We always say that Costa Rica is best explored with your own rental car. That’s because a car gives you the flexibility to explore and move around at your own pace. But there are many reasons why you might not want to drive during your vacation. Maybe you are trying to save money, are nervous about driving in a foreign country, or drive all the time at home and just want to relax during your time off. Whatever the reason, don’t fret, there are plenty of places to visit in Costa Rica without a car. In fact, when we first visited the country as tourists, we didn’t rent a car until our fifth trip! In this post, we’ll give you some ideas for beach towns to visit in Costa Rica that are easily navigable without a car.
Tip: If you are looking for alternatives to the public bus, read our post about Shuttles in Costa Rica. We explain how both shared and private van services work and how we can help you book the right one.
Tamarindo is a beach town in the northwestern province of Guanacaste. This surfing hotspot is perfect for those without a car because there are lots of restaurants, shops, and tour operators just steps from the beach. Most hotels, hostels, and bed and breakfasts in Tamarindo are also only a short stroll or cab ride away from the main strip. And with plenty of activities to do locally, you can easily spend a week or more in this one spot. Read our post Tamarindo: Where Paradise Meets Convenience to learn more and get some ideas.
From Liberia International Airport (LIR): Shuttle in 1-1.5 hours or bus in 2.5 hours. From San Jose International Airport (SJO): Shuttle in 5 hours or public bus in 5.5-6 hours. Small plane flights from San Jose arrive in about 1-1.5 hours.
Walking will get you to most places in town. There is also a local bus, plenty of taxis, or you can rent a bicycle or scooter.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
The most popular beach destination on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This small town gives off a distinct island vibe and is completely doable without a car. Caribbean-style cooking, surfing, plentiful wildlife, and some of the most gorgeous beaches in the country are just a few of the reasons to visit. Read our post Puerto Viejo: Caribbean Cool in Costa Rica to help you plan.
From San Jose’s International Airport (SJO): Shuttle in 4-4.5 hours or public bus in 5-5.5 hours.
Many choose to flip-flop their way between their hotel, the beaches, and the bars, but the main road that leads south is also a popular bicycle route. You can rent beach cruisers by the day or week. A local bus also connects the downtown to the beach communities to the south (all the way to Manzanillo) and to the north (Cahuita).
Some people avoid Jaco because of its party scene, but this busy beach town on the central Pacific coast really does have something for everyone. The scene at night can be easily avoided, and tons of tours and attractions are available to keep everyone busy, including kids. A few standouts are surfing beaches, every type of adventure tour that you can think of, and a main strip packed with shops and restaurants (some of our favorites in Costa Rica). The area also has a lot of wildlife nearby thanks to the rolling green mountains that back it. Read our post Jaco: Costa Rica’s Booming Beach Town to see some of our favorite things to do and places to stay.
From San Jose’s International Airport (SJO): Shuttle in 2 hours or public bus in 3 hours.
The main street in Jaco has lots of lodging options, so if you stay there, you can walk to the beach and just about any place in town. You can also rent bicycles or scooters. Tip: The south end of the main way, Avenue Pastor Diaz, is a little more spread out and quieter, but still has great beach access and is an easy walk to town.
Tortuguero is a special place for wildlife viewing on the northern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. There is simply no need for a car here because there are no roads. The town is accessible only by boat or small plane, and the closest thing you will find to a road is a concrete walking path on land and a maze of canals in the water. Tortuguero has become famous for its sea-turtle nesting, which occurs along its long gray-sand beaches several times a year. The inland brackish waterways and mangroves are also filled with an array of wildlife like monkeys, caiman, and hundreds of bird species. Read our post Tortuguero Off the Resort for plenty of ideas for things to do right from town.
From San Jose’s International Airport (SJO): Shuttle and boat taxi in 5 hours or public bus and boat taxi in 5.5-6 hours. Small plane flights are less than 1 hour. Read our separate post Getting to Tortuguero for more information.
If staying near the main village, you can walk to everything. Resorts and more isolated lodges along the canals require a boat taxi to get to town but are often all-inclusive.
Manuel Antonio was the first place we ever visited in Costa Rica and we loved it, even without a car. It was also the first town we moved to and we still visit often. This popular tourist destination on the central Pacific isn’t set up like your typical beach town. Although there are some lodging options near the beach, many are located up the hill, surrounded by jungle and featuring fantastic ocean views. With some careful planning, you can stay either down by the beach or on the hill near the main road and still get around very easily. Read our post Manuel Antonio Trip Planning for more information to plan your stay.
From San Jose’s International Airport (SJO): Shuttle or public bus in 4 hours. Small plane flights to the neighboring town of Quepos take less than 1 hour from San Jose.
Since Manuel Antonio is built on one big hill, walking isn’t the best way to get around unless your hotel is right on the beach. Luckily the public bus runs frequently along the main road, carrying you to and from the beach, hotels, and restaurants. If you’re not up for taking the bus, local taxis, which are everywhere, can get you where you need to go for relatively little money.
We hope that this post has helped give you some ideas on where to go without a car in Costa Rica. When we first traveled the country, we did so by bus, shuttle van, and small plane and still had a blast. Having a rental car is definitely nice, but you can learn a lot about the country by riding the bus or talking with shuttle and taxi drivers about the local area.
What’s your favorite town in Costa Rica to visit without a car? Let us know in the comments below.
Looking for more information to help you plan? Check out these posts:
- Shuttles in Costa Rica: How They Work and When to Use Them: Here we cover the two types of shuttles (private and shared) and give the advantages and disadvantages of each one.
- Cost of Traveling in Costa Rica: This post will give you an idea on what costs to expect for things like hotels, restaurants, and tours when you travel to Costa Rica.
- Simple Spanish for Visiting Costa Rica: Learn some Spanish basics before you come or print this post to help you order food at a local restaurant.
