Toasted as the cultural heart of Costa Rica, Guanacaste's dry rolling flatlands have fed cattle since the 1600s. Although largely confined to the realms of history, the tough life of the
- the man of the plains - has become an integral part of the regional and national identity. Moving through the territory on horseback, the
would take his shade under the broad branches and dense leaves of a
- the national tree. And when the hard work is done, these people are also open, hospitable and fun-loving (if you're visiting in January and February check out one of the many fiestas in the area).

With considerably less rainfall than other parts of the country, it is easy to see why the expanses of dry, open land, broken only by the dramatic volcanic silhouettes of the Cordillera de Guanacaste, would be more appealing than the hot, insect-infested jungles covering much of the rest of the country. In the 1950s and 1960s, a boom in ranching saw vast areas of the region cleared in an attempt to increase meat exports. Only a combination of foresight and falling meat prices protected the last remaining stretches of rare dry tropical forest found in the northwest, allowing the region to join Costa Rica's growing conservation movement.

Cut off from the Central Valley and hemmed in by the mountains to the east, the region's proximity to Nicaragua has made it the site of numerous infractions between the two nations which still ripple through international relations between
. Liberia is the area's largest town but it's the national parks of Tenorio, Rincón de la Vieja, Palo Verde and Santa Rosa, with their dry tropical forests and geothermal curiosities, that pull in visitors. And for the truly independent traveller there are a few quiet, beautiful beaches in the far north.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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