Costa Rica boasts over 750 miles of gorgeous coastline, with an array of beaches each with their own distinct draw. Whether you’re looking for soft white sand next to crystal clear waters or rugged black sand along thick coastal rainforest, this list has something for every type of beach-goer.
We’ve included details for each beach destination, along with nearby activities to enjoy and expert travel tips ranging from what to expect or what to avoid. Some of the beaches are more well-known while some are hidden gems, but all of them are worth exploring depending on your travel style or mood.
Here are our picks for the top 10 beaches in Costa Rica you absolutely must visit.
1. Playa Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio National Park is located on Costa Rica’s western Pacific coast near the small surf town of Quepos. It’s one of the more popular beach destinations in Costa Rica, but it’s sheer beauty allows it to maintain it’s charm, and the absolutely idyllic beaches and calm waters are absolutely worth the trip. Beyond boasting some of the most pristine white sand beaches situated next to calm bays perfect for swimming or exploring tide pools, Manuel Antonio features roughly 680 hectares of preserved national park, with lush coastal rainforests, hiking trails, and abundant local wildlife.
Best for: Guided Wildlife Tours / Hiking / White Sand Beaches / Ziplining / Swimming
Take a guided wildlife tour, where a park ranger will lead you and your group through the many hiking paths and explain the local flora and fauna while tracking native sloths, monkeys, owls, red and blue crabs, and other rainforest-dwellers.
Then take a two-three hour hike up the ridge on the Viewpoint Trail to the lookout point for a stunning elevated view of the rainforest, beach, and ocean distance. It’s an intermediate hike with some elevation, but you’ll experience the lushness and energy of the rainforest brimming with life, and reward yourself with a truly spectacular ocean view.
Expert travel tip: Beware the monkeys at Manuel Antonio National Park. They aren’t afraid of people, and are known for snatching personal items off tourists or the beach, so watch your hats, bags, and especially your food! And like it or not, sometimes they can be pretty aggressive or mean, despite their cuteness or novelty. Don’t let that scare you, though – it is also an opportunity to see these local creatures up close and personal.
Quepos is also worth stopping and enjoying either before or after exploring the beach and park. It’s a great locals spot with a chill surfer vibe that offers travelers a chance to interact with the ticos also enjoying the area. It has great food options if you prefer small local restaurants and street food, and local vendors line up along the beaches and streets with tables full of handicrafts, jewelry, and surf/beach items if you’re looking for a memento or gift.
2. Corcovado National Park
While Playa Manuel Antonio is a relaxed and easily accessible visit, the beaches at Corcovado National Park are it’s more rugged and adventurous alternative. Located on the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica’s south Pacific region, the park is characterized by lowland tropical rainforest, rugged and deserted beaches, and rich animal life. It’s the perfect option for travelers looking to go off the beaten path and push their limits.
Best for: Hiking / Guided Tours / Wildlife Viewing / Camping / Backpacking / Deserted Beaches
Part of the adventure and appeal of Corcovado is just getting there: travelers can enter Corcovado National Park via local towns of Puerto Jimenez or Drake Bay, but a 4WD vehicle is necessary parts of the year and the roads are rugged and sometimes flooded. Because of this, the park is closed July to November during the rainy season.
Adventure travelers can take a 20 minute boat tour into the park from Drake Bay, or intrepid travelers can charter a plane (for $300 USD) to fly into the park’s remote ranger station.
But once you’ve arrived, you’ll find wide, nearly deserted beaches and rugged natural beauty for miles.
Corcovado is an ideal visit for those who like secluded beaches, but also those who love to hike. There are two hiking tracks, one coastal and one inland, leading to and from two ranger stations – the Sierra Ranger Station and Pedrillo Ranger Station.
During your hike, you’ll likely spot an abundance of tropical wildlife, and possibly even some endangered specifies that inhabit the area. The park is home to monkeys, coati, jaguars (but don’t worry – they’re generally regarded as shy), poison dart frogs, sloths, anteaters, scarlet macaws, and the endangered Tapir (shown below). What a strange and awesome sight a wild and friendly Tapir is- and one you’re likely to witness while hiking through the park. The more dangerous inhabitants of the park include bull sharks and crocodiles, who live in the inland river area of the park. Be cautious while hiking or crossing the river.
