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 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.
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 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.