Samara Beach is a pristine, undiscovered gem in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province. With all the amenities of the bigger beach towns, it still has a great local vibe and small beach-town feel. It’s a secret spot where you can enjoy an authentic experience at three-mile long white sand beach while avoiding the crowded tourist towns along the coast.
With Costa Rica reopening to tourism, there’s never been a better time to visit. While Costa Rica is a well-known destination, most people have never heard of Samara. That’s a shame since Samara boasts an authentic town with delicious restaurants and trendy shops with the main downtown directly adjacent to a stunning beach. It’s a key spot for water sports like surfing and diving. Surrounding the town on land is tropical dry forest full of wildlife with the Werner-Sauter Biological Reserve and Belen Waterfall just minutes away.
There’s a virtual cornucopia of options in Samara and it’s already well on it’s way to becoming the next Tulum. That’s why we’ve put together this guide with key info you need to plan your visit and make the most of Samara Beach, Costa Rica when you’re there.
Coronavirus Entry Requirements
While many countries across Latin America are reopening for tourism, Costa Rica stands out for some of the easiest requirements in the world. After opening its borders, the country has no quarantine or testing requirement to enter. This applies to all countries as of November 1.
According to the US Embassy in Costa Rica, “U.S. citizens from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. can enter Costa Rica via air on flights departing from the United States.” What’s needed?
- Proof of a medical insurance policy that covers COVID-19. This can be certification from your international insurer or a local plan. The National Insurance Institute (INS) or Sagicor of Costa Rica are suggested by the US Embassy.
- Filling out an Online Health Pass (pase de salud) 48 hours prior to travel to Costa Rica.
Note that your visa-on-arrival length can be as long as 90 days but is limited to the validity of your travel insurance. In-country extensions are not allowed.
How to get to Samara Beach
The closest airport to Samara Beach is Liberia International Airport (LIR) which is located about two hours by car from Samara. Pandemic or not, service is returning to the airport.
Liberia Airport currently offers connections from five airlines in the US. American Airlines offers service to Miami (MIA) and Dallas (DFW), Alaska to Los Angeles (LAX), Delta to Atlanta (ATL), United to Houston (IAH), Newark (EWR), and Denver (DEN), and JetBlue to New York (JFK). Air Canada flies from Toronto (YYZ) Domestic flights are operated by Skyway to San Jose.
You can expect a taxi fare from the airport to Samara to start at around $50 USD. Like in most Latin American countries, be sure to agree on a fare before starting your ride or call an Uber. Buses are also available and significantly cheaper.
Another option is to fly into the capital at San Jose International Airport (SJO) which has more international connections. If you do that, you’re looking at a drive of roughly four hours to Samara or a bus ride of five hours.
The roads to and around Samara are reliable and shouldn’t be hard for experienced drivers to drive. There are rental options at both Liberia and San Jose airports as well as within Samara if you want a car to explore.
Things to Do Around Samara
Samara Beach (playa is, of course, Spanish for beach) is the primary and most popular in the area. The town is directly next to this beach. A reef off the coast gives it predictably calm water with a reef just offshore. There are plenty of restaurants, vendors, and stands to rent umbrellas and other amenities along the beach to live the pura vida.
Carillo Beach is the local beach near Samara. It’s also a great beach but it isn’t lined with restaurants and with the amenities at Samara Beach. That said, it boasts calm waters and soft beaches for swimming among the palm trees as well.
Playa Barrigona is a gorgeous secluded crescent shape a hefty drive away from the town of Samara. This beach is even more remote than Carillo. But it’s worth the visit: this is the location Mel Gibson chose to build his Costa Rica estate. There is no hotel or restaurant in sight! Want a little more adventure? It’s a 3 hour horseback tour from Samara town.
Winter is the best time to surf in Samara Beach but there are always good waves. And Samara Beach (and surrounding beaches) are perfect place for wave-seekers to learn and improve their surfing on closeouts. If you’re looking for a little help, there are many reputable surf instructors and guides to choose from. This is a great place to learn the ropes.
Other Samara Water Sports
There are plenty of other opportunities for sports in the water around Samara. You can take a paddleboard or kayak tour to Isla Chora. Or go diving or snorkeling in the surrounding beaches and check out a shipwreck. Isla Chora is also a prime location for snorkeling. Check out some local tour operators (like this one) for examples of activities on offer around Samara.
