Exploring the Town
The central plaza in Liberia is a great place to people-watch, especially in the early evenings and on weekends. Grab a seat on one of the many concrete benches, or join the families and young lovers as they leisurely stroll around. On the northern edge of the Plaza Central, the Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción is Liberia’s main house of worship. The church was built in 1972 and features a tall A-frame–style central nave and a separate clock tower that rises up sharply—a contemporary concrete obelisk. The main church is generally open from 6am to 6pm, though it’s sometimes open later for masses.
Just off the northwest corner of the main central plaza, the Museo de Guanacaste (Guanacaste Museum; tel. 2665-7114) occupies the city’s former military barracks and prison. There’s no real permanent collection, but the public space is often used for traveling exhibits and various cultural events—concerts, lectures, recitals. Inaugurated in 1940, the building takes up a full city block, and is known locally as either the Comandancia de Plaza de Liberia, or El Cuartel.
If you venture for a few blocks down Calle Real ★, you’ll see fine examples of the classic Spanish colonial adobe buildings with ornate wooden doors, heavy beams, central courtyards, and faded, sagging, red-tile roofs.
While the Catholic church that anchors the central plaza is unspectacular, if you head several blocks east of the plaza, you will come to Iglesia La Ermita de la Agonía ★ (tel. 2666-0518). Built in 1865, this whitewashed stone church is in surprisingly good shape. Inside it is plain and bare, but it is the only remaining colonial-era church to be found in Guanacaste. The visiting hours are seriously limited (daily 2:30–3:30pm), but not to worry: Local tour agencies can sometimes arrange visits during off hours. Even if you can’t enter, you’ll still get a good feel for the place by checking out its whitewashed stucco exterior.
If you’re driving to or from Guanacaste, be sure to take a brief break to check out the Iglesia de Cañas (Cañas Church) ★★ in Cañas. Well-known painter, installation artist, and local prodigal son Otto Apuy has designed and directed the envelopment of the entire church in colorful mosaic. The work uses whole and broken tiles in glossy, vibrant colors to depict both religious and abstract themes. The church’s nearly 30m-tall (100-ft.) central tower is entirely covered in mosaics. It is estimated that more than a million pieces of ceramic were used in the work. The church is located in the center of town, just a few blocks off the highway.
Outdoor Adventures near Liberia
In addition to the activities listed below, Liberia is a major jumping-off point for Rincón de la Vieja National Park.
Located about 25km (16 miles) south of Liberia, the Llanos del Cortés Waterfall ★★ is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica, with an excellent pool at the base for cooling off and swimming. At roughly 12m (40 ft.) wide, the falls are actually slightly wider than they are tall. This is a great spot for a picnic. Because of construction on the highway, the turnoff for the dirt road to the falls is poorly marked, but it’s about 3km (1 3/4 miles) north of the crossroads for Bagaces. From the turnoff, you must drive a rough dirt road to the parking area and then hike down a short steep trail to the falls. Admission is C1,000 and goes to support the local school. Even though guards are on duty, be careful about leaving anything of value in your car.
This province gets its name from the abundant guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpum), Costa Rica’s national tree. This distinctive tree is known for its broad, full crown, which provides welcome shade on the Guanacaste’s hot plains and savannas. The guanacaste is also known as the elephant-ear tree because of the distinctive shape of its large seedpods. Its fragrant white flowers bloom between February and April.
The Río Tempisque Basin ★, southwest of town, is one of the best places in the country to spot marsh and stream birds by the hundreds. This area is an important breeding ground for gallinules, jacanas, and limpkins, as well as numerous heron and kingfisher species and the roseate spoonbill. Several tour operators offer excursions and a wide range of tours in the region. Swiss Travel Services (tel. 2282-4898; www.swisstravelcr.com) is the largest and most reliable of the major operators here.
One of the most popular tours is a boat tour down the Bebedero River to Palo Verde National Park ★, which is south of Cañas and is best known for its migratory bird populations. Some of the best bird-watching requires no more than a little walking around the Biological Station in the park.
You can get a similar taste of these waterways and bird-watching opportunities at El Viejo Wetlands and Rancho Humo.
Trips on the Upper Tenorio River are offered by Ríos Tropicales ★★ (www.riostropicales.com; tel. 2233-6455), about 40km (25 miles) south of Liberia. Its daylong ($105) excursions explore 8 miles along this challenging river with mostly Class III—IV rapids, not to mention a Class V, 12-foot drop. Along the way you may see many of the area’s more exotic fauna: howler monkeys, iguanas, coatis, toucans, parrots, motmots, trogons, and many other species of birds. Aside from your binoculars and camera, a swimsuit and sunscreen are the only things you’ll need. Ríos Tropicales is based out of the Restaurant Rincón Corobicí, right on the Inter-American Highway in Cañas (CR1). Additionally, Hacienda Guachipelín offers exhilarating whitewater tubing trips on the narrow Río Colorado.
Especially for Kids
Believe it or not, antelopes, zebras, giraffes, and elands roam the grassy plains of Guanacaste. Ponderosa Adventure Park ★ (www.ponderosaadventurepark.com; tel. 2288-1000) offers a variety of adventure tours and safari-style open-jeep tours through its 100-hectare (247-acre) private reserve, populated with a wide range of native and non-native (predominantly African) species. Kayaking trips, zip-lining, horseback riding, and waterfall tours are also offered. There is no charge for admission, but each activity has a fee. Ponderosa Adventure Park is located just off the Inter-American Highway, 8km (5 miles) south of Liberia. The park is open daily from 8am to 5pm.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.