Andy and I love finding places that are off-the-beaten-path even when we are visiting well-traveled areas. Our discovery of one of the hidden beaches in Costa Rica came the way they often do – a chance encounter with a honeymooning couple on the beach near where we were staying. Their tales of a beach, the clear water, and the friendly monkeys at Nacascolo completely captured our imaginations, and we were determined to investigate.
They did not exaggerate the place’s beauty, the “largely locals” feel, the crystal clear waters or exactly how inquisitive the monkeys would be. Though the fact that the monkeys seem to prefer Doritos to nearly everything else was a surprise.
From Playa Ocotal, we jumped in the rental car with Andy’s mom and made our way through Playa del Coco and onto 253. We had been warned the journey would take about 45 minutes, or so, and even with a couple of map checks, it was right on target.
This next part gets a little complicated.
You’ll see the signs for the Four Seasons, as well as for the beaches (follow those). You have almost finished your journey when you come to the roundabout. Follow the sign that reads “visitante playa.” It leads you into a large parking lot filled with the cars of beachgoers and many, many yellow school buses. You can also find bathrooms there and some assistance, if you speak Spanish.
From there, we climbed aboard the big yellow bus (it’s free to ride). It was filled with happy beachgoers, chatting in Spanish and wisely carrying coolers, beach chairs, towels and other beach gear. The mood was festive, even though our language skills didn’t really allow us to participate beyond the pleasantries.
The trip takes you down to the Nacascolo beach station. There is no parking near the beach, so this is the only practical way to get through the grounds and to the water. You’ll find yourself passing the manicured, rolling greens that are part of the Four Seasons’ golf course. You may even see yachts when the bus rises over the hill and provides a quick, stunning view of the marina.
Before you know it, you’ll find yourself at the station and at the walkway that takes you directly down to the beach. It’s important to note that these are the last official services provided for the beach. There is a small shop that sells snacks and the beach bathrooms.
We were already feeling pretty adventurous when we found the place, but it turned out the fun was just beginning. We had heard the stories about the animals, but I’m not sure we realized exactly how close they would be, or how quickly we would see them. But from the moment we stepped down the wooden walkway on our short trek to the beach, we began to notice the capuchin monkeys relaxing in the trees. Okay, maybe they weren’t so much relaxing as assessing what food people were bringing in with them.
As promised, the hidden beach was not crowded. Filled largely with locals, we found people grilling, relaxing and enjoying time with their families. Occasionally, you’d hear a dog and a monkey debating who would get the snacks (In Costa Rica, the monkeys always win).
The sand was clean with clumps of gnarled trees that actually provided a nice backrest and place to hang the beach bags. Many people stayed at the tree line to avoid the harshest hours of sun, but some ventured out onto the wide swath of sand.
The water was surprisingly calm – I say surprisingly because we had gotten knocked about quite a bit in the water near Playa Ocotal, but could easily walk into the water in Nacascolo. It was also mesmerizingly clear. Even when I waded into the waters up to my ribcage, I could still see my feet. Andy saw fish when he went in – he had heard they were puffer fish, but couldn’t swear to it.
Occasionally, a person would come by with a cart selling treats and ceviche. The smell of grilled fish was never far off, and the delighted shrieks of little kids testing the water for the first time made us smile. In short, if you want to experience the “Pura Vida” that they always talk about in reference to Costa Rica, head to the hidden beach at Nacascolo.
And the monkeys?
The longer we were there, the closer they got to the beach. It was lunchtime, and they had some pretty tasty options, I’m sure. We had heard they could be aggressive, and might even try to distract you as they stole stuff out of bags (including iPhones). We didn’t experience that. They were friendly. They did take food directly from everyone who offered – and almost everyone did. But it seemed more like “mutual fascination” than anything else.
Our last surprise came as the rain showers swept in, and we departed for the return bus. While we had started to see the monkeys as we walked down to the beach, the return trip passed numerous coatimundi. At first, we thought they were sloth, but these little ones are members of the raccoon family. Inquisitive creatures, they were also making their way toward the grills and the beach – though they did stop to pose for us.
Finding this beach was probably our favorite discovery of the trip, and we can highly recommend it for anyone who wants to experience a non-tourist beach in Guanacaste Province (or anyone who really loves monkeys and coati).
Many thanks to Anthony and Sarah, the honeymooning couple from Rhode Island, who gave us the tip about this spectacular hidden beach in Costa Rica!
[Hidden beaches in Costa Rica trip guides were originally written for the old Traveling Without A Net and have been updated here.]