True to its name, the spirited provincial capital of Liberia (from libertad, meaning liberty) is distinctively friendly and progressive. Its wide streets reveal the legacy of the pioneering farmers and cattle ranchers who founded it. Known colloquially as the “Ciudad Blanca” (White City) due to its whitewashed houses, Liberia is the only town in Costa Rica that seems truly colonial in style and character. Plan your trip to Liberia with our guide to Liberia — based on the The Rough Guide to Costa Rica, your travel guide for Costa Rica.
The best travel tips for visiting LiberiaMost travellers use Liberia as a jumping-off point for the Rincón de la Vieja and Santa Rosa national parks, an overnight stop to or from the beaches of Guanacaste, or a break on the way to Nicaragua.
That said, Liberia is an appealing city, particularly if you explore on foot in the shade of its numerous mango trees.
While the nearby international airport delivers ever-increasing coachloads of visitors to the western beaches, Liberia remains unchanged. For the time being, it’s still the epitome of dignified provincialism, with a strong identity and atmosphere all its own.
For example, many of Liberia's white houses still have their puerta del sol — corner doors that were used, ingeniously, to let the sun in during the morning and out in the late afternoon. This heats and then cools the interior throughout the day. Particular to this region, this architectural feature is left over from the colonial era.
Best things to do in LiberiaLiberia is not the most visited cityu in Costa Rica, but there are some great things to do and activities to keep you busy. We have selected the best ones.
#1 Stroll picturesque Parque CentralLiberia is arranged around a large Parque Central. Officially called Parque Mario Cañas Ruiz, it's named after a twentieth-century poet and musician whose songs paid tribute to sabanero culture.
The parque itself is dedicated to el mes del anexión, the month of the annexation (July), celebrating the fact that Guanacaste is not in Nicaragua.
Liberia’s Parque Central is one of the loveliest central plazas in the whole country, ringed by benches and tall palms that shade gossiping locals.
On the eastern edge of the parque is the town church, a contemporary structure whose startlingly modernist form looks a little out of place in this very traditional city.
#2 Mooch around Museo de GuanacasteEventually, the plan is to create a larger municipal museum here, but the pace of progress is slow. At the time of writing, a rotating selection of temporary exhibitions, including the works of local artists and some archaeological artefacts, were on show.
That said, part of the charm is the building itself — a former barracks that was later used as a prison before its current incarnation.
#3 Explore Calle RealLiberia's most historic street is the Calle Real, marked as Calle Central on some maps. In the nineteenth century this street was the entrance to Liberia, and practically the whole road has been restored to its original colonial simplicity.
Stately white adobe homes feature large windows with ornate wooden frames and wide overhanging eaves under which locals pass the evenings in cane armchairs.
#4 Walk and watch wildlife in Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja25km northeast of Liberia, Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja is arguably Guanacaste’s most memorable national park. It's utterly dominated by its massive, majestic namesake volcano — a perfectly proportioned conical peak, and one Costa Rica's most active volcanoes.
It's an undeniably enchanting place with, quite simply, the best hiking and horseriding in the country. A variety of elevations and habitats reveals hot springs, sulphur pools, bubbling mud pots, and fields of guaria morada (purple orchids), the national flower. Plus there's a great smoking volcano at the top to reward you for your efforts.
Animals in the area include all the big cats (just don’t expect to see them), tapir, red deer, collared peccary, two-toed sloth, and howler, white-faced and spider monkeys.
Birders will enjoy the profusion of over two hundred species, including the three-wattled bellbird, the Montezuma oropendola, the trogon, and the spectacled owl.
From Las Pailas ranger station, you have several walking options. Some trails lead west to the cataratas escondidas (hidden waterfalls), while another runs east to the Santa María station.
#5 Surf and see turtles in Parque Nacional Santa Rosa35km north of Liberia, Parque Nacional Santa Rosa is Costa Rica’s oldest national park. Today it’s also one of the most popular in the country, thanks to its good trails, great surfing, and prolific turtle-spotting opportunities. It’s also a great destination for campers, with a site on the beach.
Santa Rosa has an amazingly diverse topography for its size of 387 square kilometres. These range from mangrove swamp to deciduous forest and savannah.
Home to 115 species of mammal (half of them bats), 250 species of bird and 100 species of amphibian and reptile (not to mention 3800 species of moth), Santa Rosa is a rich biological repository. As such, it attracts researchers from all over the world.
Jaguars and pumas prowl the park, though you’re unlikely to see them. You're more likely to spot coati, coyotes and peccaries. They often snuffle around watering holes during the dry season.
From July to November, you can witness hundreds of olive ridley turtles nesting on Playa Nancite by moonlight. Though too rough for swimming, the picturesque beaches of Naranjo and Nancite are also popular with serious surfers.
If reading about Parque Nacional Santa Rosa and Rincón de la Vieja has stoked your interest, read our run-down of the most beautiful national parks in Costa Rica.
