With five per cent of the world’s total biodiversity, Costa Rica is a fascinating destination. It's packed with abundant natural charms, from ethereal cloud forests to the pounding waves of the Pacific Ocean. For many, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime destination. And the best way to process all the colourful memories? A quiet day or two at one of the best beaches in Costa Rica.
Even the beaches are widely varied in this beguiling country. You’ll find everything from rugged surf spots to white sand Caribbean charmers. Although this list could have been twice as long (easily!) here we offer a few places to start when it comes to exploring Costa Rica's best beaches.
Keen on exploring Costa Rica's beaches? Perhaps our Beaches and Volcanoes trip is something for you.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, Central Pacific Coast
With white sand beaches backed by verdant forests packed with wildlife, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is one of the most beautiful spots in all of Costa Rica. It is also one of its most popular tourist destinations. The coastline is dominated by the rocky outcrop of Punta Catedral which juts out into the sea creating endless photo opportunities.
The park is home to three beaches (with a fourth just outside the entrance), the most picturesque of which is Playa Manuel Antonio, also called Playa Tres. It's the safest beach in the area for swimming and offers good snorkelling too. Head to the rocks at the end of the beach to see an array of marine life. Being one of the best beaches in Costa Rica, this spot is popular with locals come the weekend – so visit during the week if you can.
RoughGuides Tip: be even more prepared for your trip and check out our tips for travelling to Costa Rica.
Manuel Antonio National Park is located a short drive south of the city of Quepos. Buses depart for the park daily from Quepos and San José. There’s also paid car parking on the road to the park if you’re coming by car.
- Gaia Hotel and Reserve – This ultra-chic boutique hotel takes style and service to the next level. Well-appointed terraced suites and villas, decked with natural flooring, come with cloud-soft beds, flat-screen TVs and rainforest views. There are two pools, one cascading into the other, and you could quite easily eat all your meals at the fine restaurant. Room rates include breakfast and a free treatment at the on-site spa. No under-13s.
Where to stay
- Visit Manuel Antonio park and other beautiful natural sites on our Costa Rica Eco-Adventure. Our tailor-made trips take care of the planning and booking for you.
- Go beyond the white sand beaches and discover the suspension bridges at Rainmaker Mountains. Observe the local flora and fauna, with a refreshing dip in a waterfall at the end of the tour. To find more information about the waterfalls in Costa Rica read our guide about the best watrefalls to visit.
What to do
Islas Tortuga, Nicoya Peninsula
Uninhabited and (as yet) unspoiled, Islas Tortuga is the epitome of an island hideaway. Made up of Isla Tolinga and Isla Alcatraz, the islands are densely forested with picture-perfect golden sand beaches and bright turquoise water. This is easily one of the best beaches in Costa Rica and will bring a smile to the face of even the most jaded traveller.
Isla Tolinga’s two enchanting beaches are ideal for swimming, snorkelling or simply soaking up the atmosphere. There’s no accommodation on the island so visitors come for the day by boat. During the week the islands are relatively peaceful, but at weekends boatloads of visitors arrive, spoiling the tranquillity somewhat. Plan to avoid a weekend visit if you can.
Islas Tortuga are located off the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, near Paquera. Trips depart twice a day from Paquera’s Playa Curú. Boat trips also make the journey from further afield, including from the country’s capital San José and Jacó or Quepos on the central Pacific coast.
Ready to take a trip to Costa Rica? Our tailor-made trips make planning your dream trip easy. Completely customisable and created by local travel experts, you can take your trip to the Costa Rican beach of your dreams without the hassle of planning and booking.
Punta Uva – one of the best beaches in Costa Rica on the Caribbean Coast
The name Punta Uva translates to grape point. If you could get a bird’s eye view of the landscape (or hop onboard a drone) you’d see the name was very apt. Punta Uva is easily one of the best beaches in Costa Rica.
To the west of the point, this beach is one of the few places in Costa Rica where you’ll find a coral reef ideal for snorkelling within swimming distance of the shore.
Playa Grande, to the east, has the classic Caribbean-style palm trees, but the water here is rougher and less suitable for swimming. If you’re lucky you might spot a rare green macaw while you’re here. The nearby Ara Project in Manzanillo has been breeding and releasing the endangered birds since 2011.
Punta Uva is located in Limón Province, just south of Playa Chiquita off Highway-256, before the town of Manzanillo. The bus between Puerto Limón and Manzanilla stops along the route.
Travelling beyond Costa Rica? Don't miss our guide to the best beaches in the world.
Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas
Costa Rica boasts multiple beaches called Playa Hermosa (beautiful beach) so it always pays to make sure you’re headed to the right one! This particular Hermosa is a six-mile (10 km) stretch of dark grey sand just south of the town of Jaco. It is one of the best surf beaches in Costa Rica -even in all of Central America – especially during the rainy season (May to August).
Steep sandbars out to sea create consistent waves that break close to shore, offering a challenge to surfers of all levels. There are strong rip tides here so it’s not a good place to swim. It's also not the best place for surf lessons unless you’re confident in your skills already. For those with some experience, however, you’re practically guaranteed a memorable day on the waves.
Buses make the journey from Jacó to Quepos and back daily, stopping at Playa Hermosa along the way. Alternatively, taxis can take you there from Jacó, or you can drive and park.
- The Backyard Beachfront Hotel: The top choice for surfers with money, the sprightly rooms in this beachfront hotel have a/c, TVs and bathrooms. You can do laps in the swimming pool, just outside your balcony, party at the popular bar and restaurant next door (see below) and enjoy one of Hermosa’s best surf breaks on your doorstep.
Where to stay
- Go on an adventure in Jaco – fly through the jungle on an extensive zipline before driving an ATV on muddy trails and through rivers.
What to do
Want to adventure beyond the best beaches? Read our guide to the best hikes in Costa Rica.
Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional
The coffee-coloured beach at Ostional is one of the most important nesting sites in Costa Rica for the olive ridley sea turtle. Female olive ridley turtles return en-masse in September and October to the place they were born to lay eggs, in a phenomenon known as arrabida, or arrival. Each arrabida can last 12 hours, as thousands upon thousands of turtles climb out of the waves to dry land to lay their eggs.
As many as 11 million eggs are laid during this time. For many, spotting wildlife in its natural habitat is a top reason to travel. If that's you, you’ll be wowed by the annual spectacle. We don't recommend swimming at Ostional, especially during nesting season. The presence of so many turtles can draw sharks to the area.
Ostional is located in Guanacaste Province, 15 minutes by car from the village of Nosara. Note that there’s no organised taxi service or regular public transport in the area.
- Hotel Boutique Lagarta Lodge: Set on the edge of the Reserva Biológica Nosara, southwest of the village, this high-end lodge has excellent birdwatching and stunning coastal views. The stylish en suites above the pool overlooking the ocean boast one of the best panoramas in the country. There’s a spa, and a great restaurant/bar and they can also help you arrange a car or transport to Ostional.
Where to stay
Playa Conchal, Guanacaste
Composed of bottomless drifts of pink, orange, mauve, and sunset-coloured seashells, Playa Conchal – once a deserted slice of beach – lies just south of Flamingo. The shells, which give this beach its namesake, naturally help to keep the water crystal clear – making for a fantastic place to snorkel or even deep sea scuba dive. Enjoy fantastic local seafood restaurants that are located practically on the beach.
How to get there
By car, park in the nearby Brasilito and reach the public beach by walking south for a kilometre (0.6 miles) along the shore.
- Hotel Brasilito: Reach the public beach by walking south for a kilometre (0.6 miles) along the shore from Brasilito, a bustling little town with a few interesting restaurants and this vintage hotel, which has modest rooms in an old wooden building close to the beach.
Where to stay
- Westin Golf Resort and Spa: For golf lovers, you will find a gorgeous tranquil course at the par-72 Garra de León, designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr, connected to this beachfront resort.
- Try a horseback riding tour along the shore to reach further views from the beach's craggy cliffs.
What to do
Costa Ballena, Whale Bay
Bahía Ballena, which means Whale Bay, is an expansive bay of serene beauty and tranquillity located in Marino Ballena National Park. The bay, known for its distinct 'whale tail' shape, shelters two beaches: Playa Pochote and Playa Tambor.
Surrounded by green forested mountains, this bay features shallow, gentle waters ideal for wading while large flocks of pelicans dive for fish. Enjoy a wide choice of cheap cabinas and sodas (neighbourhood restaurants) nearby the main entry point of the park.
Visit in December through April and spot humpback whales visiting their young. The annual Whale and Dolphin Festival is held nearby in September featuring whale-watching, concerts, activities for families, sand sculptures, and sports competitions.
Walk from the entrance of Marino Bellena – but be sure to bring water. There is no shade for this 20-minute walk.
- Stay in the village of Tambor for an off-the-beaten-track experience. Inexpensive lodgings and good local-style meals can be found here.
- Dolphin Tours of Bahía Ballena: located off of the road near the entrance to the park, these tours can you out onto the water for snorkelling, fishing, or whale / dolphin-spotting.
What to do
Now that you have seen the very best beaches that Costa Rica has to offer, you might just be ready to start planning your trip.
If you prefer to plan and book your trip to Costa Rica without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.
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