Playa Ocotal: A Relaxing Black Sand Beach

If you are visiting Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province, you no doubt have beaches on your list. This part of the country has all types. From sandy expanses to rocky coves and everything in between. Playa Ocotal is a special spot among locals and returning visitors. It is a neighboring beach to Playas del Coco. But unlike Coco, which has a busy main strip, boardwalk, and lots going on, Playa Ocotal is quiet and peaceful. Also unique is the beach’s very black sand. In this post, we’ll tell you more so you can plan your visit.

A gentle wave on Playa Ocotal

Location

Playa Ocotal is located in the northwestern part of Costa Rica in a region called Guanacaste. This area of the country is drier than other parts and is known for its beaches rather than jungle.

The town of Ocotal is smaller in size. It is made up of condos, private homes (both locals and expats), and small hotels. The nearest larger town is Playas del Coco, about 5-10 minutes away.

From Costa Rica’s Liberia Airport (LIR), the drive to Playa Ocotal is about 40 minutes. From San Jose’s (SJO) Airport, the ride is much longer at about five hours, depending on traffic.

Playa Ocotal view to north
Northern end of Playa Ocotal

Playa Ocotal – About the Beach

Playa Ocotal is a quaint cove about 0.33 miles long (0.5 km). It has rocky points on both ends. There is a small island just off the southern point.

The sand at Playa Ocotal is a charcoal black color. It is one of the blackest in Costa Rica, similar to Playa Carbon, to the south. This dark colored sand is the result of volcanic rocks that have broken down into fine sand. That sand is deposited onto certain beaches by ocean currents.

Under the black sand at Playa Ocotal is a much lighter, white sand. This gives a nice color contrast along parts of the beach.

Black sand mixes with white
Black and white sand on Playa Ocotal

Moored in the cove at Playa Ocotal are many boats. Sport fishing and scuba diving are both popular activities in the area, and some boats depart right from this beach. You’ll also see more traditional-style fishing boats, since the local community has an active fishing trade.

Moored boats just offshore
Boats moored in the calm water

Beach Lounging

For those looking to just relax on the beach, Playa Ocotal is perfect. While small, there are a lot of places along the sand to kick back and spend the day.

Woody shrubs and trees backing the beach

Most of the beach is backed by shrubby trees, which hang over the sand and provide partial shade.

Just use caution as some of them are a type of poison apple.

The sap and fruits of these trees can cause a bad skin rash. Avoid sitting under the apple trees and find a different type to set up under. As long as you don’t touch the trees, fruits, or leaves, though, they are pretty harmless.

close up of Manchineel Tree leaves
The leaves of the Manchineel Tree (Poison Apple)

The rocky cliffs at both ends of the beach also can provide shade at certain times of day when the sun’s angle is right.

Keep in mind that the black sand on Playa Ocotal can get extremely hot, especially on sunny days. Make sure to use sandals when making trips down to the water.

Swimming & Watersports

Because Playa Ocotal is in a protected cove, the waves are usually smaller. This makes it a great place to splash around and swim for kids and adults alike. When conditions are right, you also can snorkel around the rocks to see reef fish.  

Occasionally when winds or currents change, the beach can have medium sized waves and be a bit turbulent.

Calm water at Playa Ocotal
Calm conditions on the southern end of the beach

If you’re looking for activities on the beach, local tour operators offer kayak rentals, banana boat rides, snorkeling trips, and jet ski tours.

Father Rooster Restaurant

While the lack of amenities on Playa Ocotal make it appealing and relaxing, there is one iconic restaurant worth a visit.

Father Rooster has been a landmark since it opened in 1985. This colorful building was once the farmhouse home of the area’s original landowners.

Father Rooster is known for its friendly service, good food and drinks, and laid-back vibe. The restaurant is literally steps from the sand.

Colorful outside of Father Rooster Restaurant
Father Rooster Restaurant, just off the beach

Getting to Playa Ocotal

Getting to Playa Ocotal is easy.

From Playas del Coco, turn down the road near Super Compro (a large grocery store). Follow the road as it curves through local neighborhoods.

At a Y-shaped intersection, you will continue left (right will bring you to the southern end of Playas del Coco). Continue through more neighborhoods.

Eventually you will come to another intersection. There will be a sign for Father Rooster Restaurant. If you go left, you will pass some condos and curve down to the restaurant. If you go right, you will pass the Ocotal Beach Club and reach the beach shortly after.

Tip: If you are exploring beaches like Playa Ocotal, you will probably want your own car. Be sure to use our Rental Car Discount to save with one of the most reliable companies in Costa Rica. You can have the car delivered to your hotel or vacation rental for free.  

a rocky point at the end of the beach

Parking

Parking is available at the end of both roads leading to Playa Ocotal. At Father Rooster, there is parking behind the restaurant for patrons and over on the left for beachgoers. On the other road (near the beach club), there is a small area to park (about 15 cars) by the Los Almendros development.

Parking attendants, who work for tips, are usually hanging around and will help you find a spot. Although the area is fairly safe, we don’t recommend leaving any valuables in your car, just in case.

A car parked near the beach
Parking area near Los Almendros

Conclusion

If you are exploring beaches near Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, or other parts of Guanacaste, make sure to add Playa Ocotal to your list. From the relaxing water and shady trees to the famous restaurant, you won’t be disappointed.

Have a question about visiting Playa Ocotal? Leave us a comment below.

Looking for more information to plan your trip? Check out these articles.

Palo Verde National Park: A Wildlife Tour Through Guanacaste’s Wetlands – The lush wetlands of Palo Verde are full of wildlife like monkeys, crocodiles, and exotic birds.  

Oropendola Waterfall: An Easy-to-Access Waterfall in Guanacaste – This waterfall is just outside Rincon de la Vieja and the perfect addition to your day trip.

Santa Rosa National Park: Hiking and History in Guanacaste – Explore the tropical dry forest of Santa Rosa National Park and learn about a historic battle that took place in the area.

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4 Comments

  1. We had an enjoyable stay at Playa Ocotal several years ago. We stayed in a condo and there was a nice close by pool for cooling down. We had a driver bring us (from Amatierra) and pick us up (on to Monteverde), and really did fine without a car as most everything we needed was within walking distance. Father Rooster was fabulous – we had several meals there. We got some fabulous sunset photos of the bay, and the area was never crowded. Thank you for this article which brought back some nice memories of our beach time in CR.

  2. We visited Playa Ocotal & Playa del Coco several years ago. We drove up from our place in Esterillos Este on one of our Guanacaste expeditions, and like Lynn rented a condo for a few days. We loved it! The condo was beautiful, set high on the cliff with magnificent views of the Pacific. To make the visit even better, our neighbors in the condo next door invited us into their home for a delicious home cooked local Costa Rican dinner. I loved it. Father Rooster was also amazing. I would return there in a heartbeat. I also liked the calm cove with all the boats – a wonderful spot to enjoy a refreshing beverage with a bite from Father Rooster. Thanks for posting this. It reminds me that I’d like to take another trip up there.

    1. Hi John, That sounds like a great trip. It’s always special to have a home cooked meal with locals. Thanks for sharing. Hope you can get back to Ocotal soon…though Esterillos Este is very nice too!

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