- Best Airport Hotels Near SJO: Coming in late or leaving early? Check out these smaller hotels near the San Jose international airport.
Jaco Beach is changing and becoming much more family friendly. There are no longer any strip clubs in Jaco, all gone. Jaco’s reputation has been hard to overcome and there’s a ways to go yet. Yes, Jaco’s party scene is still alive and kicking but that’s OK. Young people have a good time here with lots of beachfront events including surfing competitions, bikini contests and raggae concerts. During this high season I see families with kids everyday walking the main street and enjoying life. Thanks to Two Weeks In Costa Rica for including Jaco in this beach review.
Hi Britt, Thanks for your comment. We know you’re a local in the Jaco area so it’s great to hear your thoughts. We love that Jaco has a fun party scene too. We live in a more rural area of CR and it’s always nice to go somewhere with a little more going on. So many great restaurants as well, we often stop to eat on our way to San Jose.
Hola, I’m Philippines, my fiance is from U.S., we plan to have weeding there and rent a simple house for 2 weeks, I hope you can help me for find a safe place for stay,
Hi Red, There are a lot of choices in Costa Rica for a wedding. Maybe you should start with our Destinations Summary Guide to narrow down a town. Then you can look online for a house to rent or contact a local real estate agent. Good luck!
Besides Jaco, whats the top places for a party atmosphere in CR?
Hi Joe, Take a look at Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo (Caribbean side). Santa Teresa also has a smaller party scene.
I love Nosora/Play Guiones
Hi Cathy, Totally agree. A lot of Nosara is spread out, but the area right around Playa Guiones is a good spot if you don’t have a car. Thanks for your comment!
What is the wild life like around here?
Yes this was the best place….LOVED IT!!!
Thinking about visiting there in May? Looks like a lot chill places…and easy going nightlife? Just making sure the town doesn’t close at 10pm but don’t want a town that’s open I’ll 3am
Hi Jen, Cathy can chime in, but Nosara is one of the more happening towns with things going on at night. May will be slower, though, since it’s the low season. In general, you can usually find some live music in restaurants at least a few times a week- it has a big expat population that’s there year-round.
Hi Jenn and Matt
My wife and I have spent a few months during winter in various parts of Costa Rica during the past few years. We are used to taking local transportation but like towns with a little more action . Last year we spent a month each at Cahuita, La Fortuna and Tamarindo. This year we are thinking of using Uvita, Ojochal and Dominical as our base to explore the southern portion of the country. Is it necessary to have a car to explore that region? Thanks in advance.
Hi Mike, Unfortunately, the Ojochal-Uvita-Dominical area is tough without a rental car. If you stayed right in town near the beach in Dominical or Uvita, it would be possible to get around without one, but you would be limited to very small grocery stores and not a ton to do unless you took a taxi. We know of people who do this, but for others who want more at their fingertips, it’s not practical.
I was amazed that you haven’t put PLAYA MONTEZUMA in this list….. When I came to Costa Rica 29 years ago, my guidebook said, “The most beautiful beaches of Costa Rica can be found in Montezuma”, and I feel this is as true today as it was back then, only that back in 1987 it was a real pilgrimage to get there as there was no ferry back then, and only 4 people in town had a car!!! I came there on the LAST WEEK of my 3=week vacation and couldn’t leave, staying on for 7 months, deciding to make my home there. I later purchased 28 Acres (11+ Hectares) of land and dedicated it as a WILDLIFE SANCTUARY, and all of our rental money goes to supporting the Sanctuary as a Not-for-Profit Operation. There is a Direct Bus from San Jose that goes on the Ferry to Paquera and then continues on to Montezuma. It is very easy to enjoy one’s stay without a car,
Hi Kati, Montezuma is a good option if you don’t have a car and we can definitely see how a short visit could lead to a permanent stay! We’ve been there a few times and loved it. The bus ride is a little long but the ferry breaks it up nicely. For anyone thinking about heading there, we just came out with a blog post that covers the best places to stay near the center of town so that you can easily get to restaurants and the beach, things to do, and more tips. Here’s the link – Montezuma: A Bohemian Beach Town.
Manuel Antonio is beautiful & easy to GET there – BUT once you’re there – it’s QUITE spread out & taxi’s tend to be quite expensive & the bus does not run all that often.
Hi Vicki, It is spread out but we don’t find it to be too bad because the bus does run quite regularly. Maybe not as often as some towns in the Central Valley with really good bus service, but you can catch it about every half-hour from 7am-7pm, then every hour later at night. Taxis should only cost around $6-8 to get from Quepos all the way to the beach in MA but fares can vary a lot so it’s a good idea to negotiate the price before you get in so that you don’t get ripped off.
Trying to decide where to stay on the Pacific side for the last few days of our 2 week holiday. We like small towns, laid back, we don’t drive, hiking, eating in local restaurants. How does Dominical compare to Manuel Antonio?. Thanks for any help. Lorraine
Hi Lorraine, Manuel Antonio is better if you don’t have a car, but it isn’t really a small town – it’s more developed for tourism and can get busy (but is fine in rainy/low season). Dominical sounds more like what you’re looking for but is tough without a car. It’s also more of a surfer/backpacker destination, with nicer places to stay in the surrounding hills. There is one good mid-range hotel on the river just outside town, though, if you’re really interested in Dominical. It’s Villas Rio del Mar – nice quiet location, big pool, and pretty gardens. If you’re still not sure where to go, you could take a look at our Destinations Summary Guide to see if there’s something else that would work with your itinerary.
Hi … Thinking of travelling to Costa Rica for the first time – Is it safe? Been reading about a crime advisory. We would be flying into San Jose, then we want to visit the Sloth Sanctuary in Cahuita … Then stay & in some places on the beautiful beaches. Then end up near Santa Clara, San Carlos. Is this possible without renting a car and in two weeks or would you require more time?
