Guanacaste

Guanacaste, photo from CostaRica.org

Playas del Coco
This is probably the largest beach town that is closest to Liberia/the airport, being only a 30 min drive. Most tour companies offer shuttles to/from the airport, and car rentals will even drop off your vehicle to you! If you follow the road to Ocotal and turn right at the triangle, you’ll find ample free beach parking on the “local’s” side of town. This was over by our Airbnb, so we would walk this route almost every day! It’s less hectic than trying to park near Soda Teresita, and it’s free 🙂 Note: One of the parking attendants at the triangle was asking 4,000 CRC!!! Insanity. You can also park like a block up from the beach/the triangle, for FREE.


As for groceries, we frequented the Mega Super (the one by Plaza Colonial), as they had a good selection of non perishables. I also liked the “Super New China el Coco” and the fruit and veggie store in the strip mall (to the right, when looking at the chino). The veggie place had the best fresh options, in my opinion! We also went to the Auto Mercado/gringo market, mainly for some snacks for Mila, like string cheese, greek yogurt, and of course, Goldfish crackers.

Food/Drink Recs:
Coconutz- It’s a cerveceria with good spicy margaritas, swing seating, giant jenga, TVs with sports coverage, and a stage for music.
Chorotacos- Great for a quick taco lunch! Delicious.
La Caveja- People were boasting about their homemade pastas (and honestly we tried 4 different dishes, different nights and weren’t impressed) BUT their pizzas are outstanding!
Soda Teresita- We had breakfast here and it was alright. Good, but nothing special.
Bar Matapalo- Good, traditional meals. Great for after the beach!
Tico Bakery- This was another highly recommended place, but it didn’t impress me… I’d go back, but I wouldn’t say it is a “must”

Where we stayed
I found a cute little place on Airbnb that was on the local’s side of Coco, and close to the beach. Honestly, what sold me on the place was the pool! I knew Mila would love being in the water, and the pool here was huge (and even had a zero-entry with a barrier wall for the kids)! The apartment was small, but that didn’t bother us since we knew we would be outside 24/7.


Photo from listing on Airbnb where we stayed with Adam’s parents. Part of Villa Sol Resort Complex

Playa Hermosa
The beach here was great! The waves were much smaller than several of the other beaches we had gone to, and it was pretty clean. There are also several restaurants along the beach, so plan to stop at at least one to enjoy a margarita and watch the sunset. I highly recommend La Casita del Marisco- the food was incredible! If you’re staying for a few days and want to pick up some essentials, the Super Luperon is a great option. They have pretty much everything you’ll need (and if they don’t, it’s a short drive to Coco- see above for grocery recs)

Where we stayed
Our first time here was just for a few days (and it was just Adam, Mila and I). I had my eye on this Airbnb for a while and though it was mostly fully booked, the dates we needed happened to be available!
Our second trip was with Adam’s parents, so we splurged a bit on a different Airbnb.


Playa Negra
We did this as a day trip from Playas del Coco, and it was about 1 1/2 hours each way. The last little bit was on gravel, but it was manageable in our little rental car. We parked in the public lot by Hotel Playa Negra- there is an attendant present, and it costs $2 USD/ 1,000 CRC to park there. There are bathrooms and a restaurant by the beach (part of the hotel). This beach was great for kids, as there were several tide pools to explore and the beach was quite wide. We also saw people surfing, so that was fun to watch!


Playa Conchal/ Playa Puerto Viejo
This was our favorite beach in Guanacaste! The turquoise waters and calm waves made us feel like we were in the Caribbean! It’s a great beach for kids, and there is shade up by the mangroves. There is one little restaurant on site at Playa Puerto Viejo near the parking lots (2,000 CRC, or you can park for free if you keep going right up to the beach), but just be aware that the restaurant does not serve beer (even though the sign says “beer”). You can, however, get mixed drinks pa’ llevar… as we saw one of the ATV tour guides/leaders do. The food at the restaurant was decent, but pretty expensive for CR standards ($12 USD for arroz de la marinera). Next time we would probably pack a lunch and bring more water/beers/whatever. Again, this was a little under 1 1/2 hours from Playas del Coco and we were fine without a 4×4- but we went the Filadelfia to Huacas route, as the primary route that Google Maps and Waze took us (past Diamante towards Potrero & Playa Flamingo) wanted us to cross a river… and we had no intentions of trying to do that in our rental car!


