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Which Beach in Costa Rica is Best for You?

Surfing in Playa guiones

 

I remember years ago, before I had ever gone to Costa Rica, looking through a Lonely Planet completely overwhelmed with options.

 

pavones playa negra

 

I knew that I needed to get away. To sink my feet into the sand and bathe myself in the warm saltwater. To be immersed in nature, practice yoga, and finally learn to surf. I knew that I would find all of that in Costa Rica, but I didn’t know where.

 

Santa Teresa beach

 

I imagine this is why I meet so many travelers who have only been to the most touristic places. They head to Tamarindo or Jaco, where skyscrapers line the beach instead of jungle and there’s more people chattering than monkeys howling, because those are the only beach towns they’ve heard of. But unfortunately, they don’t really experience Costa Rica.

 

arrecife punta uva

 

I took a different route. I traveled across Costa Rica, around the Nicoya Peninsula, down the Central Coast, deep into the Osa Peninsula, and all the way along the Caribbean. On twelve trips over the course of four years I’ve made it my mission to discover the best beach towns in Costa Rica. In the process, I got to know Costa Rica intimately, and today I call it my home.

 

Santa Teresa Beach

 

I believe that a trip to Costa Rica can be more than a vacation, it can absolutely change your life. This is why I’m sharing with you my favorite beach towns in the country to help you have the most magical trip possible. Each has its own unique personality, its own unique beauty, and its own unique challenges. By showing why you might love them and why you might not love them, I’m here to guide you to the destination of your dreams.

 

Surfer Girl Nosara

 

Playa Guiones, Nosara

 

For me, a day in Playa Guiones is difficult to top. I love the health conscious culture and accessible and impressive yoga classes. Watching the dedicated surfers ride big waves for hours is downright inspiring. Some of my best memories of Playa Guiones are of simply sitting and watching the sunsets with Marissa, which is a nearly religious experience that everyone in the town participates in. At night you can walk down the beach and gaze up at millions of stars.

 

Why you might love it

 

Clean, fun surf for all levels

World class yoga studios and retreats

Long sunny days from December through April

Epic sunsets and star gazing

Accessible health food including an organic grocery store

 

Why you might not love it

 

No rain for half of the year equals a dry, brown jungle and very dusty roads

It is rather Americanized and less of a cultural experience than other places in the country

The roads are very dusty and rough for driving and biking

Many places shut down during the rainy season, particularly in September and October

There is a lack of nightlife

It is more expensive than most places in Costa Rica

 

Read my guide to Playa Guiones: 

I Might be in Love with Nosara, Costa Rica

 

 

hammock playa samara

 

Playa Samara

 

The beach in Playa Samara is hardly the most beautiful in Costa Rica, yet many people cite it as their favorite in the country. For Marissa and I it was the perfect way to begin our backpacking trip around Costa Rica. The town is small and unbelievably friendly, with beachfront restaurants and an expat community. Yet it still feels incredibly Tico. Other beaches are nearby for plenty of exploration.

 

Why you might love it

 

Lots of local culture

Beautiful beaches to explore nearby including Playa Barrigona where Mel Gibson owns property

Small and easy to navigate on foot

Good for surf beginners and paddle boarders

You can watch the fishermen then purchase fresh fish every day right on the beach

Fun nightlife and daily happy hours

 

Why you might not love it
Like Nosara, it can be very dusty and brown during the dry season

The ocean is very cold for swimming and may be filled with jellyfish

The beach is rocky

There is some drug related crime in the area

 

Read my guide to Playa Samara: 

Playa Samara, Costa Rica

 

 

Montezuma

 

Montezuma

 

Hippies, backpackers, and low key vacationers find haven in the tiny beach town of Montezuma. There is one main square where people congregate which gives it a strong community feel. The beaches are beautiful and varied and it’s possible to hike to waterfalls nearby.

