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The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica may not be as well-known as the Pacific side, but it's an outdoor adventure that should not be overlooked if you seek an exotic location packed full of nature, wildlife, and white sandy beaches.

Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast (the right-hand or eastern side when looking at a map) might be higher in humidity and have more rainfall, but what it loses in weather it makes up for with its diverse abundance of flora and fauna.

The Caribbean coast is also much less developed than its Pacific cousin, meaning it sees fewer tourists – a plus point in our book and likely so for those seeking an adventurous trip in Costa Rica! You'll find rainforests to explore, superb surfing, snorkeling on coral reefs, reggae party towns, and some unmistakable Caribbean charm.

Read on to discover just a small taste of what Costa Rica’s Caribbean vacations can offer you.

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Tortuguero is situated in Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast.
Sea turtle eggs found on the beaches of Tortuguero.

Nature and animal lovers will adore the remote area of Tortuguero for its abundance of wildlife, which boasts 57 types of amphibians, 111 species of reptiles, 300 types of birds, and 60 species of mammals. This national park is also famous for 4 species of sea turtles that come to lay eggs on its shores. The Tortuguero National Park stretches from coast to hinterland covering 19,000 hectares (47,000 acres) made up of rain forest, mangrove forest, marshland, and coastland. 

There are a number of hikes to be enjoyed during your visit to Tortuguero National Park but perhaps the best way to explore the diverse ecosystem is by boat on the maze of waterways either by canoe or kayak on your own or with a naturalist in a motorboat. Other fun outdoor activities include zip-lining and crossing the suspension bridges!

  • Best time to visit: February to April and November, the driest months. Or, if you want to align your trip to turtle nesting season, consider March to May for leatherback nesting season, July through October for Loggerheads season, and March through October for hawksbill season. 
  • Good to know: Tortuguero is not accessible by road. Get there by catching a boat from Moin located near Limon, or a small plane from San Jose.
  • Fun fact: Tortuguero is known as the 'region of turtles' and has four types of sea turtle, boasting the largest number of green sea turtles in the Caribbean during nesting season, which lasts from February to November.

2. Puerto Viejo

Beaches in Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.
The beaches in Puerto Viejo are picture-perfect and is well catered by street vendors for a budget-friendly experience.

This Caribbean seaside hamlet is the place to go if you're a budget traveler seeking the surf/party/alternative lifestyle. It's the region's main hub for tourism, so it can get very crowded at peak times, especially with backpackers. The long white sand beach is well-catered with vendors selling everything from snacks to masseuses — not a bad way to relax! At night you can listen to reggae bands and shop at the boutiques.

The Puerto Viejo de Talamanca culture is a mixture of Afro-Caribbean, Bribri Indian, and Tico mixed with a dose of Western hippy-ness thrown in. Take a tour and discover the local indigenous culture in this area.

The beach of Playa Cocles is a popular haunt with surfers in the months of December through to April and June/July due to the salsa brava, an explosively powerful wave that breaks over the shallow coral reef, also making this a beautiful place to snorkel.

  • Best time to visit: February to April and August to October to avoid the rainy season. Or visit during the salsa brava time if you’re a surfer.
  • Good to know: Don't walk the jungle path between the town and Playa Cocles if you're alone or at night as this is where common theft is often known to happen.

If you are looking for an adventure holiday with some chill-out time at Puerto Viejo, check out the Costa Rica active adventure tour. Or, try this 15-day cycling tour, a great way to mix adventure and beach life including a stop at Puerto Viejo.

3. Manzanillo

Located 12km (about 20 minutes) from Puerto Viejo, this tranquil fishing village is a top scuba diving and snorkeling destination due to the coral reef system just off the shore. Surfers also visit for its fast beach break.

Set within the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge, here you'll discover some superb hiking trails with professional guides to help you spot white-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths, iguanas, and many more creatures. The nearby Punta Mona is an outstanding beach but does require effort to reach — choose between a 6km trek through the jungle or a 45-minute walk from Manzanillo beach.

Manzanillo is a special place that still retains a good community vibe and has a unique feel due to its Afro-Caribbean culture. Soak up the picturesque white sand beach lined with coconut trees as you watch the fishing boats and listen to the tropical birds calling overhead.

  • Best time to visit: February to May or November to December to avoid the wettest months.
  • Good to know: Avoid visiting on Sunday, the place becomes overrun with day-trippers!
Playa Negra in Costa Rica's Caribbean side.
Cahuita has black sand beaches like the popular Playa Negra.

Cahuita is famous for its vibrant coral reefs located in the Cahuita National Park. With over 500 species of tropical fish along with two shipwrecks, the crystal-clear water is an underwater dream for those who love to explore the watery world.

