Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita

One of the best things about visiting Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast are the many beaches that remain nearly deserted. You can pull off the highway in places between towns like Dominical and Ojochal to find only a handful of people enjoying time under the palms or wading in the surf. But if you are in search of a secret beach that even fewer people know about, Playa Arco is your spot. In this post, we’ll let you know how to access this tranquil beach and what to expect once you arrive. Spoiler: There is an awesome cave and some small waterfalls!

See the bottom of this post for an important safety notice.

 

Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita | Two Weeks in Costa Rica

Location

Playa Arco is located between the towns of Uvita and Ojochal in the Southern Zone of Costa Rica. It is about a 1.25 hour drive south of the popular beach town of Manuel Antonio and 30 minutes south of the surf town of Dominical. Playa Arco is one of five beaches in Marino Ballena National Park (Parque Nacional Marino Ballena). This park is one of the country’s only national marine parks and has gained recognition for its whale-tail-shaped sandbar.

Accessing Playa Arco

The main reason that Playa Arco remains somewhat of a secret is that it is not that easy to access. While some private properties and hotels have trails leading to it, the general public must go through the Ballena Sector Ranger Station and pay admission at the national park ($6 foreigners or ₡1,000 nationals).

The best way to find this ranger station is to look for a restaurant on the side of the highway (Route 34) a few miles south of Uvita called Ballena Bistro. The dirt road on the right immediately after the restaurant leads to the ranger station. Ballena Bistro is also one of our favorite places for lunch in the area, so be sure to check it out if you have time.

IMPORTANT: Playa Arco is accessible only during low tide so you must plan your trip according to the tide chart. Try to arrive when the tide is on its way out (1-2 hours before full low tide). Leave the beach before the tide gets too high (no more than a couple of hours after low tide).

The Trail

Once you have entered the ranger station, you will walk toward the beach and take the marked trail north through a short section of forest. This trail ends at the rocky Playa Ballena. From there, you have to walk north on the beach, carefully traversing the various sized rocks, until you reach a large point.

 

Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
The rocky beach hike. This is about halfway from the ranger station to Playa Arco.

 

Along the way are a couple of small stream crossings. Small is a relative term since when we visited in the rainy season (October), the water was almost knee-deep and rushing quickly. In the drier months, we have heard that these streams are a lot less forceful but still enough to get your feet wet. We wore hiking boots, but they got drenched with both river and sea water on the walk. Flip-flops are not recommended, but something like Keen sandals would be perfect.

 

Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
The larger of the two stream crossings

 

When you reach the point, be careful to stay on the inland side. This is where most people get lost and try to go over the wet rocks near the surf. If you keep walking inland (to the right), you will soon see the trail you want. This leads through the forest, up and over a hill. It is a short stretch until you reach the beach, but is a little steep with some loose gravel. At the bottom of the hill is the south side of Playa Arco.

 

Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
The trail up and over the point is hidden behind the bushes to the right

 

The total hike from the ranger station is about 2 km (1.25 miles) each way and is easy to moderate in difficulty. The rocks on the beach require some balance and you do have to cross a stream. It is not a bad walk, though, if you’re in decent shape. It took us about a half-hour each way, but we were carrying our son in a baby carrier so were going slowly.

The Beach

Although getting to the beach is a bit of work, you will be well rewarded for your efforts. Playa Arco is a gorgeous tan sand beach with a steep embankment of thick green jungle as its backdrop. When we visited, we were immediately greeted by a family of howler monkeys that were enjoying the lush vegetation. Small islands just offshore make for a dramatic ocean view.

Although it may seem like you have arrived at the main part of the beach when you get off the forest trail, keep walking north along the sand. Just past the steep rocky cliff is an even more expansive section of the beach, an awesome cave, and two small waterfalls.

 

Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
View of Playa Arco

The Cave

Before you round the corner to the second section of Playa Arco, you’ll notice a narrow opening in the rocky cliff. This cave goes all the way through to the other side (about 50 feet). At high tide, ocean water rushes inside so it isn’t safe to enter, but at low tide you can wade your way through.

 

Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Cave entrance on the south side (note the tide is still flowing into the cave)

 

The small channel of water in the cave varies in depth. When we visited, it was about waist level at the deepest part and only ankle- or knee-deep otherwise. There were some slimy logs and rocks along the bottom so take your time and tread carefully. One thing we really enjoyed about the cave was that the northern entrance had nice shallow water for our son, Sam, to splash around in. We also saw some cool crabs clinging to the walls inside.

 

Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
Inside the cave

 

The water outside the southern entrance of the cave also gets this really beautiful clear green hue when there hasn’t been too much rain. Check out this picture on our Pinterest board that our friends took.

The Waterfalls    

Near the northern entrance of the cave are a couple of small waterfalls cascading down the steep embankment. These were perfect for rinsing off after swimming in the ocean or wading through the cave. They were also really refreshing! Both were flowing well when we visited in October during the rainy season, but we can imagine at least one of them drying up to a trickle at other times of year. 

 

Playa Arco: A Secret Beach Near Uvita | Two Weeks in Costa Rica
One of the small waterfalls. Perfect for a rinse off!

