Costa Rica has for decades been one of the world’s top destinations for those seeking sun, sand, and year-round warm weather.
Since I made this place my new home not so long ago, it’s surprised me with its laidback atmosphere, stunning geography, and comfortable weather. The easygoing, friendly locals and the opportunities for high-quality, low-cost living are also a great bonus!
Whether you’re looking for the best surfs in the Western hemisphere or just want to relax and catch a tan on the shore, there’s something out there for you in Costa Rica. Let’s take a look and discover some of the best beach towns and cities in Costa Rica!
I’ll kick off this list with the town that usually tops the lists of oceanside destinations for first-time visitors to Costa Rica.
Jacó is an obvious choice for multiple reasons: for one, it’s a major town that is vibrant, young, and colorful enough to never get boring.
It’s also fairly close to Costa Rica’s main international airport, and its shores have a reputation for excellent, beginner-friendly surfs and lots and lots of beach parties come sundown.
As one of the country’s principal and most heavily-visited coastal-towns, Jacó is beginning to feel like a small outpost of the capital San José these days.
This is great for expats looking for a less urban, less expensive, and more homely place to live close to the ocean. It also means that Jacó is one of the few major places in Costa Rica where English is genuinely widely spoken.
Playa Tamarindo is located in Guanacaste, a mostly peninsular province of Costa Rica flanking the Pacific Ocean and bordering Nicaragua to the North.
The name is going to pop up a lot in this list: Guanacaste is known for its comfortable, warm climate, with more sunshine and less downpour than the rest of the country. Its coasts are also extremely popular with surfers, who claim that some of the waves here are among the best in the world.
I don’t surf myself, but judging by the sheer amount of people you can see on an average day hauling their boards around one of Guanacaste’s affordable beach towns, I would say there’s something to it.
Tamarindo being the most well-known of these, it remains the number-one spot for many. It’s a small, but fairly well-developed place, with lots of high-class hotels, bars, clubs, and other establishments catering to the huge expat community.
My next pick for one of the best beach cities in Costa Rica comes to you again from Guanacaste, specifically the Nicoya peninsula that has become such a hotspot for foreigners seeking sunshine, terrific waves, and a laidback coastal vibe.
Sámara is one of the major towns within Guanacaste and has both a sizeable local as well as a healthy expat community. This is all in relative terms, mind you – the total population still numbers only a few thousand people. Costa Rica doesn’t really do big cities, you see!
Sámara isn’t as much of a town built around one particular stretch of beach as it is a historic village with many beaches and areas of natural coastline close by.
Despite Sámara’s popularity both with Costa Rican vacationers and with foreigners, plenty of its surrounding sands and waves are still mostly untouched! This makes it a great option for those with an urge to explore and get off the beaten path a little.
Playa Tambor is a unique pick on this list, being not just one of the smallest and least populated affordable beach towns in Costa Rica. Strangely enough, it is at the same time one of the few that has its own domestic airport.
Tambor is located near the tip of the Nicoya peninsula, in the Puntarenas province.
This means that, while flying from San José is an option, so is driving to the coast and crossing the narrow Pacific strait separating Tambor from the mainland by ferry.
Once there, you’ll be greeted by some of Costa Rica’s loveliest tiny town vibes – crystal-clear waters and exotic wildlife included!
5. Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is one of the best and most beautiful beach towns in Costa Rica – in fact, it’s so great they’ve got two of them!
Yes, it’s an old joke here, but travelers nonetheless need to beware. Far too many at this point have ended up in the wrong Puerto Viejo and wondered why the ocean is nowhere to be seen.
Here’s why. The Puerto Viejo you want to see (since it is the only one between the two that exist that has access to the coastline) is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, in the Limón province.
This is in the Southeastern part of the country, on the Caribbean coast – a unique area colored by its tropical rainforest climate, unique flora and fauna, and the country’s largest Native population.
Known as the country’s nightlife capital among travelers, it’s a lively place with excellent surf and lots of guesthouses and hostels all around.
The Puerto Viejo you don’t want to accidentally get stuck in, called Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí, is an equally charming little town that I actually became quite fond of through my travels.
Unfortunately, it also happens to be neck-deep in the jungle and on the opposite end of the country, near the Nicaraguan border.
It’s so out-of-this-world frustrating and unique that it warrants its own article, but suffice it to say that the buses in Costa Rica are not to be trusted unless you know exactly where and when you’re going. If a bus says it’s heading to “Puerto Viejo”, you might as well flip a coin to see which one you’ll end up in.
That’s why I’d recommend driving the way there from San José yourself or mustering up the required Spanish to ask people around you to make sure.
If that put you off visiting Puerto Viejo a little, I understand. It’s not the most well-connected part of the country – but it for sure is worth seeing, if not only for the sheer beauty of everything around you!
6. Santa Teresa
Coming back to the ever-popular Nicoya peninsula, within the Puntarenas province, we have the charming little town of Santa Teresa.
This has been one of the key destinations within the Nicoya region for years, and for good reason. Santa Teresa is homely and comfortable, with excellent weather and every convenience you might need within walking distance.
Fishing, scuba diving, and surfing are huge here, but wellness enthusiasts will also find plenty of stuff to do out and about.
