The first time I visited Costa Rica, it was love at first sight. While the beaches were magical and the jungles full of adventure, the local mindset was my most significant pull. The locals are kind, and the vibe is one of complete relaxation, making it clear why Costa Ricans live by the motto "Pura Vida" (meaning pure life).
With so many beaches to choose from on two different coastlines, it can take time to decide where to go once you're there. This guide will review the best beaches in Costa Rica based on location, logistics, and your travel group.
Top Recommended Beaches in Costa Rica: By Region
There are two coastlines to explore and enjoy in Costa Rica: the Caribbean and the Pacific. Each area is known for its unique offerings, fantastic scenery, and great beaches.
Before getting into too many details, it will help to get an idea of what to expect from each coast and the top beaches for each.
The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s Caribbean is known for its unique culture, laid-back vibes, and stunning beaches. That said, it can be challenging to reach as it requires driving on a busy two-lane highway that gets congested often.
We rented a car to explore the Southern Carribean, which I'd highly recommend. Despite heavy traffic, my family enjoyed stopping at local fruit stands and looking for wildlife along the way.
The area's main attraction is its beaches. The top favorites include:
- The Nesting Beaches of Tortuga National Park: A protected stretch of land and beach for turtles. Only accessible via boat.
- Punta Uva: This laidback beach town offers several beach options on the southern edge of the Caribbean coast. This area is excellent for relaxing, going for a bike ride (on the beach if you'd like), hiking, and looking for wildlife.
- Playa Cahuita: This beach is one of the more popular on the Caribbean coast and has a relaxed atmosphere. It also offers excellent snorkeling opportunities for visitors to explore.
The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica
On the Western pacific side of the country, the coastline is much longer and offers a variety of unique beaches. Some beaches are a short drive or bus ride from the San Jose or Liberia airport, while others require long drives or even a boat ride.
The most notable beaches on Costa Rica’s pacific coast include:
- Manuel Antonio National Park: A protected Southern shoreline with white sand beaches.
- Nosara: A predominantly ex-pat community known for its iconic yoga and surfing beaches. The most notable is Guiones beach.
- Islas Tortuga: Uninhabited islands and beaches that require a boat to access.
- Playa Tamarindo: A popular hot spot filled with tourists looking to eat, drink and enjoy.
Costa Rica’s Best Beaches: By Activity
Now that you know the lay of the land, it's time to look at the best beaches in the country based on activities. This will help you decide which beaches to visit on your next trip.
Best Beaches for Snorkeling
Costa Rica offers the opportunity to explore beautiful reefs on both coastlines.
- Cahuita Playa (Southern Carribean): A home to a vibrant, living coral reef with over 35 species of corals. This stunning habitat extends up to 5.6 miles along the shoreline and has been turned into a park for visitors to explore its captivating beauty. Some consider this one of the most beautiful places in the world.
- Catalina Islands (Pacific): Accessible only by boat, these islands in the Pacific Ocean are further North near Flamingo bay. The area boasts a protruding volcanic rock formation home to diverse marine life.
Best Beaches for Surfing
Costa Rica is a popular surfing destination. Where there are waves, you will find locals and tourists trying to hang ten. Popular spots include:
- Tamarindo (Pacific): Great for surfers of all levels.
- Playa Santa Theresa (Pacific): A fun secluded surfer’s area on the South end of Nicoya Peninsula.
- Espadilla Beach (Pacific): A calmer beach on the central Pacific coast, great for beginners.
- Jaco (Pacific): A fun destination for surfers that like to party after.
- Hermosa (Pacific): South of Jaco, great for more experienced riders.
- Salsa Brave (Carribean): Costa Rica's largest waves on the Carribean coast are great for brave, experienced riders and anyone who wants to watch.
Best Beaches for Fishing
While most tourists like to go deep-sea fishing off the pacific coast, fishing from the shore is technically possible if you have the right gear. Watch the locals to find a good spot to try your hand, and ensure you aren't in a protected national park. Popular destinations include:
- Tamarindo (Pacific): As mentioned, this is a popular spot for all sorts of activities. Make sure to stay away from crowded areas and follow the locals.
- Gulf of Papagayo (NorthWestern Pacific): With its clear waters and abundance of sea life, the Gulf of Papagayo is a great spot to try your luck at some light tackle.
