Many of the beach towns in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province have become extremely popular over the years due to their gorgeous sands and turquoise waters. Development has hit the northern Pacific coast, and those interested in luxury condos and world-class cuisine don’t have to look far. But for others seeking a more authentic visit to Costa Rica, there is Samara. While Samara has its share of amenities, it still has a local vibe and small beach-town feel. In this post, we’ll give our tips for getting the most out of your visit to Samara, including recommendations for hotels, activities, and restaurants.
Samara is located in Guanacaste Province on the northern Pacific coast. It is about two hours from Liberia International Airport (LIR). The drive from the airport is along all paved roads, making it is an easy destination to reach.
One of the main draws of Samara is its centrally located downtown. The downtown abuts the beach and is full of restaurants, trendy boutique shops, tour operators, and some small hotels. Another draw is its surrounding forest and wildlife. Unlike areas to the north, thick tropical dry forest borders Samara. Even on hotel grounds, you can find animals like monkeys, iguanas, and many kinds of birds.
Samara’s biggest attraction is its beautiful beach. Playa Samara attracts all types of travelers with its rows of palm trees and light tan sand. You will find 20-somethings grabbing a beer at one of the beachside bars, couples strolling at sunset, and children at play in the calmer ocean waters.
While many people visiting Samara do little more than hang out at the beach, there are plenty of things to do. Here are some activities that will show you hidden waterfalls, beaches, and nature-filled forest.
Werner-Sauter Biological Reserve
The Werner-Sauter Biological Reserve is a 140 hectare (346 acre) private reserve just outside Samara. Here, you can discover the tropical dry forest and learn from an expert guide why it is such an important, though often overlooked, ecosystem. In between discovering the reserve’s abundant wildlife like monkeys, porcupines, and owls, you will climb to a lookout with an amazing view of the beach and forest. We loved our recent trek through the reserve. We couldn’t believe how much wildlife we saw and how much we learned, even after hiking throughout Costa Rica.
The hike through the Werner-Sauter Reserve is moderately difficult and you need a guide to visit. For more details, read our post Samara Trails: Exploring the Tropical Dry Forest.
Only 20 minutes from downtown Samara is the Belen Waterfall. This small cascade and series of swimming holes is a popular spot among locals, yet few tourists know about it. The entrance is located in the middle of the countryside and is unmarked. There are no facilities and you will find only a rustic trail that leads to the river. Tours are available, but it is easy enough to go on your own if you have a rental car. Just be sure to have good directions as we drove right past it our first time. Read our post Belen Waterfall: A Hidden Swimming Hole Near Samara for all the information you need.
The main beach, Playa Samara, is the area’s most popular and for good reason. The cove has relatively calm water due to a coral reef just offshore. This makes it a decent place to swim and also to enjoy water sports. Stand-up paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking, and surfing are all possible. Lessons and equipment rentals are available from tour operators right on the beach.
Playa Carrillo is more of a local’s beach, just to the south. This beach is also very pretty, with light sand, rows of palms, and calm waves for swimming. It doesn’t have the amenities of Playa Samara like restaurants and tour operators so be sure to bring everything you need for the day.
Playa Barrigona is farther from town and accessible if you have a rental car. This beach is the site of Mel Gibson’s seaside estate and considered by many to be the most beautiful in the area. Although it is a trek to get to along rough, dirt roads, we were impressed once we arrived. The sand is bright white, the water is intensely blue, and it feels far removed from civilization.
If you venture to Playa Barrigona, bring everything you need as there isn’t anything for miles. Don’t leave valuables in your car as there have been problems with theft. A 4×4 vehicle is recommended, especially for the rainy season. Playa Barrigona is 1 km off the main road that goes to Nosara. The entrance was unmarked at the time of our visit. During the dry season, you can take the shortcut through the riverbed from Samara and get there in 15-20 minutes. (Click here for a map). In the rainy season, it will take a bit longer via the inland route. (Click here for a map for the route during rainy season).
Diving and Snorkeling
If you’re interested in diving, the Samara area has some good spots to check out. Neighboring beaches host shipwrecks where you can see creatures like white-tip reef sharks, snapper, and maybe even hammerhead sharks and bull sharks. Conditions are better during the rainy season (May to November) when the water is cooler. While diving is typically better in Samara, you can also snorkel. Many people combine kayaking with snorkeling on a visit to the white-sand Isla Chora. Two-tank dives (5 hrs.) are around $110. Kayak-snorkel tours to Isla Chora are around $50.
Another fun way to experience Samara’s beautiful scenery is on a horseback tour. Most operators include a ride through the jungle, where you’re likely to see wildlife, as well as some time to trot on the beach. This is another way to get to the stunning Playa Barragona described above. Prices for tours are around $50 per person.
Samara has an impressive selection of restaurants for such a small town. You can find almost every type of food, from vegan burgers to spicy Tex-Mex and authentic Italian pizza to traditional Costa Rican cuisine. Here are some of the best places we tried.
During our recent road trip through Guanacaste, we had one of our favorite meals at El Lagarto. The concept at El Lagarto is simple. They cook everything—meat, fish, and veggies—on a one-of-a-kind wood-fired grill. Everything gets that smoky char flavor, and the grill masters really know how to cook meat to perfection. Costa Rica is not known for having the best steak, but ours was amazing. Prices are a little high, but they use naturally raised meats and organic produce. Opens daily at 3 p.m.
