Beaches Costa Rica – ultimate beach bum guide

Montezuma Beach
Montezuma Beach

With more than 35 000 species of animals and insects and 10 000 plant species the magnificent Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. This living garden of eden is flanked by two coastlines that posses over 300 spectacular beaches. This  diverse coastline offers a huge variety of beaches. A selection of sand colours from white to black covering shades in between. Beach activities to suit every taste whether you like sunbathing, snorkeling or surfing you can enjoy it in Costa Rica. The jungles bordering most beaches ensure an array of wildlife, on the right beach you can see monkeys swinging, turtles nesting and Tucans flying by from the same spot!

We only had a month in Costa Rica and loved every minute, this article is a mix of beaches we visited and beaches other traveler’s told us about.

The Nicoya Peninsula Beaches

The Nicoya Peninsula is located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. Two provinces make up this peninsula, Guanacaste Province in the north, and the Puntarenas Province in the south. The peninsula has spectacular nature with hills, mountains, a gorgeous coastline and fantastic wildlife. Puntarenas in the south used to be cut of from the mainland, difficult to reach it was far off the beaten track. Now it is easily reached by fairy resulting in the development of tourism in the area. Many great surf towns popped up such as Malpais, Santa Teresa and Montezuma.

Playa Grande (Montezuma)

The Beach – Playa Grande

Playa Montezuma is a nice, popular beach in the north of the town. If you keep walking and follow a jungle trail tracing the beach you reach the spectacular Playa Grande after about 40 minutes.  It is a long, beautiful beach with a bather here and there. The beach is a popular place for surf lessons from the town, it is a good place to learn, but didn’t look great for experienced surfers. Swimming in the 31C water was awesome. The Romelia Wildlife Reserve borders the beach and the amount of wildlife you can see here is fantastic. Crabs running around everywhere, howler monkeys, coatis and turtles come to nest on the beach!

Playa Grande Montezuma
Alya walking on the beatutiful Playa Grande at Montezuma, an empty beach stretching for kilometers next to a jungle brimming with wild life.

The Town – Montezuma

Montezuma is a town in the south of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula. The small town is located right on the beach surrounded by lush forest. It is popular with backpackers, young couples and hippy travelers, boat trips leave from Montezuma beach to Tortuga Island for snorkeling. There are a variety of restaurants in the town. We loved it here, not crazy touristy, in the jungle and amazing natural beauty

Getting there from San Jose takes 6 hours by bus and ferry.

Playa Hemosa – Santa Teresa

Playa Hermosa – The Beach

Playa Hemosa means ‘beautiful beach’,  it is not surprising that more than one beach in Costa Rica inherited this name. This Playa Hermosa is a long wide beach lined by palm trees and thick jungle.  It is a nice beach for swimming with no rocks and the waves are quite easy for beginner surfers. The beach is beautiful with clear water and it is quite shallow for a long ways out. It is more known for surfing than swimming, but is fine for swimming if you are comfortable swimming in waves, just be aware if there are rip currents. The beach gets busy sometimes when tourists come from Santa Teresa.

Playa Santa Teresa - photo credit Pixabay
Beautiful sunset at Playa Santa Teresa

The town – Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa  is a small beach village on the edge of the Nicoya Peninsula in the province Puntarenas. The beaches draw in a lot of surfers and beach goers and is located about 150km from San Jose. In the last several years, this laid-back town has popped into a booming travel destination known for excellent surf and beautiful beaches. Santa Teresa has been hailed as a world-class surfing spot in Costa Rica. The sleepy fishing is turning into a luxurious surf retreat with expats from all over the world settling here, bringing top class chefs, surf instructors and more to this little town.

Samara

Playa Samara – the Beach

This is a beautiful beach with white/tan colored sand, lined with palm trees, great for swimming warm water and smallish waves that is good for learning to surf. Playa Samara is a long beach, great for walks and when the town gets busy in season you can just move to a less crowded spot. Macaws, howler monkeys and iguanas are often seen in the bordering jungle. Sunsets from the beach are beautiful.

Samara – The town

Samara is a located in the north of the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste Province.  This medium sized beach town has a couple of trendy beach bars, restaurants and hotels. Not crazy touristy, but gets busy in season. Biggest, most vibrant town in this part of the peninsula. There are a variety of tours and activities available from the town.

Get here by bus, about 5 hours from San Jose. Take a bus from San Jose or Liberia to Nicoya, and then change onto a bus to Samara. Rent a car, 2 hours drive from Liberia, 4 hours from San Jose.

