Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America, with the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Many tourists come here to experience the laid-back pura vida lifestyle and appreciate the natural beauty of the region.
You might be wondering, which side of Costa Rica has the best beaches? Well, the best beaches in Costa Rica can be found on both sides, so it all depends on personal preference and what kind of trip you’re planning. That being said, the Pacific side has many more beaches to choose from as the coastline is significantly longer.
It’s important to know that each side of Costa Rica has its own weather patterns. Visiting during the rainy season can mean certain activities are off the table and beaches can become less accessible.
The Pacific Coast is the more touristy side, known for its long stretches of white sand and clear, turquoise waters that are ideal for swimming, sunbathing and surfing.
The best time to visit here is during the dry season from December to April. The Caribbean Coast, on the other hand, is less developed and known for its more secluded and untouched beaches, as well as its diverse wildlife and lush vegetation. Visiting the Caribbean side anytime between March and September is recommended.
With numerous protected national parks and reserves, Costa Rica is known for its biodiversity and eco-tourism. This tradition of sustainable tourism means many tour operators offer eco-friendly options for travellers.
If you are planning your trip to Costa Rica soon, remember to be a responsible traveller while you’re there and respect the natural environment whenever possible.
Now that you have a better idea of what to expect in Costa Rica, which beaches should you plan on visiting? Each beach (aka playa in Spanish) has different pros and cons that you should pay attention to. To make this decision easier, here is a rundown of 15 of the best beaches in Costa Rica.
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Manuel Antonio National Park and Beach
One of the most visited places in Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio National Park, and you will quickly discover why it is so popular. While there are several different beaches in this area, Manuel Antonio Beach is considered the main beach within the national park.
The coastal rainforest is located on the Central Pacific Coast in the Puntarenas Province, less than a three-hour drive from Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. Although it is the smallest national park in the country, there is an incredible amount of biodiversity here.
A short hike will provide you with some incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, and give you an opportunity to spot some of the 184+ different bird species hanging around. One of the observation deck looks out onto the nearby Olocuita Island.
Keep your eyes peeled for some adorable monkeys and hanging sloths as well, some of which you’ll even be able to see from your accommodation. Guided tours around the park are available if you wish to learn more about the local flora and fauna.
The calm aquamarine waters and soft white sands of Manuel Antonio Beach make it a pleasant spot for swimming and sunbathing. Lifeguards are on duty here for peace of mind.
There are lots of rocky formations along the shoreline to check out, and you can wander around and try to spot the playful wildlife among the trees. All in all, although quite touristy, Manuel Antonio is easily one of the most unforgettable beach in Costa Rica.
Accommodation near Manuel Antonio:
- Budget: Hotel Manuel Antonio Park
- Mid-range: Hotel Playa Espadilla
- Luxury: Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort
Flamingo Beach is a popular crescent-shaped cove located in the Guanacaste Province along the Pacific coastline. It is known for its calm turquoise waters surrounded by lush trees and vegetation. The sand has a light pink hue to it, hence the name Flamingo. You’ll find many of the best beach resorts in Costa Rica here.
This secluded spot is great for swimming, sunbathing and fishing, as well as water sports like scuba diving, parasailing and stand-up paddleboarding. There are numerous charter operators around the newly built Playa Flamingo Marina where you can head out on a catamaran tour or a day of sport fishing.
Unlike most other destinations in Costa Rica, Playa Flamingo doesn’t really have a town centre. Instead, everything has been built along the coastlines. You’ll notice people getting around in golf carts, which can be rented from different venues in town.
The Monday Moonlight Market located at La Plaza is a wonderful spot to meet the community, browse handmade items by local artisans, and drink some craft beer.
Accommodation near Playa Flamingo:
- Budget: Hotel Guanacaste Lodge
- Mid-range: Dunama Hotel & Casino
- Luxury: Margaritaville Beach Resort Playa Flamingo
Tamarindo Beach is one of the most popular surf spots in Costa Rica, with a variety of breaks for surfers of all skill levels. With a dozen surf schools and academies here, it’s a great place for beginners to take lessons and gain confidence on the waves.
Although very touristy, it’s a welcoming place for backpackers as well as couples and families. This beach is also an amazing place to watch the sunset.
Tamarindo is known for its lively atmosphere, with a variety of restaurants, bars, and nightlife options. El Be – Tamarindo Beach Club, Green Papaya Taco Bar, and the Patagonia Argentinian Grill & Restaurant are all highly recommended. There’s even a great night market you can head to after spending your day in the sun and the sand.
Accommodation near Playa Tamarindo:
Playa Conchal is known for its golden sands made up of crushed shells, which is where the name Conchal comes from (meaning shell in Spanish).
