With more than 1,200km (750 miles) of shoreline on its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Costa Rica offers beachgoers an embarrassment of riches.
- Santa Rosa National Park: If you really want to get away from it all, the beaches here in the northwest corner of Costa Rica are a good bet. You’ll have to four-wheel-drive or hike 13km (8 miles) from the central ranger station to reach them. And once there, you’ll find only the most basic of camping facilities: outhouse latrines and cold-water showers. But you’ll probably have the place almost to yourself. In fact, the only time it gets crowded is in October, when thousands of olive ridley sea turtles nest in one of their yearly arribadas (arrivals).
- Playa Nacascolo: With silky soft white sand, this is the best stretch of beach on the Papagayo Peninsula. The waters here are protected from ocean swells and great for swimming.
- Playa Avellanas: Just south of Tamarindo, this long, white-sand beach has long been a favorite haunt for surfers, locals, and those in-the-know. Playa Avellanas stretches on for miles, backed largely by protected mangrove forests. On the verge of “being discovered,” there’s still very little going on here — aside from the nearby JW Marriott resort and Lola’s, perhaps my favorite beachfront restaurant in the country.
- The Beaches around Playa Sámara: Playa Sámara itself is nice enough, but if you venture just slightly farther afield, you’ll find some of the nicest and least developed beaches along the entire Guanacaste coast. Playa Carrillo is a long, almost always deserted crescent of palm-backed white sand located just south of Sámara, while Playa Barrigona and Playa Buena Vista are two hidden gems tucked down a couple of dirt roads to the north.
- Playa Montezuma: This tiny beach town at the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula has weathered fame and infamy, but retains a funky sense of individuality. European backpackers, vegetarian yoga enthusiasts, and UFO seekers choose Montezuma’s beach over any other in Costa Rica. The waterfalls are what set it apart from the competition, but the beach stretches for miles, with plenty of isolated spots to plop down your towel or mat. Nearby are the Cabo Blanco and Curú wildlife preserves.
- Malpaís & Santa Teresa: While the secret is certainly out, there’s still some time to visit Costa Rica’s fastest growing hot spot before the throngs and large resorts arrive. With just a smattering of luxury lodges, surf camps, and assorted hotels and cabinas, Malpaís is the place to come if you’re looking for miles of deserted beaches and great surf. If you find Malpaís is too crowded, head farther on down the road to Santa Teresa and beyond, to Playa Hermosa and Manzanillo.
- Manuel Antonio: The first beach destination to become popular in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio retains its charms despite burgeoning crowds and mushrooming hotels. The beaches inside the national park are idyllic, and the views from the hills approaching the park are enchanting. This is one of the few remaining habitats for the endangered squirrel monkey. Rooms with views tend to be a bit expensive, but many a satisfied guest will tell you they’re worth it.
- Punta Uva & Manzanillo: Below Puerto Viejo, the beaches of Costa Rica’s eastern coast take on true Caribbean splendor, with turquoise waters, coral reefs, and palm-lined stretches of nearly deserted white-sand beach. Punta Uva and Manzanillo are the two most sparkling gems of this coastline. Tall coconut palms line the shore, providing shady respite for those who like to spend a full day on the sand, and the water is usually quite calm and good for swimming.