Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region is known for its sunny weather, calm waters and laid-back vibe. Nestled into this natural wonderland is Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica. It’s a worthy destination if you want to check off “visit a beautiful beach” from your list of essential Central American experiences. Read on to find everything you need to know to add this low-key jewel to your itinerary.
Where is Ocotal Beach, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica?
Playa Ocotal—Ocotal Beach in English—is located in Guanacaste, a semi-arid region in Costa Rica’s northwest. The beach comprises one of many coves lining the irregular coastline of the Gulf of Papagayo.
Things to do in Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica
Head to the beach
If you’ve made your way to Ocotal, Costa Rica, chances are you came looking for a beach.
Fortunately for you, you’ve found a good one. Boasting dark, volcanic sand and tucked away in a picturesque cove, Ocotal Beach is a lovely spot for some fun in the sun.
Best of all, its laid-back atmosphere means you won’t be battling crowds, noise or waves as you take in the scene of vivid blue water framed by the muted earth tones of the surrounding hills.
Playa Ocotal is known for its calm waters, which means ocean kayaking is an option even for beginners. This is a healthy way to take in some exercise and the scenery by making your way around the cove.
The clear, calm water means favorable conditions and good visibility if you’re looking to catch a glimpse of Playa Ocotal’s underwater wonders.
Pro tip: The right side of the beach is considered the best for snorkeling, with a rocky coastline that provides lots of nooks and crannies for colorful tropical fish.
Go scuba diving
Certified divers will find world-class diving in the vicinity of Ocotal, Costa Rica.
The best dive sites in the area are the Catalina Islands. These uninhabited islands, just off the coast, offer a good chance of diving with exciting giants like manta rays, turtles, and sharks.
Take a guided tour
As a region that hosts a lot of tourists, a wide range of guided tours are available to guests staying in Playa Ocotal, Guanacaste. Whether it’s a whitewater rafting excursion, a trip to a waterfall or an adventure at sea, you’ll find guided activities to accommodate all tastes and budgets.
Day trips from Playa Ocotal
As great as Playa Ocotal is, it’s not the only place worth seeing in Guanacaste. Plenty of lesser-known gems are available if you’re willing to go out and explore.
Go beach hopping
If the beach at Playa Ocotal isn’t enough to satisfy your cravings, there are several other beautiful beaches nearby that make easy day trips. If you rent your own car, you’ll have the option of following the coast to go beach-hopping at your leisure.
Playa del Coco
Located just 3 kilometers away (1.8 miles), the tourist town of Playa del Coco offers you yet another beach to sample and a whole lot more dining options. Unfortunately, the waters framed by the dark sand beach don’t quite match the clear waters of Playa Ocotal. Still, this spot boasts some mind-blowing sunset views and far more activity after dark.
At less than a twenty-minute drive northeast along the coast, it won’t take long to get to Playa Hermosa or see why this stretch of sand is named Beautiful Beach. This has been a well-established tourist destination for years, with numerous accommodations to match.
For a great view of the beach and bay, take a ride or hike up to the Mirador Playa Hermosa (Playa Hermosa lookout) for that post-worthy picture.
An hour and a half drive south along the coast, Tamarindo and its namesake beach is another popular destination in the Guanacaste area.
Known for its excellent waves, surfers flock to this fun tourist town which also serves as a hub for all sorts of regional activities.
If you’re looking for a bit of nightlife and dining, Tamarindo is a happening spot.
Visit the National Parks
Costa Rica’s national parks are world-renowned. Within easy striking distance from Playa Ocotal, a number of these natural jewels can be explored on a day trip.
Rincon de la Vieja
Approximately an hour and a half northeast of Playa Ocotal, Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a diverse habitat that is part of the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The primary feature is the Rincon Volcano. But all around it are verdant jungles teeming with wildlife and tropical plants just waiting to be explored.
You’ll be able to observe various species of monkeys, go horseback riding, soak in natural thermal springs or treat your skin with a volcanic mud bath. No doubt, this is a highlight of the region and should be high on your itinerary.
Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde National Park is home to one of the last remaining areas of tropical dry forest on the planet. And since it’s only about an hour and a half from Playa Ocotal and an hour south of Liberia, it’s an easy day trip.
Inside the park, you can take a ride on the Tempisque River for an up-close look at the largest concentration of crocodiles in the country. You’re also likely to see howler monkeys, white-tailed deer and a host of other birds.
Santa Rosa National Park
Located over an hour north of Playa Ocotal, Santa Rosa National Park blends conservation and history in one destination.
Nature lovers will love it for the excellent wildlife viewing opportunities and gorgeous coastline.
