If you’re looking for a quiet beach to stay at in the Gulf of Papagayo, head to Playa Ocotal. This small black sand beach is just a mere 3 km (1.9 miles) away from the popular beach town of Playas del Coco.
Ocotal can barely count as a town when compared to Coco but it’s a nice beach to escape the busy crowds. It has decent snorkeling, beachfront hotels and restaurants and is a great launch point if you want to do scuba diving or fishing. In this post, you will read all you need to know about visiting Ocotal.
**This post has been updated in November 2017.**
Playa Ocotal Location and Directions
Ocotal Costa Rica Map.
Ocotal is 29 kilometers (18 miles) from Liberia International Airport and 235 kilometers (146 miles) from San Jose International Airport.
How to get to Ocotal:
Driving from Liberia Airport: Head out to the main road and take a right. Continue on this main road for about 20 minutes until you reach the boulevard of Playas del Coco. (Stay to the left at the fork with Hermosa/Panama to your right).
Drive down the boulevard until you reach an intersection with downtown in front of you and a Super Compro on your left. Take a left here. Keep going on this road and stay to the left. You’ll drive for a couple kilometers and when you pass the La Colina apartments on your right, stay to the right. Take the next right to get to the beach. The drive from Liberia International Airport to Ocotal is about 25-30 minutes.
Shuttle: You can take a shared or private shuttle. Interbus offers shared shuttles.
We like to park where the Father Rooster restaurant is. They have a space and many people park there.
How to get around Ocotal
Since Ocotal doesn’t really have a downtown, it’s easy to get around unless you are staying up in a house or hotel in the mountains. There are a lot of little roads up in the hills so it will be best to rent a car or at least rent a bike so you can go back and forth to Coco to do grocery shopping and go to the bank. It’s about a 15 minutes bike ride from Ocotal to Coco so it’s a bit too far to walk.
You can also take taxis, it’s about $5-10 (it’s been awhile since I checked so not sure the exact price) one way.
Ocotal also has dark sand like the neighboring beaches but the water is a clearer blue. This beach is surrounded by hills and cliffs and is much quieter as there are fewer tourists.
There are plenty of trees for shade and both ends have rocky reefs, making it great for snorkeling, fishing and walking around tide pools in low tide. It’s not a very long beach but it is big enough that you can find a spot all to yourself even on the weekend.
This is a wonderful beach to go with families since the waves are super calm, there’s a lot of shade, plenty of parking, a restaurant on the beach and lots of locals. It’s a nice beach to visit to experience something different than Coco beach.
We took an aerial video of Ocotal you can watch below.
Something to note is that there is no downtown or town center in Ocotal. Up in the mountains and along the beach are houses, restaurants, apartments, condos and small vacation rentals but there is no “downtown” which is why it’s much quieter than Coco.
Ocotal experiences typical tropical weather with a dry and rainy season. Since it’s in Northern Guanacaste, which is one of the hottest and driest areas of Costa Rica, it is sunny and hot for most of the year. Dry season is from December to April and rainy is from May to November but this area tends to have a longer dry season than the rest of the country. You can read more about Costa Rica weather in this post.
So make sure to pack your sunglasses, bathing suites, plenty of sunscreen, after sun gel and your summer clothes!
Hotels and Restaurants
There are also many vacation rentals and condos like Los Almendros de Ocotal so that is a good option if you want to stay there. Most people stay in vacation rentals because there are more of those than hotels. Many of them are on a hill so they have a wonderful view of the beach and sunset.
As for food, there is one beachfront restaurant called Father Rooster that has good drinks and food like burgers, sandwiches and wraps. Another restaurant, Picante which is inside Hotel Bahía Pez Vela is a more upscale dining restaurant that has good seafood.
Things to do in Ocotal
If you’re staying in Ocotal as a home base for your vacation in Costa Rica, you will have plenty of fun activities and day tours to choose from. Ocotal is in a great location as it’s close to many beautiful beaches and not terribly far from national parks, waterfalls and adventure parks.
Since Coco beach is terrible for snorkeling, whenever we want to go swim with the fishies, we head to Ocotal which has clear water and lots of rocks on the side. The right side of the beach is the best place to snorkel at Ocotal since there are a lot of rocks. You can see many different species of tropical fish hanging out there. There aren’t huge fish, turtles or manta rays but there are lot of cute little colorful fish.
You can rent snorkel equipment, kayaks, and canoes at Ocotal by the entrance of the beach near Father Rooster.
Ocotal is also a great launch point to go scuba diving since it is near several excellent scuba diving sites such as Monkey head rock, Tortuga Islands and the Bat Islands. You can sign up for a dive with Rocket Frog Divers who depart from Ocotal.
Drinks at Father Rooster
Father Rooster is the most popular restaurant in Ocotal since it’s right on the beach. They have yummy drinks and good sandwiches. Great place for happy hour sunset drinks!
Ocotal is a nice beach but if you want to see a white sand beach, then you have to go boating in the Gulf of Papagayo. You can go on the open sailing tours like Marlin del Rey out of Coco but we recommend a private boating tour from Coco so you can visit more beaches, snorkel longer and have the boat all to yourself.
See howler monkeys
There are always troops of howler monkeys on the beach. Keep your eyes out in the trees and listen for them!
You can rent a bike to go around Ocotal and to Coco. It’s a very nice bike ride (I used to do this bike ride every day).
For nightlife, you will need to go into Coco. Coco has a lot of bars with live music, a casino, beach front bars, a park and souvenir stores.
Ocotal Day Tours
Here are our favorite day tours from Ocotal.
Nicaragua one day tour: If you want to check out another country, you can do the Nicaragua one day tour. See a couple of volcanoes, the lakes, Masaya market and Granada on this tour. You can also get $10 off the tour in the link.
Diamante Eco Adventure Park: For a fun day full of adventure, head to the Diamante Eco Adventure Park. They have the longest ocean view zipline in Costa Rica! You can also see wildlife at their animal sanctuary so if you want to see a sloth, that is the best place to go. Get 10% off the park in the post.
Guachipelin Combo tour: For adventure and nature, do the Guachipelin combo tour in Rincon de la Vieja. This is one of our favorite day tours in Guanacaste. It’s a full day of ziplining, horseback riding, white water tubing, hot springs and mud baths in the tropical dry forests.
Rio Celeste: If you’re looking for a hike in the tropical rain forest, you must go to Rio Celeste to see the sky blue river. It’s one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica.
Visit Tamarindo/Conchal: We recommend visiting Tamarindo/Conchal/Flamingo to see other beaches and beach towns in Guanacaste. They are about a 1 hour drive south of Ocotal. Tamarindo also has great surfing so you can take a lesson. You can also visit the beautiful white sand beaches (Conchal and Flamingo).
Catarata Llanos de Cortes: This beautiful waterfall is an oasis in the desert. You can swim, have a picnic or walk up to the top. It’s a wonderful place to cool down from the heat. We took our friends to Cortes waterfall in the morning and went ziplining in the afternoon.
Hacienda El Viejo: Local Costa Rican family estate that offers cultural, nature and wildlife tours. Great place to learn and experience Guanacaste traditions and culture. Get 7%off in the post!
Living in Ocotal
Many expats live in Ocotal or own a vacation rental and come down to escape the winter up north. Most of the foreigners who live there are people who prefer the quieter atmosphere of Ocotal. They still have all the conveniences of Coco and go back home to a quiet, peaceful beach.
Read about other beaches to stay in the Gulf of Papagayo and around Coco below!
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