This Unit includes the southwest coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. Its north limit is the Punta Cerritos and its south with river Bongo outfall, with a length of approximately 110 kilometers in front of the coast.
The main tourist center of the South Guanacaste Unit is the Nicoya city, located at 30 kilometers of the coast that works as a distribution center and stop break for the tourist that travels to the south Guanacaste beaches and the travelers to other passages. The second tourist center is the village of Sámara, located over the coast, which gives it a central position in relation with the whole passage territory.
The main resources of the unit are the beaches. It has a extended potential for the development of beach combined products and natural resources such as the spectacular arriving of the turtles Lora in the Wild Life National Refuge Ostional and the estuary and mangrove swamp of the south side, specially those who divide the beaches of Islita, Bejuco, San Miguel, Coyote and Guiones. The mangrove swamp are excellent conserved and are ideal sites for the bird sight and other type of fauna as well as the practice of light sports as the “kayaking”.
It has an efficient public transportation and well as ferryboats (Paquera community and Naranjo beach), which make the communication between several regions points easy. Similarly, the bridge over the Tempisque River gives a quick access to all the central and south region of the Peninsula.
It also has several airdromes (Tamarindo, Carrillo, Islita) that make possible the quick and safe entrance to the main tourist destinations of south Guanacaste.
The possible tourist activities are varied, which could be related with the rest, health, culture, adventure and nature, as well sports and recreational aspects.
A pastoral region, Guanacaste offers this activity in coastal areas and in the mountains and their communities. Horseback-riding tours are available through tourism operators or family-owned farms that rent horses.
There is no end to the diversity of hiking options available for observing various natural, historical, architectural, cultural, religious and commercial attractions.
The region offers a variety of picturesque roads and adventure or leisure sites that allow touring on regular or mountain bikes. Beaches and mountains are among the most interesting riding destinations.
ARCHITECTURAL AND HISTORIC SITES
There are sites and buildings of architectural or historic interest and National Monuments that are considered must-see places, mainly in Abangares, Bagaces, Cañas, Liberia, Santa Cruz and Nicoya.
Typical towns are characterized by sodas (small restaurants serving local food), cafes and restaurants where visitors can sample the cuisine of Guanacaste. Cañas, Tilarán, Liberia and mainly Santa Cruz and Nicoya stand out as communities with traditions in typical food and drink.
Bird-watching is possible mainly in protected areas. Many sites offer the opportunity to “get with the birds,” with Palo Verde, Curú, Isla Bolaños and Tenorio among the biggest.
There are several options for visitors to observe the goings-on in the forest canopy, including various monkey and bird species.
This is a most popular tourist activity owing to Guanacaste’s climatic conditions and wealth of flora and fauna, as well as its varied natural, cultural and architectural landscapes.
This adventure or recreational activity is becoming more and more popular in Guanacaste, thanks to its excellent dive sites and the specialized companies that normally offer services abroad. Important sites include the Gulf of Papagayo and the Santa Catalina islands.
SHOPPING FOR HANDICRAFTS
The handicrafts of Guaitil de Santa Cruz and San Vicente de Nicoya are made of pure clay using the traditional and ancient techniques of the Chorotega indigenous group. Ornaments, urns, flowerpots, vases, plates, decorative whistles and other figures are fashioned and may be bought for their fine finish and interest in several parts of Guanacaste. Visitors can also acquire other kinds of handicrafts fashioned out of jícaro (a kind of gourd) or the thipa plant, from which various paper products are made.
This is one of the Pacific region’s main attractions. Artisan and recreational fishing are possible, but of greater interest are the tournaments in which several world billfish records have been broken. The fish are returned to the water after weigh-in.
Throughout the year, communities in the region celebrate various historical, religious, sporting, civic or artistic activities.
|PLAYA LAGARTO – PLAYA PITAHAYA
This section of the coast features rocky beaches to the north (Lagarto, Manzanillo) and sandy ones to the south. In the north, Lagarto is distinguished by its artisan-fishing activities. Though beautiful, this stretch of coast offers few services for tourists. Toward the south are beaches such as El Coco, Marbella and Pitahaya, where visitors can walk and swim in the ocean. At the north end of this stretch, Playa Pitahaya features an attractive cove. Surfers like these beaches for their waves.
A small beach, Playa Azul has strong surf and blue waters. Its midsection (to the north) features a rocky promontory (Punta Eriza) from which visitors can enjoy an extensive, breathtaking view of the entire coast stretching from the north to Punta Trinidad (San Juanillo) in the south. The beach is suitable for walking and observing the scenery. Caution is advised when swimming, especially in the southern part of the beach.
