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.
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.
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.
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.
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: 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.
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.
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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