GUANACASTE: CRUCIBLE OF CULTURES
This border province in Costa Rica’s North Paciﬁc is a central part of the country’s legacy and folklore
The Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste has been identified as one of the world’s “Blue Zones,” the five places on earth where people live the longest, commonly reaching the age of 100. (The others are Sardinia, Italy; Okinawa, Japan; Ikaria, Greece; and a Seventh-day Adventist community in Loma Linda, California.)
The longevity in these regions is attributed to physical activity, a largely plant-based diet, less smoking, moderate alcohol intake, and engagement in family, social and spiritual life.
Vast expanses of Guanacaste are covered in dry tropical forest, a unique and shrinking ecosystem characterized by exuberant flowering trees. More than 140 species of mammals and close to 800 species of birds live in Guanacaste — a natural wonderland of beaches, volcanoes, rivers, hot springs, waterfalls and caves. Many of these treasures are protected by national parks and wildlife reserves. Plains, pastures and sparse woodlands, ideal for cattle and ranching, are also part of the scenery.
The Pacific waters off the Guanacaste coast are also teeming with marine life, including sailfish, marlin, sharks, whales and dolphins. The fishing is spectacular, as is the scuba diving, especially in the pristine underwater sanctuaries around the Murciélago Islands and Santa Elena Peninsula.
Guanacaste is a border province with historical ties to Nicaragua that voted to annex itself to Costa Rica in the 1820s. It has long been known for its cowboy culture, horse parades, rodeos and bullfights. Guanacaste’s distinctive folklore, costumes and foods have been embraced throughout Costa Rica and have become a celebrated part of its national culture.
Perhaps Guanacaste’s greatest appeal today lies in its string of dazzling beaches, collectively known as the Gold Coast. Virtually every larger town along its coast is a major tourism draw, notably Playas del Coco, Flamingo, Tamarindo, Nosara and Sámara. Popular activities at sea include surfing, fishing, scuba diving, snorkeling and sunset cruises.
Playa Conchal is sometimes called the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica, with white sand made of crushed seashells in a beautiful, swimmable bay. It’s within an hour of the international airport in Liberia, and it’s close to the vibrant beach towns of Tamarindo and Playas del Coco. If we had it all to do over again, we couldn’t have chosen a better location for Reserva Conchal.
Take a drive along the picturesque, paved roads of this coast sometime and become acquainted with all that Costa Rica has to offer. If you’re a surfer or a sea-turtle enthusiast, look no further than Playa Grande and Las Baulas Marine National Park. Among Guanacaste’s inland attractions are Rincón de la Vieja — an active volcano with hot springs, geysers, fumaroles and bubbling mud pots — and Barra Honda, a series of caves where spelunking tours are offered. Also, Costa Rica is one of the top ten birding spots in the world and Guanacaste offers many birdwatching options, featuring almost 800 avian species.
Guanacaste is famous for its fiestas, in which women in colorful dresses and men dressed in white with red bandannas perform traditional dances at the sound of the marimba. These festivals often involve horse parades called “topes,” in which equestrians perform an elegant type of dressage. Rodeos are typically a combination of bull riding and non-lethal bullfights. At times the public is invited to recite “bombas” — short, humorous and sometimes bawdy poems. Popular food and drink include corn tortillas with cheese and sour cream, traditional tamales and “coyol” wine, made from the sap of a palm tree.
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