Introducing Northwestern Costa Rica
Awash in hot springs and waterfalls – with an unrivaled collection of national parks and wilderness areas, cloud forests of quetzals, and endless savannah exploding into raucous color come rainfall – there is no end to this region’s gifts.
In a few days, your journey can take you from the slopes of active volcanoes to a landscape of bubbling fumaroles. Begin with the organic farms and pristine cloud forest of the Monteverde-Santa Elena ecoplex, and finish in the rare dry tropical forests of Parque Nacional Santa Rosa. Northwestern Costa Rica may be heavily touristed, but the variety of attractions and number of remote spots means that it can be as small (or as big) as you want it to be.
A large portion of this region is the open, dry cattle country of Guanacaste, Costa Rica’s equivalent of the American West. While you’re traveling in Northwestern Costa Rica, keep an eye out for sabaneros (cowboys). They’re easily recognized by their straight-backed posture, casual hand on the reins, holster-slung machetes, and the high-stepping gait of their horses.
Guanacastecos take pride in their unique origin and culture and it’s not uncommon to see flags proclaiming an independent Guanacaste. Following the independence of Central America from Spain, the newly independent provinces formed the Central American Federation. Then, Guanacaste was part of Nicaragua, though border disputes resulted in skirmishes with Costa Rica. But, on July 25, 1824, Guanacastecos voted to separate and join Costa Rica.
Although most visitors make a beeline towards Arenal and Monteverde, it’s worth exploring the far-flung corners of the region – you’ll be rewarded with cheaper accommodation, fewer crowds and a more authentic experience.
Northwestern Costa Rica destination guides
Monteverde & Santa Elena
Strung between two lovingly preserved cloud forests is this slim corridor of civilization, which consists of the Tico village of Santa Elena and the Quaker settlement of Monteverde.
Costa Rica Quest
Nature called you to Costa Rica—now here you are, suspended in the jungle canopy, locking eyes with a curious monkey. This action-packed tour of Costa Rica’s highlights is perfect for the adventurer with limited time who wants to explore the region’s diversity.
Costa Rica Explorer
Costa Rica has as many microclimates as it does opportunities for active adventures—and this 2-week journey will bring you the best of both. There's a visit to a cloud forest, but for a bigger jolt, try rappelling down waterfalls or flying across ziplines above the treetops.