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.

Southern Guanacaste Costa Rica - Travel Guide - Tropical DiscoveryOstional 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.

Playa Ostional

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.

Playa Nosara

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.

Playa Guiones

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.

Playa Sámara

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.


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.

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. 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

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.

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.

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. 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.