With coasts on both the Pacific and Caribbean, Costa Rica is defined both physically and culturally by its 750 miles of parenthetical shoreline. To the traveler, that means not only that there is no shortage of beaches backed by tropical forests, but also that sun-bathing can count as a cultural activity. Whether it's relaxing seclusion or seaside parties, Costa Rica has a beach for any travel type.
With coasts on both the Pacific and Caribbean, the Central American country of Costa Rica is home to more than 750 miles of shoreline. To the traveler, that translates into no shortage of gorgeous beaches, most backed by lush green tropical forests. Whether it's relaxing seclusion or seaside parties, Costa Rica has a beach for any travel type.
What's awesome about vacationing in Costa Rica is the affordability of lodging. Of course the luxury resorts are there if that's desired, but smaller, mom and pop run hotels offer prices that would be unheard of stateside. Rates are broken down by season, and visiting during the "green" season will promise the best prices. Christmas, New Year's and Easter...not so much. Just be prepared to spend a few extra dollars on air conditioning in some places.
In terms of transportation throughout the country, commuter planes are probably the best bet. Rental cars are an option, as are buses. But those options can unnecessarily waste hours, especially if coming from San Jose in the center of the country. Regional carriers like Sansa and Nature Air (the world's first carbon neutral airline) can get travelers on the beach quickly.
Costa Rica's Best Beaches
Destin-Nation Costa Rica: Hitting the Beach in Central America
Santa Rosa National Park is located in Costa Rica’s northwest corner, where the beaches are free of crowds. Here, accessing the beach requires an eight-mile hike or four-wheeler ride from the park ranger station.
Playas Naranjo and Nancite, within the park, are a major nesting place for sea turtles. During the the "arribidas" (arrivals)from July to November, hundreds of thousands of turtles come ashore here to lay their eggs by moonlight. Visitors help shepherd struggling hatchlings as they claw their way to the sea.
Where to Stay: At the park, visitors will find only the basic camping facilities of outhouses and cold-water showers, but for those less inclined to rough it the Ecoplaya Beach Resort a few miles north should hit the spot. The property features exotic flower gardens, a pool, two hot tubs, a restaurant and a bar. There’s also a ½ mile private beach for days when everything else seems just too far away.
The 18 hotel rooms and 26 villas come with AC, satellite TV and full kitchenettes. Rates start at $74 per person per night during the low season with breakfast, lunch and a la carte dinner included. A two night minimum stay is required.
Getting There: Ecoplaya provides transportation from Juan Santa Maria International Airport outside San Jose (about 190 miles away) and Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia (about 45 miles away).
Instead of sand, Playa Conchal is dusted with fine crushed seashells that give the beach its name. (Conchas is Spanish for seashells.) Although Playa Conchal is on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, it boasts turquoise waters that are rare on this side of the country. Some regard this somewhat remote stretch as the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica.
Where to Stay: Hotel Brasilito is located on neighboring Playa Brasilito and is just a short walk from Playa Conchal. Budget rooms run from $29-$65, standard rooms from $36-$72, family-sized rooms from $49-$79 and oceanfront balcony rooms from $39-$85. Air conditioning comes with an extra fee, but 24-Hour security is a reassuring bonus.
Nearby Conchal Hotel also offers affordable rooms that include continental breakfast, afternoon tea and coffee, and calls to the U.S. and Canada gratis. One and two person rooms are $85-$115, three and four person rooms are $125-$185, and a two bedroom casita is $225.
Getting There: Fly directly into Daniel Oduber International in Liberia or take a commuter flight to Liberia from San Jose on Sansa or Nature Air. American Airlines, US Airways, Delta and Continental have flights into LIR from the U.S. From Liberia, take a bouncy taxi or a shuttle to Playa Conchal or Brasilito.
Playa Tamarindo was once a small beach town, but is now a booming tourist destination – it can be particularly good for those looking to party. It features high-end shopping, dining and entertainment, but comes with a price tag that might be unattractive to budget travelers. One of the upsides of this region's popularity is that many—if not most—of the locals speak English very well.
Where to Stay: Though it can be easy to blow a lot of cash in Tamarindo, there are still affordable accommodations to be found, especially during the low or “green” season.
