Playa Manzanillo, Costa Rica: Guide to Both Beaches

If dreamy beach towns are at the top of your travel bucket list, look no further than Playa Manzanillo, Costa Rica. In fact, the country is so blessed with beautiful coastal towns that there are actually two Playa Manzanillos, one on the Caribbean Sea and one on the Pacific Ocean. 

Costa Ricans love to confuse travelers, and naming two or even three towns the same is quite common. But, hey–when you find a name you love, why not stick to it?

In this article, you’ll learn about both charming beaches. 

The one on the Caribbean is referred to as Playa Manzanillo or Manzanillo in Limón or on the Caribbean. 

The other Playa Manzanillo is Pacific Manzanillo or Manzanillo in Puntarenas. 

Hopefully, this minimizes the confusion!

Manzanillo Beach, Costa Rica (Limon)

Couple talking under palm on Playa Manzanillo

You’ll find Playa Manzanillo at the very end of the road along Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. This small fishing village is a magical spot to experience beautiful beaches, excellent snorkeling, and fantastic hiking. 

There is something poetic about reaching the end of the road, and the town of Manzanillo is equally charming and exciting. The vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture and the stunning beach just inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge offer tourists a unique glimpse of life in the southern part of the country. 

Playa Manzanillo, Limon, Costa Rica, is an absolute must on any Central American itinerary. It is home to the most picturesque beaches in the entire country. The stunning stretch of golden sand, swaying palm trees, and sparkling azure water is enough to draw every beach over for miles. 

The Pacific Coast Manzanillo, Costa Rica

sunset on Playa Manzanillo in Costa Rica

Pacific Manzanillo is located along the Nicoya Peninsula, smack dab between Playa Santa Teresa and Coyote Beach. 

This beach isn’t quite as popular with tourists compared to Santa Teresa or Tamarindo, but it is a great place to check out, especially if you enjoy snorkeling and scuba diving. 

The beach is beautiful, with warm sandy shores, sparkling blue waters, and gorgeous green vegetation providing a picture-perfect backdrop. It is also an excellent place to swim during high tide. 

Be careful, though! There are plenty of rocks and coral reefs that make it dangerous during low tide. 

Things to do in Playa Manzanillo, Limon

Head to the beach

girl sitting on palm tree in Playa Manzanillo Costa Rica

Unsurprisingly, hanging out at Manzanillo Beach, Limon, Costa Rica, is the top thing to do. So bring a book and enjoy a day of rest and relaxation. 

The serene coastline hasn’t been ruined by development, and this spot hasn’t been discovered by flocks of tourists—yet. 

Get here soon to enjoy the picture-perfect beach dotted with almond trees and palms set against beautiful golden sand and sparkling cerulean waters. 

The surf here is calm due to a rock jetty just off the coast, which keeps larger waves from crashing into the shores. Therefore, it is a great place to swim so long as you pay attention to the currents. 

Because of its location inside the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, the beach is protected, and the coastline pristine. As a result, the sea is packed with fantastic coral reefs, home to plenty of marine life. This makes Playa Manzanillo a great place to snorkel.  

Make sure you stay for sunset. They are among the most impressive in the entire region.

Because Manzanillo isn’t as developed as other beaches in the area, there aren’t a ton of amenities to choose from. However, this is what makes it so special. You will feel like you have a private beach right in the Caribbean! 

There are some food vendors, though, and the town of Manzanillo isn’t far from the beach. 

Enjoy Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge 


Playa Manzanillo Costa Rica coastline from drone

You can’t come to Playa Manzanillo and not visit the Wildlife Refuge. This fantastic protected area of land encompasses 15 km (5.8 miles) of beach, including Manzanillo.

Established in 1985, this area protects the region’s endangered flora and fauna. Gandoca-Manzanillo (also called the Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge) stretches all the way from town down to the border of Panama. 

In addition to the beaches, it is also home to lush primary rainforests, which provide a beautiful backdrop to the sea.

The refuge has about five square kilometers (two square miles) of protected waters. The idyllic sandy beaches and the impressive coral reefs are every sun worshipper’s dream. 

