The “What to See on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica” List
On your list of “what to see in Costa Rica,” include the Pacific Coast.
In fact, include as many destinations on the What to see on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica list as possible!
Or, spend your entire Costa Rica vacation on the Pacific Coast!
Everything you want to see in Costa Rica you can find on the Pacific Coast.
The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, particularly south of Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas, is what everyone imagines Costa Rica to be.
The coastal area north of Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas is what people image the best beaches in Mexico are like.
The Two Climates of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica
The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica includes the visually aesthetic, dry-climate, turquoise surf to the north and just south of the Nicoya Peninsula.
There are typical-tropical, lush-foliage regions to the south from Playa Hermosa (Puntarenas) on down to Playa Ballena and the Osa Peninsula.
There are pristine rivers flowing out of La Amistad International Park as well as reserves and bird and animal sanctuaries up and down the coast.
The “what to see on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica” list includes the country’s most visited national park (Manuel Antonio), Costa Rica’s two most visited beach towns — Jaco and Quepos, — two of the country’s best rafting rivers (the Naranjo and the Savegre), has isolated, National-Geographic-quality beaches at every stop.
Spending your entire Costa Rica along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is a brilliant idea!
11 Top Destinations on the “What to See on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast” List!
The following list starts with beaches and national parks up north near the Costa Rica/Nicaragua border. The list works its way south down to the Costa Rica/Panama border.
It does not include any of the What to See on the Nicoya Peninsula destinations nor any of the destination on the What to See on the Osa Peninsula List.
The list is far from comprehensive.
But, it does include some of the highlight destinations you will find on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica!
1. Playa Hermosa (“Beautiful”), Guanacaste
One of two Playa Hermosas on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste is as well know for its town as the beach itself.
Some of its neighboring resort towns in Guanacaste are completely dominated by resorts. But, the town of Hermosa, Guanacaste has an authentic feel to it.
The resorts in Hermosa, Guanacaste are all on the north end of town.
The southern part of town is sparsely populated by native Costa Ricans. Southern Hermosa has local nightlife, authentic Costa Rican food, and quieter beach front. So, even if you stay at a resort, it is easy to move around Hermosa and get an authentic feel for Costa Rica.
The Playa Hermosa beach has grey sand. In many places the distance from the treeline to the ocean is more than 100 yards. The water is clear and navy blue and in the evenings, the skyline is decorated with sailboats of all sizes!
Arguably more beautiful than its namesake town to the south in Puntarenas, Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste is definitely worth visiting!
If you are touring the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, put it on your list!
2. Playas del Coco
Playas del Coco — or “El Coco” — is the biggest town in Guanacaste, though you wouldn’t think it from the name.
Less than a half an hour from the Liberia Airport, Coco is the spitting image of a Florida Resort town — in a good way! It has the most entertaining night life. It has strip malls and trendy super markets and perfect pavement and it feels exciting all of the time!
There are gated communities all over Coco and houses that qualify as mansions by almost any standards.
And the beaches at Playas del Coco are fabulous! There is a reason Playas del Coco is such an attractive tourist destination. Set back in a deep cove, the town of Coco is surrounded on both sides by long, sandy beaches with lush foliage as a backdrop.
Outside of town there are dozens of lomas and bluffs you can visit for a view of the Pacific from above. Or, you can stay at one of the high-end resorts nestled back in the forest!
If there is one place you have to visit on the Pacific Coast if you enjoy crowds and a vibrant atmosphere, it’s Playas del Coco!
3. Palo Verde National Park
The National Park system in Costa Rica make up more than 20% of the country. An additional 5% of the land is reserves and public land trusts.
Only 14 other countries in the world have that sum of land set aside for the public.
Of all the national parks in Costa Rica, Palo Verde may be the most unique.
Unlike the vast majority of the national parks, the best ways to see Palo Verde are hiking over the boardwalk or riding in a boat!
However, it is not on the ocean. Mangroves and marsh makeup Palo Verde, a national park found in the area between Rio Tempisque and Rio Bebedero. The parks boundaries include the estuary where the two rivers feed into the Gulf of Nicoya.
It is almost 45,500 acres — more than 18,400 hectares.
More than 300 species of birds in live in Palo Verde. In all of North America, there are less than 1,000 species. Additionally, there are big cats, deer, crocodiles and two two species of monkey!
And again, while there are several hiking trails, the best tours are on a boat!
Puntarenas — the municipality — is the Playas del Coco of the province of Puntarenas.
If you want to see what a Costa Rican municipality can carry out given the funds, Puntrenas is it. The roads are great. The sidewalks are better. There are boardwalks and bike trails. Puntarenas the town is the pride of Puntarenas the province!
The design of the town is fascinating because it extends out on to a thin peninsula that is a few hundred yards wide and several miles long. And there are spectacular views of the ocean all along it!
Puntarens was originally a port town. There are historic buildings along the coast. Another major attraction in Puntarenas is the San Lucas Island Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the first established of its kind in the country.
And, with soft gray sand and long distances between the treeline and the ocean, the beaches Puntarenas definitely belong on your “What to see on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica” list!
5. Playa Herradura (“Horseshoe”)
Herradura is a resort town in northern Puntarenas. People for all over the world sail to the Los Suenos Marina and Resort to visit the beautiful black-sand beaches and high-mountain backdrops.
Though just a few miles north of Jaco — Costa Rica’s version of Las Vegas, — Playa Herradura is a completely different atmosphere. With a 200 slip marina, luxury resort, and a 600 acre jungle and wildlife reserve, Los Suenos created a scene unlike anything
else in Costa Rica.
