Six-Day Itinerary Discovering Guanacaste & Arenal, Costa Rica

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Advisor - Noura Senno
Curated By

Noura Senno

  • Costa Rica

  • Active Travel

  • Adventure Travel

  • Outdoors

  • Entertainment

  • Sightseeing

Beach in Costa Rica
Curator’s statement

Costa Rica is a haven for beach-lovers, adventure-seekers and those wanting to connect with nature and the pura vida! By flying into Liberia, you can explore the region of Guanacaste where you can experience beautiful beaches on the Pacific as well as the volcanic mountains, forests and iconic waterfalls that Costa Rica is known for. Visiting Guanacaste during the dry season (December-April) promises warm weather and little to no rainfall, making it the perfect time to explore what the Pura Vida life of joy and appreciation of its simple pleasures is all about!

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Day 1: Arrive in Guanacaste

Cafe in Rica with beach views

The most popular resorts are located in Peninsula Papagayo, Puerto Viejo or Tamarindo, which are all about a 1.5 - 2 hour drive from Liberia airport. You're most likely to arrive in the afternoon, so your first day can be spent exploring your beautiful resort where you can eat at the onsite restaurants and then catch a beautiful sunset at the nearby beach. Note that due to its proximity to the Equator, the sun sets at generally the same time year-round in Costa Rica, between 5 and 6 pm on the country's west coast in Guanacaste province. And due to lower levels of light pollution, the stargazing once the sun goes down is top notch!

Day 2: Relaxing at the resort or exploring nearby areas

resort beach view

As you gear up for back-to-back days of adventure all over Guanacaste, spend the day exploring the resort or nearby towns. Guanacaste's largest city is Liberia, however there are several smaller towns that are worth visiting (and closer to where you're most likely staying). Tamarindo is a small beach town full of life and culture and a great place to visit if you're wanting to surf or enjoy some local flair. There are plenty of restaurants serving Costa Rican cuisine and bars serving drinks and music at night. If you happen to be there on a Thursday, check out the Tamarindo Night Market that offers lots of locally sourced food, drinks and crafts from local vendors in a fun, lively atmosphere, perfect for souvenir shopping!

Day 3: La Leona Waterfall Adventure Hike

Hike in Rica around waterfalls

Exploring a waterfall in Costa Rica is a must. Nestled near the Rincón de la Vieja volcanic mountain range, the La Leona waterfall is a highlight for adventure-seekers, as the only way to get there is to swim across the creeks and into the canyon where the waterfall is. You will need a guide in order to navigate your way to the waterfall, and the La Leona Waterfall Tour by Sweet Costa Rica will pick you up from Tamarindo (or you can request pick up at your resort if it's nearby) and drive you on the approx. 1.5hr trip to Curubandé where you will meet your guide.

The hike is moderately difficult but is beautiful and shaded as you're in a lush forest. You'll then hit the river and will have to swim across it to get to the next portion of your hike. After another short hike, you'll arrive at the area leading to the waterfall; however, you'll have to swim to the canyon where the waterfall is. Because of the strong current, there is a rope to help guide you through the current and up to see the waterfall... and what a beautiful waterfall it is! The water is cold and refreshing, and it's truly a sight to behold. After your adventure, enjoy a delicious Costa Rican lunch at a local restaurant (included in the tour).

Overall, this hike is for those looking for a true adventure in one of nature's most beautiful areas. Bring waterproof hiking shoes, a change of clothes and your sense of adventure! Head back to your resort in the late afternoon and relax for the rest of the day; you've earned it!

Day 4: Exploring Arenal

Arenal Volcano

Most people go to Costa Rica to see the Arenal Volcano and surrounding rainforest. While it's a bit of a drive from the western coast, it's still doable for an all-day excursion. Most tours will leave around 5-5:30 am from the Tamarindo area (most will pick you up at or near your resort) and make the 2.5-hour drive for breakfast at one of Costa Rica's most beloved restaurants, Cafe Macadamia. Located right on Lake Arenal (the views are amazing) and boasting freshly baked goods and authentic Costa Rican cuisine, it's the best way to start your day on Lake Arenal.

After breakfast, drive approximately one hour to the Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park at the foot of the Arenal Volcano. The trail is paved and takes about two hours to complete, with beautiful hanging bridges that take you over the treetops of the rainforest for unique and breathtaking views of the Arenal Volcano. Enjoy the diverse wildlife (see if you can spot a three-toed sloth!) and flora and fauna of the rainforest on your way.

After your hike, you can choose to extend your day by stopping at one of the many thermal resorts along Route 142, which runs along the base of the volcano. The volcano provides naturally-heated mineral water, and these resorts all have mineral pools heated naturally at varying degrees to relax and enjoy.

Head back to your hotel around 2 pm to ensure you make it back before sunset, and to leave room to stop at El Jardín Restaurant & Souvenir Shop for a wide selection of souvenirs and authentic Costa Rican food for dinner!

Day 5 - Zip Line & Whitewater Rafting along the Rio Colorado

hanging bridges

A short drive from Liberia city is the Cañón de la Vieja Lodge where you can choose from several activities along the Colorado River including zip-lining, whitewater rafting (Class II and III), horseback riding, rock climbing and river tubing. The Lodge also has thermal pools where you can take a dip in naturally heated mineral water as well as get painted with volcanic mud, rich in minerals and benefits for your skin! Enjoy a delicious buffet lunch at their on-site restaurant before heading back to your resort.

Day 6 - Sunset Catamaran Cruise & Snorkel in Playa Flamingo

Playa Flamingo Marina

After an adventurous few days, take the morning to relax at your resort before heading to Playa Flamingo, a short drive from Tamarindo. Meet at the beautiful and newly-built Playa Flamingo Marina in the afternoon and hop aboard Planet Dolphin's large catamaran for a cruise to snorkel, view the spectacular coastline, and then see the beautiful sunset from the boat. If you're there during the months of December-January, you might even get to see humpback whales who have migrated to the warmer waters for the winter! Enjoy a delicious buffet dinner and open bar on the boat before heading back to the Marina. There are several shops and places to grab a drink or eat at the Marina, so head for some ice cream and shopping after your cruise!

Need to Know

Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my guide, Exploring Bermuda: Beyond Beaches.

Advisor - Noura Senno

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Noura Senno

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