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The Best Beach In Costa Rica: What To Know About The Northern Pacific Guanacaste Beaches

The Best Beach In Costa Rica: What To Know About The Northern Pacific Guanacaste Beaches

NOTE: The content on this page was last updated on July 15th, 2017.

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ABOUT THE NORTHERN PACIFIC GUANACASTE BEACHES

Choosing a coastal beach area (such as one of Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches) to visit during your Costa Rica trip can be a stressful, time consuming, and pull-your-hair-out frustrating part of vacation planning. As we mentioned in our related posts The Best Beach In Costa Rica: What To Know About The Central Pacific Beaches and The Best Beach In Costa Rica: What To Know About The Nicoya Peninsula Beaches, with a total of 1228km of coastline to offer it is no wonder Costa Rica is known for its countless beach destinations. In those posts we focused on six of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific beaches stretching from the port in Puntarenas down to Dominical beach, as well as an additional nine beaches covering the Nicoya Peninsula from Ostional to Tambor. Below, we highlight Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches–an additional seven beaches (some popular and others remote): Conchal, Coco, Flamingo, Hermosa, Ocotal, Real, and Tamarindo–where the majority of travellers flying into and/or out of Costa Rica’s Liberia (LIR) airport most often plan to visit.

So what is it exactly that makes one beach stand out from the next? After all, we are just talking about sand and water–how different can one stretch of coast be from the next? Actually, quite different. Not only can the texture and colour of sand change from mile to mile, but so too can a number of other beach factors that could impact a visitor’s overall experience. For this reason, we aim to identify some of the advantages and disadvantages of each Costa Rica beach area according to a number of different factors (including the beach’s degree of popularity with tourists, its proximity to towns offering dining, shopping, and tour options, and its distance from the nearest airport, to name a few) in order to help travellers compare the various options and decide on a beach that is perfect for them.

Guanacaste beaches
Playa Conchal

NORTHERN PACIFIC GUANACASTE BEACHES: PLAYA CONCHAL

Location in proximity to other Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches: located north of Playa Real and south of Playa Flamingo

Distance from Liberia: 70km (approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes)
Closest Town: Brasilito (small town), Tamarindo (large town)
Beach Status: public beach
Type of Sand: white sand, smooth beach

Selling Points

  1. Playa Conchal has (in our opinion!) one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches. Not only does the beach offer some of the whitest sand you can find in the country, but its remote area has kept this section of the coast a hidden gem.
  2. Ideal for those travellers who are looking for a quiet beach to relax at without the distraction of other visitors.
  3. Nearby playa real is an excellent place to take in a beautiful sunset!

Disadvantages

  1. Given its remote location, transportation to/from Playa Conchal is typically required as few opt to stay in its closest town (brasilito).
  2. The Playa Conchal area does not offer travellers a wide variety of tour options (when compared to the countless activity possibilities offered in nearby Tamarindo). For this reason, it is not the best beach location for those travellers who wish to participate in many tours and activities during their time at the beach.

Recommendations

  1. A visit to Playa Conchal is recommended to those travellers with a rental vehicle and/or those travellers who plan to use taxi services to get to/from their accommodation and this beach. If opting for an accommodation option in nearby Brasilito (in order to have regular access to Playa Conchal), it is also recommended that travellers have a rental vehicle or else plan to use taxi services to get themselves to/from Tamarindo in order to participate in the majority of tours that the area offers (transportation to/from accommodations in Playa Conchal is not regularly included with tours run from the Tamarindo area).

