Beaches (from north to south):
The Gulf of Papagayo is dotted by 12 golden-sand beaches separated by gray cliffs that jut out into the Pacific Ocean. The calm coves’ protected waters are ideal for beginner swimmers, young children and visitors just wishing to relax.
Many of Papagayo’s secluded beaches are best accessed by canoe or sea kayak. Their sparkling sands dance with scuttling hermit crabs, and the gulf’s resident howler monkeys will boldly call out to you during a relaxing sunbath. Make a date to watch the sunset from one of these gentle strips of sand – Papagayo is known for some of the best sunsets in Costa Rica.
Just a mile south of Papagayo, Playa Panama is a bay within a bay. The resulting waters are nearly wave-free, and perfect for floating the afternoon away. Playa Panama is very popular with vacationing Costa Ricans, who often set up camp on the beach.
Not to be confused with Jaco’s neighbor of the same name, Northern Guanacaste’s Playa Hermosa is an elegant, mile-long strip of gray-sand beach. Tide pools mark its northern and southern points, and its bay is always filled with fishing boats, sailboats and even the occasional cruise ship.
Playa del Coco
Shaped like a horseshoe, Playa del Coco is one of Guanacaste’s most popular and accessible beaches. Hard-packed gray sand is ideal for walks down the beach, and the waves are often strong enough for boogie boarding fun.
Playa del Coco is the best departure point for trips to Ollie’s Point and Witch’s Rock, both located in Santa Rosa National Park. These surf breaks are world famous and some of the best in Costa Rica, though not for the faint of heart.
Playa del Coco is also one of the best scuba diving and snorkeling locations in the country. Diving tours depart daily for the rich waters of Bat Island and Catalina Islands, and sailboat tours regularly take snorkelers to reefs and underwater volcanic formations.
Just two miles south of Playa del Coco, Playa Ocotal is quieter and more relaxed than its busy neighbor. A small gray-sand beach lines the waterfront.
National Parks, Private Parks and Wildlife Refuges:
One of Guanacaste’s newest and most unique attractions, Africa Mia safari park is a treat for all. Giraffes, antelope and zebra roam the open savannah, the lovely El Salto waterfall rumbles in the distance and visitors happily feed the park’s ostriches, dromedaries (one-humped camels) and deer. Located less than an hour away from the Gulf of Papagayo, this is an ideal day trip for the entire family.
Guanacaste National Park
Adjacent to Santa Rosa National Park, 86,000-acre Guanacaste National Park boasts several habitats from lowland dry forest to mountainous cloud forest. Two volcanoes – Orosi and Cacao – frame the park, and researchers can often be found perusing its lands for new discoveries. Guanacaste National Park is just a 90-minute drive from the Gulf of Papagayo.
Lomas de Barbudal Wildlife Refuge
Backing up to Palo Verde National Park, this tranquil wildlife refuge helps to protect endangered rosewood and mahogany trees. The 6,500-acre park is also home to 250 bee species – about 25 percent of the world’s total – as well as 200 bird species. There is a small network of hiking trails throughout Lomas de Barbudal, and most visitors are accompanied only by wildlife and the occasional researcher. At just one and a half hours from the Papagayo Gulf, Lomas de Barbudal is a convenient and memorable day trip.
Palo Verde National Park
This 45,500-acre wetland sanctuary is the largest component of the larger Tempisque Megapark, which also includes the Caballero Wildlife Refuge, Lomas de Barbudal Biological Reserve, Barra Honda National Park and the newly-added Cipanci Wildlife Refuge. More than 300 bird species make their homes here, including herons, storks, spoonbills, egrets, ducks, scarlet macaws and toucans. Monkeys, bats, American crocodiles, coatimundis, armadillos and jaguarundi join their avian neighbors, and make a trip to Palo Verde National Park one that is not soon forgotten. Palo Verde is located just south of Lomas de Barbudal, and can be reached in less than two hours from Papagayo.
Santa Rosa National Park
One of the oldest national parks in Costa Rica, Santa Rosa sprawls out over almost 96,000 acres. The park serves as one of the most important nesting sites for several turtle species, and is also a symbol of national pride: Costa Rica has only been invaded three times by foreign armies, and each time, the would-be conquerors were defeated in Santa Rosa. More than 250 bird species, 50-60 bat species, 115 mammal species, 4000 moth and butterfly species and thousands of insect species make their homes here. Visitors may hike many miles of trails, explore the historic La Casona building and Monument to the Heroes, or simply relax at one of the park’s beautiful ocean overlooks. Santa Rosa National Park is also home to famous surf breaks Ollie’s Point and Witch’s Rock.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
A mere 90-minute drive from Papagayo, Rincon de la Vieja National Park offers well-groomed trails, towering volcanoes, boiling mud pots, steaming fumaroles, and amazing natural beauty. Full-day tours depart daily and include transportation, a guided tour, lunch and unforgettable memories.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
One and two-day tours depart almost daily, climbing from Costa Rica’s dry savannah into the country’s most celebrated cloud forest. Walk through the canopy along hanging bridges, swing among the trees on the country’s first canopy tour and experience one of the most bio-diverse regions in Costa Rica. Views from Monteverde seem to stretch out forever, and on a clear day you can see straight out to the Pacific Ocean.
Barra Honda National Park
Go on a caving expedition at Costa Rica’s most famous and labyrinthine caves. Known for its spectacular rock formations and incredible views, visitors will witness geological formations created more than 50 million years ago. Hike through the ancient caves and discover the park’s weaving waterways on a full-day trip from your Papagayo hotel.