Playa San Miguel

San Miguel Beach is hard to categorize – It’s definitely out of the way and can be nearly impossible to reach in the rainy season so it might qualify as deserted – but it’s a fairly popular spot for Tico vacation homes and even weekend visitors – still there aren’t quite enough restaurants, hotels and other infrastructure to push it into the community category.  There are surf-able waves but they’re unpredictable and unless you catch the tide and swell just right they close out pretty quickly so it’s not a big surf destination (you’re never going to have to get in line to ride).

Playa San Miguel from Sand Dollar Cove

Sand Dollar Cove at Playa San Miguel

It’s exactly this mix of a little bit of everything without being the best of anything that’s kept San Miguel and it’s neighbor to the south Coyote Beach under the tourist trail radar and as yet relatively undiscovered.

Sunset over Punta Miguel from Playa Coyote

Playa Coyote and Playa San Miguel meet at the Estero Jabilla where I caught the sun setting over Punta Miguel when we were fishing one evening.

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Nosara Beach

Of the tens of thousands of people who think they’ve visited Playa Nosara every year only a handful ever set foot on it.

In fact, the town of Nosara is on the south bank of the Río Nosara and the beach community, hotels, restaurants, bars, real-estate offices, sand and surf shops that most tourists refer to as “Nosara Beach” runs south from Punta Nosara and Cerro Lagarta along Playas Pelada and Guiones.

View from Cerro Lagarta north to the Río Nosara and Playa Nosara

View from Cerro Lagarta north to the Río Nosara and Playa Nosara

Nosara beach actually starts on the other side of the wide deep channel at Boca Río Nosara and runs north to where it meets Playa Ostional at Punta División.  This means that unless visitors kayak or paddle your surf board across the estuary, or drive up through town, across the bridge and back down to the beach they are really enjoying Guiones beach not Nosara.

cattle egrets Boca Rio Nosara

Cattle egrets at the mouth of the Nosara River on the far south end of Playa Nosara

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Punta Dakota

You won’t find Punta Dakota on any map of Costa Rica, and if you stop to ask for directions you should inquire about the nearby Puerto Coyote because none of the locals have ever  heard of a geographical feature by the name of Dakota.  It’s because the moniker was bestowed (in honor of their home state) by the group who’re building an amazing retreat on a hill above Playa Coyote.

Villas Punta Dakota

Villas Punta Dakota

We found Villas Punta Dakota while searching for a beach house rental where we could host our neighbors from Colorado for a week of decompression on the playa after a week of exploration of the volcanoes and rain forests in the interior.  We wanted somewhere all eleven of us could enjoy and the vast majority of rentals in Costa Rica are just much too small.

Dakota was an unequivocal hit.  Comments from the adults who were on vacation from their high pressure high tech jobs included “Wow!”, “The best vacation of my life.”, and “I haven’t been this relaxed for years!”  The kids volunteered gems like “Can we stay here forever?”, “This house is cool” and another half dozen “Wows!”

Unlike our neighbors (all first time visitors), Sue and I have been almost everywhere in our pursuit of an accurate map of Costa Rica and Punta Dakota and Playa Coyote are now firmly anchored on our top ten list as well.

Playa Coyote south of Estero Coyote is a great beach for kids

Coyote Beach

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Coyote Beach

Like its neighbor to the north, Playa San Miguel, Playa Coyote is hard to pin down.  In fact at low tide you can stroll across the opening of the Estero Jabilla separating them without necessarily noticing you’ve gone from one beach to another.

Coyote is also relatively remote and can be difficult to get to especially in the rainy season when road south from Jicaral is susceptible to washouts.  Coyote can also be a little tough to locate because there is some confusion about the name since a group of expats started a campaign to rename it to the supposedly more marketable “Playa Costa de Oro” or “Gold Coast Beach.”  The small sign on northernmost of the two main entrances now bears this moniker, but the locals, guide books and maps still refer all the sand on both the north and south side of the Estero Coyote as Playa Coyote.

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Naranjo Beach, Santa Rosa

There are a few different “Playas Naranjo” in Costa Rica but the most notable is the arcing crescent of golden sand facing witch’s rock (roca bruja) along the northwest edge of the Golfo de Papagayo Guanacaste.

Naranjo Beach, Playa Naranjo - View towards witch's rock in the Golfo de Papagayo Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Naranjo Beach, Playa Naranjo - View towards Witch's rock in the Golfo de Papagayo Guanacaste, Costa Rica

The Pacific swell angles in past Witch’s rock and creates a wave that’s legendary among surfers and was featured in the cult classic film Endless Summer II.  The campground can get surprisingly crowded when the surf is up, but if you’re seeking solitude there are dozens of kilometers of trails in Santa Rosa National Park and some lead to even remoter beaches like Nancite where it’s unlikely you’ll ever meet another person.

The campground at Naranjo is a few meters off the beach under scrubby trees and offers grills, picnic tables, pit toilets, and flat sandy spots to pitch a tent. There are brackish water showers to rinse off the salt spray, but the is NO fresh drinking water available.

A two stage shelter system is a good idea. You’ll want a lightweight tent or hammock with mosquito netting to keep the mosquitoes at bay and a large light weight tarp you can string from the trees six or eight feet up to keep the rain and sun off. Keep your food in tough sealed containers or strung up with thin cord at least six feet off the ground and away from the nearest branches.

