Guanacaste Things to Do: 8 Once-in-a-Lifetimes within Day Trip-Distance of Tamarindo (2023)

Guanacaste Things to Do: 8 Once-in-a-Lifetimes within Day Trip-Distance of Tamarindo (1)

We like to think of travel as a balance: a little bit of relaxation, a sprinkle of adrenaline, and a handful of vacation magic. How you put it all together is largely a function of your travel style, your companions, and your wishlist, but here, it all boils down to some of the best things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Of course, “best” is very much a subjective term. One traveler’s best is another’s never-going-to-happen. So, we’ll ask you: What’s your version of “best”? What experiences, what moments, what memories do you carry with you from your travels a year, a decade, a lifetime ago?

Because, whether you’re the type to seek out the greatest adrenaline rush or are the kind of traveler who cherishes heart-touching experiences, Costa Rica is at your service. A country of wild rivers and active volcanoes, of golden coastline and cerulean ocean waters, Costa Rica holds an embarrassment of natural riches and carefully curated experiences that delight visitors and become immortalized in memory.

And here, amidst all the very many things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, there are more than a few once-in-a-lifetimes, only-heres, and remember-them-forevers. From milky blue rivers and waterfall rapids to ocean giants and ancient legends, our province promises a menu of activities that earn superlatives and exceed expectations.

So again, back to you: What’s your definition of “best ever”? Because that’s where we’ll start. But until then, let’s have a look at a few of the Guanacaste experiences that have earned a spot in our memories:

Snorkeling & Scuba Diving with Giant Manta Rays

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Scuba diving is always an adventure, but it ascends to truly breathtaking when you’re joined by giant manta rays!

There are experiences and then there are Experiences – those once-in-a-lifetimes so breathtaking, so wondrous, so soul-affirming that they cement themselves in both heart and in memory.

Here, just off the coast and within the embrace of Guanacaste’s Bat Islands and Catalinas Islands, reside one of the ocean’s most ethereal and gentlest giants: giant manta rays, whose wingspans measure up to 30 feet and weigh up to a staggering 3,000 pounds.

Close relatives of sharks, these gargantuan creatures are mild-mannered and almost otherworldly: Far from feeling fear, you’ll want to swim close – not just for the Experience, but for an incredible photo: you and a manta six times your size, both backlit by the sun’s rays penetrating the ocean’s depths.

Who knows? You may just discover for yourself why giant mantas – whose brains are large enough and developed enough to support fully formed, individual personalities – have a reputation for being playful. Think dolphins, only bigger and wider and breathtaking!

Exploring an Active Volcano (& Soaking in its Hot Springs)

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Legend tells that once there was a princess who found herself in forbidden love. When her disapproving father found out, he threw her lover into the nearby volcano’s corner and condemned the princess to a broken heart and a lifetime of solitude.

That volcano: Rincón de la Vieja – Spanish for the “Old Woman’s Corner” – is named for that once-princess. Because legend also recounts that, after learning of her love’s fate, she retreated to the mountaintop, developed healing powers, and lived out her lonely life. Her legacy has become one of the most memorable things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Today, her effect is still felt in Rincón de la Vieja’s restorative hot springs and healing mineral muds, which invite visitors to rest and relaxation. And, as the volcano is housed within the eponymous Rincón de la Vieja National Park, there’s much more to see and explore: Choose between whitewater rafting/tubing or horseback riding, paired with a jungle waterslide, canopy ziplining and those promised hot springs and volcanic mud.

Discovering Costa Rica’s Back Country

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Off-road ATVs can take you into the backroads and backcountry of Costa Rica

The tropics can pose a serious challenge to infrastructure: bright, year-round sun and torrential rains, salt air and ground-shaking earthquakes. Costa Rica’s road network does its best to keep up but, at the end of the day, there are still so many magical corners, nooks, and crannies where no pavement leads.

And so, we invite you onto one of our favorite cultural discoveries and thrilling adventures: an off-road ATV ride, which takes you off the beaten path and into a world where the average vehicle cannot travel.

Here, far from the madding crowd, we’ll wander through tiny towns and earn insight into how Costa Rica has long lived. We’ll explore unique vantage points that overlook sweeping forest and ocean views. We’ll keep our eyes open for birdlife and howler monkeys, for toucans and sunning iguanas. And along the way, we’ll discover the backcountry that few – few Costa Ricans and even fewer tourists – have ever seen.

Beach Horseback Riding at Sunset

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This is one of those special moments that you can’t quite quantify: It’s not a “best of” or a “world’s only” or even any specific superlative, but it is an experience and a moment that will live on in your forever vacation memories. And it’s one of our favorite things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica.

Our well-trained, well-mannered, and well-cared-for horses are easily matched to rides of any size, age, and riding ability. Together, we’ll amble through local villages and summit unique perspectives – climb to new heights and experience our province of Guanacaste as it once was, when cowboys roamed and oxcarts were a preferred form of transportation.

And here, on the iconic Golden Coast, you can horseback ride on the beach. You can feel the wind in your hair and the sun at your back. And you can watch as the sun dips low on the horizon, its golds and reds and oranges and pinks kissing the ocean and painting the world in a landscape of phosphorescence.