As of 2014 all visitors must be accompanied by a professional guide in an effort to maintain the park’s vitality and protect endangered species.
Expert travel Tip: Corcovado is an adventure traveler and hiker’s dream, but come prepared, especially if you’re opting for the more adventurous options for exploring the park like chartering a plan or camping overnight. Must-have items: a rain jacket, dry bags, and a camera! Also, be sure to check tidal maps if you hike the coastal trail, as the path can become impassable during high tide.
3. Playa Blanca in Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is part of a large conservation area located on the Caribbean coast of the Limón Province. The park connects to the town of Cahuita, a small village with a unique and colorful mix of latin and Caribbean culture. Also a popular area for North American and European expats, the area has tons of local flavor and is a great spot for delicious local seafood.
Cahuita and it’s beaches are known for their shallow and vibrant coral reefs just offshore, perfect for snorkeling and diving. We recommend taking a guided tour through the park’s coastal path, hop on a boat at Punta Cahuita, and snorkel or dive the lagoon and coral crest to see the tropical fish, octopus, staghorn coral, spinner dolphins, and even nurse sharks.
Best for: Snorkeling / Diving / Shipwrecks / Hiking / White Sand Beaches / Wildlife Viewing / Swimming / Boating
Playa Blanca is a also an excellent spot for swimming or spending the day lounging in the sun.
Expert travel tip: Visibility of Cahuita’s beautiful coral reefs will be low around rainy times, due to the rain stirring up silt from the ocean floor and runoff from inland rivers. And like at many areas of Costa Rica’s coast, beware of rip tides, which can be unsuspecting and dangerous.
The shipwreck of Cahuita is located near the mouth of river Perezoso and is an 18th century ship that, sadly, was used to transport slaves. Despite it’s history, it makes for an interesting dive and a home to abundant marine life.
Like Manuel Antonio, Cahuita National Park and Playa Blanca are easily accessible. Drive into Cahuita and take the wide, flat, sandy trail at the start of the park that winds between the coast and the tropical forest. The trail goes all the way from Kelly Creek station, around Punta Cahuita, to Puerto Vargas station, where another beach, Playa Vargas, lies.
You might come across Howler monkeys, sloths, coati, and tamandua while hiking, as well as abundant bird life including herons, toucans, and Kingfishers.
4. Playa Hermosa, Jaco
“Hermosa” in Spanish means “beautiful” – a truly accurate term for the silky, 6-mile black sand beach just south of the town of Jaco on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. There are actually two Playa Hermosas – the one we refer to here in Jaco, and one further north in Guanacaste. However, Jaco’s Playa Hermosa is the closest beach to Costa Rica’s bustling capital city, San Jose, and a favorite for beach-loving, young travelers and surfers looking for killer waves.
Best for: Surfing / Black Sand Beaches / Sea Turtle Nesting / Nightlife / Bike Rentals
Jaco is a bustling beach town full of surf shops, bars, restaurants, hotels, and luxury resorts, and offers tons of adventure activities in the surrounding area including visits to nearby national parks, bike rentals, and guided tours. The beach itself is virtually deserted, with views of the jungle behind. While it’s not ideal for swimming due to the strong waves, it is excellent for surfing, with waves that can reach as high as 13 feet.
Expert travel tip: Jaco’s vibrant nightlight and young, rowdy crowd does have its downsides – the beach town does have a bit of a reputation for drugs and crime, so travelers should, as always, just be cautious with their belongings and at night.
In fact, it’s world class surf makes it the location of the international Quicksilver championships held every August.
Playa Hermosa’s Del Mar Surf Camp, which originally served as an entry into the surfing world for women, now offers beginner, intermediate, and advanced surf retreats for co-eds.
