17 Beautiful Beaches in Costa Rica—and Where to Stay Once You’re There

With two distinctly different coasts and hundreds of beaches, this Central American country has a lot to offer for seaside adventures.

Playa Conchal in Costa Rica

Yes, the beach is beautiful and swimmable at Corcovado National Park, but you won’t want to miss the chance to spot monkeys, macaws, and other animals that call the nearby rainforest home, either.

SL-Photography / Shutterstock

Costa Rica offers the stuff of vacation advertisements: horses galloping on a white-sand beach, surfers crouched in an enormous barrel wave, sea turtles gently nesting just steps from the ocean. Notice a sandy theme? The country has more than 800 miles of coastline and 300 beaches, divided between its Pacific and Caribbean sides, with something to offer any coast-loving traveler.

Throughout the country, surfing is a big draw. With waves and ever-shifting trade winds coming from the Pacific and the Caribbean, surfing in Costa Rica presents all kinds of conditions and challenges for surfers of various skill levels—and as many options for surf camps and classes as well.

But even nonsurfers will find plenty of seaside retreats to choose from as well, be it a calm beach suited for young children, a shore with excellent wildlife-spotting potential, or a busy surf beach with lively nightlife. Here are 17 of our top beaches in Costa Rica to visit on your next trip.

Beaches on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast

Beaches on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica are the ones printed on tourist brochures and postcards. That is to say, they’re practically perfect: think smooth shores slope gently into calm waves and views framed by palm trees. Beaches are arranged here from north to south. (Note that Costa Rica has several beaches with the same name, so watch for that when researching or booking anything.)

A baby sea turtle approaching the water in Tortuguero National Park

Come summer, baby sea turtles are a common site in Tortuguero National Park.

Photo by Kevin Wells Photography/Shutterstock

Playa Tortuguero

In Spanish, tortuguero translates roughly to “turtle region” and this beach in Tortuguero National Park, a protected sanctuary, does not disappoint. Tortuguero is less of a lie-about beach—for humans. For the shelled reptiles, it’s sandy heaven. To spy green sea and hawksbill turtles nesting, visit from July through October (August is considered peak nesting month).

To see the rarer leatherback, visit from February to April. You’ll want to book with a guide for two reasons: The park is accessible only by boat or plane and turtles typically nest at night; visitors are prohibited in the park after 6 p.m., unless with a guide. Reserve ahead of time or take your pick of the many outfitters in Tortuguero Village, the hotel- and restaurant-packed gateway town.

Playa Negra’s black sand is composed of volcanic material.

Playa Negra’s sand is composed of volcanic material—hence the black hue.

Photo by Jesse Garcia/Shutterstock

Playa Negra

The beach town of Cahuita is particularly notable because of its national park, which fronts white-sand beaches and impressive coral reefs. Cahuita is also just north of one of Costa’s Rica’s best black-sand beaches, Playa Negra. The sand here is an inky black and stretches for six picturesque miles. The waves of the Caribbean are gentle enough for swimming but can offer enough action for newbie surfers, too.

Playa Salsa Brava

This Caribbean beach is one of Costa Rica’s best surf spots: It attracts surfers from around the world who want to tackle Salsa Brava’s notoriously challenging break. The beach itself is a lovely place to camp out and wade while watching brave souls barrel ride hundreds of feet across the sea. The beach is also conveniently located on the edge of the Puerto Viejo beach town, meaning there are plenty of amenities nearby, including the beloved Lazy Mon beach bar. Sunsets in this part of the country are particularly spectacular.

Playa Chiquita is a secluded beach on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.

Playa Chiquita is a secluded beach on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.


Playa Chiquita

Small and quiet, the pristine Playa Chiquita offers calm waters perfect for snorkeling and families with little kids. Horses are common—several outfitters offer rides on the beach in this area. Warning to parents: Given Playa Chiquita’s private location—a stretch of rain forest separates the beach from the main road and there’s not much signage—it’s also a popular spot for those who prefer to sunbathe sans clothing.
To experience Playa Chiquita, Salsa Brava, and Negra, book a room at Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel, a minimalist, chic hideaway with 23 remarkably white rooms.

Playa Punta Uva looks almost too dreamy to be real.

Playa Punta Uva looks almost too dreamy to be real.

Photo by Chrispictures/Shutterstock

Playa Punta Uva

If you’re looking for a postcard-perfect Caribbean beach, Playa Uva, which is just south of Playa Chiquita, ticks all the boxes. Gentle waves lapping at creamy sand? Check. Window-clear waters, perfect for snorkeling? Check. Quiet, ample space and a ridiculous number of palms with excellent hammock potential? Check, check, and check. A hikeable peninsula that splits the beach into north and south adds intrigue.

To turn your visit into more than a day trip, book a room at aWà Beach Hotel, which is right on the beach. Be sure to request a room with an ocean view; you won’t regret it.

