The Beaches of Costa Rica’s Southern Caribbean Coast: from Cahuita to Manzanillo

Picture perfect Playa Chiquita.
Picture perfect Playa Chiquita.

Each visit to Costa Rica poses the problem of which coast to visit, the Pacific or the Caribbean.  Costa Rica may be a small country, but when it comes to getting around you can expect to spend a day in transit between regions.  While it is possible to dip your toes in both oceans on one trip, those who are visiting the country for two weeks or less will likely want to pick just one.

White sand beaches with turquoise waters, delicious jerk sauce, and abundant wildlife make it easy to decide on a visit to the Caribbean coast.  For me, a visit to Costa Rica is incomplete without some time spent doing nothing on a secluded beach with the rainforest behind you and butterflies flitting by above you.

The road from Cahuita to Manzanillo is lined with gorgeous and uncrowded beaches.  Whether you choose to base yourself in the Puerto Viejo area or hotel hop your way down the coast, you can easily visit all the beaches the Caribbean coast has to offer.

 

Sunset in Cahuita National Park after a long day of hiking and beaching.
Sunset in Cahuita National Park after a long, rainy day of hiking and beaching.

 

Cahuita:  As if the gorgeous hike through Cahuita National Park wasn’t enough, there are plenty of spots to stop along the 8km trail for some sunbathing and swimming.  The farther you’re willing to walk, the fewer people you will be sharing the beach with, though there’s plenty of space for everyone to spread out at any of the beaches in the park.

 

Playing on Playa Negra at sunrise.
Playing on Playa Negra at sunrise.

 

Playa Negra:  At the north end of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca lies the 10km stretch of beach that is Playa Negra.  This is a highly underrated beach, in my opinion.  The waters might not appear as blue as some of the smaller beaches to the south, but the soft black sand is perfect for long walks and with so much coastline, you can find a quiet little spot all for yourself.  Surfers do their thing at the break closer to town and the beach becomes more secluded as it reaches the southern end of Cahuita National Park.

 

Looking over Salsa Brava.
Looking over Salsa Brava. (Kim F, flickr.com/photos/seabird/765154207)

 

Playa Salsa Brava:  The famous reef break here attracts experienced surfers who aren’t afraid to get hurt.  Don’t worry though, there are calmer pools for swimming between the reefs.

 

The haunted treasure island of Playa Cocles in the distance.
The haunted treasure island of Playa Cocles in the distance.

 

Playa Cocles:  Another popular surfing beach, there is still plenty of room for sunbathers and swimmers.  Legend has it that the small island you see just off the coast has hidden treasure that is guarded by spirits.

 

Playa Chiquita: my favourite beach in Costa Rica.
Playa Chiquita: my favourite beach in Costa Rica.

 

Playa Chiquita:  The most flawless beach that could ever be.  Soft white sand and a lush tropical forest make the perfect place to lay down your towel for the day while you frolic in the clear turquoise waters.  The entrances to this beach are not obvious as it is set back from the main road, making this the one of the most secluded beaches in the area.  Playa Chiquita is shaped such that it consists of several small cove-type beaches which adds even more to its intimate and secretive feel.

 

The gorgeous green waters of Punta Uva.
The gorgeous green waters of Punta Uva. (Christian Viarisio, flickr.com/photos/tesking/1749863206)

 

Punta Uva:  Within Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, Punta Uva has two gorgeous beaches separated by the small Red Cliff.  Because the beaches are protected, some of the best snorkelling and diving can be found on the reefs here.  If you prefer to be on top of the water, rent a kayak and paddle up the river for great wildlife viewing opportunities.

 

Miles of white sand at Playa Grande.
Miles of white sand at Playa Grande.

 

Playa Grande:  Located at the end of the road in the small town of Manzanillo, this is the busier beach of the southern Caribbean coast.  There is still tranquility to be found here though, if you move away from the main public area.

