For many travellers, Guanacaste is their first (and perhaps only) experience of Costa Rica. While this impossibly pretty province boasts a glut of glorious national parks, our rundown of the best beaches in Guanacaste reveals why it’s the coast that draw most visitors. In the first instance, at least.
Spanning celebrated surf spots, turtle-watching meccas, and much more, Guanacaste is a region that's richly diverse when it comes to experiencing sun, sand and sea. Not to mention that infectious pura vida spirit Costa Rica wears on its sleeve.
If you’re thinking of travelling beyond Guanacaste, read up on the best beaches in Costa Rica. You might also want to contact our local experts to help you make the most of your trip (and take the hassle out of planning).
In the meanwhile, read on to discover the best beaches in Guanacaste. It’s fair to say, you’re spoiled for choice.
Keen on activities? Read all about the best activities and tours in Guanacaste
First things first — despite its name, there are no flamingos at Playa Flamingo. What it does have, though, is the best beach along this stretch of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
We’re talking soft white sand, gentle breakers, and picturesque rocky islets just offshore.
Largely attracting all-inclusive vacationers, Playa Flamingo also plays host to wealthy Costa Ricans — some of the big beach houses lining the sands are owned by the odd film star.
As such, Playa Flamingo is well set-up for travellers who are looking for an indulgent vacation in stunning surroundings.
Known as a top spot for sportfishing, Playa Flamingo is also a place to enjoy boat trips, snorkelling excursions, and spa treatments. Of course, you could always just opt to stretch out on that powder-soft sand.
Travel tip: to make your most of your time in the region, read up on the best Guanacaste excursions.
3km north of Playa Flamingo, Playa Potrero presents a very different kind of beach experience. It’s more laidback, less developed, with a small cove opening onto a dark sand, crescent-shaped beach.
With secluded camping, and calm waters that are great for swimming, Playa Potrero has retained more of its roots as a small fishing village.
That said, plenty of amenities are within walking distance, and independent travellers can take their pick from a number of locally-owned B&Bs.
RoughGuides tip: try to make it to Nosara. A great, off the beaten track destination.
Set in a steep, broad bay south of Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal (“Shell Beach”) is named for the drifts of tiny pink, violet, and sunset-coloured seashells that make up its sweep.
Alongside giving the sand a shimmering, otherworldly appearance, the shells also help keep the water crystal-clear, making it a top snorkelling spot.
And, being protected by a rocky headland, Playa Conchal’s quiet waters are also great for swimming.
Travel tip: to sample fantastic local seafood in restaurants located right on the beach, head to Playa Brasilito, a few km north of Playa Conchal.
Once a sleepy fishing village, recently Playa Tamarindo has been transformed into a veritable booming beach resort.
While it isn’t great for swimming (that’s thanks to its choppy waters and occasional riptides), Playa Tamarindo is the ideal place to learn to surf. The waves here are reliable and relatively gentle.
Not into surfing? South of town, you’ll find pretty coves and tide pools to paddle in. Or you could just laze on the beach until dusk — you’ll never tire of how stunning the sunsets are.
Beyond the beach, Tamarindo’s bijou centre is lined with souvenir stalls and surf shops. It’s also home to some excellent eateries, from cafes serving fresh local coffee and traditional Costa Rican dishes, to international restaurants.
When it comes to experiencing Playa Tamarindo's legendary nightlife, you'll want to visit Babylon reggae bar. Right in the centre, about 100m from the beach, it draws locals and tourists alike, and live music is a regular feature.
Travel tip: for more on what to see and do, read our guide to Tamarindo.
One for wildlife-watchers, this. Located within Marino Las Baulas National Park, leatherback turtles have been laying their eggs on Playa Grande for eons.
With the park created in 1995 to protect the nesting grounds of these critically endangered creatures, Playa Grande is one of the few remaining nesting sites of its kind in the world.
To witness this extraordinary marvel (it really is an unforgettable experience), you’ll need to visit Playa Grande between November and mid-February.
During this time, turtle tours leave in the evening, with high tide, moonlit nights providing optimal laying conditions for this extraordinary natural spectacle.
Travel tip: love nature, wildlife and the great outdoors? Read up on the best hikes in Costa Rica and the best national parks in Costa Rica.
Our customisable Costa Rica Eco Adventure trip also covers a host of natural attractions and outdoor activities.
