258km (160 miles) NW of San José; 40km (25 miles) SW of Liberia

This area is one of Costa Rica’s standouts, with the Papagayo Peninsula sheltering a large gulf, small bays, and beautiful beaches, not to mention some of the country’s most exclusive accommodations. While much of the coast in this vicinity is coveted by surfers, the waters here tend to be protected and calm, making them good destinations for families. Playa Hermosa ★ means “beautiful beach,” an apt moniker for this pretty crescent of sand. Surrounded by steep, forested hills, this curving gray beach is long and wide, and the surf is usually quite gentle. Fringing the beach is a swath of trees that stay surprisingly green even during the dry season. The shade provided by these trees, along with the calm waters, make this site very appealing. Rocky headlands jut out into the surf at both ends of the beach, where there are fun-to-explore tide pools.

Beyond Playa Hermosa lies Playa Panamá ★ and the calm Bahía Culebra ★, a large protected bay dotted with small, private patches of beach and ringed with mostly intact dry forest. On the northwestern reaches of Bahía Culebra is the Papagayo Peninsula ★, home to two large resorts and a championship golf course. This peninsula has a half-dozen or so small- to mid-size beaches, the nicest of which might just be Playa Nacascolo ★★★, which is inside the domain of the Four Seasons Resort here—but all beaches in Costa Rica are public, so you can still visit, albeit after parking at the public parking lot and passing through security.