The most gorgeous Central American beaches: 22 coastal getaways
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Being right in the Tropics, Central America is a region blessed with beautiful year-round sunshine that basks over its shores, making it packed with perfect beach holiday destinations. Both coasts of the region are lined with what could be considered contenders for the best Central American beaches, with the Caribbean coast being more white-sanded and turquoise-watered, and the Pacific holding some of the most epic surfing spots.
So, where can you find the very best Central American beaches, I hear you ask? I’m going to take you through all the best playas in the region!
After this post on the best Central American beaches, don’t miss out on these tips:
As travel in Central America is usually done quite fluidly between countries, to me it makes more sense to tell you about the best Central American beaches by coastline rather than by country, so this list will be split by those on the Caribbean side and those on the Pacific. I’m going to take you northward through the Pacific Central American beaches, then back down on the Caribbean side.
This is a collab blog post so that I can bring you information on some of the amazing Central American beaches that I may not have had the luck to go to myself, therefore you’ll be seeing a few other bloggers’ names and links in here!
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Best Central American beaches on the Pacific
Las Lajas, Panama
Shared by Claudia, My Adventures Across the World
Playa Las Lajas is one of the lesser known Central American beaches in Panama. While most travelers head straight to the Caribbean coast and crowd the islands of Bocas del Toro archipelago, or go sailing in San Blas, this long, sandy beach on the Pacific Coast is the ideal place to spend time completely away from the crowds, relaxing at the beach, biking and enjoying delicious fresh fish.
The beach is incredibly long, with fine brown sand. The water is actually very warm, thanks to various currents. As the sea can be rough, it’s not the best spot for swimming, but you can definitely enjoy getting in the water. As it’s facing west, this is an ideal place to catch a beautiful sunset.
Make sure to spend 3 full days in Las Lajas. It’s not the most happening place, but if you are in search of some peace you will definitely enjoy it.
Playa Las Lajas is located at around 400 km from the capital, Panama City. It takes about 5 hours to get there by bus. Buses will drop you off at the intersection on the highway, from where you can either catch a taxi to the small town, or one to the beach, where you will find a few places to stay – a run-down hostel, a couple of guest houses and cabanas, and a nicer resort with a pool, which is also the best place for food.
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
Shared by Samantha from Have Seat Will Travel
Three hours outside the capital city of San Jose, Manuel Antonio gives great laid back beach town vibes and is home to Manuel Antonio national park. Tucked away inside the national park you have to hike through the jungle full of howler monkeys, tropical birds, capuchin monkeys, turtles and sloths.
But after spotting all these incredible wild animals, you are greeted at the end with a pristine beach of soft sand, palm trees and a calm inlet for swimming. The water is warm and shallow enough for even novice swimmers to enjoy.
If you are the type of person who can’t lounge on a beach all day, there is a great hike up Cathedral Point that offers amazing views of the coastline and the ocean. There are also a ton of other hikes inside the national park that are off the beaten path, making this beach a full day’s worth of adventure.
The beaches of Jaco in Costa Rica are some of the best beaches in Central America! Jaco is a vibrant beach town located at only 2h drive from the capital San José.
There are 3 main beaches in Jaco: Playa Jaco, Playa Hermosa and Playa Herradura.
Playa Jaco is the most famous and touristy one. The beach is very clean and beautiful. Its’ 4km long with fine grey/brown sand and crystal-clear waters with waves. It’s a great place to lie down on the sand during the day, look at the surfers from afar and also enjoy the sunset.
Just a 2-hr drive from San Jose lies one of the best Central American beaches to catch some waves – Playa Hermosa. Not to be confused with Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste province, this Playa Hermosa, near the town of Jaco, was named the first World Surfing Reserve in Central America in 2020.
Playa Hermosa’s stunning 7-kilometre long stretch of dark sand and consistent surfing waves draw surfers from all over the world. The beach has a tranquil atmosphere – there are no crowds, no blasting music, just the sound of the surf. Apart from the month of August, when Playa Hermosa hosts Quicksilver’s International Surf Championships.
The beauty and tranquillity of Playa Hermosa makes it a great addition to any Costa Rica itinerary. If you don’t surf, you’ll enjoy the long walks on the beach, glowing sunsets and some of Costa Rica’s most colourful residents – Scarlet macaws. And if you feel like a break from lazing around on the beach, Manuel Antonio National Park is just 45 minutes away.
