Costa Rica offers the stuff of vacation advertisements: horses galloping on a white-sand beach, surfers crouched in an enormous barrel wave, sea turtles gently nesting just steps from the ocean. Notice a sandy theme? The country has more than 800 miles of coastline and 300 beaches, divided between its Pacific and Caribbean sides.
Now that the country is—as of November 1—reopening to American travelers (without a COVID test), it’s time to talk beaches. Surfing is a big draw, of course. With waves and ever-shifting trade winds coming from the Pacific and the Caribbean, surfing in Costa Rica presents all kinds of conditions and challenges for surfers of various skill levels.
But there is a beach for every sort in Costa Rica, whether you want to a remote cove to hide from the crowds, a calm beach suited for young children, a shore with excellent wildlife-spotting potential, or a busy surf beach with plenty of nightlife possibilities. Ready to find yours?
Caribbean side beachesBeaches on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica are the ones printed on tourist brochures and postcards. That is to say, they’re practically perfect: think smooth shores sloping gently into calm waves and views framed by palm trees. Beaches are arranged here from north to south. (Note that Costa Rica has several beaches with the same name, so watch for that when researching or booking anything.)
Playa TortugueroBest for: turtle lovers
In Spanish, tortuguero translates roughly to “turtle region” and this beach in Tortuguero National Park, a protected sanctuary, does not disappoint. Tortuguero is less of a lie-about beach—for humans. For the shelled reptiles, it’s sandy heaven. To spy green sea and hawksbill turtles nesting, visit from July through October (August is considered peak nesting month).
To see the rarer leatherback, visit from February to April. You’ll want to book with a guide for two reasons: 1) The park is accessible only by boat or plane and 2) turtles typically nest at night—and visitors are prohibited in the park after 6 p.m. unless with a guide. Reserve ahead of time or take your pick of the many outfitters in Tortuguero Village, the hotel- and restaurant-packed gateway town. Read more
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