Lapped on either side by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica has enough palm-fringed beaches for everyone. Take your pick – from sugary sands to wild jungle-backed strands, each beach offers something a little different.
t An experienced surfer keeping ahead of the crest of the wave as it rolls toward Playa Tamarindo
If the thought of crowd-happy beaches makes your head spin, Costa Rica has escapes galore. Along both coasts awaits a wealth of pristine, hidden jungle-ringed beaches where your only company will be the occasional seabird. Escape Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio to tranquil Quepos and its under-the-radar idyll Playa Biesanz. Cusped by coral reefs, the seas are ideal for snorkeling and you’ll have the whole beach to yourself. Farther north, hop in a 4WD at Sámara and take the single-track path to the palm-fringed bliss of remote Playa Barrigona, a virginal swath of pink-champagne sands tucked in an unspoiled cove.
Shielded by imposing Punta Catedral (Cathedral Point), the calm seas and fabulous beaches to either side of a tombolo teeming with wildlife make Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio a terrific choice for families with children of all ages. For a different day out, check out pelican-patrolled Playas del Coco, a Tico family favorite, with a boardwalk lined with pizzerias, fruit stalls, and family-friendly resorts offering fun activities.
Wildly popular, the beach at Tamarindo has perfect surfing-for-everyone waves, from beginner beach breaks to deep-water pinwheelers ideal for kamikazes. Test your board skills with a surf lesson with Tamarindo-based Witch’s Rock Surf Camp (www.witchsrocksurfcamp.com). For less crowded waters, join a class at Costa Rica Surf Camp (www.crsurfschool.com) in laid-back Dominical.
Costa Rica’s jungle-framed beaches and marine-rich seas are ideal for spotting wildlife in all directions. Gaze out at the ocean at Playa Ostional in search of the regular arribadas (mass arrivals) of olive ridley turtles swimming to shore to nest. Above the sugar-white sands at Playa Blanca in Cahuita, on the Caribbean side, you’ll see everything from slow-moving sloths to howler monkeys swinging through the trees. Farther south at Manzanillo, get into the water, mask and snorkel in place, to check out the mantas and schools of tropical fish flitting around the coral reefs as you drift along on the surface of the crystal-clear water.
Fast-moving riptides are caused by a high volume of incoming surf meeting funnels of retreating water. These create dangerous narrow channels as the water gets sucked back into deep water, which can drag even experienced swimmers out to sea. If caught in a riptide, don’t panic or try to swim against the tide. Swim parallel to the beach to exit the narrow rip current, then swim to shore.