Thanks for your help.
Hi Jude, Yes, Costa Rica is very safe. Minor petty theft is the most common crime against tourists, and as long as you follow the usual precautions when traveling anywhere in the world, you should be fine. We have a whole article about safety in Costa Rica with more info here.
Two weeks is plenty of time to visit those places. Getting to the Caribbean side from San Jose by bus is pretty easy. Then going from there to Santa Clara might be a little harder, but it’s doable. You would probably need to go back to San Jose to catch a direct bus going towards San Carlos/La Fortuna (fastest option)…then maybe a local bus or taxi to Santa Clara. Here’s a website with more info about taking the bus. Keep in mind that it might not give you the most direct options and have you taking local buses that stop a lot unless you put in your search parameters a certain way (i.e., Cahuita to San Jose to La Fortuna instead of Cahuita to La Fortuna).
Hi I’m planning my honeymoon to costa Rica. I have been before and stayed near San Jose but this time around I want to explore more if the coast. I have heard the carribbean region is amazing and I want to experience both the rainforest and the beaches, doing things like horseback riding, zip lines, exc. Should I stay in a place like Manuel Antonio? I hear it’s very touristy. Or should I go for a place like taramindo (spelling)
Hi Shannan, Costa Rica has a ton of different destinations that fit within your parameters. The Caribbean side is really nice (take a look at Puerto Viejo) and we love Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast too, but it can be touristy depending on when you’re visiting. Tamarindo is more the tropical dry forest so go farther south along the Pacific coast if you want rainforest.
Since you’re just starting your planning, take a look at our Honeymoon Itinerary and see if it gives you some ideas. If none of those places interest you, check out our Destinations Summary Guide. That gives an overview of all the different places in Costa Rica (a lot more than what’s in this post), so should help you figure out where you might want to go. If you want customized help from us, we also design itineraries for people based on their specific interests (more info here). We’ve done several honeymoons before and would love to help with yours. Let us know if you’re interested, otherwise good luck with the planning and congrats on your upcoming marriage!
Great blog! I’m living in CR for school and have a friend visiting for a short weekend trip. I want to visit a beach near SJ, but not Jaco. I visited that area two weeks ago and found the party scene to be a little young for me. My friend and I are in our 30s. We are renting a car, but don’t want to drive too far and still want to be able to access restaurants and night life by foot once we’re in town.
Hi ChaCha, There aren’t many choices for beach towns with nightlife close to San Jose. Manuel Antonio is only about 2.5 hrs away and has good restaurants and a lot to do, but not much for nightlife. They’re farther away, but I think you could maybe do Montezuma or Samara as a weekend trip if you get an early start. Both have a nice small downtown with restaurants/bars within walking distance. Montezuma draws a slightly younger crowd and is smaller, with fewer restaurants and only one true bar in town. Samara has a lot of cool beach bars/restaurants and also a craft beer bar if you’re into that. Samara’s around 4 hrs from San Jose and Montezuma 5, but Montezuma would include a really scenic 1 hr ferry ride across the bay. Here are links to our posts about each place so you can get a better feel for them: Montezuma – A Bohemian Beach Town and Samara: Guanacaste’s Most Overlooked Beach Town. Wish there were more places closer but I think you can make it work. Have fun!
Hi Jenn and Matt,
Thanks for all of the information. I am planning a trip to Costa Rica in January and trying to pinpoint the best beach town to stay in. Which beaches have the best snorkeling? We have all of our own equipment and just want to be able to walk to a beach and jump in.
Hi Samantha, Costa Rica isn’t fantastic as a snorkeling destination as the water is sometimes cloudy but there are a few good spots. For snorkeling right off the beach, there’s Playa Punta Uva on the Caribbean side near Puerto Viejo. This is a gorgeous beach and we’ve done some pretty decent snorkeling there when conditions are right. That’s a good option because it’s close to Cahuita, which has a big reef, and Manzanillo too, which we don’t know much about but is supposed to have snorkeling too. January isn’t prime dry season on the Caribbean so just keep that in mind because the sea might not be calm every day (we have had some success in December though).
Northern Guanacaste also has a few places. A tiny beach called Playa Penca near Playa Hermosa has good snorkeling (more info here) and so does Playa Conchal. We’ve heard that there are good spots at Playa Hermosa and Playa Ocotal. January will by dry season in Guanacaste too.
For the best snorkeling, you have to go offshore to Cano Island near Drake Bay, Isla Tortuga near Montezuma, or some of the islands in N Guanacaste like the Bat and Catalina Islands. Hope that gives you some ideas.
We are planning a trip end of January beginning of February. We would like to end our trip a couple of days by the beach. We don’t want built up or really touristy. We want quiet and more rustic and local. Can you recommend somewhere. Thanks
Hi Lindsay, Maybe Samara or Playa Carrillo (even quieter and more local feeling) would be good, or the Southern Nicoya Peninsula, Mal País/Santa Teresa or Montezuma. These are all smaller towns that have stuff to do but aren’t overly touristy. They’re are also good if you won’t have a car. If you do have a car, you could look at the Dominical/Uvita area. Puerto Jiménez is another really authentic and more rustic option, but it’s harder to get to (unless you fly) because it’s in very Southern Costa Rica so you would want to spend more than two nights. We have detailed articles about each of these places. Follow the links for more info. Good luck with the planning!
