True to its name, the spirited provincial capital of LIBERIA (from libertad, meaning liberty) is distinctively friendly and progressive, its wide, clean streets 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. Many of the 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, thus heating and then cooling the interior throughout the day – an architectural feature left over from the colonial era and particular to this region.

At present, most travellers use Liberia simply as a jumping-off point for the national parks of Rincón de la Vieja and Santa Rosa, an overnight stop to or from the beaches of Guanacaste, or a break on the way to Nicaragua. However, Liberia is an appealing town, with everything you might need for a relaxing day or two – well-priced accommodation (although limited in choice) and a couple of nice places to eat and drink. The nearby international airport delivers busloads of visitors to the western beaches, but Liberia happily remains unchanged: it’s still the epitome of dignified (if somewhat static) provincialism, with a strong identity and atmosphere all its own.

Liberia also boasts several lively local festivals, including the Fiestas Cívicas de Liberia in early March. The festival has its origins as an annual livestock fair and is now celebrated over ten days with parades, bands, fireworks and bulls wreaking havoc on daring but alcohol-addled young locals. Most of the action takes place in the fairgrounds in the northwest corner of town. On July 25, El Día de la Independencia celebrates Guanacaste’s independence from Nicaragua with parades, horseshows, cattle auctions, rodeos, fiestas and roving marimba bands. If you want to attend, make bus and hotel reservations as far in advance as possible.

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