This is the perfect place to snorkel and scuba dive if you are interested in checking out the surreal underwater world in the Caribbean. You can hire a guide, go on a tour, or explore on your own. Be sure to talk with the locals about keeping the reef safe and protected.

Additionally, the Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge is home to many threatened and endangered marine species. You’ll find manatees and loggerhead, leatherback, and hawksbill turtles here. What’s even more remarkable is that turtles come to the shores of Manzanillo to lay their eggs year after year. 

Pro tip: If you are interested in seeing the leatherback turtles nest while in Manzanillo, plan your trip between February and May. This is when you’ll have the best chance of seeing these majestic creatures in action. You should also note that you must be accompanied by a local guide to access the beach at night during the nesting season.


waves hitting rocks

While you’re here, head to the Punta Manzanillo viewpoint. 

This is one of several trails in the Gandoca Wildlife Refuge and the perfect place to snap stunning shots of the coastline and the impressive waves crashing into the rocky outcroppings.

If hiking is your thing, check out the rest of the trails in Gandoca. A coastal trail starts in Manzanillo and stretches 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles) to Punta Mona. There is also a shorter, one-kilometer (.6 miles) trail that will lead you to a gorgeous viewpoint if 5.5 km is too daunting. 

Gandoca has other trails of varying lengths, all leading to different parts of the park. Don’t forget your bathing suit so you can pop into the many beaches along the way!

Check out Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

smiling baby sloth

Planning to spend a few days in Manzanillo? Add Puerto Viejo to your list. It is only 13.3 kilometers (8 miles) north of the beach and is definitely worth a visit. A short 25-minute drive will land you in a charming Afro-Caribbean town. 

Here, you can check out Salsa Brava, one of the most famous surfing spots in Costa Rica. 

You can also visit Playa Negra and enjoy one of the region’s black-sand beaches.

The Jaguar Rescue Center is home to ill, injured, and orphaned animals. The foundation does a great job of rehabilitating and caring for them, hoping they can be released back into the wild. Hire a guide to do an organized tour and learn more about the animals and the center. 

You can also spend a morning hiking in the Cahuita National Park. Located just north of Puerto Viejo, it is possible to access several different trails and enjoy some time exercising in nature.

Beach Hop

drone view of beaches along Playa Manzanillo Costa Rica

One of the best things about Playa Manzanillo’s location is its beach-hop ability.

Playa ChiquitaPunta Cocles, and Punta Uva are all very close (think a 15-minute drive or less) to Playa Manzanillo, and you can quickly go from one beach to the next if you have a car.

These beaches are known for great surfing, so plan to rent a board and hit the waves. 

If you’re a beginner, Punta Uva is a great spot to take lessons. Plenty of surf shops along the coast offer rentals and classes.

Go white water rafting

Another option for spending time on the water is to go white water rafting down the Pacuare River. You can book a day trip out of Puerto Viejo or arrange a multi-day tour to keep the adventure seekers in your group happy. 

Chase the BriBri Waterfalls

Bribri waterfalls in Costa Rica

Head into the jungle to see the Bri Bri waterfalls. Located in the town of BriBri, 26.6 kilometers (~16.5 miles) west of Manzanillo, these impressive hidden waterfalls are the perfect place to spend an afternoon.  

Three waterfalls worth visiting are the Volio waterfall, Two Waters waterfall, and the Catarata Ma-Cu waterfall. Each is beautiful in its own unique way.

The gorgeous, lush jungle and stunning scenery are reasons to enjoy the three hidden falls. 

However, the town is home to the largest group of indigenous people in Costa Rica! Book a tour to learn about the fascinating BriBri culture. It’s a great way to help support and learn about the indigenous community. 

Go on a chocolate tour

person pouring chocolate into cups

Cacao is very important to the native people of Costa Rica. It is also one of their most delicious exports! Several tours leave the Playa Manzanillo area and will educate you on chocolate production. 

Each tour is different, but pretty much all of them will walk you through the planting and growing process all the way down to consuming this delectable crop!