PLAYA PLEITO AND PLAYA SAN JUANILLO
Lush with coastal greenery, these beautiful, small coves are connected by a rocky platform that joins Punta Trinidad and Punta Pleito to the north. Playa Pleito features a lovely bend at its south end that is ideal for swimming. San Juanillo’s special feature is a beautiful point (Trinidad) made up of a tongue of fine sand that forms a cove with little surf to the north and stretches a hundred meters to the south, there forming the cove of Playa Cocal.
Long and wide with strong surf, this beach joins Playa Nosara in the south, from which it is separated by Punta División. Ostional enjoys worldwide prestige, because it is here and in Nancite (in Santa Rosa National Park) that the largest number of olive ridley turtles come to nest, especially from July to November. For this reason, Ostional and the entire coast southward to Punta Guiones are included in the Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. The most scenic part of the beach is the rocky coast toward the north.
This beach features a lovely estuary and a large mangrove swamp (Río Nosara) that can be toured by boat or kayak to observe the vegetation and wildlife, especially birds. Nosara’s town and outskirts offer all kinds of services for tourists, including horseback-riding and kayaking tours.
At Pelada’s north end is Punta Nosara, which separates this beach from Playa Nosara. Great for walks and relaxation, Pelada features a rocky point in the south that offers a gorgeous panoramic view of the beach and Playa Guiones stretching south. Visitors may enjoy horseback riding, sunbathing, sport-fishing and snorkeling at this beach.
Long and wide, Playa Guiones is great for walking, horseback riding and sunbathing, and it has good waves for surfing. A wide variety of tourist services is available near this beach and those to the north.
Set in a beautiful bay with moderate surf, this beach features an estuary to the south, where the Río Garza empties to form a mangrove swamp. To the north, on the other side of Punta Garza, is a rocky beach called Playa Rosada (Pink Beach) due to the color of its sand. A small fishing community, Garza offers sunbathing, swimming, walking and sport-fishing tours.
PLAYA BARCO QUEBRADO
This beach is set in a beautiful cove with moderate surf. Surrounded by tall, rocky cliffs that give it special appeal, Barco Quebrado is perfect for swimming and observing the surrounding landscape, which features a forested area. To the south lies another attractive beach called Barrigona.
PLAYA BUENA VISTA
Playa Buena Vista is a large beach with moderate surf and lush vegetation. At its north end lies an estuary; to the south is the mouth of the Río Buena Vista. The beach is ideal for sunbathing and walking. Some parts of the shore feature slightly sharp drop-offs. Trips on ultralight planes are organized from this spot.
Some four kilometers long, this beach features moderate surf, mangrove swamps and ample coastal greenery, including manchineel trees, coconut palms and creepers such as beach bean. Near the center of the beach stands an enormous old strangler fig that is one of Sámara’s hallmarks. To the south, off Punta Indio, lies Isla Chora. This Blue Flag beach offers activities such as sunbathing, walking, horseback riding, swimming, mountain biking and boat or kayak trips, as well as various services allowing tourists to enjoy the beach by day and music and good food by night.
Located five kilometers from Sámara, this lovely bay features a beautiful beach with calm surf. Swimming is very safe, especially on the south end, where a large number of coconut palms parallel to the beach and street provide shade to visitors and beautify the coast. Carrillo is also great for sunbathing and walking along the beach. Its southern stretch features a rocky hill from which visitors can see the bay in all its splendor. Surrounding this point is a very safe bay for anchoring artisan- and sport-fishing boats. The beach has been awarded the Blue Flag.
Some three kilometers long, this large, open beach has moderate to strong surf. Near its south end is the mouth of the Río Ora, which must be forded with caution to reach this and other beaches to the south (Islita, Bejuco, San Miguel) or north (Carrillo, Sámara). Known as a nesting site for giant leatherback and olive ridley turtles, Camaronal features a wildlife refuge that protects these magnificent reptiles. It’s also great for camping and fishing.
Shaped in a half-moon, this cove with little surf owes its name to the little rocky island next to Punta Islita at the northeast end of the bay. Two estuaries enhance the beauty of its landscape, which can be viewed in full from the heights of the road to the south that leads to Corozalito, where high cliffs can also be seen. Besides swimming and sunbathing, enjoyable activities include walking, horseback riding, four-by-four and quadricycle tours, mountain biking and boat trips for fishing and diving. This is a Blue Flag beach.
This small beach features a wide estuary and a mangrove swamp, excellent for observing flora and fauna. Tourists frequent the beach on horseback.
