Lying on a beach towel on one of the best beaches in Costa Rica, I propped myself up on my elbows, took a sip of my pineapple juice and looked around. It was deserted except for me and my friend.
I couldn’t believe places like this would be where I’d be spending my weekends for the foreseeable future. There’s just something about the ocean that calls to me – so, living in Costa Rica was a dream come true.
A familiar yearning to try surfing hit me. But when later that day, I was sucked under the water for the tenth time, I yearned to be back on dry land, drinking more pineapple juice and taking in the country’s spectacular nature.
Regardless if you’re a land-lover or a water-baby, a pro surfer or about as talented on a surfboard as me, Costa Rica’s beaches really do have something for everyone. This country, like most countries in Central America, is bordered by both oceans, which means double the beaches for you to explore and enjoy.
And the best part? All beaches in Costa Rica are public. By law, the first 50 meters measured from high tide is considered public land. This means no one can claim ownership and nothing can be built unless it’s been government-sanctioned.
So, I’ve put together a list of the best beaches Costa Rica has to offer (as well as a few helpful tips on how to get there).
Just down the road from the popular surfing town of Dominical lies Uvita, a small town on the Pacific coast. This idyllic hamlet is the gateway to the Parque Nacional Marino Bahia Ballena. Bahia Ballena is named for the humpback whales that migrate through the water here, as well as the shape of the whale’s tail-shaped peninsula of sand that emerges at low tide.
From December to April and from July to September you can spot whales among the waves as you stroll down the white-sand beach. Throughout the rest of the year, it’s an ideal place to swim, kayak, snorkel and enjoy the sun.
How to visit: Spend a day in Uvita on an active adventure on our 11-day Costa Rica: Hike, Raft & Canyon trip.
Nosara, a beautiful town on the Pacific coast, is a hotspot for surf schools and yoga retreats. Although it’s quite well-known, people who have built up the tourism infrastructure here have done a good job of preserving green spaces, keeping out big resorts and ensuring eco-friendliness. Playa Guiones is the main beach area because is has some of the most consistent surf in Central America. Visit during the dry season (December to April) for beginner-friendly waves.
If you’re not a surfer, there are mangroves nearby that are great for stand-up paddle boarding. Alternatively, the beach is a gorgeous place for a walk or a yoga class.
Despite being one of Costa Rica’s worst-kept secrets, Tortuguero National Park’s remote location means it remains an unspoiled paradise. It’s a bit of a trek to get there (it’s only accessible by airplane or boat), but it’s absolutely worth it. The main draw is turtle nesting season. Watch green sea turtles, leatherbacks, hawksbills and more nesting on the beaches in the park from July to October and February to April. Afterward, I recommend a boat trip through the canals where you can spot other wildlife such as sloths, monkeys, birds and frogs in the lush jungle.
How to visit: Journey to Tortuguero National Park on our 15-day Classic Costa Rica trip.
Way down the southwest coast of Costa Rica, you’ll find Pavones. It’s home to a world-class wave that is one of the longest in the world. Surfers from all over the world flock here to ride the wave and enjoy a town that’s truly off the tourist track. In addition to unreal surfing, there are waterfalls to hike to and wildlife galore (think waking up to 15 scarlet macaws right outside your window).
Playa Cocles and Punta Uva
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is one of my favorite places on the Caribbean coast, so it was hard for me to choose just one beach! Heavily influenced by migrant workers who came over from Jamaica, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a city of contrasts. Reggae music and salsa blend together in the local bars. Jerk chicken mingles with gallo pinto on your plate. Families seeking the pura vida hang out with backpackers digging the blissed-out surf vibes. Anyone visiting this town is sure to love the 8 miles (13 km) of white-sand beach that stretches south from Puerto Viejo to Manzanillo.
How to visit: Spend two days in Puerto Viejo on your way from San Jose to Bocas del Toro on our 13-day Costa Rica & Panama Discovery trip.
Playa Manuel Antonio
While Manuel Antonio National Park is most famous for the wildlife, within the park you’ll find several beautiful beaches. Manuel Antonio and the nearby beach town of Quepos can be quite full of tourists, but if you venture into the park, you’ll find a little slice of paradise. Playa Manuel Antonio, Playa Escondido and Playa Espadilla Sur are all sure to be less busy due to a small entrance fee. My advice: get there early to beat the crowds and enjoy a morning on the beach, then escape into the cool rainforest and do a wildlife walking tour in the afternoon.
How to visit: Enjoy the best of what Costa Rica has to offer, including Manuel Antonio National Park, on this 9-day Costa Rica Express trip.
Already dreaming of your Costa Rican beach adventure? See all our Costa Rica trips and tours.
(Image credits from top to bottom: Intrepid Travel, Christina Campo, iStock/OGPhoto, iStock/anzeletti, Christina Campo, Intrepid Travel)