Get ready for a laid-back beach vacation to the stunning beaches of Guanacaste and the Nicoya Península. This slow-paced trip allows you to slow down and adjust to the Costa Rican lifestyle of pura vida in three quintessential surf towns: Tamarindo, Nosara, and Santa Teresa.

Highlights

  • Surf and kayak around Tamarindo Bay
  • Admire the sunset from a catamaran cruise on the Pacific
  • SUP through the mangroves in Nosara
  • Snorkel at night and see glowing marine life on a bioluminescence tour

Brief Itinerary

Day Highlights Overnight
Day 1 Liberia to Tamarindo - Self Drive Tamarindo
Day 2 Private Surf Lesson at Playa Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 3 Sunset Catamaran Adventure Tamarindo
Day 4 Kayak Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 5 Free Day in Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 6 Tamarindo to Nosara - Optional Beach Excursion Nosara
Day 7 Nosara Mangrove Tour - SUP Paddle Board Nosara
Day 8 Nosara - Free Day Nosara
Day 9 Nosara to Santa Teresa Playa Tambor
Day 10 Free Afternoon and Evening Bioluminescent Bay Tour Santa Teresa
Day 11 Free Day in Santa Teresa Santa Teresa
Day 12 Surfing Lesson at Playa Santa Teresa Santa Teresa
Day 13 Santa Teresa to Liberia & Depart Costa Rica  

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1: Liberia to Tamarindo - Self Drive

Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Welcome to Costa Rica! Liberia is the northern hub of Guanacaste Province, an area famous for both its Pacific beaches and inland mountainous regions. You'll get to experience all of it on this self-driving Costa Rican road trip.

After touching down at Daniel Oduber Quirós International airport, you'll meet our representative and pick up your rental vehicle. Get behind the wheel and travel about 1.5 hours west to Tamarindo, on the Pacific coast. On the way, you'll pass along the tropical dry forest of Guanacaste until you reach the azure waters of the Pacific. After arriving in the popular surf village of Tamarindo, check into your accommodations, spend the rest of the day unwinding on the beaches.

Day 2: Private Surf Lesson at Playa Tamarindo

A surfer at sundown on Playa Tamarindo
Tamarindo has beaches for all experience levels

In the morning, enjoy a private surf lesson on Playa Tamarindo. Take the rest of the day to practice riding the waves on your own, or enjoy some well-deserved relaxation on the beach. 

A must-visit spot near Tamarindo for more experienced surfers is Playa Naranjo, which locals have nicknamed "Witch’s Rock." It's located in a national park and accessible only by boat and features big surf with both left and right breaking waves. A few miles beyond, you'll reach Ollie’s Point, another great surfing locale.

You can also take a yoga class at one of Tamarindo's studios, stroll through town, or enjoy a meal at a local café.

Day 3: Sunset Catamaran Adventure

A sunset cruise on the Pacific
A sunset cruise on the Pacific

Spend the morning relaxing on the beaches of Tamarindo. In the afternoon, you'll embark on a sailing trip. The boat will stop in a tranquil bay, drop anchor, and you'll be free to swim and snorkel. It's not uncommon to see schools of tropical fish, sea turtles, and even dolphins frolicking in the surf. Admire the sunset from the water, with a tropical beverage in hand.

Day 4: Kayak Tamarindo

Get ready for some kayaking
Get ready for some kayaking

On the agenda today is some kayaking around Tamarindo Bay. Not only that, you'll also be paddling out to Capitán Island, located just a couple hundred meters offshore (about a 20-minute trip. As you paddle over the azure waters near Playa Tamarindo you'll eventually reach the crystalline waters and white-sand beaches of the island.

Here you'll have an opportunity to do some snorkeling and observe the underwater coral reef, which abounds with exotic fish. This tour is perfect to enjoy with the entire family (snorkeling equipment and drinking water included). Be sure to bring sunscreen.

Kayak/snorkel tour: 2.5 hours (with local guide)

Day 5: Free Day in Tamarindo

Sensoria, in Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Sensoria, in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Today can be as relaxing or adventurous as you like. If you've had enough of the beaches, drive two hours east to Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Hike a jungle trail called Sensoria, which is part of a wildlife sanctuary featuring thermal pools and waterfalls that plunge into turquoise lagoons. Or, you can experience the rainforest from the water during a two-hour safari float down the Corobicí River, where a guide will point out monkeys, bats, lizards, and even crocodiles. 

