The Beaches of Costa Rica
With almost 650 miles of coastline along the Pacific and 150 miles of coast on the Caribbean side, Costa Rica offers myriad options for beachcombers, sunbathers and wavechasers.
If surfing is your primary interest, check out our Surfing section. If you're simply looking for the best beaches, there are still a number of ways that can be interpreted. Here's our breakdown based on what your ideal sandy locale.
Secluded Beaches: The fact is that most of the beaches in Costa Rica are secluded when you get away from the most well-known beaches at the biggest tourist destinations. You'll never feel alone at the beaches at Manuel Antonio and Jaco and it might even seem a bit crowded at times during the peak season, but with a little effort and/or timing, you can feel like you have practically the whole country to yourself. Some spots that are notoriously uncrowded are:
Manzanillo is on the southern Caribban coast. It's a laid-back village with a Jamacian feel. There's not much of a nightlife, but it's one of those places not many tourists visit so it can easily feel like viring territory...especially in the off season when you might be the only person in your hotel, on the beach or on your horseback riding/scuba/etc. excursion.
Santa Rosa National Park in the far northwest of Costa Rica requires a trek (or ATV ride) of 8 miles from the ranger station to the beach itself. It's not uncommon for this beach to be empty, so off-season there's always a chance you'll have the whole place to yourself. NOTE: In October is a massive sea turtle nesting which is definetly worth the visit if you're able. Nicoya is the northern penninsula on the Pacific coast with countless beautiful and pristine beaches. Aside from the handful of busy tourist areas, most of these beaches are joyfully serene and uncrowded but can take a bit of effort to get to. Especially on the southern tip of Nicoya, the drive itself would be more managable if the roads weren't in unspeakable bad condition. Fortunately, this is something the country is focusing more and more on and they're taking greater cares to upgrade driving for the obvious benefits to the tourism trade. We highly recommend Malpais and Montezuma.
Active Beaches: As mentioned above, the only time you're really find 'busy' beaches is during the high season and special events.
Tamarindo continues to grow in popularity and it's easy to see why. The area is becoming a bit overdeveloped, but the beaches are still amazing and a great destination for travelers who don't mind sharing the sand and water with fellow travelers. Additionally, the town is built up with accomdations of every size and budget, eateries to suit any taste and virtually every outdoor activity in the county can be found here.
Manuel Antonio has one of the most beautiful and popular while sand beaches in the country. Just a few steps from the entrance to the National Park. The main beach is lined with local vendors selling their wares from locally made jewelry, clothing and artwork to snacks, fruits and soft drinks.
Best Beaches for Swimming: A general rule of thumb is that if the surfers are out in force, it's probably not the best environment for the swimmers. Even 2-3 foot waves carry a tremendous amount of force and can make swimming in the ocean a chore.
CAUTION: All along the pacific coast be wary of riptides. These strong currents can pull even experienced swimmers along the coastline, making it very hard (or impossible) to make it back to shore. Take seriously any signs that warn against swimming and if it's an isolated, unfamiliar area, ask before going out far into the surf.