Costa Rica’s Best Beaches

Traveler’s Guide to Costa Rica’s Best Beaches

Costa Rica’s beaches manifest the diverse aspects of her personality: quiet and reserved, modern and flashy, pure tropical tranquility, and a Central American party. Most beaches offer a variety of accommodations, ranging from free camping on the beach, budget seaside cabinas, and other mid-range and luxury lodgings. Room prices are generally cheaper during the green season, and on weekdays. Rooms may become scarce on the weekend. Plan ahead.

Beaches in Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula

Hermosa, northern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Hermosa, northern Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Hermosa
Soft waves and clear water make for fairly safe swimming conditions and great scuba diving.

Coco
An easy drive from Liberia and the most accessible beach from San José in Nicoya. The waters are filled with small vessels, but it still has the best scuba diving in the country. The beach is pretty, and nightlife is abundant.

Ocotal
Luxury homes are making their way here, but so far have been non-intrusive. This small beach is the cleanest and least visited in the area, offering a chance for a dip and good snorkeling (especially near the south end).

Flamingo Beach, northern Pacific. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Flamingo Beach, northern Pacific. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Flamingo
The ritziest beach in Costa Rica. This is where the yachters and leisure class go to experience the beach. With plenty of white sand and big houses to go around, Flamingo is turning into one of the real estate hotspots on the northern Pacific coast. Sportfishing is big here, and the area has its own marina and landing strip.

Brasilito
A great swimming beach, and some guides recommend it as the best for children. Less visited than its more famous neighbors Flamingo and Conchal, it is a good place to comb the beach and relax.

Conchal, northern Pacific. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Conchal, northern Pacific. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Conchal
Just south of Brasilito, this beach is famous for mountain of seashells that compose the shore. Conchal is home of the major, all-inclusive The Westin Golf Resort and Spa, Conchal Beach. Clear water and great snorkeling make this a popular beach, but even as such it is rarely crowded.

Tamarindo, northern Pacific. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Tamarindo, northern Pacific. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Grande/Tamarindo
A long, wide white-sand beach. This is a surfer’s beach – both for waves and wind. Across the estuary, at Playa Grande, is one of the world’s most important sea turtle nesting sites. Very developed, Tamarindo is reminiscent of Southern California fifty years ago. Fishing and tourism are big industries, and a nice infrastructure of hotels and restaurants provide plenty of services. A nearby wildlife refuge and national park keep nature lovers occupied. Be careful in the water: inquire about rip currents and water hazards before venturing out.

Nosara
Has recently become something of an international community for health and yoga enthusiasts. Ample wildlife reserves make this greener than the rest of Guanacaste. Off the nice white-sand beach is great for surfing. With no true town, Nosara is a good place to get away from it all. It has three beaches: Guiones, Pelada and Nosara.

Samara Costa Rica beach
Yes, you can get to Samara from San Jose by bus. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Sámara

Many call Sámara the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica – which is saying a lot. Swimming is good here. The village is developed, with tourist services, good restaurants nightlife, and nice lodging options. Sportfishing is big here, too, and the action extends inland with great hiking and views.

Carrillo
Gorgeous white-sand beaches ringed by palm trees form a crescent around a blue bay. Natural forests run all the way up to the water, since construction is almost non-existant. Carillo is a wonderful tropical beach, the kind of place that begs you to sip icy fruit cocktails on the pristine sand.

Montezuma, Nicoya Peninsula. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Montezuma, Nicoya Peninsula. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Montezuma
Beautiful rugged coves and lots of waterfalls, along with a bohemian feel, make Montezuma popular with backpackers from around the world. Not great for swimming (due to the rocky coastline), but some tide pools are good for a light swim.

Tambor
A deep circular bay. Warm and gentle waters are good for swimming, but generally not clear enough for snorkeling. The sand is soft and near shore the water is shallow without big waves. Whales have been sighted within the bay.

Santa Teresa
A long, white surfing beach. Good variety of accommodations and restaurants, catering to an international community.

Beaches in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific Region

Jacó
Costa Rica’s party beach. Jacó is very developed, with a wide variety of accommodations, great restaurants, and fancy hotels. Budget travelers also find their niche here. The beach itself is a pretty, long stretch of light-colored sand and palms. Jacó is a surfing beach known for its consistent waves, and it has some dangerous rip currents and is not good for swimming. Some consider Jacó to be a guaro-soaked beach, but not like North American party beaches.