Montezuma Beach, Costa Rica
Shared by Pubali & Indranil, Paradise Catchers
In search of the best Central American beaches, let us venture out to the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. The raw beauty of Montezuma Beach on the eastern coast of the peninsula has been an open secret to enthusiast travelers for years. The beach is right by the town of Montezuma and thus easily reachable on foot.
Green forest-covered hills create a perfect frame to the white sand Montezuma beach lining the blue waters. Dip your feet in the sand, eat fresh seafood at the local restaurants and watch baby turtles walk up to the ocean for the first time in their lives.
There are several other secluded Central American beaches in the vicinity where you can hike to, walking on the beach.
There are some other exciting activities in the area, like hiking in Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve and hiking to El Chorro Waterfalls or to the nearby Montezuma Waterfalls.
To explore Montezuma beach and the nearby attractions, you need 3-4 days. But we do not mind staying in Montezuma for weeks as well!
Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Shared by Pamela, The Directionally Challenged Traveller
One of the most loved Central American beaches is located in Tamarindo, Costa Rica. Located on the Pacific side of the country in the Guanacaste region, Tamarindo is known for its breathtaking sunsets on the water. Since the town is located about four hours from San José, most people visit by flying into Liberia airport.
Other than lounging by the beach, there are plenty of things to do in Tamarindo, so be sure to stay at least three days to explore the surrounding areas.
You can embrace nature with sloth safaris, horseback riding, tubing down the Blue River, get your adrenaline pumping with zip lining and ATV’ing, or even go scuba diving at the Las Catalinas Islands for a chance to spot the Pacific Giant Mantas. You can even go fishing for Mahi Mahi and have one of the restaurants on the beach cook it for you to enjoy.
Playa Hermosa, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Shared by Melinda, Mel on the Go
Playa Hermosa in Nicaragua is ideal for a fun day hanging out on one of the best Central American beaches. With soft sand for what looks like miles, this beach offers everything you could want. Stroll, swim or sunbathe in between visiting the beach bars and surfing. It’s famous from two seasons of TV’s Survivor, Hermosa Beach is a surfer’s paradise on Nicaragua’s Pacific Coast.
Speaking Spanish is a plus but not necessary. With backpackers from around the world and a large expat community, you’ll find someone who speaks your language at Playa Hermosa.
Wannabe surfers, you need to add Popoyo, Nicaragua to your list of best Central American beaches to visit. With its miles and miles of waves and no chance of overcrowding, Popoyo offers an excellent spot to learn how to surf.
There are many surf schools in the area, and the most popular hostel is Big Surf House, which have boards to use and regular lessons.
Some of the classes will take you via 4×4 to nearby beaches where the waves are most suited to your level – there is a reef break to be found not far from Popoyo for those who are more experienced on the waves.
So is this a beach that non-surfers should avoid? Oh, honey no. There’s still plenty to do (or not do) on and around what’s potentially the most peaceful of all one of the Central American beaches. The huge expanse of clean sands means you can sit out of earshot of anyone else for hours, save for the occasional dog that might come up and say hello.
It’s a fantastic self to relax, reflect and recharge after a raucous weekend at San Juan del Sur’s infamous Sunday Funday.
Las Peñitas, Nicaragua
Shared by Gabby, Journey to the Destination
Las Peñitas Beach in Nicaragua is one of the best Central American beaches if you want to get away from the crowds! This beach is known for its amazing surfing, friendly locals and beautiful sunsets.
While relaxing on the beach is a ton of fun, there are also plenty of other great things to do in Las Peñitas as well! I recommend going on a boat ride through the Juan Vendado Nature Reserve. This nature reserve consists of a beautiful estuary full of mangrove forests, exotic birds, turtles, and crocodiles.
Some other great things to do around Las Peñitas Beach include volcano boarding, surfing, and fishing.
Because Las Peñitas Beach is remote and off the beaten path, it can be a little difficult to travel to. The easiest way to get there is to fly into Managua and either rent a car or take a bus to León. Once you arrive in León, you can take another bus to Las Peñitas. While it can be difficult to get to, it is well worth the journey!
