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Things to Do in Guanacaste and Northwest

In Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province, 400 miles (644 kilometers) of Pacific coastline vie for attention with tropical dry forests, undisturbed rural towns, and volcano-fueled hot springs. The country’s northern neighbor, Nicaragua (which you can easily visit on a day trip), lost control of this territory in the 19th century, although a distinctly Nicaraguan culture lingers. Sites are spread out, so tours can help sure you easily navigate between the places you most want to see. Inland, the region is noted for Rincon de la Vieja National Park, which offers hiking through a tropical dry forest, swimming beneath waterfalls, and soaking in mineral hot springs and mud baths. Summiting the Rincon de la Vieja volcano is every bit as exciting as the more popular Arenal volcano in Alajuela Province, but it’s less crowded and only a day trip from the beach. Additional nature parks dotting the region offer horseback riding; ziplining canopy tours; and opportunities to view sloths, howler monkeys, and lizards that call the forests home. On the coast, find your bliss surfing the swells of Tamarindo or Hermosa beach or soaking up sun rays on the shore. Snorkel among tropical fish at Playa Conchal, take a catamaran cruise out on the open water, or kayak through mangrove forests—all easily accessible from Liberia’s airport.
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Tamarindo Beach
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Once the site of a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo Beach has become one of Costa Rica's most popular stretches of golden sand. Surfers travel from across the globe to ride Tamarindo's waves, but you don’t need to be a pro to hang 10 here. There are spots nearby that are calm enough for first-time wave riders to learn.

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Rincon de la Vieja National Park
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Rincon de la Vieja National Park is the ultimate “one-stop shop” for Costa Rica’s natural attractions. Expect fuming volcanoes, gushing waterfalls, sky-high ziplines, natural hot springs, and more—all within just a couple of hours of the popular Guanacaste coast.

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Rio Negro Hot Springs
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Nestled in the lush interior of Rincon de la Vieja National Park, these rustic hot springs are fed by a naturally heated river that flows from a nearby volcanic peak. Slather on the mineral-rich mud, and then soak it off in a variety of steam pools, all while surrounded by the untamed Costa Rican rain forest.

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Baldi Hot Springs
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Located at the base of the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, San Carlos, Baldi Hot Springs features thermo-mineral hot water pools with great views of the volcano. It’s the biggest hot springs facility in the region and the perfect way to relax after hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park.

Located within the Baldi Hot Springs Hotel and Spa, there are day-use options as well as availability for hotel guests. The 25 pools range in temperature from 93 to 152 degrees Fahrenheit and get hotter as the elevation rises. It's recommended that you balance your time between pools, as your core temperature will begin to rise after about 20 minutes in a hot pool. The minerality and temperature of the water is believed to rid the body of germs and viruses while increasing blood circulation and releasing harmful toxins.

For the adventurous, Baldi Hot Springs also has extreme water slides that send you bumping and sliding before landing in the natural hot springs pool. Have children? his site is family friendly and features specially designed secure shallow pools with slides and a continuous stream of water that will keep kids thoroughly entertained.

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Palo Verde National Park
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Set on the banks of the Tempisque River, Palo Verde National Park (Parque Nacional Palo Verde) contains more than 15 topographical zones, including mangrove swamps, evergreen forests, and tropical dry forests. The park is a haven for migratory birds, bats, and 250 species of bees, plus mammals like jaguarundis (cat) and howler monkeys.

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Diamante Eco Adventure Park
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A one-stop shop for adventurers of all ages looking to get their adrenaline fix, Diamante Eco Adventure Park features one of Costa Rica’s longest zipline courses. If that’s not quite your thing, choose from an abundance of other activities, including all-terrain vehicle excursions, horseback riding, and water sports—or just marvel at the sweeping ocean views.

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Miravalles Volcano
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Towering above Costa Rica’s northwestern plains, Miravalles Volcano is the highest peak in the Guanacaste province. The dormant peak’s microclimate makes it one of the best birdwatching spots in Costa Rica, while its refreshingly cool air offers respite from the tropical humidity of the nearby beaches.

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Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge (Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Mixto Caño Negro)
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Home to more than 200 speices of rare bird, Caño Negro is one of the most biologically rich wetlands in the world. Many mammals and reptiles can also be spotted around the freshwater lagoon, making it one of Costa Rica's best wildlife-watching destinations.

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Dino Park Blue River
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Don’t look now, but it seems like dinosaurs are once again roaming the forests of Rincon de la Vieja. Here at Dino Park Blue River, watch a vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex as it prowls and growls through the rainforest, or stare in wonder at the towering height of a life-sized, long necked Brontosaurus. More than just stationery statues of dinosaurs, the creatures here at the Dino Park are moving, growling, full-sized replicas of dinosaurs that once roamed the continent, and offer a curiously real way to see how dinosaurs looked in the wild. Interestingly enough, Costa Rica was still underwater when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, though now it sports the only park of its kind in Latin America. Over two dozen different species of dinosaurs all lurk in the trees and the jungle, from quick and nimble velociraptors to lumbering three-horned triceratops. There’s also an educational component to all of the different dinosaurs, and guests will learn their diet, habitat, history, and era they lived in. As part of the popular Blue River Resort, the Dino Park also is nearby to spas, hot springs, mud baths, and swimming pools, and is set on the slopes of a lush volcano in the Guanacaste interior.

