If you’re here, then you’re one of us – the beach-combers, beach-strollers, beach-goers, and beach-lovers of the world. And now, you’re looking for a beach guide to Guanacaste to point you in the right direction. Or a direction, since almost any which way (except inland) is sure to lead to a sandy slice of paradise.
Before we start, here’s a little secret about Costa Rica: For every popular beach, there are several (and, sometimes, dozens of) lesser-known beaches. We can’t really call them “best-kept secrets” anymore – the internet has democratized most of the world’s information, including its “secrets”! – but they are beloved by locals. And that’s now you!
So, in this chapter of our beach guide to Guanacaste, we introduce you to most of the bigger beaches that dot the coast from Playa Flamingo to Playa Avellanas. As always, this list is not comprehensive: Costa Rica’s 800+ miles of coastline is so often hewn with cliffs, waterfalls, outcroppings, and estuaries that tiny beaches pop up everywhere, often unnamed and rarely visited. Discovering them (and choosing your favorites) is one of the many pleasures that await you here.
For now, we introduce you to 12 of our favorite beaches in the area:
Like so many other Costa Rican beach towns, Playa Flamingo can refer both to the town and the beach. For now, we’re sticking to the beach – the beach town and its new, luxurious marina are easily worthy of their own post (or two) – where you’ll find tree-lined shady coast, lapping waves, and beautiful off-white sands. And, if you’re more of a beach adventurer than a beach lounger, you’ll be happy to hear that Flamingo Beach is the gateway to the Catalina Islands and their diverting snorkeling and scuba diving offerings.
Facilities: None exclusive to the beach, but you’ll find plenty of restaurant offerings, as well as a small shopping center with a convenience store, banks, and more.
Another beach-town name combo, Brasilito Beach (the actual beach) unfolds over a ribbon of cinnamon sand and steel-blue waters – a striking combination, especially if you love high-contrast nature photography! Of course, you’re here for more than photos and in that regard, Playa Brasilito delivers, with mid-sized waves (usually ok for swimming, but always check before you wade in!) and easy surfing on its southern end.
Facilities: None exclusive to the beach, but the town of Brasilito offers plenty of amenities, including parking and restaurants.
No beach guide to Guanacaste would be complete without a mention of Playa Conchal and yet, as you’re here, you likely are already familiar with Costa Rica’s most unique beach.
Named for the shells, or conchas, that sprinkles its coastline, Playa Conchal is a beach not of sand but of finely crushed shells – a white-pink and glimmering swath that hugs turquoise to dark blue waters (depending on the day’s conditions), creating one of Costa Rica’s most unique sights. Be aware, though, that the surf here can be strong, so Conchal is not our top choice for swimming. That said, it’s worth a visit, if only for the beauty and the novelty and the photo op!
Facilities: None, not even parking! To access Playa Conchal, you’ll have to park at either Playa Brasilito (and walk about 15 minutes south) or Playa Puerto Viejo (and walk north, until you hit the shells). Either way, bring water and wear your shoes, as the sun is strong and the sand can get hot!
Puerto Viejo Beach (near Conchal)
Playa Puerto Viejo, sometimes referred to as Puerto Viejo de Conchal, due to its proximity to its neighbor of greater fame, is where in-the-know locals go for that perfect mix of beauty and relative seclusion. Here, you won’t find Conchal’s crushed shells or white-pink hues, but you will dig your toes into soft sands and swim in mostly gentle waves.
Facilities: None (except for a sandy parking lot)
Playa Mina / Playa Zapotillal
Adding a few layers to the secret in secret beach, Playa Mina is not officially named Playa Mina; on maps, it’s called Playa Zapotillal, a beach that receives little fanfare (except in our beach guide to Guanacastebecause, Friend, you really should add this one to your list!).
Of course, that’s partly because most locals refer to these powder-soft sands as Playa Mina – a beach located at the very end of a long dirt road (4WD recommended), with no signs to indicate what’s to come. Here, you have to know where you’re going but when you do, you know it involves the kind of deep turquoise waters you’d brave a bumpy dirt road to reach.
Facilities: None. Park under the trees and take your valuables because petty theft isn’t uncommon here.
Playa Real (aka Bahía de los Piratas Beach)
If you’ve called Costa Rica home for a while, you may have heard whispers about the “Pirates’ Bay” or Bahía de los Piratas: cinnamon sands, sheltered waves, a scattering of islands, and rocky outcroppings perfect for a casual snorkel. This is the promise of Playa Real (the beach’s real name, as its nickname comes courtesy of the hotel that fronts its sands), a mostly-locals beach and sea turtle nesting site that few know about (and that those who do, love!).