El Tunco, El Salvador
Shared by Bailey, Destinationless Travel
Playa El Tunco is the main beach in the small town called, fittingly enough, El Tunco. It is the most famous of the Central American beaches in El Salvador and a place almost every tourist to the country visits. Playa El Tunco is a rocky beach with pebbles lining the shore.
While this isn’t the greatest for those looking to lounge on a beach towel, it isn’t what Playa El Tunco is known for. Playa El Tunco is actually a surf beach with waves that surfers come all over the world for. In town, you can easily rent a surfboard or even sign up for surfing lessons.
But besides surfing, the beach and town of El Tunco is a fun place to visit. Wander the unique shops, eat pupusas, visit smoothie stands, and enjoy this vibrant surf town. As far as places to visit in Central America go, El Tunco is one of the best.
You can easily get to El Salvador’s contribution to the best Central American beaches by driving from San Salvador in about an hour, or Santa Ana in about 2 hours. Private transfers can easily be arranged, but chicken buses are available too.
Monterrico Beach, Guatemala
Shared by Michele Peterson, A Taste for Travel
One of the best known Central American beaches on Guatemala’s Pacific coast is Monterrico. Located a 2-hour drive from Guatemala City, it’s a popular destination for day trippers especially during public holidays such as Semana Santa and Christmas.
One of the top things to do in Guatemala any time of the yearis to spend the day at Monterrico beach, enjoying a cold cerveza, snacks and lounging about on the black sand beach.
Like most of the Central American beaches on this coastline, the surf is extremely powerful and there’s a strong undertow so novice swimmers should use extreme caution when accessing the water. However, there are many reasons beyond the beach to spend more than a day in Monterrico.
Among Monterrico’s main attractions is the Reserva Natural de Monterrico (Nature Reserve), a vast protected area known for its sea turtle nestings, coastal lagoons, mangrove swamps and estuaries. Here, activities include participating in a baby turtle release, taking a lagoon boat tour and watching wildlife including resident and migratory bird species.
For longer stays, it’s also possible to study Spanish within the village of Monterrico, mastering some language skills to the backdrop of the sound of the waves.
The best way to get to Monterrico is to take one of the convenient shuttles from Antigua or Guatemala City. They generally depart Antigua at 8am and return at 4pm, and are both economical and convenient.
El Paredon, Guatemala
Shared by Isabella, Boundless Roads
Located on the West coast of Guatemala, El Paredon has become quite a popular destination in the past few years. It’s mostly renowned as one of the best Central American beaches amongst surfers, and it helped put Guatemala on the map as a surfing destination.
It’s a tiny village with unpaved roads and a few hotels, and almost no wifi except for one hostel, which is the most expensive – otherwise, you need to go to a phone shop if you want to stay connected. The restaurant scene is very limited to two.
Backpackers also love El Paredon, and they gather in the only beachfront hostel – The Driftwood Surfer – to party and chill.
The endless beach is great for nice walks but I wouldn’t dare go too far as it gets very isolated. Besides an abandoned hotel there is nothing else on the coast for a few miles. Being suitable for surfers, the sea is not ideal for swimming as it’s quite rough and currents are strong.
To get to El Paredon, if you don’t have your own car, you can get a tourist shuttle bus organized by a local agency. With 25 USD and about 2 hours, you can get from Antigua Guatemala to this surf paradise and even if you don’t surf, you can just chill and enjoy some peace and quiet time on this more remote choice of Central American beaches.
Best Central American beaches on the Caribbean
Ambergris Caye, Belize
Shared by Melissa, Parenthood and Passports
Ambergris Caye is the largest and most popular of the Belizean islands. The island offers 25 miles of white sand beaches surrounded by shallow, calm seas that are perfect for snorkeling.
Although seaweed tends to wash up on the shores, the popular destination is lined with resorts and hotels that groom and maintain these stunning Central American beaches daily, raking up the seaweed to keep them clean and welcoming for guests.
Wading out into the water from the beach, the seaweed can be rather dense, however, walk to the edge of any dock and you will find waist deep, clear water with plenty of fish to gaze upon while snorkeling.
If you prefer scuba diving or snorkeling over pristine coral reefs, you’ll find some of the best reefs and diving in the world just 30 minutes away by boat.
Just a short 15 minute flight from Belize City, or a one-hour ferry ride from the mainland you’ll find a relaxing atmosphere and plenty of things to do in Ambergris Caye, beyond the beautiful Central American beaches. The island is also home to San Pedro, a fun town with a Caribbean feel, and lots of funky beachside bars and restaurants.
