Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica: The Beachfront Town that Has it All
Playa Flamingo is one of the most beautiful coastal towns in Costa Rica today, with two stunning peninsulas, two golden beaches and a backdrop of frog-green hillsides. And all of this came to be quite randomly.
Three million years ago, Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica, was on the bottom of the ocean, along with the rest of what would become Central America. And then three tectonic plates got into a shoving match. Violent tectonic upheaval forced one above the other, with a third jostling for position, and Central America rose above the waves for the first time between 1 and 3 million years ago.
This created a thin little isthmus between North and South America — an improbable land link that allowed a vast variety of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and insects to migrate between North and South America.
Costa Rica became one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, rivaling central Africa or the heart of the Amazon. Representing just 0.03% of the world’s total landmass, Costa Rica boasted 5% of its biodiversity — meaning that of every 20 creatures on earth, one of them lives here. The collision of two continents became a cauldron of creation.
Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica: The perfect coastline
In Flamingo, it was our good luck that such a beautiful coastline emerged from the ocean. Flamingo’s most striking feature is the North Ridge — a green, steep peninsula about 1 kilometer long, jutting into the Pacific Ocean and pointing like a bony finger at the uninhabited Isla Plata.
The steepness of the hills here didn’t make road-building or home construction easy, but it ensured spectacular ocean views. To the north, the ridge looks out on the picturesque Potrero Bay and Potrero Beach, and to the south, it overlooks Brasilito Bay and Flamingo Beach.
A string of deluxe homes and condominiums were built on this ridge, topped by the new condominiums called 360 Splendor del Pacifico, the crown on top of the mountain.
As good fortune would have it, right at the base of this peninsula was a sheltered bay that turned out to be the perfect space to build a marina. A successful marina operated here from the early 1990s until 2003, when it ran afoul of government authorities for disputed reasons. Today a new, state-of-the-art marina is under construction that could be welcoming yachts by mid-2022.
There’s also a long, flat space in front of Playa Potrero that once accommodated an airstrip. The airstrip is long gone, but this flat, vacant, beachfront property today is considered an ideal place to build hotels, condominiums and shops.
Downtown Flamingo arose at the base of the North Ridge, dominated by La Plaza Flamingo, a commercial area accessed by big stairs where several restaurants, shops and a pharmacy operate today.
Just up the street from here is the headquarters of Special Places of Costa Rica, the leading vacation rental company in this region, which would be happy to show you any number of fabulous homes you can rent in the area.
Just don’t come here looking for flamingoes. The town was named by a Canadian investor named George Howarth who discovered and bought the area in the 1960s, and he is said to have confused the roseate spoonbill with the flamingo, which doesn’t exist in Costa Rica.
Playa Flamingo: The second beach
The base of the North Ridge is less than 400 meters wide — meaning it’s a four-block walk from Potrero Beach to Flamingo Beach. Downtown Flamingo was always destined to remain small and walkable, as there is virtually no space left to build.
So in five minutes or so, you can walk from the marina area to Flamingo Beach and then … wow! It’s a gorgeous, white-sand, banana-shaped beach, roughly 1 kilometer long. Here savvy entrepreneurs built the Flamingo Beach Resort, which was rebranded as a Margaritaville in 2018. It’s the biggest hotel in town, and it’s right across a little dirt road from the beach.
South of the Margaritaville, there’s a longish dirt road, usually lined with visitors’ parked cars, with a shady beach on the right and mangroves on the left. The mangroves are protected by law, meaning nothing can ever be built there. And the beach is divine, dotted with shade trees and featuring surf that’s usually gentle enough for children to play in. (The only downside here: There’s no surfing.)
There are several islets scattered along the horizon, making for a beautiful seascape and unforgettable sunsets. If you look to the far left, the distant cape of Punta Sábana looks like a crocodile crouched in the ocean waiting to catch its next meal.
At the south end of Flamingo Beach, you come to the exclusive South Ridge, a small peninsula that from the air looks like a sideways comma. Near the base of this ridge, you’ll find some of the ritziest real estate in town, including The Palms Private Residences and the dazzling, palatial 5-bedroom Hacienda del Arbol and its two neighboring mansions.
In the hills behind these beachfront beauties lies a warren of deluxe homes, almost all with great ocean views because of the steep hills. (And by the way, almost all of these super-deluxe properties are offered as vacation rentals, so start saving now.)
One of the attractions of this part of Flamingo is that virtually nobody drives through here on their way to somewhere else. In this respect it resembles Manuel Antonio — one road in, the same road out. There are a couple of dirt roads that provide alternative access to beachfront Flamingo, but they’re seldom used.
Playa Flamingo, Costa Rica, by land
Let’s not forget “inland Flamingo,” the first part most people ever see. As you’re driving north from Brasilito along the main, paved highway, there’s a long, straight stretch of road lined with small hotels, condominiums, restaurants, stores and banks —the outskirts of Flamingo. There’s also a turnoff to the exclusive hillside Mar Vista housing development, which is home to La Paz Community School, an excellent pre-K-through-12 bilingual private school.
Along this highway you’ll find a Banco de Costa Rica, a Banco Nacional, the excellent Super Massai grocery store, the big Comaco hardware store, a few real estate agencies and several other small enterprises.
Directly across from the Banco Nacional, the highway branches to the right toward Surfside, Potrero and Las Catalinas. This is the road that all through traffic takes. From Potrero, the newly paved “Monkey Trail” now provides relatively easy access to Playas del Coco and beyond (but beware of the creek crossing in the rainy season).
About the only things you can’t find in Flamingo are a fast-food chain (but there are plenty in Liberia), a gas station (but there’s one in Huacas), or a hospital (but there’s one on the road from Brasilito to Huacas).
If you can visit Flamingo today, do it. In 10 years it will be unrecognizable — bigger, better, busier. Today it stands on the cusp of small-town charm and big-town greatness. It’s been working on this for over a million years.