Costa Rica’s 6 most stunning beaches

James Kaiser | May 1, 2015
Playa Conchal.

With two coastlines surrounded by lush jungle, Costa Rica is famous for some of the most beautiful beaches in Central America. There are golden beaches on the Pacific that enjoy fabulous sunsets and powdery Caribbean beaches surrounded by candy-colored corals.

Over the five years I spent researching “Costa Rica: The Complete Guide,” I wandered up and down Costa Rica’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts. I hiked through the jungle to visit rarely seen beaches and rode rickety boats to beaches on remote islands. On particularly clear days, I flew in an ultralight “gyrocopter” to photograph the stunning scenery below. I learned a lot about Costa Rica’s spectacular shoreline, and below are my picks for Costa Rica’s best beaches.

 

1. Playa Conchal

The sparkling white stand of Playa Conchal, just north of Tamarindo, wraps around a turquoise bay that’s perfect for swimming or snorkeling. Because it’s tucked away south of the underwhelming Playa Brasilito, Playa Conchal is overlooked by many visitors. But for those in the know, it’s paradise. There’s only one hotel near the beach: the luxurious Westin Playa Conchal Resort. Fortunately, the massive resort is set back from the tree-lined beach, helping Playa Conchal retain a natural feel.

 

Playa Conchal.
Playa Conchal. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Conchal.
Playa Conchal. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)

 

2. Manuel Antonio

This stunning beach, part of Manuel Antonio National Park, has long been considered one of Costa Rica’s best beaches. Just west of the beach is imposing Punta Catedral (Cathedral Point), a rocky headland shielding the beach from powerful waves. The water here is consistently calm, making it a terrific choice for families with young children. The surrounding national park, meanwhile, is filled with wildlife. You can easily spot white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, green iguanas and sloths. Manuel Antonio is also one of the few places in Costa Rica that is home to a healthy population of endangered (and adorable) squirrel monkeys.

Playa Manuel Antonio.
Playa Manuel Antonio. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Manuel Antonio.
Playa Manuel Antonio. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Manuel Antonio.
Playa Manuel Antonio. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)

 

3. Playa Flamingo

Playa Flamingo, to the north of Playa Conchal, has a combination of mellow waves and high-end development that make it one of the most family-friendly beaches in Costa Rica. The soft sand slopes gently into the ocean, and the beach’s western exposure delivers consistently lovely sunsets. Expensive homes and condos dot the hills on either end of the beach, and the overall vibe is upscale and relaxed. If words like “hostel” and “counterculture” turn you off, you’re going to love Playa Flamingo. Onshore there are great restaurants. Offshore there’s great scuba diving, sailing and sportfishing.

Playa Flamingo.
Playa Flamingo. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Flamingo.
Playa Flamingo. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Flamingo.
Playa Flamingo. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)

 

4. Tamarindo

One of Costa Rica’s most popular beaches, Tamarindo is an action-packed destination known for great beginner surf and a lively nightlife. The town is also surrounded by Las Baulas National Park, which protects endangered leatherback sea turtles that nest on nearby beaches between October and February. Between the beach life, the nightlife and the wildlife, it’s no wonder Tamarindo attracts so many people. For nonstop excitement, Tamarindo is hard to beat.

 

Playa Tamarindo.
Playa Tamarindo. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Tamarindo.
Playa Tamarindo. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Tamarindo.
Playa Tamarindo. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)

 

5. Punta Uva

South of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, a narrow road twists through the jungle on its way to the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. Along the way you’ll pass great restaurants and eco-lodges, but the real highlight lies at the end of the unmarked dirt roads that head to Punta Uva. Home to two spectacular beaches separated by a lush point called Red Cliff, Punta Uva is one of Costa Rica’s most enchanting destinations. Golden sand, pristine water, coral reefs, palm trees, monkeys — qué tuanis, mae! As you wander around Punta Uva, keep an eye out for great green macaws in the trees above. These magnificent parrots, which are native to the region but highly endangered, were recently reintroduced to Punta Uva as part of a captive breeding program.

Punta Uva.
Punta Uva. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Punta Uva.
Punta Uva. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Punta Uva.
Punta Uva. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)

 

6. Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is famous for three things: beautiful beaches, great surf and Gisele Bündchen (who owns a villa in the hills above town). Located near the dramatic southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa combines stunning natural beauty with an upscale backpacker vibe. Because it remains relatively difficult to get to, Santa Teresa is not overrun with “sun and fun” tourists who arrive en masse via budget package deals. Instead, this rugged area lures more adventurous travelers in the backpacker/hippie/surfer mold. Although it takes some effort to get to Santa Teresa, the gorgeous beaches are worth it. Just ask the local expats, many of whom arrived on vacation and never left.

 

Playa Santa Teresa.
Playa Santa Teresa. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Santa Teresa.
Playa Santa Teresa. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)
Playa Santa Teresa.
Playa Santa Teresa. (Courtesy of James Kaiser)

To see more of Costa Rica’s best beaches, go to https://jameskaiser.com/costa-rica-guide/costa-rica-best-beaches.

6 Comments »

  1. Playa Samara is beautiful as well. Great for beginning surfers and the nightlife on the beach is very chill.

    Comment by Natalie — May 12, 2015 @ 8:29 am

  2. Beautiful photos of some of Costa Rica’s beaches, but I wonder if all the photos of Punta Uva are actually of that beach? The last looks far more like Mananillo. Of course, the Caribbean coast has many stunning beaches so it might be hard to tell them all apart 😉

    Comment by Sara — May 12, 2015 @ 9:47 am

  3. My favourite on here is Manuel Antonio.As it is near the wildlife refuge it has that added bonus! Such a brilliant photo and what amazing travel adventures you surely had to take these . Another beach I walked on was the one in the Osa Peninsula.I was trekking to the Ranger station. What an Idyllic spot with views of crocodiles and Coatimundis a few yards away. Not one other person in sight. So..Costa Rican beaches are paradise. Thankyou.

    Comment by Celia Wilson — May 13, 2015 @ 12:23 am

  4. I like your descriptcion, but guanacaste is so beautiful too.

    Comment by FERNANDO — September 8, 2015 @ 11:47 pm

  5. We’ve just spent a week at Punta Uva and those are definitely photos of the beaches either side of Red Cliff – both just gorgeous!

    Comment by Katarina — March 16, 2017 @ 7:16 pm

  6. This was a wonderful collection to look through! My friends and I are spending a week in Costa Rica, and are having a hard time deciding whether to spend it on the Pacific or Caribbean side. From your collection it seems like the Pacific is your favorite. Do you have a personal opinion for which side to adventure first for a first timer?

    Thank you so much!

    Comment by Erica — July 8, 2017 @ 7:57 pm

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