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I’ve lived in Guanacaste for five years, and I’ve been to all the big beaches – but this is a daunting topic. The 5 best Guanacaste beaches? There’s a long list to choose from, and it’s possible that no two people would agree!
I live in Flamingo, three blocks from the beach, with a wonderful Costa Rican woman named Guiselle. Every Christmas, New Year’s or Semana Santa, much of her family from the Central Valley flocks to visit us, arriving on motorcycles or in packed cars, often with two little chihuahuas, sometimes requiring us to inflate air mattresses on the floor to accommodate all our guests.
So I started wondering: Why do they always come to visit us for the holidays, but we rarely go to visit them? And the answer is simple: because we have a beach, and the Costa Rican people seem to have it hard-wired into their brains that during the holidays you have to go visit a beach.
This has happened so many times that Guiselle and her family are always looking for new beaches to visit. Junquillal? Nacascolo? Mina? Negra? Pan de Azúcar? Calzón de Pobre? There are so many choices that the decision alone sometimes takes as much time as five people trying to use our only bathroom in the morning.
So I’m going to try to set some parameters here, including accessibility, popularity, beauty and things to do. And I recognize up-front that any beach lover in Guanacaste might have a different list. But this would be mine.
Located near Brasilito and in front of the Reserva Conchal resort, Playa Conchal is widely considered the most beautiful beach in Guanacaste. The sand at most beaches is made of rocks crushed by millions of years of erosion, but here the sand is made of crushed seashells – millions of tiny, mostly white seashell fragments. It makes a perfect bed to lie down on, and it’s weirdly fascinating to scoop up the “seashell sand” in your hand and just look at it.
Location is both a plus and a minus for Conchal, because unless you’re a guest at the Reserva, you have to walk 20 minutes or so from Brasilito to get there. The plus is that you’ll be on a pristine, gorgeous beach with no walk-through traffic. The minus is that if you’re hauling coolers full of beer and ice, you’ll probably arrive pretty tired. So the access is not exactly easy, but the walk is well worth it
You had to include Tamarindo, Mr. Obvious? Yes, I did, because it’s the most entertaining beach town I’ve ever lived in, it has good surfing for all skill levels, and for size and popularity it’s rivaled only by Jaco or Coco.
Tamarindo is a kaleidoscope of sights, sounds, monkeys, bikinis, beachfront bars and the pounding waves of a swimmable, surfable beach. If you’re looking for isolated little beaches where you can’t see anyone for miles, you’re looking at the wrong list. But if you think people are part of the attraction of visiting Costa Rica, or if you like it when waiters bring you beers on the beach, then you’ve come to the right place.
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Playas del Coco
I lived here for a year, and I highly recommend this high-energy town and its bucolic beach. You don’t have to bring your surfboard, as Coco is surrounded by C-shaped headlands that make it a great harbor for fishing boats and catamarans, but not a place to catch raging waves.
The beachfront promenade is a winding walkway called “Amor de Temporada,” which roughly translates to “Summer Lovin’,” implying that someone had an affair while on vacation. Best of luck with that, but meanwhile, let your kids try the skate park, the basketball court or the sand volleyball while you lounge on the grass or the beach.
Call it hometown pride if you want, and yes, I can walk there from my house if I have enough energy – but Flamingo is truly an outstanding beach in Guanacaste, and I live here for a reason. The playa is roughly 1 kilometer long, a beautiful, crescent-shaped white beach, with a lot of shade trees on the sand. It’s almost completely devoid of development because of the protected mangrove swamps between the Margaritaville resort and the first houses on the outskirts of the South Ridge.
So when you drive down the bumpy little dirt road next to Playa Flamingo, you may see a lot of cars parked on the shoulders, yet you can always find a spot. (But don’t try this on New Year’s Eve.) The reason there are so many people on this beach, at least in the high season, is that it’s such a great beach. Safety in numbers!
Here I venture a bit far afield, but I also lived in Nosara for six weeks, and this place has four or five good beaches. Nogara is the yoga capital of Costa Rica, it has great surf, and coincidentally it’s home to one of the country’s best turtle-nesting beaches, at Ostional.
They should have a bumper sticker that says, “Nosara is not for everyone – it’s for everyone ELSE.” Nosara is sort of a magical place, full of mindful people who like yoga and surfing and Buddha and tattoos but don’t like television.
Nosara is a pretty long haul from most places – usually you have to drive to Nicoya first, and then to Samara, and then to Nosara. But when people reach the end of the road here, they are rarely disappointed.
So how did I do?
Guiselle: “I don’t know if even TWO of your picks would have made my list of the top five.”
Karl: “But sweetheart, that’s the beauty of Costa Rica. We all get to like what we like!”