The Beaches of Costa Rica
There is beautiful beach after beautiful beach on both coastlines – each with its own personality and atmosphere. Some attract surfers, some are popular with weekend visitors and some are practically deserted – there is bound to be a beach for you. Costa Rica is well known for the perfect sunsets viewed from picture-postcard tropical beaches.
With two different coastlines, Costa Rica is blessed with variety. The two coasts have different seasons, different attractions and a different feel. Both are blessed with plenty of beaches. A few of our favourites on the Pacific are Playa Grande for turtles, Jacó for surfing and nightlife and Uvita for a more secluded experience and snorkelling. With so many beaches on offer, and each different from the next there is definitely something for everyone in Costa Rica.
Even more laid back than the rest of Costa Rica (and that’s saying something) are people of the Caribbean coast. Beaches lie along this coastline from Tortuguero in the north to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca to the south. There is a fabulous mix of cultures here in the south, indigenous, Costa Rican (Tico) and Afro-Caribbean – it makes for a melting pot of personality, colour and wonderful fusion cuisine. Tortuguero is the place to see the nesting turtles and the southern beaches are where you will find coral reefs to explore. Take care when swimming as some beaches have strong rip-tides, always check before venturing in.
Always check conditions with the locals before venturing into the water. Many areas are subject to rip-tides and some beaches are unsuitable for swimming. Conditions can vary considerably from day to day with changes in the weather.
Papagayo / Guanacaste Coast
Playa Blanca Beautiful white beaches, amazing sunsets. Accommodation Nearby: Four Seasons Resort
Playa Manzanillo Accommodation Nearby: Andaz Papagayo
Playa Panamá Accommodation Nearby: El Mangroove
Playa Hermosa (diving, fishing, snorkelling, surfing) Translating as ‘beautiful beach’, this is a wide sandy beach sheltered by a bay. There’s a smattering of coconut palms and olive trees to decorate the shores. Hermosa has a more remote feel than Playa del Coco. Accommodation Nearby: Bosque del Mar
Playa del Coco (sport fishing, diving, horse riding, kayaking) A wide bay sheltered by a peninsula. Islands are accessible here for some good diving. Plenty of fishing boats occupy the marina and there are bars for mingling with other tourists and locals.
Playa Ocotal (diving) This grey sandy beach is more upmarket and also excellent for diving. It’s not an actual town but does have some eateries. The water is warm and inviting here.
Pan de Azúcar (swimming and snorkelling) Own vehicle required. ‘Sugar-Bread beach’ gets its name from the strip of white sand that forms the beach. Difficult access gives this a real remote and deserted feel. The waters are calm, good for swimming in snorkelling.
Bahía Potrero (swimming, paddle boarding) This bay houses several beaches one after the other, each with a different feel. Playa Preita is a black sand beach and Playa Penca has gleaming white sand and a sheltered turquoise bay. As you head south you will reach Playa Potrero, a slightly more developed beach belonging to the village of Portrero.
Playa Flamingo (horse riding, quad biking, surfing, kayaking, fishing) This white sandy beach leading to the blue ocean attracts Costa Rican’s from the city and also many package tourists. A lot of activities are available here, but you won’t find it quiet and deserted.
Playa Brasilito Not the prettiest beach, but it is part of the authentic Costa Rican village of Brasilito, so if you want a slice of Costa Rican ‘Tico’ life then stop off here.
Playa Conchal (snorkelling) Making up for Brasilito is the palm fringed, beautiful Playa Conchal. Named after the Conch shells that wash up on the shore, and over time disintegrate to form the soft white sands. Calm clear waters make for good snorkelling.
Playa Grande (surfing, turtles) This large stretch of beach is renowned for both surfing and turtles. Running along the coast for about 5km this off-shore winds whip up the waves, swimmers should be cautious though as this beach is renowned for rip-tides. The beach is part of the Marino Las Baulas National Park, which protects the leatherback nesting sites. Guided tours operate at night to facilitate viewing of the turtles whilst not disturbing them.
Playa Tamarindo (surfing, nightlife, shopping, fishing). A popular beach resort. Once a small fishing village it has grown over the years and now has a good choice of restaurants, bars and shops. It is a wide, yellow sandy beach, popular with surfers. There are plenty of tours and activities available here. If it’s nightlife you are after, then look no further. Accommodation Nearby: Capitán Suizo, Cala Luna
Playa Avellanas (surfing) 15km south of Tamarindo you will find some of the most consistent surfing in Costa Rica. Golden sand beaches lined with mangroves in the centre. This beach is popular with beginner and intermediate surfers.
Playa Negra (surfing) Slightly darker sand than Avellanas, Playa Negra has rocky outcrops this beach is popular with ex-pats.
Playa Tortuga (surfing) The surfing theme continues, this beach is for advanced surfers only. Best between April and November.
Playa Junquillal Hidden away, grey sandy beach, deserted. Not for swimming. Olive Ridley turtles nes here July to November. Leatherbacks also nest here. Nearest town is 4km inland.
Playa Pelada Very quiet, no surf here. Fishing village feel.
Playa Guiones Local surfers enjoy this quiet beach Accommodation Nearby: Harmony Hotel
Playa Garza Sleepy fishing village. Few local restaurants, few tourists.
Playa Sámara (surfing, families, swimming, relaxing) This beach is popular with both Costa Rican’s and tourists alike. The easy-going atmosphere, along with plenty of eateries makes it a popular spot. Calm seas in a protected sandy horseshoe bay and easy access make it a good option.
Playa Carillo This is a wide beach of stunning white sand bordered by sea on one side and rainforest on the other. Hammocks strung between palms are dotted about. At weekends and holidays it’s popular with locals, but at other times you could have the beach to yourself.
