One of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica is to visit the beaches, and for good reason.
With easily accessible beaches on both the Pacific and Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, there are so many beautiful options!
Did you know that by law all beaches in Costa Rica need to have public access? This means no spot is off-limit to your exploration.
Now we just need to find the perfect one for you!
Pacific or Caribbean Coast Beaches
It can be difficult to decide between Costa Rica’s Pacific coast and the Caribbean coast for beaches.
Both sides of the country are blessed with beautiful landscapes.
Most people tend to visit the Pacific coast however, the Caribbean coast is also great.
Check out our guide to choosing between the Pacific and Caribbean for more info.
Pacific Coast Beaches
The Pacific coast is blessed with white sand beaches, good snorkeling, easy accessibility from the main airports, and your choice of many small or larger beach towns.
The dry season on this side of the country runs from mid-December until late April.
A few of our favorite Pacific beaches are:
– Playa Blanca: Playa Blanca is the closest beach from the San Jose airport. It is located in a private resort, but there is a secret entrance for non resort guests.
– Playa Montezuma: You can walk for miles and miles on Montezuma beach located on the Nicoya Peninsula. It is not the best for swimming, but it is great for spotting wildlife and enjoy nature.
– Playa Flamingo: Flamingo is located in the Guanacaste region. It is one of the most popular beaches in the country due to its bright white sand. This area of the country is also great for scuba diving.
One of the nicest beaches in Costa Rica is actually on an island.
If you find yourself in Jaco, Santa Teresa, or Montezuma we suggest taking a day tour to Isla Tortuga.
It’s seriously beautiful and will give you the chance to do some snorkeling and beach exploration.
Caribbean Coast Beaches
The Caribbean beaches tend to have a more raw feel to them. The sand is typically darker here.
We like this area for a more relaxed feel and typically there are less tourists.
The dry season here runs from late July until about December.
A few of our favorite beaches are:
– Playa Punta Uva: Playa Punta Uva is located just south of the town of Puerto Viejo. This is one of the most picturesque beaches on the Caribbean coast.
– Playa Grande: Playa Grande is located just south of Playa Punta Uva. We love it because from here you can access the Manzanillo Wildlife refuge. There is also this old rusted boat on the beach which makes a cool photo backdrop.
National Parks with Beaches
On both the Pacific and Caribbean coast there are national parks and reserves that offer beach access.
These places make great fun filled day trips that combine hiking and swimming.
Here are some of our favorites…
Manuel antonio National Park
Located in the town of Manuel Antonio (near Quepos), this is the most popular national park in the country.
There are hiking trails for all physical levels, calm waters for swimming, a waterfall, and TONS of wildlife.
Just note that the park is closed on Tuesday’s.
Check out our Manuel Antonio National Park guide for all the details.
Cahuita National Park
This park is located in the relaxed beach town of Cahuita on the Caribbean coast.
This is a great place to spend a full day. The main trail runs parallel to the beach, which means that whenever you need a break from hiking you can easily hop in the water.
There are also picnic tables if you would like to bring lunch and make a full day of it.
Check out the Cahuita National Park guide for info on planning your trip.
Ostional National Park
Ostional is a long beach located just north of Nosara. It is not the best spot for swimming, but instead it has a different appeal…turtles. Thousands of turtles.
If you have the chance to experience this phenomenon known as the arribada, don’t miss it. It is a once in a lifetime kind of thing.
You can find out how to visit Ostional with our Ostional beach guide.
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is located in the remote village of Tortuguero on the northern Caribbean coast.
It is only possible to access this town by plane or boat.
The national park consists of protected river waterways, hiking trails, and undisturbed beaches that are a common turtle nesting site.
Find out how to visit with our Tortuguero National Park guide.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park is located on the southernmost tip of Costa Rica on the Pacific Coast.
This park is home to approximately 5% of the world’s biodiversity.
To visit here it is required that you access the park with a certified guide.
You can find more about planning your visit with our Corcovado National Park guide.
Marino Ballena National Park
This national park consists of the beach area in Uvita.
This is a popular whale watching and snorkeling area.
However the main draw is the interesting phenomenon during low tide in which the beach resembles a giant whale’s tail.
Find out how to visit with the Marino Ballena guide.
Curu Reserve is an area with plenty of hiking trails located near the town of Paquera.
We like this spot because it always seems somewhat empty. Most tourists don’t venture here, but they should because it is beautiful!
Find out how to visit with our Curu guide.
Cabo Blanco Reserve
Cabo Blanco is located on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula between Montezuma and Santa Teresa.
The hike to the beach is intense, but it is worth it for this beautiful remote beach at the end.
We suggest only taking on this hike if you are in good physical shape.
Find out how to plan your trip with our Cabo Blanco guide.
What to Pack for the beach
Packing for the beach in Costa Rica might be a bit different than packing for the beach near your home.
Here your main concern should be sun protection rather than getting as much sun as possible.
We like long sleeve UV protecting shirts for in the water, dry bags to keep things from getting wet, and hard soled flip flops that can get wet.
The Sun in Costa Rica
The sun in Costa Rica is crazy strong! Don’t forget that the country is located not too far from the Equator.
The rating on the UV scale is always super high here.
It is best to always wear high SPF, a hat, and clothing that covers you when in the sun.
You can find out more sun safety tips with our guide to the sun in Costa Rica.
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Sunsets on the Beach
One of our favorite free things to do in Costa Rica is to enjoy the sunset on the Pacific Coast beaches.
The sun sets every day between 5:30 and 6pm.
Personally, we like to grab a beer and sit on our towel or take a walk before dinner while watching the sun go down.
You can find out about some of our favorite sunset beaches and great dinner spots with sunset views in our guide to sunsets in Costa Rica.
One of our favorite things to do in Costa Rica is to have a relaxing afternoon at a beach bar.
Nothing screams “vacation” like drinking a pina colada with the waves crashing behind you.
Check out the guide to the best beach bars in Costa Rica (on both coasts) to help you find the perfect spot.
The best time to see whales migrating is in the early fall (September is usually best).
The most popular place to take whale watching tours is in Uvita, but sometimes you might get lucky and spot them from the beach.
Check out our whale watching guide for more info.
Costa Rica is an amazing place to go surfing! The Pacific and Caribbean coasts are filled with great surf beaches for all skill levels.
The most popular surf beaches are Tamarindo, Nosara, Samara, Santa Teresa, and Dominical.
You can often rent a board for about $10 per day.
If you would like to take surf lessons there are many companies in all the Costa Rican beach towns that offer lessons at a variety of price points for all skill levels.
Check out our guide to surfing in Costa Rica for more tips.
Swimming from the beach
Keep in mind that there are rip currents at several beaches in Costa Rica.
However, it is always best to ask at your hotel for suggestions about swimming spots if you are concerned.
If you are traveling with kids, check out our family guide to Costa Rica for more swimming tips.
Snorkeling and diving are popular activities in Costa Rica’s clear waters.
It is possible to enjoy exploration of reefs on both coasts.
I will warn you, diving tours can be rather pricey, but with snorkeling you can always bring your own mask and snorkel anywhere you want.
Learn everything you need to know with our snorkel guide.
Costa Rica Beach Resorts
If you would like a resort vacation, we suggest staying at a beach front resort. This is a great way to enjoy the amenities of a resort experience while combining it with beautiful beaches.
Check out our Costa Rica resort guide for tons of great options.
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….if none of those appeal to you, check out our Must Know Planning Info on Costa Rica for more trip-planning advice