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Costa Rica means “rich coast” in Spanish. But actually, the country is home to two separate and equally stunning coastlines — the west borders the Pacific Ocean whilst the east touches the Caribbean Sea.
Among the country’s hundreds of miles of coastline are some of the world’s most incredible beaches. The micro climates and diversity of each region means that every beach offers something unique, whether it’s the best waves for surfing, waters that attract humpback whales or sand that sea turtles seek to nest their eggs. Not to mention all the typical beach activities travellers love to enjoy whilst on holiday, whether it’s snorkelling or sunbathing.
Let’s dive into the details about what makes Costa Rica’s beaches so amazing — and why you’ll be making this tropical country your next getaway destination.
The Caribbean Coast
The white and black sand on the Caribbean coast is a unique feature and one of the main differences between the two coasts, along with the vibrant Caribbean coral reef and marine life that also differ from the Pacific.
In the North Caribbean, Tortuguero National Park Beach is the nesting place for the green sea turtle, hawksbill sea turtle and leatherback sea turtle. Every year from June to October, green sea turtles arrive on shore at Tortuguero beach to nest their eggs. The female turtles only visit the beach twice in their lifetime: when they are born and voyage out to sea, and then when they come back to lay their eggs. The black and white sand grains are magnetic to the turtles’ flippers, and that is how they know they have arrived at the correct location to nest. It is a phenomenal experience not to be missed.
The Caribbean region is also different from the Pacific in culture. The strong afro-Caribbean cultural influences are visible in the architecture of the region, the dialect spoken, the vibrant spirit of its people, and the wonderful, authentic flavour of dishes such as rice and beans, pati, plantinta, chicken with coconut, and rondon.
The Pacific Coast
The Pacific coast offers the perfect background for your holiday photos with its crystal blue waters, white beaches and lush green vegetation. After your picture, jump in the water for a swim. Don’t worry, on this side of the coast the water is warm all year.
This coastline is also home to Costa Rica’s top tourist attraction: Manuel Antonio National Park. It is often described as the most beautiful national park in the country, full of biodiversity and a beach with the whitest sand. At Manuel Antonio you can expect to find reptiles, critters, many bird species, two- and three-toed sloths, and white-faced and squirrel monkeys.
Marino Bellena National Park has a natural whale tail-shaped coast, which remarkably also happens to be an ideal location to spot whales. The best time to see humpback whales here is from December to March.
There is a strong surfing culture on this coast. The small town of Dominical has an authentic charm with local handcrafted souvenir stores and surf schools taught by locals who know the waves very well. Dominical, and the Pacific in general, is a great location for surfing.
A visit to the west coast wouldn’t be complete without tasting fresh seafood at the local restaurants. Don’t miss the chance to try Pacific coast ceviche, a delicious dish made from fresh, raw fish marinated in citrus juices — it is like no other.
The Central and Middle Pacific
Visitors have their choice of beaches perfect for sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling, sailing or just peacefully taking in the surrounding rainforests.
The middle Pacific coast offers exuberant landscapes where sun, beach and forests are combined with national parks, such as Manuel Antonio and Marino Ballena. If you’re looking for excitement, the beaches of Jaco and Hermosa have ideal conditions for surfing. Puntarenas, in the central Pacific area, is famous for seafood fare, including ceviche.
Remote islands and protected peninsulas
Located 330 miles from Costa Rican territory, Cocos Island is full of natural beauty and ideal for diving or hiking. Cocos Island has incredible marine life, including whale sharks, whitetip sharks, tuna fish, parrotfish, corals, molluscs and hammerhead sharks.
Discover the breathtaking beaches of Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula, protected by biological reserves and the National Park of Corcovado. Perfect for fishing, surfing or just admiring wildlife like the marvelous macaw, these beaches are easily accessible thanks to local flights originating from Golfito and Puerto Jimenez.
Some say you haven’t seen Costa Rica if you haven’t seen Guanacaste, also known as the Golden Coast. It’s located in the northwest of Costa Rica and where you can experience some of the most beautiful beaches (and a very strong cowboy culture).
The town of Tamarindo was once a small fishing community. Now is a popular tourist destination, especially for families. Here you can find golden-sand beaches, calm waters and a bustling nightlife. The jewel of Guanacaste is Flamingo Beach; the glistening sand is a great location to snap photos and watch sunset.
Santa Teresa is a must-visit for the serious surfer. Many pro surfers head to this beach because of its world-class breaks and ideal surfing conditions throughout the year.
Many are not aware, but Costa Rica has a cowboy culture and Guanacaste is cowboy country. At a local cattle ranch, cowboy and cowgirl wannabes can go on horse-riding trails along the beaches and into the forests, as well as cultural excursions to learn more about the cowboy culture.
Highlights of Costa Rica
Take in Costa Rica’s highlights and most dramatic scenery on a 12 day journey crossing from the Caribbean to the wonderful Pacific Coast. Explore the waterways of the Tortuguero National Park, admire the majestic Arenal Volcano, discover the Monteverde cloud forest and finally finish your trip experiencing the wonderful wildlife and beautiful scenery of Manuel Antonio National Park.