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Best Costa Rica Beaches

With coastlines on two different oceans, it's not surprising that Costa Rica beaches are some of the most beautiful in the world. Up and down both the Pacific and Caribbean you can find wonderful beaches to fulfill your idea of paradise.

Deciding amongst different Costa Rica beaches can be overwhelming though, so I've compiled a list of the best and most beautiful beaches in the country. Of course, there are more beaches than I can possibly list, but this will give you a place to start from - they are listed by region. Driving your rental car up and down the coasts is another fun way to discover other beautiful Costa Rica beaches.


Guanacaste & Nicoya Peninsula Beaches

Santa Rosa National Park - If paradise and seclusion go hand in hand for you, then Santa Rosa National Park will not disappoint. As remote as it is beautiful, this was the first national park in Costa Rica and features some gorgeous, unpopulated beaches. The facilities here are Spartan at best, and there's an 8mi (13km) drive from the main Park Ranger station that requires four-wheel-drive or a hardy hike if you're up for it. When you do get there you will be blown away by the untouched wilderness, abundant wildlife, and spectacular wave action at Playa Naranjo where you will see the famed Witch's Rock surf site. The same place where I first went surfing in Costa Rica and discovered that one of my fellow surfers was a 7ft long crocodile! Another reptile frequents this Park, when in October thousands of Ridley Olive sea turtles arrive to lay their eggs; a spectacular display of nature to behold at a Park that boasts a collection of the best Costa Rica beaches.

Playa Flamingo / Playa Blanca - Just south of Portrero, this magnificent beach has white sands and calm waters perfect for sunbathing and swimming. The original name was Playa Blanca, but the beach is now more commonly referred to as Playa Flamingo for the Flamingo Hotel located here, which was one of the original luxury hotels of Costa Rica. There is not much of a town here, and development is limited to a few hotels and expensive private houses as the area is popular among wealthy Ticos and Gringos. The area has many private coves that the rich now call home and where they've built their vacation villas. There is also a major fishing tournament held here in May and June, the International Sportfishing Tournament. Many sportfishing boats, both private and for hire, are moored at the Playa Flamingo marina.

Playa Conchal - Named for the many conchas (shells) that are found here, Playa Conchal is a pristine beach located about 2km south of Brasilito. With turquoise waters, somewhat rare for Costa Rica beaches on the Pacific side, Playa Conchal offers clear water for snorkeling and fantastic white sand.

Playa Grande - Just to the north of Tamarindo, Playa Grande is a long, beautiful stretch of sand located within the Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas. Not just nice beach to look at, the park is a nesting site for the massive, magnificent, and endangered leatherback turtles. Turtle-watching tours are available here from October 20 to February 15 and it's a good idea to make reservations in advance if you plan on visiting during high season. Playa Gande is also known as one of the best Costa Rica beaches for surfing. The waves are consistent and both left and right breaking waves. Playa Grande's mix of ecological significance, beauty, surfing, and proximity to hotels in Tamarindo makes it a great addition to your itinerary.

Playa Guiones - Near Playa Nosara, this pretty beach is near quite a few other nice beaches along the Nicoya Peninsula including Playa Pelada. From December to April, Guiones is a very popular surfing beach, and when there aren't many waves the beach offers some great snorkeling.

Playa Samara and surrounding beaches - A pretty, white to light-gray sand beach that is perfect for swimming, Playa Samara is a great destination that is still relatively undiscovered. Even nicer though are the beaches nearby including Playa Carrillo, Playa Barrigona, and Playa Buena Vista, which are all relatively deserted. Popular with the locals, Playa Samara and surrounding areas are still just gaining popularity with travelers. The town of Samara is quieter than some other places like Tamarindo, yet there are still a variety of things to do, restaurants, and hotels. It's a great place to surf or learn how, and there's a dive shop in town in case you're interested in scuba (which you should be! But then again, I am a divemaster, so I could be biased :-)

Santa Teresa & Malpais - With Malpais just to the north and Santa Teresa to the south, these two beach villages constitute some up and comers among the many beautiful Costa Rica beaches along the Nicoya peninsula. Malpais is a rockier beach, with lots of tide pools and rock formations to explore, while Santa Teresa features white sands and relative privacy. They are both strung out along a contiguous stretch of coastline, so I've included them together. Still both basically undiscovered, the construction of a small and exclusive five-star resort in Santa Teresa proves that this beautiful area may soon become a lot more popular.

