Having lived in Costa Rica for almost 30 years, I’m sharing my experiences after visiting every beach in the country and sharing you my list of the best beaches Costa Rica has to offer.
Millions of tourists flock to Costa Rica every year for its natural beauty. Whether your itinerary is to go to Costa Rica’s pacific coast, or Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, I’ve got you covered.
For me, Costa Rica’s best beaches all come down to what you prefer. Many people flock to Costa Rica for the white sand beaches, but being a well traveled resident, you have to understand that Costa Rica offers a variety of golden sand beaches, as well as dark sand, but there are beautiful beaches regardless of where you choose. You’ll find more white sand on the Pacific ocean side, but a lot of the beaches in costa rica are going to be a more brown sand due to the volcanic activity and landscape.
For me, there is nothing better than a secluded beach. I’ve done the packed beaches thing in Florida, and I’ll take a secluded beach any day!
There is so much that Costa Rica offers, from sea turtles, to palm trees, to tide pools, soft sand, white sand, scuba diving, plus the sheer diversity Costa Rica offers from the West Coast to the Caribbean coast.
Costa Rica’s Best Beaches
#1: Playa Manuel Antonio Beach – Most Popular With Locals
One of the most popular beaches in costa rica is Manuel Antonio beach. You can ask any local, and most of them will give a lean towards this very special beach bordering Manuel antonio national park, which is a rain forest on the coast full of wildlife. You can walk about thirty minutes from the park to enter Manuel Antonio beach while exploring numerous hiking trails that lead to other nearby beaches. Expect to see monkeys and be ready to snorkel, as you’ll see some amazing things in the coral seascape.
I can stress how popular Manuel Antonio is with locals. Literally every Costa Rican I know spits out “Manuel Antonio” whenever I ask them what their favorite beach is. I can’t disagree.
#2: Playa Conchal – Best White Sand Beach in Costa Rica
This one is very special to me as it’s one of the first beaches in Costa Rica that I got to experience.
Playa Conchal is my idea of a secluded beach, as you have to stay at the Westin or W Costa Rica, (or know someone living there in Reserva Conchal and be an authorized guest as it’s gated) in order to gain access. The Westin is one of the most popular all inclusive resorts in Costa Rica, I must add. Another great place for snorkelers, you won’t see a beach that has white sand and tiny seashells along the shoreline like you will at Conchal beach. If white sand beaches are your thing, this is the best beach for you, as there is literally no dark sand here at Conchal beach, making it one of the most stunning beaches in Costa Rica.
Staying at Playa Conchal:
Again, Playa Conchal is my personal favorite beach and the best for people who want a luxurious vacation.
#3: Tamarindo Beach – Best Beach Town Vibe and for Surfing Trips
If surfing by day and a vibrant scene by night is your thing, check out Tamarindo beach. This is often the beach I recommend to first time visitors as it offers plenty of things to do for those who don’t like to spend all day on the beach as it has a bustling town with just about every food option imaginable. Well inhabited by locals and expatriates both, you won’t find a more hospitable beach town in Costa Rica where you can learn how to surf. Don’t mistake that for a surfers beach, this is a place where people come to learn how to surf. There are a number of places you can do water sports rentals, take fishing excursions, or go horse back riding. There is something for everyone in Playa Tamarindo.
If you are looking for a more relaxed environment to stay where you can still easily access the nightlife Tamarindo offers, check out the white sand beach of Playa Langosta, just minutes away.
#4: Playa Flamingo Beach – Best for Boaters
Located in Northwest Costa Rica, the Flamingo Marina just got a massive overhaul, and if you are into boating by day and views by night, I recommend you rent one of the many AIRBNB’s perched on the mountainside. You’ll get magical views of the famous sunsets while you overlook the bay of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.
Playa Flamingo Beach is a beautiful beach! It’s one of the few Costa Rica beaches that I make a point to drive by, if nothing else, when I’m near the Pacific Ocean in that area.
#5: Samara Beach – Best for Families
Costa Rica’s beaches are all inclusive, meaning that there aren’t any beaches that you won’t enjoy as a family, but for my money, the best beach for families in Costa Rica is Playa Samara. This beach is protected by an island and is located on the Nicoya peninsula. You can enjoy snorkeling, kayaking, scuba, and sport fishing off of Samara Beach.
#6: Dominical Beach – Best for Experienced Surfers
Ask any surfer worldwide, and you’ll hear them raving about Dominical. Located on the South Pacific Coast, you’ll enjoy some of the best surfing in Costa Rica in addition to many bustling restaurants. It’s worth noting that Dominical beach has a year round lifeguard, the only one in the country.
#7: Playa Santa Teresa – Best Beach in the Nicoya Peninsula
If you’ve had your fill of Guanacaste province, you can head just south to the southern tip called the Nicoya peninsula and enjoy Santa Teresa beach. You’ll find this an active beach among surfers as well as fans of yoga. Nearby you will find a few other beaches you can access as well, namely Playa Manzanillo Beach, Malpais, Playa Carmen, and Hermosa beach. Staying anywhere here provides access to beach towns like Playa Santa Teresa, and you can enjoy the national park that is the gandoca manzanillo wildlife refuge as well.
