Jungle Sun and Surf: 10 Best Beaches in Costa Rica

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A secluded beach in Manuel Antonio, beaches in Costa Rica
A secluded beach in Manuel Antonio. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

I’ve lived in Costa Rica for nearly a year now, and have been fortunate to visit many of the country’s spectacular beaches. Wedged between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea in Central America, this beautiful country boasts more than 800 miles of coastline. Costa Rican beaches are tucked into the jungle, protected by national parks, fringed by palm trees, or bordered by lively beach towns. The sand comes in an array of colors, including white, gold and even black.

If the laid-back beaches on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast are calling your name, plan a trip to Puerto Viejo. While you’re there, take a day trip to Cahuita National Park or stroll along the black sand beaches just outside Puerto Viejo town. If you’re planning to visit the country’s Pacific Coast, explore beautiful Manuel Antonio or familiarize yourself with the famous surf town Santa Teresa. These beaches and more made it onto our roundup of the best beaches in Costa Rica.

A monkey in Cahuita National Park, beaches in Costa Rica
A monkey in Cahuita National Park. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

1. Cahuita

If you like your beach vacations with a side of wildlife, Cahuita is the place to go. Located on the country’s Caribbean side, Cahuita is a village just 20 minutes outside the popular beach town of Puerto Viejo. The village borders a national park, home to monkeys, sloths, raccoons, crocodiles, sea turtles, and lots of bird species, including toucans.

My trip to Cahuita was made infinitely more exciting by the eager monkeys and raccoons spying on me as I lounged on the beach. These animals are not afraid of people and will get close to you. In fact, a raccoon nearly stole my friend’s snacks, so be sure to safeguard your things.

The beach inside the national park is a white sand beach that stretches along the jungle. The other popular beach in Cahuita is a black sand beach called Playa Negra, located outside the park. This beach’s sand is a silvery black color due to eroded volcanic materials.

Manuel Antonio National Park, beaches in Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

2. Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio is one of the most visited places in Costa Rica, and it’s easy to see why. This beautiful national park is set on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in the Puntarena province. The park is home to lots of wildlife while boasting some of the country’s most beautiful beaches.

You’ll see iguanas, monkeys and possibly a sloth, if you have a good eye. The beaches boast sparkling turquoise water, the temperature of bath water. The first beach I ever visited in Costa Rica was in Manuel Antonio and to this day, I’ve never been to a beach with water as warm. Beaches inside the park are accessible via easy trails. Some of the most popular beaches inside the park include Playa Espadilla, Playa Escondida, and Manuel Antonio Beach.

Manuel Antonio National Park is just outside a town called Quepos. The town also has its own beaches, which are closer to amenities like beach bars, restaurants and gift shops.

3. Marino Ballena National Park

If you’re traveling between July and October, add Marino Ballena National Park to your itinerary. During this time of year, humpback whales pass through this area, and you may be able to see them from the shore. For an even better view, join an organized whale-watching tour. You may also spot dolphins, manta rays and hammerhead sharks.

Marino Ballena National Park is located just outside of Uvita, on the South Pacific Coast. Curiously enough, this national park is shaped like a whale tail itself. It’s best to explore the park when there are low tides, as there are tide pools teeming with life. The park also has waterfalls and opportunities for horseback riding and kayaking.

4. Santa Teresa

It’s no surprise why celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Christ Hemsworth and Salma Hayek frequent Santa Teresa. This beach town is practically paradise, with its stunning sunsets, vibrant beach parties, yoga studios, trendy boutiques and great surfing opportunities. Located on the tip of the Nicoya peninsula, Santa Teresa is a little tricky to get to, but absolutely worth the trek.

There are several popular beaches just outside Santa Teresa. Playa Carmen is the main beach outside the town. This is a great place to watch the sunset and grab a drink from one of the local restaurants. It also has a great break, making it popular among surfers. Playa Hermosa is another popular beach up the coast. It’s a little more remote and a good stop for beginner surfers.

The beach just outside Puerto Viejo, beaches in Costa Rica
The beach just outside Puerto Viejo town. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

5. Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is my favorite town in Costa Rica. Here, reggae drifts from speakers and the smell of delicious Caribbean cuisine hangs in the air. Puerto Viejo is located in Limon, Costa Rica’s easternmost province, where most of the country’s Afro-Caribbean community lives.

