, tourists are exploring further up and down the coast to visit the city of Liberia and other parts of Guanacaste Province, and making daytrips to the small Jaco Beach, once known only to residents of urban San Jose.
This northwest region of Costa Rica continues to develop and is becoming one of the most popular areas for vacationers. Guanacaste hotels are mostly focused on simple outdoor pleasures such as beaches, wildlife excursions, and nature walks. There is little, if any, tennis, golf, or discotheques and no casinos.
It is a peaceful area, popular with families and couples. In the center of it all is the town of Liberia which serves as the capital of Guanacaste Province and contains the local airport. Hotels located near the airport are inexpensive, close to the national parks and about 40 minutes from the beaches. Hotels located on or near the beaches, offer more resort facilities and are more expensive.
There are numerous beaches running down the northwest Pacific coast. A few notable ones are:
Playa Hermosa – offers a fine beach, good swimming, deep sea fishing and watersports
Playa del Coco – has good swimming and some snorkeling
Playa Flamingo – is a big fishing area and scuba diving
Playa Tamarindo and Playa Junquillal – are known for surfing and deep sea fishing
Golf of Papagayo – located up north, has some good diving sites.
Parks Around Liberia
Surrounding the town of Liberia are several national parks and preserves, all of which contain a huge variety of wildlife:
Parque Nacional Santa Rosa – Located north of Liberia, it is one of the oldest and largest national parks in Costa Rica. Originally created to mark an historic military battle involving William Walker, it has also become an important biological site. Wildlife is best viewed during the dry season but the wet season is the best time to see turtles nesting, especially the months of September and October.
Parque Nacional Guanacaste – Adjoining Santa Rosa National Park, Guanacaste National Park was established in 1989 in order to create a "mega-park", thus giving the animals a range of habitat from coastal areas to the highlands.
Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja – Just south of Guanacaste National Park, this park contains several active volcanoes as well as fumaroles, steam vents and boiling mud pools. The park contains four bio zones due to the changing elevation.
Parque Nacional Palo Verde – This park, located south of Liberia, is a paradise for bird-watchers. Its various habitats attract many different species, both residential and migratory. You can view herons, storks, waterfowl, spoonbills, egrets, scarlet macaws, toucans, parrots, and currasows to name just a few.
Parque Nacional Barro Honda – Plans are underway to join this park and surrounding preserves with Palo Verde National Park to create another "mega-park" grand habitat.
Located on the Pacific Coast, a pleasant two-hour drive southwest of San José, this beach area is the closest one to the capital city and very popular with locals. It may be difficult to get rooms on weekends and holidays unless you reserve ahead. This whole area is popular with surfers because of the consistent waves.
It is also possible to swim but there are strong rip tides so you must exercise caution. A rip often appears as a muddy streak leading out from shore. If you get caught in one, don't fight it. Swim parallel to the shore and when you are free of the rip tide, then swim ashore. For the movie buffs among you, the European version of the movie, "Christopher Columbus", starring Gérard Depardieu, was filmed on Jacó Beach.
Just north of Jacó is Playa Herradura, a quiet black sand beach lined with palm trees. South of Jacó is Playa Hermosa, another well-known surfer's beach. An annual surfing contest is held here in August.
The pleasant coastal drive from Jacó to Quepos is about 40 miles on a paved road. There are numerous beaches along the way where you can swim or surf but be careful of rip tides. Quepos is a sportsfishing center and is also popular because it is the closest town to Manuel Antonio National Park. If you stop here for lunch and eat outdoors don't be surprised if you spot a monkey or a sloth or any number of birds. There is lots of wildlife around here.
Manuel Antonio National Park and Its Beaches
Although the smallest national park in Costa Rica, it is also one of the most popular with both locals and foreigners alike. The park contains three beautiful beaches, as pretty as you would find anywhere in the world. Wildlife is abundant and omnipresent. Bring everything you need into the park – water, food, film, sunscreen, bug repellent – nothing is sold there but pack lightly as you will do a lot of walking. Bring plastic bags to remove your trash. Arrive early as the park limits its visitors to lessen the impact on wildlife and the environment. Park hours are 7:00am to 4:00pm daily except Monday, when the park is closed. $6/adult and children under 12 admitted for free.
Cars are not allowed in the park and getting there on foot is a bit of an adventure. First you need to wade an estuary, which can be almost waist high during high tide. This creates lots of giggles and great photo opportunities. Then you hike for about 45 minutes to get to the beaches. It is all well worth it as the scenery and wildlife is nothing short of incredible. There are three main beaches in the park conveniently labeled – First, Second, and Third Beaches. There is also a Fourth Beach, excellent for snorkeling, but you need to arrange a ranger escort to visit the Fourth Beach. First Beach is more exposed and subject to strong rip tides. Keep on walking to the Second or Third Beach, both of which are more sheltered and safer for swimming. Third Beach, one of the most popular, is often referred to as Manual Antonio Beach. The sun can get hot and it is tempting to park your beach towel under the shade of the nearby trees. Don't!
The monkeys love to urinate on the unwitting tourists and you may find yourself getting a shower you didn't expect. Speaking of monkeys, they present more of a theft problem than humans. You cannot leave any item unattended on your beach towel without the risk of it being stolen. If there are only two of you, one swims while the other watches the gear, unless you make arrangements with your neighboring beach buddies to watch your gear for you.
Wildlife is everywhere in Manuel Antonio National Park. You will see lots of monkeys, especially the white-faced monkeys. My son was so entranced with them that he borrowed my camera, went to the end of the beach, broke open several coconuts and waited patiently while they scurried down the tree branches to feed. Thirty-eight pictures later he returned quite satisfied, having taken some remarkable shots of his new friends. Other commonly-sighted animals are sloths, armadillos, coatimundis, racoons, and peccaries. In addition there is a variety of lizards, iguanas, and snakes plus more than 350 species of birds. Besides the beaches there are a few trails where you can observe wildlife.
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