You can also choose to take a guided whitewater rafting trip down the Tenorio River. Its class III-IV rapids make it the best river in the Guanacaste area for rafting. After a challenging trip down the rapids, have lunch and head back to your hotel in time to catch one last sunset.

Day 6: Tamarindo to Nosara - Optional Beach Excursion

There's more surfing opportunities south of Tamarindo
There's more surfing opportunities south of Tamarindo

Today you will hit the road again, this time driving south from Tamarindo towards another great surf spot, Nosara. The trip itself only takes a couple of hours, but there are plenty of places you can stop along the way for a drink, food, or a dip in the water.

For example, Playa Avellanas (just south of Tamarindo) is a famous surfing beach (nicknamed "little Hawaii" for its large waves), and it's also home to Lola's Beach Bar. This is perhaps the most famous watering hole in Guanacaste Province, thanks in large part to Lolita, the resident pig who doubles as the bar's official mascot.

Once you arrive in Nosara you'll check into your hotel. If you still have energy, there are other beaches you can explore nearby, such as Sámara and Carillo.

Day 7: Nosara Mangrove Tour - SUP Paddle Board

Paddling the mangrove wetlands in Nosara
Paddling the mangrove wetlands in Nosara

Nosara is interesting in that it is home to the Boca Nosara, a river mouth where both the Nosara and Montana rivers converge. Where these rivers meet the ocean is a section of mangrove wetlands home to an abundance of marine life. It's also the departure point for many kayak and SUP tours in Nosara. 

Today you'll paddle around while also taking in the region's exotic flora and fauna. Birders will enjoy the sights of egrets, kingfishers, and spoonbills, and you might even get lucky and spot a crocodile or two. Tours typically involve a stop at a remote beach where you'll enjoy some fresh fruit.

SUP tour duration: Two hours

Day 8: Nosara - Free Day

Embark on a waterfall hike
Embark on a waterfall hike

This is your day to spend however you please. You can certainly relax in a beachside hammock all day with nothing but a book and the sound of the waves to keep you company. But if you want to get out and explore, here are some great ideas for nearby excursions.

  • You can embark on a waterfall hike into the heart of Nosara. This easy-to-moderate trek is ideal for any traveler, young or old. Along the way, you'll cross various running streams until the hike culminates at a natural pool and plunging waterfall where you, of course, will be able to take a dip.
  • Travel an hour north out of town, past the city of Nicoya, to Barra Honda National Park. This small protected area is a geological wonder in that it's home to a network of over 40 limestone caverns, with one major one being open to the public. It makes for a great caving tour, and you can go with a group or on your own (there are tour guides at the cave entrance and will provide all necessary safety equipment). If you're traveling on your own, a 4x4 vehicle is recommended to arrive here.
  • Just a few miles south of Nosara are some more stunning beaches ideal for surfing and/or swimming. On a self-drive tour you can make your way down the Nicoya Peninsula to the prime surf destination of Playa Guillones (the breaks here are ideal for beginner and intermediate wave riders); then travel further down to Sámara, a little coastal community known for its art galleries, laid-back vibe, and beautiful beach; and finally hit Playa Carillo, a wide and inviting beach relatively free of the tourist hordes. 

Nosara waterfall hike: 45 minutes (with naturalist guide)

Day 9: Nosara to Santa Teresa

Playa Santa Teresa
Playa Santa Teresa

This morning you'll drive south to Santa Teresa, renowned for its excellent surf, beautiful beaches, and friendly, laid-back atmosphere. After checking in to your hotel, the rest of the day is yours to surf or explore. One idea for the afternoon is to visit Playa Tambor, which is set on Bahía Ballena and is renowned for its beautiful beaches and abundant marine life. Or perhaps rent a kayak or standup paddle board at the nearby fishing village of Pochote for a paddle through the mangroves. Along the way, you'll spot water birds like egrets, herons, and ibises. 

Here are a few restaurant recommendations for your stay in Santa Teresa

  • Enjoy a meal with your feet in the sand at Banana Beach, which offers breakfast, lunch, and dinner (as well as potent tropical cocktails) overlooking the water. Note: it's cash only.
  • Burger Rancho serves up a long list of patties (including veggie options) as well as salads, seafood, and smoothies in an airy, wood-filled space that includes TVs for watching the game.
  • Zuma Restaurant is a favorite for Israeli fare like hummus, shish kababs, and falafel, as well as Costa Rican dishes. They also mix a lengthy menu of smoothies that hit the spot for breakfast or a healthy post-surf snack.
  • Soda Tiquicia is an easy stop for casados (traditional Costa Rican meals with rice, meat, beans, and salad) in a casual, family-friendly space. 

