9 Best Beaches in Costa Rica for Surfing, Snorkeling, and Wildlife Spotting

Stunning stretches of Caribbean and Pacific coastline await.

Aerial view of Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste, Costa Rica
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With 763 miles of oceanfront real estate on both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, the Central American nation of Costa Rica is a dream world for surfing, swimming, and sunbathing. It’s also worth noting that all beaches are public, so travelers truly have an endless array of options. Yes, it’s a bit more complicated to access the sandy crescents that are backed by hotels and fronted by the ocean, but with so many incredible spots to spread out a towel and take a dip, that doesn’t matter much. (Speaking of lodging, if you’re looking for a place to stay that’s steps from the sand, check out our list of the best Costa Rica beach resorts.)

Whether the goal is surfing, snorkeling, exploring tidal pools, or simply soaking up the sunshine, there’s a Costa Rica beach — well, likely many — that’s sure to live up to your idealized version of a palm-fringed paradise. Save these sun-drenched stretches so that once the plane touches down, you can just throw on your swimsuit and take full advantage of every last pura vida-filled second. Here are nine of the best beaches in Costa Rica.

Playa Santa Teresa 

Santa teresa beach near malpais on the nicoya peninsula

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The crown jewel of the small, laid-back town of Santa Teresa on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Santa Teresa is an off-the-beaten-path gem that’s favored by surfers and vacationers alike. During the day, it offers great waves, and in the early evening, locals and visitors gather on the sand to watch the sunset over the water. It’s also edged by a handful of chill beach hotels and restaurants.

Playa Conchal

View of Conchal beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

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“Situated on the Gold Coast in the north of Guanacaste, Playa Conchal is one of the most versatile and photogenic beaches in Costa Rica," says Carly Patane Moss, travel expert at Black Tomato. "The golden sand mixes with tiny shells that seem to glisten alongside the turquoise tides.” Ideal for those who aren’t totally surf-obsessed, it’s a great spot for swimming, snorkeling with tropical fish and stingrays, and seaside picnics.

Playa Hermosa

Ocean View in Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

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A standout among a sea of gorgeous coastal spots in the Gulf of Papagayo, part of the Guanacaste province, Playa Hermosa (which translates to "beautiful beach" in Spanish) shows off dark sand and clear, blue water. A Blue Flag-awarded destination, it’s particularly well-suited for swimming, snorkeling, and scuba diving. Plus, the early morning sunrises and sunsets really wow. 

Playa Garza

Playa Garza Palm Trees

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Seeking a true sense of pura vida? Head to Playa Garza, a crescent-shaped stretch of soft sand south of the popular yoga and surf town of Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula. “Whether it’s spending the day admiring the local atmosphere, splashing in the crystalline waters, or watching local fisherman in the bay, you really can’t go wrong,” says Patane Moss.

Playa Ostional

Scenic view of beach against sky, Guanacaste Province, Ostional, Costa Rica

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Some beaches shine for surfing and swimming, while others are remarkable habitats filled with natural wonder. Playa Ostional on the Nicoya Peninsula falls into the latter category. A paradise for wildlife lovers, it’s a renowned nesting ground for the olive ridley sea turtle. Witnessing thousands of green hatchlings make their way to the water is a pretty incredible sight. The swells also draw surfers from near and far.

Playa Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio Beach, Costa Rica

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An easy walk from the Manuel Antonio National Park entrance gives way to the splendor of Playa Manuel Antonio. Patane Moss advises travelers to keep their eyes peeled for wildlife — namely, adorable sloths and curious monkeys. "When coming up to the Pacific Ocean, you’ll be greeted by unparalleled views of ivory sand, palm trees, and endless natural beauty," she says..  

Playa Biesanz

Costa Rica, Biesanz Beach

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Tucked away at the end of a trail that starts near Parador Resort & Spa and leads through the jungle, Playa Biesanz in Manuel Antonio isn’t necessarily easy to reach. The effort and sure-footedness required to navigate the dense vegetation, hill, and pebbly terrain does make the payoff — in this case, arriving at a tranquil “secret” beach with sun in the morning and shade for afternoon naps — that much sweeter.

Playa Tortuguero

Coastline, Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica

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The name likely already gave away the fact that Playa Tortuguero is a turtle-watching haven. In between seeing the majestic creatures lay eggs and scurry about — an experience that Patane Moss likens to stumbling into a David Attenborough documentary — travelers visiting this little patch of paradise can look forward to flopping on the golden sand and cooling off in the crystal waters.

Playa Guiones

Driftwood and Flowers on Misty Playa Guiones, Costa Rica

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Playa Guiones, a four-mile slice of coastal utopia in the Nosara area, supplies prime breaks on vast stretches of sugar-fine sand. Another selling point? It’s hardly ever crowded. That really lets the natural glory take center stage without droves of tourists packing the shore. The people you might see? Surfers, runners, and yogis practicing downward dog by the ocean.

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