Costa Rica is known for the depth and diversity it offers to travelers and holidaymakers. From jagged rock formation at the mouth of dormant volcanoes to the enormous range of colorful wildlife found in misty rainforests; there is something for everyone. Plus, with almost parallel coastlines to the Pacific and Caribbean sides of the island, adventurers need not miss out on the beach.
Costa Rica beaches are widely regarded as some of the best on earth to swim, surf, explore and relax. Finding pristine white sand in the Nicoya Peninsula can be the highlight of the trip for some travelers, while others prefer the dark sand and crashing waves of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side. With so many to choose from, it can be hard to plan your trip around visiting the best beaches in Costa Rica. But one thing is for sure: the locals know how to put on a lively show across the board.
What is the climate in Costa Rica?
Before getting into a debate about the best beaches in Costa Rica, it’s important to realize that the true assortment of different climatic conditions in the country leads to totally different environments.
Did you know that Costa Rica actually has 12 different ecosystems?
Here are some examples:
Cloud forest in Monteverde
Mangroves in Liberia, Costa Rica
Coral reefs in Cahuita
Rainforest in Manuel Antonio
In general, Costa Rica is warm year-round with average temperatures 70F and 85F throughout the year. Some areas which are situated at a higher elevation, such as Monteverde, can become pretty cold, especially at night. Temperatures may drop down to 64F.
No need to bring a wetsuit when you enter the waves though, as the average water temperature sits at around 78F.
The country does however experience wet and dry seasons, which may be a deciding factor in your visit. The wet season is more prominent on the Caribbean coast, but generally offers clear mornings and rainy afternoons. Fortunately, travellers may experience cheaper prices, since a lower volume of visitors generally visit during this time. Alternatively, others regard September and October the best time to visit Costa Rica, since it’s the end of the green season and dry weather is more likely.
Best Beaches in Costa Rica Map
So, where are the best beaches in Costa Rica? Pretty much everywhere!
The Pacific beaches Costa Rica has to offer are on the left side, whereas Carribean coastline runs down the right side of the map.
To the North West, the Nicoya Peninsula is paradise for sun chasers, with towns like Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, Samara and Nosara offering crystal clear waters and white sand. Alternatively, between Quepos and Uvita, travelers will find Jaco (the local surfers favorite), and wildlife-filled beaches such as Manuel Antonio.
How to travel around Costa Rica
Beaches in Costa Rica are not exactly few and far between, but getting around the country is made slightly difficult due to its terrain. Many of the roads are filled with potholes and the selection of roads is pretty limited. Unfortunately, this makes travelling around Costa Rica beaches a major struggle.
So here are your options:
Hire a car
Take the bus
Stay near the beach and walk!
Hiring a car is a popular option, but most adventurers are unaware of the difference in driving culture in Costa Rica. Etiquette on the roads is not the same as in the states, with typically more ‘aggressive’ styles of driving that may intimidate unfamiliar drivers. The other thing to note is that most rental companies take a deposit of around $1000 as standard. Unfortunately, this is the easiest way to protect rental companies, as crashes occur fairly often.
Taking shuttles is a hassle-free way to traverse around Costa Rica. Tourists can pay for a one-way or return ticket, and receive access to service from door-to-door. It’s definitely more expensive than taking a bus but guarantees a spacious seat on a schedule that isn’t always running late.
Interbus is the most popular local bus company in Costa Rica, used by both tourists and locals to explore the country. The options include long, 6+ hour buses as groups move from one base to another or short journey busses that circle the local towns. Tickets can cost just $5, but beware that space is limited and many locals can buy cheap aisle tickets to stand in the middle lane for the duration of the journey.
Staying near the beach can be the most ideal option for travelers looking to make the most of their time in Costa Rica. Not only does this provide convenience, but will also give access to extra amenities, such as snorkel trips, at the click of a button. Booking a beachfront location is preferred by longer-term travelers and digital nomads too since so many are looking to build a healthy daily routine by the water.
What are the best beaches in Costa Rica?
The following recommendations are split into three different categories. Surf beaches are those with dependable waves and accessibility to good teaching staff. Swim beaches are those deemed good for families and groups wanting to chill out. Finally, the scenery beaches category was created to highlight some of the best natural areas in the whole of Costa Rica.