Extra notes

  1. Visitors staying at the Westin Conchal Resort (and other popular hotel options in the area) have access to Playa Conchal.
  2. Recommended day trips from Playa Conchal include visits to Playa Real, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Tamarindo.
Guanacaste beaches
Playa Del Coco

NORTHERN PACIFIC GUANACASTE BEACHES: PLAYA DEL COCO

Location in proximity to other Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches: located north of Playa Ocotal and south of Playa Hermosa

Distance from Liberia: 35km (approximately 40 minutes)
Closest Town: Playa del Coco (large town)
Beach Status: public beach
Type of Sand: brown sand, partly rough/partly smooth beach

Selling Points

  1. For those travellers looking to visit a popular beach town, Playa Del Coco is a great choice. This town is one of the most vibrant and populated areas along the northern pacific coast, especially when compared to its neighbouring beaches (Hermosa, Panama, Ocotal). Travellers who choose to stay at accommodations in town have access to a variety of dining and shopping options – the majority of which are within walking distance to the beach.
  2. Travellers looking to participate in a number of tours/activities during their time at the beach will find a variety in Playa del Coco. Most of the tour operators in this town also service nearby beaches, however transportation to/from these other beaches and Playa del Coco is not always included with the tour cost. For this reason, Playa del Coco is a good choice for those individuals who will not have a rented vehicle and would prefer to stay in a popular town where tour offices can be reached on foot.

Disadvantages

  1. Given its popularity, Playa del Coco is more of a rocking beach town than a quiet, coastal retreat. The area draws a younger crowd, and although there are many activities that children can participate in, families tend to prefer the more remote and relaxed feel of nearby Playa Hermosa (or Playas Panama or Ocotal) to Playa del Coco.
  2. Since Playa del Coco tends to attract younger travellers, this town offers more economy accommodation options than superior and resort-quality stays.
  3. Playa del Coco’s beach is not the most attractive one in the area. Although not a dirty beach, the large number of visitors to the area prevent it from feeling like a natural, untouched area. For this reason (and the fact that litter from the town often finds its way to the beach), Playa del Coco’s brown-sand beach often fails to impress.

Recommendations

  1. If a beach town offering a party atmosphere is what you are looking for, than Playa del Coco would be one of the best northern pacific beach options for you. Otherwise, if coastal swagger does not play into your trip plans, perhaps a less busy and more intimate beach area would be a better choice.

Extra notes

  1. Recommended day trips from Playa del Coco include visits to Playa Hermosa and Playa Ocotal.
Guanacaste beaches
Playa Flamingo

NORTHERN PACIFIC GUANACASTE BEACHES: PLAYA FLAMINGO

Location in proximity to other Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches: located north of Playa Conchal and south of Playa Ocotal

Distance from Liberia: 75km (approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes)
Closest Town: Playa Flamingo (small town), Tamarindo (large town)
Beach Status: public beach
Type of Sand:  light brown-white sand; smooth beach

Selling Points

  1. Playa Flamingo offers a beautiful beach and the next best thing to white sand – a light brown, smooth, sandy beach. This beach provides a shallow area by the coast to wade in, waves to play in, and shady areas further back from the coast to cool off in.
  2. With a coast that seems to never end, the same could be said about parking opportunities. Travellers visiting for the day with their own rental vehicles can park along the side of a long road that runs parallel to the beach.
  3. Playa Flamingo is a long beach. Although it is popular and attracts quite a few visitors, its length allows visitors to spread out down the coast providing beach-goers with the feeling that the area is less busy than it actually is.

Disadvantages

  1. Similar to Playa Conchal, many visitors to Playa Flamingo opt not to stay directly in Flamingo. As a result, transportation to/from Playa Flamingo is required as most travellers instead choose to stay at accommodations located in nearby areas.
  2. The Playa Flamingo area does not offer travellers a wide variety of tour options (when compared to the countless activity possibilities offered in nearby Tamarindo). For this reason, it is not the best beach location for those travellers who wish to participate in many tours and activities during their time at the beach.

Recommendations

  1. A visit to Playa Flamingo is recommended to those travellers with a rental vehicle and/or those travellers who plan to use taxi services to get to/from their accommodation and this beach. If opting for an accommodation option in flamingo (in order to have regular access to Playa Flamingo), it is also recommended that travellers have a rental vehicle or else plan to use taxi services to get themselves to/from Tamarindo in order to participate in the majority of tours that the area offers (transportation to/from accommodations in Playa Flamingo is not regularly included with tours run from the Tamarindo area).

