With more surfing than swimming beaches, Costa Rica is not a destination known for glassy, see-through waters. Many beaches are stunningly beautiful but have crashing waves and strong currents. There are, however, some hidden gems. In this post, we’ll tell you about one such treasure on the Papagayo Peninsula. Playa Nacascolo has calm, peaceful water and a lot of wildlife. This beach has tricky access, so we’ll also share how to get there.
Playa Nacascolo is located in northwestern Costa Rica on the sheltered side of the Papagayo Peninsula. This small point of land is best known for its luxury resorts like the Four Seasons and Andaz Papagayo. These properties are nestled into the tropical forest, have great Pacific Ocean views, and are quite peaceful.
From the sands of Playa Nacascolo, you look across the calm Culebra Bay. This bay is sheltered from the mighty Pacific by the peninsula itself.
From Costa Rica’s Guanacaste airport in Liberia (LIR), the drive to Playa Nacascolo is a little over a half hour.
The beach is also close to destinations like Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, and Playa Panama in northern Guanacaste.
From San Jose’s SJO Airport, the drive is about 4.5 hours.
About Playa Nacascolo
Playa Nacascolo is a long beach with fluffy, tan-colored sand. Shrubby tropical dry forest backs the beach, and there are mangroves at one end. The water is calm, almost bath-like, and the views across the bay are amazing.
The beach is accessed through the private properties of some large resorts (see Getting to Playa Nacascolo section, below). For this reason, it is a little harder to get to and, therefore, not usually crowded. During weekends and holidays, though, many locals do like to visit and picnic for the day.
Also important is that the resorts we mentioned are a distance from the beach (short drive), so there aren’t people just walking between the beach and the resorts. The beach is secluded.
The highlight of Playa Nacascolo is the calm water. Since the beach is positioned on the inland side of the Papagayo Peninsula, wind and waves are typically blocked. This ensures flat, clear water most of the time.
Without the worries of crashing waves and rip currents, Playa Nacascolo is ideal for kids and adults alike.
With the undisturbed sea, the water is also fairly clear. At waist deep, you can easily see down to the sandy bottom.
These conditions make Playa Nacascolo the perfect place to swim and snorkel. Though, when snorkeling, we didn’t see many fish because there are no rocks or structures for them to hide around. Only sand and some seashells.
We were lucky enough, though, to see a pair of spotted eagle rays (similar to manta rays) swimming by. We also saw some pufferfish and schools of minnows in the shallows.
Another big draw of Playa Nacascolo is the wildlife you can encounter right at the beach.
We saw a large family of white-faced capuchin monkeys during our visit. There were also lots of coati. These racoon-type animals have long snouts and long tails. They travel in big groups, scavenging for food in the leaves and dirt.
It was apparent that both the monkeys and coati make daily pilgrimages to the beach to raid people’s beach blankets and coolers. We also saw some people directly feeding them fruits.
If you visit, keep in mind that human food, even fruit, can be harmful to the wildlife.
Bacteria and germs from our hands can make them sick, and eating processed food can lead to malnourishment, especially with baby animals and nursing mothers. Feeding them also disrupts their natural foraging behavior and can make them aggressive. The monkeys we encountered were definitely a bit aggressive. They were all over the trees near us, trying to get close to our bags.
In addition to the monkeys and coati, we also saw several spiny-tailed iguanas, a Deppe’s whip-tailed lizard, and a snowy egret fishing in the stream.
Getting to Playa Nacascolo
Reaching Playa Nacascolo is all part of the adventure. Since access is blocked by the private resorts, you need to park first and then take a shuttle bus to the beach entrance.
By law, the public is supposed to have access to all of Costa Rica’s beaches, so these shuttles are provided for free by the resorts.
The parking lot for Playa Nacascolo is at the end of Route 253. Here is the location on Google Maps.
This is the main road leading onto the Papagayo Peninsula. The road comes to a small traffic circle (rotunda) and there is a sign for the public parking (parqueo publico). After driving down a short dirt road, you’ll come to a guard house and the parking lot. The guard will direct you to a parking spot.
This parking area serves other beaches on the peninsula too, including Playa Blanca, Playa Virador, and Playa Prieta.
There is a covered waiting area with benches and some portable toilets nearby. Once the shuttle bus arrives, you just need to tell the driver which beach you would like to be dropped off at.
Playa Nacascolo is about a 10-minute shuttle ride from the parking area. The van or minibuses used hold around 10-20 passengers. Along the way, you will be driven through some maintenance roads (gravel) and then the main (paved) road, which leads to the Four Seasons Resort. On our trip, the drivers were very friendly in both directions. One even stopped for us to see some white-tailed deer grazing in the meadow.
At the entrance to Playa Nacascolo is a nice bath house with toilets and outdoor showers. There is also a guard house here. An employee is available to call the shuttle when you are ready to return to the parking.
Beach Access and Accessibility
From the shuttle drop-off point, it is a short five-minute walk down to the beach. This is along a raised wooden boardwalk with forest all around. It’s very nice and smooth without steps. Those with limited mobility should have no problem accessing the beach.
At the end, the boardwalk goes over a small stream and through some mangroves. It then opens to the sand.
Other Ways to Access
Some jet ski tours also bring people to Playa Nacascolo. These usually leave from the nearby resorts or the Papagayo Marina.
Kayaking is also popular in Culebra Bay, so you may see some visitors arriving that way.
What to Bring
There are no restaurants or stores anywhere near this beach. It is best to bring all the food and water you will need for the day. Trash cans and recycling bins are located in some spots along the beach and near the facilities.
Playa Nacascolo is not a typical Costa Rica beach. Sitting on the sand, you may feel much like you are relaxing on some Caribbean island. From the smooth, calm waters to the active wildlife and relaxing shade, it is definitely a special beach to visit when staying in the Papagayo area.
Have a question about visiting Playa Nacascolo or have you been? Leave a comment below.
Looking for more information about the area? Check out these posts:
Guanacaste: Regional Snapshot – Learn about the landscape, weather patterns, and major destinations in Costa Rica’s northwest region.
Playa Penca: A Gorgeous Hidden Beach in Guanacaste – Another harder-to-access beach in northern Guanacaste but very much worth the effort.
Rental Car Discount – If you are looking to do day trips to beaches like this, a rental car is a great way to get around. Get free delivery and pick up from your hotel or vacation rental. Plus, our readers get a 10% discount and free extras like car seats and coolers.