Hello! Your blog has been so resourceful! My Friend and I are flying into Liberia airport and we have about 6 days. We want to make our way to Uvita and wonder if there’s a more “coastal” way to get there rather than just going from Liberia to San Jose to Uvita. We don’t mind stopping at towns. Our timeline can be flexible because nothing is set in stone yet. But, ideally it will be from 6 days. We’re not sure which towns to stop if if we coastal hop. We will not have a car. Our reason to go to Uvita is for the whale watching. What do you suggest? Thank you 🙂
Hi Kimberly, Uvita is quite far from Liberia so keep that in mind as you’re making your arrangements. Not sure if you’re planning to travel by public bus, but if you are, we would recommend just one stop on the way so you have enough time to enjoy your destinations. Jaco is a good mid way point and convenient for the bus. It’s a fun beach town with a lot going on. Taking shuttles would speed things up and possibly allow you another stop. If you’re interested in whale watching, make sure to check out our post all about that. Hope you and your friend have a great trip!
Hi Jenn and Matt,
My friend and I are planning to go to Costa Rica in April for 6 or 7 days. We want to stay at the hotel on the beach. Also, we would like to visit volcano and rainforest…and some kind of fun tour activities. My question is, which area or hotel would you recommend us to stay while it is easy for us to get around from the hotel to those activities? We don’t plan on renting a car as well. Thank you for your time to respond with some good information.
Hi Tricia, If you haven’t booked your plane tickets yet, you could get them for Liberia and visit Tamarindo and La Fortuna/Arenal. Tamarindo is easy without a car if you stay in the main area of town. There are also some hotels on the beach there. La Fortuna is harder without a car but probably your best option for a volcano and rainforest. If you stay in downtown La Fortuna, you will be walking distance to restaurants. Activities are farther away but most tours include transportation, and for attractions like the volcano, waterfall, and hot springs, you can either take the bus or a cab. We have a recommendation for a good hotel in downtown that is nice and quiet in our La Fortuna post if you need a recommendation. Hope that gives you some ideas!
Thank you so much for giving me those good tips. I definitely will look into that at what you suggested. It was very helpful for me to look into a specific location. I will get back to you if I have more questions. Thanks again!
Jenn and Matt –
Great blog with a wealth of information! I especially appreciate how you two have built the website to be super user friendly and not at all overwhelming like many travel sites! Props to you two!
My partner and I will be in CR for 10 days in Jan. We fly into Liberia and go to Arenal and then Monteverde and then are looking for a beach to go for the remaining 2 days – preferably within a days drive of Liberia as we will be flying out of there. Playa Conchal looks like a possible option, but wanted to ask if there might be others, preferably on the Pacific coast) that are easy to get to in a day. I considered Montezuma for a bit, but the journey there from Monteverde and then back to Liberia might be too long. Any additional suggestions would be so appreciated! Happy Holidays!
Hi Sonya, Somewhere on the Northern Pacific Coast is your best bet so that it isn’t too much of a drive from Monteverde or Liberia. Here are your choices along that stretch: Tamarindo (busy, especially in Jan. but lots within walking distance and great restaurants); Conchal or Brasilito (Brasilito is right next to Conchal, is cheaper, and has more of a local feel); Playas del Coco (fun party scene but beach isn’t as nice); Plays Hermosa (usually a little less crowded than everywhere else in this area during high season; nice beach). We have detailed posts on almost all of these places but maybe start with our Destinations Summary Guide to narrow it down. If you were interested in Montezuma you could also look at Playa Avellanas. It’s small like Montezuma (even smaller) and has a really laid back vibe.
Hello my husband and I are planning on going to Costa Rica for 2 months we want to be near the beach in a secure area. We are on a budget and so far I haven’t had luck finding a furnished place to stay. We won’t have a vehicle. A little help please
Hi Stephanie, Finding an affordable furnished rental can be difficult in Costa Rica. Your best option is probably to stay in a hotel for your first week or so and look for something when you get here. Most of the affordable places are found by word of mouth. What you find on the internet is usually vacation rentals or places that are overpriced. Staying at a small B&B can be helpful – we found our first rental through the lady we stayed with our first week. Good luck with your search!
I will be visiting CR in late June or early July with my husband and 3 teenage children. I am hoping that the two of you can help me find an area that has all of the activities nearby that my family would like to do during our stay in CR. We are looking for a place to stay that has a beach where my kids can play in the water, snorkel, and relax. I don’t think they are interested in surfing. We also want an area with lots of wildlife. One son would like to go zip lining and the other would like to go on a float trip. We plan to rent a house or condo rather than stay at a hotel. What area would you recommend that has all of these activities?
Hi Renee, All those things will be hard to find in one place. You could look at Montezuma. It has everything on your list except for a river float trip. Samara is another option. It has calm water for swimming, but the float trip will be far away too and snorkeling is limited there. Manuel Antonio is another good option with a lot of wildlife, but there isn’t much for snorkeling. You can read more about each place by clicking the links we provided. Hope that gives you some ideas, good luck finding that perfect spot!
Hi, we’re looking to rent a house on or near a beach around the xmas holiday. We’ve loved the turquiose water and bright white sand of the Caribbean in other countries we’ve visited, so we started looking at the east side of CR but then heard that the Caribbean side has a lot more crime than the Pacific side and in looking at the beachesin photos, it’s hard to tell whether any of them really are the typical Caribbean beach we’re hoping to find. We are traveling with small children and want to be able to play and swim with them in the sea. Any thoughts on what beach/area we should target?
Hi Jen, I’m not sure Costa Rica will have exactly what you are looking for. The beaches are beautiful for sure, but most are not the crystal clear calm water, white sand ones of the Caribbean islands. Many of them are better for surfing, with larger waves. There are some options, though, if you’re willing to compromise a bit. Take a look at these options (we have articles on most of them with photos so just follow the links to get an idea): Playa Blanca; Playa Samara; Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste).
