We wouldn’t quite call it a best-kept secret, but there’s definitely a little (or rather, a lot) something special about Playa Grande, Costa Rica.
Located just a river estuary north of Tamarindo – one of Guanacaste’s most popular and well-equipped beach towns – Playa Grande feels determinedly other. Quieter, calmer, and dedicated to the outdoor lifestyle, Playa Grande (note: both a beach and a town, as is so often the case here in Guanacaste!) is a sun-soaked, golden arc that curves up the coastline, stretching over tan sands and blue-to-aquamarine ocean waters.
Live here, and you’ll quickly learn that Playa Grande is renowned for two primary draws: The first is the beach’s consistently excellent surfing waves, catering to beginner, intermediate and advanced surfers. The second is Las Baulas National Marine Park, a beloved national park and crucial habitat for once-endangered, now vulnerable leatherback sea turtles.
That said, Playa Grande is also an incredible place to call home.
Welcome to Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Situated just north of Tamarindo and separated by an estuary, Playa Grande needs little introduction. Nestled within the protective embrace of Las Baulas National Marine Park, this beach and town serves ecological significance, as a leatherback nesting site, and has long remained a haven for surfers of varying expertise.
Playa Grande is also a cherished spot for beachgoers seeking tranquility to stroll, sunbathe, and build sandcastles. And that makes it a favorite for beach living.
Location + Charm
Nestled just across the estuary from Tamarindo, Playa Grande (GPS coordinates: 10.324460241019363, -85.8417823876363) is just 77 kilometers (48 miles) southwest of Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste province, and easily accessible from international Guanacaste Airport (LIR), also known as Daniel Oduber International Airport.
Playa Grande proudly carries the title of a Costa Rican OG – Original Guanacaste, that is! Embodying the authentic essence of our coastal region, the town boasts some of Guanacaste’s original oceanfront homes and surf casitas, designed to celebrate the laid-back lifestyle of sand-between-your-toes and surf-all-day. Amidst this coastal charm, a growing selection of new construction, often featuring breathtaking ocean views, adds to the allure of the community.
In Playa Grande, you can savor the tranquility of a beachfront haven while enjoying easy access to in-town amenities, delightful dining options, private schools, and a convenient drive to Tamarindo for a broader array of offerings. Experience the best of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in the original and welcoming enclave of Playa Grande.
Chill Vibes, Lifestyle Bliss
If we’re going for lifestyle shorthand, so to speak, Playa Grande be considered as Tamarindo’s more relaxed counterpart: even more laid-back, significantly quieter, and seemingly a world apart. It could be the ideal haven for those seeking a peaceful and serene lifestyle without sacrificing essential (or even desirable) conveniences.
Named after its stunning beach, the town itself is a wildlife sanctuary and a haven for surf and nature enthusiasts. And if it feels like we’ve already said that, let us be clear: It’s not as much about what you can do in Playa Grande, Costa Rica, as it is about what that means.
Because the town is 1) a protected land and marine park, to include mangrove forests and estuaries; 2) home to nesting sea turtles; and 3) a major draw for surfers, who often revere the ocean, it’s also an exceptional choice for those who cherish and respect nature.
At times, being in Playa Grande might make it challenging to believe that such natural wonders are in such close proximity to Tamarindo’s bustling city atmosphere and excellent amenities. For many, it’s a best-of-both-worlds scenario that skeptics claim doesn’t exist – yet here, it thrives. This unique combination is why so many people have fallen in love with life in Playa Grande. Might you be the next?
Life Hack: The Estuary Ferry
If you’re comfortable on foot and want to skip a drive, opt for the lancha or estuary ferry (approximately $1-$2) across the estuary. You’ll be in Tamarindo within minutes, free to explore the town’s dining, beaches, shopping, and other amenities.
Be aware that there are crocodiles in the river, which adds a touch of wild adventure to the journey. That said, crocs are not shy, so you should never cross the estuary on foot or by swimming.
Surfing at Playa Grande, Costa Rica
Surfers, take note! Playa Grande is world-renowned for its incredible surf, which caters primarily to intermediate and advanced skill levels; beginner waves are present, although you’ll want expert guidance in locating them on any given day.
It’s no surprise that local surfers are drawn to Playa Grande’s numerous surf points and breaks, making it a favored spot in the surfing community.
Spend a day here and the reason for this becomes immediately clear: When the swell hits, Playa Grande lives up to its name – “Grande” meaning big in Spanish. Waves become fast and powerful, forming left and right-hand tubes at various breaks along the beach. During substantial swells, surfers can ride the waves along the entire stretch. And even in the absence of a massive swell, the beach’s primary surf breaks continue to offer an enjoyable surfing experience.
