Some of the most popular places to visit in/near Costa Rica are the beaches. To travel, I always took the public bus. Here is a list of the beaches I visited and what I thought about them!
This is a very touristy beach just about 2 hours away from San José. It was a popular first weekend destination. This beach ahs a big town and lots of souvenir shops. The beach itself is a bit rocky and not one of my favorites, but it is close and good place to learn to surf. This town also has a very busy night life- which can be fun, but also dangerous. Most students studying in San José will visit at least once.
This beach is about 15- 20 minutes away from Jacó, and a prettier beach. It still has all the restaurants and you can travel to Jacó for the evening if you would like to go out. The sand is black and very hot. The waves are more intense here, so it is typically recommended for more advanced surfers. You may even see a famous surfer or a surfing competition while you visit.
Manuel is actually a national park about 3.5 hours away from San José. The entire park is incredibly beautiful and has a $15 entrance fee. After you walk through the forest, you get to see two light sand beaches with warm water. Just make sure to beware of the monkeys! They will steal any food you bring, and possibly other items. You will also likely see sloths and other animals as you walk through the park. I took a tour when I went with my program, but you can also walk through on your own
This is also a national park about 5.5 hours away from San José. This park is on the Caribbean side, so the water is very clear and he sand is white. It was rainy when I visited, but it was clear that this beach was very clean and peaceful. The town of Cahuita is small, but cute. There are plenty of places to stay for under $40 a night (cheap when sharing a room with friends) and lots of restaurants to try.
Playa Red Frog (Panama)
This was probably my favorite beach, located on a small island off Bocas Del Toro in Panama. The trip to Panama was about 7 hours and then another hour to the water taxi that took us to our air bnb in Bocas. The beaches in this area were all white sand beaches with blue and clear waters. They are quite touristy, which means they have restaurants, bars, and activities on all of them. I got to go snorkeling off one of the islands and the water was very clear with lots of organisms to see. The water taxi rides to/from the different beaches were unique experiences of their own. Activities here were less expensive because the cost of living is less expensive in Panama. It’s a long trip, but I would recommend going!
This beach is about 4.5 hours from San José. It is located in the Guanacaste province and has light sand. The beach is big, the town is touristy, and there are many nice restaurants on the beach. When I was here, I went horseback riding and I rented an ATV with a friend. Many of the beach towns offer these options, and I liked being able to do touristy activities as well as just relaxing on the beach throughout my time abroad.
For the last weekend, I went with a group of friends to this beach, also located in the Guanacaste province and about 5.5 hours away. It was incredibly hot and humid here, but also beautiful. This was one of the prettiest beaches I saw and had many shells. It was difficult to get in the water at some points because of the large rocks. This town is one of the most touristy, which means there are lots of people trying to sell you things. That can be annoying or a good thing if you want some coconut water on the beach. Our air bnb was very nice and we had a great time here.