24 Hours in Liberia, Costa Rica
Liberia is one of two primary international airports in Costa Rica. Here’s a 24-hour itinerary by the Liberia airport. This itinerary is perfect for flight crew layovers, or for travelers who spend their first or last day of vacation near the airport for travel.
When you fly into Liberia you will arrive in the middle of the afternoon. This is just due to the simple fact that almost all flights from the US leave in the morning. It takes about 6 hours to fly there from Minnesota. The layover hotel is the only hotel near the airport and is literally across the street from the terminal. It is full of travelers who have found it to be a very convenient way to get staged before your flight home, or as a place to rest for a quick night before their vacation starts.
One last thing before I get to the rest of the article: I have a collection of all my Liberia, Costa Rica pictures at this gallery. They give you a really good feel for this trip. I also sell prints and digital rights to the photo’s as well to support this site.
Car rental companies will meet you at the airport and have shuttles to their lots from the terminal. Like anywhere, the rates can vary greatly based on the day of the week and season, but I’ve been able to find a small car around $20 for the day consistently. If you stay at the hotel, they also have a car rental kiosk, but when I spoke to them they had a multi-day minimum rental. I usually have great luck with Hotwire.com.
Here is an embedded map of both destinations I talk about in this article. Liberia airport is right in the middle of the route shown. Both destinations are approximately thirty minutes from the hotel and airport.
Costa Rica has a robust public bus system. I have spent many weeks traveling through Costa Rica and everywhere I have been the bus costs $1 locally. It’s clean, safe, and slow. But the price can’t be beaten. There is a bus stop at the entrance to the airport and busses just run the route constantly. It is not scheduled per se, so you just kind of go to the stop and take the next bus. This bus stop makes it very cheap to ride the bus from here to either Coco Beach or into the town of Liberia. Most busses are very modern busses. I have seen some trolleys in tourist areas as well. All are comfortable, but they don’t all have air conditioning.
Uber does work in Costa Rica. But before you go, make sure you have an international plan on your phone so you can use it. Many cell services offer it for around $10 per day. I have read conflicting reports on whether Uber is legal or not. An expat in Coco Beach I spoke to claims he uses it all the time but I can’t verify it myself. If you have any experience with ride shares, please comment below.
Taxi cabs are all over Costa Rica. Here are a few things you need to know about them before you get in: All real taxis are red and have a yellow triangle with the registration painted on them. In short, these guys won’t screw you because taxi rates are metered on their car and are regulated by the government. Get in an unofficial taxi, and enjoy negotiating your rate after your ride. Then, use your common sense. Ask a local what a price should be. Confirm it with the driver beforehand. Bring change so drivers can’t pretend they don’t have any, etc…
Day 1 – Visit Coco Beach
If you are unfamiliar with the coast of Costa Rica, it is divided up by beach more than by town or city. The beaches are pretty much the center of everything there and each one has a different feel. Coco beach is a very local destination with a city and a lot of nightlife. Five minutes north is a Playa Hermosa, that is all resorts and very few public destinations.
Further up and down the coast, you will find more beaches. Some are black, some are brown, and others are sugary white. It just depends on where you go. As an example, this Instagram post is Playa Conchal, about 45 minutes south of where we are.
About Coco Beach
If you just have one day near Liberia, Coco Beach is a great destination for the evening. It is a small city with a lot of Costa Rican’s and ex-patriots who live there. There are a few restaurants and about as many boutique resorts on the beach and some very middle-class neighborhoods within a couple of blocks behind them. These neighborhoods have plenty of Air BnB’s or VRBO options to stay as well. The main strip in town runs right into the center of the beach. There is a small casino, a hotel, and lots of shops and restaurants along this strip.
Walk the Cities Main Street
The first thing you should do is to walk the city a little bit. If you pick up some local coffee from a grocery store, you pay local prices. If you buy it from a gift shop or hotel, you get the gringo prices. I filled my bag with about 20 pounds of coffee last time I was there.
Consider getting food at the grocery store or at one of the many fruit stands. You can eat right on the beach and have a lovely meal. It’s a great way to eat on a budget and to have a little different experience.
Plenty of shopping is available too. These are pretty much a mix of local shops and the Knik-knacky tourist stuff, but it can be entertaining and you can get a cheap souvenir while you are there.
After you check out the town, walk on the beach at Coco and end it with a beachside meal at one of the few beachside restaurants. The local beer is Imperial and you will find the locals drinking it everywhere. Some have live music, others will have patios, but all have great fresh food and a view.
Costa Rican food is some of my favorite. Fresh fruit, rice, beans, fish and fried bananas are very common. I had a grilled snapper with fried plantains this layover.
This is another meal I ordered that is a classic local Costa Rican dish. Fresh cheese, rice and beans, fried egg, fried fish, plantains and a salad:
At the end of the day, it’s easy to get a ride back to the hotel. A good rest will get you ready for a little hike, a swim, and waterfalls in the morning before your flight.
Day 2- Swim at Cortes Waterfall
The Cortes Waterfall is one of a handful of activities to do within an hour or so of the Liberia Airport. Other options include the African Adventure Safari Park and the Congo Trail which both offer adventure tourism like zip lines. If you are looking for wildlife and don’t want to travel too far, consider the Palo Verda National Park, which also happens to be near the Cortes waterfall. Rincon National Park is slightly further away with a 50-minute drive from the airport. This may be your spot if you are a little more aggressive hiker or outdoorsman. Rincon is the first major mountain or hill you see when looking east. It offers a few more advanced hiking trails that offer great waterfalls. It is an active volcano and also has mudbaths and natural hot tubs in the area. One hot springs destination is Vandara Hot Springs. Honestly, instead of me listing every possible place, the best thing to do is get on Trip Advisor or Google Maps and explore the area to find something you want to make a quick trip out of. Just know this location is about an hour away and has a lot to offer.
A thirty-minute drive from the airport will get you to the Cortes waterfall. Reference the map above for details on how to get there. It is basically just a right turn onto Highway 1 from the first stoplight in Liberia.
When you arrive, the entrance is on the top of a hill just past a small pedestrian bridge. It doesn’t look like much and I drove past it the first time. The entrance had a guy selling coconuts and pineapples and handing out maps to the falls. This map, has you driving to someone’s private property as access to the falls. I think they charge a little less than the official admission. I recommend staying on the official site which is well marked past the main entrance.
The path is well maintained and easy to walk. This walkway and path will lead you about a hundred yards into the jungle where the vegetation gets greener and greener as you approach the water. Here’s a picture so you know what to expect:
Swim at Cortez Waterfall Pool
Swimming in the pool is delightful. The pool is only about chest deep at the deepest part and the water is a very comfortable temperature to cool you down from the hot sun. There was a lifeguard on duty by the pool and it was beautiful. But don’t just stop at the swimming pool. There is more to do.
Near where you entered the swimming area, the creek continues downstream. There, you will find a row of rocks that make a path across the river. If you continue across that bridge and then veer left, you come to a second small waterfall and a deep swimming hole you can jump off of.
Above, I am demonstrating the perfect form of the traditional Minnesotan Cannon Ball. Near this spot, we also ran across this little guy. I think he is some kind of porcupine.
Continuing up this path will bring you to the top of the waterfall. It’s a great way to get out and explore this little spot.
After the swim, it’s an easy half hour drive back to the hotel in time to get ready to head home. It’s a short 24-hour layover with a lot of fun activities to do. It’s just enough to give you a taste of why the Guanacaste area is such a popular vacation destination.
If you liked this post, check out other tropical posts including:
Other Favorite Layover destinations