Facilities: None, except for a parking area
Serving as a “window” (or ventana, in Spanish), the sandy crescent of Playa Ventanas and its caves (yes, caves!) open like windows onto the rocky and picturesque outcroppings that marks its extremes. At low tide, you can dip your toes into the pools, walk out onto the closest rocks, and even take a coastal stroll south to Playa Grande or north to Playa Carbón (an even smaller, more secluded beach).
As this is a beach guide to Guanacaste and not a glossy travel brochure – and given that we’re wont to honesty – do note that Playa Ventanas is near an estuary, so you should aware of possible croc activity. Additionally, the beach is a part of Las Baulas National Marine Park and, as such, acts as a nesting site for endangered sea turtles.
Facilities: None, except for a small and informal parking lot. Petty theft isn’t uncommon here, so close your windows and lock your doors.
One of the Big Daddies, at least in terms of Tamarindo-area beaches, Playa Grande (literally, Big Beach) is named (probably… most likely!) for its large swaths of sand and big(ish) waves. Because, yes, this is the first thing you should know: Playa Grande has great surf and it’s a local and tourist favorite for just that.
But it’s also a sea turtle nesting site. And has bright blue waters. And unfurls over gorgeous taupe sands, well packed for easy strolling and sun-drenched picnics. Just remember, as the beach is part of Las Baulas National Marine Park, it closes at night. It’s also near an estuary so, again, watch out for crocs.
Facilities: None, except for a paid parking lot. There’s also a beachfront restaurant where you can order food and drinks (and use the facilities, if you’re a paying customer).
Ah, Tamarindo: The beach is beautiful enough to not only spawn a town but an entire tourism industry. It’s true, Playa Tamarindo is a riot of soft, white sands and blue, blue waters, with a wonderful mix of serious surf and gentle waves (with sandy ocean bottom), making this one of those near-perfect beaches for almost any ocean-lover.
Of course, it can get crowded. After all, it’s the most famous (and most populous) beach in the area, hugging every inch of its eponymous town. That said, there’s always a free spot to lay your towel, or a place to sit down beneath a shady tree, or a path to stroll along the warm sands. Sands you’ll love to stroll, especially at dusk, when the skies explode in incredible sunsets in so many hues, you might just think that Mother Nature had invented an extra few, just for the night.
Facilities: Surprisingly (or not), not many are officially tied to the beach. That said, Tamarindo offers a handful of public parking lots and restaurants line the beach, offering everything from food and drink to facilities (including changing rooms, in some cases) for paying customers. There are also a few playground areas and several sections of the beach that offer beach chairs & umbrellas for rent.
As you wend your way south, the crowds start to thin in time to reach Playa Langosta, Tamarindo’s quieter and more subdued (but equally visit-worthy) sibling. It’s amazing what 2 kilometers (just over a mile) can do: White sands become dappled by lovely rock outcroppings, tide pools form, and consistent surf spits out the kind of left and right breaks that surfers love to love.
Facilities: None, except for street parking
Located within Hacienda Pinilla and in front of the JW Marriott Guanacaste, little Playa Mansita has some serious cred to her name: Due to its relative seclusion, Mansita’s pristine sands are often referred to as “semi-private,” as they’re accessible only by boat or a sun-drenched walk. That said, if you’re up for it, it’s can be worth it, if only for the quiet atmosphere, meticulously clean atmosphere, and serenity.
Facilities: None. The JW Marriott offers beach amenities for its guests and there are four restaurants at the resort.
If we call out “Little Hawaii” and you respond with “surf!”, then you’re already well on your way to appreciating this local favorite beach. Indeed, Playa Avellanas is a world-class surfing beach, known for its incredible waves, which can crest 5 meters (16 feet) at the best times of the year. Not in the mood to ride your board nearly two stories above sea level? Avellanas gets a little tamer as you walk south, serving up surf at Estero (near the estuary), Palo Seco, Parqueo, and Purruja. Be sure to hang around for a spectacular sunset!
Facilities: None, except a parking lot. There are beachfront restaurants, though, and there’s a small mini-mart on the road to the beach. (Stop ahead of time, though, because it’s not that close to Avellanas.)
Need More from Our Beach Guide to Guanacaste?
Hey, beach aficionados, we’d love to help! If our beach guide to Guanacaste hasn’t answered all your questions then, here’s your open invitation: Go ahead, pick our sand-dusted brains! Ask us for our personal favorites and squeeze out the best-of-the-best, however you define it. We’ve made our homes in Costa Rica and Guanacaste for decades, so we have a lot of local knowledge to share. Get in touch and we’ll fill you in!