If you’re into surfing, sunsets, and solitude (who isn’t?), then Costa Rica is a must-visit destination. The problem is, with nearly 300 beaches lining the Central American country’s Pacific and Caribbean coasts, deciding where to stay and which beaches to visit can be a little overwhelming. We selflessly have researched many of Costa Rica’s beaches in order to create a list of our five favorites.

Playa Chiquita. We list this first because it is our definition of the perfect Costa Rican beach. It sits on the Caribbean side of the country, just southeast of the increasingly popular (but still largely undiscovered) Puerto Viejo de Talmanaca. Playa Chiquita is one of a handful of Blue Flag beaches—beaches that have been noted for local sustainable development—that dot this part of the country. When we visited, we walked for hours along Playa Chiquita and Playa Grande (another beach further down the coast), and encountered no more than 10 other people. 

Playa Grande. On the other side of the country, along Costa Rica’s more popular Pacific Coast, sits this stunner of a beach that is recognized as one of the best surf spots in the country. If you go, you’ll be visiting the home of the giant leatherback sea turtle—the largest turtle (and one of the largest living reptiles)—in the world, So be a good guest and remember your manners.

Viewfinder Tip: In Costa Rica, taking short flights is easier and often less expensive than renting a car. 

Playa Guiones. This largely undeveloped stretch of white sand beach also is on the Pacific Coast, and also is well-known for excellent surfing. On a recent visit, we pulled ourselves away from the Harmony Hotel to ride horses to see a rare pink sand beach. There are no paved roads to the area (steel yourself!), but the town of Nosara, which is just a few kilometers away from the beach itself, is a pretty adorable and relaxed expat enclave. Oh, and don’t miss the sunsets. This beach, like others on the Pacific side of the country, serves up excellent photo opportunities as the sun goes down.

Many of Costa Rica’s beaches are ideal for surfing

Playa Platanares. This beach is on Costa Rica’s verdant Osa Peninsula, near the little town of Puerto Jiménez. Visiting the beach takes a little extra planning—it is relatively remote—but is so worth the effort. You’ll find very few people, decent swimming, and easy access to the jungle. We recommend you stay at the comfortably rustic Iguana Lodge, which bumps right up against this idyllic strip of sand. 

Playa Montezuma. Make your way to the Southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula and you’ll find this great stretch of sand. Despite being one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations, Playa Montezuma has maintained an “off the beaten path” feeling. And if the scene at the charming backpacker/hippie town of Montezuma gets too busy for you, all you’ve got to do is walk—practically unoccupied beaches stretch on for miles.

What qualities characterize your ideal beach?