Last Updated: April 8, 2022
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.
Activities in Samara
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.
The main beach, Playa Samara, is the area’s most popular and for good reason.
The wide cove has relatively calm water due to a coral reef just offshore. This makes it a decent place to swim and also enjoy water sports. It’s one of the better beaches in Costa Rica for families.
Playa Carrillo is more of a locals’ 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.
To learn more about this beach, read our post, Playa Carrillo: A Favorite Locals’ Beach in Guanacaste.
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.
Directions to Playa Barrigona: 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.
In the rainy season, it will take a bit longer via the inland route up Route 160 and over the Buena Vista River Bridge.
Hiking at Werner-Sauter Biological Reserve
This is the best option for hiking in the area. 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 observing 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 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 information, read our post, Samara Trails: Exploring the Tropical Dry Forest.
The gentle waves at Playa Samara are perfect for beginner surfers, including kids.
There are several different surf companies along the main beach in Samara. Lessons are around $60-80 per person, depending on if you want a group or private lesson.
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. Two-tank dives (5 hrs.) are around $120.
While diving is typically better in Samara, you also can snorkel. Many people combine kayaking with snorkeling on a visit to the white-sand Isla Chora. Kayak-snorkel tours to Isla Chora are around $50.
Dolphin Watching Boat Tour
A fun way to explore the scenic coastline near Samara is on a boat tour. Not only do these tours get you out on the water, but dolphins can be seen in and around the bay year-round. When we did this tour, bottlenose dolphins were swimming right under the boat, catching the waves. You also can see whales seasonally.
Dolphin watching tours are around $60 per person. If you have a group, you can even rent the whole boat. Learn more with our post, Dolphin Watching and Snorkeling in Samara.
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.
Important: We recommend visiting this waterfall during the dry season only (approx. late December to early April) for safety reasons.
Read our post, Belen Waterfall: A Hidden Swimming Hole Near Samara, for more information.
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 palm-tree-lined beach. Prices for tours are around $50 per person.
Visit a Macaw Center
About 50 minutes south of Samara is a macaw parrot breeding center that is doing some amazing work. Scarlet and Great Green Macaw Parrots have become endangered in Costa Rica, and this group is working to increase the population through their breeding program.
This is not a wildlife rehabilitation center. Instead, they breed the parrots and then let them fly free. At the center, you will get to see hundreds of these charismatic birds coming back to the center to feed.
If you have your own car, you can reserve a tour directly through the Macaw Recovery Network’s website ($20 per person). If you don’t have one, tours with transportation are possible.
Restaurants in Samara
Samara has an impressive selection of restaurants for such a small town. Here are some of the best places we’ve tried.
Cantina de Baco
Cantina de Baco is a newer spot with a really fun vibe. Their concept is flavors from around the world and connecting the community with local art.
A tapas menu offers many choices for dishes, organized by country. Some of our favorites were the local enyucados (yucca and cheese croquettes), Gallo Duo with homemade chorizo, and Mediterranean shrimp. Look for this restaurant near the soccer field in town. Their menu is on Facebook.
Another great addition to Samara’s restaurant scene is Teca Beach. The French-inspired dinner spot offers upscale cuisine and unique ambiance. Costa Rican coffee bags adorn the ceiling, and soft lighting creates an intimate feel. Teca Beach has a tapas menu, fish and meat dishes, and delicious burgers.
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 and a small bar so be sure to make reservations.
For the freshest food around, there’s Bouticafe 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 homemade, 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. Bouticafe Bohemia also doubles as a yoga and Pilates studio.
While in Samara, you have to take advantage of the beachside dining. Gusto Beach is one of the best spots in town. They have tables set up right on the sand, good cocktails, and delicious food, with many Italian offerings. Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
During a 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. Prices are a little high, but they use naturally raised meats and organic produce.
For authentic French baguettes and decadent croissants, don’t miss the Boulangerie. This bakery is a little off the main drag but easily found by looking for the big “Boulangerie” sign on the front of the building. We wish we lived closer to Samara so that we could enjoy their breads and treats all the time.
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 local farmers market, it’s now on Saturdays in the park on the side street near Samara Organics. Here’s a map with the location. Open 9 am – 1 pm.
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 brews. We tried a bunch of different sample sizes. Aletails (cocktails made with beer) are also available.
Opens at 5 p.m. Cash only.
Hotels in Samara
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
We’ve stayed at Montelaguna Boutique Hotel and really enjoyed it. This 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 really nice. $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 directly 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. $115-250 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. $60-75, 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 saltwater 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).
This 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, $16-20 per person; Private room, $45-$60 (double occupancy). 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.
Last Updated: April 8, 2022
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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.
La Fortuna: What to Expect from Costa Rica’s Most Popular Destination – Samara is a great beach town, but for adventure activities like zip lining, hanging bridges, and whitewater rafting, you can’t beat La Fortuna. Read our guide for visiting here.
Manuel Antonio Trip Planning: Trying to decide if Samara is right for you? Manuel Antonio is another family-friendly destination with a ton of wildlife. Learn more about this popular central Pacific coast town with this post.