Gulf of Papagayo, Costa Rica Travel Guide
RIU Guancaste/Palace, Ocotal, Playas del Coco, Hermosa, Panama, Andaz, Four Seasons
Located in the North Pacific Coast, the Gulf of Papagayo is the home to many tourist beaches and many of the region’s exclusive resorts
Traditionally known as a paradise for bird watchers and nature lovers, Papagayo is also a charming experience for those interested in relaxation and fun. Papagayo’s beaches are well deveoped areas taht boast goregous views of the Pacific . Many of the resorts are secluded on their own beaches, but you can find more action in the main town of Playas del Coco. Here you will find most nightlife, restaurants, and shops. You can not surf in these calm waters unless you go to Witch’s Rock, an intermediate/expert surfing area only accessible by 4×4 or boat.
The area has a great mix of expats from all over the world as well as many locals, creating a large mix of cultures in small beach towns with a comforting community vibe. It is a great place for any traveler – solo travelers, couples, friends, students, corporate groups, and pretty much any walk of life can be found here.
Known for: Diving & Fishing
There are quite a few famous diving areas such as Bat Island, Monkey Head and Catalinas Islands, known for their abundance of sea life such as Giant Manta Rays.
Fishing has always been popular in the Gulf of Papagayo. Their are a plethora of fishing boats that will pick you up from the beach you are staying and take you on half or full day tours. Marlin, Dorado, Roosterfish and much more are often caught in these waters.
The Gulf of Papagayo covers a large area and if you are staying at a resort you will have to either rent a car, take a taxi, or get a shuttle into the town of Playas del Coco for nightlife, shopping, and a wider selection of restaurants. All tours in the area will provide transportation from your hotel, condo, or house. If you are staying in Playas del Coco, most accommodations are within walking distance of everything, but it is nice to have a golf cart to get places quickly and carry beach gear, groceries, etc., especially if you are staying a bit further from the center of town.
Many private companies run routes in the Guanacaste & San Jose area to Playas del Coco. From Liberia and San Jose, we find La Pampa to have to most efficient and frequent routes, although it will typically take much longer (about 6-7 hours) than a shuttle or driving a car.
In comfortable air conditioned minivans
- From Liberia: There a shared shuttles that leave at different times throughout the day. In low season there can be scarce availability. The cost is $30 per person and you will need to reserve your spot ahead of time.
- From San Jose/SJO Airport area: $55 per person leaving at 8 am and 2 pm. Exact pick up time will depend on where your pick up location is. From San Jose, there may be a stop on the way to change buses
Private shuttle are the most direct and fastest way to get to your accommodations in the Gulf of Papagayo without renting a car. Prices are based on the number of people in your group and where in the country you want to get picked up from. Prices start at $60 one way from Liberia for 1-4 people, and $220 from San Jose. You can arrange a private shuttle from anywhere at anytime.
You can rent a car in Liberia Airport, San Jose Airport, Playas del Coco, or basically any major destination in Costa Rica. The car selection can be minimal in Playas del Coco in busier seasons, so you will want to reserve well ahead of time or at least not wait until you get to your accommodations to rent the car.
- Café Java: Great option for breakfast. Waffles, fresh fruit smoothies and amazing coffee.
- Kaixo: It is a small cozy place, owned by a Spanish/Costarican couple. The vibe is great, but the food is even better. A must try if in coco.
- Johann: Great location. Perfect for a quick but excellent lunch. Their sandwiches are the best in town.
- Soda Los Pelones: Typical Costa Rican food – buffet style. Generous, affordable and very tasty.
- Zi lounge: extensive menu and great location, great for families. Menu has a great variety of plates and styles.
- Pacifico beach club: beautiful beachfront place with a pool. Prices are high but the food is good and definitely a good place to watch the sunset or cool off during a hot afternoon.
- Santorini: Upscale Greek restaurant. great vegetarian options.
- The Lookout: A restaurant on top of a hill that overlooks the Coco Bay. Specialty is seafood and craft beer.
- Che Sirloin: Steak, Delicious Steak! Hard to find a great cut of beef around Costa Rica.
- La Dolce Vita: Authentic Italian restaurant.
On any given night during busy seasons you will find a thriving night life in Playas del Coco. The most popular bars are Coconutz & Zi Lounge
- Monday: 4pm-10pm $2 martinis at Provecho / open mic at Coconutz
- Tuesday: Karaoke night at Coconutz
- Wednesday: 5pm-9pm Sabores y cultura night market
- Thursday: Ladies night at Zi lounge
- Friday: 7:30 pm – 10:30 pm live music at Coconutz / 10:30pm Devon Hall at Zi lounge
- Saturday: Saturday nights always a party at Zi lounge
- Sunday: A calmer night around town, but the usualy spots will have a decent crowd.
Weather in Gulf of Papagayo
- This area has two seasons, the rainy season and the dry season. In the dry season from December to April, it will not rain at all. The rainy season can vary from raining once to everyday during the week, but rain is heaviest during September and October and there is not much tourism or activity in the area. It is a great time to get good deals on hotels and tours.