Some of the most beautiful beaches that aren’t talked about are in the Nicoya peninsula, and Santa Teresa is one of those beaches that locals and a group of expatriates really enjoy.
#8: Playa Nosara – Best for Yoga Enthusiasts
Not only is this popular for it’s world class yoga institute, you’ll also find a lot of local surfers in the laid back beach of Nosara. This beach merges with Playa Garza, Playa Guiones beach, and Playa Pelada. This area is much less traveled in comparison to say Tamarindo beach and the more frequented Guanacaste province, but you will still enjoy white sand shores on this wonderful beach destination.
It’s also worth pointing out that the world famous Blue Zone diet started in the Nicoya peninsula.
Read more about the Nicoya peninsula.
I also highly recommend the nearby Garza beach.
#9: Ostional Beach – Best for Seeing Sea turtles
The Ostional wildlife refuge in the Nicoya peninsula is home to baby sea turtles, making it a great place for wildlife lovers. Between July and October, you can watch the olive ridley sea turtle nesting. It’s truly a sight to be seen at Ostional beach.
Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast – My Favorites
Summarizing my list of the best beaches in Costa Rica, my picks on this coast include Playa Conchal, Manuel Antonio, and Playa Tamarindo beach.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast
Most people don’t make it over this way because of the crime in Limon, but if you do have the chance to make it to the Caribbean beaches, there are many that are worth checking out. I made an entirely separate category for these beaches because again, most Costa Rica tourism is confined to the Nicoya peninsula or Guanacaste province.
#1: Punta Uva
Located in the Southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, you’ll encounter Punta Uva, which is located near the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and surrounded by a very tropical jungle . You’ll find sloths, monkeys, and rare birds. There is a coral reef you can enjoy as the calm waters make it doable even with small children who know how to swim.
#2: Playa Manzanillo Beach, Southern Caribbean Coast
If white sand beaches are your thing and you are out East, Manzanillo Beach is a laid back beach town where you can find rain forest, coral reefs, kayaking, and diving. One of the Southern Caribbean beaches in costa rica’s best kept secrets, if you ask me.
I’m going to end this summary offering a few takes on other beaches that may not be at the top of my list, but they offer unique experiences for everyone.
Now, I’m not one for this, but if you are, I also made a page about nude beaches in Costa Rica.
Playa Negra – Best Black-Sand Beach
In making this the most extensive round up of beaches in Costa Rica, you have to include Playa Negra. This is located in Puerto Viejo. It’s also near the Cahuita National park, and it’s a lot less populated since it’s very remote in Puerto Viejo.
A full mile of beach makes this a great beach for taking a gorgeous walk. What makes Playa Grande unique is that is has nesting sea turtles, and the beach is closed from 6 pm to 6 am from October through March as the eggs wait to hatch.
Another beach you will find in the Nicoya Peninsula’s southern coast is Playa Montezuma. This is a very difficult beach to get to, and when I visited I got there by ferry. It’s one of the rare uncrowded beaches in Costa Rica.
It’s a very peaceful, remote beach that never really gets a crowd. You’ll find all walks of life here, from backpackers, to families, and more. This beach has a very unique vibe to it and is considered “Bohemian.” The community is made up of many expats and locals, making it very unique with global cuisine.
Montezuma Beach, or “Montefuma,” as some locals call it because of the laid back atmosphere in regards to marijuana consumption is quite popular and putting it up there in my list of best beaches.
Playa Hermosa beach is in the Guanacaste province near playa del coco and Playa Ocotal. This overlooks the Gulf of Papagayo and has a family vibe with lots of palm trees. You’ll find a lot of activities here like sport fishing, catamarn tours, snorkeling, and scuba.
Playa Hermosa is a great spot to stay if you want to relax and be close to many other beaches.
Important: Don’t confuse this Playa hermosa with the one located in the Central Pacific Coast. That one is near Playa Jaco and Manuel Antonio. There are two beaches of the same name, for some reason.
Best Beaches Costa Rica – Conclusion
For my money, if you have never visited Costa Rica, start with these beaches as you’ll be able to get the most bang for your buck and see a lot more of the country:
Playa Conchal, and Santa Teresa. You’ll be able to see many of the best beaches in Costa Rica if you stay at either of these, and they are among the best beaches, hands down. That’s nothing against Manuel Antonio, but when you go that direction, you won’t be able to see as much. To me, that’s reason to schedule that as your second trip to Costa Rica.
Again, this is my list of the Costa Rica’s best beaches. It saddens me not to include Punta Uva, (playa punta uva) Costa Ballena, Uvita beach, Pelada beach, and others, but I had to draw a line in the sand (pun intended) at some point!
I’d love to hear yours, as well as your reasons, in the comments!