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The 1,016km of Pacific coastline in Costa Rica is infinitely varied as it twists and turns around gulfs, peninsulas and many small coves. Rugged, rocky headlands alternate with classic white and black sand beaches and palm trees to produce an image of a tropical paradise along some stretches.

Strong tidal action creates an excellent habitat for waterbirds as well as visually dramatic crashing surf (perfect for surfers). Inland, the landscapes of the Pacific lowlands are equally dynamic, ranging from dry deciduous forests and open cattle country in the north, to lush, magnificent tropical rainforests in the south. Monotonous in comparison, the Caribbean coastline runs a straight 212km along a low, flat plain that is inundated with brackish lagoons and waterlogged forests. A lack of strong tides allows plants to grow right over the water’s edge along coastal sloughs, creating walls of green vegetation.

Costa Rica has its fair share of Cancún-style party beaches, which attract lots of foreign tourists and an increasing number of resident expats. If you are not in the mood to get your drink on and dance in the sand until morning, Costa Rica is also home to plenty of wilderness beaches where you will only have to share your spot with a few passing hermit crabs.

Whether you are keen to body surf in the crashing spray, or just spend your days soaking up the rays, Costa Rica is a beach lover's dream.

Playa Tamarindo
Known in most circles as Playa Tamagringo, this increasingly wealthy and touristy beach destination is home to the country's hottest ocean-side night spots. Sure, Tamarindo is not the most authentic place in Costa Rica, but it can definitely be a lot of fun if you go with the right mindset.

Playa Negra
As its name implies, this much-loved beach near the reggae-fueled town of Cahuita is covered in dark black sand that shines on a sunny day. Although the sand can get warm around midday, you are never far from the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

Mal País and Santa Teresa
Hugging the tip of the Nicoya peninsula, these two beach towns are certainly not the easiest places to access. However, it is worth braving the bumpy roads and clouds of dust for the chance to surf along a pristine stretch of wilderness-backed beach.

Montezuma
Few destinations in Costa Rica attract as large a legion of devotees as Montezuma, which is a classic backpacker paradise at the southern end of the Nicoya peninsula. However, you will not feel like one of the masses as there are miles of empty wilderness beach to explore.

Playa Conchal
Arguably the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica, tiny yet never understated Conchal is covered in a fine sprinkling of crushed seashells edging crystalline water full of potential souvenirs.

Manzanillo
Literally at the end of the road on the Caribbean coast, this idyllic beach town fronts a postcard-perfect beach of powder white sand. Rent a pushbike from nearby Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and cycle until you hear the crashing surf.

© Lonely Planet. All rights reserved. The article ‘The best beaches in Costa Rica’ was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.

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