Regions: North Pacific
Most of this region is occupied by the province of Guanacaste. This vast extension holds countless beaches and picturesque towns and villages filled with an important historical and cultural heritage. Several protected areas and national parks await visitors with an ample offer of activities. Prepare yourself for a full itinerary.
The North Pacific region stretches from the Western edge of Lake Arenal to the Nicaraguan border on the North, and to the Pacific Coast on the West, encompassing the Nicoya Peninsula. Once you get here, you’ll be in Guanacaste.
Named after the shady trees that shelter the herds of cattle that roam the dusty savannah of this province, the 4.437 acres area has a varied topography. The highlands features active volcanoes, and the lowlands are pastoral, fertile, and filled with cattle ranches. This region tends to be a little drier than other parts of Costa Rica, and aside from the volcanoes, it boasts several lakes and one of the last remnants of tropical dry forest in Central America.
Two mountainous ranges border the region: Tilaran and Guanacaste. The changes they generate in the terrain make for splendid views. The best time to visit? All year round. The summer, or dry season, is great for enjoying the sun. The rainy season makes the flowers in the trees bloom in a burst of color and fragrance, and the hills are bright green.
The town of Liberia is considered the heart of Guanacaste. It’s a great place to visit while on your way to the beaches, but it’s also wonderful to stay for a while. Its many tree-lined streets and a nicely kept central park, are filled with friendly residents.
There’s everything you can imagine. Hotels, souvenirs and variety shops, grocery stores, several museums, and an international airport make it the ideal place to start your beach hopping from.
In order to take full advantage of Liberia, plan to stay a while. Since it is the hub for bus transportation to other destinations, travelers can easy visit the white or black sand beaches along the coast, hike through rainforests, practice some adrenaline-boosting whitewater rafting, or tour volcanic mountain ranges. The best part is that all this can be done without having to go further than an hour or two from Liberia.
The huge parks of Santa Rosa and Guanacaste are located in the North. In the South, prehistoric limestone foundations are a unique attraction, and wonderful cave formations at Barra Honda are visited by people from all over the world.
The Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a central point of the North Pacific. A volcano that rises from the jungle is only one of its wonders. Taking the time to visit is certainly worth the experience. To make it even simpler. There are several small hotels nearby.
Located in both Guanacaste and Alajuela provinces, it covers a little over 34.800 acres, and is one of the protected areas within the Guanacaste Conservation Area (ACG). The others are Santa Rosa National Park, Junquillal Bay Wildlife Refuge and the Horizontes Forestry Station.
Rincon de la Vieja stands between the continental divide, which separates Atlantic from Pacific watersheds. Its height and location make it a veritable water factory. Liberia’s drinking water supply comes from different sources in the mountain. In total, thirty two rivers are born on Rincon de la Vieja’s flanks.
Everything here is absolutely worthwhile. Packed with an immense diversity of animal and plant species, visitors have excellent chances of seeing the resplendent quetzals, woodpeckers, tapirs, coatimundis, armadillos, monkeys and toucans.
Since 1860, the volcano has erupted at least twelve times. However, scientists believe that the abundance of fumaroles, boiling mud pots, springs and sulfuric steam helps to gradually let out enough pressure to prevent a large explosion. There are also several cones, lagoons and craters.
Two in one
The park is split into two sectors; Las Pailas and Santa Maria. Due to the range of altitudes, rainfall and ages of volcanic ash fields, there are plenty of plants on the slopes and craters.
On the highest slopes, the shape of the trees changes and they get covered with moss. This provides the perfect soil for orchids and other epiphytes. This is why this area also protects a large population of the Guaria Morada orchid (Cattleya skinerii), Costa Rican’s national flower. The mountain is home to about 300 bird species, like the crested guan mountain robin and the emerald toucanet.
There are lots of trails to walk along and take in the beautiful sights of the rainbow-hued landscape, whose colors come from the minerals the volcano emits through various steam vents.
Traveling throughout Guanacaste, you’ll definitely take with you the image of a sun kissed land and the friendly people that roam it. Entering this region is a dramatic experience. Exploring it is a truly memorable one.
At the foot of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, near the town of Curubande, in the province of Guanacaste lies Hacienda Guachipelin. Since 1985, visitors have enjoyed the natural beauty of the ranch and the neighboring national park. Natural hot springs, virgin forest, jungle waterfalls and volcanic mud pots are just some of the many attractions that go hand in hand with ecotourism and the life of a cattle ranch.
