This is not the Costa Rica you may have imagined: one glance at the wide-open spaces, the legions of heat-stunned cattle or the mounted sabaneros (cowboys) trotting alongside the Pan-American Highway reveals that Guanacaste has little in common with the rest of the country. Often called “the Texas of Costa Rica”, this is ranching territory: the lush, humid rainforest that blankets most of the country is notably absent here, replaced by a swathe of tropical dry forest. It’s one of the last significant patches of such land in Central America.
Given the region’s livelihood, it’s only fitting that the best way to tour Guanacaste is astride a horse. Don’t be shy about scrambling into the saddle – many of the working ranches in the province double as hotels, and almost all of them offer
horseback tours, giving you a chance to participate in the region’s sabanero culture. From your perch high above the ground, the strange, silvery beauty of the dry forest appears to much greater advantage – in the dry season, the trees shed their leaves in an effort to conserve water, leaving the landscape eerily bare and melancholy. You’ll be able to spot all kinds of wildlife, from monkeys and pot-bellied iguanas to birds and even the odd boa constrictor (though the horses may not be impressed by this one).
For a different sort of scenery, head to the area around still-active Rincón de la Vieja, where you can ride around bubbling mud pots (pilas de barro) and puffing steam vents, all under the shadow of the towering, mist-shrouded volcano.
Some of the region’s ranches-cum-hotels even let guests put in a day’s work riding out with their hands, provided their fence-mending and cattle-herding skills are up to scratch. Regardless of your level of equestrian expertise, once you’ve had a gallop through Guanacaste, you’ll never look at sightseeing on foot the same way again.
There are frequent buses to Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste province, from San José.