Have you considered budget travel to up-and-coming Guanacaste Province in Costa Rica? Chances are good you'll be hearing more about this area.
No one would describe Costa Rica as a best-kept travel secret. It is among the most popular destinations in Latin America, and has reigned as a popular spot for many years.
Visitors love exploring volcanic eruption zones and rain forests. They crave the year-round climate that produces warm, sunny days,sunsets on Playa Hermosa, and balmy nights. They enjoy pura vida, the Costa Rican attitude that calls for one to enjoy life in a carefree, optimistic mindset.
But you might not be all that familiar with the province of Guanacaste on the Pacific coast. It extends from the Nicaraguan border to nearly the southern tip of the Papagayo Peninsula. Visitors are increasingly attracted to beaches, national park adventures and mountain zip lining.
Guanacaste is likely to become more familiar in the year ahead. An expanded international airport, new resorts and some nice budget travel amenities make this a place to consider as you plan itineraries.
Next, take a look at some reasons for including Guanacaste in your travel plans.
Liberia: An Expanded, Convenient Airport
Costa Rica's largest commercial airport is located in Alajuela, just northwest of the national capital of San Jose. But travelers are discovering the smaller Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR) near Guanacaste's provincial capital of Liberia.
For years, travelers waited in a terminal that had a roof but was otherwise open to the elements. In 2012, a large air-conditioned terminal opened, and today the list of airlines offering service includes American, Delta, and United, which offers direct flights from Houston. That flight takes less than four hours.
Costa Rica is also becoming a low-cost airline destination. Ryanair's parent company is establishing VivaCam, which will operate from Alajuela and has plans to expand to six planes within three years.
Guanacaste: Budget Accommodations at Several Levels
Realtors have been encouraging investors to relocate to Costa Rica for years. Many American and Canadian ex-pats have opened up bed and breakfast operations and developed loyal repeat customers.
La Luna Azul near Playas del Coco can be found through TripAdvisor.com. This is a fairly common arrangement. Some places are so small that they don't have a web site. But you'll find hospitality, fine breakfasts, and good locations near the beach.
If you're looking for shoestring budget accommodations, you can arrange to stay in what are called "cold water rooms." As the name implies, you won't enjoy a hot shower. Consider only the places that offer safe, clean rooms. Although many rooms are available for under $10 USD/night, it's important to trust your instincts. Don't stay at a place that doesn't feel right.
You'll also find a growing selection of Costa Rican all-inclusive resorts in this region. If you select this option, resist the tendency to stay on the property. Venture out to explore the surrounding countryside and coastline.
Wyndham and Mandarin Oriental are luxury chains with plans to build resorts in Guanacaste. They won't be the first big-name companies with a presence here.
Las Catalinas is a 1,200-acre "beach town" that will include vacation rentals, miles of bike trails, as well as plans for a boutique hotel.
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica is a place on the Papagayo Peninsula where you can rent estate sections for $24,000/night. A bit much? More conventional rooms come in at about what you'd pay for a Manhattan hotel room, with fourth-night free options at certain times of the year.
These probably won't fit your budget travel plans, but the point is that this part of Costa Rica is building rooms for a variety of budgets, and fully expects to fill them.
Guanacaste: Eco-Tourism Opportunities
Costa Rica offers bio-diversity that is virtually unparalleled anyplace on earth. The opportunities to observe plant and animal life are staggering. This small nation (about the same land area as Vermont and New Hampshire combined) is home to 20 national parks and 8 biological reserves. You can visit rugged volcanic mountains and coastal plains.
It was here that biologists first employed a system of cables to explore Costa Rica's canopy of dense rain forests. That gave birth to zip line tourism, which is now a popular activity throughout the world.
Congo Trail is among the Guanacaste options, just a few miles inland from Playa Hermosa. Costs vary by season but sometimes come in under $50.
Guanacaste and Santa Rosa national parks offer that famous bio-diversity just south of the Nicaraguan border. Santa Rosa includes inland rain forests and also extends outward into the ocean. It was Costa Rica's first national park, established in 1971.
Guanacaste: Dramatic Seascapes and Uncrowded Beaches
Guanacaste Province is on Costa Rica's more developed Pacific coast, with long stretches of unspoiled beaches and rugged, rocky seascapes.
This is also a place where you can experience sea turtle nesting. Go to Marino Baulas National Park on Playa Grande for a night nesting tour.
Beaches here feature black sand that is volcanic in origin. That doesn't appeal to some visitors, but the trade-off is that many are wide and uncrowded.
Playa Hermosa is home to some budget beachfront hotels, but you can find value-based offerings in Ocotal and Playas del Coco as well. All of these locations are within a 30-minute cab ride of the Liberia airport.
Guanacaste: Affordable Dining
Some visitors to Guanacaste will take advantage of all-inclusive deals at resort properties. Many of these resorts are hiring classically trained chefs to create memorable dining experiences. Don't become so tied to this kind of meal (with prices to match) that you neglect the local favorites.
Speaking plainly, most visitors don't travel to Costa Rica for the food. That doesn't mean you'll be deprived of delicious and hearty cuisine. Better still, it often comes at affordable prices.
These meals are often referred to in Spanish as comidas tipicas, or typical meals within daily life. In the picture above, you see a typical casada plate, which is the Costa Rica version of a blue-plate special. Casada literally means marriage, and the plates are often a combination of several staple foods such as red beans and rice, grilled steak, fried eggs and cooked plantains.
A plate like this could become your largest meal of the day, and at lunch it might cost as little as $3-$6 USD. For the best prices and the most typical experience, try to eat in places where local people eat. Avoid the tourist-oriented places that will mark up the prices.