Extra notes

  1. Visitors staying at the Flamingo Beach Resort (and other popular hotel options in the area) have access to Playa Flamingo.
  2. Recommended day trips from Playa Flamingo include visits to Playa Real, Playa Conchal, and Playa Tamarindo.
Guanacaste beaches
Playa Hermosa

NORTHERN PACIFIC GUANACASTE BEACHES: PLAYA HERMOSA

Location in proximity to other Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches: located north of Playa del Coco and south of Playa Panama

Distance from Liberia: 40km (approximately 50 minutes)
Closest Town: Playa Hermosa (small town), Playa del Coco (large town)
Beach Status: public beach
Type of Sand: light brown-white sand; smooth beach

Selling Points

  1. Playa Hermosa is (in our opinion!) one of the best coastal destinations a traveller could hope for. It offers a nice balance of town amenities (grocery store, shops, etc.), a few restaurants, and a number of tour/activity possibilities while maintaining its small-town feel and intimate beach area. Everything else a visitor might need can be found in nearby Playa del Coco (the largest town in the area).
  2. Second to Playa Conchal, Playa Hermosa has one of the nicest beaches comprised of light-brown sand and a long, shallow shore. Its position at the top of the northern pacific coast (just south of the Papagayo Gulf) also sets the scene for incredible sunsets.
  3. Ideal for those travellers who are looking for a quiet beach to relax at without the distraction of other visitors.

Disadvantages

  1. The Playa Hermosa area is home to many condo complexes and vacation home rentals. While hotels are certainly available, they are outnumbered by rental properties. For this reason, visitors who wish to stay at a hotel in the Playa Hermosa area have less of a variety of accommodation options available to them and availability is often more difficult to come by.
  2. While the Playa Hermosa area does offer some tour/activity options, it offers less than what travellers can find in nearby Playa del Coco. For this reason, it is not the best beach location for those travellers who wish to participate in many tours and activities during their time at the beach (transportation to/from Playa Hermosa is not regularly included with tours run from the Playa del Coco area).

Recommendations

  1. Since some hotel options are located near the beach, it is not required that all visitors have a rental vehicle. However, since the Playa Hermosa area offers some, but not many, dining, shopping, and tour options, it is often recommended that travellers staying in the Playa Hermosa area make plans to visit nearby Playa del Coco in order to access additional amenities. In this case, having a rental vehicle is advantageous as travellers can drive themselves to/from Playa Hermosa and nearby beach towns, however travellers without a rental vehicle can simply plan to use taxi services to get to/from where they wish to go.

Extra notes

  1. Recommended day trips from Playa Hermosa include visits to Playa Ocotal and Playa del Coco.
Guanacaste beaches
Playa Ocotal

NORTHERN PACIFIC GUANACASTE BEACHES: PLAYA OCOTAL

Location in proximity to other Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches: located north of Playa Flamingo and south of Playa del Coco

Distance from Liberia: 40km (approximately 50 minutes)
Closest Town: Playa Ocotal (small town), Playa del Coco (large town)
Beach Status: public beach
Type of Sand: brown sand; partly rough/partly smooth beach

Selling Points

  1. Playa Ocotal is a very small beach town offering an even smaller beach – a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ type of place. For those looking for remoteness (an area offering few dining and tour options) they can find it in Playa Ocotal. Everything else a visitor might need can be found in nearby Playa del Coco (the largest town in the area).
  2. Ideal for those travellers who are looking for a quiet beach to relax at without the distraction of other visitors.

Disadvantages

  1. Like Playa Hermosa, the Playa Ocotal area is home to many condo complexes and vacation home rentals. Hotel options, although available, lack variety.
  2. Although Playa Ocotal does offer a handful of tour options, it offers less than what travellers can find in nearby Playa Hermosa and Playa del Coco. For this reason, it is one of the worst beach locations for those travellers who wish to participate in any tours and activities during their time at the beach (transportation to/from Playa Ocotal is not regularly included with tours run from the Playa del Coco or Playa Hermosa areas).