Day 10: Free Afternoon and Evening Bioluminescent Bay Tour

The golden sands of Playa Tambor
The golden sands of Playa Tambor

Make your way to Playa Tambor, where you'll have the morning and afternoon free to explore as you like. 

Some recommended options include:

  • Nature Hiking in the Curú Wildlife Refuge: Located in Paquera, this private refuge is considered one of the best places in the Nicoya Peninsula for nature and wildlife lovers. Here you'll find lots of different ecosystems with a wide variety of species, such as monkeys, iguanas, and macaws, on this 90-minute guided hike. You'll also learn about organic agriculture, sustainable use of the land, animal behavior, and how the locals use various plants as natural remedies and medicines.
  • Curú Wildlife Refuge and Isla Tortuga: Combine a trip to Curú with a stopover at the neighboring Isla Tortuga, one of the region's best snorkeling spots. Take a boat from Curú to the snorkeling spot, about 15 minutes away. When you've had enough snorkeling for the time being, head toward the island for some fresh fruit and play time on the beach. After a two-hour break, sail back to the beach at Curú on a different route that will take you by the majestic Rainbow Rock formation jutting out of the sea.
  • Horseback riding: Explore the beautiful Nicoya Peninsula from a different vantage point and go horseback riding on the beach, through the jungle, inside the Curú Wildlife Refuge, or in the hills above the bay. 
  • Fishing: Try your hand at fishing informally or ask your guide about booking a half-day deep sea fishing trip, where you can catch Marlin, Tuna, Mahi Mahi, and more.
  • Simply relax on the golden beaches of Tambor, where the waves are placid and the sand is flat at low tide — perfect for soccer or beach volleyball. Or maybe go for a peaceful walk along the 2.5-mile-long (4km) beach path around the bay.

In the evening, set out on a bioluminescent tour of the bay. This three-hour interactive trip starts with a short sea kayaking excursion from the beach at the Curú Wildlife Refuge to Quesera Beach, about a 20-minute paddle away. Take a break on the fine white sands of Quesera and watch the sunset as you snack on fresh fruit and sip on refreshing drinks.

Feel free to take a dip in the crystal clear waters as your guide explains the phenomenon of bioluminescence emitted by the surrounding flora and fauna. Then don your snorkeling mask and follow your guide to the best spots to observe the natural neon blue light in the water around you. 

Kayaking Distance: 3.75 miles (6km) round-trip

Day 11: Free Day in Santa Teresa

Get into warrior pose at one of several yoga studios
Get into warrior pose at one of several yoga studios

You have the freedom to explore Santa Teresa and the nearby area. When it comes to activities there's something for everyone: 

  • Playa Santa Teresa has some of the best and most consistent waves in all of Costa Rica, making it a great choice for beginners who want to try a surf lesson. 
  • Go on a guided horseback ride through the hills of nearby fishing hamlet Mal País, ending with a sunset ride along the beach. 
  • Unwind with a yoga session (there are several studios in town) or a standup paddleboarding lesson along the shore. 
  • Spend the morning sport fishing for mahi-mahi, tuna, sailfish, and marlin, then bring your catch to Banana Beach Restaurant and have them prepare it for you.
  • Rent an ATV to explore the forest trails and visit some of the area's more remote beaches.

Day 12: Surfing Lesson at Playa Santa Teresa

Time to hit the waves
Time to hit the waves

Today you'll take a private, two-hour surf lesson in the waves of Playa Santa Teresa, some of the best and most consistent in all of Costa Rica. Beginners will gain confidence under the tutelage of expert teachers, while more advanced surfers can expect to hone their technique. 

After your lesson, you can hike along the coastline towards nearby Playa Carmen, another star of Costa Rica's Pacific beaches. Go for a dip in the tidal pools here, or head back into town. Santa Teresa attracts expats from around the world, and everyone seems to be clutching a surfboard or yoga mat. The long gravel road that runs along the beach is great for people watching and people meeting. You could even rent a vintage Land Rover or hop on an ATV and cruise the coast yourself.

Day 13: Santa Teresa to Liberia & Depart Costa Rica

Liberia, Costa Rica
Liberia, Costa Rica

It's time to say adiós to Costa Rica! After breakfast, you'll begin the drive to the airport in Liberia for your return flight home.

Map

Map of Relaxing Nicoya Peninsula Road Trip - 13 Days
Map of Relaxing Nicoya Peninsula Road Trip - 13 Days