Swimming in turquoise waters, napping under palm trees (watch out for the coconuts!), riding some waves, watching the monkeys swing above your head: it obviously isn’t difficult to experience your pi-pa-paradise in Costa Rica. Most people however focus solely on the west coast when it comes to finding such delightful sceneries. Though the Pacific beaches are undeniably alluring; there are many magnificent places on the Caribbean part of the country too. The immaculate surroundings, brilliant waves and limited amount of visitors are just a few reasons that make a visit to the deeply underestimated ‘other side’ worthwhile. The rough edges are still prevalent on the Caribbean side, offering space to those hungry for adventure.
Thus hereby a list with the must-visit beaches of the eastern shore, ordered from north to south. Be inspired to make a visit to (one of) these sandy gems and to indulge yourself with the easy going tropical rhythm of the Caribbean.
1. Playa Tortuguero
In the far north of the Caribbean shore awaits an out of the ordinary, isolated village for you. It takes some patience (and a long boat ride) to get to Tortuguero, but once there a very pristine beach will be just one of many rewards. The mist on the coast created by the waves gives this place some extra atmosphere. From Puerto Limón this beach basically runs all the way to Nicaragua, only interrupted by rivers.
A beach so long, yet so quiet; it’s the reason why the leatherback turtles nestle here every year. They have plenty of space to maneuver their huge shields on the land. Next to sound of the waves, the only disturbances of the peace are the birds. Colorful parrots fly in pairs above your head and montezuma’s sing their typical song in the trees bordering the seaside.
2. Playa Bonita, Puerto Limón
“A stranger in our midst?” Yes, you’re allowed to think it. Most people only stop in Puerto Limón because they’re basically forced to; they either come here to start their journey to Tortuguero or are voluntarily stuck on a cruise travelling the Caribbean. Puerto Limón indeed has had a rough-and-tumble, ‘wild wild east’ kind of reputation for decades, but with the upcoming new port the city is experiencing better days.
For the people in transit or those willing to experience some real city life on this side of the country, Playa Bonita will be an enjoyable stop. The waves are intense on this tiny beach just on the north side of the city, nevertheless the locals aren’t afraid to conquer them with their boards. Take a sip of your Imperial-beer in one of the two beachside restaurants and have a sneak peak into the true local life of the Tico-families.
3. Playa Negra, Cahuita
Next target lies just a bit north of the cool tiny town Cahuita. The beach is often totally abandoned and though the black sand is not meant for picture perfect posts, this beach just give you a very remote feeling.
If you’re up for some excitement you can start your day at the nearby wildlife rescue center ‘Tree of Life’, where you’re able to meet some sloths and monkeys. Or relax during a horse-ride along the beach. Whatever you do, make sure to end your day at the nearby restaurant ‘Sobre Las Olas’ for an ultimate romantic dinner at sunset.
4. Puerto Vargas, Cahuita
Time now to shake off that black stuff! On the other side of Cahuita the white sand starts to appear again under your feet. Playa Blanca, the beach next to the National Park Cahuita, already is a true gem. However, if you want to double your beach experience over there, walk all the way up to Puerto Vargas, some 6 km through the park. Chances are high you’ll see some wildlife on the way. Be prepared for monkeys, coatis, sloths, raccoons, yellow eyelash viper snake (don’t come too close!) and spiders (no need to warn you there). After sweating it out in the jungle, you feel like Leonardo Dicaprio once he finds his Thai paradise in ‘The Beach’. Enjoy that pure shore.
5. Playa Cocles, Puerto Viejo
The list would not be complete without mentioning this fine, popular spot in Puerto Viejo. This beach is just purely nice and always a good place to start or end your day. Large, white sand, big waves, many people to stare at. If you’re hungry, a vendor is never far away. Neither is the masseuse, who will knead your back as you listen to the buzz of the beach.
Since the waves vary in toughness, Playa Cocles also suits everyone interested in surfing. Ask the lifeguard which area would be suitable for your level and take his advice serious. If you lack the skills, don’t worry: just staring at the swells will stimulate your mind and mood as well.
6. Punta Uva
Another couple of kilometers southwards lays Punta Uva, sandwiched between Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo. A small, elevated and lush cliff divides the beach. This area serves as a viewpoint as well, if you dare to climb it. Over here you also find a beautiful, hidden, arched rock formation, carved out by the water.
Punta Uva – the arched rock formation
Some come to the beach for scuba diving, which is rather easy over here: you simply walk into the water until you reach the coral. For the rest of us, the water here is bright, the sand very fluffy and the palm trees will provide you shade for the hottest parts of the day. Don’t mind the monkey families swinging above your head.
7. Playa Manzanillo, Manzanillo
At the end of the road in the south you find the tiny town of Manzanillo. Dipped in an upbeat Afro-Caribbean rhythm, this laid back and pristine town has a pleasantly sleepy feeling. The sceneries of the village throw you back in time.
Life here is revolved around the coast, whether you go to the many small beaches from the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, or the big beach next to the road. In the weekends the villagers chill out over here, and it is a great pleasure to be surrounded by them as you watch the rasta coloured fishermen boats finding their way back home.
8. Punta Mona
This last outstanding spot is again a difficult one to get to, but surely worth the track. Punta Mona lies in the middle of the former mentioned Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. There are two ways to get there by foot: one is a 6km hike from Manzanillo through the magnificent jungle and the other is a 45-minute walk on the beach from Gandoca. Once there, shake off the jungle dirt, drop down your stuff (don’t forget your snorkel gear!) and watch all the tropical birds flying over as you float amongst the fishes while adjusting to the beat of the sea.
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