The Kingdom of Nicoya, also called Cacicazgo or Lordship of Nicoya, was an indigenous nation that comprised much of the territory of the current Guanacaste Province, in the North Pacific of Costa Rica. Its political, economic and religious center was the city of Nicoya, located on the peninsula of the same name, which depends on several provinces located on both banks of the Gulf of Nicoya, as well as numerous tributary villages. In the 16th century, prior to the arrival of Europeans, Nicoya was the most important chiefdom of the North Pacific of present-day Costa Rica.
In archaeological terms, the territory of Guanacaste is part of the archeological region of Greater Nicoya, which extends from the Gulf of Fonseca in Honduras, covering the entire Pacific of Nicaragua, to the northern Pacific of Costa Rica. The Greater Nicoya has been divided, for its study, into two subregions: the northern or Nicaraguan subregion (Nicaragua Pacific) and the southern subregion or Guanacaste (Nicoya Peninsula, the Tempisque river basin, the piedmont and the highlands of the Guanacaste and Tilarán mountain ranges in Costa Rica). In this last subregion is the Kingdom of Nicoya.
In the Greater Nicoya there was a constituted cultural center that flourished for approximately 2000 years. Archaeological research shows that the Nicoyan society achieved a complex social organization and a high degree of cultural development. Upon the arrival of the Spaniards into Nicoya in the 16th century, they found complex cities and governments, specialized agriculture that included irrigation, arts and crafts, highlighting the triad of polychrome ceramics (whose tradition has been inherited by Guanacastecan artisans to this day), the making of jewelry from jade and the manufacture of stone metates, with various regional styles. For 1200 years, the Nicoyan cultural tradition in Guanacaste was clearly established as a distinctive entity.