Montezuma - This is a funky little hamlet at the end of the Nicoya peninsula features a fantastic beach, eclectic mix of inhabitants, and nearby waterfalls to set it apart from other Costa Rica beaches. Surfers will enjoy the great breaks here, and with beach stretching for miles in each direction it's quite easy to find your own private nook for enjoyment. The fact that Montezuma is close to Cabo Blanco and Curu wildlife preserves doesn't hurt either.

Central Pacific Costa Rica Beaches

Manuel Antonio - With coastline epitomizing the idea of paradise in Central America, it's not surprising that this relatively small national park is also one of the country's most popular. Costa Rica beaches don't come much more beautiful than the four you'll find in Manuel Antonio National Park. Wildlife abounds here, including scarlet macaws, white-faced capuchin monkeys, iguanas, armadillos, coatis, and even the endangered squirrel monkey. There are numerous species of lizard and over 350 species of bird. Hotel rooms with a view of the park are definitely worth the extra money. Manuel Antonio is just south of the Quepos, a major fishing destination especially renown for sailfish.

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena - Whale Marine National Park features beautiful light brown beaches lined with palm and almond trees. But as the name implies, the park offers something else that sets it apart from other Costa Rica beaches; from December to March you might be able to see humpback whales migrating down from the waters of Southern California with their newborn babies (I got to snorkel with a mother and baby humpback in Playas del Coco, where I lived, and it was the thrill of a lifetime!). You could also catch them from September through November when they pass back through the park. Marino Ballena is also a nesting ground for the Olive ridley and hawksbill turtles, which lay their eggs here from May to Novermber - September and October are the busiest months for the turtles. Coral reefs protected by the park make for good snorkeling, and you can sign up for a snorkeling excursion to visit Isla Ballena from the town of Bahia. You may even see some of the dolphins that call this area home.

South Pacific Costa Rica Beaches

Zancudo - With close to 6km of dark-sand beach here, world-class fishing, and fantastic swimming in tranquil waters, Zancudo is a relatively undiscovered gem compared to some other Costa Rica beaches. Running along a narrow spit of land, the beach is backed by a mangrove system called the Rio Coto Swamps, where you can find lots of waterfowl and if you have a keen eye you might even see monkeys and river otters playing around, or crocodiles and caimans soaking up some of the suns rays. Zancudo is just south of Golfito, situated on the coast of the Golfo Dulce.

Caribbean Costa Rica Beaches

Cahuita - This Caribbean town lies north of Puerto Viejo and offers a beautiful black sand beach several miles long aptly named Playa Negra (a favorite turtle nesting site) and a 2km long crescent shaped golden-white sand beach to the south called Playa Blanca. These beautiful beaches have won Blue Flag awards for environmental quality in 1996. The town itself has a funky, reggae-infused culture and is very laid back. Though there aren't many luxuries here, the gentle ocean and laid-back culture will lull you into a state of relaxation that you can't always buy at a fancy spa. The fact that the town is right next to beautiful coral reefs for snorkeling and Cahuita National Park provides for some excellent wildlife viewing opportunities, both above and below the water. In the park itself you'll find an assortment of other lovely Costa Rica beaches.

Manzanillo & the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge - This site just south of Puerto Viejo and reachable by car or bike (you can find some really cheap bike rentals) has stunning, picturesque beaches with beautiful rock formations and lovely warm water with some snorkeling around Manzanillo (though be careful of riptides). The village of Manzanillo is sparse but quaint, stretching along an expanse of white sand beach. The wildlife refuge will offer you some incredible photo opportunities; just beware of falling coconuts while you're walking around. I remember one falling right next to me! But my beautiful pictures were worth it all, not to mention the free surf exhibition from a group of locals that I witnessed from a cliff top in the refuge. This place definitely features some of the most dramatic Costa Rica beaches.

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