Koko King, Caye Caulker, Belize
Shared by Joanna, The World in my Pocket
Koko King is probably the most beautiful beach on Caye Caulker. It’s located on its own part of the island, accessible by boat only. Whilst this is one of the private Central American beaches, you still can sunbathe here as long as you eat and drink at the bar for at least 20 Belizean dollars (10 US dollars).
The boat to this part of the island, the sun loungers and the water floaties are free of charge as well. The only extras you would have to pay for are the covered swinging beach beds.
The prices in the restaurant are affordable, and you can either eat the food on the premises, on the terrace over the sea, or take it with you to the beach.
The beach at Koko King is not big, but it’s sandy, surrounded by lush tropical vegetation and palm trees. The property also features a pool, if you prefer it over the sea. If you bring goggles and swim a little bit, you can look for colourful fish. Snorkelling in Caye Caulker is one of the best in Central America.
Placencia has been coined the best beach in Belize, though to be fair the country doesn’t offer too many options to the list of best Central American beaches to compete with. What I love about Placencia is the long stretches of empty sands, eerily calm sea and the amount of accommodation located right on the beach.
It’s quiet in the daytime, but some of the expat haunts such as Tipsy Tuna and Barefoot Beach Bar light up with games and karaoke at night.
When you’re not lounging in one of the Caribbean-style, brightly painted beach chairs, there’s plenty to do in the area. Take a boat tour down the river to see manatees & monkeys, snorkel out to swim with sharks, turtles, rays and manatees on one of the biggest coral reefs in the world, or take a boat trip out to some of the beautiful white-sanded islands.
Placencia is fairly easy to get to from Belize City by public bus if you change at Dangriga. However, avoid travel on a Sunday, as you could find yourself in the same predicament as us, waiting 4 hours in a stuffy one-roomed bus terminal waiting for our connection.
The long open white sand beach is only the start of what makes West Bay a top destination in any Roatan travel guide. The beach has no shortage of wonderful restaurants and bars with live music where you can enjoy a snack and a refreshment throughout your day.
What makes this beach truly spectacular is when you put on snorkel gear and hop into the water. Quickly the sand changes to coral reef and small coral expands into large coral walls and a canyon teaming with sea life.
At this beach you have the privilege to explore the second largest reef system in the world, which makes Roatan a top scuba diving destination. The water is always calm here due to the barrier reef surrounding it and there is always enough room to spread out.
The beach is an easy taxi ride from most resorts or the airport. Considering all the diverse things to do in West Bay and the entire island (which has many other Central American beaches to choose from!), you should plan at least a week for this trip.
Playa El Soldado, Guanaja, Honduras
Shared by Larch, The Silver Nomad
Guanaja is among the many Central American beaches on the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras, a short flight from the mainland.
Soldado Beach on the north of the island is a long sandy beach edged with bushes with trees giving shade. Like most of the island, you can only access the beach by boat, and there is a long dock to tie up to.
With sun most of the year, the beach is a beautiful spot for sunbathing, a picnic or to play in the sea. The water stays shallow and clear quite far out. From the end of the dock, you can try some fishing.
On 30 July 1502, on his fourth voyage, Christopher Columbus landed on Soldado Beach and met with natives. In July every year, there is a week-long festival that culminates in a boat parade, party and a dramatisation of Columbus’ landing on Soldado Beach and meeting the natives on the island.
Trujillo is probably one of the most underestimated Central American beaches. It’s as if this small town on Honduras’ northern coast got forgotten over the centuries. After all, Trujillo is the place where Christopher Columbus set foot on the American mainland for the first time during his fourth and final trip in 1502.
Today, this is no longer a draw, and despite Trujillo’s long city beach, most vacationers would rather go to the more popular Central American beaches on the Bay Islands, off the coast of La Ceiba. It’s a pity, since apart from the city beach, there are further beautiful and more serene beaches west of the city, like the rustic resort Campo del Mal or the intriguing Garifuna village of Santa Fe.
The Garifuna are descendants of Africans and indigenous people in the area. Their rhythmic and sensual Punta music and dance will add some Caribbean vibes to the end of your long beach day on Trujillo’s coast.
