Costa Rica Beaches

Manuel Antonio NP, Costa Rica Beaches

Costa Rica beaches. This is in Manuel Antonio National Park beach, on the central Pacific side. Photo by Eric Gunther

Costa Rica beaches span two coasts

Costa Rica has year-round warm water and plenty of broad, deserted beaches on both Pacific and Caribbean coasts – but don’t expect them all to be coated in soft, white, manicured sand, nor gently lapped by azure waters.
Many fine stretches of sand are near to nature reserves so beach/wildlife combos are a good option. e. g. Manuel Antonio.
The Pacific side offers the best selection of beaches though some, like Playa Jaco, are overdeveloped while Puntarenas is unpleasantly polluted.
The NW Nicoya Peninsula is hard to reach (fly to Liberia? ) but has some superb beaches with laid back village support, including Tamarindo, Samara and Montezuma.

Good points

On the plus sidethe climate is hot, the hotels are often appealing yet low cost, the beaches are bereft of pay-parasols, the surfing is excellent and the waters are not crammed with curl-hoggers. Locals are pleasant, food is reasonable and non-marine activities abundant: jungle walks, horse riding, canopy tours, wildlife safaris to national parks, mountain biking, quad biking, white-water rafting, hot springs, volcano explorations and more. . .

Not so good

For starters many beaches wear hard, black volcanic sand coats which reach magma temperatures in the midday sun.

Next, even beaches bordered by hotels aren’t manicured as staff are not in the habit of clearing up the flotsam on their doorstep – and if it’s near a village locals can be depressingly thoughtless with their trash – so watch where you step.

And finally the waters on both sides of the country can conceal wild rips (currents) and are often rough.


A world-class surf hotspot, Costa Rica’s two coasts both offers terrific point breaks, beach breaks and perfect lefts and rights. The Caribbean side’s surf season is short and limited mainly to after-effects of tropical storms between August and December, but swells can be huge. The Pacific side, however, offers more consistent waves with the big stuff appearing April-October and smaller but cleaner waves for the rest of the year.

Costa Rica’s top surf beaches are (arguably)

Hermosa Beach, Playa Grande, Playa Dominical, Pavones, Witches Rock, Salsa Brava, Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, Negra Beach, Junquillal Beach and Avellana Beach.

Surf board transport

Some domestic airlines do not accept boards as baggage due to weight or size so check beforehand. Many surfers hire cars (tough ones as some roads are in seriously bad shape! ) instead but bring their own soft racks and straps as these are not supplied.
Boards are usually rentable in towns adjacent to good surf, though many visitors bring their own.

Costa Rica Best Beaches

Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica Beaches

Playa Tamarindo, on the Pacific side of the country. Photo by tamarindowiki.

The playas most visitors want to hang out on, north to south, start with the Pacific side on the Nicoya Peninsula about 4 hours from San José (*= good surf)

Playa Grande, North Pacific, big and clean, due to conservationists rather than caring locals as leatherback turtles nest here. Roads are poor in this area so access can be hard work, but there are some interesting wildlife parks around.

Playa del Coco is a bit short of spectacular sand but is relatively easy to get to at 5 hours from San José and has a lively village nearby.

*Tamarindo Beach, North Pacific, one of the best surf and windsurfing spots, with good town facilities.

Flamingo Beach, North Pacific, a big stretch of white sand with good accommodation possibilities nearby and unusually trash-conscious local people.

*Samara Beach, North Pacific, is very pretty, user-friendly and also offers jungle walks, reef snorkelling, horse rentals, sport fishing and flying fox (zipline) canopy tours.

Ostional sports a massive beach where 500, 000 turtles lay their eggs from August to November.

*Santa Teresa Beach, one of Costa Rica’s top surf spots where swells peak from May to December. Surf can be too big for amateurs but the large white/grey sandy beach is pleasant and varied activities are available, including horse riding, jungle hiking, sport fishing, Spanish classes and canopy tours.

