10 Best Beaches of Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast

Beginning at the port city of Limon, 3.5 hours from the capital city of San José, Costa Rica's Caribbean coast is a succession of spectacular beaches that stretch from the old port of Limon south to the border of Panama. Sunbathers, snorkelers, scuba divers, and surfers can all be satisfied in this region, and it's kid friendly, too. At the southernmost end of the road Manzanillo beach awaits, a quiet beach good for swimming, where fishermen still ply the waters and and dolphins may be spotted off shore. A few kilometers to the north, Punta Uva beach is the best beach for snorkeling and scuba diving, and it's home to a hidden blue grotto. Sand dollars wriggle beneath your toes at Playa Negra, look for the rusted barge with a tree growing out of it at the entrance to Puerto Viejo. El Parquecito and El Chino beaches are nice for family picnics near the center of town, and Playa Chiquita holds a special place in the hearts of many lovers -young and old- who have fallen under the spell of its secluded charms.  Salsa Brava and Cocles Beaches, with their legendary surf and stellar sunsets, are special highlights of Puerto Viejo de Limon.


El Chino Beach, once the most popular hub for boats exporting cacao and bananas, now attracts all who visit with its crystal clear waters, coral tide pools, and calm surf. Nestled between Playa Negra to the north and El Parquecito beach to the south, the narrow stretch of sand is lined with an antiquated structure housing one of the oldest markets in Puerto Viejo de Limon, Comissario Manuel Leon, and Reef Runners, a popular dive shop that makes the most out of El Chino's ideal conditions for snorkeling and scuba. To reach El Chino beach, follow the road from the bus station away from the banana barge, turn left at the first corner, and the beach extends up to the town Police Station.

Playa Bonita is Limon's most popular beach, and also its prettiest. It lies just a few meters due south of the bustling commercial sea port of Limon, but its wide swath of sand and tranquility are worlds away. A smattering of hotels and restaurants dot the shoreline, geared as much towards Costa Ricans on vacation as tourists- fine seafood, Caribbean cuisine, and calypso music are seaside highlights of Playa Bonita, as is tubular surf that surfing legends like the Ronald Brown cut their teeth on. Often overlooked in favor of the more pristine and secluded stretches of beach further south, Playa Bonita has plenty of perks of its own just waiting to be discovered.

Playa Negra
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Playa Negra, or Black Beach, is a beautiful curved stretch of fine black sand that slopes into gently breaking waves. Local surf intsructors often choose this spot for lessons, but there is always room for swimmers and waders. A photogenic old banana barge that marks the entrance to Puerto Viejo sits just off shore, begging to be climbed upon and dove into the water from. There are a smattering of charming shops and bars along the shoreline at Playa Negra, and it's one of the top beaches in all of Puerto Viejo de Limon, Talamanca to stroll, swim and surf.

Puerto Viejo Beach
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Find this flat swath of white sand beach in front of Johnny's Place, next to the Police Station, right next to Playa Negra- here the black sand meets soft white sand in a distinct line. Large sections of coral reef create a series of tide pools, and it's an ideal spot for snorkeling, swimming, and submerging. Cars can drive up close to the water's edge, and the white sand beach is soft and narrow. On holidays Puerto Viejo Beach can get crowded with families, picnickers, sunbathers, and swimmers- but not surfers- there is rarely a swell at this coral-studded beach. Also known as El Chino Beach.

Salsa Brava Beach
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Salsa Brava is the beach that helped put Puerto Viejo de Limon, Talamanca on the map for tourists- back in the 1970s, few but the most intrepid reached this region of the Caribbean coast, but surfers who caught wind of the killer waves at this beach were more than willing to face the rough roads and lack of basic services for wicked waves. In 1991, an earthquake significantly altered the coastal landscape, creating an even more formidable- and enticing-surf spot. Salsa Brava, or Brave Sauce, is not for the faint of heart; amateurs best survey the conditions carefully before paddling out.

Playa Chiquita
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Playa Chiquita is a small stretch of coast with a narrow white sand beach and calm water that is often ideal for snorkeling in between the coral reef. This is the most hidden beach in the area, due to the dense rainforest that separates the water's edge from the road, and a lack of signage- but that's part of why it stays so special. A few trails lead to secluded coves and sparsely populated beaches lined with palms and coconut trees. During high season, Playa Chiquita is a popular beach for families, dogs, and nudists, who come to revel in the privacy and play in the gentle water- the rest of the year it may be found nearly deserted.

The Caribbean's most precious beach could just be Punta Uva, or Grape Point. There are two sides to this beach, North and South, divided by a steep green cliff. On the south side lies a long sweeping stretch of white sand, dappled with coconut palms and a sloping shoreline lapping with gentle waves. One the north side is a smaller beach, protected on both sides, with gentle surf good for learners and conditions that tend to be ideal for snorkeling. Kayaks may be rented on the sand here, and the Punta Uva dive shop offers scuba tours and PADI certification.

El Parquecito Beach
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

El Parquecito is a small curved cove near the center of Puerto Viejo, where small fishing boats line the white sand, and the water is calm and protected on two sides. Salsa Brava beach lies directly south, and Puerto Viejo Beach lies directly north of El Parquecito, and it is here where fishing nets are made the old-fashioned way and locals gather to check out the catch of the day. Snorkeling and swimming are fine at El Parquecito beach, and it's a favorite for children who wade in the gentle waters, but there is little space between the narrow stretch of sand and the road for sunbathing.

White sand beaches and clear waters flanked by lush vegetation are hallmarks of Manzanillo, a quintessential Caribbean fishing village where not too much has changed in the past fifty years or so. Small houses are built on stilts and colorful fishing boats dot the shoreline, and the water is usually ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The vibe is as low-key and laid-back as it gets, and the most action happens at Maxi's Place, a Rasta-styled restaurant reknowned for its fresh seafood and ocean breezes. The best way to reach Manzanillo is by bike, but if you're not up for a scenic ride, buses run to and from a few times a day from Puerto Viejo.

Cocles Beach
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Cocles Beach, called "Beach Break" by locals, is the most popular beach in the area among locals and tourists, for its long golden sand beach and for its consistently good surf. A majestic craggy rock sits a few meters off-shore, and legend has it that pirates buried their booty there years ago. Cocles has the only lifeguard station in the region, but it's not always occupied. Look for flags to signal riptides, which are common and strong at Cocles. Rent a surf board on the beach, and refresh with a smoothie from one of the small cafes that line the roadside across from the sand.


Meet Sophia LaMonica

On Sophia's first trip to Costa Rica, she came face to face with white-faced monkeys, gasped at the sight of giant purple crabs, and rode horseback through plunging waterfalls. Costa Rica...  More About Sophia