Updated: March 2017
Many travelers from all over the world agree that Northern Guanacaste, Costa Rica is home to some really amazing beaches. Some of the more advertised and visited beaches are great for those traveling with a family or who want a more all-inclusive type experience with western style amenities, cuisine and services. But what about those adventurers looking to get away from it all? Those who are not afraid to shift into 4x4 and put their wheels in the mud? Those looking to stand on a beach with just one, two or maybe even zero fellow human beings and would rather share the most natural of moments with monkeys, birds, iguanas and crabs?
The truth is that Guanacaste has lots to offer every type of traveler and in my 4 years of living in this area I have found some great things to enjoy about both the popular and secluded destinations.
Popular Beaches of Northern Guanacaste
Popular and highly developed beach towns such as Playas del Coco and Tamarindo are wonderful for families who want the comforts of home but are looking to trade the shade of an oak or pine for that of a tall swaying palm.
Playas del Coco is well known for it’s good scuba diving, nightlife and beachfront park which is an absolutely wonderful location to spend the day fishing, playing basketball, swimming or just laying in the grass. In the area of Playas del Coco you will also find Playa Ocotal, an inviting beach with dark black volcanic sands and lighter tan sands near both ends of the beach. I can honestly say that for its ease of arrival and beauty, Playa Ocotal is one of my favorites. North of Playas del Coco is Playa Hermosa, a typical Guanacaste “cove” beach that is lined with some great beachfront bars, hotels and restaurants for varying budgets.
The Tamarindo area is well known for it’s surfing. Tamarindo itself is a great place to learn how to maneuver the board. This town has a plethora of hotels and restaurants, which makes for a comfortable travel experience and one of the best locations to make your home base if you are planning a surf adventure. Across Tamarindo’s estuary is Playa Grande, a faster surf break for more experienced surfers just like the locations south of Tamarindo like Playa Negra and Playa Avellanas (which means Hazelnut Beach in English).
Also in the area I recommend Playa Conchal and Playa Flamingo. Both of these beaches are known for consistently blue waters. Playa Flamingo is a small beach with a small resort type community nearby and Conchal is famous for its unique sand made of broken shells. Don’t worry about cutting your feet – these shells have been smoothed over the years.
Hidden Gems of Northern Guanacaste
Then we arrive at the other end of the spectrum, the hidden gems littered along the volcano coastline. If you’re on your way to these beaches you should probably check your tire pressure and definitely have confidence in your 4x4 skills because these roads (if they qualify as such) are not for the faint of heart or those with lower back problems.
Playa Iguanita is located just 40 minutes from Liberia’s international airport on the road to Peninsula Papagayo Rt (253). After turning onto the dirt road where the sign indicates, the first 4 or 5 kilometers aren’t great but also aren’t terrible. Once you arrive at the downhill turn you may be in for a surprise. I have seen many small rental cars abandoned here over the years. But as long as you have your 4x4 you shouldn’t have much of a problem. Once to the bottom of the hill you will pass through a stream or two just before finally reaching Playa Iguanita, which is also a wildlife refuge (no fishing allowed). Most people’s favorite thing about this beach is how calm its waters tend to remain no matter what the open oceans conditions are. These waters are protected to the west by the Papagayo peninsula, which encloses the water into Bahia Culebra, which means Snake Bay. Though I’ve still never seen a snake at Playa Iguanita, the monkeys are abundant and the snorkeling can get very interesting. I have seen tiny neon blue fish, eagle rays and 10kg Pampano on the same trip!
Further north up Rt 253 you’ll also find Playa Cabuyal which is hands down one of the most beautiful beaches in the area. Playa Cabuyal’s road isn’t as bad as the road to Iguanita but the same rules apply. Cabuyal’s blue sea reaches out to touch the fine white sands, which are protected by the dry tropical forest. What a natural paradise! The southern end of Cabuyal is great for fishing, just near the entrance to the estuary. I have seen some really strange and beautiful birds near the end of the northern side.
Now we get to the really fun stuff, what about the beaches that not even your 4x4 can get to?
Some of the most sought after beaches are only accessible by boat! What a great day trip to travel the marvelous coast en route to these wild beaches where you are usually going to be the only humans in sight.
Playa Huevos is just a 25-minute boat ride from Playas del Coco and worth the trip anytime, but the real treasure is only accessible at low tide when you can explore a small sea cave that runs under the hillside and let’s you out the other side to a perspective of the rock formations and swirling tidal pools that would otherwise be extremely hard to view. Playa Huevos also has a nice trail that leads to a lookout on top of the hill.
Another area paradise is Playa Jicaro, which like Playa Iguanita is located in the Bahia Culebra and home to very calm pacific waters. Playa Jicaro was created by an old coral reef that is home to many pufferfish, triggerfish, sea stars and urchins. Bringing a hibachi and grilling to the sounds of parrots and monkeys has been an experience that I will never forget.
Northern Guanacaste has something for everyone
I’ve heard tourists say that they expected Costa Rica to be more natural and wild. My response to them is to do some research, leave the resort behind, prepare accordingly and enjoy some of the finest beaches in the world!
Share your Guanacaste experience below in the comments!
Recommended Tours in Guanacaste
- Rafting Rio Tenorio
- Palo Verde Boat Tour
- Heliconias Hanging Bridges and Rain Forest Hike
- Rincon de la Vieja Guided Hike
- Santa Rosa National Park and Liberia City Tour
- Sensoria: Land of Senses
- Tamarindo Mangrove and Estuary Boat Tour
- Coastal Kayak and Snorkeling Tamarindo Bay
- Buena Vista Mega Combo Adventure
- Tropical Dry Forest Canopy Tour Papagayo