Up-Close Encounters with Sloths, Monkeys & More

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Looking for a “sure thing,” when it comes to wildlife watching? Then you can’t miss a visit to a local wildlife refuge or sanctuary.

Did you know that Costa Rica has closed its zoos? Animal welfare and forced captivity reside at the heart of the decision, which received almost universal support.

Instead of zoos, what remains are wildlife rescues and sanctuaries – facilities that rescue injured or illegally held wildlife, to hopefully rehabilitate for release back into the wild. Those animals that could not survive in the wild live out their lives in these centers, often in large and even open enclosures that allow them a certain degree of freedom.

And so, if you’d like to get as close as Mother Nature allows to a “sure sighting,” then there’s nowhere better than our local rescue center: Here, where sloths, pumas, jaguars, monkeys, and toucans join a bevy of amphibians, reptiles, and butterflies, you’ll learn about the center’s rehabilitation and wildlife preservation efforts.

Want to up the adventure quotient? Add on a thrilling zipline adventure, complete with the longest dual-line in Costa Rica allowing you to ride side-by-side with a loved one!

Hiking to a Blue Waterfall

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You’ve seen the photos and now, it’s time to experience this world wonder for yourself: Costa Rica’s famous (and much photographed!) Celeste River, also known as the Blue River and its remarkable waterfall.

For here, blue is not a trick of refraction and light: Río Celeste, one of the most popular things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica, is located within Tenorio Volcano National Park and its namesake volcano, which feeds minerals into the waters. And here, in the teñideros, or dye areas, copper sulfate and colloidal silica join that volcanic sulfur to create water that’s really, truly baby blue.

And if a blue waterfall isn’t enough volcanic wonder for you, then know that your hike also winds by thermal geysers, hot springs (most are not for soaking, though!), bubbling mud pots, steamy fumaroles, and more. And if that’s not enough, you’ll also love to know that endangered Baird’s tapir (relatives of the rhinoceros!) are often spotted here, especially at Tapir Lake, a favorite watering hole for these gentle giants.

Epic Birdwatching in Costa Rica’s Rare Wetlands

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For the nature lovers among you, there are few destinations as thrilling as Palo Verde National Park, a 45,500-acre natural wonderland that encompasses 15 habitats and mangrove ecosystems – from marshes and evergreen forest to mangrove estuaries and salt ponds.

This spectacular biodiversity, much of which can be observed from your seat on a covered riverboat, is home to a veritable paradise for migratory and resident bird life. And by that, we mean up to 250,000 birds at once! Among them, you’ll find Central America’s largest concentration of waterfowl and shorebirds, including lifers like roseate spoonbills, many species of herons, grebes, ibis, and more.

And, because the park sits at the mouth of the Tempisque River – a major watershed for many of our region’s biggest rivers – Palo Verde is also a diverse and critical wildlife sanctuary for Costa Rica’s driest province. Here, you’ll have the chance to spot everything from curious white-faced monkeys and vociferous howler monkeys to shy coatimundis and wildcats, including Costa Rica’s largest jaguarondi population.

Extreme Whitewater Rafting through Tropical Dry Forest

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Experience the thrill of the Tenorio River (Class III, IV, and V!) and the picturesque beauty and wild biodiversity of Guanacaste’s arid, tropical dry forest – magnificent scenery eclipsed only by the thrill of the river!

Indeed, it is a thrill. The Tenorio River’s Class III-IV rapids spin and froth, carrying you through and by some of the world’s rarest tropical forests. And, while this landscape stands apart for what it is – one of the planet’s last remaining swaths of an incredibly important ecosystem – its appeal is more than theoretical: You’ll immediately notice that dry forest is less dense than its rainforest counterparts, which means that it’s easier to spot toucans, iguanas, howler monkeys and, if you’re very lucky, wildcats looking out over red-tock canyons and standing near the riverbank.

And if all that isn’t enough, then prepare for the river’s final rapid, Cascabel Falls, a Class-V rapid that culminates in a 12-foot waterfall drop and one of Costa Rica’s most extreme and exciting whitewater rapids. Your adrenaline will be off the charts! And we bet this will rank top three among the most unforgettable things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica!

Looking for More Once-in-a-Lifetime Things to Do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica?

Whether you’re a honeymooning couple or an extended group of 18, we’d love to help you plan some unforgettable, can’t-miss, once-in-a-lifetime things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica. So, let us know: What are your dreams and hopes, your must-haves, and your big wishes for your time here? If it’s possible, it’s our job to make it happen.

Because at Blue Zone Experience, we’ve built our reputation based on 5-star service, select vacation rental homes, and Guanacaste’s best tours and activities. The truth, though? Our true passion is you and your experience. Your experience.

What you may not know is that, when you book one of our homes, you gain access to our free concierge services: on-the-ground expertise, curated tours and transportation options, and a one-on-one with your personal concierge, who will have your back from the moment you begin planning until the day you return home.

So, please, get in touch! We can’t wait to hear about your next adventure!

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