 

Why you might love it

 

Many yoga studios, one directly on the beach

Small waves for beginners

Health conscious community

Easy to make friends

Day trips to nearby islands and waterfalls

Tons of variety in beaches

 

Why you might not love it

 

Very dusty and hot in the dry season

The ocean is cold for swimming

 

Read my guide to Montezuma: 

I Returned to Montezuma and Saw it For the First Time

 

 

Santa teresa surfer

 

Santa Teresa

 

My first time in Santa Teresa I enjoyed the beautiful beaches, fell in love with the incredible sunsets and night sky, and let loose at the beachfront bars. However this year, after a magical few days in Nosara, Marissa and I struggled to connect with this surf town. We did not find the local community and found the dusty road prohibited our ability to get from one side of town to the other.

 

Why you might love it

 

World class surfing and strong surf culture

Stunningly beautiful sunsets

Plenty of nightlife

Luxury hotels, restaurants, and retreat centers

 

Why you might not love it

 

Roads can become so dusty it’s possible to walk or ride your bicycle without a mask

The area is expensive

You may find it less authentic and quaint than other parts of Costa Rica

 

Read my guide to Santa Teresa:

How Santa Teresa Broke My Spirit 

 

 

Manuel Antonio Beach

 

Manuel Antonio

 

Whether you’re a backpacker or a honeymooner it’s impossible to not feel like you’re on vacation in Manuel Antonio. If you come here, do what I did: give in and enjoy the easy life.

 

Why you might love it

 

Beautiful beaches

Tons of monkeys and lizards in and around the park

Good surf for beginners

Luxury restaurants and hotels

Older American expat crowd

Close and accessible from San Jose

 

Why you might not love it

 

One of the more expensive places in the country

Very Americanized and seems to be geared completely to tourists

Beaches can get very crowded

The most beautiful beaches are kept inside the park which has a $10 entrance fee

 

Read my guide to Manuel Antonio:

Manuel Antonio is Paradise at a Price

 

 

pavones surfers

 

Pavones

 

In Pavones it’s easy to feel like you’ve reached the end of the Earth. The beaches are rugged and stunning and the town does not even have an ATM. Those looking for epic surf, an amazing yoga retreat, or an authentic Tico experience need look no further.

 

Why you might love it

 

World class surfing

Amazing yoga center

Tons of wildlife

Authentically Costa Rican

Deserted beaches

Incredible sunsets

Less expensive than other parts of the country

 

Why you might not love it

 

Difficult to access

Very small town not designed for tourists

Little do to besides surfing and yoga retreats

Ocean is too rough for swimming

 

Read my guide to Pavones:

Somehow I Made it to Pavones, Costa Rica

 

 

Corcovado National Park

 

The Beaches of Corcovado National Park

 

Corcovado National Park may be the most incredible place in Costa Rica, but it’s certainly not for everyone. The wildlife and nature are out of this world, but the ocean is unswimmable due to sharks and riptides, mosquitos are everywhere, and it’s not uncommon to be covered in ticks (Marissa and I picked quite a few off of one another!) If you can stand the discomfort, it is an experience not to be missed.

 

Why you might love it

 

Incredible wildlife including monkeys, crocodiles, tapirs, anteaters, scarlet maccaws, and pumas

Beautiful jungle hiking trails

Wild, deserted beaches

 

Why you might not love it

 

If you are looking for comfort on any level

 

Read my guide to Corcovado National Park: 

To Fear or Not to Fear: Hiking the Wild Osa Peninsula

 

 

isle of cocles

 

Puerto Viejo

 

Those who follow my blog already know that Puerto Viejo is the closest thing this homeless nomad has to home. I absolutely love it here, but I know it’s not for everyone. The town is deep in the jungle rainforest which makes it unbelievably beautiful but also more subject to rain, mold, and large insects. Those who crave variety will be in heaven as there is amazing diversity in the nature, beaches, culture, activities, and cuisine in this one small area of Costa Rica.

 

Why you might love it

 

Fascinating cultural melting pot of Ticos, Caribbean Islanders, Europeans, and North Americans

World class yoga

Excellent cuisine, easily the best in the country

Incredible variety in beaches and activities

Warm, clear, turquoise water

Live coral reef for snorkeling

Beautiful jungle and wildlife

Health conscious expat community

Plenty of nightlife

Less expensive than other parts of the country

 

Why you might not love it

 

The weather and the surf are unpredictable year round

Mold from humidity and bug infestations are unfortunate realities

It is not safe to walk or bike outside of town at night nor with valuables in the day

 

Read my guide to Puerto Viejo: 

The Ultimate Guide to Puerto Viejo

 

Want to ensure a magical trip to Costa Rica? Check out my eBook, The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica with 150 pages of detailed itineraries, firsthand local advice, and an entire packing list! 