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Vida Aventura Nature Park
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Situated in the heart of the Guanacaste area adjacent to the Rincon de La Vieja National Park, Vida Aventura Nature Park offers the perfect mix of adventure and nature. Allot a whole day here to zip line, ride a horse and then wind down in the hot springs.

Vida Aventura Nature Park features El Gavilan, a zip line and canopy experience that ensures a full rush of adrenaline. As you zip through the air, take in the views of ancient lava canyons and the Rincon de la Vieja and Miravalles volcanoes. Explore the biodiverse Costa Rican jungle while helping to support conservation efforts—a win-win situation. There are also nature trails all over Vida Aventura that are great for families and those looking to spot some wildlife.

Visitors can hop on a horse to learn how to drive cattle Guanasten style and to see the tropical dry forest area of the nature park, all before taking advantage of the site's thermal pools. Unwind and relax with a volcanic mud treatment, or stay active by checking out El Resbalon, the nature park’s water slide.

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More Things to Do in Guanacaste and Northwest

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens

Monteverde Butterfly Gardens

Tucked away in the mountains, the Monteverde Butterfly Gardens is one of the most popular attractions in the area. The 3-acre (1.2-hectare) sanctuary houses four unique climate-controlled habitats where more than 30 species of butterflies thrive alongside 20 species of arachnids and insects and a colony of leaf-cutter ants.

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Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

Situated atop the Continental Divide, this high-altitude forest is literally shrouded in clouds. Wisps of fog trail through the lofty canopy, creating the perfect environment for thousands of animal and plant species. Here you can find wild orchids, colorful birds, and sinuous jungle cats—plus scenic mountaintop vistas.

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Eco Termales Fortuna

Eco Termales Fortuna

If you are looking to experience one of the more private hot springs in Costa Rica, Eco Termales is your best bet. With a limit on the number of visitors at a time, it is one of the smallest but least crowded springs in the area. There are seven pools ranging in temperature from 91 to 105 degree Fahrenheit and even a cascading waterfall guests can stand under. The intimate resort includes paths lined with volcanic silt that lead guests around the pools and changing rooms, and there is also an onsite restaurant that features traditional Costa Rican dishes. The family that owns the site prepares the food downstairs and lives upstairs above the restaurant.

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Las Pumas Rescue Center

Las Pumas Rescue Center

Las Pumas Rescue Center is located in the Guanacaste area near Cañas and serves to rescue, rehabilitate and ensure good conditions for wildlife in Costa Rica. The rescue center primarily caters to larger cats, but there are a number of local species that have benefited from the services at Las Pumas. In addition to the large cats, monkeys, deer and even parrots have been treated here, as well as two toucans that were rescued in 2007 after two men were caught trying to sell them.

The center was established in the midst of deforestation in the 1960s to promote wildlife rehabilitation and conversation efforts. The site fights against hunting, deforestation and poaching of wild animals in Guanacaste by taking in animals that have been removed from their natural habitat, seized by authorities or even brought in by concerned citizens.

It’s important to note that Las Pumas Rescue Center is not a zoo. Animals are rehabilitated with a goal of returning them to the wild; however, that isn't always feasible. Animals unfit to be released are continually cared for.

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Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo)

Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo)

Palm-lined, grey-sand Matapalo Beach (Playa Matapalo) enjoys the kind of wild beauty that characterizes Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coast. Largely off the beaten beach path, this long flat beach has long attracted the surfer crowd with its strong riptides and two river mouth breaks. A couple sleepy hotels and beach bungalows offer surf-side accommodations, but walk a few minutes in either direction, and you’ll likely have the beach completely to yourself.

While Playa Matapalo’s strong currents and big waves mean it isn’t ideal for swimming, it is a wonderful beach for secluded sunbathing or for catching a sunset over the Pacific.

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Llano de Cortés Waterfall

Llano de Cortés Waterfall

Llano de Cortés is one of Costa Rica’s most scenic waterfalls, just a short drive from Liberia, which is more commonly the jumping off point to the Pacific beaches than jungle swimming holes. The waterfall is about 40 feet tall and 50 feet wide, creating a gorgeous veil of white water streaming over the rocks. Adventurous visitors can climb behind the falls to sit on the rocks looking outward through the veil, and the warm pool is perfect for wading, swimming and standing under the cascade of water.

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Santa Rosa National Park

Santa Rosa National Park

Santa Rosa National Park (Parque Nacional Santa Rosa) encompasses much of Costa Rica’s Santa Elena Peninsula and is one of the country’s oldest protected areas. Thick jungles and mangrove forests give way to rolling ocean and white beaches along the country’s coastline, while further inland, dry tropical forests teem with flora and fauna.

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