Visiting Guanacaste and want to explore the coast? Head up north to Playa Iguanita and find some lovely lesser known beaches where you can enjoy crystal clear waters and soft sand to lay in all to yourself.
One such beach in particular is Playa Iguanita, a lovely beach inside the Iguanita Wildlife Refuge in the Gulf of Papagayo. This is a great beach to visit from Playas del Coco (45 minutes) and Tamarindo (1.5 hours) for those looking to adventure around the coast.
Post updated February 2021.
Playa Iguanita map
Playa Iguanita is 23 kilometers (14 miles) from Liberia International Airport. It is part of the Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Iguanita (Iguanita Wildlife Refuge).
How to Get To Playa Iguanita
The only way to Playa Iguanita is to drive. There are no buses or shuttles that go to Iguanita. You can use Google Maps or Waze as your GPS and you will need a GPS because there aren’t many signs, just a few on Route 253.
Yes. Even the signs say 4×4 required. It’s because once you turn off of Route 253, the road is unpaved and you have to drive through some hills to get down to the beach. Some of them are steep so you need a good engine and high clearance.
In dry season, you can get there with a 4×2 with high clearance such as a Hyundai Creta. A 4wd like a Mitsubishi ASX can work too if you drive carefully (that car is not high but it has 4wd). These are months like mid January through April. The road will be dry.
If you visit during the peak rainy season months, you must have a 4wd/4×4 with high clearance and be a competent off road driver. These are the months June – December. The rainiest month is October.
This road has no street lights or anything so we don’t recommend to drive in the dark.
We have visited Iguanita 3 times. Once in June, twice in July.
July 2015: Our first visit. The road was very dry that year and the road was not in that bad of shape. No mud, no big potholes, no fallen trees. It was actually quite clear and the bridge was in good shape. Still 4×4 or high clearance car required through.
June 2020: The road was in bad shape with lots of puddles, mud and even a fallen tree branch in the middle of the road which we cleared out with our machete. This was in 2020, that year’s rainy season was very strong. When we got to Iguanita in the afternoon, it started pouring buckets and it was intense drive back as we left at sunset.
July 2020: Road was just as bad as June 2020 and we actually ran into someone who got stuck on the road. He went down a hill but couldn’t make it back up as his engine was not strong enough. It had poured rained the night before so the road was very muddy. We had to call the SINAC (national park rangers) for him since he didn’t have a phone and they had to tow him out.
December 2020: We tried to go again but we called the park rangers first to check. They said that even with a 4×4, they don’t recommend to drive there due to the bridge and overflow of water.
COVID-19 in 2020
I think because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there haven’t been any maintenance at Iguanita at all so the road conditions were worse than normal. In July 2015, the road was still clear whereas in July 2020, it was very overgrown with vegetation and the bridge was not in good shape. In dry season 2021, it has gotten a bit better and it’s more clear.
When you get to the bottom of the mountain, you’ll see a road to your left and one to the right. The one to the right leads to a parking lot on the beach outside the ranger station, no fee.
The one to the left is to the ranger station and they do have a parking lot inside their property which opens at 8 AM.
Services, Camping, Dog Friendly?
The ranger station has bathrooms and showers but not much else. They do allow camping at the beach.
Dogs are not allowed inside the wildlife refuge but they can go on the beach.
What Else to Know About Playa Iguanita
There is an estuary on the south end of the beach so snorkeling is not good at Playa Iguanita.
Be very careful of your belongings. There is no security so don’t leave any valuables visible in your car, roll up your windows and lock your doors. We don’t recommend to leave your belongings unattended at the beach either. Always try to have someone stay with your things. Unfortunately, there have been more car break ins and thefts due to the increasing popularity of this beach.
Speaking of that, Playa Iguanita used to be more of a secret beach but unfortunately it is not so anymore, mainly due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lots of city locals, looking for beaches like this one, have discovered Iguanita so if you go on the weekend or during a holiday, it gets extremely crowded (especially Holy Week and Christmas). Lots of people camp there during those times. So if you want the beach with less people, go on a weekday (not during a holiday week). And please take your garbage with you!
The Iguanita park ranger phone number is 506 8330 4863. We highly recommend to get a prepaid Costa Rican SIM card so you have a local number to call in case of emergencies. The park rangers aren’t always at the beach either.
Another way to get to Playa Iguanita is by boat. You have to book a private boat charter to get there.
Playa Iguanita beach
Iguanita beach is beautiful, even with its dark sand. In July, the enveloping mountains were lush and green. If you visited during dry season (January – April), they would be yellow and bare.
There are many trees, the water is crazy clear and the waves are incredibly gentle and calm. This beach is perfect for families with little ones since the water was so gentle and clear! I could see all the way down to my toes and spot some fish swimming around.
However, as there is an estuary, the beach isn’t good for snorkeling despite the clear waters. It is perfect for swimming though!
Playa Iguanita is much bigger than I thought it was, so you can walk up and down the shore to find the perfect spot.
For our first visit, we spent the day swimming at the beach. Then for our second and third visit, we went surfing!
Surfing Playa Iguanita
When there’s a big swell with wind coming from the right direction, you can actually surf at Playa Iguanita on the very south end in front of the rivermouth. The waves are small, fun and long, perfect for longboarding.
However, the wave only activates when the swell comes from the south/southwest direction and it is best in pure low tide.
The swells are more common in the rainy season, months May – November. It’s a very gentle wave and only gets to about 1-2 feet, so not good for shortboards.
Visit Playa Iguanita Beach
We hope that this post helps you plan your visit to Playa Iguanita. The main thing to know is about the access, especially if you want to visit in the rainy season. But in dry season, the road is much better and it’s a wonderful area to explore.
Check Out Other Beaches Like This One!
Playa Mina: Near Conchal and Tamarindo
Playa Cabuyal: Also in the Gulf of Papagayo, a bit further up north than Iguanita
Pelada beach: White sand surf beach down in Nosara
Playa Junquillal: long, dark sand beach in South Guanacaste