Things to do in Pacific Manzanillo

If you plan to be on the Pacific side of the country, don’t worry. Playa Manzanillo, Puntarenas, Costa Rica, rivals the other Playa Manzanillo. 

Go to the beach

sunset on rocky shore of Playa Manzanillo Costa Rica

Stunning white sand beaches, sparkling azure waters, and lots of sunshine are what you’ll find here. 

Playa Manzanillo is a great spot to lay out in the sun, splash around in the surf, and enjoy lots of marine life. 

The best thing about this beach is that it is still a hidden gem. Tourists typically head to other beaches, leaving Manzanillo in peace and quiet. However, Playa Manzanillo, Santa Teresa, and Playa Coyote are all great places to visit.

You should note that you’ll want to swim during high tide. During low tide, the rocks and coral reefs make walking out to enjoy the water a bit more challenging. Pack your water shoes to avoid cutting your feet!

Walk along the coast

rocky coastline of Playa Manzanillo Costa Rica

Manzanillo Beach is the perfect starting point if you’re interested in walking along the coast. Hiking along the beach is a great way to spend a morning before the intense heat of the day forces you into the cool water.

Start in Manzanillo and head to Playa Coyote. This is a popular destination because the moderate, four-hour hike allows visitors to take in the gorgeous Pacific coast and marvel at the untouched, natural beaches. 

Manzanillo also hosts an annual sand castle contest every March. Competitors work in teams to create impressive works of art. Then, once the tide washes everything away, the crowd celebrates with a few cervezas and festive music. Trust me–you don’t want to miss this!

Weather in Playa Manzanillo

bright orange sunset in Costa Rica

Weather in Playa Manzanillo, Limón Province

Luckily, the temperatures in Manzanillo Beach, Costa Rica, tend to hover right around 30℃ (~89℉) all year round. 

However, it rains a lot along the Caribbean Coast. You may find that it rains every day, but it usually doesn’t last long. So, if lounging by the sea is your number one priority, you should plan to visit between January and April or September and October. These are the driest months in the region. 

December is the wettest month of the year, and it rains every day for at least an hour or so. 

If you are looking for a peaceful beach day, avoid Manzanillo Beach during the local holidays. Ticos, as Costa Ricans are called, tend to flock to the beach whenever they have time off (who wouldn’t?), so your little slice of quiet paradise may vanish with the crowds. 

Weather in Playa Manzanillo, Puntarenas Province

You can plan a trip to Pacific Manzanillo pretty much any time of year. 

With the exception of October, when the rains are the heaviest, there is no bad time to head to the Nicoya Peninsula.

Dry season runs from December until April; you can expect days of radiant sunlight and warm temperatures. In fact, temperatures typically fluctuate between 29℃ (82℉) during the day and 24℃ (75℉) in the evenings. 

Just keep in mind that December and April will be pretty crowded due to the holidays. 

After Easter and through August is a great time to visit because it is the region’s Green Season. This is when the rains begin, and the landscape turns from dry brown to verdant green as far as your eyes can see. 

Costa Rican tourism promotes travel during this time because it isn’t as busy, the country looks incredibly lush, and the temperatures are pleasant all day long. 

You’ll see that there isn’t much of a temperature change during the rainy season, and muggy 27℃ (82℉) days are the norm. Evening temperatures continue to hover around 24℃ (75℉).

As an added bonus, you’ll be treated with lower rates on accommodation and jaw-dropping multi-colored sunsets each evening. 

Most days, you’ll find that it only rains in the late afternoon and early evening for an hour or two, so there is still plenty of time to hit the beach.

The rainiest months are September and October, with October seeing rain almost every single day. 

Packing list essentials for Playa Manzanillo

massive rocks covered in trees on the beach

When planning your ultimate trip to Manzanillo, you’ll want to be prepared with all the necessities. Plan to pack the following:

  • Bathing suits
  • Sunscreen
  • Strong bug repellent
  • Good walking/hiking shoes
  • Waterproof bag
  • Sunglasses
  • Sand resistant towel
  • Beach mat
  • Waterproof shoes
  • A good book
  • Camera

If you are headed to the Caribbean Manzanillo, add light rain gear to your bag. It rains here more frequently than in the Pacific Manzanillo. 