Playa Rajada
Alright, so this was another day trip for us from Playas del Coco (2 hours, as you should take the route that goes to La Cruz and then back down… it’s all paved until the last 5 minutes and easy to manage in a small car). I had read on a couple of blogs as well as the Google Maps reviews that this was a pretty secluded beach and we’d probably only see a few people- this was not the case for us! Perhaps it was because we went the day after Christmas, but there were a TON of people there! It was still very enjoyable, and the beach is very wide and great for kids. The water here is colder than at Playas del Coco, Puerto Viejo, and Negra; and there were a lot of jellyfish here too (I haven’t seen them anywhere else in CR yet). Another thing I had read (via MyTanFeet‘s blog) was that you can walk up a trail on the south side to get a really cool view of the beach- we tried to do this and when we got to the trail there is a huge sign saying it’s private property, no pase.

View towards Playa Coyotera (and Rajada) from a pull-off parking area just after La Cruz
The parking area at Playa Rajada (complete with tables/benches, several garbage bins, an Ambulance & first aid tent, Police, and Border Patrol)



Ponderosa Adventure Park
The adventure park is huge, and there are a lot of tours and buses that will drop you off here. It’s located about 15 min south of Liberia (25 min from the airport), and very easy to access! They offer a waterfall tour with kayaking, ziplining, a safari, and horseback riding. We only did the safari tour, as our daughter was too young for the other activities and it would have been too long of a day for her/us. The tour itself was a little pricey at $35 USD/pp, but the guides were very nice and accommodating (the tour was in spanish, but the guides came to our seats and explained everything in English again for us anyway). The highlight was feeding carrots to the zebras and giraffes! We were able to buy carrots just before getting on the wagons- 1 pack for 1,000 CRC (which was enough for 1-2 people, about 20 sticks). The tour was about 90 min- 30 minutes in the wagons (deer, zebras, giraffes), then 30 minutes walking around by the sheep, goats, and crocodiles (bathrooms here, and the option to purchase more carrots), and then a final 30 minutes in the wagons (more zebras, longhorns, and an ostrich).
Ponderosa’s website here. Reservations strongly recommended. Note: I did have to contact them via WhatsApp (+506 8460 1750) to reserve tickets because the online purchase portal was not working.


Catarata Llanos del Cortes
We added this onto our Ponderosa day trip and as I said before, we only did the safari so it was a little before noon when we arrived here. The falls are located about 30 min south of Liberia, just off of 1. We had read about a second entrance that was slightly difficult to find, but decided to just go to the main/official entrance. It cost $7 USD/pp, and the road is easy to access by car (no 4×4 necessary). The parking lot is huge, with modern facilities (bathrooms and changing rooms)… definitely not your average LATAM experience! The path is all stairs (the top half of the steps are all concrete, the lower half of the steps are gravel), and there is a rope guard rail. Very easy to ascend and descend.
Once you’re down there, you will see the rope and buoys around the designated swimming area. There’s also a lifeguard on duty! If you cross the river (left of the falls), you will see a path going up- follow the path to a second, smaller pool that’s about 3m deep (locals have spots that they jump off of, but be careful! They do not swim in this pool/river in high season)… or you’ll see concrete steps on your right that lead up to a lookout at the top of the falls.


