When people think about Costa Rica, more often than not what comes to mind is an image of a sandy, white, endless beach with palm trees blowing in the wind, waves lapping onto the shore and gorgeous sunsets melting into the horizon. It is no doubt that Costa Rica has some of the best and most beautiful beaches in the world and this is why it is considered “Paradise.”
Travelers’ motivations for visiting beaches in Costa Rica can vary significantly and with so many beaches to choose from, it can be hard to distinguish which one(s) to visit. Costa Rica Escapes is here to assist and break down this seemingly overwhelming task of “Which beach is best for me and what I want to do?”
One thing is for sure – no matter what type of vacation you’re taking (family vacation, honeymoon vacation, or perhaps just a customized trip), we can guarantee that there will be something for everyone as you explore these incredible slices of paradise in Central America!
300 Beaches in Costa Rica…and They’re all Different!
With over 900 miles of coastline, Costa Rica has almost 300 different beaches that line the Pacific (west coast) and Caribbean (east coast) Oceans. Aside from the geographic difference, each beach has its own a unique draw and distinct characteristics. There are beaches for those that love to surf, also for those that want to sit and relax under the sun, and also beaches for families who are traveling with kids to Costa Rica.
The variation of sand on these beaches is absolutely incredible and can change drastically in a very small distance. The sand can vary from a white, black, brown, or mixed coloration. In addition to the color, the texture of the sand also changes a great deal. Some of these beaches are full of shells or pieces of shells, while others are covered with rocks or coral. But don’t worry, most of the Costa Rican beaches are covered with soft, fine sand, perfect for relaxing and enjoying your Costa Rica vacation!
A Tale of Two Beaches: Costa Rica’s Caribbean & Pacific Coastlines
The beaches in Costa Rica are initially divided into two groups according to which coast they are located on.
Best Beaches on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Side
In general, the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Ocean tend to provide an excellent home for snorkeling & swimming beaches. The Caribbean’s topography and coast are considerably more as compared to the Pacific’s coastline. This allows beach hikers to walk for miles on end from beach-to-beach, occasionally passing through a section of “jungle” to reach the next beach. While the Pacific coast is more revered for its surfing beaches there are still some incredible surfing beaches and surf breaks on the Caribbean side. Salsa Brava & Playa Cocles are two of our favorite surfing spots in the country and both of these places are located just south of Puerto Viejo.
The beach of Cahuita is lay-back, beautiful, and wild. A popular destination in the Caribbean that somehow never feels crowded. The Cahuita National Park is a fantastic destination for easy hiking and wildlife spotting, snorkeling or just relaxing and sunbathing.
Colorful, lay-back, breathtaking views and beaches, and excellent food that is the simpler way to describe Puerto Viejo de Limón, the most vibrant and active town in the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, besides the actual city of Puerto Limon.
If you keep on driving past Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, right where the road ends, there is Manzanillo, a much smaller town but a very long beach and excellent hiking and snorkeling possibilities.
Best Beaches on Costa Rica’s Pacific Side
Not only is Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline is larger than its Caribbean; it is also more developed and more accessible. This combined with the weather & swell patterns make the beaches of the Pacific a “Mecca” for surfers. Many of the beaches on the Pacific are great for swimming and snorkeling as well; however, the sunsets & surfing are what people who visit these beaches remember!
If you are looking for beauty, yoga, and surf, Nosara is the place to go. This beach is located on the northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica and besides the attributes already mentioned, it has a great advantage that it always feels solitary and rustic, even though luxury is all around.
This is one of the most visited parts of Costa Rica, and for excellent reasons: great beaches, all kinds of activities for all ages and budgets and a national park were wildlife coexists with visitors in a very open way. Ah! And add to that great lodging options and food options. Including Manuel Antonio area and its beaches in your visit to Costa Rica makes a lot of sense!
This beach marks the beginning of an extraordinary part of Costa Rica, the South Pacific coast. Dominical is an excellent place for passionate surfers, or for those who love good food and natural settings with some hidden treasure spots to relax in the cold water.
Costa Rica’s Beaches Classified by Activity: Surfing, Snorkeling & Swimming
Note: This article was originally published on 2/12/2013, and updated on 1/22/2019.
Plan a Trip to Visit Costa Rica’s Beaches!
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John Rabenau has been working in the eco-tourism & adventure travel industry in Costa Rica since 2002. He has worked in a variety of capacities from Outdoor Educator & Principle Guide to Itinerary Design Manager & Business Owner for numerous organizations. He has grown Costa Rica Escapes into one of the most reputable Costa Rica travel agencies since its creation in 2006, hosting more than 5,000 people with custom vacation itineraries.