Planning Your Visit

  • The Ballena Sector Ranger Station is open every day from 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.
  • Parking is somewhat secure because the lot is in front of the ranger station but never leave any belongings in the car.
  • The ranger station has a bathroom, but it is a bit hidden. Follow the path outside the ranger station to the left past the cabins. The last building is the bathroom. A rustic shower is also near the main entrance, just past the ranger station.
  • Admission: $6 foreigners and ₡1,000 nationals.
  • Admission tickets are valid at all Marino Ballena National Park entrances on the date of purchase. Be sure to go beach hopping if you have time. We highly recommend Playa Uvita and the whale tail.
  • Playa Arco is somewhat sheltered and decent for swimming, but this whole stretch of coastline experiences riptides so do use caution.
  • The portion of the walk along the beach is in direct sunlight and extremely hot. Wear a hat and sunscreen and bring water.

IMPORTANT UPDATE (Nov. 21, 2016): Due to recent crime in the area, it is recommended that you use caution when accessing the beach. This is an isolated area, which is good because you can have the beach to yourself, but is also bad because it leaves you vulnerable. Always be aware of your surroundings and do not take any valuables with you. Leave your camera, wallet, and passport locked away at your hotel and just carry a towel and sunscreen. Traveling with a group is also a good idea. 

 

A trip to Playa Arco will leave you feeling like you have discovered a secret beach. Our visit reminded us of when we were exploring Costa Rica for the first time and everything was new and amazing. It not only offers a beautiful beach, but the jungle surrounds, cave, and waterfalls make for a unique experience. Playa Arco is also one of the most secluded beaches we’ve ever visited (there was only one other family there) so you might have it all to yourself.

Have you visited Playa Arco? What was your experience like? Leave us a comment below (Email subscribers, click here to post your comment online.)

Looking for more info to plan your trip to Costa Rica’s Southern Zone? Check out these articles:

 

 

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22 Comments

  1. Cool article. Did you ever do an article about kid friendly beaches? I thought you did, but I can’t find it. I understand that Conchal, Samara, Playa Panama and Playa Ocotal are decent beaches for kids (low waves, calm waters), but I was wondering if you had any other suggestions. I remember Manuel Antonio being calm. Any others anyone can think of/recommend?

      1. Ohhh yah! I remember your article on playas Blanca and mantis. Those two seemed pretty tranquilo. Thanks for the other suggestions too. Pura Vida!

  2. Loved this beach and the adventure of getting there, we ranged in age from 55 to 4 years and everyone was able to make it with no problems. It’s unfortunate to hear about the recent crime, we stayed in Uvita for 10 days and never felt or experienced that we or our stuff was in jeopardy.

    1. Hi Amanda, That’s great to hear that your group enjoyed the beach and especially that you felt safe. The Uvita-Dominical area is our favorite part of Costa Rica so we hate having to give warnings because of a few bad seeds. Appreciate you taking the time to share your experience. Pura vida!

  3. what a gorgeous find! I have never had to plan a trip around the Tide! I wonder what it looks like at high tide? Probably just ocean.
    Love the cave exploration!
    Did you get to see the howler monkeys up close? In Thailand they were fearless and would come right up to you to steal food

    1. Hi Eric, Yeah, I think the beach is basically gone during high tide. The howler monkeys in Costa Rica are actually scared of people so always stay up in the trees. The capuchins can be a little brave, though, and in areas with tourists sometimes steal food. Thanks for checking out our site!

  4. Heading to the area in June 2017 and would love to do this hike and beach. Can you elaborate on the crime warning? What happened and are there still problems?

    1. Hi Katie, There have been a couple of armed robberies where two guys have been hiding in the woods on the forest trail right before you get to Arco. This is all second hand information but we heard that they robbed the people (took phones, cameras, passports, etc.) and had machetes. They didn’t hurt the people but there was one incident of a sexual assault. We don’t know the details of that other than it was a young couple. We live in this area of the country and, like other locals, are very upset that these things have happened.

      We haven’t heard of any more incidents since then and there is a crime task force in the Uvita area that works with local police. As a result, we heard that the police will be patrolling this area more often. The park also hired additional rangers. The problem is that this area is so remote and hard to get it; it is difficult to patrol often unless you have someone permanently stationed there and they just don’t have the resources for that. Anyway, hope that helps you decide if you want to visit. People are still going. If you go, we recommend going as a group and carrying as little as possible with you and definitely nothing valuable.

