But if you have limited time I want to share my personal experience with each coast.
First off a little primer.
Costa Rica boasts a wide range of flora, fauna and geography.
By all means; see most of the country.
The Central Valley, the Pacific Coast, the Caribbean Coast, cloud forests, volcanoes, la selva….the place is magical.
The people are friendly. The food is hearty, satiating and damn tasty. The wildlife is among the most diverse and spot-worthy on earth. No joke; you are more likely to observe or live with wildlife in this land than anywhere in the world. Strict hunting rules and establishing a green, placid society makes for brilliant viewing.
Let’s dive into the coastal thing.
The Pacific Side
The Pacific side is my favorite coast in Costa Rica.
Coastal views vary as you make your way from the Osa Peninsula all the way up to Nicoya.
My favorite beaches:
- Playa Espadilla by Manuel Antonio
- Playa Potrero
- Playa Dominicalito
I am only including beaches I have visited. But all Pacific beaches seem to be gems.
On the whole, the Pacific coast is stunningly scenic, with classic, Instagram worthy shots begging for you to snap ’em. Toss in larger beaches for walking, running or just lazing and you have quite the experience waiting for you.
Jungles, cliffs, raw rugged nature; you are bound to see all manner of beach front topography and geography on the western side of Costa Rica.
The Pacific people are kind, easy-going and inviting. I speak Spanish but most Ticos on the Pacific side working anywhere around gringos speak English fluently.
The food is delightful. Meaty fare, no doubt, save casados vegetarianos. Sticks to your ribs. Fuels your next swim. Or surf.
The Pacific side is world renowned for surfing. If you wish to hang ten. Water sports abound on this coast too, from snorkeling to diving.
I enjoyed swimming on the Pac side too although I have always been beach-side during low season, so rough storms seemed to be whipping things up in the ocean.
My Verdict: A hearty thumbs up.
The Caribbean Side
The Caribbean coast side of Costa Rica is fascinating.
Make no mistake about it; this relatively undeveloped side of CR has a different feel than the Pacific side. A little rough around the edges, mysterious and definitely off the beaten path compared to most of the country.
The northern end of the Caribbean side hosts brilliant wildlife reserves in a tough to traverse, boating only, setting.
The southern end treats you to Puerto Viejo, the main tourist hub on the east side of CR.
The locals here are kind and pretty laid back, although a bit more demonstrative than the Pacific side crew.
I felt some remnants from the area’s checkered past, as this region was formerly an active drug running hub during the Cocaine Cowboy days of Columbia and Miami legend.
You still feel that presence – just a little bit – as even though trafficking has dropped dramatically, you are more likely to be offered your narcotic of choice (ok; just weed from what I was offered) in a place like Puerto Viejo.
The Caribbean coast is pretty, peaceful and quite easy on the eyes. Beaches are small compared to the Pacific side but you have the requisite coconut trees swaying in the breeze.
Like virtually everywhere in Costa Rica save the capital of San Jose, wildlife is abundant. Especially as you move a little inland. The jungles around Bribri – 15 minutes via bus from the Caribbean – was the location for our house sit. Yes, the sit where we saw a staggering amount of wildlife.
Puerto Viejo – the main east side tourist spot – is a backpacker town, through and through. Not really a family friendly place by any means, it is about bars, restaurants and hotels or hostels.
PV was nice in some ways but not my cup of tea. Overpriced hostels and food plus a bit of a charged energy from locals – a little sketchy feel to some of these folks – was not entirely up my alley.
As always though, this is my experience. Visit the place for yourself. See it. Feel it. You may love Puerto Viejo, as many tourists do.
The Verdict: Visit the Caribbean Coast but a week should do the trick.