Best Surf Beaches in Costa Rica
Young groms and older brah’s alike will agree that the best Costa Rican beaches are those with gnarly waves. Fortunately, there’s plenty to go around.
In general, the best surf beaches in Costa Ricawill be found on the Pacific side, where the right choice will depend largely on experience and skill level. While the Caribbean side also offers great surf conditions, there are really only two major beaches that can become incredibly crowded during peak times.
Fortunately, the premier surf school in all of Costa Rica is Tortuga Surf Camp. With decades of experience, the instructors sure know their stuff when it comes to inside knowledge of the waves and currents. Mike and his staff set up shop at the Selina Jaco and Manuel Antonio locations and will soon be placing boots on the ground at Tamarindo, too.
Playa Cocles, Puerto Viejo
When it comes to surfing Caribbean beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Cocles is the only place to be. It’s the main (and most popular) beach in Puerto Viejo, and visitors get constant reminders that they are in the Caribbean with locals banging drums and playing reggae music. In general, everyone is in the party mood and there are good vibes all around.
Waves at Playa Cocles are well-suited for intermediate and more advanced surfers since the break is short, which can be difficult for beginners. The best time to surf a larger swell is between January and March, but the beach is very busy year-round.
Plus, with accommodation right on the beachfront in Puerto Viejo, you won’t have to struggle to carry your board up any big hills or dirt tracks.
La Loca, Santa Teresa
Located in the province of Guanacaste Costa Rica, La Loca is a westerner’s dream. The town of Santa Teresa is still developing but is strongly catered towards American and European cultures. It’s why Santa Teresa is known as the “Tulum of Costa Rica”.
La Loca’s waves are consistently good between March and August, with a more hollow wave for the other six months of the year. Locals and long-term ex-pats are much friendlier here than in other parts of the country and are happy to share the waves with those who want to try the surf.
Tourists looking to stay in Santa Teresa are spoilt for choice, with North and South locations. Receiving an award for the World’s Best Surf Camps in 2021, Santa Teresa South is the perfect place for beginners to immerse themselves into the water.
Playa Hermosa, Jaco
It’s not hard to see why Jaco is home to the most national and international surf competitions in Costa Rica. The waves in Jaco are versatile, with a good mix of open rights and lefts. Line ups clean, with multiple breaks along the shore which means that surfers are spread all down the bay.
Jaco is one of the more commercialized spots in Costa Rica, filled with skyscrapers and American restaurant chains that are hugely rare in other parts of the country. While some might be turned off by this information, most welcome the chance to have home comforts within easy reach.
Jaco is home to Tortuga Surf School, based out of our beachfront location. Here, visitors can book one of the best beaches to visit in Costa Rica for surf.
Tamarindo Beach, Tamarindo
Ask the locals, and they might say that the best beaches in Tamarindo, Costa Rica, outweigh the rest. Newbie surfers can rejoice at the fact that the largest beach, with the same namesake as the town, is perfect for beginners looking to get comfortable on the waves. Fortunately, surf club members are able to access the water in only a few steps.
Tamarindo is located on the northern tip of Guanacaste, north of the Nicoya Peninsula. This makes it perfectly positioned to receive waves at mid-chest height, allowing learners to control their balance and master the rolling swells.
Just don’t get too close to the river mouth! With frequent sightings of saltwater crocs, it’s something to steer clear of.
Playa Guiones, Nosara
Remember those rugged landscapes? Here in Nosara, it’s very much a natural part of the terrain. However, those not staying in the local area might struggle to reach this little slice of paradise (which, by the way, is well worth the trek). After all, it’s why Playa Guiones was one of Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets for a long time.
At 7km long, Playa Guiones has plenty of space for beginners to learn the waves. Plus, plenty of long close-outs makes Playa Guiones easily one of the best beaches in Costa Rica to practice skills but might get slightly repetitive for those wanting more action. For lessons and transport to and from the beach, simply ask your hostel in Nosara.
Best Swimming Beaches in Costa Rica
If the thought of sand in every crevice, barrelling down the waves sounds like a waste of energy, don’t worry. Costa Rica also has some of the best beaches for swimming in the world. With famous black sand in the Guanacaste province and gorgeous jungle landscapes in the south towards Quepos, there really is something for everyone.
