Costa Rica Caribbean Beaches: Magical Locations on the Caribbean Coast
Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is a pristine natural environment brimming with jungle, wildlife and of course beaches with clear waters. There’s often a lot of debate between which beaches are better, many prefer the much larger beaches in Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula while others prefer the smaller more accessible Costa Rica Caribbean beaches.
After having seen beaches like Santa Teresa, Playa Punta Uva and various other beaches on the Pacific side, I can certainly say both are gorgeous but the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica has that one thing extra: Caribbean flare. With strong Jamaican roots, this region is full of life and colour and it can be seen in the Afro-Caribbean culture, the Creole cuisine and local people. Costa Rica’s Caribbean beaches are spectacularly colorful, pristine and full of life. Once here you’ll never want to leave.
Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast can ultimately be split into three parts, Tortuguero in the north, Limon in the central part and the area around Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in the south which also includes Cahuita. In these areas, there are a number of unspoilt beaches waiting to be discovered on your next trip. Let’s break these three regions down a little more.
*This ‘Costa Rica caribbean beaches’ post contains affiliate links meaning I might make a small profit if you choose to book at no extra cost to you. This helps me to keep providing you with top quality content for free.
COSTA RICA CARIBBEAN BEACHES FROM NORTH TO SOUTH
The Tortuguero area in the north of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast is a popular destination for travellers due to Tortuguero National Park and its incredibly diverse wildlife. The area does have some pretty stunning beaches too. One of the best things to see up there, apart from the national park is also the sea turtles that come to Tortuguero to nest.
Further north, you can also visit Isla Machuca if you’re up for an adventure. The island is very isolated and is best reached by boat or plane.
In the central part of the Caribbean Coast, you’ll find the capital of the area, Limon. You don’t want to spend very long around here, however. Limon is known as Costa Rica’s most dangerous city to most locals- not a place you want to be especially after dark. Limon is also a port so the beaches surrounding it aren’t the nicest. I would recommend against spending time in Limon, there really is nothing to see here, especially compared with Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo.
Finally, there is the Puerto Viejo/Cahuita area in the south of Costa Rica, very close to the Panama border. This area has some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica and on the Caribbean Coast.
As a general rule, the further south you go, the nicer the beaches become. The area is also a hotspot of Caribbean and Afro culture which gives the area a very different feel compared to the rest of the country- it really is a very unique destination within Costa Rica. It takes about 3-5 hours to get here from San Jose depending on if you drive or take a bus.
Keep reading for a detailed guide to the Tortuguero and Puerto Viejo areas and the best Costa Rica Caribbean beaches in these areas.
Tortuguero is located inside Tortuguero National Park and is one of the most naturally diverse regions in Costa Rica. It’s full of wildlife and visiting this incredible national park will give you the opportunity to be able to come face to face with some of Costa Rica’s incredible fauna and flora.
While the main draw to Tortuguero is its wildlife it does have some pretty amazing beaches too. The beaches here are quite pristine as there isn’t much development here- this area is incredibly isolated.
Tortuguero sits along an inlet of land that separates the main beaches from a lagoon. If you are planning to spend some quality time on the beach I highly recommend staying at a property on this inlet otherwise you’ll have to catch a boat to get to the beach, which isn’t so easy.
Transportation in Tortuguero is mostly by boat and things are quite self-contained within the properties as it’s difficult to walk around past the main town. There aren’t really any roads.
Also, note that swimming isn’t really allowed at Tortuguero beach due to the strong currents.
WHERE TO STAY IN TORTUGUERO
There are a handful of lovely small hotels in Tortuguero. My favourites are:
Mawamba Lodge Tortuguero – One of the best hotels in the area Mawamba offer beautiful wooden cabins right in the middle of the jungle. The property sits between the lagoon and the beach and has direct beach access for you to enjoy during your trip to Tortuguero. Their rooms give you the most amazing boho, minimal wooden cabin vibes.
Mawamba also organises boat tours to see the local wildlife as well as kayaking, canoeing, a night walk and fishing activities. They also have a pool which is perfect to make up for the fact that you can’t really swim in the sea.
Laguna Lodge – Another spectacular choice in Tortuguero, Laguna Lodge is right by the water and steps away from the beach. Enjoy a comfortable, wooden cabin surrounded by jungle and relax on the front porch in a rocker with a book when you’re not enjoying the beach.
Laguna Lodge has a pool, great food onsite and offers a number of different tours and experiences during your stay such as boat tours, kayaking, a night walk and more.
