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Guanacaste: A province of contrasts

Guanacaste is a province of contrasts.  In the past few years, Guanacaste has transformed into one of the most attractive destinations in the region with its great tourist and urban development; however, it’s still one of the provinces with highest rates of poverty and unemployment. 

Some of the towns in Guanacaste flaunt modernity.  Due to tourism and foreign investors, tall buildings, mansions, condos and shopping centers came along to this beautiful province that once was a land of countrymen.  On the other hand, there are towns that emanate the old Guanacaste aroma, filled with pastures, soccer fields and small local stores.

Prior to 1960, Guanacaste’s economy depended on the production of sugar, cotton and cement.  Along with the extensive agriculture in the area, the province’s countrymen began developing small units of pulses and coffee production in towns such as Santa Cruz, Hojancha, La Cruz and Tilaran.

In the late 90’s, Guanacaste started an important transition process - from an agricultural economy to an economy based on services.  Big corporations, hotel operators and real estate agents helped the expansion of tourist services, slowly relegating native landowners and countrymen.

Several Guanacaste counties experienced a real-estate boom, whose climax happened between 2007 and 2008, when the province’s coast reached a 47% of Costa Rica’s total construction of properties – exceeding the country’s capital city of San José.  During that time, the most popular destinations such as Tamarindo and Coco Beach became extremely expensive – the land’s square meter could cost up to $1000. 

Since then, hotels, restaurants and shopping malls multiplied, becoming the main source of income for many locals.  Although Guanacaste’s real estate peak found its low point in 2009, increasing the social gap in the province. 

Limited employment opportunities

According to data provided by the National Statistics and Census Institute (INEC), the Chorotega region is the poorest in the country, with over 25.000 people living in extreme poverty.    Guanacaste also faces the highest rate of unemployment in the country, with a total percentage of 10.1%.

These figures have surged as a result of the economic crisis suffered worldwide, which affected the entire country, but mainly the tourism and real estate economic activities.  In 2009, the construction industry crashed down in Costa Rica, and Guanacaste underwent the biggest impact. 

The lack of investment due to the crisis caused a negative effect in the province, its inhabitants and their employment. 

In the past few months, both the construction and tourism industries alike have shown signs of recovery.  However, according to specialists in the matter, the recovery is slow and it’s unlikely to reach the previous high levels, such as in 2007.

From the outside

Guanacaste’s development has brought an important employment source to the province, along with excellent training and working conditions.  For many, this has generated a positive dynamic of economy growth in the area. 

A recent tourism-related study that took place in Tamarindo, revealed that most of the workers in the tourism industry, lived in Liberia or other Guanacaste towns, and traveled dozens of kilometers to get to work. 

On the other hand, many ‘Guanacastecos’ have kept their traditional activities that once determined the Guanacaste lifestyle: selling pastries, tortillas and tamales on the streets, taming horses, maintaining the big farms, among other things.

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