Guanacaste province has grown from a remote corner of Costa Rica’s tourist circuit into a world-class destination all of its own. While a stunning array of gorgeous beaches has long been Guanacaste’s calling card, sand and sun are just a tiny sample of what this northwestern province has to offer. Extensive tracts of virgin rainforest extend beyond the borders of the region’s national parks. A range of volcanoes, including active Rincon de la Vieja, hold vigil to the east, and in these mountainous regions crystalline rivers and tumbling cascades punctuate the lush landscape.

In addition to the teeming tropical rainforest, Guanacaste is home to the extremely rare tropical dry forest. From December through May, you might see tracts of forest on Guanacaste’s lowlands that look like a deciduous North American forest during autumn. Most likely, you’ll be looking at examples of the tropical dry forest. The tropical dry forest is characterized by forests that don’t receive rain for several months a year. Guanacaste’s traditionally sunny climate fits the bill.

Although this habitat was once found throughout western Central America, cattle ranchers and farmers found the climate to be conducive to their activities. The tropical dry forests lost out to agriculture. However, reforestation efforts have helped immensely. Today, this ecosystem is among the world’s rarest. In spite of the forest’s bleak summertime appearance, it houses countless species of plant, animal and insect life.

While Guanacaste’s biodiversity may be reason enough to visit the region, the local culture is worth a look, too. The area around Santa Cruz is said to be the birthplace for Costa Rica’s folklore. Guitar players strum romantic boleros around; sabaneros, Costa Rica’s cowboys, gallop across cattle farms; and the artistic influence of the Chortega indigenous people is a colorful reminder of a living culture.

More recently, Guanacaste has experienced a building boom that has attracted residents and visitors from across Costa Rica and the world. Liberia, Playa del Coco and Tamarindo are all full-service cities with burgeoning culinary offerings, new hotels, sparkling communities and all the comforts of home. The contrast between the traditional and the modern in Guanacaste arrives amid a peaceful coexistence.