Hi Matt and Jenn! Enjoy reading all your comments and looking for some advice. We are planning a trip to CR the first 9 days of July. Will be staying at Tortuga Lodge the last 4 days. The first 5 days we would like to spend on the beach, thinking of Tambor (like the idea of getting there by ferry), but transportation may be tricky. What do you think of Tambor? Are there nice little restaurants within walking distance of the hotels? Are there activities in that area? Would transportation to Tambor and from there to Tortuguero be a nightmare?
Hi Daleta, There isn’t much in Tambor except the large resort and condos so it might not be what you are looking for. If you’re very interested in taking the ferry, you could continue on to Montezuma or Mal País, which have lots of restaurants within walking distance and a lot of activities.
Transportation from this area to Tortuguero is a little tough. It would be a long day, unless you wanted to fly, which it doesn’t sound like. You could look at Jaco, Playa Hermosa, or Esterillos for closer options. We cover some of these towns in our Destinations Summary Guide. Maybe start there to get ideas on where might be a good fit.
HI ! We are going to CR in a month with children 7,8 and 10 years old. We will be flying into San Jose, and then traveling down to south to a treehouse resort near Piedras Blancas. We would like to go to a beach or two along the way. What beach town/area would you recommend with calm waters that the kids can swim in.
Also one that may have monkeys come up to you on the beach…they would love that !
We will not have a car.
Hi Michele, A lot of the beaches along this stretch of coastline have bigger waves but there are some places that are good for kids. Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca near Jaco are two good options. Getting to Blanca is a bit of work but the kids would probably love it. Here’s a post we wrote with more info. Playa Herradura, also near Jaco, is a calm cove, though not quite as scenic.
As for monkeys, they don’t really act like that in Costa Rica and are usually afraid of humans. Sometimes the monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park will come up to you, but it’s usually just to steal your lunch 🙂 Something like that you might really like is visiting OSA Wildlife Sanctuary. They have animals there, including monkeys, that are rescues so are very used to humans and will come up to you. It’s actually not too far from where you’ll be staying. We know of a good tour operator out of Puerto Jimenez that can take you there. Let us know if you’re interested. Hope your family has a great trip!
I will be going to Costa Rica this weekend for a week’s getaway. I will be traveling with my father. He is looking for sun, rest, and relaxation, I am also looking for scuba diving.
We will be flying into San Jose and renting a car. Where would you recommend we go to and what is there around there?
Thanks in advance!
Hi Emily, Lots of choices for sun, rest, and relaxation. For scuba diving, Cano Island near Drake Bay is one of the best spots in the country but it is quite far and remote (best accessed by plane or boat). There’s supposed to be decent diving out of the Playas del Coco/Playa Hermosa area in Guanacaste as well. You can follow the links to our posts for more info on what those towns are like.
I have lived and surfed in Dominical, Costa Rica for about 7 years and I think our beach town should be represented in this article because it is a perfect, off-the-beaten path, beach town. And no cars are needed to get around either. If someone wants to visit any surrounding towns they can easily take a taxi or a bus from the center of town.
The beaches in town in front of Tortilla flats are for advanced surfers and swimmers and much caution should be taken by those new to the beach here. But there are many calmer areas to surf and swim and the local surfers here are always happy to help tourist or visitors know the best place for them to enjoy the beach.
The town is growing and there are many options for all types of travelers. I created a collection on Pinterest of things to do in Dominical here https://www.pinterest.com/crsurf/dominical-costa-rica/ and this does not do it justice. I do hope you will add Dominical, Costa Rica to your lineup of Best Beaches in Costa Rica….it is a hidden gem. Thank you!
Hi Gina, Funny enough, we live very close to Dominical and have been in this area for a couple of years. Thanks for adding Dominical to the list. It’s definitely an awesome spot for surfers and anyone who wants to hang out at a chill beach. We usually recommend a car for people who are looking for a little more comfort since most of the higher end places are outside town, but you’re right that it is a great beach town without a car for a lot of people. Pura vida!
Is Dominical agog place for people in there 70ties to retire? Are there houses for rent?
Hi Ana, There are a lot of retirees in the Dominical-Uvita-Ojochal area. And yes, many rentals are available.
Thank you for the interesting blog. I will be in Panama in about 4 weeks, then flying to San Juan a week later. I have about 8 days in CR and would like to use about half of it relaxing at one of the beach destinations. I also have an interest in Hot Springs so hopefully can locate some in the remaining days that I can reach by public bus, or within a few km walk of a bus stop. Will I be able to avoid the continuous vendors that come by in the larger tourist oriented beach towns in other countries? I’ve had in port cities where there is an endless parade of trinket sellers walking by. On the other hand I was in one small Mexican beach town that the only one trying to sell me something was one afternoon a boy came by with fish on a stick (with a piece of lime at the top) that had been freshly caught and barbecued on the beach. It was wonderful and the timing was perfect so I don’t mind people trying to earn a living, as long as it’s not overly excessive.
Hi Jim, For hot springs, you might like the Miravalles Volcano area over the more popular La Fortuna/Arenal area.
You will be able to find beaches without vendors if you go to less touristy places. Look at Dominical or Uvita in the Costa Ballena on the S. Pacific. Most of the N. Pacific coast is touristy, but Playa Brasilito is more of s locals’ town. Hope that gives you some ideas.
Hi guys, I’m thinking of going to CR in May, flying into Liberia and we want to get to a nice beach as soon as poss, with as little transfer time as possible.. we favour small boutique hotels and lots of lush tropical greenery with a nice pool, can you recommend any such hotels close to a nice beach or beachfront?
Hi Tessa, So sorry for the delay. We missed your comment somehow. If you are still needing guidance, here is some info. Popular destinations close to LIR airport are Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Hermosa. We have some hotel ideas in the posts we just linked to. One hotel that comes to mind right away is Captain Suizo near Tamarindo.
