Costa Rica is known for active volcanoes, treetop rainforest tours, year-round surfing, stunning beaches, and biodiverse national parks. But it also has a surprising following among triathletes as a winter training destination.
The Pacific Coast province of Guanacaste on the Nicoya Peninsula has hosted triathlon training camps, private coaching groups, and numerous races in recent years. It’s located in one of the world’s five original Blue Zones, places where people live the longest and are the healthiest—in short, life is good there. With warm, dry weather from January to early April and an easy-to-maneuver, low-stress tourist environment, it’s an ideal place to escape for a week (or more!) of swimming, biking, and running—as well as everything else that comes with a traditional Costa Rican vacation.
A lot of triathletes stay at Las Catalinas—either at the modest 45-room boutique Santarena Hotel, the slightly pricier Las Catalinas Hotel, or at one of the rental villas where you’ll find quick access to the pool and open-water swimming in Potrero Bay. Las Catalinas is a modern urban development (think: resort community) that features shops, restaurants, pubs, and the full-service Pura Vida Ride bike shop.
Otherwise, there’s the luxurious Four Seasons Resort on the Papagayo Peninsula and Pacifico Resort on Coco Bay that offer the high-end amenities you might expect, as well as numerous mid-range hotels and rental properties scattered throughout Guanacaste and in the surf town of Tamarindo. On a budget? Stay at the Margaritaville Beach Resort or Bahia del Sol Hotel.
There are several lap pools in Guanacaste, including the four-lane, 25-meter saltwater pool at Las Catalinas Beach Club and the two-lane, 25-meter pool at Pacifico Resort. However, some of the best swimming can be found in the calm water of Potrero Bay adjacent to Danta Beach and Sugar Beach or in Coco Bay, where the swim leg of the discontinued Ironman 70.3 race was held. With ocean temperatures hovering in the low 80s throughout the winter, those bodies of water can be stunning places to practice long, race-simulated swims, work on your sighting skills, or just do quality workouts without having to stare at a black line at the bottom of a pool.
There are ample opportunities for hilly two- to five-hour rides on well-paved roads that combine coastal and inland routes, but it’s best to start early to avoid the midday heat. One of the common long rides athletes at the annual RaceQuest-hosted training camps do is a 72-miler from Las Catalinas Resort to the Four Seasons on Papagayo Peninsula and back. Another ride with a stunning built-in rest break sends riders 14 miles from Carpe Diem coffee shop at Playa Potrero to an overlook above Playa Ventanas and back.
There’s also a handful of fun, purpose-built mountain biking trails in the region for off-road riders of all levels (road-focused triathletes included). Pura Vida Ride bike shop at Las Catalinas Resort specializes in mountain bike rentals and trail knowledge, but its back shop techs can also work on road and tri bikes, too. About 30 miles inland, Bike Station Liberia services and sells road and mountain bike equipment and accessories, so there’s no stress when your bike needs some love or you realize you forgot to pack your helmet.
There’s a nice mix of paved roads and soft dirt trails available in Guanacaste for long runs, up-tempo intervals, hill repeats, and relaxing recovery runs with amazing scenery. (The trail system at Las Catalinas has more than 25 miles of well-groomed and marked trails that are a great place for a relaxing sunset trail run.) About five miles inland, the La Leona y Victoria and Oropendula Jaguarundi trails can be combined to make a fun 17-mile figure-eight route through forest terrain alongside Rio Blanco at the foot of a volcano.
There are no all-weather running tracks in the area, but there are many soccer fields that offer the chance to run fast intervals on flat, grassy terrain. There are also plenty of smoothly paved sections of roads for hill repeats and longer intervals. And, of course, the local white sand beaches are all open to the public, and, especially at low tide, offer fast, firm, and forgiving footing for up-tempo workouts and post-run strides.
When it comes to refueling and refreshments, Guanacaste has a bit of everything. The go-to place for morning coffee is Carpe Diem in Playa Potrero, while Surf Box at Playa Flamingo has all the breakfast food that you crave after a morning ride. For lunch, consider the vegan and vegetarian fare at the Pots & Bowls food truck near Playa Ventanas or visit Green Papaya Taco Bar in Tamarindo for tasty Mexican fare and freshly caught seafood ceviche—and make sure to have one of its hibiscus cranberry juice drinks!
For more traditional tri fare, try the excellent Italian pizza, pasta, and salads at La Forketta in Playa Potrero and renowned tuna tacos and seafood rice on the water at Playa Flamingo. Sentido Norte Restaurant in Casa Chameleon Hotel at Las Catalinas is regularly one of the top-rated restaurants in the area, so head there for panko/cashew-crusted yellowfin tuna and a glass of Chilean wine, followed by a scoop of organic artisanal ice cream.
If you want craft beer, visit San Diego-inspired Volcano Brewing Company in Tamarindo and order a Hasselhopp IPA. Make a toast to a hearty week of training with a Tequila Mockingbird (tequila, watermelon, and lime juice with muddled jalapeno and basil) at Dragonfly Bar & Grill in Tamarindo.
Want to train in Guanacaste? RaceQuest puts on week-long triathlon training camps and also creates custom bespoke training vacations. Although Ironman 70.3 Costa Rica was discontinued after 2019 and XTERRA Costa Rica is on hiatus, Tri Las Catalinas (mid-February) is a well-organized off-road triathlon with a 1.2K swim, 25K mountain bike, and 8K trail run that starts and finishes at Las Catalinas Beach Town. Also, local race production company Unlimited Productions Costa Rica hosts triathlons, trail races, and open-water swimming events throughout the winter and spring.
When you’re not in swim/bike/run mode, you can still get active, with kayaking in the bioluminescent waters of Paquera Bay, nighttime turtle watching on a remote beach, or hiking to a waterfall—La Leona, Rio Fortuna, La Vieja are three of the most spectacular—with a guided group or as a solo adventure. On the more daring side, give surfing a try at one of the milder beach breaks in Tamarindo (pro tip: take a lesson!) or explore one of the rainforests via a canopy tour and zip lines at the Diamante Eco-Adventure Park.
When it comes to shopping and souvenirs, check out the surf shops in Tamarindo or stroll the boutique shops of Las Catalinas. Want to relax on your vacay? Visit Wake Day Spa for a sports massage or a salt and stone treatment.