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Articles Blog

Gulfo do Papagayo, Costa Rica

Karyn Planett

Sounds like a little ditty we learned in school, but no! It’s not. It’s the Spanish word for “parrot.” Well, at least the “pa-pa-ga-yo” part is. And, “Gulfo do Papagayo” is, yes, the “Gulf of the Parrot”. But, as any tourism rep will tell you, this pretty little town is also known as the “Gulf of Sunsets”, “The Gulf of Beaches”, and “The Gulf of Relaxation.” So, take your pick. What’s it gonna be for your day in the sun?

Oh, for the record, “papagayo” also means “red fish full of venomous prickles, a large kite, or a bedpan”. Just thought you should know.

So Where Are We?

Costa Rica. The Rich Coast. Go north to Nicaragua, southeast to Panama, west to fabulous beaches with clear waters perfect for a swim. Golfo do Papagayo is only 10.7 degrees north of the Equator so there’s a lazy, no-wild-swings-in-temperature pace to the day. In fact, it rarely dips below 82 degrees or soars above 90. All this sealed the decision by the Costa Rican government to earmark Gulfo do Papagayo the ideal spot for tourism in 1974. But development projects were a bit too ambitious to be sustained by a fragile ecological environment so plans were put on the back burner until 1997. With a more viable plan in place and full government approval, construction began in earnest without compromising the setting.

What’s There To See?

Lots. Guanacaste Province is a nature-lover’s delight. Palo Verde National Park is 45,000 acres big, draped along the banks of the Tempisque River. With a puzzle of microhabitats, including everything from harsh salt ponds to swampy mangrove waters, it’s ideal for migrating waterfowl as well as those who refuse to leave. In fact, 300 plus bird species have been spotted in the park by avid birders and rangers. They claim there are more waterfowl and shorebirds here than in any other place in Central America with everything from ducks and storks to the more exotic toucans and parrots, even scarlet macaws.

They’re not the only creatures calling Palo Verde home. There are also some monkeys including the white-face and the howler, plus armadillos and something called a coatimundi that looks like a raccoon with a long tail and lots of little ones. Oh, do try not to disturb the American crocodiles inhabiting the park. You probably won’t trip over them because they can grow to a length of 15 feet! But, for a little bit of comfort, just know their diet is mainly wee frogs, unsuspecting crabs, and already-dead animals. They’re best seen from a riverboat anyway.

And, speaking of enjoying the Costa Rican waters, you can actually float along the Corobici River, go river rafting if you’re so inclined, jet ski along the beach, sail on catamaran at sunset, or get your block and tackle ready for some challenging deep-sea fishing. These waters are known for their Pacific sailfish, marlin, and other game fish like wahoo and dorado.

If you want to simply sail above all this, strap yourself to the Witches Rock zip line and whizz right past. However, leave time to learn about William Walker, the North American fellow who invaded Costa Rica in 1856. The “President of the Republic of Nicaragua” at that time, Walker and his band of private military boys were sent packing back to Nicaragua by a group of locals not wanting to succumb to his bravado. Walker was ultimately executed in 1860. Do read his fascinating story.

Peaceful Times

Gulfo do Papagayo today is home to waterfront resorts that welcome guests for frosty beverages with paper umbrellas and a day at their pools. Simply pick one that suits your fancy and permits day visitors. But if it’s history and sightseeing you seek, visit the colonial town of Liberia. Modest by most standards, it’s rather formidable for Costa Rica. Just about 500 feet above sea level, Liberia enjoys a drier climate than other parts of the country. In fact, it is often so dry winds bring with them a fine layer of dust. Some claim that’s why Liberia is called the “White City.” Most acknowledge, however, it’s due to the whitewashed buildings that can be blinding on a hot summer day. That’s all due to the bahareque clay.

Dating back to 1769, Liberia is home today to approximately 30,000 residents and is the provincial capital. Occasionally, a mounted horseman will ride through town en route to one of the surrounding estancias to work cattle or visit other caballeros. He’ll simply add interest to your photos of this tile-roofed colonial town that is quintessentially Costa Rican.

Finally, as the sun sinks toward the horizon, sample some comida tipica including coffee-wood roasted pork, shrimp or lobster, a beef stew called olla de carne, sopa negra black bean soup, or corn stew known as guiso de maiz. Finish with horchata, a spicy beverage Ticos enjoy made of cinnamon and roasted ground rice.