Samara Pacific Lodge
Another excellent choice for dinner is Samara Pacific Lodge. This French restaurant has a small menu, which rotates daily, but you can’t go wrong with the choices. Typical offerings are fresh fish, pork, beef, and shrimp. They also have an option for kids. Our tuna steak was cooked perfectly, and we also loved our pork with apple and pineapple sauce. Wine pairings are available for all entrees. This restaurant has only six tables plus a small bar so be sure to make reservations.
Lo Que Hay
While in Samara, you have to take advantage of the beachside dining. And Lo Que Hay is one of the best spots in town. The menu features casual food from a grilled avocado app to delicious tacos, burgers, and pizza. They often have live music and also specials like a plate of the day, Taco Tuesday, and deals on wine and cocktails. Check out their Facebook page for current events.
Flying Taco is a little hidden over by the town soccer field, but don’t let that stop you. This is a fun spot where you can grab some tacos or a burrito, while kicking back under the huge mango trees. Everything is served with yummy, homemade salsas. Flying Taco has live music a few times a week and also does poker nights. Open for lunch and dinner.
For the freshest food around, there’s Boutiquecafé Bohemia. This chic, yet casual, breakfast and lunch spot offers healthy smoothies and lighter options for food. Much of what goes into the toastinis, salads, crepes, and bagels is housemade, like the almond butter, jam, and pesto. Our brie and apple crepe and veggie sandwich were just what we needed after a lot of travel. Bohemia Café also doubles as a yoga and pilates studio.
Samara Organics is a small organic food market right in the center of town. In addition to produce, they also have coffee, fresh juices, breads, locally made snacks, and natural products like insect repellent and essential oils.
If you’re interested in checking out the farmers market, it happens twice a week in the Natural Center (courtyard outside Samara Organics). On Tuesday mornings (approximately 8:00 – 11:00 a.m.), vendors come with fresh fruits and veggies. And on Friday afternoons (2:00 – 5:00 p.m.), it is more homemade goodies like jams, breads, and cheeses.
Microbar is definitely the coolest place in town. The tiny, dimly lit space and eclectic décor will make you feel like you’ve stepped off the beach and into a trendy speakeasy in the city. Microbar has the largest selection of local craft beers on tap that we’ve ever seen in Costa Rica. When we visited, there were 20 or so different brews. We tried a bunch of different sample sizes. Some of our favorites were the mango pale ale from Dry Season Brew Lab, the IPA from Fercas Brew House, and the Loco 59 Stout from La Bruja Cerveza Artesanal. Aletails (cocktails made with beer) are also available. Opens at 5 p.m. Cash only.
Samara has a range of hotels for all budgets. You won’t find large chain hotels here, but rather quaint villas, lodges, and hostels. Many are located right in town, which is great if you’re traveling without a rental car. If you prefer something more secluded and quiet, there are also places outside the downtown. Here are our picks for lodging in Samara.
Montelaguna Boutique Hotel
On our recent trip to Samara, we stayed at Montelaguna Boutique Hotel. This newer hotel is outside town, just a few minutes’ walk to the beautiful Playa Carrillo. Rooms are modern and range from affordable double and triple rooms to spacious suites that are great for families and groups. The pool is also gorgeous. $90-200, includes breakfast. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Villas Kalimba is right in town, but feels very private. The six individual units are surrounded by lush flowering gardens and a tranquil pool. The property is also right across from the beach. Each villa is equipped with a kitchen for when you want to eat in, and the owner/chef is sometimes available to cook meals as well. The staff at Villas Kalimba is very friendly and helpful. $150-200 double occupancy. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Casa del Mar
Casa del Mar is a B&B-style hotel in a great location across the street from the beach. The new French owner is very friendly and has been working hard on making improvements to the property. Some of the rooms have A/C and a private bath. Others are more budget-friendly and have a shared bath and fans. A few have a lovely ocean view. Rates include breakfast and use of chairs on the beach. $50-100, double occupancy. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Hotel Belvedere is a favorite among visitors. Although the property is located just a short walk to town, it is more secluded and quiet. The small hotel offers spacious, comfortable rooms with balconies overlooking the jungle. Wildlife like monkeys, birds, and iguanas are often seen around the grounds. The hotel is divided into two separate buildings, each with its own pool area. $65-85, double occupancy. Check Rates and Availability Here.
Samara Pacific Lodge
Samara Pacific Lodge is a comfortable budget option in a secluded location surrounded by pasture and forest. The hotel has four types of rooms, including some larger family rooms able to accommodate six people. The large salt-water pool and comfy lounge chairs are very inviting, and of course, staying here means easy access to the lodge’s delicious French restaurant (mentioned above). It is best to have a rental car as it a few miles from the downtown. $50-75, double occupancy. Check Rates and Availability Here.
This new hostel is a great option for backpackers looking for an inexpensive place to stay close to town. Hostel Samara has three dorms and also five private rooms with A/C if you’re looking for more comfort. A spacious common area has TV, some space for lounging and checking email, and a well-equipped kitchen. Shared dorm, $15; Private room, $40. Check Rates and Availability Here.
If you’re looking for a laid-back beach escape, you’ll love Samara. Although this modest town doesn’t span more than a few blocks, it offers everything you need for a fun and exciting vacation. Our most recent trip here only solidified that Playa Samara is one of Guanacaste’s most overlooked beach towns.
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Looking for more info to plan your trip to Costa Rica? Check out these posts:
- Llanos de Cortez Waterfall – Tips for visiting one of the most gorgeous waterfalls in Guanacaste.
- Simple Spanish for Visiting Costa Rica – A practical guide to the most common Spanish words and phrases used in Costa Rica.
- Itinerary Help – Want to visit Samara but aren’t sure how to fit it in your plans? Check out our itinerary services. We can help build your dream vacation to Costa Rica.