Best Beaches for Socializing
Many tourists visit Costa Rica to enjoy the beaches and good parties, both young and young at heart.
- Jaco (Pacific): A fun beach town with an active nightlife.
- Tamarindo (Pacific): An excellent spot for young people looking to day drink and hit the nightclubs.
Best Beaches for Families
Families typically look for a more relaxed destination with smaller waves and less nightlife. Try these beaches:
- Playa Hermosa (Pacific): On the northern Pacific coast with gentle, kid-friendly waves. Plus, there are plenty of activities to try nearby, such as seashell hunting, snorkeling, horseback riding, and boat tours.
- Playa Carrillo (Pacific): Another quiet northern Pacific beach with low waves and lots of sand to explore. Plus, close by are turtles and toucans to checkout out.
- Playa Pelada (Pacific): One of Nosara's best beaches. From gentle waves to tide pools, toddlers and kids of all ages will love this quaint yoga-loving spot.
Note: While we love the Caribbean side, the surf can sometimes get rough for little ones there.
Best Beaches for Nature Lovers
Costa Rica has plenty to offer for nature lovers, whether you love animals, plants, or the feeling of being in the forest.
- Corcovado National Park (Southern Pacific): A paradise for hikers with various wildlife and plants to observe. This area is definitely off the beaten bath.
- Cahuita National Park (Carribean): This unique park is located on a crescent-shaped beach and features an underwater trail filled with colorful coral and marine life.
- Tortuguero National Park (Carribean): A wetland at the mouth of the Tortuguero River. Here, you can explore the mangrove forests and observe nesting sea turtles from July through September.
- Cocos Island (Pacific): An uninhabited island over 350 miles offshore with abundant wildlife and pristine waters for scuba divers to explore.
- Playa Punta Uva (Carribean): Located near Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, this beach offers a unique landscape with breathtaking views of the Caribbean. Plus, a coral reef is located just offshore for exploring as well.
- Marine Balleno National Park (Pacific): A popular area known for its dolphin and humpback whale sightings.
Most Secluded Beaches for Quiet Relaxation
The general rule of thumb for finding quiet beaches is simple: the further South you go (away from the airports), the more you'll be away from the crowds of tourists and off the beaten path. For a quiet Costa Rica beach, try these:
- Zancudo Beach (Pacific): South of Puerto Jimenez, this secluded beach on the south Pacific coast stretches 7 kilometers along the shore, offering plenty of opportunities to explore without the annoying crowds.
- Montezuma Beach (Pacific): Nestled in the small town of Montezuma (the tip of the Nicoya peninsula), this white sand beach is perfect for those looking for a peaceful retreat surrounded by nature. Plus, you'll find stunning sunsets and plenty of wildlife to observe here.
- Punta Uva (Carribean): With beaches only accessible via hiking in the local, you might find yourself on a secluded beach like we did (a perfect napping spot for my 1-year-old).
How to Choose an Area to Explore on Your Next Trip
The decision of which area to explore depends mainly on what you are looking for in your vacation.
If you want to experience a variety of beaches, then the Pacific Coast is going to be your best option, as it offers a variety of options that range from popular hot spots like Tamarindo to more secluded and unexplored destinations like Islas Tortuga.
On the other hand, if you are looking for a more relaxed, low-key experience, then the Caribbean coast might be your best bet. Both coasts offer stunning nature reserves and wildlife.
Questions to consider include:
- What activities would you like to do?
- Do you want to stay at any particular Costa Rica beach resorts?
- Do you want easy access to Costa Rica travel guides?
- Are you looking for a party atmosphere or relaxation?
- Do you want to stay near cities and towns or be more remote?
- How important is access? (For example, how will you get there)
- What kind of budget do you have? (Typically, the further you get off the beaten path, the more costs involved)
Finding a Costa Rican Beach You Love
On our last family trip to Costa Rica, we had enough time to explore both coasts. If I had to choose one favorite coastline or beach, I'd have difficulty deciding- as we very much enjoyed both sides. They each offered unique opportunities for exploring the area. And no matter where we were, the people were kind, the food was good, and we were thankful to be hanging out in paradise.
Ultimately, the best beach for you will depend on what type of experience you want. If you love a good beach, you won't be disappointed anywhere. Whether it's a party atmosphere or just a chance to relax away from the hustle and bustle, Costa Rica has something perfect awaiting.
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