WHERE TO EAT IN TORTUGUERO
The most convenient place to eat in Tortuguero is at your hotel or lodge as the town is tiny and there aren’t many restaurants. Due to this, it’s a good idea to make sure your hotel has great food- the two hotel options listed above serve amazing local Creole/Costa Rican food.
There aren’t any vegetarian or vegan restaurants here and it’s not the most plant-based friendly area of Costa Rica.
Budda Cafe – a decent option along the water’s edge in town. Serves some good salads and sandwiches.
Coco Loco Tortuguero – the best place in town to grab a fresh juice or a smoothie
Soda D’Leite – a local eatery serving good local dishes like ‘casado’ and ‘gallo pinto’ (rice & beans)
COSTA RICA CARIBBEAN BEACHES: TORTUGUERO
There’s only one, long beach in Tortuguero. It’s a gorgeous, wide, dark sand beach that’s fringed with palms and vegetation. It’s not swimming friendly as the currents can be really strong.
The beach here is perfect for taking long walks, a morning run, watching the sunrise and for relaxing on during the day. Costa Rica is known for its pristine, untouched beaches and this one is just another testament to that.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN TORTUGUERO
Go on a boat trip– Your property will organise a boat trip for you where you’ll be able to ride through the lagoons and rivers watching the most incredible wildlife in the area. You’ll be able to see many different bird species, sloths, monkeys and perhaps even a cayman or crocodile. The best time to go on a boat trip is early in the morning.
A night walk – If you’re an avid wildlife fan you’ll also want to take the opportunity to see and get to know Costa Rica’s nocturnal flora and fauna. Again, your accommodation can organise this for you with a knowledgeable local guide who’ll take you out into the jungle after the sun goes down. Expect to see lots of creepy crawlies and amphibians.
Kayaking/ Canoeing – One of the most popular activities in Tortuguero besides the tours is kayaking. Tortuguero is a great place for it as you can just kayak around at your own pace and watch all the wildlife come and go. In some ways, kayaking is actually better than a boat tour as there’s no noisy engine to scare off wildlife.
Mwamba Lodge and Laguna lodge both rent kayaks for you to explore on your own or if you prefer to kayak as part of a tour then check out this highly-rated kayak tour here.
Located between Limon and Puerto Viejo is the little Caribbean town of Cahuita. Cahuita can easily be reached from Puerto Viejo on a day trip. Cahuita has a lovely beach and Caribbean vibe that’s a little more sleepy compared with Puerto Viejo. You’ll find locals just cycling around and going about their day or sitting around and socialising. It’s the perfect place to come if you just want to relax and take in Costa Rica’s Caribbean air.
Cahuita can be reached by bicycle but you’ll have to have some good stamina for that- it’s a 20-mile round trip but makes for great exercise. Otherwise, there are buses that leave the centre of Puerto Viejo going to Cahuita a few times a day.
WHERE TO STAY IN CAHUITA
Cahuita has significantly less choice for accommodation than Puerto Viejo and I’d personally recommend staying in Puerto Viejo and coming to Cahuita on a day trip. There are a couple of decent options, however.
La Shamana Ecolodge – One of the best places to stay in Cahuita, this gorgeous place can easily compete with the best places to stay in Puerto Viejo. With beautiful wooden, rustic suites that are filled with colour and character, surrounded by jungle. You also won’t find any single-use plastic here which is always a bonus.
El Encanto – A sold option right in the centre of Cahuita and minutes away from Playa Negra. This rustic, local option has everything you need for a comfortable stay including spacious rooms, a pool and lovely staff.
COSTA RICA CARIBBEAN BEACHES: CAHUITA
Playa Negra – A lovely black sand beach surrounded by vegetation, palms and lush jungle. This is the nearest beach to Cahuita town so it can get quite busy, especially at the weekend. Closer to town there are a few bars and restaurants along the beach too. With its warm water, it is a decent place to swim, just be careful of the strong currents in these areas.
Playa Blanca and Puerto Vargas– These are two gorgeous beaches that are part of Parque Nacional Cahuita. The national park begins in Cahuita and encompasses a large area of jungle and beach that stretches halfway to Puerto Viejo.
Given it’s a national park, these beaches are absolutely stunning as they rarely get as much traffic as the beaches near town.
Cahuita National Park is a great place to spend a day or at least a few hours. There are many paths in the park that will lead you through virgin forests teeming with wildlife before you finally reach the beaches. This area also has some of the most intact coral reefs in Costa Rica so it’s a great spot for diving or snorkelling. Make sure to take enough water and food for your trip as there isn’t much available here.
Make sure to enter the national park through the Cahuita entrance where the fee is a voluntary contribution, otherwise, you’ll have to pay $5 to enter through the Puerto Vargas entrance, however, this is closer to Puerto Vargas beach.
