Last Updated: Apr 30, 2012
Costa Rica is named “Rich Coast” with good reason – these idyllic shores are some of the most breathtaking in the world. We’ve traveled throughout the country’s Caribbean and Pacific Coasts and have compiled a list of our favorite beaches, both popular and off the tourist trail. Come experience Costa Rica’s sparkling sands, where activities like surfing, wildlife watching and simply relaxing in a hammock reign supreme.
The beaches scattered along Papagayo's curved coastline boast gentle waves and fine, white sands. Rent a kayak and paddle out to one of the gulf's secluded beaches, where tiny hermit crabs wade in the surf, languid sloths lounge from the trees, and sunsets are so impressive they'll literally take your breath away. Nacascolo Beach, located at the Four Seasons, is our Papagayo favorite, offering calm swimming waters, steady windsurfing, and great snorkeling. Sunset sailboat tours are available year-round, but we recommend August-November, when whales patrol the waters and the area is green and lush.
Enjoy the unique beauty of Playa Conchal, named for the millions of tiny seashells that make up its dazzling pink shores. Snorkel in calm, turquoise waters or challenge yourself to a round of golf on an award-winning 18-hole green designed by sports legend Robert Trent Jones II.
Surfing is the name of the game along the golden sands of Playa Grande, which boasts some of the most consistent waves year-round. Improve your skills at a multi-day surf camp, or try private lessons with a seasoned pro. From October to February, late-night turtle tours at Playa Grande yield fabulous opportunities to observe giant leatherback sea turtles (weighing upwards of 1200 pounds) laying eggs in Las Baulas Marine Park.
Playa Samara and Playa Carrillo
Enjoy Samara’s family-friendly beach by day and incredible party atmosphere by night. Kayak for about 40 minutes to reach Isla Chora, a steep island with a tiny pink beach – when the tide is low, visibility for snorkeling is wonderful. If you’re adventurous, try a thrilling Ultra Light flight over the area’s winding rivers and dramatic bays. Rent an ATV and drive ten minutes south to the palm-fringed shores of Playa Carrillo. Sand dollars hide just beneath your feet in Carrillo’s peaceful, sparkling waters. Away from the bright lights of Samara, this is a wonderful place to stargaze after the sun goes down.
Mal Pais & Santa Teresa
Ride the legendary breaks of Mal Pais, a surf Mecca that stretches for five miles on the southern Nicoya Peninsula. Challenging waves and rocky outcroppings attract the most experienced surfers, while beginners head to the exquisite beaches of adjacent Santa Teresa. Playa El Carmen is a long stretch of soft, unspoiled shore – perfect for swimming, surf casting and tide pool exploration. See some of the most spectacular sunsets in the country – each night hues of purple, orange, yellow, and even green hover above the horizon as the sun sinks directly into the sea.
This little gem is the embodiment of pristine – and nearly always deserted. Whether you want to sunbathe, swim or walk its white-sand shores, this intimate beach is definitely off the tourist trail. Arrive either by boat or on an exciting two-hour horseback ride deep within the lush Curu Wildlife Refuge. Caves ripe for exploration, swaying palm trees and gleaming turquoise waters make Playa Quesera totally worth the trek.
Relax and unwind along the deserted shores of Bejuco, just south of Jaco. Forget about crowds of tourists, shopping, or nightlife of any kind. Bejuco’s claim to fame is raw, untouched beauty where you can walk miles of beach without so much as seeing another person. Swimming is not advised due to strong riptides; instead try boogie boarding, surfing, or just relaxing under the shade of a coconut palm on this stunning beach.
Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife in Manuel Antonio National Park, which protects some of the most perfect shores and rainforests imaginable. See white-faced monkeys, coatimundis and sloths on an early-morning hike along the coastal trails. Other than wildlife watching, the park’s three secluded beaches are ideal for sunbathing, picnicking, or napping in the shadow of a sea almond tree. Discover marine life amid volcanic formations and reefs on a scuba diving or snorkeling adventure. You’ll enjoy the best visibility in Manuel Antonio between November-April.
Osa Peninsula and the Golfo Dulce:
Three idyllic beaches located at the southernmost tip of the Osa Peninsula compose one of the most isolated areas in country: Cabo Matapalo. This cape is an ideal place to surf, relax, and – because of its proximity to the incredible biodiversity of Corcovado National Park – wildlife watch. Poison dart frogs, monkeys and sloths are especially common here.
Situated on the southern Golfo Dulce, Pavones is home to one of the longest left point breaks in the world (3/4 of a mile to one mile long depending on where the measuring begins). When conditions are right, the ride can last for two to three minutes. Not surprisingly, this attracts talented and professional surfers from around the globe. These gorgeous beaches are not recommended for swimming, but they are tranquil settings for strolling, sunbathing and animal watching. The best time for snorkeling and diving at Pavones is between February-April, when chances for viewing dolphins, rays, and sea turtles are high.
Cahuita National Park is a tropical free-for-all, offering oceanfront rainforest, miles of white-sand beach, and one of Costa Rica's last living coral reefs. Hike a sandy beachside trail, dig your toes into powdery sands, or don a mask and snorkel the underwater treasures at Cahuita Point's coral reef. To protect the reef, snorkeling is only permitted with a licensed guide.
Crystal clear waters gently lap against a white crescent shore along Punta Uva, just south of Puerto Viejo. Framed by dense forest, this southern Caribbean beach is absolutely breathtaking. Walk along its supple sands or take a dip in the tranquil aquamarine sea. For a bit of adventure, kayak through the coastal estuary into Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, where you’ll likely see sloths, toucans and howler monkeys. The best time to visit is September-October and February-March, when the area receives little rain.