Sunning and Surfing on Costa Rica Beaches
By Roger Dalton
Costa Rica is a small country but includes more than 700 miles of coastline on the Pacific side and around 130 miles on the Caribbean side. The weather is hot and humid in coastal areas all year long.
Dry season is from December through March (many times April is dry) on the Pacific side but the Caribbean has it's own micro-climate meaning it can rain most any time. Typically, mornings are bright and sunny with short but strong rain storms building in the afternoon during wet season. The driest months on the Caribbean side are typically December through March, August, and September.
Snorkeling, Kayaking, and Chilling
The majority of Costa Rica's beaches are surfing oriented with strong rip tides and pumping wave action. Small to medium sized coves and protected beach areas due to offshore islands provide safe calm water beaches more suitable for families, snorkeling, and kayaking.
- Playa Hermosa
There are three beaches with this name. This one is in the Guanacaste province in the northwestern Pacific region. A beautiful picturesque spot with pretty blue water, coral colored sand, and a beach with a gently sloping bottom, Hermosa is a short 35 minute ride from Liberia's International airport. Snorkeling is average here. Kayaking and sailing is wonderful. Hermosa does not sport an actual town but Playas del Coco is a short 8 km ride which includes restaurants, banks, shopping, and small local bars. Moderate to resort style hotels are present, including beach front hotels.
- Playa Ocotal
Just south of Playas del Coco 2 km is the small beautiful cove known as Playa Ocotal. This cove includes rocky headlands on both sides and is a little better for snorkeling. The cove includes calm blue waters and a darker than coral beach. This cove is dominated by one resort of the same name, situated on a steep hill. Playa Ocotal is a short 30 minute ride from Liberia's International airport too.
- Playa Conchal
This is one of my favorite beaches in Costa Rica. The sand is very light coral in color, water is turquoise and extremely calm. The beach includes pretty trees for shade and picnic lunches. The only beach front accommodation is the ultra expensive Paradisus Playa Conchal. Access to the beach for Paradisus guests is easy but for others reaching the beach involves driving across the Brasilito beach, fording a small stream, and climbing a small but steep rocky hill (requires a 4x4).
- Punta Uva & Manzanillo
On the Caribbean side of the country, Punta Uva and the Manzanillo beaches are a wonderland of secluded beaches and fantastic wildlife due to the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge that butts right up to the beach areas. This area provides less infrastructure than the Pacific side and does not include big resort options. Budget to mid-range hotel options are plentiful. Manzanillo is a fishing village a short distance from the Panamanian border in the southern Caribbean. This area is an eco-tourists paradise. Monkey's, sloth, birds and other wildlife can be seen a rocks throw from pristine secluded and beautiful beaches. A best kept secret of Costa Rica.
- Isla del Cano
In the southern Pacific, easily accessible from the Osa peninsula lies Cano Island. This island is not inhabited but does include a ranger station and small beach area with light coral sand and pretty blue waters. This is the best snorkeling and diving area in the country. A day trip here can be arranged from Ballena National Park described below.
- Ballena National Park
Ballena means whale in Spanish. The park gets its name from the whale tail shaped sand bar which provides excellent snorkeling and nice beach enjoyment in the northern section of the park. Whale and dolphin frequent this area and are often spotted especially August through March each year.
The surf capital of Costa Rica is Tamarindo in the northwestern Pacific region. Tamarindo is a party town with many young surfer types enjoying sun and fun year round. Tamarindo provides numerous surf schools and surf camps for beginners and soft sandy bottom beaches with small enough surf to allow safe wipeouts.
Playa Grande is just north of Tamarindo and includes strong surf for thrilling action for more accomplished surfers. A great number of secluded beaches can be found in this area to get away from the crowd for more intimate beach vacations.
To the north Playa Naranjo, also known as Witches Rock, provides the ultimate in wilderness surfing and huge waves, and to the south Playa Negra provides a hollow right break on a volcanic black sand beach. The filming of Endless Summer II included the surf in these locations.
On the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula this area provides a funky offbeat environment with fantastic surfing action without the crowded and commercialized environment found in Tamarindo. Pumping surf and sandy bottoms provide great options for beginners and expert surfers.
Playa Santa Teresa has risen from offbeat obscurity to popularity and is located a short distance away. The area now provides budget and resort options to accommodate any travelers needs.
- Playa Jaco
In the central Pacific region, Jaco provides sandy bottom surfing options, decent swells for instruction and is the most lively nightlife town on the entire Costa Rican coastline. The southern beach area is preferred for quieter nights if you enjoy sleeping after a hard day of surfing.
Playa Hermosa, just south of Jaco, includes miles of deserted pumping surf for better surfers.
- Playa Pavones and Zancudo
The far southern Pacific region includes many beaches in the Golfo Dulce and Osa peninsula area. Zancudo and Pavones stand out for their fast and long left break. On a decent day the break is nearly one kilometer long making it one of the longest breaks in the entire world. Not a place for beginners however.
The most beautiful beaches
I am often asked where the best white sand beach is in Costa Rica. My response is that compared to the powder white beaches in Siesta Key, Florida there are no white sand beaches in Costa Rica. Most of the beaches can be characterized as secluded, wild, and ruggedly beautiful. That said, many beaches do sport very light tan colored sand but most are darker volcanic sand, some black as coal.
Here is my top 10 most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.
- Gandoca-Manzanillo beaches including Punta Uva
- Playa Conchal
- Playa Manuel Antonio
- Playa Flamingo
- Playa Guiones
- Playa Grande
Many eco-tourists combine a visit to Arenal volcano or a cloud forest with their beach vacation. The most fun vacations in Costa Rica usually involve adventure activities followed by relaxation at one of Costa Rica's nature beaches. Have fun deciding which one!
Roger is publisher of fun-costa-rica-vacations.com a destination guide for Costa Rica providing ideas for fun vacations.
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Views expressed in the article are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of CaribbeanChoice, its staff or members.