The most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. The question is: the Caribbean or the Pacific Ocean?!

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Photo credit: Tatiana Chekryzhova, Shutterstock

When you think about the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, you inevitably ask yourself the question: Caribbean coast or Pacific coast? Because Costa Rica – which, by the way, aptly translates to “Rich Coast” – has both to offer. Only 150 kilometers separate the two oceans at the narrowest point in the country. However, this distance should not be underestimated. Roads in Costa Rica are either bad or congested. At least that's how I tried it myself. Thus, when planning your trip, quickly ask yourself – or me – the question: Should we go to the Caribbean coast or rather to the Pacific coast. Or both?

Costa Rica: Caribbean or Pacific

My answer: If you have the time, plan to stop on both coasts. I know, I know, you must have wished for a more specific answer to this question, but unfortunately, as is often the case when traveling: both have their charms, and their advantages and disadvantages as well.

Before my trip, I had always read about the 250 km long Caribbean coast as being “attractive, gentle and quiet”. The atmosphere is a bit like Jamaica with colorful huts, reggae music and palm-fringed beaches. On the other hand, the Pacific Coast is highly Americanized and lined with all-inclusive hotels. One thing is certain: it may be so in some places, but especially the Nicoya Peninsula is characterized by space, solitude and the laid-back flair of surfers.

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So I was expecting a lot from the Caribbean coast, and I was a bit disappointed because the atmosphere in many places reminded me of a crowded seaside resort with bad restaurants and little charm. Well noticed in some places. On the other hand, the Pacific coast around Santa Teresa immediately charmed me with its wide, long sandy beaches, where you don't often meet a soul anywhere, the elegant cafés and the original flair of the cobblestone road, which I would have attributed to it. Caribbean coast alone before my trip. However, due to the high waves and currents on the Pacific coast, swimming is not safe or impossible in many places.

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As you can see, finding a clear answer to this question is not easy. But one thing is for sure: If I visit Costa Rica again, I will definitely prefer the Pacific side. Mainly because I liked the ambience and spaciousness there better. And of course the magical sunsets on the western side of the country!

Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Costa Rica's Caribbean coast features three main cities: Puerto Limón, Cahuita, and Puerto Viejo. I've been to all three places. Puerto Limon It is mainly dominated by its large port. Not only are bananas shipped here to all parts of the world, but large cruise ships that dock in Costa Rica also dock here. So there's not much to really see. I just stopped there to top up my local SIM card.

Caweta And The old port Both are more relaxed seaside resorts south of Puerto Limon. While for a time Cahuita was promoted as a party place and Puerto Viejo as its quieter counterpart, today it's the opposite. I find both places quite touristy and you have to find (and/or pay a hefty price for) really good restaurants. Once you leave the two cities behind, you'll find dreamy palm-lined beaches and clear turquoise waters.

The old port

While Puerto Viejo's city beach is covered in black sand, the most beautiful beaches are located south of downtown Offa Point And the Punta Manzanillo. There are also some good 'trendy cafes' like this along the paved road Gypsy Cafe At Playa Chiquita, which is worth a visit for its relaxed atmosphere alone. You can get to the beaches either by rental car or bike, but you have to drive on the same main road as the (sometimes fast) drivers, which can spoil the fun for me personally. That's why we decided to rent a car.

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My advice to the hotel: Already exceptionally good reviews for Sueno Grande B&B They spoke for themselves and me as well, and the little B&B was one of the highlights of Puerto Viejo. The relaxed beach hut feel, warm hospitality and perfect location, quiet yet central, make it the perfect starting point for me. The morning breakfast is especially wonderful, consisting of different fresh ingredients every day. There was also a delicious café and fresh juice or smoothie. The beautifully landscaped pool was also an absolute highlight and our oasis of calm in the hustle and bustle of the city.

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The city of Cahuita lives primarily from its surrounding areas Cahuita National ParkFor me, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places on the Caribbean coast. There is no entrance fee to the park, but you can leave a small donation at the administration building. A narrow hiking trail through the national park via Punta Cahuita and Punta Vargas leads to the alternate national park entrance and exit in Puerto Vajas. From here you can take a bus back to Cahuita.

