Costa Rica is a special place, as it has stunning beaches along both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, with over 800 miles of coastline, and over 300 unique beaches.
My husband Andy and I have spent the last 2 years traveling around Costa Rica, in search of our favorite beach. We prefer quiet, secluded, off-the-beaten-path type of beaches, so we avoid the abundantly popular touristy beaches, such as Playa Jaco, Playa Tamarindo, and the beaches inside the Manuel Antonio National Park.
Despite these over-populated, busy and well-known beach spots, a vast majority of the picturesque coastline of Costa Rica still remains deserted and unexplored. After 2 years of beach hopping, here is my collection of The Top 15 Best Beaches in Costa Rica:
1) PLAYA CONCHAL
One of the most breath-taking beaches we have set foot on in this country is Playa Conchal. The sand is made up of millions of crushed conch shells, which is how the beach was gifted it's name. You can hear this beach whispering your name, making the crystal, turquoise water impossible to avoid.
Snorkeling, swimming, kayaking, horseback riding, jet skis, catamaran cruises, fishing tours, there are endless activities at this beach. Located next to Playa Brasilito and Playa Flamingo, it is about 40 minutes from the popular beach town Playa del Coco. This dreamy, majestic beach is a must-see on your Costa Rican vacation.
2) PLAYA LINDA
Playa Linda, which means lovely or pretty beach, more than lives up to it's name. It is a secret, hidden gem, with no signs and just a small dirt road entrance, located just a few kilometers North of Dominical. Rows upon rows of manicured palm trees line the beach, creating hundreds of perfect hammock spots and plenty of cool shade to lounge in.
The volcanic sand of Playa Lida is packed and firm, the beach goes on for miles, without a single soul in sight. Untouched and pristine, this piece of beach is simply therapeutic. The seconds slip into hours, time ceases to exist, and it becomes difficult to remember what day it is.
3) PUNTA UVA
Five miles west of the popular Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo is a secluded beach named Punta Uva. We fell in love with this beach during our month on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Set back from the main road, and surrounded by jungle, this colorful beach is an ideal spot to waste a day, or two...or thirty.
The waves come in layers, and from all angles, but they are not overwhelming, making this beach a good spot for a swim or a kayak trip. You can hike out to the point where the two sections of beach meet up in a dramatic point, which the beach was named after. Or you can lounge on the shore and get lost in the mesmerizing sight of the vibrant water lapping against the warm sand, while drinking a coconut.
4) PLAYA PINUELAS
I am a sucker for calm ocean water, perfect for carefree floating and swimming, so Playa Pinuelas ranks high on my list. Just a few kilometers South of Uvita, located in the Marina Ballena National Park, this beach is peaceful and serene. The green water gently laps the sand, while the jungle and palm trees flourish right up to the shoreline.
Beach showers are provided, which is a rare treat in this area of Costa Rica, and the mellow surf creates a nice spot for a family picnic day. Playa Pinuelas has become a regular stop for us, it is a relaxing place to get in some beach therapy.
5) PLAYA HERMOSA
The first thing you need to know about Playa Hermosa, is that there are at least 4 beaches in Costa Rica named Playa Hermosa. The one I'm referring to is located in the province of Puntarenas, and is 5 kilometers south of Jaco. This Playa Hermosa is a dramatic stretch of pure, black sand, and is known for some of the most consistent surfing waves in the country.
The currents are incredibly strong at this beach, creating swift and powerful riptides, and it is not safe for swimming. The waves can be as high as 13 feet, which is why Playa Hermosa is a beach sought out by expert surfers from all over the world. The International Quicksilver Surf Championship is held here every August.
Playa Hermosa is the place to admire surfers, or lounge in the luxurious sand and get lost in the powerful waves as they pound the rich, black shore, silencing your worries.
6) PLAYA TORTUGA
Playa Tortuga, located in the town of Ojochal, is a long stretch of sand divided in two sections by a river. The shore is lined with numerous trees, there are rugged sea caves to explore at low tide, and the beach is typically deserted.
But the empty sand and caves are not the biggest draw for this beach. Instead it is known for the sea turtle rescue center, Reserva Tortuga, that inhabits the beach during turtle season. Reserva Tortuga is a non-profit biological research and education center formed in 2009, and they do important work for the sea turtles in the Costa Ballena area.
Baby sea turtles are released into the ocean here between the months of July and December, and if you're lucky enough you may get to witness this phenomenal experience while visiting Playa Tortuga.
7) PLAYA SAMARA
Located on the northern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Samara is a laid-back, friendly, bohemian beach town. Sleepy and slow-paced during the day, with nightlife bumping until 4am, this town has something for everyone. Samara is known for being full of happy people, as it is located in one of the five Blue Zone's in the world.
The best way to explore the area is to walk the 5 kilometer stretch of thick, brown sand. Protected by reefs, the horseshoe-shaped beach is known for it's mellow waves and calm currents, making it ideal for a surf lesson. Isla Chora lies just off shore, which is a beautiful kayak and snorkel destination.
The town of Samara has numerous beach bars and restaurants, so make sure to grab a pina colada and a rocking chair to watch the sunset, while making friends and swapping stories with some fellow gypsy wanderers. (But be warned! Many people who enter this beach town never end up leaving.)
8) PLAYA PAVONES
Famous for the world's longest left wave, and with a large and consistent surf and rocky shore, Playa Pavones is best left to experienced surfers. The best time of year to surf this break is between April and October, when the waves are at their peak and you can ride one for up to 3 minutes. Typical wave length here averages between 400-900 meters during these peak months.
Pavones is a charming, authentic Costa Rican town lacking the typical swarms of tourists that pack most popular destinations in this country. It is a small and remote surfing village, located along 10 miles of beaches which line the pure, crystal clear Golfo Dulce.