Gandoca Beaches:  Follow the coastal track from Manzanillo through Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge towards the community of Gandoca (about 2 hours), and you will encounter quiet secret beaches before emerging at Playa Gandoca, an important breeding site for the endangered leatherback turtle.

 

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Beaches of southern Costa Rica, Caribbean.

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15 Comment

  1. Well.ive been rold Costa Rico is something to appreciate. And the pictures show mighty fine. So now having since some personality on the beaches, I think I got to add this to my bucket list. And thus I have. Now how, and when. Thx

  2. Cahuita sounds perfect for a run, I love running on the beach. Playa Negra also sounds perfect for running, it would be a whole new experience on the black sand! There are so many beaches in Costa Rica, I only visited the volcanoes when I was there. Your photos are making me want to go to the beaches!

    1. I always dream of being one of those people who goes for a run on the beach…but I feel pretty accomplished if I manage to turn over on my towel:) But Playa Negra would be an amazing beach for running on!

  3. There is no doubt that Costa Rica has some of the best beaches in the world, something that is quite clear from your snaps. Certainly, during my time in the country, one of my favourite things to do what watch the sunset go down over the ocean with a cocktail in hand… nothing short of bliss. Unfortunately however, I never managed to make it to Playa Negra but hopefully will have a chance to rectify that when I next make it to Central America. Great post

  4. We took our daughter to Costa Rica and the Nicoya peninsula for spring break about four years ago. We got to see the blood moon rising over the bay and visit Playa grande. It was before I learned to surf so I didn’t have a chance to test the breaks but we still loved it. The hippie ex pats where a sight to see. Perhaps what we liked the most were the troups of monkeys who came to visit us on the beach. Thank you for the fabulous pictures that took us back to a great place.

  5. The monkeys are so cute! Until they steal your lunch out of your mouth:) I love Costa Rica and might move there some day. Glad to hear your family enjoyed it so much!

  6. WOW! I love this place, I spent 3 days at this place with my friends and we had a great fun there! I personally feel that this country has so much in it. The Adventures in Costa Rica are remarkable. You must try it if you have not ! Cheers! Loved your piece! 🙂

  7. Whoa…the same coast but different views. The sand colors are not same, arent’ they? The one in Playa Negra doesn’t look white or yellowish. But no matter what, going to the beach is always fun. Even only looking at the wave is kind of therapeutic, too. 🙂

    1. The black sand beach is to the north of Puerto Viejo and the white sand beaches are more to the south. They were all gorgeous though!

  8. I was going to squeeze a week in Costa Rica on my trip to C America last year, but having read your post I’m actually glad I didn’t! Just the beaches alone seem to be worth a lot longer than a week, and with that kind of beauty why would you want to rush through?! Based on your pictures alone, I can’t decide whether Playa Chiquita or Punta Uva would be my favourite, they’re both so stunning.

    1. I have been to Costa Rica on two separate 2 week trips and still have hardly touched on everything I want to see! If you’re looking for a beach vacation, it’s a great place, but be prepared to want to stay!

  9. It’s interesting to note that Costa Rica is bordered by Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. It comes as no surprise then that the country is host to some of the finest beaches one can find. Thanks for this list of Costa Rican beaches, I ought to try at least one from each side should I visit the country.

  10. How peaceful is Costa Rica!? It looks so beautiful, such a great place to relax! It is definitely on my list!

    1. It was quite peaceful in the areas we were in. Granted, a hurricane had just rolled through, so it was maybe quieter than usual. It has certainly grown busier since I was last there a decade ago, but there are so many beaches, you are bound to find some solitude:)

  11. These beaches in Cahuita National Park seem all so peaceful and less crowded. You may have been there at a opportune time, but I enjoyed all the photos of each individual beach. Playa Chiquita is on my list for when I visit Costa Rica for it’s secluded, serene beauty. Thank you for taking us along the shores of Costa Rica.

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