Playa Grande, Tamarindo
Playa Grande, as the name suggests, is a long beach that stretches over 22km of coastline in the town of Tamarindo. Starting at the river mouth (beware: crocodiles!), it varies between busy crowds and periods of desert island-style sand. This means that there is truly something for everyone.
Just a ninety-minute drive away, flying into Liberia Costa Rica airport is the easiest way to reach the beach internationally. Plus, the place itself is a bustling seaside town with a good mix of local culture and international convenience features.
Playa Grande is, therefore, a great choice for swimming in Costa Rica since every holidaymaker can customize their time to suit. Choose to spend all day at the beach; tanning and splashing around the water, or instead go for a morning swim and spend the rest of your day getting stuck into activities back at your hostel.
Whale Tail Beach, Uvita
Those who can’t justify a long journey over to the Caribbean beaches in Costa Rica, might find their perfect match in Uvita. Although on the Pacific coast, the town feels like a little slice of the Caribbean, with a vibrant community and music around every corner.
Whale Tail is located in Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, which literally translates to National Marine Whale Park. This means that it is a protected beach, in great condition. Whale Tail beach gets its name from its shape, with two converging bays situated back-to-back. It’s incredibly unique and can be viewed from a vantage point for full effect, as well as closer.
Whale Tail is a great swimming spot since it’s preserved by National Park rules, which means that it’s well-looked after. Tourists often appreciate the cleanliness of the area and can explore the hundreds of tiny rock pools when low tide is in.
Manuel Antonio Beach, Manuel Antonio
Found just a one-hour car ride away from the above Uvita, Manuel Antonio is one of the most highly-regarded places in all of Costa Rica. This is because it offers the perfect mix of jungle life (think monkeys, sloths and towering plant life), and sandy beaches.
Outside of Manuel Antonio National Park, explorers will be pleased by a long stretch of calm beach. In fact, the waves are so predictable here, that it’s considered one of the best beaches in Costa Rica for families. Mirrored by a row of shops and restaurants, Manuel Antonio beach is not as remote as some of the other areas in Costa Rica. This makes it perfect for a full day out without needing to bring a ton of supplies to keep the day going.
The beach is a slight walk away from the main town of Manuel Antonio, but the local bus runs every 20 minutes and costs just $2. Fortunately, the bus stop is right outside of Selina Manuel Antonio.
Samara Beach, Samara
Also located in Guanacaste Costa Rica, Samara is renowned for having one of the safest swimming beaches in the country. As a designated ‘blue flag’ beach, it has been heralded for it’s cleanliness and is therefore incredibly popular with tourists, as well as locals.
The wider area is also known as a ‘Blue Zone’, one of the five geographic areas in the world with a high concentration of the world’s oldest people. The fact that people live longer here is not a surprise, with the beach offering easy and calm waters and access to amenities such as healthy food choices.
Reaching Samara is easy from Tamarindo or Nosara, as it is located in the same Nicoya Peninsula. Flying into Liberia airport is preferable over San Jose, as it’s also only a two hour car ride away.
Punta Uva, Puerto Viejo
Just around the headland from Playa Cocles, tourists will find the calmer beach of Punta Uva. Punta Uva offers much calmer waters since it is protected by a reef, which also makes it an interesting place to swim with goggles or a snorkel mask.
An exciting feature to Punta Uva is that much of the flora and fauna that lines the beach is protected, and actively encouraged. This means that sightings of monkeys, sloths and other wildlife is not uncommon. Just beware that, since they are familiar with humans, they may be a little more confident than usual.
Visiting Punta Uva is a must-do in Puerto Viejo, even though it’s slightly further away from the central downtown area. While it’s a bit far to walk, travellers can make use of local transportation (tuktuks) or book a shuttle from their hostel.
Best Costa Rican Beaches for Scenery
Waves are cool, but it’s not all about the water! In fact, some of the top-rated beaches in the country are not ranked highly due to their marine life, but due to the environment that surrounds them.
Playa Dominicalita, Dominical
This beach will have visitors feeling just like they’re in the vibrant Caribbean beaches in Costa Rica. Steel drums and maracas are found at every corner, it’s truly bells and whistles every day! But the real draw to Playa Domincalita is that visitors who journey right to the end of the beach will feel completely alone- isolated from the world!
