One of Costa Rica’s most loved beach resorts is Tamarindo on the country’s northern Pacific coast. As well as its lively nightlife, Tamarindo is known for its beautiful golden-sand scenery, with spectacular beaches and rolling waves which make it a heaven for surf, sea and sun. Las Casitas has consistent waves and is good for experienced surfers, while Playa Grande is a great choice for beginners; it’s also famous for impressive leatherback turtles, and is one of the most important nesting spots in Costa Rica. After adventuring across rainforest, mountains and volcanoes, Tamarindo is the perfect place to unwind and catch some waves for a therapeutic end to your Costa Rica holiday.
Just north of Tamarindo you’ll find the quieter Papagayo Peninsula, a sunny and tropical hideaway with yet more beautiful national parks. Unlike Tamarindo, the area doesn’t have any real resort centre and instead has a more laid-back and exclusive vibe, with large, luxurious and secluded hotels dotted along its coastline. Drop your bags and venture out onto the untouched beaches where you’ll be able to enjoy activities such as kayaking, snorkelling and stand-up paddleboarding across panoramic crystal-clear waters, or head out for a hike or spot of golf.
We recommend visiting both Manuel Antonio and Uvita on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Manuel Antonio has rich tropical forest, beautiful crescent-shaped white beaches, hidden coves and leafy green hillsides with awe-inspiring views. There’s a great range of accommodation in the resort town and loads of activities for you to get stuck into, whether you’re looking to hike, try your hand at snorkelling, surfing and diving, brave a zip-wire or go horse-riding. It’s also home to a thriving national park, the smallest in Costa Rica but one which is very popular and still has a remarkable 109 species of mammals and 184 types of birds – wildlife ranges from iguanas and two-toed sloths to the endangered squirrel monkey. Uvita is a small town around one and a quarter hours further south; it has some stunning wild beaches but is most famous for the Marino Ballena National Park, where you’ll have the chance to see migrating humpback whales from December to April.
A stay on Islita Beach is the epitome of a tropical seaside hideaway. Tucked away in a secluded spot on the picturesque Nicoya Peninsula, Punta Islita is a charming village with two pristine beaches protected by coves. Get ready for laid-back lounging in a chic boutique hotel and some first-class Instagram sunsets, follow nature trails to spot nesting turtles, scarlet macaws and howler monkeys, and head to the beach for horse-riding across the sand, mangrove tours, kayaking and snorkelling.
For a lesser-known Costa Rica beach destination, head to the opposite side of the country to Limón province. It stretches along the Caribbean coast and is less developed than the Pacific side, so you’ll still find the same level of diversity; expect untouched rainforest landscapes and mangrove swamp areas, as well as wildlife including violet-crowned woodnymphs and spectacularly colourful toucans. If you have time, spend a day at the Costa Rica Wildlife Sanctuary in Puerto Limón (also known as just Limón), the region’s buzzing port city and capital, where you can spend time looking after rescued baby sloths. Around an hour south of Limón is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a must-visit for surfing with some of the best waves in Costa Rica – the experts-only Salsa Brava break attracts thousands of surfers from all over the world and rivals even the best Hawaii surf spots.