Recommendations

  1. A visit to Playa Ocotal is recommended to those travellers with a rental vehicle and/or those travellers who plan to use taxi services to get to/from their accommodation and this beach. It is also recommended that travellers have a rental vehicle or else plan to use taxi services to get themselves to/from Playa del Coco in order to access dining and shopping options, as well as to participate in the majority of tours that the area offers.

Extra notes

  1. Recommended day trips from playa ocotal include visits to Playa Hermosa and Playa del Coco.
Guanacaste beaches
Playa Real

NORTHERN PACIFIC GUANACASTE BEACHES: PLAYA REAL

Location in proximity to other Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches: located north of Playa Tamarindo and south of Playa Conchal

Distance from Liberia: 75km (approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes)
Closest Town: Matapalo (small town), Tamarindo (large town)
Beach Status: public beach
Type of Sand: brown sand; partly shell-filled (by the water)/partly smooth beach (further away from the shore)

Selling points

  1. The beach at Playa Real is one of the best we have found in all of Costa Rica where one can experience a beautiful sunset!
  2. Ideal for those travellers (especially travelling with kids!) who are looking for shells in Costa Rica (Playa Real offers an incredible amount of shells near its coastline).
  3. Ideal for those travellers who are looking for a quiet beach to relax at without the distraction of other visitors.

Disadvantages

  1. Playa Real is a very small beach area that offers little beyond the accommodation options (resorts and vacation rentals) that surround the area.
  2. Given its remote location, transportation to/from Playa Real is typically required as few opt to stay in its closest town (Matapalo, although accommodation options here are scarce, or else Brasilito).

Recommendations

  1. A visit to Playa Real is recommended to those travellers with a rental vehicle who wish to visit for the day. We do not recommend planning to stay overnight in the Playa Real area. Instead, those with their own vehicles (and/or those travellers who plan to use taxi services) can make a day trip to/from their accommodation and this beach. If opting for an accommodation option in nearby Matapalo or Brasilito (in order to stay nearby Playa Real), it is also recommended that travellers have a rental vehicle or else plan to use taxi services to get themselves to/from Tamarindo in order to participate in the majority of tours that the area offers (transportation to/from accommodations in Playa Real, Matapalo, and/or Brasilito areas is not regularly included with tours run from the Tamarindo area).

Extra notes

  1. Recommended day trips from Playa Real include visits to Playa Conchal, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Tamarindo.
Guanacaste beaches
Playa Tamarindo

NORTHERN PACIFIC GUANACASTE BEACHES: PLAYA TAMARINDO

Location in proximity to other Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches: located north of Playa Langosta and south of Playa Real

Distance from Liberia:  75km (approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes)
Closest Town: Tamarindo (large town)
Beach Status: public beach
Type of Sand: brown sand; partly rough/partly smooth beach

Selling Points

  1. For those travellers looking to visit a popular beach town, Tamarindo would be your best bet throughout the entire northern pacific region. This town is one of Costa Rica’s largest and most commercial beach areas, far more developed than its neighbouring beaches (Real, Conchal, and Flamingo). Travellers who choose to stay at accommodations in town have access to a wide variety of dining and shopping options – the majority of which are within walking distance to the beach.
  2. Travellers looking to participate in a number of tours/activities during their time at the beach will find nearly everything they are looking for in Tamarindo. Most of the tour operators in this town also service nearby beaches, however transportation to/from these other beaches and Tamarindo is not always included with the tour cost. For this reason, Tamarindo is a good choice for those individuals who will not have a rented vehicle and would prefer to stay in a popular town where tour offices can be reached on foot.
  3. Given that Tamarindo is a highly developed area, this beach town offers countless accommodation options ranging from hostels and economy hotels to superior and resort-quality hotels. Accepting of a variety of vacation budgets, Tamarindo is sure to have an accommodation option that it perfect for any traveller.
  4. More than anything else, Tamarindo is the ideal surf town. For anyone looking to surf, wanting to learn how to surf, needing to buy surf gear, and/or yearning to be a part of the surf culture that is Costa Rica, Tamarindo is the correct place for you.

