Should visitors see the Caribbean or Pacific Coast of Costa Rica?

Answers from Our Experts (1)

Michael Bond

The Caribbean and Pacific Coasts of Costa Rica each offer fantastic options for eating, lodging and more, but the atmosphere is very different for each, say our Forbes Travel Guide editors. The Caribbean Coast is best suited to the more adventurous, laid-back traveler; a beautiful but at times trying three- to four-hour drive from the airport in San Jose leads you to miles of pristine beaches south of the port city of Limon. Far less developed than the Pacific Coast, it offers visitors a rare chance to come face-to-face with nature in Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo and the areas south offer plenty of fun, surfing, nightlife and reggae-tinged “Pura Vida,” with sleeping options ranging from hammocks to four-star resorts. Share a beer with the backpackers you met surfing that morning and settle in for a relaxed vacation with no need for a watch. The Caribbean tends to be drier when the rest of the country is in its September/October rainy season, but it’s also more isolated — it’s easier to reach Panama’s sights (like Bocas del Toro) than San Jose’s.
Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast offers a more varied range of options. You can reach the water in a little more than an hour’s drive from the airport, and the extensive shoreline offers everything from exclusive private resorts with spas and golf (Tamarindo, Jaco, Manuel Antonio) to small fishing towns offering hostels and cozy bed and breakfasts (Esterillos, Quepos, Montezuma). The roads are better paved and marked, but this isn’t to say that there isn’t nature and adventure to be had — the Pacific Coast boasts half a dozen national parks along its shores. Those looking for high-end lodging and upscale dining will be more than thrilled with their options here, but the overdeveloped beach towns and tourist prices can be a bit much for travelers seeking a more rustic getaway.

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