It’s impossible to choose a “best” beach in Costa Rica
If you’re planning a Costa Rica beach vacation, you’ll have two oceans to choose from, but you can’t go wrong with the famous beaches of its Pacific coastline. From Guanacaste to Golfo Dulce, pristine beaches beckon surfers, snorkelers, and beachcombers alike.
Playa Grande, just north of Playa Tamarindo’s Hotel Capitán Suizo, is well known around the world as one of Costa Rica’s best surfing spots. Its miles of pale, fine-grained sandy beaches are prime leatherback turtle nesting sites and part of Las Baulas National Park, a valuable refuge for marine life on and offshore. Playa Ventanas, on a small bay at the northern end of Playa Grande, offers calmer currents for swimming.
Avellanas is one of the most beautiful and pristine beaches in the Tamarindo area. The shaded by crooked old trees and backed by scrub, mangroves and grazing lands. Playa Langosta bounds Playa Avellanas on the north and Playa Negra marks its southern end. The long ribbon of beach varies: rocky tide pools alternate with powdery coral-colored sand meeting the turquoise waters. Playa Negra is aptly named for its dark sand and rocky outcroppings.
As beautiful as the beaches are in this Northern Zone, the surf is strictly for experts. Big waves and strong currents along Guanacaste’s coastline make swimming tricky at times. Nonetheless, there are a few wonderful swimming beaches. Playa Conchal, made up of millions of tiny crushed shells, is a beach surrounded by mesmerizing turquoise waters. Its clear waters make for great swimming or snorkeling.
Playa Flamingo, also known as Playa Blanca (White Beach), is as lovely as any in Costa Rica. Among the first of Costa Rica's beaches to receive international attention, Flamingo Beach has evolved into one of the country's most lavish areas.
Playa Hermosa, in Guanacaste, is a picture-perfect tropical beach, wide and sandy with swaying palm trees and coastal almonds, and it’s seldom crowded, making it a fabulous getaway for those seeking quality relaxation.
For sheer beauty, Playa Samara is a hidden tropical gem with white sands and shallow, calm waters—and a spectacular coral reef for snorkeling. Playa Samara, a gem on the Nicoya Peninsula's North shore. One of the prettiest and safest beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Samara’s white-sand beaches contrast sharply with the Pacific’s aquamarine waters.
Near Hotel Florblanca, backed by jungle-covered hills and with a long sweep of white sand washed by the Pacific surf, Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen rank among the most beautiful in Costa Rica. You can take long hikes along the picturesque coastline; bathe in tide pools or loaf under a palm tree. Playa Carmen is popular with sunbathers and surfers; you can even surf at night. Swimming isn’t a good idea in either of these, but if you really want to get in the water without a board, head on down the road past Santa Teresa to Playa Hermosa (yes, another one), where you’ll find gentle tide pools to float in.
From Villa Caletas, you only have a short distance to travel to reach Playa Herradura (Horseshoe Beach), a small, quiet beach about 3.5 miles north of Jacó Beach, where you’ll find gentle surf (great for beginners) and an abundance of nightlife. Further down the road, check out Playa Hermosa (yep, that’s three!), where International Surf Championships have been held. The beach there is, well- beautiful, as the name implies.
Moving further south, Dominical is a lazy surf town and the epitome of jungle beach life. For strong surfers only, this is not a swimming beach, though Playa Dominicalito, just south of Dominical, is a great spot for surfing beginners, and swimmers. There are plenty of other beaches, estuaries, and inlets nearby and whale watching, kayaking, swimming, snorkeling and surfing are readily available for ocean lovers.
Way down South, Playa Nicuesa, Playa Nicuesa Rainforest Lodge’s private and secluded beach, is on the lower part of Golfo Dulce on the mainland side. Reached only by boat, the beach is mostly small pebbles with dark sand, fringed by palm and coastal almond trees that are usually full of scarlet macaws. The crystalline water changes from bright blue to jade green and watching dolphins swim past shore.
Just to the south, Playa San Josecito is a long, crescent-shaped dark-sand beach that drops steeply down to the water. At low tide, Playa Cativo is a dark-sand beach, at high tide, the water meets the green lawns of Playa Cativo Lodge. Playa Cana Blanca is one of the few sandy beaches in Golfo Dulce and it is just gorgeous. You can visit the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary that borders the beach and see Costa Rica’s spectacular wildlife. Playa Balina is a relatively unknown dark sand beach on the inner Golfo Dulce and offers fabulous snorkeling.
Finally, though I love the Pacific coast—especially for first time visitors to Costa Rica- I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the spectacular beauty of the Caribbean. From Limon on down, the beaches are nothing short of sublime, each with it’s own unique beauty and benefits. Puerto Viejo is home to Salsa Brava; known for it’s spectacular surf (not for the faint of heart or beginners), while further down the coast swimmers and snorkelers will fall in love with Punta Uva or Manzanillo. Take your time and enjoy them all as you make your way down the coast to the Southern most tip of Costa Rica.
Altogether, Costa Rica boasts nearly 300 different beaches along its Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. Each beach is unique in its beauty and distinction. Sands vary in color from white, black, brown and even pink; while other beaches are made up of shells or rocks. On your next trip to Costa Rica, see how many you can visit. We’re betting you’ll be hard pressed to choose a favorite!