We had to leave a day early after the mapaches (shrimp eating raccoons) made off with one of our food bags in the middle of the night. I swear the little buggers had a plan and worked as a team.


Pizote and mapaches will raid your camp and haul off anything that's not nailed down.

We’d gotten lazy and dove in the tent leaving a food bag on the picnic table when an evening thundershower hit. About 1:00 a.m. we heard scuffling out in camp and I got out with a flashlight to see a couple pair of beady eyes look back at me before the coons scooted off. I couldn’t tell if they had our supplies so I chased them through the scrub and out onto the beach, but I had been set up. While I was off chasing the diversion the rest of the raccoon team moved into camp and cleared out everything that wasn’t nailed down.

In the daylight we found our scattered gear and the empty wrappers and bags from our provisions about fifty yards away.

Pizotes (coatamundi) also live in the area.

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Cahuita Beach

Cahuita is the Caribbean Manuel Antonio.  We’ll probably get a lot of comments from residents of the upscale Pacific enclave and Costa Rica aficionados disagreeing and we have to admit they are completely different in a lot of ways (like the lack of mega-resort and marina development in Cahuita), but there are some distinct parallels.

Each has hotels along a nice section of coast, and both are home to some of the best restaurants in Costa Rica, but the real jewels are the beaches and forests of the nearby National Parks.

The National Park encompasses Playa Cahuita north of the Punta and over 7 km of the long straight beach stretching south of the point to the Boca del Río Carbón where it takes the name Playa Negra and continues south to Puerto Viejo.  The beach is backed impressive lowland rain forest and there are surf breaks in front.  Offshore is the largest live reef in Costa Rica and although it has been degraded by an earthquake that raised the sea floor and lifted some of the coral above the high tide line where it couldn’t survive it’s still great snorkeling.

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Ostional Beach

Ostional is a nearly deserted beach continuing north from Playa Nosara at Punta Division, deserted that is except under the last quarter moon when more than 20,000 Olive Ridley turtles may come ashore to lay eggs in a single night.

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Tortuguero Beach

Tortuguero is of course best known for the Atlantic Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) that nest there from June through November and their massive Leatherback cousins (Dermochelys coriacea) that nest February through July.

Baby Green Turtle

Baby Green Turtle (Chelonia mydas mydas)

Advance reservations and a certified guide are required to be on the beach inside the National Park (basically anywhere south of the village) after dusk during nesting season.  Check with your travel service or lodge for tours.

Playa Tortuguero

Playa Tortuguero

Tortuguero is a beachcombers paradise.  You can walk the smooth tan sand literally for miles.  In fact, heading south the only things that interrupt fifty miles of playa on the northern Caribbean shore of Costa Rica are river mouths.

Swimming is not recommended at Tortuguero beach.  The waves close out near the shore slamming down with battering force and rip currents are ubiquitous and strong.

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Sámara Beaches

Sámara – The Swellest Little Beach Town in Costa Rica

Sámara Beach is home base to a cluster of the most unique and beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.  If you’re a beach aficionado you’ll find a wide variety from surfing open ocean double overhead reef breaks, or kayaking to the tiny private unnamed beach on Chora island offshore from Punta Indio on the south end of the beach, to the perfect palm lined crescent of Carrillo one cove down.

Caroline Miranda is one of the authors that resurected the Lonely Planet guide to Costa Rica from the throes of mediocrity in 2004, and now for a 2010 article for Budget Traveler Magazine she’s back and has dubbed Sámara as the “Swellest Little Town in Costa Rica”.

It hasn’t changed too much in the last twenty years, and we suspect that she’s known the secret of Sámara for much longer than she lets on, but like most of us she’s been a little selfish about sharing one of the last best places with the masses.

By Carolina A. Miranda, April 2010 issue Budget Travel Magazine

Despite the country’s boom in tourism, Sámara, on the northwest coast, has managed to stay blissfully under the radar. For Costa Rica connoisseur Carolina A. Miranda, the laid-back town—and its made-for-beginners waves—is the perfect place to catch a break…

The roughly one dozen square blocks—sandwiched between a hilly range and the Pacific Ocean—are dotted with low-key inns and beach cottages. Howler monkeys bellow from the treetops, iguanas scuttle across dirt roads, and carefree young couples stroll along the uncrowded beach. Sure, it has the classic Costa Rican activities—kayaking, horseback riding, and watching sea turtles nest on the nearby beach of Ostional—but without the relentless soliciting that has become an unavoidable part of the travel experience in the country’s more popular beach spots. Most important, it’s also not a drag to get there: The town is at the end of a paved road (rare in these parts) that’s accessible from both of Costa Rica’s international airports. For me and Kathy, looking at a quick, five-day itinerary, that had real appeal“…

read the article in April 2010 issue Budget Travel Magazine

Within a few kilometers

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Naranjo Beach, Gulf of Nicoya

Playa Naranjo on the northeast tip of the Nicoya Peninsula facing into the gulf is one of two car ferry terminals served from Puntarenas on the mainland.

Naranjo (Nicoya Peninsula) to Puntarenas (Mainland) Ferry

Naranjo (Nicoya Peninsula) to Puntarenas (Mainland) Ferry from Playa Naranjo

Playa Naranjo is an interesting spot.  It would be hard to imagine it as a destination because the beach is a little nondescript and there is not much else around except the ferry dock which can hardly be considered an attraction.

View Playa Naranjo in a larger map

Surprisingly it’s a bit of an undiscovered gem

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