As part of the Marino Las Baulas National Park, Playa Grande in Costa Rica is an important beach not just for surf lovers but for nature and wildlife. Located along the Tamarindo Bay, Grande is perfect for those looking for a more low key beach away from the bustling Tamarindo town.
With tan colored sand and bright blue waters, you don’t have to be a surfer to fall in love with Playa Grande. Separated from Playa Tamarindo by the Matapalo River, Grande offers travelers a less crowded beach to catch the perfect wave or enjoy a nice long walk during sunset time.
*This post has been updated August 2020.*
Playa Grande map
Playa Grande is 64 kilometers (40 miles) and a 1 hour and 10 minute drive from Liberia International Airport. It’s about a 30 minute drive from Tamarindo.
How to Get to Playa Grande
You can use Google Maps or Waze as your GPS. If you want to go to the main parking lot, you can enter Hotel Las Tortugas as your destination.
From Liberia International Airport, take a right and drive out to the stop to turn right onto the Route 21. Continue on Route 21 for about 30 minutes until you reach Belen to turn right onto Route 155. Continue on Route 155 until you reach the Huacas intersection (about 20 minutes) and continue driving straight. You will start seeing signs for Playa Grande. The road now turns into Route 933 and will go through Matapalo. Once you pass the soccer field in Matapalo you will see signs for Playa Grande and turn left. Continue on this road all the way to the main beach parking and entrance.
This route does not absolutely require a 4×4 but once you turn left in Matapalo towards Playa Grande, it does get a bit narrow and curvy. A 4×4 or 4wd is recommended however if you do plan to explore the area.
By Boat from Tamarindo
As Playa Grande is separated from Tamarindo by a river mouth, you can take a boat ride from the Playa Grande estuary (Tamarindo side) to Grande. It cost about $1 USD (570 colones) one way and there are many locals with boats who can take you. Many surfers will park at Tamarindo at the north end of the beach, take the boat to Grande and then boat back to Tamarindo after their surf session. Even though Tamarindo and Grande are very close, it’s about a 30 minute drive from one to another so the boat is a much faster way for surfers to get to Grande if they live in Tamarindo.
Please DO NOT swim across the river mouth as there ARE crocodiles there and there have been attacks before by people trying to walk/swim across. The river mouth connects to the Playa Grande estuary which is home to many crocodiles!
Getting Around Playa Grande
The best way to get around Playa Grande is by renting a car. There are no public buses to Playa Grande and you would have to book a private shuttle (no shared shuttles available).
There is a good size parking lot at the main entrance to Playa Grande. Due to the coronavirus situation, they have blocked off the inside lot with a large green tarp so you have to park outside the fenced off area and walk in. It’s just right outside though, not a huge difference.
There is a “security guard” who will offer to watch your car. The old parking lot cost 2000 colones for parking, you can give 1500-2000 Costa Rican colones to the guard. But do not leave any valuables in the car, roll up your windows and lock your doors.
If the lot is full, you may have to park on the street which is not favorable so make sure not to leave any valuables in the car, even if they are in your glove box or under the seat.
No fee to go to the beach but there is the parking fee.
There is a beachfront restaurant called Taco Star at the main parking lot but no other services (public bathrooms, showers, etc.)
Playa Grande Beach
Playa Grande is a long, vast beach with not much shade but soft tan sand and sparkling blue waters. If you plan to spend the day there, we do recommend to bring your own umbrella if possible because there aren’t any trees for shade and it is very hot!
But if you’re a surfer, you’ll in the right spot. Grande is known for having excellent, constant waves for both intermediate and advanced surfers. Local surfers love Playa Grande, thanks to its many surf points and breaks.
You can find waves for beginners up to advanced surfers, for both longboarders and short boarders. For long boarders, we like to go to the Casitas point or by the estuary/river mouth (south end of the beach). You can walk there from the main parking lot or drive through the Palms neighborhood but there is no parking lot and no security so we don’t highly recommend it. This is why many locals will take the boat from Tamarindo to Grande as it’ll drop you off right as the Casitas surf break.
Things to do at Playa Grande
Waves are not the nicest for swimming since it’s a surfing beach and it can get big and strong. Visitors also need to be aware of rip currents at Playa Grande. Snorkeling is not possible at this beach.
If you want to take a surf lesson, check out Frijoles Locos. For a group lesson up to 4 people, it costs $40 USD for 90 minutes. Private instruction is more expensive at $120 USD per person for 90 minutes. Matos is another surf shop offering lessons.
