This year, Costa Rica’s wet season took a turn for the dry, and it seemed like the whole country headed for the beach. The extra rays shone brightest on the northern Pacific coast, where emerging seaside destinations include a former pirate haven, a 1200-acre car-free (but modern!) beach community, and a surf and yoga mecca where hitchhiking still thrives. More secretive shores also offer dramatic sunsets, surf-perfect waves and a slice of old Costa Rica.
With a recent expansion of the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia, the Pacific coast’s sultry treasures have become even more accessible. Direct flights now touch down from Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Dallas, Newark, Toronto, Charlotte, Chicago, Denver, New York, El Salvador and Panama. So grab that sunhat and make for the playa.
Bahía de los Piratas/Playa Real
Just south of Playa Conchal, Bahía del los Piratas is perhaps Costa Rica’s best-kept secret, but it won’t be for long. More and more visitors are bumping down back roads to bask on the 2km stretch of pink sand and admire the rocky outcrops and islands where pirates once hid. For now, just a few homes and hotels pepper the mountains and tropical dry forest surrounding this virgin paradise, where the calm surf is ideal for swimming and relaxing in the sun.
One of the more laid-back beaches on the Pacific coast, Samará exudes bohemian charm and has plenty of frisky nightlife. By day, Costa Rican artists peddle their wares by the shores of this breezy, 7km bay with its slender palms and dazzling coral (an attraction for snorkellers and stand-up paddle enthusiasts alike). Five miles south lies the palm-lined fishing village of Playa Carrillo, another much-admired shore.
Santa Teresa/Playa Carmen/Malpaís
On the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula, these small, freewheeling beach towns are accessible only by a dirt road that locals occasionally douse in molasses (to keep the dust down). Accommodation and restaurants for all budgets can be found in this isolated destination, where the surf features world-class breaks year-round. On Saturdays, hula-hoopers, hippie families and wizened musicians all gather at the playa for the farmers’ market and a massive orange sunset.
Read more: Lonely Planet