At the end of the stretch of the beach’s black shores lies Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge, one of the largest sanctuary for Olive Ridley sea turtles in Costa Rica. Each year thousands of sea turtles swim ashore mid-September to December to nest. Due to turtle poaching, environmentalists carefully dig up the eggs, count them, and rebury them in a secure location. Several weeks later the eggs hatch, and the baby turtles are released back to the sea.
There are a number of tour operators that offer Sea Turtle Refuge Tours, which allow you to help release the fragile baby turtles and witness their return the ocean. You can also explore conservation volunteer opportunities to help with this effort.
5. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Located on Costa Rica’s southeastern Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, or simply Puerto Viejo to locals, is a small beach town known for it’s laid back vibe and Afro-Caribbean influence. It’s very easy to become enamored with the town’s uniqueness, full of amazing restaurants serving global fusion or Latino-Caribbean fare; street vendors selling fresh-caught giant lobsters, Bob Marley t-shirts and colorful trinkets, or braiding hair; and tiki-style bars bumping reggae music and serving up tropical drinks in addition to the standard local beer, Imperial.
Puerto Viejo’s beaches include wide-open stretches of wild black sand perfect for lounging, surfing, and watching an occasional wild horse or two galloping in the surf.
Best for: Bike Rentals / Wild Horses / Yoga / Black Sand Beaches / Afro-Caribbean Culture + Food / Nightlife / Surfing / Swimming
Puerto Viejo was once called Old Harbour before becoming institutionalized by the Costa Rican government, and is home to a diverse population of local and emigrants of Costa Rican, Caribbean, indigenous BriBri Indian, and Jamaican heritage, making it’s colorful, eccentric cultural blend a large part of it’s draw.
You’ll find some of the best Latino-Afro-Caribbean slow food in all of Costa Rica, including jerk chicken, whole grilled snapper, and typical tico plates.
We recommend renting a beach cruiser for a day and leisurely riding around town to take in the sights and beach hop, from the main coastal strip of bars and restaurants south to the more secluded beaches.
In addition to its wild horse population, Puerto Viejo is known for the biggest and most powerful wave in Costa Rica, known as the Salsa Brava. Surf lessons are available from locals and tour operators, even for beginners not quite ready to take on the Salsa Brava.
6. Montezuma Beach
Montezuma is a laid-back, bohemian beach town on Puntarenas province. Despite its remote location, it’s a favorite among travelers, boho-types, yogis, and adventurers for its beautiful, rugged coastline, artsy beach culture, and endless activities.
You can choose from a long list of things to do in the area before or after hitting the beach, including canopy tours that take you ziplining through the rainforest treetops, sea kayaking to Cabuya Island and then snorkeling in the offshore reef, or hiking to hidden waterfalls with swimming holes, rope swings, and cliff diving. You’ll find a lot of great tour and activity options here.
Best for: Yoga / Ziplining / Sea Kayaking / Snorkeling / Hiking / Horseback Riding / Swimming / Waterfalls / Nightlife
Montezuma Beach itself features miles of smooth white sand and perfect swimming strips between rocky outcroppings. Framed by the tropical rainforest of the Nicoya Peninsula, Montezuma Beach is picturesque – a true paradise.
Split your day between hanging out on the beach, dipping in the tide pools, and visiting town. Montezuma is known for its healthy living focus, with many organic and vegetarian restaurant options, local farmer’s market, and yoga retreats. It’s upbeat street life during the day exudes its alternative, offbeat character, and at night, the community becomes one big open-air party throughout the small bars and clubs.
The area also boasts multiple waterfalls to wander out to during your stay. The Cascadas de Monetzuma are the most famous, where visitors can jump into the deep freshwater pools from the rocky cliffs.
7. Playa Samara
Samara is a beautiful coastal hamlet on the western shore of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, and home to 3 miles of some of the least-developed, beautiful beaches and quintessential beach communities. Samara Beach is a favorite among locals and travelers, who are attracted to the Nicoya Peninsula’s laid back vibe and wild natural beauty.
Best for: Swimming / Snorkeling / Sport Fishing / Kayaking / Bike Rentals
While tourism is well established in the area, the area lacks the all-inclusive, glossy resorts abundant in other areas of Costa Rica, making it a unique draw and more off-the-beaten-path locale among younger couples, expats, and smart travelers.
