13 Top-Rated Beaches in Costa Rica

Written by Lana Law
Feb 26, 2020

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Costa Rica is a land of jungles, volcanoes, oceans, and of course, beautiful beaches. Beaches in Costa Rica are diverse and offer different experiences for travelers. People come here to surf, swim, soak up the sun, or simply enjoy the laid-back beach towns sprinkled along the coasts.

As you travel to different parts of the country the nature of the beaches changes. One thing they all have in common is warm water. In the north, on the Nicoya Peninsula is where you'll find many of the best beaches. In the dry season it's less green than areas to the south, but the sun almost always shines. As you head south, things become lusher and more tropical. On the Caribbean side, it's humid, hot, and damp.

The beaches are, for the most part, easily accessible. Just park your car under the nearest palm tree, grab your gear, and find a patch of sand in the sun or shade.

Discover the perfect place for your vacation with our list of the best beaches in Costa Rica.

1. The Beach of Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park

Several lovely beaches are located in Manuel Antonio National Park and the neighboring town of Manuel Antonio. Playa Espadilla is right in front of the small town and is noted for its small waves and clear water. The beach is about two miles long and is a great place for a walk or to set up for the day. It's usually busy with locals and tourists.

Eventually the beach ends at a rocky headland and beyond this is Playitas beach.

Within the Manuel Antonio National Park, you'll find two additional postcard-perfect beaches. These are located on opposite sides of Cathedral Point, just a short walk from each other.

The beaches within the park are reached after a 30-minute walk through the jungle where you'll often encounter wildlife ranging from colorful butterflies right through to monkeys and sloths hanging in the trees. Note that a park entrance fee must be paid and that the number of visitors is limited.

To be right near the beach, stay in the town of Manuel Antonio. Many hotels are located within easy walking distance of the beach. Some of Costa Rica's best luxury resorts are found here, and offer beautiful views over the ocean.

2. Santa Teresa Beach

Santa Teresa Beach
Santa Teresa Beach

On the Nicoya Peninsula, near Montezuma, you'll find the beautiful beach of Santa Teresa. This wide, two-mile-long beach is a popular surfing destination with decent offshore breaks. It's also ideal for walking and soaking up the sun. At low tide you can see tidal pools filled with colorful fish and sea anemones. This beach is also a wonderful place to watch the sunset.

If that's not enough beach for you, keep walking and you'll come to Playa Cobano to the north, and Playa Carmen to the south.

The towns of Santa Teresa, Cobano, and Carmen all have accommodation available and a good selection of restaurants featuring cuisine from around the world.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Santa Teresa

3. Whale Tail Beach (Uvita)

Whale Tail Beach
Whale Tail Beach

This is probably the beach that you have seen on social media; a perfect peninsula leading out to a flat top with two curving beaches on either side. Luckily, the reality matches the photos.

Whale Tale or Uvita Beach is located in the Marino Ballena National Park in the southern part of Costa Rica. An entrance fee to the park is charged but the cost is well worth it.

The two beaches extend out about two-miles to the "tail" portion. Small waves make it an ideal location to go swimming and perfect for families with smaller children. Time your visit so you are here at low tide and you'll be able to walk right to the end.

Accommodation options nearby range from basic to luxurious. If you are looking for a high-end option, one of the top places to stay is the Rancho Pacifico.

4. Playa Tamarindo

Tamarindo Beach
Tamarindo Beach

Playa Tamarindo graces the oceanfront in the town of the same name, on the Nicoya Peninsula. The beach is one of the best in Costa Rica for those looking to take up surfing. A variety of breaks means you can start small and work your way up as your skills increase.

If you're not a surfer, you can watch the show from the soft, golden-sand beach. Although surfing is the main pursuit here, swimming is possible if you are a strong swimmer and feel confident in the waves.

The town of Tamarindo is a laid-back place with a fun vibe. Spend a bit of time wandering the streets and checking out the assortment of restaurants and shops.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tamarindo

5. Playa Conchal

Playa Conchal
Playa Conchal

Near Tamarindo on the Nicoya Peninsula you'll find Playa Conchal. This beautiful crescent beach is set in a large bay lapped by clear waters. The waves here tend to be smaller, so this is an ideal beach for swimming.

Although it's a popular beach, it rarely feels overcrowded. The beach is unique in that it is composed of small crushed sea shells, which makes it a slightly more difficult beach for walking. Bring some good sandals. Since the beach is composed of shells and not sand, the water here is very clear and makes this a wonderful spot for snorkeling.

Access to the beach is down an 800-meter walkway from the parking lot (nominal fee) at the small town of Brasilito Beach. The Westin Resort & Spa Playa Conchal is an all-inclusive property, located on this beach.

6. Playa Flamingo

Playa Flamingo
Playa Flamingo

Playa Flamingo is just north of Playa Conchal. Unlike many beaches in Costa Rica that have dark brown or almost black sand, Flamingo beach is an almost white sand beach. The name comes from the fact that the white sand, seen in the right light, has a pinkish hue.