Chances are, you'll also love our customisable Costa Rica Eco Adventure trip.
Where to stay?While Liberia has a vast range of hotels, hostels and guesthouses, apart from a few notable exceptions, standards are relatively low, with prices are on the high side across the board.
- Hotel El Cerro: just outside the centre of Liberia, with comfy en-suite rooms arranged over two floors.
- Hotel Javy: a charming, professionally run hotel with rooms set around a leafy courtyard garden.
- Hotel Villa Hermosa: squeaky-clean rooms, and a friendly owner who's created a typically Tico vibe.
Best restaurants and barsLiberia has a strong dining scene with several above-average restaurants serving local dishes such as natilla (sour cream) eaten with eggs, or gallo pinto and tortillas.
For a real feast, try desayuno guanacasteco, a hearty local breakfast of tortillas, sour cream, eggs, rice-and-beans, and sometimes meat.
You can get rock-bottom lunches from the stalls at the bus terminal or the sodas at the nearby covered market. Guanacastecan corn snacks can be bought from stalls all over town.
- Los Comales: a typical Costa Rican soda, very popular for its generous portions of tasty rustic food.
- Copa de Oro: bang in the centre, this stalwart is famous for its fish and seafood.
- Jauja: large, tasty pasta dishes and pizzas, plus the usual steak, chicken and fish served in a garden setting.
Find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
How to get aroundBeing an attractive, welcoming city, Liberia is a lovely place to stroll in your own time, at your own pace.
When you want to travel further afield, the regional bus service is comprehensive and pretty reliaibe, with Liberia serving as the regional hub.
You'll find the bus terminal to the west of town — it's just a 10-minute walk, with services that can take you to Guanacaste’s parks and beaches, and the Nicaraguan border
How many days do you need in Liberia?Given its welcoming charm, and proximity to top natural attractions, consider spending 3-4 days in Liberia before heading elsewhere in Guanacaste.
You could, for example, spend a morning wandering Calle Real at a suitably laidback pace, stopping off in the picturesque Parque Central. When the afternoon heat strikes, spend an hour ot two in the Museo de Guanacaste.
You'll also want to allocate enough time to visit the nearby national parks. Both Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja and Parque Nacional Santa Rosa are worth devoting a whole day to, not least if you plan to hike the longer trails. You'll want to make it to Rincón de la Vieja's secret waterfall.
What is the best time to visit Liberia?If you've come for Costa Rican culture, Liberia boasts several lively local festivals you might want to time your visit to coincide with.
Visit in early March for the Fiestas Cívicas de Liberia in early March. This has its origins as an annual livestock fair and is celebrated over ten days. Expect parades, bands, fireworks and bulls wreaking havoc.
On 25th July, El Día de la Independencia celebrates Guanacaste’s independence from Nicaragua with parades, horse shows, cattle auctions, rodeos, fiestas and marimba bands. If you want to attend, make bus and hotel reservations as far in advance as possible.
When it comes to walking and wildlife, you'll want to visit Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja in the December-March dry season. At this time, the hiking trails and visibility are at their best and the heat is fairly comfortable.
The same goes for Santa Rosa — during the greener wet months, animals are more dispersed, making it trickier to spot wildlife.
That said, if want to see hundreds of olive ridley turtles on Playa Nancite in Santa Rosa national park, you'll need to visit between July and November. The best months to see them — September and October — fall right in the rainy season.
All of which means, you'll need to weigh up what you want to see most.
For more on the best time to visit different destinations in Costa Rica, read our guide to when to go to Costa Rica.
How to get to here
By plane12km west of the town, Liberia’s sizeable international airport is connected to domestic destinations by regular Sansa and Skyway flights. There are also numerous international flights.
You can take a taxi from here into town. Alternatively, many buses travelling between Liberia and Tamarindo also call at the airport, or you can walk 15min to the main road, where any eastbound bus will take you to Liberia.
By busLiberia is the main regional transport hub, providing easy access to Guanacaste’s parks and beaches, the Nicaraguan border and San José.
The city’s bus terminal is on the western edge of town near the exit for the Interamericana. It's a 10min walk from here to the centre of town, and it serves all destinations except San José.
At the bus station you'll find an elaborate list of departure times. Be warned that these are pure fiction, so check with the ticket office.
San José buses arrive at and depart from the more modern Pulmitan terminal, a block southeast of the main bus terminal.
By carIf you’re coming by car, you should take the exit off the Interamericana at an intersection with traffic lights and three petrol stations. This is known as La Esquina de las Bombas (Gas Station Corner).
Turning left (if coming from the south) takes you to the beaches, while a right takes you along the town’s Avenida Central, lined with floppy mango trees.
For more transportation tips, read our guide to getting around Costa Rica.
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Top image: Rincon de La Vieja National Park, near LIberia, Costa Rica © Shutterstock