My husband Andy, our dog Sophie, and I, have spent the last year traveling around Costa Rica, in search of our favorite beach. Costa Rica is a special place, as it has stunning beaches along the Pacific Ocean, as well as the Caribbean Sea. With over 800 miles of coastline, and over 300 unique beaches, there exists the perfect beach paradise for everyone.
We prefer quiet, secluded, off-the-beaten-path type of beaches. So I've excluded the abundantly popular touristy beaches, such as Playa Jaco, Playa Tamarindo, and the beaches inside the Manuel Antonio National Park, from my list. Despite these over-populated and well-known touristy beach spots, a vast majority of the picturesque coastline of Costa Rica still remains deserted and unexplored.
I would strongly recommend renting a car while vacationing in this country, because next door to every popular, crowded beach lies an untouched piece of paradise, where you can enjoy an entire beach to yourself for the day. It would be a tragedy to miss these gems, so hop in your rental car and get to beachin'.
Here is a count down of my top 10 Costa Rican beaches:
10) Playa Cabo Matapalo
Our most recent discovery, Playa Cabo Matapalo is a peaceful beach, located at the southern tip of the rugged Osa Peninsula, surrounded by nature. Clear blue water and coarse, rocky black sand line the shore of this quiet section of beach. The swells are large and unpredictable, the ocean floor is littered with sharp rock clusters, and only experienced surfers should attempt these waves. A beach that is perfect for a beach stroll or a picnic, but it is not the best choice for swimming or snorkeling.
9) Playa Biesanz
Playa Biesanz is a hidden cove, nestled into the shoreline of Quepos Point. This secluded beach is much less known than the nearby popular beaches located within the famous Manuel Antonio State Park. Lined with immaculate, packed, cream-colored sand and calm waters, this is an ideal spot for swimming, kayaking and snorkeling.
Typically you will find a Tico man, sitting in the shade, who will rent you kayaks and snorkel gear for the lowest rates in town. (snorkel gear for $10, a kayak for $20, and both for $30, for all day). Just off shore lies a submerged set of rocks, which is the best snorkel spot in the area. Harder to find than other beaches in Manuel Antonio, you drive toward the end of Quepos Point, and use the trail entrance (shortly after Shana Hotel) to hike down to the water.
8) 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 best, 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 lounge in the sand and become mesmerized as the powerful waves pound against the rich, black shore, silencing your worries.
7) Playa Uvita
A part of the Marina Ballena National Park, Playa Uvita is a quiet, mellow beach, known for it's famous whale's tail. It is located 17 km south of Dominical, and if you enter the beach through the official park entrance it costs $6/person. However, if you're crafty and cheap, you can easily find a secret side road to avoid having to pay the steep entrance fees.
The waves at this beach are low-key, making it ideal for swimming, snorkeling, and body surfing. Majestic humpback whales can typically be seen here during their migration between December and April. At low-tide you can enjoy a long walk on this expansive stretch of beach, or you can explore the small section of exposed, rocky sand that creates the famous whale's tail:
6) 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.)
5) Playa Ocotal
Known as one of Costa Rica's cleanest and most eco-friendly beaches, Playa Ocotal is our favorite snorkeling spot in the entire country, and you can rent snorkel gear right on site. 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.
4) Playa Barrigona
Known as the secret, hidden surfer's 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.
3) Playa Conchal
A pure, white sand beach, Playa Conchal is made up of millions of crushed conch shells, which is how it received it's name. This is the most breathtaking beach we have set foot on in all of Costa Rica. It looks like a Caribbean island beach right out of a movie. You can hear this beach whispering your name the second you pull in, 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 beach is a must-see on your Costa Rican vacation.
2) Punta Uva
Five miles west of the popular Caribbean town of Puerto Viejo is a secluded, serene beach called 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 white sand, blue water 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 overwhelmingly large, 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, gifting this beautiful point it's name. Or you can lounge on the shore and get lost in the breathtaking sight of the vibrant water lapping against the pristine sand, while drinking a coconut.
1) Playa Carrillo
As we explore the beaches of Costa Rica, we always say to ourselves "well, there can only be one Carrillo". We are forever trying to match this beach, but we have yet to find anything that compares to Playa Carrillo. My most favorite beach in the land of pura vida, it is my happy place on this Earth.
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, crocodile watching, tidal pool exploring, sunset admiring, 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 really can only be one Carrillo:
We all must believe in something…and I believe I must go to the beach!
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.