The waves here are manageable and the beach is a good spot for swimming. It's rarely if ever crowded and does not have a multitude of developments on its seashore. Instead, you'll find a few luxury homes and seaside trees to provide a respite from the strong Costa Rican sun.

7. Montezuma Beach

Turtles beach released on the beach at Montezuma
Turtles beach released on the beach at Montezuma

Montezuma Beach is located on the Nicoya Peninsula. The beach here is made up of greyish-brown sand and rocky outcrops with tidal pools, all backed by swaying palm trees.

Although the beach right in front of the town is small by Costa Rica standards, if you walk south down the beach you'll come upon additional beaches, less people, and more wildlife. If you time your visit right, you might be able to see the baby sea turtles being released into the ocean.

Some of the other beaches nearby that almost meld into Montezuma Beach are Las Manchas, Las Rocas, and Los Cedros.

Montezuma is a budget destination for backpackers although there are some beautiful places to stay located a short distance from town.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Montezuma

8. Playa Carrillo

Playa Carrilo
Playa Carrilo

Carrillo Beach, on the Nicoya Peninsula, is an ideal location for those looking for a wide beach, warm water, and calm waves. Perhaps less famous than nearby Samara Beach (Playa Samara), this spot is a hidden gem.

The beach is quiet and free from music blasting from local establishments. In fact, there is no development on this beach at all. You'll find sand, water and palm trees. This is an ideal beach for families owing to the gentle waves. Also, there is a ban on horses on the beach.

Access and parking is easy. You only have to haul your gear a short distance from the road behind the beach.

9. Playa Punta Uva

Playa Punta Uva
Playa Punta Uva

Calm, clear waters with small waves are what you'll find on Costa Rica's Caribbean side, and Playa Punta Uva is a perfect example of this.

Punta Uva is a narrow strip of sand backed only by palm trees, and no major resort developments run along this stretch of beach. The ocean here is exceptionally warm. Keep an eye up in the trees to see sloths which live near the beach and can often be spotted.

Just a short walk from the beach is the small town of Punta Uva where you'll find a few restaurants and accommodation options. Very few of these have air conditioning. Accommodation here tends to be basic with a few exceptions. Another beach with larger waves, Playa Arrecife, is located just around the headland.

Note that the weather on this side of Costa Rica can be very humid and rainy at times.

10. Playa Hermosa

Surfers on Playa Hermosa
Surfers on Playa Hermosa

Not to be confused with the beach of the same name in the north, Playa Hermosa near Jaco is one of Costa Rica's premier surfing spots. This wide beach is backed by palm trees and an assortment of decent places to stay.

The waves are massive here, especially at mid to high tide. Several well-known breaks create consistent riding conditions and the water is rarely crowded. The most discussed breaks are Terrazas, Backyard, The Tree/Almendro, The Curve, Buda/Turtle Farms, and Tulin/Tusubres.

Photographers take note: this is a great spot to get impressive pictures of surfers doing their thing on huge waves.

Swimming here is not recommended.

11. Dominical Beach

Dominical Beach
Dominical Beach | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

The funky surf town of Dominical backs the beach of the same name. This is purely a surfing beach; the waves are huge and several consistent breaks draw surfers from around the world.

The best surf break is near the river mouth and the waves form up consistently at high tide. This is not a beginner's surf area. If you are just taking up the sport, it's best to go down the coast to Dominicalito where the waves are smaller. This pretty beach is just under a mile away.

Since this is a popular backpackers' destination, you can find plenty of basic accommodation options in Dominical, perfect for people on a budget. You can also find some luxury villas and mid-range hotels. Many of these are up on the mountainsides overlooking the ocean and have refreshing breezes that you don't find at beach level.

12. Esterillos Oeste Beach

Esterillos Oeste Beach
Esterillos Oeste Beach | Photo Copyright: Lana Law

Perhaps not on most people's radar as one of Costa Rica's best beaches, this is a hidden gem. The long stretch of black sand is backed by a few small beach hut restaurants and palm trees.

A small road runs behind the beach and you can park your car right at the seashore and walk to the sand. This is a good place for photos. Fishing boats on the black sand, the wide beach with crashing waves, and the palm trees lining the beach all make for interesting images.

A few good surf breaks can also be found here, primarily near the rocky outcroppings.

Esterillos Oeste is located just a short drive from Jaco.

13. Jaco Beach

Jaco Beach
Jaco Beach

The beach at Jaco is a popular destination for families with small children owing to the fact that the water is calm and shallow. The water here is very warm but generally cloudy from the fine sand.

Playa Jaco is a wide, flat, crescent of greyish black sand that stretches along the bay for about 2.5 miles. It's ideal for walking and a nice place to watch the sunset. Behind the beach is the town of Jaco, a lively place with a good selection of hotels, restaurants, shops, and other amenities. You can find just about anything you need here.

Jaco is located on the Pacific Coast, about 1.5 hours from San Jose and easily reached via the toll highway.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Jaco

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