Samara Costa Rica: By Far the Best (Off-the-Beaten-Path) Beach
The little town of Samara, Costa Rica, could be one of the country’s best kept secrets when it comes to vacation and expat destinations. Located on the western shore of the Nicoya Peninsula, Samara Beach is frequented by foreign tourists as well as native Costa Ricans looking for a weekend getaway. In fact, it’s a popular place for many wealthy “Ticos” to own a second home.
Although it has a healthy number of expats and foreign residents, many who own or operate tourism enterprises, Samara maintains a distinctly Costa Rican feel. Its 1500 full-time residents include mainly locals who work as farmers and fishermen.
Due to the quality of its beaches, Samara has long been a priority in the country’s efforts to increase tourism. It also helps that the town is accessible from three of Costa Rica’s four international airports. As a result, it began receiving government funding for infrastructure improvements long before popular favorites like Nosara and Guiones.
So, while, the last leg of the trip into Samara traverses some narrow, winding mountain roads, they are reasonably drivable. And they also offer some amazing views of the lush hillsides that abound in the region.
Samara, Costa Rica, has everything you need and nothing you don’t.
What awaits you when you reach Samara is really only one small road that runs perpendicular to the coast and dead ends at the edge of the pristine white sand beach. Along the road are a few handfuls of hotels, restaurants, and other businesses. Along the beach are a few more hotels and authentic feet-in-the-sand beach lounges and cafes.
There is a variety of lodging options ranging from inexpensive hostels (dorm-style or private rooms) to mid-range hotels, and they’re all small. There are no multi-story hotel complexes or all-inclusive resorts, so if that’s what you’re after you’ll want to go someplace else.
Restaurants serve all manner of cuisines such as Mexican, Spanish, and Thai. There are also plenty of options for special diets, with some restaurants specializing in vegetarian, vegan, and all-organic dishes.
Also present in the small village are banks, car rentals, supermarkets, and plenty of tour companies. And it’s all within walking distance, so you won’t need a car to get around town while you’re there.
Samara’s beach is award-winning.
Let’s be up front here. Samara is not actually the best beach in Central America. It’s the second best. Or so it was named in TripAdvisor’s most recent Travelers’ Choice poll. And it is breathtaking.
Samara is situated on a wide bay that’s shaped like a horseshoe. Out to sea lies a living coral reef, so the surf in Samara is gentle enough for relaxation but strong enough for some comfortable surfing. The water is also shallow, offering plenty of room for exploring. It’s populated with swimmers and surfers, and it’s great for kids.
The beach is wide, with white sand and an abundance of shady palms, and it stretches for over 3 miles. Because of the town’s size compared with its large expanse of sand, the beach always feels fairly empty.
The coast is dotted with cliffs and covered in tropical plant life. So, not only is the view to sea a spectacular one, but you’ll also love the view looking back towards the shore. The buildings are all small and blend effortlessly into the lush jungle, instead of standing out in stark contrast like a string of high-rise condos.
Samara Beach is also one of the cleanest in Costa Rica. It’s been awarded the ecological Blue Flag, which is bestowed on beaches that have taken measures to improve the safety and sanitary conditions of its water.
Samara offers endless opportunities for adventure.
In terms of land and sea adventure and exploration, Samara, Costa Rica, offers all the usual suspects. The shallow water makes for some great snorkeling, particularly in Cangrejal at the northern end of the bay where the reef comes all the way up to the beach. You can see starfish, manta rays, and a variety of colorful marine life.
At the opposite end of the reef is the island of Isla Chora, with its pink sand beaches, which is home to a wildlife reserve full of an assortment of maritime birds. You can reach the island by sea kayak, another popular activity in Samara. You can also take a kayak tour of the mangrove forests at the river estuaries of the Rio Buenavista or Rio Ora.
You can also try one of Samara’s most popular new sports, SUP. That’s short for Stand Up Paddle, and it’s exactly what it sounds like. You stand up on a large board, like a surfboard, and paddle! The conditions in Samara’s waters are very conducive to this activity.
Samara is also a great place for beginning surfers, and there are a number of professionals who offer lessons. Its waves are still high enough to entertain those with more experience, but if you need more of a challenge there are some bigger waves at Playa Camaronal, which lies a short distance south of town.
Costa Rica has some of the world’s best sport fishing, and the nearby port of Carrillo offers professional tours. In the area you can catch tuna, sailfish, marlin, and mahi mahi to name a few. There are also companies that offer boat tours where you can see dolphins and sea turtles and enjoy some great views of Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
Samara also offers a number of activities for the land lover. You can ride horseback on the beach or to the Tobacco waterfalls. There are also canopy tours in Santo Domingo, which is just inland from Samara. You can also rent a bike or scooter and venture to some of the nearby beaches, like picturesque Carrillo.
If you’re looking for animals, there are plenty to see in and around Samara. However it’s difficult to find them in the wild. Nearby Carrillo also has an animal rescue center and gardens called La Selva. There they offer guided tours where you can see sloths, wildcats, cocodrilos, exotic birds, and more. The area also has a number of species of exotic plants, and there are a number of nature trails for hiking. There are also a few ancient Indian sites nearby.
For a little bit of culture, you can visit Samara’s lone art gallery, which has its own resident artist. There are also places where you can take Spanish, guitar, or dancing lessons. If you want to get in some exercise during your stay, you can sign up for aerobics or yoga. Samara can also accommodate you if you’re looking for a gym, spa, or even tennis courts.
You’ll come for the beach, but you’ll fall in love with the vibe.
Although it offers all the activities and amenities you’d expect to find in a tourist destination, the atmosphere in Samara, Costa Rica, is refreshingly different. There are a lot of laid-back beach towns in Latin America, but something just feels different about this one. Samara has developed a lot in recent years, but not so much that everyone there has forgotten what it was like before paved roads and reliable electricity.
Not to mention, it’s a working fishing village, and it’s bordered by farms. Not many beaches can boast of cowboys and cattle drives, but this one can. Combine that with fishing boats returning each evening with their catches, exotic fruit harvests, reforestation projects, and many other activities vital to Samara’s sustenance. This town has a lot going on! And it isn’t all about the tourism. It’s a much more authentic feel.
Add to that the fact that there are no chain hotels or restaurants. No thumping disco clubs. None of the gimmicks you find in a lot of beach towns.
Even the expats and tourists who come to Samara seem different. It’s not the same ancient hippie, retiree crowd. The folks coming to Samara are generally younger couples who are looking to avoid all of that.
And so far they’ve been successful. As of the moment, Samara, Costa Rica has not been plagued with all of the overcrowding, over-partying, and over-commercializing that many beach towns of its caliber have seen. We’re not sure why, but we hope it’s because the town has done a good job of attracting the right kind of tourists and residents, those who want to enjoy it for what it is.
It’s also possible that not enough word has gotten out about Samara to attract the number of people that some of its neighbors are drawing in. However, if the accolades continue to roll in, that’s sure to change. So, it’s possible that Samara could be looking at an approaching boom.
Either way, we suggest you check out this gem sooner rather than later. Just please don’t tell too many people about it.
Map of Samara Costa Rica
Samara, Costa Rica Fast Facts
- Population: About 3,800
- Typical temperature: An average temperature of 85 degrees
- Nearest airport with U.S. flights: Liberia International Airport
- Nearest U.S. consulate: San Jose