With huge black rocks at this end, low tide will allow travelers to hunt crabs and other shellfish from the crevices. Waves are small but fast, which means a lot of fun, facilitating lots of jumping games and soft ‘wipeouts’.
Manuel Antonio National Park, Manuel Antonio
Although this national park has an admission fee equivalent to $18, visitors get so much more than ‘just a beach’. Where it fits the budget, this place is highly recommended as adventurers love finding lizards, frogs, monkeys and sloths before they even hit the sand.
As a protected area, there are regulations with the types of items you can bring into the park. Food is not recommended since it is likely to bring interactions with the monkeys that might not be safe, and single-use plastic is also banned. These rules enable Costa Rica to sustain their wildlife and protect the local area for years to come.
Visiting this National Park is one of the best things to do in Manuel Antonio, and those who opt to can even do guided tours to learn more about the local area. Simply book one through the hostel to secure your place.
Playa Jaco, Jaco
Those in search of the best nightlife in Costa Rica will likely prefer to visit the town of Jaco. Flashy restaurants and loud venues line every corner; it’s the perfect party destination. Fortunately, Jaco is not short on beaches, either.
Playa Jaco is located very centrally, mirroring the length of the town. Waves here are small and, since it is popular with tourists, there are also many swimmers. The scenery is all about the nightlife though, so forget about the nature seen elsewhere. In fact, many of the local bars will set up shop on the beach during the day, offering alcohol and other beverages (such as freshly opened coconuts) until the sun goes down. To stay right in the action, check out the Jaco hostel.
Tortuguero, Tortuga Island
If nature is more your thing, look no further than Tortuguero on Isla Tortuga. Home to thousands of hatching turtles every season, this is what dreams are made of for aspiring turtle conservationists.
Tortuga Island is located off the coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, and beach-goers can also rent a kayak or play volleyball during their visit. Traversing the island is probably best done by boat rather than walking, but there are plenty of local ‘boat taxi’ drivers to support.
Green Sea Turtles, Hawksbacks and Leatherbacks are all found on Tortuga Island, so there really is no shortage of wildlife. Note that the turtle hatching season occurs during the months of March and November, so be sure to plan a trip during these times if turtle hatching is important.
Playa Flamingo (close to Tamarindo)
The final beach location worth a shoutout goes to Playa Flamingo, a short 20-minute drive away from Tamarindo. It’s crystal clear waters sparkle, showing off glimpses of whitewash, but generally, the ocean here is as blue as can be. As a short beach, it can be slightly busier than some of the others on this list, but is still worth a visit.
Without the typical downtown layout backing onto the beach, there’s no obvious place to stay at Playa Flamingo. Fortunately, shuttles to Tamarindo and back run very frequently and there’s also a nighttime shuttle in case tourists get caught after dark.
15 Best Beaches in Costa Rica FAQ
Where are the best beaches in Costa Rica?
Those planning their trip to Costa Rica specifically around the beaches should fly into Liberia airport and head straight to Guanacaste. Here offers the largest concentration of high-quality beaches. Making it down from Tamarindo, tourists can also experience Nosara, Samara and Santa Teresa on the same route and all within a few hours.
What is the water temperature at beaches in Costa Rica?
The average year-round water temperature across Costa Rica is 82F. However, the weather and seasons are more variable (and therefore have more of an impact) on the Caribbean coast and can bring the temperatures down to 59F during the coldest month of August.
Where to stay in Costa Rica for beaches?
Those looking to hop between beach locations are likely to want to opt for the same hostel chain throughout, in order to keep everything standard and know what to expect. Selina Costa Rica has ten different locations around the country to help tourists navigate their beach days, and so much more.
Should you visit Costa Rican beaches in rainy season?
Rainy season or ‘green season’ in Costa Rica occurs between May to mid-December and, while still hot, means that most days are filled with at least a little downpour. On the most extreme rainy days, however, it can rain heavily non-stop for a few hours, especially in the afternoon. Think of it this way, you’re likely to get wet in the water anyway, so why not visit Costa Rican beaches during the rainy season? Just be aware that waves can get choppier and higher during these months.