With a smaller beach than neighbouring Playas del Coco, Playa Ocotal boasts superior swimming conditions, and is a lovely launchpad for dive trips and boat tours.
The beach is also less packed with tourists than Playas del Coco, and more popular with locals, especially at weekends.
What’s more, the top of the headland between Playas del Coco and Playa Ocotal offers gorgeous views over the ocean and across to the Papagayo Gulf.
But the real attractions round these parts are the marlin and other “big game” fish that glide through the waters. As a result, many of Ocotal’s hotels offer sportfishing packages.
Top tip: don’t pass up the chance to dine at Father Rooster. Located right on the beach in a historic 1917 hacienda, the lip-smackingly tasty shrimp kebabs come especially recommended. The tacos aren’t half bad, either.
While we're on the subject of top nosh, you might want to find out more about eating and drinking in Costa Rica.
Located on the southern edge of Bahía Culebra, Guanacaste’s Playa Hermosa (not to be confused with the Playa Hermosa surf-spot near Jacó) is blessed with splendidly calm water. As a result, it's one of the area’s best places to swim.
Add to that gorgeous sunset views of the Pacific and serene offshore islets, and you have a destination that’s ripe for relaxing.
But fear not if you’re looking for more action. The waters off Playa Hermosa are popular with divers.
For example, family-run Sirenas Diving lead expert trips, lessons and PADI courses. They also run snorkelling tours and rent equipment.
Travel tip: while Playa Hermosa retains an appealingly chilled vibe, development is proceeding at a brisk pace, so visit soon if you’re looking for a more laidback experience.
11km south of Tamarindo, the waves at the surfing hotspot of Playa Avellanas are often just as enticing as those of its buzzier neighbour.
In good news for travellers who prefer fewer crowds, Playa Avellanas is decidedly quieter than Tamarindo. The beach is long and wide, and boasts an agreeably isolated vibe.
Playa Avellanas’ lower key ambience continues with its accommodation offerings. Expect smaller-scale cabinas, most of them geared to surfers.
Travel tip: for a doubly soul-stirring experience, enjoy a sunset surf session.
If you’re looking to be close to Playa Tamarindo’s bar scene and nightlife, but don’t want it in your face 24/7, Playa Langosta might just have your name all over it.
A mere 2km south of Tamarindo, Playa Langosta is far more peaceful, with more upscale, bijou places to stay.
Fewer crowds make Playa Langosta all the better to enjoy long, romantic walks, and all the better to bag the best beachside table to watch the sun set.
It’s also a great place to surf, and just that little bit closer to Playa Grande and Marino Las Baulas National Park if you want to take a turtle-watching trip during the nesting season.
Travel tip: while in Guanacaste, don’t pass up the chance to spend time in one of the most charming cities in Costa Rica. Namely, Liberia — the region’s main hub.
Located at the north end of the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Sámara is one of the best beaches in Guanacaste when it comes to delivering for all kinds of travellers.
First up, with its expanse of beautiful sand protected by a reef, Playa Samara boasts some of the region’s calmest waters.
As such, it’s the perfect place to swim, and for beginner surfers to pick up a board — the waves are decent enough, but never overwhelming.
Scenic and friendly, Playa Samara is also well-served by operators offering kayaking, paddle-boarding and snorkelling excursions.
We especially recommend taking a trip to idyllic Isla Chora. Surrounded by crystalline waters, snorkellers can expect super-clear sightings of colourful tropical fish, along with star fish and turtles, if you get lucky.
Travel tip: for more on what to do and see, and where to sleep and eat, read our guide to Playa Samara.
Looking for more inspiration? Read up on the best things to do in Costa Rica, and get yourself a copy of The Rough Guide to Costa Rica.
Our Costa Rica travel tips will also help you plan your trip.
Not keen on planning? Browse our customisable Costa Rica itineraries. For example, if you want to enjoy the best of both worlds, you’ll love our Costa Rica Beaches and Volcanoes trip.
Header image: Nicoya, Guanacaste province, Costa Rica © Shutterstock
Joanne is a Pembrokeshire-born writer with a passion for the nature, cultures and histories of the Caribbean region, especially Dominica. Also passionate about inspiring a love of adventure in young people, she’s the author of several books for children and young adults, hosts international writing workshops, and has written articles on the Caribbean and inspirational community initiatives for Rough Guides. Follow her