10 Beaches You’ve Never Visited in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone

Costa Rica is famous for endless coastal landscapes, world-class surf breaks and breathtaking beaches. With close to 1,000 miles of shoreline, this tiny country has more than enough beachfront to explore a new stretch of sand every day of the year. While the majority of tourists flock in droves to the Northern Pacific and Central Coast beaches, those looking for a true escape and a unique beach experience will want to head to the Southern Zone. This region is defined as the coastal and mountainous region of southwestern Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean, and includes the Osa Peninsula and Golfo Dulce.

Here are some of the more unknown beaches and kitchy local spots that you haven’t heard of in the Southern Zone. If you have a packable hammock, you might want to bring it!

Playa Zancudo

Sunset at Playa Zancudo

Miles and miles and… more miles of shoreline offer a lovely locale to beachcomb and gaze lazily out at the Golfo Dulce. For those looking to truly wind down and unplug from the world, this is THE spot to do it. The beach is a collecting zone from the Pacific Ocean of hardwood logs and dramatic driftwood burls. If you desire nothing more than wandering aimlessly for hours, there is no better place to do it in Costa Rica. If you want to catch a game of horseshoes or some acoustic live music, the beachfront Sol y Mar is a gathering space for locals and visitors. A great place to stay is Coloso del Mar, a small collection of simple cabinas with an epic restaurant, rustic hammock rancho, and a surf break right out front. Easy breezy.


View from the ‘Pig Bar’ in Playa Arenitas

Once upon a time, Arenitas (dubbed ‘The Hamptons’ by a clutch of local Golfitenos) did not exist. When United Fruit Company utilized Golfito as its main Pacific port of operations from the 1930 through the 1980’s, topsoil from the region’s vast banana farmland was dumped across the harbor. This decades-long practice resulted in the creation of a silty mangrove extension of a mountainous island, and then a collecting point for drifting sand from the Golfo Dulce. A boat taxi can be fetched in Golfito from just about anywhere with a dock for a couple of bucks per person. The local scene on Sundays is worth the price of admission, with lots of joyful children playing in the calm waters, and adults hanging out at the collection of pop-up food shacks that serve the catch of the day and cold beer. If you want to have the best patacones in Costa Rica, head to the ‘Pig Bar’. Not uncommon are patacones the size of your head, but always at least the size of your hand.

Playa Blanca

This unique little spit of crushed coral and sand is the calmest place to swim in Costa Rica that is accessible by car (or at least it seems so). With sweeping vistas across the water of the mainland mountains and Piedras Blancas National Park, the perspective is one-of-a-kind in Costa Rica. While the afternoons can sometimes get choppy from winds, this area is protected from the swell coming in from the ocean that blesses Matapalo and Pavones with world-class waves. This space is protected from those waves that would otherwise crash down on your morning float. Be sure to grab a ceviche and a cold cerveza at the beachfront restaurant in Playa Blanca. Another closeby activity is Finca Kobo Chocolate Farm, where visitors can see how cacao is harvested and made in to delicious chocolate.

Playa Cacao

View over Golfito Harbor and Playa Cacao area

This sleepy collection of waterfront bungalows looks like something out of Paradise Lost. The jungle-covered mountains drop practically in to the Golfo Dulce at Playa Cacao, leaving little space for the waterfront. And while the beach isn’t the most beautiful stretch of sand and is rather rocky and short, the ambiance of this enclave makes up for it, along with the views to Golfito harbor. There are two small restaurants that offer up local fare and cold beers, and one of the restaurants, called Playa Cacao, offers a free boat taxi ride from Golfito for paying customers to the restaurant. The number can be found on the trees and telephone poles in Golfito that lead between town and the American Zone (or Zona Americana) where the duty-free deposito is. Or, a boat taxi can be fetched at the local dock, right across from Supermercado Pearson in Golfito.

Playa Tortuga

For those that want to see Scarlet Macaws squawk and do their thing, this beach will give you the best view of the area where they have congregated since being reintroduced to the region in recent decades. The beach itself and the swim quality can be hit or miss depending on the tides, the runoff from the nearby Terraba river or storms. Aside from being almost guaranteed a view of Macaws, this is also one of the easiest locations to watch sea turtles getting released during the months of September and October. For more information about participating in a sea turtle hatch or release, check out the Reserva Playa Tortuga website.

Playa de Arco

Cave yoga at Playa de Arco

Guests to the dramatic and scenic La Cusinga Rainforest Coast Lodge have the best of the Costa Ballena at their doorstep – literally. Aside from the stunning sunset views and ability to whalewatch from the lodge’s cliffside location, guests have access to a private 1.5 kilometer long trail down to Playa de Arco, which is inside the Marino Ballena National Park. This vast stretch of isolated beach is best experienced at low tide, in order to access the caves on the Southern end of the beach. This beach is also accessible from the Southern entrance of Marino Ballena National Park. The entrance station charges a $6 entrance fee, but it’s well worth the investment. If you have a paddleboard, this is a good launch site to tour the park by paddleboard, and get to the Three Sisters rock islands.


Pavones love


Most people have heard of Pavones only because it’s a world-famous surf spot, boasting the longest left in the Northern hemisphere. But for beachcombers and leisure enthusiasts, the beaches are a tumbled rock rainbow of agates and lava rock. This beach looks entirely different than any other in the country, simply due to its rocky, rugged and remote coastline. Just north of Pavones en route to the even more distant-feeling Punta Banco break, a small pizzeria named La Pina is worth the entire drive out to the region. Rosella, the Italian owner, makes simply the best pizza and focaccia in all of Costa Rica, and possibly in Central America.

The Whale’s Tail

Walking out to the tip of the ‘Whale’s Tail’ at low tide is an experience like no other in the world. From above, this sand bar that juts out in to the ocean looks just like a whale’s tail. The easiest access point is from the northern entrance station of the Marino Ballena National Park ($6 entrance fee) in quaint little Bahia Ballena. With sweeping vistas to the north and the south, this is an interesting vantage point and is a true adventure. Be sure to start your walk about an hour before low tide, and hit the point of the tail during low tide. With the ocean waves lapping at you from BOTH sides and BOTH directions, it can be heady if you hit the hike back when the tide is coming in.

Playa Preciosa at sunrise

Playa Preciosa

This tiny gem of a beach is a short bike or cab ride from the sometimes chaotic little hub of Puerto Jimenez. Smack dab in front of the Agua Dulce Resort, this laid-back beach is an easy spot to grab some sun, a swim, and hook up a hammock in the lumbering almond trees. Scarlet macaws and monkeys are often running amuck overhead.

Playa San Josecito

On the westernmost coastline of the Osa Peninsula lies the remote settlement of Drake Bay. This area is one of two principle hubs to Corcovado National Park and Isla del Cano, but there is also the gorgeous beach of Playa San Josecito to pass the time. While it’s a trek to get to if you aren’t originating in Drake Bay, it’s worth the price of admission to get there via boat. You’ll need to find a way to the sleepy riverfront town of Sierpe to get a taxi boat to Playa San Josecito. A good bet is to stop in to Perla del Sur to get information and make arrangements.

Erica is the creative mind behind the Finca Bellavista Treehouse Community in Costa Rica, and one of the neighborhood’s co-founders. Since the community’s inception in 2006, Erica has lived a life less ordinary, immersed in nature, in this off-grid rainforest paradise. Through the process of cultivating unique and meaningful experiences for guests, Erica has become intimately acquainted with visitors from all over the world, and with many special places in Central America. Her affinity for the Southern Zone region of Costa Rica has grown along with her knowledge of local spots, national culture, and the area’s flora and fauna.