The beaches of Guanacaste are scattered along the rocky coastline that runs from Bahía Culebra in the north near Liberia to Sámara on the west of the Nicoya Peninsula. Few of those in the north could truthfully be called beautiful, and most are quite small, located in coves or sheltered bays that makes them good for swimming, and relatively safe – though they lack the impressive expanse of Playas Flamingo and Tamarindo a bit further down the coast. The waters in the Bahía Culebra (marked on some maps as Playa Panamá) are some of the clearest and most sheltered in the country, with good snorkelling.
The landscape of the Nicoya Peninsula is changing rapidly and many of the northern beaches, such as Tamarindo and Playa Panamá, are being aggressively developed for mass tourism. The nearby airport in Liberia exists mainly to service the package and charter market along this coast. Sprawling across nearly the entire Bahía Culebra is the Papagayo Project, the country’s largest tourist development consisting of hotels, condos, a mall and a golf course.
The signs of mass tourism lessen as you head further south towards Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, where droves of leatherback turtles come ashore to lay their eggs between October and February. The beaches here have drawn foreign expatriates in pursuit of paradise, and these cosmopolitan enclaves are in sharp contrast to the rest of the region, with resorty Tamarindo being the top spot for surfing. The beaches of the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula are covered in the Central Pacific and Southern Nicoya chapter.