The Nicoya Peninsula on Costa Rica's north Pacific coast enjoys a long dependable dry season from December to May, and has a good choice of yellow sand beaches. Impressive sunsets over the Pacific are a feature almost everywhere.
Good beaches have all attracted foreign visitors, including expatriates in search of paradise, giving a cosmopolitan atmosphere, but most remain nonetheless agreeably low-key and relaxed.
Tamarindo is a fishing village that has grown into a busy beach resort with a choice of restaurants, bars and shops. Its attractive long, wide, yellow-sand beach is a favourite with surfers and windsurfers. Leatherback turtles nest at Playa Grande from October to March (but have become very rare lately); wildlife trips go into nearby mangroves and wetlands. North of Tamarindo, upmarket Playa Ocotal and neighbouring budget Playa El Coco are good for divers: both are in reach of top offshore dive sites of Bat Islands (bull shark) and Catalinas (manta ray in April). To the south lie the dark sand beaches of Playa Potrero, a peaceful area with a handful of beach front hotels at the end of a long bumpy road off the main highway, worthwhile if you stay a few days or more.
At Playa Nosara three wild beaches separated by hilltops form a spread out community of mainly ex-pats with an off-beat 'end of the road' feel. Nearby a private reserve is home to howler monkeys, coati and racoon. At nearby Playa Ostional Olive Green Ridley turtles nest between August and December with mass nestings or arribadas typically during the last quarter of the moon
Playa Sámara is set in a deep horseshoe bay with a wide sandy beach protected by a reef. It is a fishing village that has grown into a beach resort popular with swimmers, windsurfers, backpackers, and young Costa Ricans. The village supports a few beachside snack bars and a handful of cafés and restaurants. Playa Carrillo, 15min south of Sámara, is a quiet, attractive, beige sand beach in a semi-circular bay of calm water protected by a reef, backed by a boulevard of shady palms and is a good spot to watch the sun set.
By Nicoya's southern tip, Montezuma is a friendly laid back village run by expats with an eco-conscience with boutiques, bars, and a limited selection of restaurants (lots of veggie options). Beyond rocky coves lie wonderful wild beaches backed by forest. There are walks and horse rides on the beach to waterfalls. Further on, Santa Teresa and Malpais attract surfers and young travellers plus some upscale glitterati, with a mix of lively bars
eateries and luxury villas dotted along a bumpy road set back from the ocean. In the other direction, Tambor is a secluded getaway, with calmer sea and a pristine palm-backed beach.
Beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park has verdant forest opening on to pristine white sands (closed Mondays-go to small local beaches), and is deservedly much visited. Most hotels are between Quepos and the park along 7km of road that runs through the forested hills; there's a mini realestate boom underway here. Quepos itself offers
restaurants, cybercafés and lively bars. Esterillos Este, a little further away from the park, is much quieter: a stunning undeveloped stretch of sand with a few hotels and restaurants but not much more. Jacó, with its discos and nightlife, is the closest to San José and is popular with surfers, backpackers and week-enders; rip tides make swimming inadvisable.
Dominical has a number of attractive forest-backed beaches. There are strong breaks at Dominical, making it popular with surfers but swimming is not recommended. Those further south at Uvita and Playa Tortuga are more secluded and situated close to Ballena National Park, a good area for snorkelling and birdwatching.
The wild beaches around Manzanillo and Cahuita are certainly beautiful though not safe for swimming due to strong currents. Coral reefs offer good snorkelling when sea conditions are right while nearby one of the world's top surfing beaches produces a wave called the 'Salsa Brava' featured in the movie Endless Summer II.