During our 11-day trip to Costa Rica last summer we spent a week on the country’s northern Pacific coast in the province of Guanacaste (see our full trip itinerary here). We rented a house in the town of Portrero and devoted six days to explore the area’s diverse beaches (and find our favorite). There is a beach for everyone on Guanacaste coast, but you need a rental car to find yours (preferably a 4-wheeler, read all our Costa Rica tips here).
What Makes a Good Beach
My husband and I grew up in Eastern Europe, spending our summers on rather underdeveloped part of the Black Sea coast. It is difficult for us to imagine life too far from the beach. During our Costa Rica vacation we revisited a “what makes a good beach” dilemma and finally concluded that you simply cannot have everything on every beach. The most beautiful beaches on our Costa Rica trip were uncrowded and unspoiled in their natural beauty which also meant lack of any facilities and food services.
Here is our highly subjective and unofficial ranking of Guanacaste beaches:
The Most Beautiful Beach: Playa Conchal
Imagine crystal blue water and white sand surrounded by tropical forest – this is exactly how Playa Conchal looks like. It was our favorite beach in the area (it is also quite unusual as most local beaches have darker volcanic sand). It took us a couple of days to discover Playa Conchal but once we did, we kept coming back every day and stayed in the water for hours.
There is no food or drink service on Playa Conchal other than occasional beach vendors selling coco milk directly from fresh Coconuts. To get to Playa Conchal you need a four-wheeler and….a good internet connection to watch the tide chart: a small river separating Playa Conchal from Playa Brazilitta gets full during high tides making crossing over rather impossible. Surprisingly, there are motor sports vendors (use at your risk) at this beach, which young (and not so young) adults in our party took advantage of.
Another naturally beautiful area beach (with no service of any kind) is Playa Penca. While it rivals Playa Conchal in the beauty, it loses in the quality of sand (which is just not quite as white and as fluffy).
Best Beach For Foodies (And Families): Playa Flamingo
The setting for Playa Flamingo might not be as beautiful as Playa Penca’s or Playa Conchal’s (the road is too close and the beach is not as wide), but it has what many families need to enjoy a day in the sun: a nearby hotel and a café. In fact, it is home to our favorite area restaurant- beach-front Coco Loco.
Another beach where you can combine beautiful ocean views with good food: Playa Pan de Azúcar (there is a restaurant inside the boutique Sugar Beach Hotel).
Best Beach for People Watching (and surfing): Playa Tamarindo
Tamarindo Beach in the town of Tamarindo is famous for the variety of the surfs (to suit surfers of different abilities), and with its busy beach café scene – it offers the best area’s people watching…on the beach. We spent an hour soaking the atmosphere but then returned to “our” beach.
Best Beach to spot the Monkeys: Playa Danta
This beach is located next to a new housing development and is a home to a beach-side café Limonadas (formerly Lola’s). The tree branches over the tables on the sand have been known to attract local monkey families who come here each afternoon around 5 pm to play on the trees. It took us two visits to the area to spot them, but the first visit was not entirely wasted as we took beautiful family pictures on the beach.
On our second visit, we were having our afternoon coffee outside and just looked up:
Best Beach We Could See from our balcony: Playa Portrero
Playa Portero was just several steps from our rental house Casa circa del Mar and it deserves a shout out at least for this reason if not quite for the quality of sand or water. On the plus side, you can enjoy the views over the water onto the tiny nearby islands, it is quiet with shallow waters, and it houses a stylish little boutique hotel Bahia del Sol where we enjoyed tasty tropical drinks and lunches and refreshing dips in the pool (which they don’t mind you use for a couple of hours as a paying bar or restaurant customer).
Photo Tip: As you are driving on Sugar Beach Road on your way to Playa Danta past Sugar Beach Hotel (and Playa Pan de Azúcar underneath) be sure to stop at the lookout point on your left for some great photos of area’s beaches.
What is your favorite beach in Costa Rica?
Check out the list of Costa Rica Experiences on Get Your Guide site.
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