Dry season, or verano (summer) has almost arrived in Costa Rica, which means it’s time to choose the perfect beach for your upcoming vacation. From December through May, the sun shines gloriously across this tropical slice of heaven (well, the Pacific side, anyway; Caribbean beaches have their own weather patterns, with plenty of rain year-round), welcoming surfers, sunbathers, family and friends.
Every traveler is different, but Costa Rica has the perfect beach for almost everyone. Which exquisite stretch of sand might best suit you? That depends.
With Central America’s finest selection of luxury properties – many of them fabulously green eco-lodges – upscale travelers have their choice of Costa Rican beaches. The classic dream trip, however, is stunning Manuel Antonio, ranked one of the world’s most beautiful national parks by Forbes magazine, and surrounded with unique top-end properties. Never fear, budget travelers; there are inexpensive rooms, meals, and tours for you, too, though you should budget about 50% more here than elsewhere.
Costa Rica is famously replete with natural wonders, carpeted with well protected wilderness and offering all sorts of adventures amidst its pristine beaches, wild rivers and erupting volcanoes. The most biodiverse corner of the country (and hemisphere) is the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park. While real explorers will be content only to traverse the park on foot, less intrepid travelers could stay in Puerto Jimenez, Carate, Guadalupe (La Palma), or Drake Bay, accessible only by boat or plane.
You’re not just here for the surf and sand, though that’s a big part of it. You’re looking for the top party beaches in Costa Rica, where you can mix and mingle with fellow fiesteros (partiers) from around the country and world. There are three top beaches for folks looking for a good time, all (unsurprisingly) possessed of some seriously epic surfing, hence their original popularity.
Closest to the capital, Jacó is the quintessential surf town, with rows of hotels and restaurants rimming the bay, an excellent beach break, and some of the best (and in some cases, grungiest) nightlife in the country. On the Nicoya Peninsula, the somewhat more upscale beach town of Tamarindo offers all that with less grunge (and slightly higher prices), just an hour away from the international airport in Liberia.
The third of Costa Rica’s best party spots is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean side, close to the Panama border. With a festive “downtown” and kilometers of wilder, quieter palm-fringed playas to explore, there’s something for everyone.
Looking for a low-key beach not yet overrun by surfers, luxury lodges, or cruise ships, but which still offers all the conveniences you enjoy? Check out Playa Samara, located on the Nicoya Peninsula, 120km (75mi) from Liberia’s international airport, about two hours by taxi or shuttle and a bit more on inexpensive, regular buses.
A solid range of hotels, vacation rentals, good restaurants, and festive nightlife options are scattered along the pretty beach, with wilder Nosara just a few kilometers north, with epic surfing and wildlife preserves in the coastal hills. If your tastes run to more Caribbean climes, why not relax for a while in Cahuita, on the east coast, about three hours from Juan Santamaria International Airport outside San Jose?
Ensconced in lush Atlanta rainforest, Cahuita offers great hotels for every budget, excellent Caribbean-style seafood restaurants, Costa Rica’s only pay-what-you-want national park (and it’s a beaut), plus the amazing Aviarios Sloth Sanctuary if you need a little more inspiration on enjoying your vacation.