Costa Rica boasts glorious beaches, virtually all backed by rainforest. Here are the best divided by region, including the best activities for each. Swim with caution; many beaches are known for riptides.

Best Beaches on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Side

Tortuguero: This silvery beach backed by lush rainforest is the most important green turtle nesting site in the Caribbean.

Playa Blanca, Parque Nacional Cahuita: With several beautiful golden-sand beaches broken by rocky headlands, Cahuita is a great place to sunbathe or snorkel amid the offshore coral reef.

Best Beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula

Playa Conchal: This sometimes crowded beach of tiny seashells changes from bleached white to gray, depending on tidal and weather conditions. The calm turquoise waters host a coral reef.

Playa Flamingo: Perhaps the most magnificent white-sand beach in the nation, this gently curving scimitar is bookended by rugged headlands but has few services.

Playa Grande: This miles-long beach has vast views across the bay toward Tamarindo. It’s also the nation’s prime nesting site for leatherback turtles.

Playa Grande at dawn. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Playa Grande at dawn. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Playa Montezuma: Stretching east from the eponymous village, this coral-colored beach is washed by crashing surf.

Playa Naranjo: Surrounded on two sides by swampy estuaries, this golden-sand beach provides access to Parque Nacional Santa Rosa. See big cats, crocodiles, tamanduas, and scarlet macaws.

Playa Ostional: Time your visit for an arribada, when thousands of olive ridley turtles crawl ashore here to lay their eggs.

Playa Güiones, Nosara: Studded with rocky islets and tide pools, this ruler-straight expanse can be 200 meters (660 feet) deep at low tide.

Playa Santa Teresa: Rugged headlands and isles, tropical forest, and fearsome surf make this one of the nation’s most dramatic beaches.

Central Pacific

Playa Manuel Antonio: Curling around a sheltered bay like a shepherd’s crook, this beach has it all: calm turquoise waters, rocky headlands, rainforest, and views toward distant mountains.

Playas Esterillos: Palm-fringed with gray sands, four beaches in one run along some 20 kilometers (12 miles) of shoreline.

Golfo Dulce and the Osa Peninsula

Playa Zancudo is one of the most reclusive spots in the country. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Playa Zancudo is one of the most reclusive spots in the country. Photo © Christopher P. Baker.

Playa Platanares: East of Puerto Jiménez, Platanares abuts both rainforest and mangrove, is an important nesting site for marine turtles, and offers whale and dolphin viewing.

Playa Zancudo: Washed by surf and littered with tree trunks, this beach has stupendous views across the Golfo Dulce.

Excerpted from the Tenth Edition of Moon Costa Rica.