10 Best Beach Towns in Costa Rica, According to Locals

These are the top spots in Costa Rica for sun, sand, and surf.

<p>Jordan Siemens/Getty Images</p>

Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Travel + Leisure’s 2024 destination of the year is paradise for nature lovers with some of the most lush, biodiverse landscapes in the world. While many of the best things to do in Costa Rica are centered around its rain forests, cloud forests, chocolate farms, volcanos, and mineral-rich hot springs, it’s hard to envision a vacation to the Central American country that doesn’t include time at the beach. Costa Rica is home to stunning stretches of Caribbean and Pacific coastline. Many of the towns that have cropped up around its greatest sand and surf assets have become sought-after vacation destinations with beautiful beach resorts, award-winning hotels, great restaurants, and heaps of outdoor activities, from surf lessons and yoga to ziplining and stand-up paddleboarding.

Ready to ride some waves or just unwind on the golden shoreline? Scroll on for the 10 best beach towns in Costa Rica, according to local experts.

Related: 20 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica

Santa Teresa

<p>Joao Serafim/Getty Images</p>

Joao Serafim/Getty Images

Even before the main road was paved, the waves lured surfers to Santa Teresa. Over the years, word of its palm-fringed beaches, lush jungle, and candy-colored sunsets began to spread. Today, the off-the-beaten-path town on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula attracts a chill, in-the-know crowd who ride waves, swim in the warm water, practice downward facing dog with an ocean view, crack open a beer at sundown, and eat at the many casual international eateries. We spent a month in Santa Teresa to celebrate my son’s first birthday, and we felt it truly epitomizes the pura vida lifestyle.


<p>Matteo Colombo/Getty Images</p>

Matteo Colombo/Getty Images

“Focused on wellness and eco-tourism, Nosara, on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula — one of the world’s Blue Zones — appeals to travelers seeking a holistic experience centered around Pacific beaches, yoga retreats, surf schools, and unspoiled nature,” explains Emilio Zuniga, CEO of il Viaggio Travel. To ride the year-round consistent waves, head to Playa Guiones, a long beach break within a protected wildlife refuge. Wildlife lovers can even spot olive ridley sea turtles from July to December. After a day of sea and swells, unwind with cocktails (or mocktails) at the eco-oriented Sendero Hotel.


<p>Mlenny/Getty Images</p>

Mlenny/Getty Images

Located in Guanacaste on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, Tamarindo is favored for its beaches and surfing. “If you want to come to Costa Rica and learn how to surf, I recommend doing a lesson at Playa Tamarindo. The gentle waves are ideal for beginners,” says Esteban Guillén, head of communications at the Federación de Surf de Costa Rica. Beyond boarding, the buzzy resort town offers spectacular sunsets, lively nightlife, and many opportunities to commune with nature. Leatherback turtles nest on Playa Grande, while howler monkeys and crocodiles call Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge home.


<p>Jordan Siemens/Getty Images</p>

Jordan Siemens/Getty Images

Situated near the mouth of the Barú River and steeped in natural splendor, Dominical supplies excellent waves, eco-adventures, and a relaxed pace. Active travelers can go surfing, kayaking, snorkeling, hiking through the rain forest, horseback riding, and off-roading. If you’d rather post up on Playa Dominical and grab a bite at one of the local sodas, that’s totally fine, too. A favorite of backpackers and budget travelers, it’s also a great bang-for-your-buck destination with affordable eats and reasonably priced accommodations.

Puerto Viejo

<p>Tiago_Fernandez/Getty Images</p>

Tiago_Fernandez/Getty Images

“Recognized for its Afro-Caribbean culture, Playa Puerto Viejo has a lively atmosphere, waves, and diverse wildlife, making it a vibrant and interesting destination,” explains Zuniga. The Jaguar Rescue Center rescues, rehabilitates, and rewilds animals and gives visitors the chance to get an up-close view of wild cats, monkeys, sloths, snakes, and anteaters through guided tours. Advanced surfers head to Salsa Brava, where powerful waves break hard over the reef. Not up for such a gnarly challenge? Travelers can go swimming in the calm waters and catch some rays on the black sands of Playa Negra.

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


<p>Alphotographic/Getty Images</p>

Alphotographic/Getty Images

Its remote location on the sparsely populated southernmost tip of Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula keeps the town of Matapalo a well-guarded secret. Travelers who don't mind a long, bumpy drive will find a pristine slice of paradise with near-empty beaches and rain forests. Besides the beauty of the coastline, it’s the swells that stand out. “For something more adventurous, you can go for the challenge of the right-hand wave,” says Guillén. “Costa Rican professional surfer Brisa Hennessy learned to board at Pan Dulce Beach in Matapalo.”

Isla Uvita

<p>Kryssia Campos/Getty Images</p>

Kryssia Campos/Getty Images

Isla Uvita (“Little Grape Island” in Spanish) is a small uninhabited speck of reef-flanked land that lies offshore of Limón on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.  Undeveloped, unhurried, and accessible by boat from the mainland, it’s a stress-free day trip that’s super chill by any and all vacation standards. The wave conditions draw comparisons to the Aloha State: “It’s the closest you'll find to Hawaii in our country,” notes Guillén. Besides surfing, Isla Uvita has pretty beaches, colorful wildlife, and the historical claim to fame that Christopher Columbus landed here for boat repairs in 1502.


<p>Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure</p>

Taylor McIntyre/Travel + Leisure

According to Guillén, the central Pacific region is undoubtedly the most-visited area due to its proximity to the capital. It’s in this region that you'll find Jacó, located just 90 minutes from Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) and considered the surf capital of Central America. One of Costa Rica’s more developed beach towns, it boasts a main drag that’s dotted with shops, restaurants, and bars. The beaches buzz during the day, and ATV tours and catamaran cruises are popular activities. Nightlife takes center stage when the sun goes down.


<p>Matthew Williams-Ellis/Getty Images</p>

Matthew Williams-Ellis/Getty Images

A bohemian and artistic community perched on the southern coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, Montezuma benefits from its harder-to-reach location that keeps the crowds at bay. If it were more accessible, there’s no doubt droves of tourists would pack into this under-the-radar gem of a town to sprawl out on its white-sand beach, hike to the idyllic waterfalls, and peep wildlife such as sea turtles, butterflies, and monkeys. Of course, plenty of travelers do make the trek, and that contributes to its vibrant nightlife and global restaurant scene.

Manuel Antonio

<p>Jess Macdonald/Travel + Leisure</p>

Jess Macdonald/Travel + Leisure

A resort town that sits just beyond the borders of the national park of the same name, Manuel Antonio is the ideal base camp for exploring rain forests teeming with white-faced capuchin monkeys and seemingly untouched stretches of coastline. As a destination, it’s a hub of eco-adventure, with everything from snorkeling to canopy tours, and it also has a laid-back atmosphere that invites lazing on the white-sand beach and cooling off in the turquoise water. It certainly doesn't hurt that it’s one of the most affordable tropical destinations to visit.

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