I spent several weeks in Costa Rica during my study abroad experience, and have since been back to visit multiple times. Over the years, these are the places that stood out to me the most. These are my suggestions for the best beaches in Costa Rica:
In no particular order…
Montezuma: The town of Montezuma has a great Caribbean vibe. It’s a free-spirited kind of place that some ticos refer to as “Montefuma”, if you know what I mean! While there isn’t a whole lot going on, it is a small artsy community that makes you feel welcome. It’s easy to strike up conversations and make friends.
At night, there are beach bonfires popping up all over the place, and it is so much fun to roam around and explore. The town is surrounded by scenic jungle mountains too, and there are some good hikes in the area. It is also a great place to take surf lessons, and soak in the distant sounds of howler monkeys! Best beaches in Costa Rica!
Getting there– With your own car, it’s about a 6 hour drive from San José. You can also take the public bus ($13.50), which includes riding on the Puntarenas ferry to cross over to the Nicoya Peninsula. I personally took a cheap flight, and got there in under 2 hours.
Lodging– Check here for listings in Montezuma
Dominical: One of my favorite beaches in the country, this felt like a hidden gem or undiscovered paradise. The town itself is very very small- It doesn’t take long, and you’ve seen it all. There are several private hotels and vacation homes along the water, so it’s perfect if you want to truly “get away from it all”.
The isolated nature of the beaches make you feel like you have undiscovered coves all to yourself. It is truly beautiful, particularly the rocky outcroppings and proximity to the jungle. We saw a wild anteater here, as well as plenty of sloths! It is likely you’ll see more wildlife here too given there are fewer people around. It’s also easy to go from here to nearby Uvita– a place known for waterfall hikes and whale-fin shaped beach (hence the name- La Costa Ballena!).
Getting there– You can take a public bus from San José and arrive in about 5 hours ($9). Driving in your own car will be more like 3.5 hours. If you’re coming from the Manuel Antonio area, it is less than a 1 hour drive.
Lodging– Check here for options in Dominical
Manuel Antonio: As it is inside the national park itself, the main Manuel Antonio beach and Playa Espadilla Sur are among the cleanest and most remote. Laying out in the sand right next to a tropical forest is an unforgettable experience. The water is calm and warm, and there are plenty of Capuchin monkeys and wild sloths around to look for.
My only advice for this beach is to be wary of the crazy raccoons! One time, a raccoon literally unzipped my backpack, took my lunch bag, and ran away into the jungle with it. They have no fear of humans!
Getting there– Given its one of the most visited areas of the country, the national park and town of Quepos is very well-connected. It is a 2.5 hour drive by private transport, and about a 3 hour public bus ride. You can also take a 2 hour flight.
Lodging– Staying in Quepos, I recommend Hostel Plinio, but check here for other options
Jacó: This town is more lively and active than the other beach towns I’ve been to in Costa Rica. If you want to relax, you can- but if you want to go out for drinks and dancing, you can do that too. Jacó also has a surprisingly good restaurant scene.
One thing about this beach though, is that the sand here is fairly rocky and not the best for laying on. There is also an abundance of iguanas here, as well as bigger resorts with nice pools.
Getting there– From San José, it is about a 1.5 hour drive. If you take the public bus like I did, it will be closer to 3 hours ($9).
Lodging– Click here for a variety of options
Santa Teresa: As a laid-back beach town alongside a tropical jungle, there isn’t really too much going on. That, however, is a good thing! As it’s a town well known for surfing, swimming in the ocean can be a bit tough, but it’s still doable. You can also visit the nearby Mal País tidepools, or take a day trip out to do some snorkeling.
Getting there– With your own car, it’s about a 6 hour drive from San José. You can also take the public bus ($12), which includes riding on the Puntarenas ferry to cross over to the Nicoya Peninsula. There are also cheap flights with Sansa Air, if available.
Lodging– Click here for some options!
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As always, all reviews and opinions are my own. However, should you choose to book any of the excursions or hotels linked above, please know I am an affiliate and will receive a small commission.