217km (135 miles) NW of San José; 132km (82 miles) NW of Puntarenas

Founded in 1769, Liberia is the capital of Guanacaste province, which Costa Rica snatched away from Nicaragua by popular vote in 1824. Most visitors become acquainted with Liberia because of its relatively new international airport, which allows visitors to Guanacaste to avoid flying into San José and taking a long drive to the beach.

Although Liberia is one of the biggest cities in Costa Rica, few visitors would opt to stay here, but it’s a good place to fill your tank, visit a bank, stock up on groceries, or stay at a comfortable hotel for the night. Liberia is a business center that feeds the coastal boom, and it serves as a housing hub for the many workers serving the tourist hotspots along the coast.

Yet Liberia offers up more colonial atmosphere than almost any other city in the country. Its streets are lined with charming old adobe homes, many of which have ornate stone accents on their facades, carved wooden doors, and aged red-tile roofs above shuttered windows opening onto narrow streets. The central plaza, which occupies 2 square blocks in front of the church, remains the city’s social hub and principal gathering spot.

Liberia can serve as a base for exploring this region or as an overnight stop in a longer itinerary. You’ll find several moderately priced hotels in the city and its outskirts. Still, all things considered, it’s usually preferable to base yourself either at the beach or at a mountain lodge, and to visit the city on a day trip.