A very large beach with moderate to strong surf, Bejuco has an extensive mangrove swamp that stretches behind the beach to the mouth of the Río Bejuco. Near the south end lies Punta Bejuco, which lends even greater scenic beauty to this popular surfing beach.
PLAYAS SAN MIGUEL Y COYOTE
The access road leading to these two beaches runs over San Miguel hill in the north, which offers an impressive view of the open coast. Though the two beaches make up the same stretch of coast, they are separated by the Jabilla mouth and estuary, home to a large mangrove swamp. The surf on these beaches is strong and continuous. San Miguel is three kilometers long, while Coyote stretches almost five kilometers to the estuary of the same name. This area is great for boat trips, relaxation, sea-gazing, walking and horseback riding, as well as observing the plant and animal life of the mangrove swamps.
South of Coyote, Playa Bongo is a long, open beach that stretches several kilometers. Near the north end is an area called Caletas that is great for surfing. Five kilometers south of here lie the mouth and estuary of the Río Bongo, which marks the border between the Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces. Some three kilometers further south is Playa Manzanillo, a beautiful beach lush with vegetation. This beach is well frequented by the residents of Cóbano and other towns. Visitors can rent horses, walk on the beach, enjoy the ocean, take boat trips, kayak and camp.
South of Manzanillo lies Punta Pochote, which features a small rocky cove, profuse vegetation and beautiful scenery. The beach is good for walking, enjoying the ocean and sunbathing.
Considered by scholars to be the oldest city in the country and the heart of the Chorotega nation, Nicoya has well defined sectors: park, Catholic church and various commercial centers including the local market, where typical food and drink are sold.
The town is located at 123 meters above sea level. Recent years have seen increased urban development, and the town features suitable tourism development as well as a large health center. Nicoya is a must-stop on the way to Sámara and Carrillo beaches; travel time has been shortened with the opening of the La Amistad bridge.
IGLESIA COLONIAL DE SAN BLAS
Located in downtown Nicoya, this beautiful church occupies the site where the country’s first parish church was built in 1544. Inside the church is a small but interesting religious-historical museum. Beside the edifice is a lovely urban park where both locals and visitors gather. Patron saints’ feasts are celebrated annually on December 15.
|FEAST OF OUR LADY OF GUADALUPE “LA YEGÜITA”
The feast of the Virgin of Guadalupe is preceded by a series of pre-stages: countdown of days and wood chopping on November 1; the “Pujagua” corn grinding on December 8; La Atolada festival on December 9; La Ramada festival on December 10; La Víspera (eve) on December 11; and Virgin of Guadalupe Day on December 12.
The day begins at five in the morning with la alborada (dawn song); like the day before, there is music, fireworks and a meal shared in the “casa del patrón del Alba” (“house of Alba’s patron”). At ten in the morning the procession begins, accompanied by the dance of La Yegüita.
At six p.m. the ceremony of the nine members of the Confraternity for the next year begins, held at the Confraternity’s premises. Only women vote in the election of the nine.
GUAITIL AND SAN VICENTE POTTERY
The residents of Guaitil de Santa Cruz and San Vicente de Nicoya (towns with more than 5,000 years of tradition in pottery) fashion beautiful work out of clay using the traditional and ancestral techniques of the Chorotega indigenous group, which once inhabited this part of the country. Pieces include ornaments, urns, flowerpots, vases, plates and ceramic whistles. Very distinctive ovens are used to fire these exquisite pieces. Souvenirs may be purchased in the two communities, where pottery sales make up the residents’ main source of livelihood. This lovely tradition is handed down from generation to generation; in addition, the time-honored techniques are taught to students at Guaitil’s primary school, who fashion beautiful pieces to be sold to visitors.
Santa Cruz holds the distinction of being the national folklore city, thanks to its commitment to keeping its traditions and customs alive, including traditional dance, musical instruments, food and drink. The town features a pleasant, well laid out park, as well as a variety of shops and public services.
Nearby natural tourist attractions include stunning beaches such as Ostional, Blanca (Flamingo), Tamarindo and Grande. Tourism development has been substantial in recent years, mainly on the coast, where large hotels have been established along with a range of services and activities, including golf..
FEAST OF SANTO CRISTO DE ESQUIPULAS
Santa Cruz’s effigy of Christ was brought from Guatemala in 1840. The celebration unfolds in phases: La Víspera (eve): On January 13, the Cristo de Esquipulas is moved from Arado, where it is kept, to a house on the outskirts of Santa Cruz, where it is prepared for the procession on the afternoon of the 14th. Neighbors prepare themselves to go see the Christ, thus starting an entire procession of worshippers. The Christ passes through streets adorned with palms, malinche (flamboyant tree) flowers and multicolored streamers.
