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.
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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.
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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 y