Face + Body Tube SPF 30
Reef Safe Sunscreen
Turkish Beach towel
The Impossible Glow
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca or Puerto Viejo de Limon, often shortened to just Puerto Viejo is one of the best areas in the southern Caribbean coast for beaches. (Note that there is another Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica so when buying shuttle or bus tickets make sure to specify Puerto Viejo de Limon.)
The best thing to do in the small town of Puerto Viejo is to rent a bicycle or a scooter for a few days and beach hop from one beach to another. The nice thing about this region is that the beaches are very close together- just a few miles between them making for excellent cycling. The road isn’t too busy either and drivers here are used to bikes as many of the locals use them too.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUERTO VIEJO
Samasati Yoga & Wellness retreat– One of the best yoga retreats in Costa Rica, Samasati offers yoga teacher training, wellness and yoga retreats, daily yoga classes and accommodation for the wellness-focused traveller just passing through. Located in the jungle and not too far from the beach, this gorgeous retreat has everything your need for a rest-filled stay in Puerto Viejo.
Find out more here.
Sonora Jungle & Yoga Retreat – A gorgeous place to stay in Puerto Viejo, Sonora offeres beautifully decorated jungle suites and cabins as well as a swimming pool in a goregous jungle environment. The retreat has a lovely yoga shala for daily practise as well as a massage area offering a variety of differenr services and treatments. A healthy breakfast is included in your stay.
Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel – A lovely, minimalist beach-side hotel with white-chic rooms overlooking the jungle, gorgeous pool and beach access. They also have a great restaurant on-site serving local, Caribbean dishes. A great choice located right next to Playa Cocles.
Banana Azul – Located on the shores of Playa Negra, this splendid adult-only hotel is a great option for those wanting to relax and be away from the party scene of Puerto Viejo. With beautiful rustic, wooden cabins with Caribbean touches (some of which come with a private plunge pool), a main swimming pool and a beach club. If you’re looking to just relax on the beach and not do much this is the best option in the area.
WHERE TO EAT IN PUERTO VIEJO
Como en mi Casa, Art Cafe– A wonderful cafe right in the centre of Puerto Viejo just around the corner from the bus stop. Owned by a lovely Italian woman, this vegetarian/vegan cafe is the perfect place to grab a sandwich, salad and breakfast or an afternoon coffee. Everything that isn’t 100% plant-based on the menu can be made vegan.
Jammin Vegan Community– Located just outside the centre of Puerto Viejo they serve simple Jamaican classics that have been veganised. The owner is a lovely British/Jamaican sustainability and vegan lifestyle advocate who will make you feel very welcome. Go for the spicy jerk jackfruit or the classic ackee and seaweed or the breadfruit pie, it’s all delicious.
Puerto Pirata Tiki Bar – A vegetarian and vegan-friendly cafe/bar serving fresh, organic food with a beach vibe. The menu is light and fresh with a focus on local, organic products.
Puerto&Co – A coworking space in the centre of town with a vegan cafe attached where you can grab a coffee and snack or a light meal.
Madre Tierra – Another great recommendation we got but it was closed when we passed by.
Veronica’s Place Cabins & Cooking – stop by to meet super friendly Veronica while she serves up a local, healthy, plant-based Caribbean feast.
GypSea Cafe – A lovely, vibey cafe in Playa Chiquita. It’s perfect for lunch or a late breakfast when exploring all the nearby beaches. They offer smoothie bowls, excellent local buddha bowls, egg breakfasts, fresh, homemade pasta, sandwiches and salads. One of the best cafes in the area.
COSTA RICA CARIBBEAN BEACHES: THE BEST AROUND PUERTO VIEJO
Punta Uva– Hands down the best beach on the Caribbean Coast, Punta Uva really is something special. There’s not much here apart from a kayaking rental place and a surf school, this pristine beach is full of dark yellow sand and flanked by coconut palm trees and thick jungle. Deep blue waves crash down at the shore bringing in all kinds of shells, branches and debris.
If you’re looking for pristine, uncrowded and unspoilt beaches head straight here.
Playa Grande – Located just by Manzanillo, this beach is a lot like those in Manzanillo. It’s a really lovely, large beach where you can relax on for the whole day. It’s a good bet at the weekend or when things are crowded as there’s more space here for everyone.
Playa Chiquita – A gorgeous little beach, perhaps a little more upscale than some of the others due to more boutique properties in the area. A great place to come, lay down a towel and absorb a great book.