Disadvantages

  1. Given its popularity, tamarindo is more ‘the place to be’ than ‘the place to go to get away from it all’. The area draws a mixed crowd – a young, single’s population drawn to the area for its surf, together with family travellers impressed by the variety of tours and activities available (especially activities that children can participate in). For those travellers who would prefer a less populated town area and/or beach, unfortunately Tamarindo does not support this type of setting.

Recommendations

  1. If easy access to tour/activity options (especially surfing), dining options, and shopping options is what you are looking for, than tamarindo would be the prime northern pacific beach location for you. Otherwise, if developed areas, a popular beach, and tourism in general does not interest you, perhaps a less busy and more intimate beach area would be the smarter choice.

Extra notes

  1. Visitors staying at the Tamarindo Diria Resort (and other popular hotel options in the area) have access to Playa Tamarindo.
  2. Recommended day trips from Playa Tamarindo include visits to Playa Real, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Conchal.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: Which of the Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches (Papagayo to Tamarindo) is your favourite? Why?

Pura vida!

If you’re more of a visual learner, take a moment to view our gallery photos below from our most recent visits to Costa Rica’s Northern Pacific Guanacaste beaches.

Plan to visit one of Costa Rica’s Central Pacific beaches instead? Don’t miss our related blog post:

The Best Beach In Costa Rica: What To Know About The Central Pacific Beaches

Below is a sample of photos taken at the Central Pacific beaches you’ll learn about in the above post.

Plan to visit one of Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula beaches instead? Don’t miss our related blog post:

The Best Beach In Costa Rica: What To Know About The Nicoya Peninsula Beaches

Below is a sample of photos taken at the Nicoya Peninsula beaches you’ll learn about in the above post.

Nikki and Ricky

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9 thoughts on “The Best Beach In Costa Rica: What To Know About The Northern Pacific Guanacaste Beaches”

  • Great information. I’m heading to playa flamingo soon. This is my first time in this part of CR. I have twice before visited the Manuel Antonio area and absolutely loved it! Looking forward to exploring more of your blog.

    • Anna Marie –
      That’s great! The Flamingo area is very different than the Manuel Antonio area, so hopefully you will enjoy both unique experiences! We know both areas well, so if you need any assistance at all throughout your travels we are happy to help. If you have specific questions, you can also contact us directly at info@puravidaeh.ca
      Pura vida!

  • You found me somehow… Thank you. I so love Costa Rica. I am planning to go back soon. I have stayed in Nosara a few times and I am partial to the Nicoya Peninsula. I hope to see the Caribbean side next.

  • we have booked a place near conchal, so should become familiar with it and that area… each month which clicks by is one month less before “the betunadas litter the beach at conchal”

  • This is so helpful, thank you! We are planning a trip in February with my mom and our 3 year old son. We are debating between Playa Flamingo or Playa Hermosa. We will be renting a place and self-catering as well as eating out some times. We would like a small-town feel but not too isolated…definitely won’t be looking to party. Which town would you recommend? And how far is each from Playa Conchal? We hope to make it there for a day as it looks gorgeous:)

  • Great insight and will be in the pacific NW areas for a week and then Nicaragua for a week and San Juan Del Sur and up that coast area.

    Thanks

    Tony

  • Hi, we’re thinking of staying at Casa Conde Beachfront Hotel in Papagayo, Panama Beach after staying in La Fortuna. Do you know how long a drive it is from La Fortuna and then to the San Jose airport? Would it be better to leave from Liberia airport?
    Thank you for any info you can provide!
    Lisa

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