Salsa Brava Beach — Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica
One could spend weeks, even months, exploring the exquisite beaches of Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, but if the idea is to get a taste of each one within a single day, it can be achieved successfully with just a little fore-thought.
Spend an hour or two strolling along the flat coastal path of Parque Nacional Cahuita, spotting wildlife like tepescuintle and howler monkeys, and bring a swimsuit for slipping into the clear waters of Playa Blanca and Playa Grande, Cahuita's beautiful white sand beaches.
Consider a sea side brunch at Sobre la Olas; who says mojitos and fresh mussels on the half-shell can't be indulged in before noon?
In Puerto Viejo, an old barge just off the coast sprouts a tree at Playa Negra. This black sand beach is sweeping and dramatic, and the break is a popular place to surf some of the Caribbean's gentler waves.
Playa Negra — Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica
Rent a bike and seek out the less-trodden beach path that begins at Salsa Brava and stretches all the way to Cocles Beach. The surf is usually up at Cocles, and riptides are a serious threat, so swim with caution, and abide by the colored flags if there are any. Refresh with a mid-day happy hour at Tasty Waves Cantina, where two-for-one drink specials and a pool table make for a fine break between beaches.
Path to Tasty Waves — Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica
Further south along the road, the quiet community of Playa Chiquita includes a string of increasingly spectaucular secluded beaches, some with tide pools and all dappled with coconut palms. They aren't easy to find, however, so consider picking up a snack and asking how to get through to a beach path at El Duende Gourmet, a small market with an outstanding supply of European goodies, cheese, and a devoted wine room.
Punta Uva is quite possibly Costa Rica's most perfect beach, a point most who visit find hard to argue. Popular for swimming, snorkeling and diving, Punta Uva is divided into two beaches by a steep cliff that can be climbed on foot; from the top you can see both sides and look down into a real blue grotto.
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica
The last beach along the coast is Manzanillo, the sleepiest village of them all that lies at the end of the road, 13 kilometers south of Puerto Viejo. The highlight of this beach is the expansive national park that begins here and extends inland, best explored with a guide on a half or full day excursion of its own.