Which Beach in Costa Rica is Best for You? - This American Girl

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







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




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! 



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