The beach often feels empty, and includes a few beach-side lounges, small hotels, and local restaurants that come alive with mellow music and delicious cuisine at night.
Spend the day swimming in the shallow waters and lounging on the sand, or take part in the many nearby activities like kayaking, sport fishing, or snorkeling. You could also rent a bike and ride from Samara Beach to lesser-known nearby beaches like Playa Carillo or Playa Buena Vista.
Then catch a brilliant Samara sunset – the various vibrant shades of pink and purple reflected off the calm waters are best viewed right on the sand.
8. Playa Gandoca
Playa Gandoca is located within Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge, south of the town of Manzanillo and 9 miles from Puerto Viejo on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Find total peace and relaxation at this off-the-beaten-path, nearly deserted Caribbean coast outpost where you’ll feel a direct connection to the natural surroundings.
The village of Manzanillo is as far as you can go on the coastal road towards the Panamanian border, just a few kilometers north of the border in Costa Rica’s Limon province. Playa Gandoca is remote, exotic, and perfect for adventurers or those looking for less-traveled areas.
Best for: Swimming / Snorkeling / Wildlife Viewing / Guided Tours
The Wildlife Refuge Area is home to several rare habitats, including tropical lowland rainforest, mangrove swamp, and the only natural oyster beds within the coastal coral reef. Like other beaches listed here, there’s a plethora of animal life present in the refuge, including green sea turtles, dolphins, and manatees.
9. Playa Mal Pais
Playa Mal Pais is located on the southwest tip of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast. What started out as a remote fishing village is now becoming a more popular region among surfers and adventure travelers, also known as Surfer’s Paradise.
Mal Pais, meaning “bad country” in Spanish, gets its name from the dry summer season when the rivers and streams disappear and leave a dusty, desolate “bad land” in its place. However, during the rainy season the area features beautiful white sand coves, jungle-covered hills, rocky outcroppings, and tropical forests.
Playa Mal Pais is the perfect destination to escape more crowded areas and enjoy pristine natural surroundings. The sleepy beach town has a relaxed attitude and good restaurants.
Neighboring Saint Theresa beach offers equally stunning coastal views. The sign greeting visitors and leading the way to this beach gem is adorned with stickers, indicative of its surf culture and indie vibe.
10. Uvita Beach
Situated adjacent to Marino Ballena National Park, Uvita Beach is ideal for a less-crowded and slow-paced beach getaway. It’s unspoiled white sand beaches lined by tall, shady palms and rich rainforest offer amazing views and a serene atmosphere. Sometimes referred to as “Hidden Costa Rica,” Uvita is a sleepy area rich with a virtually untouched coast.
Best for: Swimming / Snorkeling / Whale Watching / White Sand Beaches / Kayaking
While other beach areas offer a million activities to visitors, part of the charm of Uvita is its lack of bustling tourism, making it a great location for total relaxation and taking in the serene nature.
Some available activities in addition to beach-going include kayaking in the mangroves in nearby Marino Bella, and between December and April, visitors may be able to witness Humpback Whales off the beach shores as they migrate south.
Did we miss any? Tell us about your favorite Costa Rica beaches in the comments!
Photo credits: Featured: Carles Company Soler / Manuel Antonio: roaming-the-planet / regan76 / Dan Farrelly / phirschler / Alex / Corcovado: Christian Haugen 1, 2, 4 / Miguel Vieira / Caylan Ford / Cahuita: travelmag.com / claphoteau / Kim F. / Kenneth Garcia / Hermosa: Thomas Anderson / Jim Howard 2, 4 / Chris Goldberg / Puerto Viejo: MM / Geoff Sowrey 2, 3 / Diana / Montezuma: Robin Dawes 1, 2 / Jenna Rose Robbins / Nyall & Maryanne / Samara: m.prinke / Marissa Strniste 2, 3 / Mal Pais: grayskullduggery / Patrick Tully / Evan / Rafael Alvarez / Uvita: Hakim A / Francois Bianco