SheBuysTravel Tip: One of our favorite things to do when taking a beach vacation is to hire a photographer for family photos. This is a special gift and souvenir that we cherish. We use Flytographer to book a local photographer located in the area that we’re traveling to. Use this link and you will get $25 off your photo session.

The town is a great base for a beachy adventure, as some of Costa Rica’s best beaches, including Cahuita and Manzanillo (mentioned below), are only a short drive away. But Puerto Viejo is also home to its own stunning beaches. There is an amazing black sand beach just outside the town, but the best beaches are actually tucked into the jungle, just down the coast.

When I visited Puerto Viejo in February, I rented a bike and drove to Playa Chiquita, a tiny secluded beach just a short drive from the town. The following day I visited Playa Cocles, a popular surfing beach fringed by swaying palm trees. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to visit Punta Uva. This secluded beach boasts calm water, perfect for swimmers.

Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge, beaches in Costa Rica
A secluded beach in Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

6. Manzanillo

On my final day in Puerto Viejo, I biked to Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge, about 6.6 miles away. This wildlife refuge is known for its secluded beaches, mangroves, tropical jungle, vibrant wildlife, clear water and coral reef. Keep an eye out for dolphin, turtles or eagles. This is also a great place to go scuba diving and snorkeling, as the coral reef teems with colorful fish. For an organized snorkeling adventure, join a Manzanillo snorkeling tour.

Inside the wildlife refuge, you’ll find lots of sandy stretches where you’ll likely be the only person there. There’s also a large crescent-shaped beach right outside the wildlife refuge called Playa Grande. This beach is close to parking and amenities like restaurants and shops.

7. Playa Conchal

Playa Conchal is a beach you’ll never forget. That’s because the sand is made up of lots of colorful little shells. Most of these shells and crushed and smoothed by the waves, so your feet will be just fine. Playa Conchal is also known for its clear water, so don’t forget your snorkeling gear.

The beach is located in the Guanacaste province and sits right behind the Westin Golf Resort & Spa. The only way to access the beach directly is by staying at the Westin, but you can also park at the nearby Playa Brasilito and walk about 20 minutes to get there. The beach is beautifully secluded, and the surrounding jungle is inhabited by howler monkeys.

Tamarindo at sunset, beaches in Costa Rica
Posing in Tamarindo at sunset. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

8. Tamarindo

Tamarindo is a bustling beach town in Guanacaste. It is one of the best surfing spots in Costa Rica and has a laid-back vibe, which turns into a party atmosphere at night. There are beach bars, Bohemian boutiques, cute coffee shops and delicious restaurants.

The most popular beach is Tamarindo Beach. Located along the town, this beach is lined with restaurants and bars, where you can grab a cocktail while watching the sunset. For a more secluded beach, walk south along the coast for about 30 minutes to Playa Langosta. This is a beautiful white sand beach a little less crowded. Playa Grande is another serene beach just north of Tamarindo.

9. Playa Flamingo

Just 30 minutes north of Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, or Flamingo Beach, is a favorite among tourists and locals alike. This beautiful white sand beach offers a variety of water sports, including sailing, scuba diving, snorkeling and sport fishing.

Thrill-seekers will also find a variety of exciting land-based activities not far from the beach. You can go ziplining, rock climbing or canyoning. You won’t find much of a downtown here, but there is a main road with some restaurants, shops and hotels.

An aerial view of Jaco, beaches in Costa Rica
An aerial view of Jaco. Photo credit: Adina Keeling

10. Jaco

Most of my Costa Rican friends are not big fans of Jaco. In fact, many of them call the town “feo,” or “ugly” in Spanish. A couple months ago, I decided to see for myself, and took a week-long solo trip to the beach town. Although I understood what my friends meant with their comments, I actually really like Jaco.

Located in the Central Pacific, Jaco is the biggest beach town in Costa Rica, and the closest beach to the capital, San Jose. In comparison to the country’s many secluded and dreamy beaches, Jaco is very touristy and a bit dirty. The town has a vibrant nightlife scene and many tourists celebrate their bachelor or bachelorette parties here.

While Jaco isn’t the most beautiful town, I really enjoyed its lively atmosphere, as a lot of Costa Rican beach towns can be a bit sleepy. The main beach isn’t the nicest, but it’s a great place to enjoy water sports and it’s close to lots of local businesses. There are also more beautiful beaches just outside Jaco, including Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca.

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