Hi Jenn & Matt,
So much great information! So we are a family of 4 with two teens. We spent some time in Tamarindo last summer and everyone loved it. My husband got to surf everyday…sometimes twice a day and that was just the perfect vacation for him lol. Everyone wants to return to Tamarindo but I thought hey lets try a different part of CR. So I guess I am looking for something similar to the Tamarindo vibe….would Jaco be our best bet?
Thanks so much for your time 🙂
Hi Kerry, Yes, Jaco or maybe Santa Teresa would have a similar vibe. Like Tamarindo, Jaco is a more developed beach town with great restaurants, lots to do, and good surfing. Mal País/Santa Teresa is another idea. This area is smaller and located more remotely but also has great surfing, a chill vibe, and good restaurants. It has a little less to do, in case not everyone in your family is into surfing. Those are probably your two best choices, though.
Hello! I just want to say that I love your website and so happy to have found it in our journey to discovering more about Costa Rica! We are a young family of 4 (almost 5) originally from California and currently living near Playa del Carmen, Mexico. We are looking for our next adventure in a more quaint beach town where we don’t have to rely on a car for transportation and would love to know your thoughts! We are looking into Dominical and/or Samara area as both have schools that we would be interested in our kids attending. Also, I work from home so WIFI is important… I also love the recreational opportunities including swimming in waterfalls, frolicking at the beach, hiking among animals and (hopefully) surfing would be ideal! 🙂
Hi Kristina, Dominical and Samara would both be good choices for your family, it sounds like. The main difference between these two places is the climate and ease of not having a car. Samara is tropical dry forest so gets very dry during certain times of year, whereas Dominical is tropical rainforest so receives more rain and stays green year-round. Samara is easier to live in without a car. It is possible to not have a car in the Dominical/Uvita area, but much harder, and I can’t imagine doing it with kids. You are really limited if you want to be within walking distance to amenities. Do some careful research about internet too. You might find that it is not as good as in Mexico. At least in the Dominical area, a lot of service is provided using Wifi so is less reliable and slower. It’s all possible, though, so just make sure to keep these things in mind as you research your options. Best of luck!
We are planning a trip with a group of friends in August and initially booked an AIRBNB near Quepos but after mapping different destinations out (beaches, ziplining, etc) we found that it was several hours away from almost everything we wanted to do. Can you recommend another area to stay in that isn’t too party-central and that is semi-close to adventurous things we want to get into or that are fun to do? Is Guanacaste Province a nice area to stay in?
Thank you so much!
Hi Suzy, Not sure exactly where the vacation rental is, but Quepos/Manuel Antonio has a ton of different activities. You can do almost any adventure tour offered in CR there, including zip lining, and it also has really nice beaches. Read our Manuel Antonio Trip Planning post for more info. Guanacaste is another option. It has a lot to do too but some things like hiking and waterfalls are farther away. Maybe take a look at our Destinations Summary Guide to find a town that is the best fit for what you’re interested in.
Hi Jenn & Matt. We’ve been to Costa Rica once before and stayed in the Playa Flamingo area but are now coming down in mid-February and with a big group of 12-13 people. We’re looking at staying in the Jaco/Samara area but I’m having a hard time finding accommodations for that many people (on a budget – approx. $600-800/night max for everyone). Haven’t had any luck finding a house that big that isn’t going to break the bank with an ocean view but I was also thinking about renting 2 condos or something to fit everybody. Can you suggest any homes/condo complexes or something else for us? We need a pool and a/c and would like to be either close to the ocean or with a nice ocean view (a breeze would be nice to keep the mosquitos away though). Any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Oh, and also, was wondering if it’s common to hire locals to drive around to diff. towns for sightseeing instead of renting a car/taking the bus? Or if that risky? If not, are there businesses in that area that offer that service with a van? thanks!
Hi Stacy, We don’t know of any specific properties in Jaco or Samara that meet your criteria. But if you wanted, we could help you find a few good options through our Itinerary Service.
It is possible to hire a driver to take you around but it would be quite expensive, especially since you would need a large vehicle for your group. It would be more economical to just rent a 7 seater SUV and a mid size vehicle (see our Rental Car Discount). You could also try to find a vacation rental within walking distance to town to minimize the number of transfers you would need.
I’m a solo female traveler looking for a 4-5 night getaway in Costa Rica. What area do you recommend for me? Looking for relaxation with possible excursions.
Hi Trisha, Any of the towns in this article are good for solo female travelers. You could also take a look at Montezuma and Samara. These towns are also very walkable and reasonably close to either San José or Liberia airport so possible in 4-5 days if you take the bus or shuttles. Hope that gives you some direction!
Traveling to CR in February with my in-laws, husband and our baby boy who will be 11 months old by the time we go. We are planning a two week vacation. They want to go to Samara for a week because they have friends there and we have been given free reign to pick where we will go/stay for the other week that we are in CR. What would you recommend in light of the aforementioned? Also would you recommend hotel or VRBO/AirBNB? We are looking for some place within walking distance to the beach /restaurants . Thanks!
Hi Kat, Samara is a great spot for your family so good that you’re already planning on that. For the second week, we would suggest Jaco or Manuel Antonio. Both have restaurants and the beach close by, and have options for beaches in the area with calmer water for your son. We might give Manuel Antonio a slight edge over Jaco because it’s tropical rainforest so will be a bigger contrast from Samara. Manuel Antonio has more wildlife too. As for hotels vs. vacation rentals, either would work. It depends on the type of experience you’re looking for really. Hotels are nice because everything is taken care of for you, whereas with vacation rentals you usually cook more. Some hotels have larger spaces that can hold groups like yours. Maybe look into that option. Also, be sure to check out our Traveling with a Baby in Costa Rica post for what to expect and tips on traveling with your little guy.
We are looking at coming to Costa Rica for at least 2 months this winter. Our first time there. We had a condo in Mexico in Playa del Carmen, for ten years, but it got WAY to busy and touristy. Started to remind me of Cancun when we sold.
