We recently took an impromptu trip to Costa Rica, thanks to the Southwest Airline’s Companion Pass. Our destination was Liberia and the Guanacaste Region of Costa Rica, where we explored two different areas. Today we’re talking about the Papagayo Peninsula and all the fun things to do in this region!
NOTE: If you haven’t earned your Companion Pass yet for this year, don’t miss out on this offer (https://www.referyourchasecard.com/226f/9JT1YSFZ28) which will give you unlimited 2-for-1 travel through February 2024. Act fast, offer expires 3/19/23!
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The Papagayo Peninsula sits on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, about 45 minutes from Liberia Airport. Isolated and private feeling, the peninsula is home to several high-end hotel chains like the Four Seasons, Nekajui (a Ritz-Carlton property), the Andaz (Hyatt), and a soon-to-be-opening Waldorf-Astoria (Hilton).
As you travel south along the Pacific coast, you’ll pass lots of funky little beach communities, all with a variety of lodgings and a truly bohemian, surf-chic vibe! Note, while distances are pretty short, drive times can be quite long as all roads are two-lane only (if that).
Andaz Papagayo Peninsula
We chose to stay at the Andaz for its proximity to the airport and to our second location, La Fortuna, which I’ll cover in a separate post.
The Andaz is visually striking! Accommodations are set on a cliff that overlooks Culebra Bay. Each of the seven lodging blocks feels very private and offers great views. Rooms were spacious and a highlight, for us, was the shower that opens onto the lanai so you can shower al fresco with the sound of waves and howler monkeys in the background.
There are 3 main restaurants on the property as well as a pool bar and the Andaz Beach House located at one of the 3 beaches. Additionally, Andaz runs a shuttle around the peninsula if you want to visit other properties.
One of the fantastic things about the Andaz is that many toys (kayaks, paddleboards, snorkel equipment, electric bikes, etc.) are FREE. They also offer regular guided tours for paddleboarders, snorkelers, and kayakers.
An extensive schedule of activities is offered each day. We took the Mixology class and had a blast! In our group of six, we made 4 different cocktails and learned a lot about the indigenous herbs and fruits of Costa Rica. Be prepared to be a little wobbly when you’re done!
Note, if you have mobility issues, this property is steep and spread out. You’ll be doing a lot of walking. Luckily, you can summon a golf cart using WhatsApp but in some instances, you’ll still have a moderate, steep walk.
There are lots of Capuchin and howler monkeys that hang out on the property! On our first night, it sounded like King Kong was going to emerge from the jungle abutting the restaurant. One day we found this little guy taking a dip and then lounging at the small spa pool.
In general, Costa Rica is not what I consider a foodie’s paradise. Food tends to be comparable to Mexican but with significantly less spice. Rice, beans, fish, meat, and plantains are all staples. It’s filling and good but not especially memorable. You’re likely to get your best meals at the small, roadside restaurants called sodas.
At the Andaz, Chao Pescao was our favorite of the three main restaurants. Dive Bar, at the marina just a short walk from the Andaz, we had the seafood paella for two. We both considered it our best meal on the peninsula.
One night we checked out the Four Seasons and ended up eating at Anejo, their tapas restaurant. We just shared a charcuterie board and dessert but it was beautifully presented and quite good.
As a general rule, more money doesn’t get you significantly better food in Costa Rica. If anything, I’d say the opposite tends to be true.
Papagayo Peninsula Things to Do
Natty Guy always enjoys diving on our winter trip so we made sure he could get in a couple of days of scuba while we were here. He used Rocket Frog which came and picked him up from our beach each morning which was very convenient. Visibility in the Pacific isn’t as great as in Cozumel (his typical winter dive spot) but marine life was abundant and he even saw whales while returning on the boat one day!
In addition to the extensive list of on-property activities, all Papagayo Penisula hotels work with Papagayo Explorers to offer a range of adventures both on the peninsula and afar. Some of the most popular excursions include zip-lining, mangrove tours, white-water rafting, a night walk, and mountain biking.
For do-it-yourselfers, Witches Canopy, an outdoor adventure park, is located conveniently on the road coming in from the airport.
