Fora Favorites: The Ultimate Guanacaste, Costa Rica Travel Guide

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  • Costa Rica

  • Off-the-Beaten-Path Travel

  • Adventure Travel

  • Active Travel

  • Food & Wine

grassy rock formation jutting out from the ocean near a private beach
Fora’s Take

Get ready to experience the Pura Vida lifestyle in Costa Rica’s magical Guanacaste region. Driving distances are long and roads windy and often not well-maintained, so rent a 4x4 if driving yourself, and bring some extra doses of Dramamine for anyone prone to motion sickness. If staying in Papagayo, you will likely eat mainly within the resorts, but if you’re renting a house in Las Catalinas or staying in any of the resorts closer to Tamarindo, choose from our picks below for scoring some good meals and great beach time.

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Where to stay in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

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Places to eat & drink in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

tropical fruits and daisies lying on a blue-tiled countertop

Abbocato Restaurant: From Four Season’s former Chef Paola comes this classic Italian restaurant with a personal approach. Call in advance to make a reservation.

Carpe Diem: blink and you’ll miss this small but popular café serving breakfast and lunch in the tiny town of Portrero. 

Che Sirloin: Argentine-style steakhouse and grill. Keep an eye out for Dash, the owner, who is usually around!

Father Rooster: casual beachfront dining on a calm black-sand bay with great tide pools for kids. Book for lunch and don’t miss the ceviche. 

Ginger: Asian-inspired tapas and small plates made from fresh, local ingredients.

Gracia: this hilltop eatery in the Hacienda del Mar development has some of the best sunset views around. Make your dinner reservation early and come with swimsuits and towels to enjoy the pool before your meal.

Guayoyo Coffee House: Go for your caffeine fix, when you’re craving a smoothie made from the freshest local fruits, or to satisfy your sweet tooth with their in-house pastries.

La Forketta: a go-to for locals and visitors alike for eat-in and carry-out pizzas.

La Vid: small but delicious menu of pastas, pizzas and salads with a great wine list, from the owners of Gracia.

Maracuyá Beach Club: Pool and beachside dining experience with classics like fish tacos, chicken nachos or a spicy Maracuya burger. They also offer mixology and culinary classes.

Mercadito: a hip food truck park in Tamarindo that shouldn’t be missed.

Pangas: a favorite for long lunches on the beach in Tamarindo. 

Patagonia del Mar: across the street from the beach in Brasilito, this is a great place to end the day and watch the sunset.

Pots and Bowls: thank goodness this excellent eatery has two locations now, both in Playa Grande and in Las Catalinas, making scoring the area’s best poke even easier.

Rip Jack’s: no need to change after surfing Playa Grande. This casual restaurant within a hotel by the same name is a no shirt, no shoes, no problem kind of place to grab some tacos and a cold cerveza.

Restaurante Coco Loco: Popular amongst locals and travelers alike, Coco Loco is an ideal spot for sunsets. You literally can’t get closer to the beach. 

Restaurante Mar Azul: Fresh seafood straight from the boats to your table.

Surf Box: serving breakfast and lunch only, this is the spot for smoothies, sandwiches and a killer açai bowl following your morning surf sesh. 

Villa Deevena: about an hour south of Catalinas, this is some of the best food possibly anywhere in the country. Absolutely worth the drive.

Zarpe: Craft cocktail paradise with no menu. Trust your bartender.

What to see & do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

green bridge extending into the jungle

Diamante Eco Adventure Park: this eco-adventure park blends the kid-friendliness of a small zoo at their animal sanctuary with a side of adrenaline rush. Diamante’s zip line is famous for its “superman” option, and there are also ATVs for a ride through the jungle and beach.

Fishing Boat Charter: book through the Catalinas concierge and be ready for an early wake-up. The best fishing is done at dawn, and you might be bored and disappointed (albeit better rested) with an afternoon departure.

Frijolos Locos: the best surf shop for lessons, from beginners to experienced, located in Playa Grande.

Pura Vida Ride: this retail and rental shop in Las Catalinas doles out boogie boards, paddle boards and kayaks to beach lovers and rents mountain bikes to those ready to explore the single-track trails snaking up from town. Guides are available.

Shopping in Tamarindo: travelers come to Costa Rica for nature and adventure, not retail therapy, but there are some cute stores to explore in Tamarindo. Favorites are Dreamland for locally-crafted sunglasses and Yah-Yah Jewelry for delicate gold necklaces and other accessories.

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Costa Rica.