Where would you suggest with a beachy feel ?
Hi Brent, You have lots of choices. If you’re looking for something less touristy, check out the Nicoya Peninsula (Samara, Montezuma, Santa Teresa) or the Southern Zone (Costa Ballena area). You can learn more about these towns by reading our Destinations Summary Guide.
Thank you for the response. Much appreciated. I think we will opt for Manuel Antonio. That’s what I had been leaning towards also. Do you know of any hotels near the beach? It seems most are further away? Also if our plan is to do 1 week in Samara and 1 week in Manuel Antonio what airport would you recommend we fly into/what route would you recommend we take? would you suggest a stop over in any place along the way? Thanks again for your help!
If you can fly into one airport and out of the other, that would be the best. From LIR, you can easily access Samara, and Manuel Antonio is only 2.5 hours from SJO (so LIR–>Samara–>MA–>SJO, or in reverse). Otherwise, it doesn’t really matter and either would involve a long drive.
Many of the hotels in Manuel Antonio are up on the hill where the views are the nicest but the beach is a 5 min drive. Options at the end of the road near the beach and national park are: San Bada (bigger hotel right next to the national park), Hotel Verde Mar (closest to the beach), Hotel Manuel Antonio (simple place right across the street from the beach), El Faro (modern hotel up on the hill built using containers), La Posada Jungle Bungalows (family friendly, near national park). Vela Bar is great too but it doesn’t allow children anymore.
Hi Jenn and Matt!
My friend and I are looking to travel to CR in January; however, we can’t decide on Liberia or San Jose. We have 6-7 days and are just looking for good experience for our first backpacking trip.
Would you recommend for us to stay in one area (Liberia or San Jose) or do you think it’s possible to get from one end of Costa Rice to another in the small time frame we have?
Hi Susan, If you will be taking the public bus to get around, which is slower, we would recommend picking one or possibly two destinations if you stay somewhere not too far from the airport. You don’t need to stay right near San Jose or Liberia, though. You will have enough time to explore some. Liberia is very close to some beach towns in Guanacaste like Tamarindo and Samara and also fairly close to La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano. SJO is more centrally located and is only 1.5 hours from a popular beach town called Jaco and 2.5 hours from Manuel Antonio. You could also get some ideas for an itinerary in our guidebook, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries.
What a comprehensive and useful site! Thank you for sharing your wealth of knowledge.
I will be in CR for two weeks in late January, flying in and out of Liberia. I will have my bicycle to do a 5 day route along the Nicoya Peninsula, and am looking for information on bicycle routes around the country. It seems easy enough to throw a bike on a bus or ferry, but I am specifically looking for ways to ride as much as possible along back roads to get around. Do you have any ideas on how to find a network of connected back roads or trails? Do you know of any folks who have bike toured through the country?
Thanks so much for any advice!
Hi Mollie, We personally don’t know anything about bicycling around Costa Rica but lots of people do it so there must be information out there. Costa Rica does have a lot of back roads but many of them are very mountainous so keep that in mind, or maybe that’s okay for you 🙂 Good luck with your research.
Hi! We have 2 nights/3 days to spare between Bahia drake and our last day in San Jose but are not sure about where we should go since we wont have a car… uvita? Dominical? We would like to go to the beach.
Hi Geyser, Yes, Uvita or Dominical would work if you prefer something more off-the-beaten path. The main area of Dominical is good without a car. Uvita can be done without a car but you have to be strategic with where you stay because it is more spread out. Bahia Uvita down by the beach and national park is nice if you are okay not having a lot of amenities nearby. Manuel Antonio is another very good option with a lot of amenities. It is serviced by a local bus and it’s easy to grab a taxi to get around. Depending on where you stay, you can be within walking distance to the beach and national park.
Great articles. So helpful.
I love Punta UVA/ Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side of CR and would love to move there, but, the rain is a bit too much.
Where would the nature be similar but where the rain is a less?
Hi Kevin, The farther you go up the Pacific Coast, the drier it gets. You might not like Northern Guanacaste because it is more developed but maybe you’d Samara or the Southern Nicoya Peninsula (e.g. Montezuma or Santa Teresa) would be a good fit. The S Nicoya in particular has a very laid back feel, similar to the S Caribbean, and quite a bit of wildlife.
Great. Thanks . I shall check this area out next visit.
On booking.com I notice you can cancel for free and with the hotels you mentioned in Manual Antonio that I felt were good for us showing booked for our stay I wonder if I should contact the hotel directly?
Hi Roni, If a hotel is showing booked on booking.com, usually it doesn’t have availability on the hotel’s website either. But it doesn’t hurt to check. Sometimes they have certain room types that they don’t release on booking.com.
Hi Jenn and Matt,
Love your blog. I have been to Costa Rica a few times and usually wind up in Tamarindo as my lodging spot, taking trips all over the country. This coming spring, we are going with another family and traveling with kids for the first time down there. Looking for a nice town with some places to eat / stay with a beach that’s more protected and has a cove so i can get the kiddies going on surf boards and they can also enjoy the gentler water if not interested in surfing. Samara looks great but I have read there is not much of a town there. I love the Nicoya penninsula. Any thoughts?
Hi John, Samara sounds like the perfect spot for your group. It has the calmer cove but also good beginner surfing. The town is small, but not that small. There’s still plenty of restaurants and quite a bit to do. We often recommend it to families traveling with young children. We have a whole article about Samara here. Nosara would be another option. The beaches have bigger waves in general, but Playa Pelada has sections with smaller waves. We’ve done boogie boarding there. Best of luck with your planning!