 

ultimateguidecostarica


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Comments

  1. […] knowing that my time in Costa Rica […]

  2. Love all your pics & info! My hubby & myself, & best cousin & her hubby are wanting to go to Costa Rica in Oct. ( Oct. 11th – 20th). Your info has helped decide on a possible place. I live in Fla. so do not want the touristy places. Flying into San Jose & maybe rent a car. ( Or maybe private van trip?) We’re looking at a small house across from Cocles Beach. (Homeaway.com) pics look great & close to grocery, bar & has bikes with house. What is your take on doing it this way? Any other suggestions? Would love to hear from you. Love to talk to locals. Looking forward to hearing from you! Cindie

    • Hi Cindie, I think your decision to stay in Cocles in a house with bikes sounds perfect! Do check out my posts all about Puerto Viejo and let me know if you have other questions. It is usually sunny with calm seas in the South Caribbean in October.

  3. […] Two years ago when I began planning my first trip to Costa Rica […]

  4. Thank you for this post!! I am in the process of planning a trip to Costa Rica and this is most helpful! When my husband and I first decided to go to Costa Rica, I of course remembered yours and Andie’s epic trip and made it my first place for research. Thanks again!

    • Camille Willemain Says: January 1, 2014 at 7:02 am

      You’re so welcome Caitlin! I’m so glad the post is helpful for you :) Please let me know any other advice you need on Costa Rica! <3

  5. I have a reservation at the JW Marriott in Guanacaste for 5 nights. I’d like to stay another 5 nights and they are sold out. I’m flying into Liberia and would like another spot to spend 5 nights that is convenient to LIB airport and not too far when I have to move hotels. Any ideas are very much appreciated.

  6. Thank you for your post it was very helpful.I have read so much about CR my head was spinning and your post has clarified things slightly but with so much to see and do it will be so much easier to prioritise.THANK YOU.

  7. Hey (:
    I came across this on your facebook page.
    I lived in Costa Rica for a year as an exchange student. My house was on the road between Nicoya and Playa Sámara. You said Playa Sámara was a nice beach, but if you are near Playa Sámara you should definitely stay on the bus a little longer and go to Playa Carrillo. It’s a huge beach, near the road, which is not disturbing because there are only few cars. Carrillo is one of my favourite beaches, it’s much nicer than Sámara and in the rainy season you might easily be the only one there. At the far end there is also a small river and if you search between the rocks in knee deep water near a big rock in the water you may find colourful pufferfish. At night you can park your car on a “mirador” and watch the stars while listening to the waves.
    If you stay in Puerto Viejo, rent a bike and bike to Punta Uva, it’s where the sand is white and the water turquoise. Near Puerto Viejo is the National Park of Cahuita, one of my favourite National Parks, you have to walk for a very long time, but eventually you will reach two “puntas” with two small white beaches.
    As mentioned before there are soo many beaches in Costa Rica.
    Just a few more: Playa Brasilito, Playa Conchal, Playa Tamarindo (touristic), Playa San Juanillo (you can find great shells here, but there are lots of stones in the water) and Playa Flamingo (I haven’t been there but it is said to be a beautiful beach).
    Also my hostbrother always told me about Playa Rosada (Pink Beach), we never went there, but I found out that it’s an extension of Playa Guiones. This extension is one of a few beaches with pink sand.
    I hope that helped (:

    • Camille Willemain Says: January 30, 2014 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks for all of the tips! My first time in Costa Rica was spent living in a little jungle cabina in Punta Uva. I love it there :) Will have to check out some of these other beaches next time I’m in Costa :)

  8. It’s a shame you had an uncomfortable experience in Corcovado. We spent several days in Drake Bay in early Feb 2013 and did not experience any bugs at all (neither mosquitoes or ticks). We hiked for a day on the beach trail from Drake Bay toward Corcovado which we absolutely loved and wished we had time to hike all the way to the ranger station. We took a boat for a day in Corcovado park itself, and went diving for one day. The weather was dry and hot but quite pleasant in the shade of the forest. We saw crocs but only crossed the rivers where the water was knee deep. The sharks we saw diving were white tipped reef sharks about 6 ft long and very docile. We swam in Drake Bay for hours. I would love to return for at least a week.