You can get to Trujillo by long-distance bus, however, there is also an airstrip for domestic flights.
Corn Islands, Nicaragua
Shared by Devin of Deventuretime
The Corn Islands, Nicaragua are a hidden gem of Central American beaches in the Caribbean, located off the coast of Nicaragua. They is made up of two islands – Big Corn and Little Corn Islands. Visiting the Corn Islands is one of the best things to do in Nicaragua by far!
These two islands are off-the-radar, with the main means of visiting being a flight from Managua. There aren’t any chain hotels or restaurants on the islands as there aren’t too many tourists visiting. On Little Corn Island, there are no cars and it is only accessible via boat from Big Corn Island!
Both islands have stunning examples of Central American beaches all around the perimeter. From anywhere around the islands, you can head out onto the sand with no one around. You are able to jump in the water, swim, and snorkel undisturbed. It feels like a private Caribbean island escape!
The islands are also a hotspot for scuba diving, with plenty of shops offering introductory classes for those who want to learn.
Starfish Beach, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Shared by Lori, TravlinMad
If you’re thinking of a tropical escape to one of the Central American beaches on Panama’s Caribbean coast, it’s an areas with lots of amazing things to do, and Bocas del Toro is a great place to start.
For a unique experience of Central American beaches, head to Starfish Beach on the outskirts of Isla Colon. Have your hotel arrange transportation for an easy boat ride or a 1-2 hour drive from Bocas Town, depending on how often you stop for photos.
Starfish Beach is quiet and beautiful with its soft white sand and palm trees for shade. There’s really no surf to speak of, and the warm crystal clear water make it perfect for snorkeling. On bright sunny days visibility is unlimited, and there are bright orange starfish everywhere. The sun makes them shimmer against the white sand bottom and the water is shallow enough to easily stand up.
When you get hungry, a short walk up the beach you’ll find fish shacks selling food and cold drinks where you can relax at picnic tables in the shade. The ceviche we savored couldn’t have been any fresher and was possibly the best we’ve ever eaten!
Cayo Zapatillas, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Shared by Rai, A Rai of Light
Zapatillas, part of the Bastimentos National Marine Park, comprises two islands enclosed by a tropical reef. Located on the eastern tip of the archipelago of Bocas del Toro, it is only accessible from the mainland by boat.
This secluded area with golden sand and turquoise waters remains one of the most breath-taking Central American beaches, offering a cheap tropical vacation, and is a good choice for swimming, connecting with nature, or just hanging out.
You will have to bring your own food as no businesses exist in the protected area, which only adds to its appeal, charm, and isolation. It remains a pristine escape with its multitude of beautiful Central American beaches, rivalling even the more popular ones of the surrounding region. It takes no effort to find a secluded spot and a secluded part of the beach all to yourself.
The trails along the beach all lead to a pristine wilderness that is great for exploring, in between time well spent along this beautiful stretch of coastline.
San Blas Islands, Panama
A list of the best Central American beaches simply would not be complete without a mention of the San Blas Islands! These are a sprinkling of no fewer than 365 indigenous-owned islands off the southern Caribbean coast of Panama. They range in size from the able to house a couple of palm trees up to big enough to sustain a coconut-harvesting family or two.
Only 49 of the San Blas Islands are currently inhabited, and all inhabited islands are done so by the Kuna people. There are no big houses, no hotels and no foreigner-owned restaurants, which means the beaches of the San Blas Islands are left mostly pristine.
That being said, seeing plastic washing up on certain tide-hit parts of what should be some of the most beautiful Central American beaches is incredibly sad (as a very small step, I highly recommend travelling with reusable cutlery and straws to try and reduce some of the plastic used by restaurants in LatAm).
The San Blas Islands can be accessed by boat (usually leaving from Portobelo or Puerto Lindo) and can technically be visited as a day trip from Panama City, but I advise against this as the travel time vs island time ratio is not particularly favourable.
Instead, spend at least one night on the islands – you can also do 4-day boat trips that get you to some of the less visited islands, and there is a 4-5 day boat route that takes you all the way from Panama City to Cartagena, Colombia via a handful of these most postcard-perfect of Central American beaches. Paradise!
And that’s the end of this list of the best Central American beaches! Hopefully you should have found some that suit you just right, so get planning for your perfect trip when the world opens up again!
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