Playa Camaronal (turtles) Largely inaccessible but local hotels can offer night time escorted tours to see nesting olive ridley turtles. Hotel Punta Islita
Playa San Miguel, Playa Coyote Very quiet and very beautiful. Big granite boulders and beautiful beaches with a coconut palm backdrop. Nesting sites for olive ridley turtles. Few amenities on the beach makes for few visitors – enjoy paradise in peace.
Playa Manzanillo (surfing) Sand and rocky beach, popular with surfers
Santa Teresa (surfing, swimming) Good surfing here and the small cove makes for great swimming. Although one of the busier beaches it still has that Costa Rican ‘pura vida’ feel. Accommodation Nearby: Flor Blanca
Playa el Carmen (surfing)
Mal País (surfing, eating, horse riding, fishing) A lively place attracting many surfers and backpackers. Dotted with bars restaurants and cafés, there is a feeling of escapism here and being ‘off the grid’.
Montezuma (swim, surf, relax) Chillded, relaxed, bohemian feel to this village and beach. There is a smattering of restaurants, boutiques and bars. Look beyond the rocks for wild hidden beaches. Popular with backpackers, it has a good nightlife too. Accommodation Nearby: Tango Mar Beach and Golf Resort
Playa Cocalito (horseriding, waterfall, swimming) Not easily accessible but worth a visit. Beautiful turquoise waters to a backdrop of El Chorro Waterfall. Often have the beach to yourself. No restaurants, bars or shops so take plenty of water.
Playa Tambor Quieter than Mal País, secluded and a calmer sea.
Playa Herradura The location for the movie ‘1492’ threw Playa Herradura into the spotlight and mass development ensued. With a marina sporting luxury yachts and sport fishing vessels, most of the accommodation in this area caters for the luxury market.
Playa Jacó (surfing, kayaking, nightlife) A melting pot of personalities reside here. It’s popular with surfers, backpackers and those on weekend breaks. The beach is beautiful, good surf, a jungle backdrop but it’s not a good spot for swimming. Jacó offers plenty of bars, restaurants and shops.
Playa Hermosa (surfing) Experienced surfers only if you want to surf the waves here. Whilst quieter than Playa Jacó, it is as beautiful – if not more so.
Playa Esterillos Heading further south the beaches become quieter. There are few hotels and eateries, so fewer visitors venture here – total escapism.
Playa Palo Seco (birding) This off the beaten track black sand beach has a backdrop of mangrove swamps which are home to abundant birdlife
Manuel Antonio National Park Explore the park in the morning and the beaches in the afternoon (bear in mind the park and its beaches are closed Mondays). This is where the verdant rainforest meets the white sandy beaches. There are plenty of hotels in the vicinity, some with their own private beaches. Accommodation Nearby: Alma del Pacífico, Arenas del Mar, Parador, Sí Como No, Los Altos
Playa Dominical (surfing) A very pretty beach with a forest backdrop. It has a feel of the town that time forgot. Roads are still dirt and it’s very laid back. Strong breaks make it excellent for surfing, however it’s not good for swimming.
Playa Uvita (snorkelling) At low tide, the beach is shaped like a whales tail. It’s more secluded than Dominical and about a mile long. Not much accommodation along this beach but it’s great for snorkelling in the calm and protected waters. The town serves as a gateway for visitors visiting the Marino Ballena National Park.
Playa Tortuga (snorkelling) Close to the town of Ojochal is this small and pretty much undiscovered beach. A district ‘castaway’ kind of feeling hangs over this beach as you are unlikely to find many other people here. Accommodation Nearby: Cristal Ballena, Kura Villas, La Cusinga
Most of the beaches on the Osa Peninsula fall within the borders of the Corcovado National Park. As you are not allowed to enter the park without an ICT- certified guide, these beaches are largely deserted.
Playa Pedrillo (NP)
Playa Corcovado (NP)
Playa Sirena (NP)
Playa Madrigal (NP)
Playa Piro (surfing)
Playa Sombrero (surfing) Accommodation Nearby: Bosque del Cabo, Casa Corcovado, Copa de Arbol, El Remanso, La Leona Ecolodge, Lapa Rios, Playa Cativo
Stay in the national park and discover the beaches where the turtles come to nest. Take organised night time tours to see the turtles in action. Accommodation Nearby: Evergreen, Manatus, Mawamba, Pachira, Aninga Lodge
Accommodation Nearby: Cariblue, Le Cameleon, Shawandha Lodge
Playa Negra (swimming, beginners surfing) A long stretch of black sand beach. Great for swimmers and if the conditions are right it’s good for beginner surfers.
Playa Blanca (swimming) Located at the entrance to Cahuita National Park. Good for swimming but make sure you observe the green flags marking safe areas.
Playa Vargas Within Cahuita National Park, separated from Playa Blanca by a rocky headland
Salsa Brava (surfing) Only expert surfers should attempt the waves here, Salsa Brava is the wave all surfers want to conquer.
Playa Cocles (surfing, relaxing) Despite the proximity to the town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Cocles also offers quiet spots for sunbathing. There are plenty of restaurants and bars around too.
Playa Chiquita (surfing, relaxing) Running on from Playa Cocles is Playa Chiquita. A beautiful Caribbean beach as you would expect, but beware the riptides if swimming or surfing.
Punta Uva (snorkelling, diving, swimming) These are some of the best beaches for swimming.
Playa Manzanillo (snorkelling, kayaking, diving). Close to the Panama border, Manzanillo is known for white sandy beaches bordered by jungle teeming with wildlife, and the best snorkelling. If you are lucky you may see dolphins and manatees here.