La Festividad (the feast): January 15 is the day of the Patron Saint, and a procession is made through Santa Cruz accompanied by los indios promesanos (indigenous people offering vows to the Christ), the National Traditional Queen and her Court of Honor, the Priest and the faithful. Afterwards, mass is held in the church in honor of the saint.
In addition to these activities, cultural shows are organized from January 14 to 18: traditional dance, music from Guanacaste and marimba, plays and poetry readings, as well as “retahílas” (witty dialogues between two people) and “bombas” (spontaneous recitations of love), with all the drollness typical of the residents of this community holding the title of national folklore city. As a complement to the events, handicrafts and souvenirs from the festivities are sold. The events take place around two main locations: the Plaza de los Mangos, where the bull-riding stage is set up; and Parque Bernabela Ramos, where cultural activities are held.
GUANACASTE CULTURAL EXPRESSION
Guanacaste is known for its music, which is the most popular form of artistic expression in the province. “Music is an important character to be respected and appreciated,” and seems to be a natural ability among Guanacaste’s sabaneros.
As a complement to music, Guanacaste’s traditional dances have been preserved throughout time like oral tradition, and are the truest representation of what social and cultural life once was in the Guanacaste province. Greatly influenced by the Andalusian zapateado from Spain, dances include El Punto Guanacasteco, Los Amores de Laco, La Cajeta, La Flor de Caña, El Torito, El Zapateado, El Pavo and La Botijuela, among others.
One of Guanacaste’s most important staples, corn is the base of many of the region’s typical foods and beverages: tortillas guanacastecas, tanelas, tayuyas, tamales, pisques, tamal dulce, arroz de maíz, nacatamales, rosquillas, bizcochos, pozol, atol, chicheme, chicha, pinol and more.
Most houses have clay ovens, in which all kinds of breads and many of the foods above are baked. It’s interesting to know how some of these foods are prepared, such as arroz de maíz, made with white corn soaked and then ground—in the old days—by hand on metates (table-shaped stones, with stone pestles used for grinding); today this dish is made in machines, cooked with lard, seasonings and chicken broth, and made only from yellow corn.
As for beverages, there’s pinol, made from finely ground white corn roasted on a comal (a cast-iron plate used for baking tortillas). Chicha de maíz is prepared differently in several parts of the country; in Guanacaste, this beverage is made by browning and grinding the corn, adding a fair amount of pallastón, brown sugar and ginger, then allowing the mixture to ferment in earthenware jars for two to three days. Chicheme is a nutritious beverage popular at parties and prayer groups. This drink is an atol de maíz (a thick, hearty beverage made from corn) that is allowed to ferment naturally, with sugar, ginger, water and ground cloves added to it. Key places to enjoy these foods and beverages are the markets in Liberia and Nicoya, and the famous Cooperativa de Mujeres (Women’s Cooperative) in Santa Cruz.
|BARRA HONDA NATIONAL PARK
Located 22 kilometers northeast of Nicoya, this park’s 2,295 hectares protect an important geological feature: a system of calcareous caverns with stalactite and stalagmite formations. At 450 meters high, Barra Honda hill is made up of ancient coral reefs pushed up out of the earth by tectonic faults.
Around 19 caverns have been explored. Terciopelo is most accessible and is open to the public. Its stalactites and stalagmites are formed by calcium carbonate in the cavern ceiling dissolving upon coming into contact with water. The park offers parking, drinking water, outhouses, lodging, information, trails and viewpoints showing landscapes of the Río Tempisque.
DIRIÁ NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Located in Santa Cruz, this refuge protects the area’s hydrographic basin system and around 1,500 hectares of forest. Above 700 meters, evergreen species prevail, hosting moss and gigantic bromeliads.
OSTIONAL NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE
Ostional was established as a refuge to protect the olive ridley turtles that nest on this shore. The most important nesting area stretches from a place known as La Roca to the Ostional estuary. In addition to the olive ridley, which nests in the refuge year-round, giant leatherback and green turtles nest from September to February, as well as the occasional hawksbill. Olive ridleys can lay more than 100 eggs each on the refuge’s beaches. Once a year, a phenomenon called la arribada (“the arrival”) occurs between September and November. For three to seven days, hosts of olive ridleys descend upon the refuge to lay thousands of eggs. In order to make reasonable use of this resource, the law permits eggs to be taken from Ostional for commercial purposes. This activity is coordinated with the Ostional Development Association, as are guided turtle-watching tours.