Isla Tortuga
Palm-studded and breathtaking, Tortuga boasts white-sand beaches and turquoise waters. It tends to get crowded on the weekends, so try to get there during the week.

Manuel Antonio National Park, Central Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Manuel Antonio National Park, Central Pacific of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Manuel Antonio
Paradise on earth? Many say Manuel Antonio is one of the prettiest beaches in the world, and the large numbers of tourist who arrive every year tend to agree. With several stunning beaches backed by craggy, lush mountainsides, nature’s creation reaches perfection in Manuel Antonio. Once can spend days exploring its abundant beaches and kilometers of nature trails, accumulating a profound appreciation for the area’s riches and an understanding of how important it is to conserve these places. The third beach in the park is the nicest, with excellent swimming and snorkeling. Plan ahead, as the park is closed Mondays. Get there early as they restrict the amount of people who can enter in order to conserve the park’s delicate ecosystem.

Beaches in Costa Rica’s Southern Pacific Region

Dominical
Rugged, vegetation-covered mountains form the backdrop to Dominical beach. Mainly a surfer’s beach, Dominical has gained popularity with swimmers due to the new lifeguard force. The town is laid-back and bohemian, and there is a definite positive vibe in the air. Good restaurants and discos add to the local flavor.

Uvita, Ballena Marine National Park. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Uvita, Ballena Marine National Park. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Uvita
A great place to swim near a small rural village. At low tide you can walk out along Punta Uvita – and likely have it to yourself.

Ballena Marine National Park
Another great place to swim. One tourist said, “I’d take the grandkids and drop them off there it’s so safe.” Absent waves and 85-degree waters make many think perfection.

Pavones
An internationally known surfer’s beach near Costa Rica’s last frontier.

Zancudo
One of the southern zone’s most popular beaches. Black sands stretch on for miles, and the surf is calm, making Zancudo good for families. The southern section has good surfing. Cheap hotels and cabinas abound.

Beaches in Costa Rica’s Caribbean

Tortuguero
This is the focal point of Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast. The beach here is unbroken for miles save for an occasional river mouth, and palm trees line the sand the entire way. The beach is incredibly straight, but the currents are very dangerous and not good for swimming. Even surfing is not recommended. Popular with sportfishermen, the main transport is by water, and boat trips through the canals are a great way to see the wildlife in its natural habitat. Four of the world’s eight sea turtles nest here.

Bonita
A sandy beach with waves that is acceptable for swimming. It isn’t the area’s best beach; most continue further south. However, it is good if you’re staying in Limón center.

Cahuita National Park, southern Caribbean of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal
Cahuita National Park, southern Caribbean of Costa Rica. Photo: Andrés Madrigal

Cahuita
You’ll find good swimming 500 meters down the beach from the town of Cahuita, with waters reminiscent of a postcard-perfect tropical paradise. One of the world’s largest coral reefs is located in these waters, providing excellent opportunities for scuba and snorkeling. Be sure to ask about currents and conditions before taking a dip. The food and culture in this region attract many: take in and emulate the slow pace of life.

Cocles (Puerto Viejo)
This is a surfer’s beach right by downtown Puerto Viejo. Just south of town are idyllic beaches protected by reefs and coves that inspire true tropical relaxation. Here you’ll find the best surfing on the Caribbean coast, maybe in all of Costa Rica. Nighttime heats up, as this is a party beach with a good tourism infrastructure.

Punta Uva

Calm, clear water make Punta Uva a great place for a dip in the sea and a beachside picnic. Punta Uva is 8.5 kilometers (five miles) south of Puerto Viejo.

Playa Chiquita

This uncrowded, sandy beach has no direct street access so you’ll have to walk along a path to get there. No road means a bit more of a walk, but you’ll enjoy some privacy because of the access. There is a bus that leaves Puerto Viejo hourly during the daytime; otherwise, bicycle or taxi are easy options, too.

Manzanillo

This beach lies amid the Gandoca-Manzanillo Marine and Wildlife Reserve. Monkeys patrol the treetops, and the great leatherback turtle lays her eggs here.

Beach Safety Tips

1. Knowing the area where you’re swimming
2. Ask locally for surf/beach conditions
3. Know safety and rescue procedures
4. Never swim alone
5. Don’t swim at night
6. Don’t swim after drinking
7. If you don’t know how to swim, stay in very shallow water
8. Don’t let children play alone in the water