Playa Penca: A Gorgeous Hidden Beach in Guanacaste

Guanacaste is home to many beautiful beaches. This section of coastline along the northern Pacific coast is carved with inlets and coves. The topography makes for calm water, great swimming, and sometimes snorkeling. In this post, we’ll tell you about one of our favorite beaches in Guanacaste with all those things, Playa Penca. This is the Playa Penca near the destinations of Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco.

Playa Penca Beach

Background

Costa Rica has more than one Playa Penca. The most well-known beach of this name is in the town of Potrero near Playa Flamingo. This beach is very nice too, but the Playa Penca we are talking about here is near Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste.

Playa Penca sits on a long, narrow point between Playa Hermosa just north and Playas del Coco to the south. The point is undeveloped except for an access road. The land is pristine, with nothing else around.

Land Around Playa Penca
The vegetated land around Playa Penca

Playa Penca is unmarked and mostly unknown by tourists. We have been going to this beach for several years now and were reluctant to highlight it on our website.

However, now things have changed as the property is being developed for a resort. They are in the early stages of the project. On our last visit in late 2022, heavy machinery was onsite starting work on a parking lot. Because of this, we feel like it is the right time to share this special beach with you.

Note that even after the resort is built, public access to the beach should be maintained. In Costa Rica, developers must always maintain a public access route to beaches, which cannot be held privately.

Access to Playa Penca

Getting to Playa Penca is currently a bit of an adventure. Once you get off the paved road, the drive down to the beach is very rough and hilly. We give full directions below. We recommend a 4×4 vehicle at all times of year.

Access Road Playa Penca
The road to Playa Penca in rainy season (September)

You can’t drive all the way down to the beach, so Playa Penca is best for those with good mobility.

From the parking area, you will need to walk about 10 minutes down a hill. It is undeveloped for now, all dirt and uneven terrain. Our young kids (ages 6 and 3) were able to do it, though, with us giving our three-year old a little help on the way back up.

Trail Playa Penca
The trail leading to the beach

Some people get to Playa Penca by kayak. Rentals are available in Playa Hermosa and Playas del Coco.

The Beach

On your way down the hill, you’ll catch glimpses of the turquoise water through the wispy tropical foliage.

At the bottom, you’ll pass through a shady forested area and come onto the sand.

Entrance Playa Penca
The entrance to the beach

In front of you will be, in our opinion, one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica.

Playa Penca has fluffy light sand and gorgeous clear water. You can usually see right down to the bottom. Rocks flank each end of the small cove. A hill covered in greenery towers behind the southern end.

Short trees and shrubs back the beach and provide some shade.

Playa Penca White Sand
The northern end of the beach with shady trees during rainy season

The southern end (to the left) is where we usually spend our time. You can snorkel along the rocks here.

Playa Penca Snorkeling Spot
Looking towards the southern end of the beach, where you can snorkel

Snorkeling

When we have snorkeled at Playa Penca, we’ve seen a lot of interesting fish. Huge pufferfish, needle nose fish, schooling fish, starfish, and lots of small reef fish along the rocks and coral.

A little deeper in the water where it is cooler, there are some large spiky sea urchins. Some are attached to rocks a little close to the surface so just be careful.

One of the most interesting creatures we have seen at Playa Penca are spotted eagle rays. These are beautiful black fish with small white spots. Their wingspan can reach an impressive 11 feet (3.3 meters). Although they look similar to manta rays and have a long sharp tail, they are different.

Eagle Rays Playa Penca
A couple of spotted eagle rays that we saw from the shore

Spotted eagle rays often come near the shore to feed. Although they tend to get everyone running out of the water, these rays are generally harmless unless you handle them. Seeing one is always a treat for us!

Eagle Ray Costa Rica
Not our picture but gives a nice close up of the spotted eagle ray

Ocean conditions can vary, but usually Playa Penca has calm water. Snorkeling is best at lower tides.

What to Bring to Playa Penca

Bring everything you will need for the day as there are no amenities in the immediate area. You’ll want your beach gear and snorkel equipment. For snorkeling, make sure your feet are protected with swim fins or water shoes.

A water shirt/rash guard can help avoid burns. Although the beach has some shade, during dry season (January through April), cover can be sparse as many of the trees will have lost their leaves.

Playa Penca Dry Months
Playa Penca late in dry season (April)

For sunscreen, Playa Penca still has some live coral reef so opt for a reef-safe sunscreen to help keep this beautiful ecosystem intact.

Coral reef Playa Penca

You can walk down the trail to the beach in flip-flops. Some may prefer a shoe that grips better like Keens.

Directions to Playa Penca Near Playa Hermosa

From Playa Hermosa, take the main road out of town towards Playas del Coco (Route 159). A few minutes from town near the top of the hill, look for a dirt road and small guard station on the right. There is also a large green construction fence around the property.

The guard will ask where you are going and take your license plate and name.

Continue along the dirt road. It will be wide in places and narrower in others. The road will go down steeply and has lots of huge ruts. It’s best to have an SUV with higher clearance so you don’t bottom out. We also recommend a 4×4 to get back up after. The dirt can be loose, making traction difficult.

In a few minutes, you’ll come to a beautiful viewpoint of Playa Hermosa and the Papagayo Peninsula beyond that. This is just a pull-off to the right, but a great place to get pictures.

Playa Hermosa from Above
Playa Hermosa and the Papagayo Peninsula in the distance

Just past that, you’ll come to an area on the right where there may be cars parked. There is also a green mesh construction fence near the road. This is the parking area for another beach called Playa Calzón de Pobre. Playa Calzón de Pobre is also really pretty, with light tan sand and calm water. It is popular with locals. Playa Penca is located at the end of the point so keep going down the hill.

Near the bottom, you’ll come to the parking for Playa Penca. It is nothing formal or official. When we were last there, the construction workers told us where to park so we would be out of their way.

The parking is not secure so be sure to leave nothing inside your car, as always in Costa Rica.

From the parking area, the path to the beach is to the right. It’s about a 10-minute walk down.

Here is a Google Map with the approximate location.

Conclusion

Playa Penca is one of our favorite beaches in Costa Rica. With basically no waves, crystal clear water, and even snorkeling, it is the perfect spot for adults and kids alike. We highly recommend a visit if you are near Playa Hermosa or Playas del Coco in Guanacaste.

Have a question about visiting Playa Penca or have you been? Leave a comment below.

Some of the links in this post are connected to affiliate programs we have joined. As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.

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

Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste: Costa Rica’s Northern Beauty – Playa Hermosa is a great destination for exploring Playa Penca. This town is small but still has plenty of amenities.

Playa Carrillo: A Favorite Locals’ Beach in Guanacaste – If you’re into beach hopping, add Playa Carrillo near Samara to your itinerary. This is another gorgeous beach a couple of hours south of Playa Penca.

Costa Rica Rental Car Discount: To get to Costa Rica’s little-known beaches, it’s easiest to have your own car. Check out our rental car discount to save 10% and get free extras.

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3 Comments

  1. We went there by motorboat in January 2020…hired the boat in town (Playa Hermosa) for a fishing trip for one of our party of four and the rest of us got dropped off and picked up at the Playa Penca beach. A real treat. We had it all to ourselves. ¡Pura vida!

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