Related: 10 Best Winter Beaches
A horseback tour around Samara will let you experience Costa Rica’s beautiful environment, ocean views, and maybe even a sunset. Most operators take a route through the jungle where you can see Costa Rica’s fauna including birds, monkeys, and iguanas as well as flora. You’ll also get to see the landscape which includes beautiful beaches and panoramic ocean, mountain peaks, and more. Cost for tours are usually about $50 USD and will take you the morning or afternoon. Definitely a must-do!
Only about 20 minutes from Samara Town is the Belen Waterfall. It’s a small series of swimming holes and falls. It makes a simple day trip from the beach if you’re looking for a change of scenery. It’s common to see locals and tourists jumping into the falls and enjoying a refreshing swim. Of course, use your best judgement and be careful if you choose to actually jump into the swimming holes. It’s definitely not advisable if you don’t know what you’re doing!
Only 1,500 great green macaws are left in the wild. Meanwhile, the scarlet macaw once extinct in Guanacaste has been reintroduced to the ecosystem. The Macaw Recovery Network works to protect and recover these birds through their breeding and feeding programs and efforts to protect their habitat.
At the center, you’ll get to see birds that have been bred return to feed. It’s definitely worth driving out or booking a tour to Punta Islita to see these threatened species.
Playa Buena Vista and Turtle Reserve
This is yet another incredible beach but this one comes with a turtle reserve. The beach is a primary nesting site for three species of marine turtles that are in danger of extinction. The work on this reserve is critical to conservation efforts! Luckily for visitors to Samara, this beach is close enough to visit.
Werner-Sauter Biological Reserve
Formerly a family farm, the Werner-Sauter Biological Reserve is a nearly 350 acre private reserve located near Samara. It protects one of Central America’s most vulnerable yet important ecosystems. Here you can experience the tropical dry forest of Guanacaste in its native glory along with its wildlife which includes howler monkeys, deer, and parrots. The best way to escape the crows and enjoy this reserve is to book a hiking tour of the reserve with a guide. The 2.5 hour tour costs $39 and includes round-trip transport from your hotel in Samara.
Where to Stay in Samara
None of the major hotel chains have an outpost in Samara Beach so your choices are limited to independent, boutique hotels for accommodation. Luckily, there are great options!
This three-star hotel features an outdoor pool, garden, and on-site bar. It has one of the highest overall ratings on Booking.com (9.5) and its convenient location in the center of town means you have easy access to all the attraction.
Located just 100 meters from the beach, this hotel is located next to Samara Beach. Carillo beach is just a seven-minute walk away. With just 12 rooms, you’ll be sure to enjoy personal service during your stay.
A boutique hotel located 10 minutes away from the beach. Owned by a German couple who settled down here for pura vida, it’s adults-only so you can count on some peace and quiet. Wake up to wild monkeys howling while enjoying the pool surrounded by a tropical garden.
Hotel Leyenda is located on a hill near Carillo Beach. Although this four-star property isn’t on the beach, it still offers dedicated beach service with showers, beach towels, chairs, beds, and service from its restaurant on the beach. If you want to stay in the property, Leyenda has gardens, a restaurant, bar, and beautiful pools.
This hotel is located on Izquierda Beach and near the Playa Buenavista Turtle Reserve. The houses and studios are set up so each of them overlooks the pool and gardens and have private terraces. One even comes with a private pool!
Located on Samara Beach, this is a budget option just steps from the beach. A family run lodge, you’re likely to meet the couple who owns it and their daughter on site. A buffet-style breakfast is served every morning.
Gorgeous four-star hotel boasting an outdoor pool with cabanas and beds for sunbathing. Nammbu describes their view as “majestic” and that might just be an understatement. The hotel also features a restaurant, a fitness center, and bar. Every room comes with a private balcony and Carrillo Beach is just a short walk away.
A small hotel located half a mile from the beach on a hillside with views of Samara Bay and a small pool. The four-star property offers daily yoga and massages by appointment on premises.
Samara is one of the most spectacular and safest beaches in all of Costa Rica. As you’re planning your trip to the Nicoya Peninsula, use our tips to make the most of your trip to this little piece of paradise.
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