*Mal Pais, on the SE tip of the Nicoya peninsula and 150km west of San José has a pretty, quiet, rock and sand beach, with few visitors some good bars and places to stay as well as plenty of activity possibilities – Sports fishing, scuba and snorkelling, kite surfing, walking, horse riding and biking trails for a start.

Montezuma, on the end of the Nicoya Peninsula, is something of a neo-hippie destination, with attractive beaches tho’ deeply unattractive rips, and lots of partying in the evening among dozens of bars and clubs.

Manuel Antonio, Central Pacific, is a convenient mix of nature reserve and beaches and not too far from San José.

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*Jaco Beach, Central Pacific, overdeveloped but relaxed, with plenty of accommodation, activities, a clean tho’ black sand beach 3km long; facilities are excellent and moderate surf is generally up but beware rips (strong currents).

*Playa Hermosa (NOT the other Hermosa Beach in Guancaste! ) is 5km south of Jaco and offers superb surfing, but not for amateurs or regular swimmers, with waves up to 4m (best April-November). August in Playa Hermosa means The Quicksilver International Surf Championship. There is little accommodation in Hermosa so many surfers stay in Jaco.

*Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Caribbean, terrific waves near the town but the best beach – Punta Uva – is the furthest away.

Cahuita in the SE Caribbean is famous for its Creole culture, coral reef and fine sandy beaches, with a wildlife park nearby.

Golfito, near Corcovado NP is a great base for sport fishing (best November-May, the dry season), Eco Lodges and gateway to less developed, back-packer type paradise beaches in the southwest such as black sand Playa Zancudo (Mosquito Beach! ) and Pavones.

*Pavones Beach, South Pacific, black sand, tropical forest and some of the world’s longest wave rides (3 minutes on a good day in the best season from April-October! ) but a very small community offering basic accommodation, a rocky beach and not much else. Pavones is a long way south, 400kms from san José.

Tortuguero beach

turtle on Tortuguero, Costa Rica Beaches

Tortuguero beach on the Caribbean coast is a major turtle nesting area.

Manuel Antonio NP embraces several large beaches

Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio main beach and the reality of Costa Rica tourism these days. Photo by Eric T Gunther

In addition to  rainforest and mountains, Manuel Antonio is easy to reach from San José and consequently ranks as second most visited national park in the country. In season the beaches get quite busy but you won’t have to look too far to find some solitary and unmanicured sand, though beware that there will be no lifeguards spotting the rips, no bars, no cold beer, no ice cream, no hotels, no police. Just space, sun, sand, monkeys in the tree line and a good buddy or two.

Playa Pinuelas

Playa Pinuelas, Costa Rica Beaches

Playa Pinuelas in Marino Ballena Park on the southern Pacific coast, pretty much like most of Costa Rica’s undeveloped beaches. Photo by Jorge Antonio Leoni de Leon

Playa Jaco

Playa Jaco, Costa Rica Beaches

Playa Jaco, North Pacific, offers regular surf and convenient facilities but is over-developed. Photo by Milei Vencel


Tamarindo beach on Costa Rica's north Pacific coast

Tamarindo beach on Costa Rica’s north Pacific coast is one of the country’s best surf and windsurfing beaches, with good sport fishing, diving and town facilities. Photo by Jarle Naustvik.

Costa Rica Weather

Generally Costa Rica gets best weather from December-May.
Avoid May-November (rains), tho’ May and November may not be too wet and will be much less crowded.

Beach Safety

Costa Rica is, need we say, fairly undeveloped and will not offer the level of marine supervision that places like USA and Australia provide, such as lifeguards, boat and ferry load or equipment guidelines, safe swimming areas or current (rip) information, so it will be up to you to assess the dangers of any water you may enter or boat you may board. Foreign visitors have drowned off Matapalo due to the rips and en route from Tortuguero – Puerto Limon due to rough seas and a reckless captain.