A word of advice: Clothing is a very important part of your trip. Hats, sunglasses and long-sleeved shirts are best when visiting a park. Shorts keep you cool as you walk along the trails, but don’t forget to take some insect repellent to protected you from mosquitoes.
Tradition at hand
For those who want to come into closer contact with the ways of the North Pacific, Hacienda Pinilla is a great alternative. Some 4.500 acres of land that has served as a working cattle ranch for more than 40 years, has been owned and operated by the same family for two decades.
There’s a bit of everything. Beautiful rolling hills, open ranges and fresh water lakes, are surrounded by two picturesque rivers, a pristine shoreline and a vast tropical dry forest. More than a resort, it’s destined to become an entire community, with hotels, houses, cottages and condominiums, as well as commercial centers. Golf and horseback riding are just some of the recreational activities visitors can enjoy. Great surfing, deep sea fishing and the possibility to explore all the natural wonders of this unique region are all within reach.
The surf season in Costa Rica’s North Pacific Coast is from November through March.
Potrero Grande – Famous right point break, located near “El Coco” beach. The only way to get there is by boat from Ocotal or Coco Beach, and you’ll have to take all your supplies for camping or for the day. Nice big tubular wave, if the swell is on.
Playa Naranjo – This beach is called “Roca Bruja” which means Witch’s Rock. The longest tube ride here has a very good break with strong offshore wind from December to March. Located in the national park of Santa Rosa, you must pay the entrance fee. From April to October the road is closed because the rainy season leaves the road impassable, but you can leave your car at the entrance and go walking or take a boat from El Coco or Ocotal. Be prepared to camp because there are no facilities.
Playa Grande – Good beach break, very good from December to February. You can see turtles nesting at night. Hotels and restaurants nearby, sometimes it gets very good with big tubes. Normally you’ll find good waves as long as the wind is to the north.
El Estero – A river mouth; right break at the Tamarindo Bay entrance, very long ride but very crowded because the accommodations are very good at Tamarindo. From the river mouth you can go walking to Playa Grande or to the other points nearby Tamarindo. When the swell is on there are waves for everyone.
Pico Pequeño – A rocky point with a right in front of Hotel Tamarindo. It’s very good when there are big swells but normally they are small.
Langosta – A river mouth right, located 1 mile south of Tamarindo. There are some rocks underwater, so don’t think Langosta is a beach break. Beautiful white sand beaches along the way.
La Piedra del Zapo – A right point break, located south from Langosta, better be low tide to cross the river easily.
Avellanas – You can surf all along the beach. There are three famous points at this beach: when the swell is in you can surf a left point break at the southern part of the beach; when the waves are normal you should get good left tube rides at the “Purruja Point”, located in the middle of the beach; finally, you can surf the river mouth that throws nice rights and lefts (this northern part is the most consistent). The rocky points sometimes are amazingly tubular. Few places to stay or camp, and in the winter you’ll need 4WD. This is a nice white sand beach.
Little Hawaii – Located north of Avellanas. You can see it breaking from the river mouth; you can go walking or by car but be careful because a lot of people has their rented cars taken by the river, so it’s recommended to enter by walking on the beach instead.
Playa Negra – Located between Avellanas and Santa Cruz. A nice rocky point right, large and tubular waves. In recent times the beach has been invaded by surfers from all over the world, making it a crowded point from time to time.
Callejones – Located south of Playa Negra. Good right point break very similar to Negra, and people like to go there when Playa Negra is crowded.
Junquillal – A point break, breaking at high tide. Located south of Playa Negra. You can get there by walking on the beach.
Nosara – Little town with airport and accommodations: near good beach breaks, like Nosara (rights and lefts), Punta Guiones, Camaronal and Puerto Carrillo. If you follow the road south you’ll find accommodations and a lot of breaks with no names.
Punta Guiones – Big wave beach break. There are places to stay but not in front of the beach; there are some tree houses at the beach to help you stay out of the rain or sun, and you can camp there if you bring all your stuff. You can buy in Nosara.
Puerto Carrillo – Has a beach break with regular size and a wonderful white sand beach. Located south of Samara.
Camaronal – Located south of Puerto Carrillo. Nice beach break but surrounded by rocks; it gets very big and the set comes in constantly. Nice place to camp, but there are no accommodations at this beach.
Mal Pais – Nice rights and lefts. You can find three excellent points at this beach, as well as accommodations and restaurants in a wonderful place to stay. Also it’s near a great National Park called Cabo Blanco that has some points of its own.
Cabo Blanco National Park – If you go walking by the beach in the park, you’ll find nice rocky points, but it can be dangerous because it’s not a well-known area. Always surf with someone else for safety.
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