Unlike the majority of the destinations in Costa Rica, the majority of the tourists that visit Playa Herradura arrive by sailboat. Playa Herradura has very few Tico visitors. And, the few visitors who do arrive by flying into San Jose or Liberia are the minority.
For luxury at the highest level, Playa Herradura is the place you want to visit!
One of the first towns travelers come across on the coast after traveling west from the San Jose International Airport, Jaco is the Costa Rican version of Las Vegas or New Orleans!
Jaco has sky-rise condos for rent, an exciting nightlife happening 24-hours a day, a wonderful mix or Tico and international culture and good beaches.
While the beaches in the immediate vicinity of Jaco are not as beautiful as those to the north and south — there is no treeline behind the beaches for shade, for example — they are still high quality and definitely worth the trip.
If you want to experience a party resort atmosphere in Costa Rica, Jaco is the place to be! Jaco has bars and clubs and casinos and plenty of great restaurants.
Jaco is all about the party!
7. Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas
Costa Rica is on the shortlist of best countries in the world to surf.
On a country-size-to-great-breaks ratio scale, Costa Rica may be at the top of the list.
The longest right-to-left wave in the world spills onto the shores of the Osa Peninsula.
Nosara’s Guiones Beach is said to be the best break in the world according to Sydney University economist Sam Wills and Thomas McGregor of Oxford University if the value of a break is measured on an economic impact — “Nosara’s Guiones beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific Nicoya Peninsula [is] the fastest growing surf break site in the world!”
Caribbean Costa Rica’s Salsa Brava might even be better. If it’s not, Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas could be!
Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas is home of Quicksilver’s International Surf Championship every August. The surfing at Playa Hermosa is that good!
But, the surfing might not even be the best part of Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas! The beaches are as beautiful in Playa Hermosa as the surf is surfable! There are overlooks above the beaches so you can enjoy the view as well! And, there are fine hotels and bed and breakfasts surrounding Playa Hermosa.
Even if you aren’t a surfer, Playa Hermosa, Puntarenas should definitely be on your list of places to see on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica!
8. Quepos/Manuel Antonio National Park
Quepos is the largest town on the Pacific Coast both in population and area.
In addition to being the largest town, more international tourists visit Quepos than any other town on the West Coast of Costa Rica as well.
The primary reason more people visit Quepos than any other Pacific town is because of Manuel Antonio National Park, the most visited national park in Costa Rica.
The town of Quepos, however, is a gem in its own right. Quepos is not a resort town. It is pura vida Costa Rica. The mix of Ticos and expatriates in the Quepos means a unique demographic that you don’t find elsewhere in Costa Rica.
As intriguing as the mix of people you will find in Quepos, variety of activities in Quepos is as large as any you’ll find in Costa Rica.
Activities in Quepos
You can walk on sky bridges in the national park.
There is ziplining and bungee jumping in Quepos.
You can go horseback riding, four-wheeling, or drive buggies.
The Rio Savegre and Rio Naranjo are two of the top five rivers in Costa Rica for rafting and kayaking.
The deep-sea fishing in Quepos is second to none.
You can even go sky diving with an internationally accredited company in Quepos!
What makes Quepos the best beach town in Costa Rica, however, are the beaches and the views of the ocean from the beaches in Quepos.
Playa Quepos may have the prettiest ocean view on the Pacific Coast. Two islands on the skyline, a horseshoe shaped cove that keeps the size of the surf moderate and towering, lush mountains for a backdrop make Quepos Beach one of the prettiest in the country. And, Playa Quepos is just one of the beautiful beaches in the area!
The resorts in Quepos are good, but the bed and breakfasts and hotels are great!
Quepos is a must-see destination on the “What to See on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.”
Dominical is for surfers and backpackers. It’s a poor man’s Jaco.
Dominical is sandwiched between two of the prettiest beaches on the Pacific which means it is perfect for people without the means to stay in Quepos who find Playa Uvita a little slow for their liking!
The beaches are the problem with Dominical. Like Jaco, the beaches have very little treeline cover for shade. In addition, and unlike Jaco, the beaches are rocky pebbles as opposed to sand.
However, the nightlife and community in Dominical are ideal for young travelers. Especially for tourists looking for a fun time at cool little bars and clubs, Dominical has a great deal to offer. Dominical is the place to go if you don’t want to spend a great deal on lodging, but want hotel accommodations.
Outside of town, however, Dominical is five-star!
The Rio Savegre is close for people looking for serious kayaking and rafting adventure. The mountains around Dominical have exceptional mountain biking and there is hiking everywhere.
While Dominical isn’t as upscale as most of the other towns on the Pacific Coast, for the outdoor adventurer and backpack traveler, Dominical is ideal!
If you are more into the mountains than the beach, but still want the social life offered by a beach town at night, Dominical is what you want to see on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica!
10. Playa Uvita (Marino Ballena National Park)
The prettiest coastal region of all of Costa Rica is the Osa Peninsula.
Playa Uvita is just north of the Osa Peninsula. Playa Uvita is the land area adjacent to the Marino Ballena National Park, which was the first marine reserve of its kind in Central America.
Humpback whale watching is the primary attract of Marino Ballena National Park.
However, the beaches and the forest around Playa Uvita are comperable to those found on the Osa Peninsula.
While there are other places to see on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, the 10 destinations above belong on the must-see list!