Playa Manzanillo

It’s quiet in the fishing town of Manzanillo (a short drive from Playa Uva), where the homes are on stilts and you can’t throw a starfish without hitting a seafood restaurant. The town is part of the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge, and the beach reflects that: The protected waters bathe coral reefs alive with marine creatures, and the beach is backed by a stretch of rain forest and mangroves. It’s gorgeous to boot, with white sand sprouting swaying palms and almond trees.

Beaches on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast

The Pacific coast runs the length of the country’s western edge, and the landscape is more varied and rugged than on the Caribbean. For surfers, swimmers, water sports aficionados, and beach bums, the Pacific has no shortage of choices. Adventurous travelers who prefer remote, uncrowded beaches will find plenty of options here as well. Beaches are listed from north to south.

17 Beaches in Costa Rica That’ll Have You Running for Your Passport

The sand at Playa Conchal, a beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific side, is made up of millions of tiny shells.

Photo by TG23/Shutterstock

Playa Conchal

The pink-sand shoreline of Playa Conchal, a laid-back beach in the Guanacaste Province, is made up of almost 3 million tiny shells. Take in the marine life while swimming in the calm bay or snorkeling in the abundant reef. While the beach feels remote—it’s rimmed by thick forest and there’s no adjoining town—a couple of luxury hotels, including the W Costa Rica and the Westin Conchal, mean you can make Playa Conchal home for at least a few days.

A pair of from soccer players on Playa Tamarindo

There’s a mix of everything, including soccer and swimming, at the popular (but not overcrowded) Playa Tamarindo.

Photo by Max Herman/Shutterstock

Playa Tamarindo

An odd mix of green space—it’s part of Guanacaste’s Las Baulas National Park—and lively beach town, Tamarindo isn’t exactly hidden. But it offers excellent beaching. Surfers can surf several types of breaks within close proximity. Animal lovers can look for howler monkeys and nesting sea turtles or ride a horse down the two-mile-plus beach. Sunbathers who like to chase beach days with nighttime carousing will find pristine sands (awarded Costa Rica’s Blue Flag for ecofriendly practices) and plenty of restaurants and bars a short stroll away.

Playa Negra

Costa Rica’s Pacific coast offers world-class surfing, especially at Playa Negra in Guanacaste Province. The superlative, not-for-newbie waves and the beach’s isolation make for extraordinary adventure. The nearby town of Los Pargos supplies a smattering of “civilization”—cutesy hotels, boutiques, restaurants—and top venues for dining and sleeping include Villa Deevena and Café Playa Negra.
For a place to stay, Marriott’s Guanacaste Resort & Spa, is a 20-minute drive north of Playa Negra and 30 minutes south of Tamarindo.

Sámara Beach surrounds a crescent-shaped bay with excellent swimming and surfing.

Sámara Beach surrounds a crescent-shaped bay with excellent swimming and surfing.

Photo by Norbert Achtelik

Playa Sámara

In an isolated corner of the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Samara is one of Guanacaste’s most beautiful beaches, right at the spot where the five-hour drive from San José to the Pacific ends. As befits great shorelines, you’ll find top surf, lively nightlife, and a winning small-town Costa Rica vibe that still seems like a secret. After a day at the beach, head casual Microbar Samara for craft beers, cocktails, and live music.

From the beach town of Santa Teresa, travelers can visit several excellent beaches — from popular Playa Santa Teresa (pictured) to quiet TK.

From the beach town of Santa Teresa, travelers can visit several excellent beaches — from popular Playa Santa Teresa (pictured) to quiet Playa Mal País.

Mvmerlino / Shutterstock

Santa Teresa & Playa Mal País

  • Best for: surfers of all levels, anglers, and birders
  • Location: Nicoya Peninsula, Puntarenas Province | Google Maps
  • Where to stay: Hotel Nantipa (Santa Teresa)

There are several beach towns within a few miles of one another on the Nicoya Peninsula, including Santa Teresa and Carmen, both of which have wonderful beaches (Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Carmen, respectively) and plenty of off-sand action. After spending a day at these popular spots, head to nearby Playa Mal País, on the edge of a fishing village, for a quieter vibe with long empty beaches. It also has excellent fishing (mahi-mahi, snapper, and tuna are common), and birders can spy dozens of species, including falcons, parrots, and herons.

Tortuga Island is an easy, and quick, day trip from mainland Costa Rica.

Tortuga Island is an easy, and quick, day trip from mainland Costa Rica.

Photo by Jay Ondreicka/Shutterstock

Tortuga Island

  • Best for: snorkelers, scuba divers, island adventurers
  • Location: Nicoya Peninsula, Puntarenas Province | Google Maps

In the 17th century, Tortuga Island, just off the Nicoya Peninsula, was a place for pirates eager to loot Costa Rican towns. These days, it’s a favorite among day-trippers who appreciate the white-sand beach. From Jacó Beach (where you can book excursions), it’s a 90-minute boat ride to the 60-square-mile island. Scuba divers can plumb the depths while looking for stingrays and spinner dolphins (and even sunken ships!); snorkelers can paddle while watching for angelfish and stingrays. Need a break from the surf? There’s plenty of hiking—the summit trail is popular—plus canopy and zip line tours.