Since the passing of my husband, my 2 adult sons and I are not able to enjoy Christmas. I have since started gifting a family vacation instead. We have been loving it and want to try a new place other than the same ole same ole. I would like to do a Costa Rica trip, but I get overwhelmed trying to find a place that will work for all of us. It looks like Jaco might be what we need. I would like a cultural town so my sons can have the night life, but a place on the beach as well….within walking distance to restaurants, shopping, etc so we don’t have to rent a car. What hotels on the beach would you recommende, knowing my situation? 3 people.
Hi Sandie, What a nice way to spend the holidays with your sons. It does sound like Jaco would be a good fit for you. It has some nightlife and everything is located on one main road along the beach so you wouldn’t need a car. You should read our Jaco post if you haven’t already. It has some hotel recommendations but a good choice for you might be Hotel Club del Mar. It’s on the quieter southern end of the beach.
Hi! Thanks for your blog! My husband and I are looking to retire abroad. I have visited 45 countries, but none in Central or South America… yet. We are taking a 4-6 month trip in a month or so, still deciding on where. CR is on our list because we want to check it out for retirement. We want a Pacific coast beach community where we might retire. Ideas for our best bets?
Hi Carrie, There are lots of choices for where to retire on the Pacific coast. A lot of it will depend on how close you want to be to medical facilities and conveniences/shopping. Being closer to San Jose is best for that. If that’s the case, we’d look at the Jaco-Herradura-Esterillos area. If you’re okay with being farther away, Manuel Antonio and the Uvita/Ojochal area are popular with retirees. A lot of people go to Northern Guanacaste too, near Tamarindo, Playas del Coco, etc.
Hi Jenn & Matt
We are currently planning a 3 week trip to Costa Rica with our baby who will be 10 months – your website has been a fantastic resource – thank you!
We’re planning on visiting La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde and Manuel Antonio and would like to visit one more place. Perhaps somewhere on the Nicoya Peninsula but open to other suggestions (beach or inland)! Do you have any recommendations?
We won’t have a car and plan to take shuttles – main thing is not too much travel that fits in with the above itinerary!
Hi Katharine, Samara might be a good fit. It works with that itinerary, is accessible using shuttles, and is a good destination with a baby. Here’s the link to our article about it. Feel free to contact us through our Shuttle Booking page if you need any help arranging your transportation.
Hi Jen and Matt
A group of my friends (late 40’s/early 50’s) will be in Costa Rica for two weeks in Feb 2022 (were supposed to go in 2021 but thanks Covid…sigh…). We will rent a car, have been to Costa Rica a couple of times but only traveled along the northern and central pacific coastline, Monteverde, Arenal.
We are looking to rent a condo/house on the coast (either east or west side) near a great down-to-earth beach town that has some good bars/restaurants with some right on the beach where we can drink with our feet in the sand and maybe some live bands to see – we aren’t into partying and we’re not picky about food.
We’re hoping to find a town that has tours available for good snorkeling (by catamaran), hot springs and probably a good river tour to see the crocs as our friends haven’t taken one of those before. We don’t really care if we find a place in the hills or near the beach. Can you recommend the best smaller beach towns that might fit the bill that’s either more central or a bit on the south end? And if you know of any homes in particular, that would be fabulous! I was thinking Samara but it’s quite a ways to hot springs and other stuff from there.
Thanks for your help, your site is great!
Hi Stacy, It may be tough to find all those things in one place but here are some ideas. Have you looked at Northern Guanacaste? From that area you can do catamaran-snorkel tours and see crocodiles either in the Tamarindo Estuary or on a day trip to Palo Verde. Some smaller beach towns are Potrero or Playa Hermosa.
For hot springs, you could visit Rincón de la Vieja on a day trip. They have volcanic mud baths too. We just register that area and had a great time.
Hope that helps! Feel free to follow the links we gave for more details about all those places.
Can you help me find a cheap spot to live in, preferably a beach town safe for a single mom coming from a dictatorship with two kids?
I was looking at Manuel Antonio as my first option but will take any suggestion!
Hi Carolina, Manuel Antonio is a more expensive beach town. You could look at the Esterillos/Bejuco área (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/esterillos-oeste/) south of Jaco. Lots of choices, though, so it depends on what you’re looking for.
Hi! Amazing website, congratulations for all the articles! We’re travelling to Costa Rica in March to spend there 2 weeks. We’re looking for a nice beach town on the Pacific coast to spend the last 5-6 days chilling. The ideal place has nice beach(es) where one can swim (not only surf), great restaurants, but something that is not too touristy. Which one would you recommend?
Hi Zoltan, For a good swimming beach, take a look at Samara or Potrero, farther north. Both are less touristy and have a decent selection of restaurants. You can follow the links we just gave for more information. Potrero has many beaches that are great for swimming within a 20 minute drive.
Thanks for all the great info your site has been a great help to me! I’m visiting Costa Rica at the beginning of feb for 2 weeks I’m flying into Liberia. Dominical sounds lovely as I’m looking for a chilled surf and yoga beach vibe. Do you have any advice on getting there without renting a car. I’m also thinking of possibly stopping off on the way/ way back to see some of the beautiful nature locations. Any recommendations would be great! Thanks again Joe
Hi Joe, Liberia is pretty far from Dominical, unfortunately. So we would build in at least one overnight on the way. Esterillos is a really pretty spot and would get you a couple of hours from Dominical for the next day.
For transportation, you could take a shuttle (private or shared) if you don’t want to rent a car. Just keep in mind that those are not common routes so shuttle prices are likely to be quite high. We book private shuttles so if you’d like to see some sample pricing, here’s a link to that page of our site. Like we said, we probably don’t have those exact routes but you could check the price from Liberia to Puntarena to get an idea.
Have you looked at any beach towns closer to Liberia? Playa Avellanas may have the vibe you’re looking for and would be much easier logistically. You can check out our post about it for more details.