The four-kilometre stretch is found along the Gold Coast in the Guanacaste Province. The tranquil, crystalline waters make it one of the best swimming beaches in Costa Rica. Snorkelling is also superb here, and you’ll find places to rent equipment along the shore.
Surrounded by lush tropical vegetation, this place is a paradise for nature lovers and bird watchers. The area is also home to many luxury resorts and vacation rentals, suitable for tourists looking for a relaxing beach vacation.
Although Playa Conchal is one of the nicest beaches in Costa Rica, as well as the most photogenic, it never feels too crowded as you can always find some space for yourself.
Accommodation near Playa Conchal:
Playa Dominical is a unique black sand beach located in the Puntarenas Province along the Pacific coast. It is well-known among experienced surfers for its consistent waves and warm waters, with lifeguards on duty year-round.
As you’ll quickly learn by all the camper vans and makeshift tents around, there is a definite laid-back hippie vibe in Dominical.
The four-kilometre stretch of rocky black sand means sunbathing and swimming here is far from ideal, but if you’re not a surfer and you’re already near the area, there is a stunning waterfall nearby that’s always worth a visit.
The Poza Azul Waterfall is an amazing local gem, with water falling from a height of six metres into the refreshing emerald-green pool below.
Accommodation near Playa Dominical:
- Budget: Hotel Tropical Sands Dominical Eco Inn
- Mid-range: Hotel Villas Río Mar
- Luxury: Villas Alturas
Playa Santa Teresa
Another Costa Rica beach that is perfect for surfing is Santa Teresa Beach towards the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. Known for its long stretches of white sand, clear blue waters and great waves, both locals and tourists converge here at the end of the day to watch the beautiful sunrise.
This beach town has a laid-back and bohemian vibe, with casual restaurants and chill bars to hang out at. As well as along the waterfront, most of the hotels and shops are found on one main road. There are countless yoga studios here in addition to some surf schools.
Santa Teresa can get a bit crowded during the high season and is not as developed as other tourist spots in Costa Rica, so it may not be the best option for those looking for a secluded or completely luxurious experience. Yet, if you happen to be an avid surfer or a yogi, this place should definitely be on your radar.
Accommodation near Playa Santa Teresa:
- Budget: Casa Zen Guesthouse & Yoga Center
- Mid-range: Hotel Tropico Latino
- Luxury: Hotel Nantipa – A Tico Beach Experience
The closest beach to San Jose, Costa Rica is Playa Jaco on the Pacific coast. Less than two hours away from the capital city, you’ll find yourself in a lively party town and a popular destination for weekend getaways or you could make a stop here during your week in Costa Rica.
Jaco is one of the best beach towns in Costa Rica, not only because it is well-developed but also because there is something for everyone here.
You can get up early and take a surf lesson at Jaco Beach, hike through the nearby nature preserves, go horseback riding, or party the night away at many of the town’s famous nightlife spots.
The beach itself offers a range of activities including white water rafting, kayaking, catamaran boat rides and deep-sea fishing.
Accommodation-wise, you’ll find a few luxury resorts mixed in with beachy backpacker hostels. There really is so much on offer here, so your experience in Jaco is what you choose to make of it.
Accommodation near Playa Jaco:
- Budget: Room2Board Hostel and Surf School
- Mid-range: Hotel South Beach Jaco
- Luxury: Croc’s Resort & Casino
Playa Samara is a stunning, isolated beach located on the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste Province. The crescent-shaped cove is dotted with palm trees and looks out onto two little islands, one of those being Isla Chora.
With fine white sands and calm turquoise waters, Playa Samara is one of the best beaches for swimming in Costa Rica.
It is also a popular spot for water sports like snorkelling, kayaking and scuba diving. To the north of the beach is where you’ll find surf schools, restaurants, bars and tour operators, while the south end is quieter and more private.
Samara has fascinating wildlife both underwater and on land, from endangered sea turtles to monkeys, iguanas and toucans. The town itself is small and laid back, ideal for those after a peaceful and relaxed vacation.
Accommodation near Playa Samara:
There are multiple beaches in Costa Rica called Playa Hermosa, with at least two found along the Pacific coastline. This is because ‘hermosa’ means beautiful in Spanish, and most beaches you’ll come across in Costa Rica are, in fact, beautiful. Perhaps the most popular Playa Hermosa is the one in the Puntarenas Province near Jaco.
This grey-sand beach is considered one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for experienced surfers, thanks to its consistent and challenging waves.
These waves are typically too rough for swimming, however, and aren’t really suitable for beginner surfers either.