At the Hotel Capitan Suizo, a double occupancy room starts at $140 during this season; $165 if it comes with air conditioning. (During the priciest season the same room will start at $215 or $240.) Aside from basic rooms, there’s bungalows ($195-$325), a honeymoon suite ($300 - $385) and a 4 bedroom suite ($385-$600). A breakfast buffet is included.
The Chocolate Hotel and 5-Star Hostel offers travelers two types of hotel experiences: well-equipped apartment-style suites and a hostel with male and female dorms plus a few private rooms. See website for rates.
Getting There: Hotel Capitan Suizo offers private or group transportation from Liberia Airport for a small fee.
For those flying into San Jose, Sansa and NatureAir offer flights from San Jose to an airstrip less than two miles outside Tamarindo where taxis and hotel buses are always waiting.
Located northeast of Malpais on the Nicoya peninsula, Montezuma has been called a paradise for backpackers, outdoors types and enthusiasts of "la pura vida," the good life's Central American cousin. The lure of almost deserted wilderness beaches and waterfalls like Montezuma Waterfall or El Chorro brings intrepid travelers here, but there are less seemly draws as well, making this a less than ideal destination for families.
Where to Stay: At Ylang Ylang Beach Resort guests can choose from a variety of accommodation styles. There are private bungalows ($245-$365 for two), beachfront suites ($195-$305 for two) and beachfront rooms ($180-$265 for two) plus tent-cabins ($140-$220 for two) for those who want to be closer to nature and don’t mind shared bathrooms, and rooms at the El Sano Banano Village Café ($65-$95 for two) for a more authentic in-town experience. All rates at Ylang Ylang include breakfast and dinner; rooms at El Sano Banano come with breakfast.
To get into Montezuma’s hippie vibe, check out Anamaya Resort. This retreat center offers organic food, yoga classes, spa services and retreat packages. Rooms range from $145-$295 per night with breakfast and organic cotton sheets and towels included.
Getting There: Fly to the Tambor Airport and take a hotel-arranged taxi.
One of Costa Rica’s first seaside hotspots, Manuel Antonio draws in the crowds and has more than enough hotels to host everyone. Fortunately, nature lies just beyond the crush. Be sure to check out the beach views – white sands bordered by lush forest – from the cliffs approaching Manuel Antonio National Park.
Where to Stay: La Posada Private Jungle Bungalows is the only hotel in Manuel Antonio that directly borders the national park. Located at the park entrance, it’s only a short walk to the beach. Choose from private bungalows ($80-$125), a two-bedroom “casa” ($150-$225), a two-story villa ($125-$175), the “Monkey Room” ($70-$115) for families and the “Posada Room” ($60-$100) designed for longer stays. Breakfast is included and calls to the U.S. and Canada are free. Some rooms also offer a discount for stays of four or more nights.
The Falls at Manuel Antonio also offers affordable room options: standard king ($95-$149), deluxe room ($110-$180), double queen ($100-$220), and luxury apartment ($245-$350.) Breakfast is included.
Getting There: The easiest option is to hop a Sansa or NatureAir flight from San Jose to Quepos airport, and take a taxi from there.
Malpais might still be called up-and-coming, but that might prove advantageous for luxury seekers. Luxe lodges and hotels can be found amid the surf camps that nurture this area's wave-riding culture. There are breaks here, but no waves of tourists.
Malpais borders the Cabo Blanco Nature reserve to the south and nearby Santa Teresa offers some shopping and fairly basic tourist facilities. So, there’s sure to be something for everyone.
Where to Stay: Affordable rates can be found at the Moana Lodge, where the rooms are dispersed throughout tropical gardens. During the low season, a standard double-occupancy room runs $90 per night and can reach $125 at peak time. There are also deluxe rooms ($115-$150), junior suites ($190-$250) and a suite ($230-$295). All 10 rooms include breakfast, AC, private bathroom and Wi-Fi, but the satellite TV is communal.
For a luxurious adult-only retreat, check out Casa Chamelion. Featuring only four villas, it certainly qualifies as a secluded getaway. And, it doesn’t have to break the bank – villas range from $275 to $575 per night.
Getting There: The closest airport to Malpais is Tambor Airport, which can be accessed by Nature Air or Sansa. Both Moana Lodge and Casa Chamelion will assist in reserving a taxi for the 40-to-50 minute ride.