History buffs will relish the setting of the final clash that ended William Walker’s effort to turn Costa Rica into a slave territory in the 19th century.
Where to eat in Playa Ocotal
Though there aren’t a whole lot of restaurants in Playa Ocotal, the most famous and popular by far is a local landmark called Father Rooster. This beachfront eatery offers simple fare: burgers, wraps and seafood specialties, along with all the usual cocktails you’d expect from a restaurant on the beach.
With high reviews and a long history, Father Rooster is the place to eat in Playa Ocotal.
Where to stay in Playa Ocotal
At Playa Ocotal, you essentially have two lodging options—hotels or rental villas. Factoring in your budget, comfort level, and the size of your travel group, you’ll have several candidates to choose from, whichever option you choose.
When it comes to standard hotels, there are several mid-range properties quite near the beach with amenities such as swimming pools and wi-fi.
There is only one high-end, all-inclusive resort in the area. Other properties are smaller, but up to international standards, so you can relax comfortably at a decent value.
Villas and Long-Term Rentals
Renting a villa is a luxe way to enjoy Playa Ocotal with an additional level of privacy.
Several lovely villas dot the surrounding hillsides, many with beautiful terraces and private pools offering incredible views of the water.
If you’re looking to extend your stay, there are quite a few long-term rental properties with monthly rates that cost less than rent in most American, British and Australian cities. You might just be enticed to stay for good!
Playa Ocotal, Costa Rica, weather
With a drier climate than other parts of the country, Guanacaste offers the highest probability of enjoying a sunny day—or days!— at the beach. That means Playa Ocotal is a fantastic place to find those sunny days you’ve come looking for.
The dry season runs roughly between December and April, which means clear skies and warm temperatures.
The rainy season is from May through November, but Guanacaste is still the driest area in the country.
Packing list essentials for Playa Ocotal
Located well inside the tropics, there are some essential items to bring along so you can enjoy your vacation safely and comfortably.
- Heavy-duty sunscreen–don’t take for granted just how intense the sun can be.
- A sunhat with a wide brim–your ears and neck will thank you for it.
- Aloe vera–just in case you forget your hat and sunscreen.
- Multiple bathing suits for multiple days at the beach.
- Flip flops or sandals that can handle getting wet.
- Casual wear for your time away from the beach. No dressy clothes needed here!
- Sturdy, closed-toed shoes for hiking and other adventure activities.
- Bug spray for mosquitoes.
- Underwater camera, you know, for all the fish you’re going to see.
- Dry bag to take your stuff with you in the water.
- Lightweight backpack with lock for toting your valuables when not in the water
Playa Ocotal map
Check out this interactive map with all the hotspots in this blog. Playa Ocotal is only 30-ish minutes from the Liberia airport, so you could be sitting on the beach by sunset. Not a bad way to start your trip.
How to get to Playa Ocotal
To get to Playa Ocotal, you first must get to Costa Rica.
Fortunately, an international airport in the Guanacaste region is located in Liberia (airport code: LIR). The airport is a 30-35-minute drive (29 kilometers/18 miles) over well-paved roads to Playa Ocotal, so renting a four-wheel drive vehicle isn’t necessary.
If you’d rather skip the hassle of renting a vehicle, private shuttles are available from the airport in Liberia to Playa Ocotal.
Private or shared shuttles are also an option if you fly into the capital San Jose (SJO), and intend to transfer by land from San Jose to Playa Ocotal.
Keep in mind this isn’t the best option if you have limited time. With a distance of 235 kilometers (146 miles), you can count on at least a 5-hour drive one-way, all while leapfrogging traffic through winding mountain roads.
If natural beauty and relaxation are your ideal beach vacation, Playa Ocotal is the perfect choice when visiting Costa Rica.
Not only can you enjoy the relative peace and solitude of a laid-back beach destination, but you’re also centrally located to some really amazing soft adventure options when you’re looking to do something more than lazing in the sand.
For the best of both worlds, Playa Ocotal is your ideal base of operations for visiting Guanacaste.
At 29 kilometers/18 miles (a 30-35-minute drive), Liberia International Airport (LIR) is the closest airport.
Playa del Coco is 3 kilometers (1.8 miles) from Playa Ocotal and has many restaurants and bars.
Relatively speaking, Playa Ocotal is safe. However, take the usual precautions: don’t walk alone late at night, avoid wearing expensive jewelry or electronics, and always be alert in your surroundings.
Yes! With calm, clear water, Playa Ocotal is one of the better beaches for swimming and snorkeling in the area.