NOTE: While not exactly an “adventure” golf courses abound in Costa Rica and the course on Papagayo is especially scenic. Even if you don’t golf, consider renting a golf cart near sunset and driving the course to take advantage of its magical views!
While you’re in this region, be sure to take a leisurely drive down the coast. Playa Hermosa and Del Coco beach are about 45 minutes away from Papagayo and are filled with Costa Rican families enjoying their free time. Father Rooster, just outside of Playa Del Cocoa, is a popular dining spot.
Further south, you’ll reach the Las Catalinas area and Playa Flamingo. Diamonte Eco-Adventure Park and The Congo Trail are two popular tourist attractions en route.
Furthest South is the town of Tamarindo, known for its exceptional surf and leatherback turtle nesting grounds. If that beachy, boho, surf-life calls to you, this is your stop! Note, the drive to Tamarindo is about 1.5-1.75 hours one way from the Andaz.
Heading inland, the Llanos de Cortez waterfall is a worthwhile stop. Have your NAV take you to the main entrance. Once there, you’ll see a number of handwritten signs to an alternate entrance. DO NOT take these unless you are adventurous and in a 4-wheel drive vehicle.
About 20 minutes beyond the waterall is the Centro de Rescate los Pumas. We did not visit this rescue center as it’s tough for us to see animals in cages but those who do visit give it excellent reviews. All animals here are rescues that would not be able to survive on their own and the place operates fully on donations.
Coffee, Chocolate & Sugar Cane, Oh My!
While Natty Guy was diving one day I decided to take a coffee tour. Guanacaste is not the main coffee-producing area of Costa Rica – that would be in the mountainous region near San Jose, but I found Cafe Tio Leo on the road from the airport.
It turned out to be a great find. Tio Leo offers a 4-in-1 tour that covers coffee production, chocolate production, sugarcane, and an empanada-making class. It was a great value and a great way to spend 3 hours of time. Reservations are required and can be made online.
Leo gave us a tour through their gardens/forest – all organic and everything gets returned to nature (fruit peels, etc.). He explained how Costa Rica is learning to adapt coffee production to non-traditional climates due to the global warming crisis. And we enjoyed wonderful samples of coffee, hot chocolate, fruit, sugar cane juice, and more.
What stood out most about this tour was how low-key, casual, and personal it was. At one point we were all shelling coffee beans for the roaster and I was able to practice my Spanish with one of his kitchen assistants. Others were discussing the earthquake in Turkey (Fun Fact: Leo has some Turkish blood in his lineage). Highly recommend this engaging tour, especially if you won’t be visiting the epicenter of the coffee industry while in Costa Rica. Be sure to pick up some coffee on your way out – Leo will sign the bags for you!
Nicaragua Day Trip
For our last day in the Papagayo area, we decided to take a day trip to Nicaragua with Native’s Way. I couldn’t resist the opportunity to visit another country and see an active volcano. While you can visit independently, tour companies greatly expedite the amount of time it takes to cross the border. As this is already a long day (about 14-16 hours), every little bit of saved time seemed worthwhile.
On this tour, we were able to visit the charming, colonial town of Granada, see the active Masaya volcano crater, enjoy a boat ride and monkey feeding on massive Lake Nicaragua, and more. We really enjoyed the experience and it made me want to drive the Pan-American highway one day. Not the full route but maybe from Mexico to the bottom of Chile. #bucketlist
Well, that wraps up our exploration of the Papagayo Peninsula. Next month, we’ll recap our visit to the Lake Arenal/La Fortuna area.
Have you visited Costa Rica? If so, what parts? It’s getting to be a very popular retirement spot for Americans and Canadians. While the cost of living is lower than in the US, it’s actually somewhat pricey among Central American destinations. But it’s very safe, has a more modern infrastructure and higher quality healthcare than surrounding countries. Do you consider retiring abroad? If so, let me know in the comments below!
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2 thoughts on “The Papagayo Peninsula: Pura Vida!”
Hi Betsy. Years ago, we were in Puerto Viejo. I would not recommend this city as a destination. We were staying in a house out in the forest and were robbed in the middle of the night. It sounds like you had a much better experience where you visited. Thanks for sharing. I’ll be in touch soon. xx
Wow, that’s really scary! I’m so sorry that you experienced that. Good to know the places to avoid.