Visit Puerto Vargas beach and you will experience an outdoor adventure like no other as you hike about 6–8 km into the jungle to reach paradise. Listen and look out for howler monkeys, sloths, and the yellow eyelash viper snake on your journey through the jungle before coming out on the other side to a white sandy beach dotted with palm trees. If you seek Caribbean beaches in Costa Rica, make this the one you visit to experience pure paradise!

If you feel like the white sand is getting boring, head to Playa Negra to walk along the black sand!

  • Tip: Animal lovers will enjoy a visit to the monkey and sloth wildlife rescue center called Tree of Life.
  • Best time to visit: March/April or September/October to avoid the wettest months.
  • Good to know: Diving and snorkeling on the reef are only permitted with a certified guide.

This family tour visits Cahuita’s National Park along with other points of interest in Costa Rica.

One of the poorest areas in Costa Rica, the port city of Puerto Limon (shortened to Limon) has a rough-and-tumble vibe. This might not be the prettiest or most popular tourist place to visit on Costa Rica's Caribbean side, but you'll certainly get a taste of local life as you take in the distinct multicultural vibe and experience some typical Tico hospitality.

Explore the open-air markets and visit Parque Vargas to see the wild sloths lounging in the trees! If you seek Costa Rican beaches in the Caribbean side here, head to the small beach of Playa Bonita located 4 km out of the city center.

When city-life gets too much, visit Veragua rainforest, just 30 minutes outside of the city. Here you can explore the forest canopy by accessing the trail of platforms rising 46 meters above ground level. There's also a zip-line and an aerial gondola ride through the trees, plus lots of hiking trails on ground level.

  • Best time to visit: February to March and September for the best temperatures without the rain.
  • Good to know: Taxi drivers and shops/restaurants in Limon's tourist areas accept payment in dollars.

As you can see, Costa Rica’s Caribbean side has something for everyone, whether you seek exotic white sandy beaches or exotic wildlife in the rainforest. This place of paradise is an undiscovered adventure just waiting to happen—come and see, you won't be disappointed! Contact our local travel experts and start planning your customized trip today to discover this side of Costa Rica. Check out our travel guides on the best time to visitbest places to visithow many days to spend, and top things to do in Costa Rica.

Published by Sofie, updated on June 15, 2023

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4 COMMENTSWe welcome your questions or comments to this article. Our travel experts will respond within 48 hours.
  1. A
    Al SangoMar 26 2022REPLY
    Costa Rica is a paradise. Make sure you visit with a good friend to make the experience more enjoyable. FYI. THEY ARE CHANGING THEIR CURRENCY
  2. T
    Thomas FisherJan 07 2019REPLY
    I have been to Costa Rica four times, but each time stayed on the pacific side. This time we wanted to do something different and mentioned Limon to locals and others. First thing we hear is that it is not safe. I was told the same thing about Jaco and had a good time there. Any suggestions or feedback you can provide?
    1. G
      Green World AdventuresJan 14 2019
      Hello Thomas, We actually have many packages visiting different areas in Limon. We recommend you to visit Tortuguero (this is an amazing place for nature lovers and it is located in the north Caribbean side) or the beaches located in the south Caribbean side (in this place you will find really beautiful and safe spots like Puerto Viejo beach, Cahuita Beach, Manzanillo Beach, Cocles Beach, Punta Uva beach, and more). The Carribbean coast of Costa Rica is the most multicultural place in Costa Rica. Best regards. Diego.
  3. D
    Diane WhalenOct 24 2018REPLY
    Do you recommend booking ahead for accommodations in Feb on Caribbean side or can you book when you are there as you travel up coastline.
    1. S
      Sofie Bookmundi StaffOct 25 2018
      Hi Diane, I recommend booking ahead if you are planning to visit Costa Rica and its Caribbean side in Feb. December to May is peak season in Costa Rica so rooms may not be easily available during this time. Booking ahead will guarantee that you won't have to spend precious time on your holiday looking for a room! Happy Travels!!
  4. D
    Diane WhalenOct 24 2018REPLY
    can you go to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and book accommodation when you arrive Or do you recommend that we precook to guarantee a booking.?We are going from Feb4 to Feb28
    1. S
      Sofie Bookmundi StaffOct 24 2018
      Hi Diane, Thanks for the comment. The Caribbean side of Costa Rica is an amazing place to visit! I see that you are planning to travel to Costa Rica during high season. So, rooms may not be available on your preferred dates if you plan on booking accommodation upon arrival. Which is why I suggest that you pre-book to guarantee that you get the rooms. We hope you have a wonderful trip to Costa Rica. Happy travels!