The Beaches and beyond
With two coastlines surrounded by lush jungle, Costa Rica is famous for some of the most beautiful beaches in Central America. There are golden beaches on the Pacific that enjoy fabulous sunsets and powdery Caribbean beaches surrounded by candy-colored corals. Take at least one great day trip to the beaches of the Pacific while you are in Costa Rica (you may want even more…).
Pack sun tan lotion, a bathing suit, bug repellant (always good to have on hand) possibly some hiking shoes and long light pants (lightweight – the ones where the legs zipper off are great), and a camera or binoculars. There is a cooler at the house so you can pack a lunch or drinks. We also have beach chairs, located in the kitchen closet, for your convenience. Beach towels are located in the master bedroom.
The Pacific Beaches
There are lots of different beaches to try – each with their own style.
Punta Leone : This is a favorite of ours – it is a beautiful cove of calm bay water with lots of places to picnic on the beach under many palm trees. There is also a quick walk to Playa Blanca during low tide which has incredible white sand beaches. Punta Leone is actually the name of a big resort on the right side of the beach road about 1 km past the turn off for Tarcoles and past Steve and Lisa’s bar/restaurant and a big gas station on your right – however, we like to use the secondary entrance and use the same beach. If you want to go through the main entrance, you are certainly welcome to, but you will have to pay a $60 day pass fee per person. That charge does give you access to the beaches and pools there as well as the facilities at the resort. Although – all the beaches are accessible to the public in Costa Rica – it is the law. So we use the secondary, or public entrance. which is the next right (an obscure dirt road) after the official entrance to the resort, and just before you head up the first hill near the beaches. If you have go up the hill without making a right, you have missed the turn. Once you make the turn, take the dirt road to the end and keep left. There is another dirt road where you can park. Then there will be a small walkway through an old jungle forest over a little bridge and right to the beach. You will hear the beach once you are parked. Playa Blanca, if you wish to go there, is towards the left once you are on beach. We love swimming there and have heard of a couple of people say they have seen huge turtles there – who knows maybe you will be lucky!
After a day at the beach, continue up the hill, past Punta Leone, and you will pass a resort on the right at the very top of the hill called Villa Caletas – keep this place in mind – it is a nice place to have a cocktail and watch the pacific sun rest into the sea after a great day at the beach.
Playa Jaco: Jaco is a fairly large beach town, but it is quite touristy, not particularly pretty, and we usually try to avoid it. If you need anything for the beach or a souvenir, you can find it in Jaco, however, be careful to watch your bags there (don’t leave them on the back of your chair) and be sure not leave anything visible in the car. Jaco is a bit of a target town for theft against tourists so be careful.
Playa Hermosa: If you want to skip Jaco altogether and stay on the main road heading south, then the next beach you will come is Playa Hermosa. Playa hermosa is a nice little surf town that hosts a major surf contest in August every year. Theunder toe can be very strong there, so be careful. The beaches are very dramatic, because of the volcanic black sand beaches. Pull into town and park at the beach for a look. The sand gets very hot so wear flip flops.
Playa Esterillos Este or Oeste: About 10km past Playa Hermosa, you will be begin to see signs for Playa Esterillos Este and Oeste, which are both relaxing little beach spots. We have spotted the magnificent Scarlet Macaws feeding on the Beach Almond trees there. The picture at the top of the page is from Playa Esterillos. If you would like to make a lovely lazy day at the beach with accessible facilities, lunch, parking and even surfing close at hand we recommend hanging for the day at Escantada Beach Cottages . The beach is beautiful, the food is yummy. Call ahead to let them know your coming and ask what’s on the menu today.
Manuel Antonio: This stunning beach, part of Manuel Antonio National Park, has long been considered one of Costa Rica’s best beaches. Just west of the beach is imposing Punta Catedral (Cathedral Point), a rocky headland shielding the beach from powerful waves. The water here is consistently calm, making it a terrific choice for families with young children. The surrounding national park, meanwhile, is filled with wildlife. You can easily spot white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, green iguanas and sloths. Manuel Antonio is also one of the few places in Costa Rica that is home to a healthy population of endangered (and adorable) squirrel monkeys.
Start your day as early as you can, It’s about 2+hours from our house. This is the most frequented tourist attraction in CR for good reason. It has so much to offer in one day including great restaurants, zip lines, etc.etc.
We have a few suggested spots you may want to stop at before settling down on a beach.
Tarcoles River Bridge
The first one is the Tarcoles River bridge which is mentioned in many a guide book . It is the biggest bridge you will cross after getting off the main highway. There is a little tourist market set up just before the bridge where you can park, and then take a walk across the bridge to see the huge and lazy Crocodiles that wade in the river below. Bring binoculars and your camera!
Carara National Park
Once you have had your fill of the viewing the crocs, hop back in the car and head over the bridge. About a 1 km up on the left past the bridge is the entrance to Carara National Park , one of only 2 areas in Costa Rica that the Scarlet macaws currently call home – although their numbers are growing due to conservation efforts by many. The park has walking trails to wander through and try to spot wildlife which is all around you, but they can be elusive. We hired a guide which was available at the entrance and we saw tons of things we would not have other wise. He also took us off the trails, and this is where the long light pants that zip off at the knees and the good hiking shoes, closed shoe, and hiking sandal come in handing. You are better to keep your feet as covered as possible when trekking through the jungle though. Leave the flip flops in the car! We saw lots of macaws, toucans, howler monkeys, white faced monkeys, montezuma oropendulas, parrots, jungle mammals like agouti, some snakes, tarantuals, etc… Basically he asked us what we wanted to see and he tracked them down. It was a great hike and worth the trip.
Jungle Crocodile Safari
If a hike is not what you are looking for,but you would like to check out the wildlife, see lots of birds, maybe a Jesus Christ Lizard, and a very brave boat driver feed some crocs, then you may want to consider a ride on the Tarcoles River with the Jungle Crocodile Safari or Crocodile Tour Costa Rica . It’s a great trip! People had been telling me about this for a while and we finally went. The are a few companies that offer these and they are all located at the same spot. Travel further down the road to the beach past the Tarcoles River Bridge and Carara National Park, and you will see a sign for the town of Tarcoles about another 1-1.5 km after the park entrance. It will also be the first real road after thebridge on your right. Make the right and take the road all the way to the end. At this point there are offices for the two operations that run these tours in front of you and on the right. Make a right and take the road to the end (about 2kms) to the river where the boats are. You can either call ahead for reservations, or just show up like we did and hope for the best. We went in July and had no problem , but if you are going during the highest part of the season (christmas -March) then it would be wise to make reservations. The tours run at 8:30, 10:30, 1:30, and 3:30 – but check the websites for any changes . The earliest and latest boat rides usually have the most active wildlife. We saw Macaws, more herons than we could count, Rosietta Spoonbills, the JC Lizard and iguanas, howler monkeys, and tons of crocs – I even touched the back of a really huge one, and then we took a brief trip into the mangroves. It was fascinating. I am leaving out one big part of the tour , but you will have to wait and see for yourself! (ok the picture on the right sort of gives it away…)There is so much life on the river.