Costa Rica's best beach towns: Playa Sámara
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The Best Beach Towns in Costa Rica

The great thing about Costa Rica's beaches—other than the flour-soft sand and the top-notch surfing and snorkeling—is that many of the best coastal areas abut marvelous and mysterious rainforests, mangroves, dry forests, rivers, and other natural wonders. That means you can pair a beach vacation with canopy tours, wildlife watching, zip-lining, whitewater rafting, and canyoneering. These inland adventures in pristine green spaces are the yin to Costa Rica's sandy yang. Together, they make a potent combination.

We’ve picked eight primo beach destinations below. You'll notice a few of the country’s most famous spots have been left off the list—that's because we don't want you to have to fight crowds for a place to lay down your beach blanket.

Here, in no particular order, are our favorite beach towns in Costa Rica.

Pictured above: Playa Sámara

Costa Rica's best beach towns: Playa Montezuma
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Playa Montezuma

Despite increasing development in nearby Santa Teresa, this beach town, at the very tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, retains its serenity. Walk far away enough from the crowds, and soon you may find yourself alone on the sands, with just the roaring surf for company.

Top attractions: The spectacular Montezuma Waterfall is just outside of town. You can either hike to the cascade or take a canopy tour that swings right over the rushing water. The town is a hopping-off point for nearby Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, known for its white-sand beaches and wildlife-spotting opportunities; howler monkeys, brown pelicans, magnificent frigate birds, and brown boobies are among the residents. The area is also famous for its yoga and wellness retreats.

To read our complete review, click here.

Costa Rica's best beach towns: horses on Playa Sámara
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Playa Sámara

This is the choice for vacationers who like their towns on the sleepy side. You won’t find buzzy nightlife here or flashy restaurants—just a long, long beach (usually resulting in dispersed crowds), more nearly deserted beaches nearby, and a surprising number of adventures on offer for active travelers.

Top attractions: For spelunking, the extensive cave system of Barra Honda National Park is nearby. The beach is great for learning to surf, thanks to offshore obstacles that keep the waves relatively tame. Many visitors ante up for ultralight flights over the rainforest, zip line tours, horseback riding, and sportfishing.

To read our complete review, click here.

Costa Rica's best beach towns: Punta Guiones near Nosara
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As a hub for expats and a major surfing destination with miles of world-class breaks, Nosara has a varied restaurant and nightlife scene catering to all the out-of-towners. But because a nature reserve takes up much of the land here, the vibe is less honky-tonk than in other resort towns on the coast. Yoga retreats are also a big draw.

Top attractions: Superb for bird-watching, the Nosara Biological Reserve has a network of trails and raised walkways that stretch from tropical transitional forests to mangrove swamps. The Sibu Wildlife Sanctuary, which rescues and rehabilitates injured and orphaned animals, allows visitors to meet and even help care for monkeys and other furry denizens. 

To read our complete review, click here.

Costa Rica's best beach towns: Las Catalinas
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Las Catalinas

Before 2006, this little town didn’t exist. It was built solely for tourists. So if you’re looking to experience authentic Tico culture, this ain’t it. But the location was chosen for the beauty of the beach, and the developers have done a good job creating a handsome, Mediterranean-looking town with all sorts of shops, restaurants, bars, and lodgings. It's very appealing.

Top attractions: Hills with rare dry forest surround the town. They can be explored by hiking, biking, or horseback riding. ConnectOcean, a major marine life organization, offers educational programming as well as snorkeling and mangrove tours. Some of the best scuba diving in Costa Rica awaits just offshore among the Las Catalinas islands.

To read our complete review, click here.

Costa Rica's best beach towns: Papagayo Peninsula
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Playa Nacascolo, Playa Hermosa, and the Papagayo Peninsula

Less a town than a loose confederation of high-end resorts, this small region on the north Pacific coast boasts some of the most stunning beaches in the country. The waters here are more protected than along much of the coastline—bad news for surfers seeking big waves, but perfect for families and others looking to swim and sunbathe.

Top attractions: Sportfishing draws many to the Papagayo Peninsula. The region also has the country's best golf courses and some mighty fine zip lines.

To read our complete review, click here.

Costa Rica's best beach towns: surfing at Playa Pavones
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Playa Pavones

With one of the best left breaks on the planet, Playa Pavones is renowned among surfers. Right before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, a few luxury condos opened here, but Pavones is still a remote place that mostly draws backpackers and hang-tenners. 

Top attractions: Visitors come primarily to surf. Head east toward the Panama border and you'll find untouched, starkly handsome black-sand beaches fringed with virgin rainforest (keep an eye out for wildlife). You can also attend yoga workshops in the region or learn about the crafts, culture, and chocolate-making traditions of the Ngäbe people.

To read our complete review, click here.

Costa Rica's best beach towns: Puerto Viejo
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Puerto Viejo

Life really is different on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, as you’ll discover at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in the southeastern Limón Province. Reggae and calypso fill the air, culinary delicacies recall the food of Jamaica and Barbados, and the culture is proudly Afro-Caribbean.

Top attractions: The famously fearsome Salsa Brava wave brings many surfers to town, but that's just the beginning of Puerto Viejo’s appeal. It’s also a jumping-off point for cultural visits to the Bribri people's Kéköldi reserve, scuba diving excursions, cacao cultivation tours, and whitewater rafting trips on the nearby Pacuare River.

To read our complete review, click here.

Costa Rica's best beach towns: Manzanillo
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You've come to the end of the road—literally—when you reach quiet Manzanillo. What action there is can mostly be found below the waves: The waters here are among Costa Rica's clearest, so this is an excellent snorkeling spot. Back on land, the beaches leading to town have incredibly soft, white sands against a backdrop of deep green rainforest. Note that most visitors stay in the resorts at nearby Playa Cocles.  

Top attractions: Just outside of town, Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, with its pocket coves, small islands, and rocky outcroppings, may be one of the most Instagram-worthy parks in the country. Around 350 species of birds as well as manatees, crocodiles, and dozens of other animals live here. More wildlife encounters are available at the Jaguar Rescue Center, which rehabilitates injured and mistreated sloths, monkeys, reptiles, and other critters (no jaguars, though). Manzanillo and its surroundings are also known for high-quality chocolate-making tours and horseback riding trips. 

To read our complete review, click here.