Hotel Guachipelín & Grounds:
Rio Negro Hot Springs, Rio Negro Waterfalls (1,2,3 &4), Oropendola Waterfall, Poza Roja, and Las Chorreras Waterfall
Located on the south side of Rincón de la Vieja, Hotel Guachipelín is a great place to stay and use as a jump-off point for all of these activities (and more). Visit the hotel website here for more info. We chose to stay here for 2 nights and did only a fraction of what they have to offer! Breakfast is included with your rate (as of Dec 2021), and there isn’t anywhere else nearby to get lunch or dinner, so figure that into your costs… but it was all very reasonable and still very worth it in my opinion.
🚼 They have a good variety on their kids menu, and the staff loved Mila!

Rio Negro Hot Springs and Waterfalls
The entrance fee to the hot springs and the 4 waterfalls is included in your stay at the hotel, and they do offer a shuttle- it’s too far to walk. We drove ourselves so we could be on our own schedule (and thank goodness we did because Mila lost it as soon as we got to the hot springs so we didn’t have time to explore much there). It was about a 15 minute drive from the hotel to the parking lot, and we had no issues making the drive in a small car. Some of it is gravel with potholes, but a 4×4 isn’t necessary. We signed up for the 9am slot (they were spacing visits due to Covid) and got there at about 8:30am because I thought they opened at 8am… oops. The security guard suggested that we do the waterfalls first and then come back to the hot springs at 9am, so that’s what we did! The waterfalls were cool and we were able to walk the 600m to all four falls in 35 minutes (we planned to spend more time at the hot springs and not go in the falls, so it didn’t feel too rushed for us). Then we checked in with the security guard at the entrance to the hot springs and he explained everything for us there: changing rooms and toilets by the entrance, walk ~300m to the pools, there’s volcanic mud by the first 4 pools, etc. There are signs everywhere, so you won’t be lost or confused 🙂
🚼
1. The trails are easy to walk, but are not stroller friendly. We had Mila in her hiking backpack for both of these excursions.
2. The furthest pool (#4 I believe) is a good temp for kids! You do have to wade through another pool first, so carry them through the first pool (#3 I think… it’s to the left when you go down to the main area) and then the cooler pool wraps around by the river!

Oropendola Waterfall
The entrance fee to this waterfall was also included in our room rate and required a reservation for a time slot (again, I think it was just to limit guests due to Covid). We went around 3pm and there was no one else there! The trail is an easy 1km, with a steep hanging bridge “staircase” at the end (see pics). You can swim here too- just wear your suit in as there are no changing rooms or facilities here.
🚼 I wouldn’t recommend swimming here with small/young children.

Poza Roja
The start of the path was right outside the parking lot at the hotel (also included in our stay, though no one was there to check our wristbands) and was an easy ~800m walk. You could definitely swim here if you wanted to, but it was a little underwhelming compared to the other nearby attractions.

Poza Roja

Las Chorreras Waterfall and Ponds
Again, this was included in our room rate and there was a security guard at the end checking our wristbands. The trail was 1.5km (and started about ~400m from the reception building). It was a slight downhill to the falls, but still an easy trail… I kept my eyes down to dodge horse poop (you can also take a horseriding tour here) and it was still a nice walk. The end of the trail is right at the falls, and there are toilets here. Across from the toilets, on the left, is a smaller trail that takes you to the ponds. We walked to the first two ponds before Mila was over it, but they are just wider parts of the river where you can dip in if you’d like! Or, you can also swim at the falls. This is probably the one I would choose to swim at, if I had to choose one. It was very clear, blue water, and it wasn’t flowing quite as fast as the other falls.
🚼 I would not recommend swimming here with small/young children. The trail is not stroller friendly- it has large rocks and sand throughout.