- If you’re planning a trip during the rainy season, the 10 day forecast is probably going to show that it will rain every day and when you see forecasts like this you will automatically think that it is going to rain every day of you vacation. This is not the case, and we usually get rain a few times a week, but not all day everyday. Close the weather.com page, and relax. The rains cool the area off and it is actually much more comfortable.
- The area was originally a small fishing village. However, in recent years has undergone a great transformation with many condos, homes, and resorts being built and has become one of the favorite tourist destinations, especially for American and Canadian tourists and expats. Its long white sand beach surrounded by tropical vegetation is more than enough to justify this success. Another good point is the road leading into town is in very good condition, something unusual in the peninsula.
- You won’t have any problem ordering at a restaurant or even asking for directions although locals will appreciate when you use words such as “gracias”, “Pura Vida” or “mucho gusto”.
- There are huge American, Canadian, French, Spanish, Italian and Argentinean communities, so many languages are spoken daily in Playas del Coco.
- The options to move around other beaches, towns or supermarkets in this area are: car rental, hire private transport services agencies (shuttle buses), or taxis.
- There are not many ‘official’ red taxis around the Gulf of Papagayo, so we wouldn’t recommend looking for one because you probably won’t find it unless your resort calls one for you. If you are in town, you can hail a ‘Pirate’ Taxi. They are unofficial but are trusted in town. They will most likely give you a great deal on rides to wherever you need to go.
- Getting around the Playas del Coco area should only cost you 1,000-3,000 Colones ($2-$6) To areas such as Hermosa, Ocotal, RIU, or Playa Panama, it should be $10-$30 each way or so depending on the distance and the taxi. To the airport they may charge around $40, but we wouldn’t recommend arranging these rides ahead of time, as they may not show up. It is better to go through an agency for this.
- If you’re a tourist coming from the United States or Canada to Costa Rica, you’re used to tipping .
- In Costa Rica, tipping etiquette is a bit different. Usually the tip/gratuity is included in the bill at the restaurant. By law restaurants in Costa Rica are required to add 10% tip to the bill and 13% tax. Even though this is the law, some establishments will only include of these additional charges in the menu items, none at all, or both.
- There’s no need to tip in addition to the already included 10% tip (service charge). If you have exceptional service you can leave the change, but usually nothing more than 5-10% of the bill.
- One of the great things about the Gulf of Papagayo area are the local tour guides. They will make your vacation. They are some of the hardest working people in the industry, and appreciate your tips. For an all day excursion a good tip is anywhere between $10 and $15 per person. Obviously if your experience with the guide is mediocre or poor no tip is necessary.
- There’s no need to tip taxi drivers unless you have a lot of luggage that they help you with. $1 a bag will be appreciated.
Dollars or Colones?
- You can use U.S. dollars anywhere in Costa Rica but watch out! many shops, restaurants and business will not accept torn bills. Even bills that have the slightest tear will not be accepted. So when you’re bringing U.S. dollars down with you, make sure they are new, crisp, and complete notes.
- Also, many of the stores do not carry a lot of change, so bring plenty of $1’s, $5’s, and $10’s. Handing a $100 bill for a $10 six pack won’t usually work!
- Having a mix of both U.S. dollars and colones is the best way to travel the country and if something is advertised in U.S. dollars, pay in U.S. dollars and if something is advertised in colones, pay in colones. But always be aware of the exchange rate the business is using! Do not carry around too much cash at once, as theft is very common.
- For the most part, Playas del Coco and surrounding beaches are an extremely safe place to live and travel to. But never leave valuables unattended in your vehicle or at the beach.
- Use common sense and keep doors and windows in your room closed and valuables in a safe.
- In a restaurant or bar keep in touch with your bag. In crowds and on buses, carry your backpack on your chest, not your back.
- On buses, most thefts occur inside. Never put your luggage in the compartments on your seat, better in front.
- Couples and women in particular should not walk alone on the beach at night.
- Try Lizano sauce. This sauce was developed back in 1920 by the Lizano Company. The ingredients include water, sugar, salt, onions, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, spices, pepper, mustard and tumeric . You can find it at every restaurant, house, bar, and home in Tamarindo. Ask for it.
- Yes, you can drink in the streets and on the beach.
When to Visit Playas del Coco
High Season: End of December to End of April – Prices will be the highest but there will be no rain at all, also known as the dry season.
Low Season: May to Mid December – Prices are lower and it rains at least a few times a week, usually in the afternoons or at night.
- In September and October it rains nearly everyday and the town is very slow. Many shops and restaurants close down during this time and there isn’t much nightlife, but you can find some excellent deals on hotels, tours, and surf camps.
- “Shoulder” Season: This is a few weeks at the end of July through August where the weather is dryer than the rest of ‘rainy’ season. The town is quite lively for a few weeks, similar to high season. It is a nice time to visit because the land is very lush and green from the recent rains and there are typically clouds to keep the temperature a bit cooler than the hot/dry high season, but the prices are typically close to low season rates.
Top 3 Local Gulf of Papagayo Tours
Tours you can do from RIU Guancaste/Palace, Ocotal, Playas del Coco, Hermosa, Panama