Some other nearby attractions include the Chiclets Zipline and a theme park called the Park At Ocean Ranch. Otherwise, the town itself is quite sleepy. Playa Hermosa picks up each August, however, when the beach hosts an international surf championship, attracting some of the most talented surfers from Central and South America.
Accommodation near Playa Hermosa:
Playa Punta Uva
Playa Punta Uva is one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for families because of its quiet atmosphere and calm waters. Located along the Southern Caribbean Coast, Punta Uva is found within the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, which is home to monkeys and native bird species.
The refuge includes incredible attractions like the Amazing Treehouse & Nature Observatorio and Ara Manzanillo. There’s also a little spot by the beach called Sloth Point, where you can see – you guessed it – sloths!
The beach has a beautiful shallow coral reef, so you won’t want to miss out on going snorkelling here. The shores are backed by palm trees, mangroves and oyster beds, creating a secluded environment where you could hang up a hammock and take an afternoon nap.
There are lots of kayak rental places around, and the waves are suitable for some light surfing once you get further out.
Accommodation near Playa Punta Uva:
- Budget: Hotel Arrecife Punta Uva
- Mid-range: Beach Front Apartment Punta Uva
- Luxury: Bungalows Punta Uva Inn
Right by Playa Punta Uva on the Southern Caribbean Coast is Playa Manzanillo. The beach and the down-to-earth town of Manzanillo are also part of the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, backed by gorgeous mangroves and palm trees.
The abundance of coral reefs seen through the pristine waters makes it one of the top beaches in Costa Rica for snorkelling and swimming. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some dolphins and manatees here.
Since Manzanillo is a small fishing town, you’ll get the chance to eat some incredibly tasty fresh seafood available at any of the local restaurants.
With restrictions in place to prevent the over development of the area, this underrated and untouched paradise remains one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.
Accommodation near Playa Manzanillo:
Playa Uvita is known as one of the most biologically diverse places in Costa Rica. Found within Marino Ballena National Park, the beach has a luscious rainforest backdrop. During low tide, the beach’s rocky shoreline forms what is called the Whale’s Tail.
Conveniently, this area is actually the best place in Costa Rica to go on a whale-watching tour and spot some humpback whales.
Sea turtles also come to nest here from around May to November. Since this is a protected area, there is no fishing allowed here.
Despite its immense beauty, Playa Uvita is a quieter part of Costa Rica and there generally aren’t too many people around. This is ideal if you are looking for a peaceful and relaxing holiday or are planning a romantic getaway.
Accommodation near Playa Uvita:
Towards the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula is the gorgeous Montezuma Beach. This quiet and isolated haven is surrounded by dense forest.
The powerful waves here make it an ideal surfing destination, while low tide creates fascinating rock pools to explore.
Don’t forget to hike your way to the Montezuma Waterfall by following the Riverbed Trail. While there are three different cascades, the top waterfall is the only one that’s ideal for swimming and jumping. The jumps vary from about one metre to five metres, and there’s also a rope swing hanging from a tree.
Accommodation near Playa Montezuma:
- Budget: Luz en el Cielo Eco B&B / Hostel
- Mid-range: Hotel Nya – Montezuma
- Luxury: Ylang Ylang Beach Resort
Playa Espadilla is a long stretch located by the Manuel Antonio National Park in Puntarenas Province. This beach is easily accessible and has no entrance fee. It’s an alternate option to Manuel Antonio Beach if you want the opportunity to rent beach chairs and umbrellas, or go parasailing and jet skiing.
There are plenty of food options too, from laid-back restaurants and cafes you can hang out at to food trucks if you just want a quick bite to eat.
There are also hotel options right along the shoreline, so you won’t need to walk far to jump in the water. Although there are lifeguards on duty, you should watch out for currents here and avoid going out too far from the shoreline if you aren’t a confident swimmer.
Accommodation near Playa Espadilla:
- Budget: Hotel Verde Mar
- Mid-range: La Vela Boutique Hotel
- Luxury: Arenas Del Mar Beachfront & Rainforest Resort
Playa Negra is found along the Southern Caribbean coastline in a town called Cahuita. Not to be confused with the Playa Negra on the Pacific side, this spot is great for beginner surfers, as the waves aren’t too big and it’s generally pretty empty.
This underrated beach is named for its black sand, which formed from volcanic matter. If you’re looking for somewhere private to chill out, this is the place to be. You can sit under the trees sipping a coconut and forget all about your problems.
If you’re visiting Playa Negra, you should definitely check out the nearby Cahuita National Park. It was first established 50 years ago to protect the nearby coral reefs, which span four kilometres.
You can go snorkelling here, look for nesting sea turtles, and hike the five-kilometre main train loop to see some white-faced monkeys, iguanas and butterflies.