      1. hi everybody,
        we spent fantastic holidays in Costa Rica still going on playa arco…
        We were in the Uvita Area during one week, we felt in security, people are kind and helfull, great holidays, but on tuesday 21/02/2017 we decided to go on arco beach, as it was descrided as one of the famous beaches of the area in our property manager’s book… Nobody prevent us of the dangers to go on this beach : the house keeper, house manager, the guard of the national park : we told to him that we visit this beach, no problem for everybody ! and we discover now there is lot of agressions since november !!!! we can’t understand this code of silence, it is incredible ! so as we went to this beach in family with our two boys. After enjoying this secluded beach and return to our car parked on playa ballena, we have been attacked by this two masked men armed with machetes, they stoled us money, expensive profesionnal camera with lenses, passports, credit card, driving license… and have been hurted when we tryed to escaped, several times they threatened to crash the machete into the body if we didn’t give our bags… or older soon could escaped and he could be rescuded in the hotel just after playa del arco…
        Now back to France, we are still shoching, we always see these two bandidos run after us with their machetes.
        Now our insurance tell us thats yhey don’t cover this kind of event !!
        We so enjoyed Costa Rica ! Two thieves wasted everything, and the code of silence of the locals si not a solution : they must protect their tourist, if not, soon they will not have any tourist no longer !! This message is adressed so much to the local police witch haven’t do anything to find the rubbers.
        And some locals had strange comportments, looking their foots, when they saw we have been attacked, as if they knew something about the thieves…
        and as it happened ragulary, they probably know something…
        special thanks to the tourist community in the closest villa who assisted us to call and communicate with the inefficient local police.

        Don’t go to playa arco, even if you pay a fee to enter the area, you won’t in security. Tomorrow the same drame will arrive because rubbers are covered by locals, it’s what we think.
        We thought the Area safe, it is note the case.

        1. We are very sorry that this happened to you and your family and that no one warned you beforehand. You are totally right that this is something that tourists must be made aware of so that they know the whole truth when deciding whether to visit this beach. It is just terrible what happened to you. We sincerely hope that your family can eventually find peace with what happened.

        2. This is a very scary story. I am so sorry that this happened to you. Has there been any follow up? We are traveling to Costa Rica Uvita area in a couple of weeks with our two boys and I am concerned after reading your post.

  5. Hi Jenn and Matt, curious if there are any more updates about crime in uvita in general? Has it gotten better? We are coming to the area this next week. Thanks

    1. Hi Crystal, Hope you’re enjoying Uvita! We haven’t heard of much happening lately, which is great. But it is low season when people don’t have as much money so be cautious, as always.

  6. My wife and I love Arco Beach. We were there in Jan 2015, Jan 2016 and Jan 2017. It was one of our favorite spots. We love the beauty and the isolation of this beach. We were back in Costa Rica in Nov 2017. We parked our car at the Ballena Park ranger station and paid the entrance fee. One of the park rangers then warned us to leave our valuables in the car if we were going to Arco Beach. She said robberies had occurred there. This was the first time anyone every mentioned that such things were going on in the area. We decided not to go Arco. When we went back to our hotel asked the staff if the story was true, they said yes. So why aren’t people warned? Costa Rica depends on tourism, especially the area around Uvita. They must make every effort to protect tourists or the local economy will die.

  7. Are there any more updates to the robberies? I saw one post on Trip advisor that 2 men were apprehended and jailed? But people were questioning the validity of the source. We are planning to visit in July and are very disturbed by this.

    1. Hi Kelly, We did hear that two suspects were arrested in connection with a few different robberies at the beach in Uvita. There were pictures on Facebook and reliable people were representing that it was true so we think it is credible. We haven’t heard of any more robberies since then but we would still be really careful going to this beach in particular because it is so isolated.

  8. I am heading there in early June and would love to see this beautiful sounding beach. It will be my wife and I going and I was wondering if there have been anymore reports of this crime going on? I saw something about it on a Tripadvisor forum as well. One person reported that they caught the thieves and they are in jail for a long time. It was also noted in that forum that the person that reported this is a local property owner that may or may not be covering up for these crimes in order for her business to continue.

  9. Hi- I’d like to submit a comment to this post. We are in Costa Rica for two weeks on vacation from US- me, my husband and our 15 year old son. Thursday, June 21 was actually our sons birthday. We found Playa Arco and had an incredible day playing in the waves, exploring the rocky areas and sea cave. We were the only people on the beach the entire day – that probably made us too complacent. We brought way too much stuff with us to this beach- two backpacks with food and drinks, I also had thrown in my purse (better to keep it with you than leave it in the car right?). We left our packs right at the waters edge as we played in the waist high surf. Suddenly we see two Ticos running full speed out of the forest- straight to our packs- grab them- and run back to the forest. The surf slowed us down and we couldn’t get out of the water fast enough. We chased them into the forest and desperately yelled to them – nothing. Everything is gone. All of our money, all of our passports, our credit and debit card, eye glasses, cell phone – everything. Now imagine how you feed your kid and get back home to your country after that. You can’t even wire yourself money because the banks will not release it to you without your original passport. Passport copies do nothing. US Drivers License is worthless. Word of caution – be very VERY careful when visiting this or any other beach in Costa Rica. The warnings are very real.

    1. Hi Candice, Thanks for sharing and we’re so sorry that this happened to your family. Glad you are all okay. Hope you were able to get your documents sorted out, what a pain. This is a remote beach so it is more prone to thefts. We try to go to beaches with people around as much as possible and always recommend not bringing much with you, especially at places like this. Just trying to give some tips to others who may be reading this (see also our Safety post). Take care! – Jenn & Matt

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