At the same time, it remains an authentic expression of the Nicoyan pura vida. Many go here year after year for a safe and relaxing digital detox experience, or just to grab some of the super-cheap fresh seafood that this area is known for!
7. Playa Guiones
Now for a personal favorite of mine, let’s head to Playa Guiones! Located in the midst of a series of coastal towns in the district of Nosara, Playa Guiones is one of Costa Rica’s most calm and at the same time most developed places to live near the Pacific coast.
The beach itself covers about four miles, and along that easily walkable distance, you can find lots of cafés, boutiques, food markets, pharmacies, and more. It’s also within spitting distance of many of the other major towns in Guanacaste that you can find on this list!
8. Manuel Antonio
Especially among the locals, Manuel Antonio has always been considered one of the best beach cities in Costa Rica. There are two reasons for this.
One, it is incredibly close and easily reachable by bus from the capital, San José. Second, it is one of the most gorgeous little corners in the whole country, offering not just plenty of adventure for nature lovers and thrill-seekers, but also access to the Manuel Antonio National Park.
While not huge (even Costa Rica has bigger national reserves and parks elsewhere), Manuel Antonio is appreciated as one of the most diverse and beautiful.
There are literally hundreds of unique animal species you can spot here, from capuchin monkeys to rare bird species you cannot find anywhere else.
And on top of that, you get all the benefits of staying in one of Costa Rica’s most adventurous, safe, and affordable little coastal towns, right by the Pacific!
Hidden near the very tip of Puntarenas is sleepy little Montezuma, today considered one of the best affordable beach towns in Costa Rica.
Until fairly recently, this place used to be nothing more than a tiny fishing village.
But when travelers found out about the beauty of the nearby hiking trails and the quality of the surf, more and more flocked to Montezuma, quickly turning it into one of the major stops on the nomad’s Costa Rica itinerary.
10. Playa Dominical
Likewise a favorite for expats and one of the country’s principal surfing towns, Playa Dominical is one of the best places to be on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast.
The beach here stretches many miles and is littered with not just lots of world-class surf, but also waterfalls and a vast local jungle that begs to be explored.
Playa Dominical is one of the top places in Costa Rica frequented by those looking for a more “authentic”, less touristy experience. If you like being close to nature, I highly recommend paying a visit!
On the flipside, you have Flamingo. This is one of Costa Rica’s most prestigious destinations; wealthy expats from the United States and Europe often choose this area to retire.
One look at the shore tells you why: unlike many other Costa Rican coastal towns, Flamingo is full of fancy hotels, resorts, B&Bs, and large, American-style stores. There are lots to do in the water, including scuba diving, surfing (of course), wakeboarding, boating, and more.
If you ever felt like picking up any of those sports, this is also the place where you can find some of the best schools, courses, and coaches in the country.
On the one hand, this makes Flamingo and the surrounding area within Guanacaste very exciting and lively, not to mention safe – perfect for families!
On the other hand, those looking for more of a nature retreat will probably end up feeling out of place in Flamingo. Not to mention the obvious – compared to the rest of the country, Flamingo is capital-E expensive.
12. Playas del Coco
Of all of the many, many beach cities in Costa Rica located in the Guanacaste region, Playas del Coco is one of the oldest.
Here you can not just find sunshine and some of the clearest waters on Earth – being right in the middle of the most developed area within Guanacaste, there are also plenty of modern conveniences all around.
With the international airport in Liberia fairly close, Playas del Coco is also one of the easiest coastal towns to get to.
Located at the southernmost edge of the Costa Rican Pacific coast, not too far from Dominical, Uvita is home to one of Central America’s most gorgeous beaches.
Even though the area is fairly well-developed, with more than a handful of expensive hotels catering to the international clientele that frequent Uvita, the actual beach is so vast that you can still find large parts of it mostly empty.
One thing distinguishes Uvita from other affordable Pacific beach towns in Costa Rica. Due to its unique location and calm waters, it is one of the very few places in the region where you can spot migrating whales and dolphins from the shore!
For those really out for adventure, there are also guided boating tours that take you closer to these majestic animals.
14. Playa Conchal
Playa Conchal is one of Guanacaste’s hidden gems known for its pristine white sand. It is situated centrally along the Gold Coast, a region known for its preserved beauty and stunning flora and fauna.
This is not one of those party-friendly coastal towns dominated by expat culture and frequented by backpackers all year. Playa Conchal is much more laid-back and quieter than that.
The most tourist-friendly local activites on offer are horseback riding, guided tours through the nearby national parks, and golfing.
15. Playa Hermosa
When the name of the place literally means “beautiful beach”, then you know you got yourself a winner. Along the shore in North Guanacaste, within a short distance from Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa wows visitors with its one-of-a-kind shoreline, breathtaking waves, and non-stop sunshine.
Like Playa Conchal and some others in the area, Playa Hermosa is not a bustling, vibrant town. It feels more like a little old-fashioned village, often serving as a home base for travelers seeking to explore the whole of Guanacaste without spending too much.
For families looking for a quiet, beautiful nature getaway and for explorers on a budget, Playa Hermosa is one of the best safe and affordable beach towns in all of Costa Rica!
Even if you don’t end up staying here, I invite anyone in the Guanacaste region to check it out – it’s definitely worth it.