When I ask Costa Ricans what are the best beaches in the country most of them tend to direct me toward the country’s Pacific Coast. This coastline is extensive and it’s beautiful. It is also much more developed. It seems to be where most of the Costa Ricans vacation and where many of the tourists tend to congregate. However, I don’t feel that I should lump all of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica together as one beach. These beaches vary greatly with types of sand, vegetation and access to reach them. In this post I will focus on the areas of the Central Pacific Coast.
Map Courtesy of govisitcostarica.com
The first beach I visited on the Pacific was Jacó. It is the closest to the capital city of San José and is easy to reach by car. It is also the one of the most heavily visited and I find that it offers very little in terms of natural beauty. It is very popular for its nightlife and has many discos and nightclubs (which in Costa Rica generally means strip clubs). It has become a rather seedy town but is easy to take a bus or drive there. It only takes about 2 hours to get there by car and slightly longer in bus.
Many Costa Ricans really enjoy visiting the town of Quepos and its nearby national park of Manuel Antonio. This park is incredibly beautiful. You can see iguanas, birds, sloths and monkeys. Be warned there is an entry fee of $10 for foreigners and a lower fee for Costa Ricans. I don’t remember what the entry fee is for Costa Ricans I always had to pay the higher fee and you will too unless you have a cédula (residency card). The best beaches by far are the ones inside the national park. It is worth the money to see the incredible beaches. However, it is a long walk. Here are a couple of pictures of the beaches inside the park.
I really like Manuel Antonio. The area has good infrastructure and you can stay at a range of places from hostel-type settings to very pricey hotels. One thing I do not like very much is that the entire community is built up a mountain so it is really difficult to walk as there are few shoulders to the road and traffic whizzes by at a breakneck speed. Access to the town of Quepos and the nearby community of Manuel Antonio is good. You can take an inexpensive bus from San José for just a few dollars. The ride only takes about 4 hours (but can vary depending on traffic and the current condition of the road). You can also fly into Quepos and take a taxi and/or bus from the airport. The airport is very small and has a tropical laid-back vibe to it.
The price of the airfare ranges depending on the season, advanced booking and the airline. There are two primary domestic carriers, Nature Air (www.natureair.com) and Sansa (http://www.tacaregional.com/) which is part of the Central American Airline Taca. I seem to have better luck finding cheaper fares on Nature Air, however, both provide very fast half hour or less flying time and are both reliable. The planes are small and travel at a low enough altitude that if the sky is not too cloudy you can get some amazing ariel views of the country, but if you are not a good flyer you should know that the ride can be a bit bumpy.
So, my advice is that if you want to travel to Costa Rica’s Central Pacific coastline Jacó is more of a party beach town while Manuel Antonio has better beaches. But, you can certainly find places to have some beers in both Quepos and nearby Manuel Antonio. If you want to visit during the peak times of Semana Santa (Holy Week), Christmas and school vacations know that both hotels and transportation sell out fast.