Find "pura vida" at these sunny, sandy surfers’ paradises.
With two oceans and 800 miles of coastline, it’s easy to see why there are so many great beaches in Costa Rica. And while swimming presents a risk at most beaches due to a wicked undertow (which spells heaven for surfers), there are still plenty of strands of sand for an enjoyable day or week at the beach. Here are some of our favorites, from the north to the south down the Pacific coast, and then to the Caribbean.
The name of this north Pacific coast playa translates to “beautiful beach”—and it really is. Terrific sunsets, a line of shade trees along the dark-gray sand, and a good selection of nearby lodging and dining options make it a top choice. What’s more, family-friendly Hermosa’s calm, clear blue waters are an exception to most other Costa Rica beaches: You can actually swim here.
Junquillal (pronounced hoon-key-YAHL ) on the Nicoya peninsula is a bit more difficult to access than beaches north and south, but the locals and expats who call it home are happy to keep things that way. This light-brown strand of sand remains primarily the province of surfers, but if you don’t surf, the scenic beach, lined with coconut palms, is still perfect for long, introspective walks.
A horseshoe-shaped cove with an entrance protected by a coral reef keeps Sámara one of Costa Rica’s rare, easily swimmable beaches. A friendly town, not too developed but still with many family-friendly activities, anchors the area.
Montezuma is as much about its offbeat town as it is about its adjoining gray-sand beaches. This longtime outpost on the Gringo Trail served as Costa Rica’s onetime “hippie” capital. For better or worse, the Montezuma of old has been tamed, and you’ll find plenty of grown-up offerings among the backpackers’ digs and quirky, New Age-y shops and restaurants.
Costa Rica’s powerhouse beach is actually a string of palm-lined strands that go by the collective name Manuel Antonio. A lively tourist scene and a national park of the same name, home to an array of monkeys, birds, and sloths, make this Costa Rica’s top tourist attraction.
Friendly Dominical, a fun surfers’ town with a palm-lined beach, is the picture of “laid back.” It’s one of the few Costa Rican beaches staffed by professional lifeguards, with flags delineating safer swimming sectors. (The rough waters make for terrific surfing but iffy swimming.) A couple of world-class wildlife refuges hold court in the nearby rainforest.
Some snazzy new dining and lodging options and a growing number of resident expats make Playa Uvita one of Costa Rica’s up-and-coming beaches. Uvita anchors the north end of Ballena National Marine Park, a sanctuary for humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins.
An end-of-the-world vibe awaits you at this rocky, black-sand beach near the Panamanian border. It’s a favorite for surfers who come to challenge the second longest left break in the world. Non-surfers can enjoy Pavones’s isolation, wildlife viewing in the lush rainforest, and horseback riding.
The north Caribbean coast logs nearly 200 inches of rainfall annually, but nobody comes to Tortuguero to sunbathe. Four species of sea turtle nest here, providing a different type of nightlife than that at Costa Rica’s hipper beaches—watching hatchlings scurry toward the sea.
Outside of party center Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, the dark-sand Punta Uva, or “grape point” (named for its signature sea-grape trees) is the prettiest beach on the South Caribbean coast. There’s more rain here than other areas—but that keeps prices lower than on the Pacific and tempers mega-development.