Palo Verde Boat Tour
This was a fun morning trip for us, and we actually had the boat all to ourselves! We saw a bunch of different birds, white faced monkeys, howler monkeys, huge iguanas, and crocodiles on the 90 minute excursion. It was fun to be on the river between Parque Nacional Palo Verde and Refugio Nacional Cipanci and to learn about the different wildlife on each side!
We ended up using Palo Verde Boat Tours and we were required to drive to their restaurant/office in Ortega, and then follow the guide to the river. Their location is approximately a 1 hour drive from Playas del Coco- once you turn off at Filadelfia you will be on rough gravel roads until you reach Ortega. Other companies, like Costour, will pick you up from your hotel (in Coco, Hermosa, or Ocotal) and will also provide lunch. Note: we used Costour for our shuttle from the airport to our Airbnb and really liked them! The tour that we used had the option to add lunch but we chose to decline and just stop somewhere on our way back. We ended up seeing a little stand (not sure it was even big enough to be considered a Soda) on the side of the gravel road and stopped there for some amazing arroz con pollo and tamarindo refrescos! (2 drinks and 2 HUGE meals, 8,000 CRC!!)
Palo Verde Boat Tours: Adults $57, Children ages 6-11 $37, Children 5 & under $6
Costour: Adults ages 13+ $99, Children ages 3-12 $89, Children under 2 are free (from their website, Dec 2021… I’m not sure about pricing on children age 2)
🚼 This would be fun for kids! Mila enjoyed it at 1.5yo


The Monkey Farm
Located between Playas del Coco and Playa Ocotal, The Monkey Farm is a non-profit that offers interactive farm tours and horse rides on the beach. They have a really amazing story as to how it became a recovery center and 13 month program for unhealed trauma and complex PTSD (usually with addiction as the prevailing symptom). They now offer meals for the homeless each week, English classes for locals who want to get better jobs to provide for their families, and Equine Therapy once a week for local children with handicaps such as Downs syndrome, autism, and cerebral palsy. See their full timeline of how they came to be, here. More importantly, if you are in a position to be able to donate, please do so!
The farm tour lasts about 2 hours, and in addition to meeting all of the cute animals (and baby animals too!), they also explain their aquaponics system and their medicinal plant garden. Mila loved bottle feeding the goats and holding the baby chicks!
Reserve a tour on their website: $10pp, under age 1 is free.
🚼 Mila had a great time, but I did feel bad for the other lady on the tour with us- Mila kept wanting to see other animals and was not interested in the aquaponics/garden portion of the tour. So, it just depends on your child! Also, it’s not a lot of walking (you can see everywhere you will be from the entrance), but it is not stroller friendly.


Blue River Resort and Dino Park
This was a fun “long weekend” for us- we found the Dino Park on Google and thought Mila would love it so we planned our trip around that. The resort itself is really great- 3 hot spring pools, 2 fresh water pools (one with a slide!), botanical gardens with a hummingbird center and butterfly garden, a natural mud bath and sauna, resident mini horses and donkeys, and more. The breakfast was great, and included in the room rate. Dinners were decent and there aren’t many places nearby, so you’re kind of stuck on the grounds.
The rooms: We had a Cabana with 2 Queen beds and there was a ton of space! It’s kind of like an old, rustic, wood cabin duplex. So you share a wall with one other room (and can unfortunately hear everything) but you have your own private entrance and patio with chairs and a hammock. Their website was showing no available rooms when I originally looked, but I ended up finding the same room on AirBnb. From what I understood, they save some rooms specifically for Airbnb.

The Natural Sauna- watch for the bats!


Adam went on the Cathedral Falls tour and really enjoyed it! It’s definitely not for young children, as you have to jump in and cross the river holding onto a rope. He said they drove a little ways in the safari truck and then did a short, easy hike to the river and the caves.
Price: Adults $37, Children under 12 $27

Adam crossing the river at Cathedral Falls

I took Mila to the Dino Park thinking she would love it… she ended up being too scared to even go on the tour! Whoops, I didn’t think to research it more and know that they actually moved and made noise. She ended up talking about the 2 that she saw for the next couple of days, and the staff was nice enough to let us go back to the entrance to see them again (without charging for another tour… and they have staff present all day, so I didn’t feel comfortable just driving there without asking first).
Price: Adults $45, Children under 12 $35
🚼Babies should be in a carrier, as the trail can’t accommodate a stroller. There are bullet ants present too, so just be extra careful if your kids are walking.

More info about Blue River Resort on their website

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