Playa Ventanas neighbors Playa Grande to the north which is accessible by car or walking on the beach. Many people like to get their 10,000 steps in by walking all the way from Grande to Ventanas and back. It’s a long but really nice walk. If you want an even longer walk to work up more of a sweat, you can keep going up to Playa Carbon. There you can do some snorkeling and play in the tidepools during low tide.
You have to watch a sunset at Playa Grande as you get a full view of the sun going down and it is beautiful. Just remember that as Playa Grande is part of the Marino Las Baulas National Park, the beach is closed after dark.
You can also take a boat ride through the estuary to see monkeys, birds and other animals.
As part of the Marino Las Baulas National Park, Playa Grande is a turtle nesting beach for leatherback turtles. The season is October to February with the peak time in December and January. However, the number of nesting turtles has decreased unfortunately and they are not as abundant as they used to be. You can inquire about a turtle viewing turtle during the season to see if any companies or guides will take you though. Otherwise, it is better to go to Ostional Wildlife Refuge to see nesting turtles. You can only enter the beach at night with a guide and permits.
Day Trips from Playa Grande
If you plan to base yourself in Playa Grande for your vacation, there are many fun day trips from Playa Grande and places to visit. Here are our recommended day trips, all these require at least a 1 hour drive except for Flamingo and Black Stallion Estates.
Diamante Eco Adventure Park (ziplining, animal sanctuary, cultural tour): Adventure park with an oceanview zipline, animal sanctuary, local house with cultural tours, botanical garden and beach club.
Hacienda El Viejo Wetlands (culture, nature): Family owned sugar cane plantation and private wildlife refuge. Offers cultural, rum and wildlife watching safari tours.
Fishing and Snorkeling from Flamingo: Book a private fishing and snorkeling tour from Flamingo for a fun day out on the water to see secluded beaches and snorkel. You can also do some deep sea fishing along the way to catch dinner. Flamingo is also a great place to scuba dive with many dive shops around. Flamingo is about a 30 minute drive from Grande.
Ostional Wildlife Refuge (turtles): Wildlife refuge protecting nesting turtles. Best time to visit is June – December to see the mass nesting of turtles and baby turtle hatching.
Black Stallion Estates (ziplining, horseback riding, BBQ): Private adventure park outside Tamarindo with ziplining, horseback riding and gourmet barbecue. About 35 minute drive one way.
Since Grande and Tamarindo are so close, you can check our things to do in Tamarindo for more ideas of activities and day trips.
Where to Stay
Grande has a small selection of hotels but vacation rentals are very popular in this area. There are a few decent surf hotels and lodges (nothing fancy) such as Ripjack Inn, Flor y Bambu Glamping, Sol y Luna Lodge and Hotel Bula Bula. For vacation rentals, check out Booking.com or Airbnb, especially if you’re visiting with a large group or family. There are some beautiful beachfront and ocean view houses in Playa Grande.
Where to Eat
Pots n Bowls, Cafe Mar Azul, Cafe de Pueblo, Kike’s Place, El Huerto Pizzeria and the Great Waltini’s at Hotel Bula Bula are good places to eat.
Visiting Playa Grande
You can stay in Playa Grande for a few nights or use it as a home base for your Costa Rica vacation. Or just visit Playa Grande for a day from Tamarindo. Either way, it is a must see beach in the Northern Guanacaste region.
Just note that if you plan to stay in Playa Grande as a home base, we recommend to stock up on supplies in Liberia after you land at the airport. Otherwise, there is a mid-size supermarket called Wil-Mart on the way to Playa Grande. For bigger full size supermarkets, you will have to go into Tamarindo or Huacas. And like I mentioned earlier, rent a car!
Want to read about other surfing beaches in Costa Rica? Here you go!
Dominical: Popular surfing and hippie beach town in the South Pacific Coast
Jaco: Popular surfing beach town, only 1.5 hours from San Jose. Most developed beach town
Mal Pais: Small fishing village by Santa Teresa. Great surfing waves and fishing
Esterillos Oeste: Small beach town about 20 minutes south of Jaco. Great surfing waves, few hotels, nice local atmosphere
Junquillal: Nice, local beach in the small rural Junquillal town in Guanacaste. About 30 minutes south of Tamarindo
Puerto Viejo: Local part of Conchal beach in Guanacaste
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