Playa Negra– One of the first beaches you’ll see when arriving in the area, this black sand beach is long, wide and perfect for a long walk, morning beach jog or for losing yourself on. If you’re looking for some peace and quiet (or a place for topless sunbathing) then you’ll definitely find it here, especially when walking up the beach towards Cahuita. We stayed here for a few hours and didn’t see anyone else the whole time we were here even though it is one of the most popular beaches.
Playa Cocles – One of the largest and most popular beaches, this is the first beach you come to after leaving Puerto Viejo towards Manzanillo. This beach is really popular at weekends with families as well as digital nomads. Here you can play beach volleyball, rent a surfboard to make the most of the Caribbean waves or even rent a kayak.
There are plenty of restaurants nearby that are perfect for a quick bite between bouts of sunbathing and beach volleyball. Playa Cocles is really wide and one of the best family-friendly beaches in the area- they have a lifeguard too.
Playa Puerto Viejo– Definitely not the best one around but it’s a place to check out nonetheless. Playa Puerto Viejo is very small however, erosion has certainly had its way over the last few years but if you’re desperate for a swim, it does the trick.
Playa Manzanillo – A nice long beach in Manzanillo town, perfect for relaxing, picnicking and walking on. Here there’s also one of the best wrecks around that’s pretty rusty and photogenic. It’s so close to shore so you can easily climb in and explore- just be careful of the crashing waves.
Refugio Nacional Gandoca in Manzanillo – This is a national, protected refuge in Manzanillo right past the town itself. It has some of the nicest beaches in the area with an orange/yellow/almost white sand beach, surrounded by palms. This place is the closest you’ll come to turquoise water, especially when visiting during the rainy season when the water is generally a little darker and murkier.
The refuge isn’t very big and can be walked in about 2 hours. A path will take you to all the best beaches in the refuge. This isn’t the best beach in the area for sunbathing or swimming as the waves and currents here can be pretty rough. During high tide, the sea comes up very high and doesn’t leave you with much sand to relax on.
OTHER THINGS TO DO IN PUERTO VIEJO
Rent a Bike and Ride to Manzanillo – One of the best ways to explore the whole region is by bicycle. The roads here are really flat and the traffic is manageable. Cycling along the road to Manzanillo you’ll get glimpses of beautiful beaches, howler monkeys in the trees above you, macaws screeching around you and locals going about their day. In Manzanillo, you can grab a cold coconut and just relax on the beach before riding back.
Bribri Waterfall & Indigenous Comunity – A short cycle outside Puerto Viejo you’ll find the quaint Bribri waterfall, a lovely space to come and enjoy in the middle of the jungle to bathe in the refreshing waters.
If you’re interested in finding out more about the indigenous cultures in the area, nearby you can also visit an indigenous community where you can meet some locals and learn about a more traditional way of life. It’s best to organise a tour rather than to just turn up unannounced and this way you’ll learn much more in the process too.
Chocolate Experience by Bribri Indigenous Culture is the best tour in the area which shows you how the indigenous people make chocolate and you’ll also learn about local medicinal plants, their local language and visit the Bribri waterfall. Check rates and book here.
Jaguar Rescue centre – While there aren’t really any jaguars here, this rescue centre focuses on rehabilitating wildlife in the local area that has been subject to abuse, injury etc. Their aim is to rehabilitate them and release them back into the wild, however, there are some who have stayed over the years as they simply wouldn’t be able to survive in the wild again given their injuries. Here you’ll be able to learn a bit more about their efforts and see Costa Rica’s amazing fauna up close in this part of the country.
Visits are by private tour only, at 9.30 am and 11.30 am and you’ll need to pre-book your tickets. Click here to find out more and book.
Shopping – Puerto Viejo has some pretty nice boutiques which make for an afternoon of strolling around town especially if it’s too cloudy or rainy for the beach. Most stores of interest are located along the main thoroughfare but it’s worth just wandering around and exploring. Some of my favourite boutiques to check out are Samoa for boho-chic clothing, Aloe for swimwear and House of Roam for surf supplies and great coffee.
Ready for your trip to Costa Rica Caribbean beaches? Check out some other amazing things to do in the Caribbean region of Costa Rica and beyond during your stay.
What are your favourite things to do in the Caribbean beaches of Costa Rica? Have you been yet? Let me know all your questions and comments below.
Planning a trip right now? These are just some of my favourite websites I use to book everything from hotels to rental cars!
Rentalcars.com for quick and easy car rentals worldwide
Booking.com for great deals on hotels
Agoda also for great deals on hotels
Related posts you might like:
FOUND THIS POST USEFUL? PIN IT AND SHARE