Playa Tamarindo

The Beach – Playa Tamarindo

Playa Tamarindo is a very popular tan colored beach stretching for 3.5km in front of the town. The beach is well known as a fantastic place to learn to surf, great sunsets and is popular with backpackers and families. Because learning to surf is so popular here, board rental and lesson are relatively cheap due to high competition.  The beach can become very busy in season and is sometimes called Tama-Gringo. There are several awesome breaks around for more advanced surfers such as El Estero and Casitas.

You can see the monster leatherback turtles nesting here during season from November to April, arrange a night tour at Las Baulas National Marine Park.

The Town – Tamarindo

Tamarindo is a popular resort beach town located in the Guancaste district of Costa Rica. The town is very touristy with many surf shops and tour operators. Surf instructors and souvenir vendors can get quite anoying trying to sell activities to you.

You can fly into Tamarindo, a bus trip from San Jose takes about 5 hours.

Conchal

Playa Conchal – the Beach

Playa Conchal is known as one of the nicest beaches in Costa Rica for snorkeling, swimming and just having an amazing time on the beach. This is a great beach for the whole family. The gorgeous beach is hidden in a cove between two rocky points. Crystal clear water gently laps over the coarse sand made by millions of crushed shells, conchas in Spanish, granting the beach it’s name. Playa Conchal can only be reached by walking along the shore from the nearby fishing village of Brasilito or if you stay at the Westin Golf Resort and Spa. Over weekends the beach gets busy and there are vendors selling food on the beach, snorkeling gear and kayaks are available for rental. Come in the week for a much more authentic paradise experience.

Brasilito – the town

Brasilito, the closest town is about 10 minutes walk on the shore away from Playa Conchal. The town is located in Guanacaste Province on the northwestern Pacific coast. It is not a very touristy town, so it is much more authentic and prices are lower. The closest airport is Liberia an hour’s drive. You can explore the beautiful coastline by ATV or on horseback from Brasilito.

Central Pacific Beaches

Playa Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio National Park)

The Beach – Playa Manuel Antonio

This stunning beach with crystal clear, warm water and white sand is located inside the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. It is a perfect beach, great for swimming, but is packed with mostly local tourists. Playa Manuel Antonio is known as one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. It is bordered by magnificent mangroves and jungle. Many local people only come to the park to visit the beach. There are showers and toilet facilities. Being in a national park expect to see wild life; some sloths, monkeys and iguanas look like they normally hang around the path down to the beach. If you walk past the beach on the paths there are less people.

It is beautiful, but super touristy, come to the park early in the morning and go to the beach first if you want to take photos with few people.

Playa Manuel Antonio Stingy Nomads
Playa Manuel Antonio is a beautiful beach where you can see many animals. If you follow the paths and walk away from the crowds you can find empty stretches.

The Town – Manuel Antonio

The small oceanside village Manuel Antonio has plenty of places to stay and is located  in the central Pacific region of Costa Rica, about 3 and a half hours drive from San Jose or 1 hour from the beach city Jaco.

The Caribbean Coast

Tortuguero

The aptly named Tortuguero, ‘Land of Turtles’ in Spanish is a village on the Northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica in the Limón Province.

Playa Tortuguero- the Beach

This is the beach to come for wild life,  a variety of turtle species hatch here and you can see the baby turtles make their way back to the ocean, Nov to Jan. is the the time of the year to witness this event . It is not really a swimming beach due to wild surf and strong currents, but the beach is kilometers  long and great for running or  long walks.

Want to see this? Tortuguero is the place to go!

Tortuguero – the village

The village is really small, but there are a couple of backpackers’ places stay. If you stay in the village you are very close to the beach where the turtles hatch. Most of the more upmarket  places are scattered around the entrance to Tortuguero National Park and the hotels have private docks where boats arrive.

Tortuguero is very remote and can be reached by a 25 min flight or by Bus/boat from San Jose, you can not drive here.

Punta Uva

Punta Uva- the Beach

This beautiful beach on the Caribbean coast is split in two by a steep green cliff with a long tan colored sand beach lined by palm trees on one side and a smaller beach perfect for learning to surf or snorkeling on the other side. You can climb the point itself giving excellent views of both sides of the coast. This beach is nice for kayaking, fishing and there is a scuba operator if you want to go for a dive. The beach can get busy with lots of locals over weekends.

Punta Uva – the Town

The tiny town of Punta Uva has a couple of dirt roads,  hotels and restaurants surrounded by stunning beaches and awesome jungle. Most of the entertainment around here is at the beaches and seeing many sloths and fauna and flora of the jungles. There are a couple of hotels and cabinas in town. If you want more of a backpacker seen and busier beaches and nightlife, Punta viejo is only 8km away, with busier night life, good surf and nice food options this is a popular town for tourists to stay.

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