Map of both Playa Manzanillos

We know how confusing the whole thing is with two beaches of the same name. So, we made an interactive map to help sort it out.

How to get to Playa Manzanillo (Limon)

From Limon

small house in the jungle of Costa Rica

Caribbean Playa Manzanillo is near Limón, Costa Rica, the best place to fly in as it offers several domestic and international flights daily. The airport is 68 km (42 miles) away, and there are shuttles you can book to take you directly to the beach. 

If you plan on bouncing around the different beaches and towns, you should rent a car. Many tours and activities are based out of Puerto Viejo, and it may be easier to drive the 13 km (8 miles) north. It is also easier to take a bus from Puerto Viejo to other destinations in Costa Rica.

From San Jose

If renting a car and driving in a foreign country isn’t for you, don’t stress! You can also fly into Juan Santamaria International Airport in the capital. You can grab a seat on a shared mini-bus from San José to Playa Manzanillo, Limón. The ride takes about five hours, and you’ll be treated to a scenic journey along the way!

Already visiting the sites in Costa Rica? Great! There are a few options to help you make your way to Playa Manzanillo. 

From Arenal

If you are coming from the Arenal Volcano or the surrounding cloud forest, you can take a bus or a minivan from La Fortuna to Manzanillo. This will take you about five-six hours.

From Bocas del Toro

You can also get a bus + ferry combo from Bocas del Toro in Panama. Playa Manzanillo is quite close to the Panama border, so this trip will only take three and a half hours. However, it will involve a border crossing. Be sure your passport allows you to travel to Panama and Costa Rica visa-free (or prepare two separate visas).

Speaking of Panama, if you are up for seeing two countries on the same trip, you can actually fly into Cap Manuel Niño International Airport. This is actually the closest airport and is only 25 km (15 miles) away!

Pro tip: Panama’s time zone is one hour ahead of Costa Rica. Once you cross the border, adjust your watch.

How to get to Playa Manzanillo, Puntarenas Province 

palms along the shore of Playa Manzanillo Costa Rica

If you plan to spend your holiday at the other Manzanillo beach, you’ll need to head towards the Nicoya Peninsula. 

From San Jose

If this is your first stop, you can fly into Juan Santamaria International Airport in Costa Rica’s capital. It is easy to get from San José to Manzanillo via minivan. The ride is about six hours long.

From Santa Teresa

Playa Manzanillo is only a fifteen-minute drive north of Santa Teresa, along the Pacific Coast. The best way to get between these two towns is by driving. It is only 10 km (6 miles), and the roads are easy to navigate. You can even arrange a taxi to take you from Manzanillo to Santa Teresa Beach for the day.

Can’t decide which Playa Manzanillo to visit? Why not try both? 

Check out all our routes in Costa Rica so you can plan where to travel next.


Is Playa Manzanillo Safe?

Unfortunately, the Caribbean Manzanillo has had a reputation for pickpocketing and petty crime, but with more tourism, it’s happening less and less. It is always a good idea to keep a vigilant eye on your belongings and avoid hiking alone. Pickpocketing also occurs in the Pacific Manzanillo. 

What is the closest town to Playa Manzanillo?

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is the closest large town to Manzanillo in the Caribbean. Santiago is the closest town to the Pacific Manzanillo. 

What is the closest airport to Playa Manzanillo?

Cap Manuel Niño International Airport in Panama is closest to the Caribbean Manzanillo. This airport is 25 km (15 miles) away. Or you can fly into Limón International Airport, 68 km (42 miles) from Manzanillo. Tambor Airport is the closest to Pacific Playa Manzanillo. It is 28 km (17 miles) east of the beach. 

Can you swim at Playa Manzanillo?

Yes–but be sure to pay attention to the ocean conditions. The Caribbean Manzanillo has great areas for swimming. The Pacific side can be a bit rough, so exercise caution, especially if you are traveling with children or are not an experienced swimmer.

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