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Costa Rican beaches (Caribbean & Pacific)

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Did You Know … ?

  • Both the Pacific and the Caribbean coasts are visible from the top of Irazu volcano.
  • Costa Rica has only 0.01% of the world’s land, but 3.5% of its marine life.
  • Hawksbill turtles have claws on their flippers.
  • The green sea turtle is named for the greenish color of its skin, not its shell.
  • At the shortest distance, it is only 75 miles from Costa Rica’s Caribbean to its Pacific shores.

Sun, sand and turtles

North Americans don’t generally travel to Costa Rica specifically for a sun ‘n’ sand holiday, but the small Central American country is well supplied with beaches. Attractive choices are available on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, but the Pacific coast is considerably longer.

Not a few beaches are located in one or another of the country’s many national parks and wildlife refuges. This setup provides an opportunity for travelers to combine a little beach time with other activities that may be their real first interest, such as birding, hiking, mountain biking, whale watching, other wildlife viewing (especially nesting turtles) or riding a zipline over rain forests.

Besides, Costa Rica offers some of the world’s top diving options, notably in the waters around Cano Island and — farther out into the Pacific — the waters of the Coco Island National Park. In addition, several beaches on both coasts are good for surfing, often not for beginners though.

The country boasts both white- and black-sand beaches. Most are not very crowded and, in fact, some are just plain deserted except maybe for some wildlife. The visiting critters may be nesting turtles (at sites on both coasts), or pelican colonies (in Cabo Blanco Wildlife Refuge) or, a little startlingly, coatimundis, monkeys, raccoons and sloths (in Manuel Antonio National Park). Beaches closer to San Jose, the capital, are more likely to be crowded with humans, especially on weekends.

Accommodations in beach areas vary widely from budget properties in small beach villages to full-blown resorts and spas with all the comforts.

Surfers head into the waves expecting some rough treatment from nature’s hand, but things can get a little too rough. Many of the country’s beaches have dangerous riptides. Whether eyeing the blue waters for a short swim or planning something as vigorous as surfing, it’s wise to get a reading on current conditions and where it is safe to proceed.

Things to do for Venturers

  • If you are an experienced surfer, try the waves at La Salsa Brava, December to March, on the Caribbean coast. Or, on the southern Pacific coast, choose Cabo Matapalo (May to November) or Pavones Beach (April to September). There are numerous other options on both coasts.
  • Look for the sharks as you dive in the waters around Cano Island, 12 miles from the Pacific coast. Or, with more time, choose a multiday, live-aboard scuba trip to Cocos Island National Park, an uninhabited island and UNESCO site, for another of the world’s best diving sites, to see the sharks, manta rays and other large marine species.
  • Go windsurfing at Playa Zancudo on the southern Pacific coast.
  • Check out the beach bars and restaurants in Tamarindo, the largest village on the Pacific coast.
  • Playa Grande, part of Las Baulas National Marine Park on the northern Pacific coast, serves multiple interests: It offers surfing plus boat rides to look for birds and crocodiles — and nesting turtles can be observed on guided tours. At the park’s entrance, see the museum focused on the giant leatherneck turtles.
  • Head to Playa Ocotal or Playa Hermosa for sportfishing off the northern Pacific coast. Or choose Playa Flamingo — also known for its fine beaches — as your base for fishing.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Just outside the beach town of Jaco, take the Pacific Rain Forest Aerial Tram for a bird’s-eye view of the area’s forest, waterfalls and the Pacific Ocean.
  • Snatch some beach time on the uninhabited Caballo Island in the Gulf of Nicoya in northwest Costa Rica. It is the right place, too, for a boat trip to watch the birds that visit or inhabit other islands in the gulf.
  • Bring binoculars for your bird-watching at Pavones Beach on the Pacific coast.
  • Snorkel at Espadilla beach in Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast. A guided hike in the park is another counterpoint to quiet beach time.
  • Combine relaxation on the beach in Curu National Wildlife Refuge with hiking or horseback riding. This refuge on the northern Pacific coast is a nesting site for a couple of turtle species, too.
  • At Cabo Blanco Wildlife Refuge on the Pacific coast, hike the two-mile Sueca Trail through the forest to the beach, where you will likely see pelican colonies.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Take a boat excursion from Drake Bay on the country’s southern Pacific coast to see whales and dolphins.
  • From Puntarenas on the central Pacific coast, take a cruise excursion to Tortuga Island in the Bay of Nicoya. Day trips provide time for hiking, sea kayaking, snorkeling or swimming at the island’s beaches.
  • Choose a full-service hotel at the Jaco Beach resort and take a sunset cruise.
  • Look for a beach that suits you best on Nicoya Peninsula, on the northern Pacific coast. The peninsula is dotted with little beach towns to choose from.
  • Swim at Punta Uva on the Caribbean coast.
  • Several species of sea turtles choose Costa Rican beaches as their nesting sites. Arrange to observe such turtles, bearing in mind there will be limitations to the activity in the interest of protecting the turtles and their young.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Costa Rica Tourism Board at