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On the hiking trail, which is about eight kilometers long, you can not only spot capuchin monkeys, raccoons and squirrels. In my opinion, the national park also has the most beautiful, whitest and, above all, untouched beaches in the area. Since most visitors only cover the first few hundred meters of the trail, the road becomes increasingly lonely and beautiful as you hike. While the first half of the trail runs along the coast, the second half takes you along wooden paths through the dense forest. You will be accompanied by the roar of howler monkeys, which if you are lucky you will also see.

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My advice: Make sure you take enough food and drink with you during the trip, as there is no chance of buying anything along the way. Just at the park exit in Puerto Vagas you can enjoy your bus waiting time with a cold drink at the bar Le Colibri Rouge Hotel eviction. Just ask the owner about the next bus so you know how much time you have left!

Overall, I found the selection of restaurants (with vegetarian options) in Cahuita worse than in Puerto Viejo. You can get solid but fairly expensive pizza with a sea view at Caweta pizza.

My advice to the hotel: The bungalows are located a little outside, but right next to the sea La Diosa Hotel. It's clean and functional, but in my opinion you can't compete with that Sueno Grande B&B Keep up in Puerto Viejo. However, it is also much cheaper. I advise you to visit Cahuita as part of a day trip from Puerto Viejo (about 30 km). But if you prefer solitude and peace and want to stop in Cahuita, you can take a closer look at Hotel La Diosa.

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Tortuguero and Barra de Pacuare

On my trip I left a visit to the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, where it is famous Tortuguero National Park And also Barra del Pacuare. The most prominent feature of this area is the large number of turtles that come from it From July to October they come to the beach to lay eggs. Since we were in Costa Rica outside of this time, in November, we decided not to visit.

If you'd like to learn more here, I can Tips I would just recommend it to my dear friend Julia!

Pacific coast of Costa Rica

Costa Rica's Pacific coastline is more than 1,000 meters long. This size alone shows how vast this coastal part of the country is and how little Costa Rica's “Pacific Coast” can muster. I have personally only visited the Nicoya Peninsula around Santa Teresa, so I can only speak about this section.

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa and its neighboring beaches – Playa Carmen, Playa Santa Teresa, and Playa Hermosa – are one thing above all else: a mecca for surfers. And they radiate corresponding flair. In addition to kilometers of wide, untouched sandy beaches, Santa Teresa has a wide range of great cafés, restaurants and yoga studios, all located along the unpaved gravel road that leads from Santa Teresa to Mal Paes.

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Although this gravel road and its deep potholes drove me to despair every day, it could not dampen my enthusiasm for Santa Teresa. My favorite cafe bakery With the best avocado toast in Costa Rica it was 2 and a half kilometers from our hotel. It took us almost as long to drive this road as it did to walk! However, it was worth it every time.

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Also recommended but more expensive: this Earth Café. If you want to enjoy (vegetarian) sushi, you can Katana Asian Cuisine do not miss. There are good (veggie) burgers Rancho burger. This is the perfect place to enjoy the sunset or generally lie out on sun loungers right on the beach Banana Beach. Simply order a drink and enjoy relaxing under the palm trees!

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Breakfast at the bakery

My advice to the hotel: The villas are located in a beautiful courtyard under palm trees Grace Lodge and Villas. We had the top floor of a wooden villa with a large veranda with hammocks to ourselves. The villas are equipped with a kitchen, two bathrooms and four sleeping options. In the courtyard there is a small bar and a beautiful pool area. No breakfast is provided, but there are many nice cafes in Santa Teresa (see above) and it would be a shame to eat breakfast at the hotel every morning.

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Another insider tip: The most isolated beaches in the area can be found south of Santa Teresa with Playa Mar Azul and Playa Malbes, where only a few locals get lost.

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More beautiful beaches in Costa Rica

I got the following tips from other travelers and locals and remembered them for my next visit:

  • In Manuel Antonio National Park
  • In the Gulf of Samarra
  • Uvita Beach
  • (Playa Naranjo in Guanacaste Province).

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Have you been to Costa Rica and which coast did you like the most? And do you perhaps have a favorite beach that you forgot here? Then feel free to leave a comment, I'll add it to my bucket list!

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