Powder white sands remind visitors to this beach that they are now on the Caribbean coast. That, along with turquoise waters, coral reefs and coconut palms lining the beach give Manzanillo, and nearby beaches, a more island feel.
Where to Stay: Within the local fishing village, the Cabinas Arena Tropical are just steps from the ocean and houses guests in natural pinewood lodges. A standard lodge ($65-$95) sleeps up to four, and a large lodge ($75-$105) can accommodate six. No AC here though, cabins come equipped with fans.
There are also a number of lodging options in nearby Puerto Viejo. La Kukula Lodge offers bungalows ($145-$210), triple rooms ($85-$110), and double rooms ($70-$97) with breakfast included. The hotel’s Sloth House is a vacation rental house complete with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, a private swimming pool and game room. For four to eight people planning a stay of one week or longer, the fee is $1200 per week. It’s also available at $600 for three nights.
Getting There: The closest airport to Puerto Viejo/Manzanillo is Limon International Airport, which can be reached by Nature Air. From Puerto Viejo buses run daily to Manzanillo.
Playa Dominical is often regarded as one of Costa Rica’s best surfing spots. Because the roads leading to Dominical are not particularly well developed, the beach doesn’t see the same amount of traffic as many other Costa Rican beaches. So, it has not become overrun with tourists.
Where to Stay: Located in the heart of Dominical, Hotel DiuWak offers eight different lodging options: Standard room with fan ($65-$105), standard room with AC ($70-$115), standard premium ($80-$120), deluxe ($85-$125), deluxe superior ($100-$140), bungalow ($115-$160), junior suite ($125-$165) and suite ($135-$185). Breakfast is included, and bungalows include kitchens for the cooking inclined. The on-site mini-market should help furnish any culinary expeditions.
Outside of town, Pacific Edge eco-lodge is perched 600 feet above the coast in a rainforest wildlife sanctuary. The bungalow ($90-$125), standard cabin ($60) and deluxe cabins ($70) all offer ocean views from private balconies.
Getting There: Sansa and Nature Air offer flights to Palmar Sur Airport in Palmar Sur. Or, fly into Quepos/Miguel Antonio. Take a taxi or prearranged car from either. Nearby Jaco, where you can hire a taxi is on the route of most buses heading west from San Jose.
Corcovado is located in southern Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula. Enjoy the mountainous jungles of Corcovado National Park, lounge on the beach or take a side trip to nearby Isla del Cano to discover diverse marine life and stone spheres carved by pre-Columbian civilizations.
Where to Stay: Campsites are available within Corcovado National Park along with a limited number of bunk beds at the Sirena Biological Station. Reservations are required and visitors must bring with them everything they will need – including food (if meal reservations are not made) water and sheets.
For those reticent to rough it, the Yellow Coco Lodge in Puerto Jiminez is an alternative. For large groups, the Beach House ($165-$485) sleeps up to 10, and the Jungle Bungalows ($110-$260) can fit three to four. Weekly rates are also available. Not into cooking either? Rent a chef who offers dinner and a cooking lesson for $85.
Getting There: The closest airport to Corcovado is in Punto Jiminez and can be accessed by Sansa.
This beach on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is, not surprisingly, known for its black sands. So, don’t forget the flip flops – the dark sand can get hot in the Central American sun. This tinted Eden has a strong surf culture so swimmers should look out for flying boards.
Where to Stay: Built by a family of Peruvian surfers, Café Playa Negra is a restaurant, bar and hotel in one. Its six rooms are just a few minutes walk to the beach and run from $25 to $100 – air conditioning is available for an extra fee. The restaurant specializes in Peruvian/Costa Rican fusion type cuisine, but offers international favorites for less adventurous visitors.
Playa Negra Guesthouse is also owned by expats, in this case from Canada. At this hotel, choose from a single room ($50-$70), double room ($60-$80), small cottage ($75-$100), or large cottage ($100-$140).
Getting There: Tamarindo Airport is the closest to Playa Negra and is serviced by Sansa Air and Nature Air from San Jose. From there Playa Negra is about a 30 minute cab ride.
Liberia International Airport is a bit further, but is also an option. Arrange for private transportation to meet you there.