Playa Carrillo: A Favorite Locals’ Beach in Guanacaste

Chances are if you don’t live in Costa Rica or visit regularly, you have never heard of Playa Carrillo. But for those that frequent the country, you have probably discovered this hidden gem. In this post, we’ll tell you what makes the beach, Playa Carrillo, so special and why it’s a favorite for so many. We’ll also give some general information about the area itself.

Playa Carrillo Costa Rica

Location

Playa Carrillo is located in Costa Rica’s northwestern province, Guanacaste. It sits towards the southern end of the province. Although the Guanacaste region is more developed, especially along the coast, the southern end near Carrillo has a quiet rural feel.

The closest major town to Playa Carrillo is Samara, about a five-minute drive away. Samara is a fun beach town with a downtown set along the sand. You can learn more about Samara with our destination guide.

Playa Carrillo has its own town called Puerto Carrillo. Puerto Carrillo is very small and set up on a hill, with a few hotels, vacation rental homes, simple restaurants, and a couple of basic grocery stores.

Other than the modest development in Puerto Carrillo, most of the land in the area near the beach is pristine tropical forest.

If you keep driving south out of Puerto Carrillo, it becomes even more remote and untouched.

About Playa Carrillo

Set Up

Playa Carrillo is a sheltered cove with clear, aqua colored water. A thick row of palm trees backs the light sand. Although there isn’t a ton of shade, you can usually find a good spot under the palms since the beach is fairly long.

Palm Trees Playa Carrillo

Parking is easy. Since there is no development, you can park right along the road (Route 160) and be steps from the sand. The main road runs along the beach. It has a grassy median in the middle where people park cars as well.

Road Playa Carrillo
The road that runs along Playa Carrillo

Typically, the waves are gentle, making it a great place to swim, even with young children.

Costa Ricans love Playa Carrillo. The beach is very popular among locals, so it does get busier on weekends and during holidays like Easter and Christmas/New Years. Still, the beach almost never feels too crowded.

Playa Carrillo on the weekend
Playa Carrillo on a Saturday during “summer” (dry season)

Under the palms are some concrete tables and benches. You’ll often find people here set up for the day.

Amenities

One of the great things about Playa Carrillo is that there really isn’t much in the immediate area. So be sure to bring what you’ll need for the day. There is a small grocery store in Puerto Carrillo for drinks or snacks.

You can usually find vendors selling things like cold coconut water, ceviche, or homemade treats. Locals with push carts also sell granizados (a sweet shaved-ice dessert) along the road. But other than that, there’s nothing around.

Bahia Carrillo
The southern end of the beach

Sunset

Playa Carrillo is a popular spot for sunset. People gather along the beach around 5:00 pm to get ready for the big show!

Sunset Playa Carrillo

Mirador Puerto Carrillo

If you drive just past the beach and up the hill, there is a nice mirador/lookout (Mirador Puerto Carrillo). From the small parking area, it’s just a quick walk up some concrete steps to get a lovely view of Playa Carrillo and the bay from above.

Mirador Playa Carrillo
View of the bay from the lookout

Conclusion

Our family all had a great time visiting Playa Carrillo again. The beach has a fun, laid back vibe and we love having all the locals around. If you’re looking to unwind on a quiet, gorgeous beach, we highly recommend it.

Have a question about visiting Playa Carrillo or have you been before? Let us know in the comments below.

Looking for more information to plan your visit to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:

Samara: Guanacaste’s Most Overlooked Beach Town – Samara is a great place to stay if you’d like to check out Playa Carrillo. This article covers the town set up and gives recommendations for activities and accommodations.

Guanacaste, Costa Rica: Regional Snapshot – Not sure if the Samara/Carrillo area is right for you? Get an overview of other beach towns in Guanacaste here.

Renting a Car in Costa Rica: Clearing Up the Confusion – If you plan to stay in Puerto Carrillo, you’ll want a rental car to get around. Learn about how insurance works in Costa Rica and pitfalls to avoid.

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15 Comments

  1. My first trip to Costa Rica was delayed in December due to the pandemic but we have rescheduled for the last two weeks of August and Playa Carillo is the last stop on our itinerary so I was happy to see this post! Can I still hope for nice weather in the mornings or should I prepare myself for a lot of rain? This is supposed to be our relaxing/sun time for a few days after being on the go I don’t have a lot of activities planned for this destination. Also I am using shuttles to get to various destinations; are there taxis to take us to Samara for a day and how much should I expect to pay? Thanks!

  2. My wife and I stayed at the Punta Islita Marriott resort several years ago. After leaving Punta Islita, we wanted to drive to Samara passing Playa Carrillo on the way. Unfortunately they are separated by the river, and they bridge had washed out. I had and SUV and some local Ticos told me where it was feasible to drive across the river so that’s what we did. That saved us hours of dirt road driving. I’m wondering if the bridge has been rebuilt?

    1. Hi John, Yes, the bridge between Carillo and Samara has been repaired. We just drove it a couple of months ago. So you will be able to check out Samara next time you’re there.

  3. Jenn & Matt,

    Thanks for your reply and for this information. I’m guessing that you meant the bridge across the Rio Ora that would cross me from the Punta Islita side of the river to the Playa Carillo side. You mentioned a bridge between Carillo and Samara which I believe is different than crossing the Rio Ora ? Can you clarify this for me please?

    thanks,

    John

    1. Hi John, We were confused by your question and meant the small bridge between Carrillo and Samara. There is a good bridge over the River Ora between Carrillo and Punta Islita. It’s a little inland near the town of Estrada.

  4. Hi. We are headed to Playa Carillo next week. Is it safe to swim in? I have heard there are crocodiles in that water sometimes? Thank you!

  5. Can I rent a scooter for a week in Puerto Carrillo ? also , motels with decent rates. I plan om going in December.Thanks..

  6. Several years ago, we were visiting Costa Rica and stayed near Samara. One day, we drove south out of town and came upon a beautiful, crescent shaped beach lined with palm trees… Playa Carrillo! There were no people on the beach (it must have been a weekday), we parked along the highway, and enjoyed a swim in the wonderful, warm water. It’s a great place, as is Samara which also has a very nice, wide beach. I agree with Jenn and Matt… check it out!

  7. What is the best way to get from Samara to Playa Carillo if you don’t have a car? I have heard there is a local bus route through here. Is it doable in a golfcart from Samara? Thanks!

    1. Hi Tamara, There probably is a bus but it most likely doesn’t run that regularly. We’d recommend a taxi. It would be doable in a golf car too. It’s all side roads.

  8. Some of the best snorkeling we’ve found on the Pacific coast side of CR is in the little harbor at the east end of Playa Carillo (maybe called Puerto Playa Carrillo Mirador?). There is a beach entry at the north side, and plenty of shade. The “hat rock” makes a good visual reference, and we saw turtles and lots of fish in the outcrops around it.

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