Playa Pavones is one of the most desolate and remote surfing destinations in Costa Rica, and takes hours to reach no matter where you begin. It is a special place, and maybe in part because it is so difficult to reach. The sand is untouched and exotic wildlife make up a majority of the population.
9) PLAYA OCOTAL
Known as one of Costa Rica's cleanest and most eco-friendly beaches, Playa Ocotal is our favorite snorkeling spot in the country. Located on the northern pacific coast in the Guanacaste province, Playa del Coco is the nearest town to Playa Ocotal, and is only about 10 minutes away.
The protected shoreline makes it a safe place to swim and relax, as there are no dangerous riptides or looming swells. The sand is a mix of black, white, and rocky sections, and the vibrant tidal pools overflowing with sea life are an interesting spot to spend a few hours exploring, at low-tide. A popular spot for sports fishing, the cove is lined with boats trolling the waters for dinner, which speaks to the immense variety of fish you will see swimming these clean waters.
10) PLAYA UVITA
Just 17km south of Dominical you will find Playa Uvita, a long, winding beach which is a part of the Marina Ballena National Park. Majestic humpback whales can be seen here during their migration between December and April, making this a popular spot for whale-watching tours.
You can stroll the famous Whale's Tail beach, which is an exposed stretch of sand that creates the shape of a whale's tail at low tide. The whale’s tail is a mysterious and unique place. I love the feeling of sitting on a stretch of sand that only exists for a few hours of each day. The ocean surrounds you, the tide slowly creeps up from both directions, waiting to swallow the beach whole as soon as you turn your back.
11) PLAYA BARRIGONA
Sometimes referred to as the secret surfer beach, Playa Barrigona is a secluded gem. Just 30 minutes north of Samara, down a bumpy, pot-hole-ridden road, this stunning beach is worth the bone-rattling trip. Mel Gibson owns 500 acres of jungle, surrounding Playa Barrigona, which can be yours for a cool $30 million.
An untouched stretch of beach, crawling with hermit crabs, and sparkling blue water, this special place looks like a dream painted onto a postcard. The beach is lined with a variety of trees, creating cozy hammock spots, and the waves are large and mesmerizing. The surfing here is best left to the professionals, but the rest of us can kill hours hunting for shells, swinging in hammocks, beach walking and lounging in the sun.
12) PLAYA VENTANAS
Playa Ventanas, also known as "Windows Beach", gets it's name from the rugged sea caves carved into the massive rock wall that lines the shore. Just off the Costanera Highway 34, outside of Ojochal, this is an easy beach to access, and a safe spot to waste the day.
Coconut palms line the beach and at low tide you can walk through the caves, exploring the dark caverns, and admiring the strange sea creatures stuck to the wall. At high tide the ocean barrels through the caves, building pressure which erupts with a "blowhole effect", spraying a salty, ocean mist high into the atmosphere.
Playa Ventanas is also known for its vibrant sunsets over the water. The sinking sun alights the ocean below with an orange fire, and it's like looking through a window, straight into heaven.
13) PLAYA SAN JOSECITO (CORCOVADO)
Tucked into the jungle along the Osa Peninsula lies Drake Bay. Of the numerous beaches surrounding Drake Bay, secluded Playa San Josecito is the most spectacular. A remote, desolate beach overflowing with monkeys and wildlife, this stretch of sand is reachable only by boat.
A coral cove, safe for snorkeling, is just off-shore, and the steamy sand and lively jungle make for an interesting day at the beach. Although it is quite an adventure just to reach this beach, the trip is worth it due to the panoramic views of Cano Island in the distance.
14) PLAYA ARCO
Playa Arco is one of the most isolated beaches along the Southern coast of Costa Rica, but also one of the most breathtaking. There are no roads to this hidden beach, making it only accessible by boat or by foot. This secluded stretch of sand only exists for a few hours each day, during low tide, until it is swallowed up once again by the steady waves.
To access this beach by foot you need to park your car at Playa Ballena and hike 2 kilometers to Playa Arco, paying close attention to the tide. A wide, expansive beach about 1 kilometer long, it is usually deserted. It is cocooned by steep, wooded, rocky cliffs covered in vibrant, dense jungle foliage, where the rainforest meets the sea.
The water is a glowing turquoise under the melting sun. The sand a smooth, sugary, crystal texture, reflecting the sky above. With sea caves for your exploring pleasure and a fresh waterfall to rinse off in after an ocean swim, Playa Arco is hard to beat.
15) PLAYA CARRILLO
Located just a 5 minute drive south of the town of Samara, Playa Carrillo is lined with endless palm trees, perfect for tying up a hammock or two, and is known for it's incredibly safe, calm swimming water and magnificent sunsets. We have wasted weeks at this beach, swinging in hammocks, drinking pipa frias (ice cold coconuts) and munching on fresh ceviche.
This deserted stretch of beach has no bars, restaurants or hotels, and the only businesses you will see are hand-pushed carts by locals selling shaved ice, coconuts, and fresh ceviche. Only crowded on weekends and holidays with local families, it isn't unusual to have this beach nearly to yourself on weekdays.
Kayaking, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, beach walking, shell hunting, tidal pool exploring, sunset gazing, this beach is a unique creation that everyone falls in love with at first sight. We have shared our favorite Costa Rican beach with numerous family, friends, and loved ones, and they all agree...there is no other place in the world quite like Playa Carrillo.
Peace Out Beaches!
Kari Pinkerton Silcox
It would be a tragedy to die, having never really lived. Which is why my husband Andy and I quit our jobs, sold our house and decided to chase our dreams. We moved to Costa Rica without a plan, and this is the story of our adventure.