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 four quintessential surf towns: Tamarindo, Nosara, Playa Sámara 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
  • Go spelunking in Barra Honda National Park
  • 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 Free Day in Tamarindo Tamarindo
Day 4 Sunset Catamaran Adventure Tamarindo
Day 5 Tamarindo to Nosara - Optional Beach Excursion Nosara
Day 6 Nosara Mangrove Tour - SUP Paddle Board Nosara
Day 7 Nosara - Free Day Nosara
Day 8 Nosara -> Drive to Playa Sámara Playa Sámara
Day 9 Explore Isla Chora Playa Sámara
Day 10 Sámara: Barra Honda Cave Spelunking Playa Sámara
Day 11 Playa Sámara Free Day Playa Sámara
Day 12 Playa Sámara -> Transfer to Santa Teresa Santa Teresa
Day 13 Free Afternoon and Evening Bioluminescent Bay Tour Santa Teresa
Day 14 Free day in Santa Teresa - Explore Nicoya Peninsula Santa Teresa
Day 15 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
A surfer at sundown on Playa Tamarindo

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: 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 4: Sunset Catamaran Adventure

Keep an eye out for dolphins on the tour
Keep an eye out for dolphins on the tour

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 5: 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 6: 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 7: 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 8: Nosara -> Drive to Playa Sámara

Playa Sámara
Playa Sámara

Today you'll drive about one hour south to the coastal hamlet of Sámara, on the Nicoya Peninsula. Famous for its golden sand and gentle waves, Sámara's horseshoe-shaped beach is wide and inviting. The area has a thriving fishing and farming economy, and its laid-back feel makes it a favorite of travelers and locals alike.

But since this is a road trip, why not stop and enjoy that lovely Costa Rican scenery along the way? 

On the Nicoya Peninsula, there are many coastal villages and beaches you can stop at on your way south to Sámara. These include the tropical cove of Playa Hermosa, and the crescent-shaped white sands of Playa Flamingo. Note that the coastal roads are rougher than Costa Rica's main highways, so if you do travel this route it will take you longer to reach Sámara.

Once you arrive at Playa Sámara, the options for activities are many and varied. Laze on the beach, enjoy a snorkel through aquamarine waters, or sign up for a surfing lesson. You can also enjoy Sámara above the waves on a whale/dolphin-spotting boat tour. There’s plenty to do on land, too. Take a guided hike through a mango plantation (includes all the mangos you can eat) and into the Werner Sauter Biological Preserve to spot monkeys, birds, and butterflies. You can also explore the region on horseback, starting on the beach before heading into the hills.

To unwind at the end of the day, consider dining in one of these restaurants:

  • Gusto Beach, upscale beachside restaurant serving everything from pizza to ceviche.
  • LuvBurger, casual spot serving vegan and veggie burgers. Also has beach seating featuring great sea views. 
  • Coco's Restaurant, colorful Mexican restaurant serving good standards like fajitas, tacos, and burritos. Friendly service. 

Day 9: Explore Isla Chora

Setting off via kayak to Isla Chora
Setting off via kayak to Isla Chora

Today you can investigate the nooks and crannies of this exceptionally unique coastal area. After breakfast, grab a paddleboard or kayak, and set out with your guide to the petite Isla Chora (Chora Island), a 25-45 minute paddle across the lagoon from Sámara.

Once there, snorkel around the island’s reefs (keep your eyes peeled for sea turtles!), then savor some well-earned snacks and beverages on the beach. And be sure to check out the island’s iguanas as they sun themselves on the hillside. 

Day 10: Sámara: Barra Honda Cave Spelunking

Spelunking
Spelunking

Climbing down into the depths of the earth on the Barra Honda Cave Spelunking tour is an amazing adventure. Spelunking, or cave exploration, is an enticing activity allowing you to explore ancient caves that were created hundreds of years ago by tectonic activity. 

You’ll be picked up from your beach area hotel then driven to the beautiful Barra Honda National park. When you reach park headquarters you will be greeted by your guide who will take you on a 30-minute hike up to the entrance to the caves. Your guide will be sure to point out any interesting wildlife you may come across along the way that lives in this region such as monkeys, iguanas, sloths, and anteaters to name a few. The slightly rugged but well-maintained path provides an opportunity to experience the park’s rare protected dry tropical forest environment. You’ll also stop at a scenic lookout to get a panoramic view of the Gulf of Nicoya.

During your exploration, your guide will carefully lead you into different chambers along a slippery, rocky floor and point out any cave creatures you may encounter including bats, snakes, and frogs. The steady drip of water on calcium has created hundreds of gorgeous rock formations including stalactites and stalagmites bringing beauty and life into this underground world.

This full day tour includes transportation from Nosara, Punta Islita, and Samara, park entrance, guide, safety equipment, lunch, and drinks. 

Tour time: 8 hrs

Day 11: Playa Sámara Free Day

With its gentle waves and sheltered location, Sámara is a a perfect place for surfing lessons
With its gentle waves and sheltered location, Sámara is a a perfect place for surfing lessons

You’re truly on your own today. Where to begin? Perhaps a guided tour to Palo Verde National Park, one of the world’s foremost examples of a tropical dry forest, for some spectacular bird-watching. If you prefer to be on the water, head out for some sportfishing or, during certain times of the year, a dolphin or whale-watching cruise.

Or you may just want to chill out, enjoy your gorgeous hotel or head into the charming town of Sámara, with its cafes, art galleries, and neighborly, eclectic vibe.

Day 12: Playa Sámara -> Transfer to Santa Teresa

Kick back and enjoy the sunset on the beach
Kick back and enjoy the sunset on the beach

Today you'll drive about 3.5 hours to the small fishing village of Santa Teresa. Renowned for its excellent surf, beautiful stretches of sand, and 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 Playa Tambor set on Bahia Ballena, renowned for its beautiful beaches and marine life. Or, rent a kayak or standup paddle board at the nearby fishing village of Pochote for a paddle through the mangroves where 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 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 13: Free Afternoon and Evening Bioluminescent Bay Tour

Bioluminescence at dusk
Bioluminescence at dusk

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 14: Free day in Santa Teresa - Explore Nicoya Peninsula

Montezuma Waterfall
Montezuma Waterfall

Today, you'll take in the beauty of Costa Rica from land. You can choose to hike Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve, Costa Rica's first national reserve, with trails that wind through 150+ species of trees and plants, and where you'll see howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, toucans, and wild margay cats.

Another option is to head to the bohemian town of Montezuma where a 20-minute uphill hike is rewarded with three cascading waterfalls. The lowest waterfall tumbles from a height of 24 meters into a large, rocky pool which is great for swimming. Afterward, stroll the village's charming wood houses and relax on the sand at Playa Montezuma. You can also opt for a snorkeling trip to Isla Tortuga, about a one-hour boat ride from Montezuma, where the clear conditions are just right for spotting tropical fish and sea turtles.

Day 15: 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 - 15 Days
Map of Relaxing Nicoya Peninsula Road Trip - 15 Days