Tired of the beach? Jump into the pool while staying at oceanside Nya Hotel.

Tired of the beach? Jump into the pool while staying at oceanside Nya Hotel.

Nya Hotel, Steve Walsh Photography

Playa Montezuma

  • Best for: surfers of all levels, budding marine biologists, sunbathers
  • Location: Nicoya Peninsula, Puntarenas Province | Google Maps
  • Where to stay: Nya Hotel

Located all the way at the southernmost point of the Nicoya Peninsula, the town of Montezuma still feels like a secret. It’s quiet and thickly forested—so small you can walk through in 15 minutes—and crowned by a long white-sand beach. Swimming isn’t as easy here, thanks to powerful waves, but the tide pools that appear at low tide are mesmerizing. From the beach, you can hike to Playa Grande, another surf beach, or visit Romelia Wildlife Reserve, which helps protect sea turtles that hatch on the beach.

A surfer rides a wave.

Jacó Beach draws surfers of all levels—amateur surfers will find the best waves at low tide, while more experienced surfers can ride at high tide.

Photo by Jorge A. Russell/Shutterstock

Jacó Beach

  • Best for: beginner surfers, travelers who like to be in the middle of the action
  • Location: Nicoya Peninsula, Puntarenas Province | Google Maps

First discovered by hard-core surfing enthusiasts, Jacó is now, thanks to Highway 27, the closest beach to San José. With buoyant nightlife and an ever more go-go real estate market, Jacó is much more than its 2.5-mile shoreline. Swanky resorts and luxury apartments, galleries, and down-to-earth beachside shops create an active destination. National parks, waterfalls, and other natural attractions are minutes from town, so day trips are easy. Seafood takes the starring role in local eateries; options include white-tablecloth eateries to come-as-you-are ceviche shacks.

Playa Espadilla beach in Costa Rica

Skip the crowds of Manuel Antonio and head to nearby Playa Espadilla instead.

Photo by Shutterstock

Playa Espadilla

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most visited places in Costa Rica and home to beaches of its own. But for travelers who want an even quieter, more relaxed option, Playa Espadilla, a mile-long beach just outside the park, is an excellent option. Also known as Playa Primera or Playa Numero Uno, it can be busy, but there’s plenty of space to stretch out. The waters are calm enough for swimming—and there are lifeguards on duty. Bonus: deck chairs with umbrellas available to rent.
As for places to stay near Playa Espadilla, five-star Arenas del Mar is an 11-acre hotel and reserve set atop rain-forested cliffs overlooking the Pacific. It delivers the right amount of luxury within walking distance of Manuel Antonio.

Playa Madrigal

  • Best for: campers, sunbathers, and swimmers who want quiet
  • Location: Osa Peninsula | Google Maps
  • Where to stay: Botánika Osa Peninsula (in Puerto Jiminez) or La Leona Eco Lodge (near the La Leona entrance to Corcovado)

Lengthy and often empty, Playa Madrigal is part of Corcovado National Park. There’s not much to do here—which is the point. Enjoy the swim-perfect waves, read on the gray-sand beach, and walk for miles while keeping an eye out for the abundant wildlife here, such as toucans, macaws, and spider monkeys.

To make this part of a larger park adventure, look into a multiday camping and hiking trip in Corcovado (guide required). Most travelers opt to take a boat to the Sirena entrance of the park from nearby Puerto Jiminez, then hike for two days and one night to La Leona, before driving back to town. Be sure to book at least a week or two in advance, especially at high season. Tour operators, such as Corcovado Hiking Tours, can arrange everything.

The remote and relaxed Playa Matapalo is a favorite among surfers.

The remote and relaxed Playa Matapalo is a favorite among surfers.


Playa Matapalo

Matapalo, another Blue Flag beach, is on the southern-most tip of the Osa Peninsula. It’s remote, rustic, and features only a handful of services and tourists. (Open only on Friday nights, Buena Esperanza, aka “Martina’s Jungle Bar”, is one of the area’s few spots for food, drinks, and dancing.)

It’s also an ideal choice for off-the-grid surfing. Conditions change quickly, so check surf reports regularly and chat with locals for up-to-date tips. The small adjoining village is committed to ecological practices. Most of the small lodges and resorts, such as the luxurious Lapa Rios Lodge, are solar-powered and feature meals using local ingredients and furniture made from local bamboo.

For a more central stay, book a room at the new Hilton Curio resort, The Botánika Osa Peninsula, which opened in 2022. It’s about a 40-minute drive south of Matapalo in the small town of Puerto Jimenez.

This article was originally published in 2018 and was most recently updated on March 21, 2023, to include current information. Jessie Beck contributed to the reporting of this story.

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