When to Surf Playa Grande
Playa Grande, Costa Rica offers superb surf year-round. That said, the seasons do have their differences:
Running from December to April, the dry season at Playa Grande offers surfers a delightful combination of smaller swells and pristine waves. This period is ideal for those seeking sunny days, gentler surf, and a clean surfing experience. If you’re looking for a laid-back surf session amidst clear skies, the dry season is the perfect time to visit Playa Grande.
From May to November, the rainy season ushers in a different surfing experience at Playa Grande. During this period, waves tend to be more substantial, crowds are fewer, and swells become more frequent.
For adventurous surf enthusiasts willing to brave a bit of rain (as long as there’s no lightning), the rainy season provides an excellent opportunity to tackle bigger waves. This time is well-suited for surfers seeking a more challenging and dynamic experience on the waves, away from the typical dry season conditions.
Playa Grande Surf Breaks
It’s all one beach, but there are plenty of surf breaks to explore in Playa Grande, Costa Rica!
Playa Grande Main Break
Situated just south of the beach access point at Hotel Las Tortugas, the main break at Playa Grande is best described as thrilling.
This wave breaks both left and right, occasionally forming barrels depending on the tide. Known for its super-steep, fast, and heavy waves, this break is best suited for intermediate-to-advanced surfers and shortboards, especially for those sitting right at the peak. The wave breaks on a sandbar, requiring patience to catch the best waves. Keep in mind that the main break is heavily localized, with loyal locals, common drop-ins, and occasional drama adding to the excitement.
Named after the casitas, or rental houses along the beach (some, original to the area), Casitas offers a mixed experience, with a decently sized break on good days and smaller, beginner-friendly surf on calmer days.
Waves here cater to surfers of all levels, from beginners to advanced, and both longboarders and shortboarders. Longboarders often favor the Casitas point and/or break, as well as the area near the estuary/river mouth at the south end of the beach.
Palm Beach Estate Peaks
Adjacent to Playa Grande, Palm Beach Estates is an upscale neighborhood/gated community starting just south of the Main Break and extending to the estuary. While breaks are scattered along the beach when there’s a decent swell, they may not hold up as well as the main break or Casitas.
Las Baulas National Marine Park
Discover the wonders of Las Baulas National Marine. Spanning the beaches of Playa Grande, Playa Ventanas, and Playa Carbón, along with expansive mangrove forests, this park is a haven for the vulnerable/endangered leatherback turtle, and represents one of the world’s largest and most important nesting sites.
At a Glance:
Location: Playa Grande, north of Tamarindo
Area: 901 terrestrial acres, 54,000 marine acres
Hours: 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily
Telephone: 2653-0470 / 2653-2233
For nature enthusiasts, a Las Baulas turtle tour is a must, offering a unique opportunity to witness leatherback turtles – nature’s own gentle giants – either laying their eggs or hatching. (Note: Turtle nesting is a rare occurrence, so be sure to verify current conditions before booking a tour.)
Meet the Leatherback Turtle
Leatherback turtles, the world’s largest marine sea turtles and the fourth-largest reptiles globally, are often referred to as “Earth’s last dinosaur.” The species has survived for millions of years and today, these incredible reptiles can reach up to six feet in length and an impressive 1,500 pounds in weight.
At first glance, you’ll immediately notice the leatherback’s most standout feature: the absence of a traditional turtle shell, replaced by a leather-like outer layer of oily flesh and skin. This unique adaptation allows leatherbacks to dive deeper than any other air-breathing animal on Earth, reaching depths of 3,900 feet in a cold, dark sea with intense pressure.
Impressive and magnificent, Las Baulas Marine Park in Costa Rica provides an excellent opportunity to spot these remarkable creatures in their natural habitat.
Leatherback Nesting Season
While Las Baulas National Marine Park welcomes visitors year-round, nesting season from October through March offers the best chance to witness leatherbacks in action. Hatchlings emerge a few months later, extending through April and sometimes early May.
During nesting season, nightly turtle tours to Las Baulas are available. (Note: Tour availability may depend on turtle activity, local conditions, and other factors but are generally held every night.) Turtle tours provide a moving experience, although patience is key, as leatherbacks can be slow on land. Dark clothing is recommended to avoid disturbing nesting mothers.
Other Activities at Las Baulas National Marine Park
While turtle tours are a highlight, Las Baulas offers more than just that. As mentioned above, the beautiful and serene beaches of Playa Grande, Ventanas, and Carbón provide excellent surfing conditions, making Playa Grande ideal for beginning-to-intermediate surfers. Enjoy swimming, sunbathing, and beach walks, especially during the breathtaking sunset.
Considering a Move to Playa Grande, Costa Rica?
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