    • Camille Willemain Says: June 22, 2014 at 10:59 am

      Sounds like you had a great time! Actually I love crazy adventures and my time in Corcovado is still a highlight in my years of travel. I’m headed back down to the Osa in a few weeks and will definitely spend some time in Drake Bay it sounds amazing :)

  9. I’ve been to most of these towns, amazing summary and feedback great blog! I love PV but im a montezuma girl at heart.

  10. We are exploring CR in Jan as we are thinking of moving there in the summer as we both have portable careers (artist and resume writer)… What area’s could one live without a car? We are not Ritz hotel people but not youth hostel either. Only requirement for my job is reliable internet and cell service. We have heard of Montezuma and Quepos – your thoughts on other places to explore living for a few months are welcome!

  11. Michael Loewenthal Says: November 13, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    My wife and I spend a week in Santa Teresa, May two years ago and loved it there and the surrounding area, the dusty road is for sure a problem even in May,
    We are considering a week in Hacienta Panilla in December,we heard it’s beautiful there and the general area and I like the fact that we can catch a flight from NY to Liberia, and avoid San Jose, Would love to hear your impressions if you have been there.
    Thank you
    M.L.

  12. Great post! Costa Rica definitely has a magical way of pulling you back… we actually didn’t think we would return for a while after our first visit, and now we have a home base here! We love the beaches, but we have recently discovered that the small towns inland are more for us. We’re moving to a place just outside San Isidro that is right on the river and feels so authentic. (And is so much cheaper!) Plus we’ll still only be an hour to all of our favorite beaches in the southern zone :) We’ve been to all the beaches you wrote about here though and can attest that they are all wonderful and each has something unique about it :) Hope to meet up when you’re in Costa Rica again!

    • Camille Willemain Says: July 5, 2015 at 7:55 pm

      That’s awesome! Please stay in touch and let me know how it goes in your little village on the river. Sounds lovely :)

  13. linda pizzolla Says: July 15, 2015 at 6:21 am

    Could you please tell me which is the better beach for warm, calm water – playa conchal or antonio manuele?

  14. Love your site! Thanks for all the great info! Can you recommend any hot springs and/or waterfalls in puerto Viejo? My bf and I are thinking of staying here in October / November, in a house by cocles beach. Anything else you can recommend? We will probably rent a car as well. I did see your post on puerto Viejo, very helpful especially for restaurants. Thanks so much, Erica

  15. Wow! Thank you for this extensive list! I am in Costa Rica for the first time right now in, you guessed it, Tamarindo! I’m looking forward to getting more off the beaten path in a couple days in San Juanillo where I will make a day trip to Nosara. You are right, Costa Rica is very special.

  16. Hi Camille,

    In August I will be leaving for my very first trip to Costa Rica (also my first trip to Central America, and first solo travel experience…big trip of firsts!). I’m super excited and trying to plan it out and be as prepared as possible to feel comfortable without totally locking myself down and closing off the possibility of unexpected surprised on my journey. Your posts are filled with useful information and definitely have added to the excitement for my adventure. I’m really inspired by your travels! Yoga, sand, surf, coconuts, dealing with mosquitos that seem to follow me everywhere…all the stuff I’m into and want to know!

    I’ve decided on Santa Teresa as my main area and am having a bit of trouble figuring out the best way to get there from San Jose. I don’t really want to spend time in the city, so getting to Santa Teresa as soon after my flight lands as possible is ideal, but I also don’t have a ton of money. I’m torn between buying a ticket to fly to Tambor the afternoon I arrive in San Jose and moving to Santa Teresa from there (by bus???) or spending one night in San Jose and catching the early 6AM bus to Santa Teresa the following morning.

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated!! On this and any other Costa related solo girl travel subjects :)

    Thanks!
    Mila