Best beaches around San Jose, Costa Rica

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 27.02.2023

Costa Rica is home to some of the planet’s most impressive natural landscapes – and its breathtaking beaches are no exception. The capital city, San Jose, may be in the centre of the country, but some of Costa Rica’s most spectacular shorelines are just a few hours away.

Whether you’re yearning for awesome surf adventures or blissful relaxation on sugary sand, in Costa Rica it’s possible to combine a city stay with a visit to a beachy paradise. Here are the six best beaches near San Jose, that can be reached by car or bus in under five hours. Trust us, they’re worth the drive.

What to explore more of this dazzinlg country? Fall in love with Costa Rica's best beaches.

Playa Jaco

Proximity to San Jose: Approximately 98km; 1.5 hour drive

Jaco is the closest beach town to San Jose. It’s famous for two things: its picture-perfect beach, Playa Jaco, and its vibrant nightlife. Jaco’s dark golden beach is 3km long, flanked by deep blue water on one side and lush rainforest on the other.

To stand on Jaco’s sand is to be immersed in nature. It’s not unusual to see Scarlet Macaws passing overhead or monkeys chasing each other through the trees. For surfing, head to the southern part of the beach. For topping up your tan, the more crowded northern part is where it’s at. Book stand up paddleboarding lessons, tour the area’s waterfalls or let loose and party until dawn.

Jaco Beach Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Jaco Beach, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Playa Manuel Antonio

Proximity to San Jose: Approximately 150km; 3 hour drive on mostly flat highways. A 4x4 is not necessary

Playa Manuel Antonio is one of the most picturesque - and therefore most popular - beaches in Costa Rica. It’s located in the country’s most famous national park, Manuel Antonio National Park. The beach itself is a 30-minute walk from the park’s entrance.

This is a beach of pure white sand, surrounded by tropical jungle that’s home to some of the planet’s most diverse collection of animal and plant life. As you trek through the national park to the beach, be prepared to meet frogs, sloths and monkeys on the way.

Once at the beach, explore tidal pools that are home to tropical fish and sea urchin. Surf, snorkel over the coral reef or simply sit back and marvel in the area’s astonishing biodiversity.

Did you know: over 25% of Costa Rica's land is dedicated to national parks and nature reserves. Intrigued? Disover the best national parks in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica Sunset at Manuel Antonio Antonio National Park  © thefilmpoets/Shutterstock

Manuel Antonio sunset © thefilmpoets/Shutterstock

Playa Hermosa

Proximity to San Jose: 240km; 4 hours by car or 45 minutes by plane

Playa Hermosa is one of the most beautiful spots in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province, on the South Pacific coast. It’s arguably the most interesting beach near San Jose. Playa’s Hermosa’s extraordinary marine life is one of the beach’s standout features.

If you enjoy snorkelling, scuba diving or fishing, you won’t want to leave. Quieter and more secluded than some of the other beaches close to the capital, Playa Hermosa also boasts heartbreakingly beautiful sunsets. The beach town is on the up, with new restaurants, bars and shops opening in recent years (pre and post-pandemic).

Playa Hermosa is a paradise for travellers who are happiest in, on or around the water. Take a scuba diving tour, sail in a Catamaran or take a riverboat out on the clear waters.

Surfer in playa hermosa, Costa Rica

Playa Hermosa © Shutterstock

Playa Blanca

Proximity to San Jose: Approximately 230km; 4 hours by car

As the name suggests, Playa Blanca is home to an expanse of pristine white sand. It’s one of the few truly white sand beaches in Costa Rica and this alone makes it well worth a visit.

The beach, on the Nicoya Peninsula on Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coast, also boasts clear turquoise waters. It’s a haven for swimmers, sun-worshippers and lovers of watersports. The lush green vegetation that envelopes the beach adds to the sense of seclusion and tranquillity.

Playa Conchal

Proximity to San Jose: Approximately 196km; 4 hours by car; 5-6 hours by bus

Have seen one beach, seen them all, right? On the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica is a unique stretch of shoreline that will make you think again. The sand on Playa Conchal is made up of thousands of tiny crushed shells, giving the beach an iridescent appearance. This sand here shimmers. Despite being made of shells, the sand is soft to the touch.

The waters are ideal for snorkelling and swimming. Green hillsides provide a striking backdrop to the sand and the vegetation is home to iguanas, monkeys and countless tropical birds. For travellers looking for a sophisticated stay, surrounded by natural beauty, Playa Conchal is a great choice. A number of upscale resorts and hotels are a stone’s throw from the beach, promising an unforgettable stay.

Insider tips: The beach can become busy at weekends as it’s popular with tourists and Costa Ricans. The waves are terrific for surfing, but they can be strong, so take care, especially if you’re travelling with children.

Playa Conchal, Costa Rica © Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

Playa Conchal, Costa Rica © Colin D. Young/Shutterstock

Playa Flamingo

Proximity to San Jose: Approximately 261km; 5 hours by car

Don’t let the name fool you; you’re unlikely to ever encounter a flamingo here. Playa Flamingo is a spectacular crescent of soft sand which remains blissfully undeveloped. The beach town is perched on a nearby hillside, overlooking the shore.

Although the promise of relaxing on the white sand is enough of a reason to visit, there’s plenty to do here in the way of activities. Underwater enthusiasts will jump at the chance to take a diving tour to the nearby Catalina islands, where it’s not unusual to come face-to-face with a reef shark. For a day of fun on the water, Catamaran tours depart from Playa Flamingo to nearby Sugar Beach and Potrero.

Fishing charters are available too. The waters here are home to sailfish, marlin and snapper, to name a few. A short drive away, at Playa Grande, is Las Baulas National Marine Park, one of the world’s leading nesting sites for leatherback turtles. Nesting season runs from mid-October to mid-February and promises an unforgettable experience.

Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica - Aerial Drone shot of Flamingo Beach South Ridge with panoramic View over Playa Potrero © Shutterstock

Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica © Shutterstock

Read more about the best time to go, the best places to visit, and the best things to do in Costa Rica. For inspiration, browse our readymade Costa Rica tours.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Costa Rica without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel specialists to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

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Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 27.02.2023

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