Playa Carrillo

About 4km southeast of Samara, Carrillo is a wide, arcing beach with clean white sand, cracked granite headlands and a jungle backdrop. On weekends and holidays, the palm-fringed boulevard is lined with cars and the beach crowded with Tico families. At other times, it’s practically deserted.

The little town is on a hillside above the beach and attracts a trickle of sunbathers and surfers working their way down the coast, as well as schools of American sport fishers chasing billfish.

Sights & Activities

La Selva Wildlife reserve (Tel 2656-2236; adult/child US$15/10; h 8am-7pm) Up the hill and about 200m east of the beach, La Selva is a small but well-maintained wildlife refuge, with monkeys, iguanas, alligators, coatimundis and other critters. You can use your ticket twice: come in the morning before the heat of the day, then return around sunset when the nocturnal creatures wake up. This is a private venture, so the price of admission pays to protect and rehabilitate these animals. Warning: wear open-toed shoes at your own risk (fire ants).

Blue Barrel Surf School Surfing, Kayaking (Tel 2656-0086;; surf lessons per hour US$40-50, kayaking US$3550) Family-run and family-oriented, Blue Barrel offers special packages catering to kids, teenagers and families. Carrillo’s surf is small compared to other Nicoya beaches, making it a great place to learn. Combine your family surf vacation with kayaking, turtle tours or Spanish lessons.

Kingfisher Sport fishing (Tel 2656-0091;; excursions from US$800) A well-known local outfit, offering packages including lodging.


Carrillo Tours (Tel 2656-0543;; h 8am7pm) On the road up the hill, Carrillo Tours organizes turtle tours, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding and trips to Palo Verde.

Sleeping & Eating

At the eastern end of the beach, take the turnoff that leads steeply uphill to reach most of the village’s hotels and restaurants. It’s a five to 10-minute walk.

La Posada B&B $ (Tel 6193-7266, 2656-3131;; d incl breakfast US$40-50; p a W ) High on the hill with sweeping panoramas of the trees and the sea, this new B&B is a sweet addition to Carrillo. Simple rooms have tile or concrete floors, wood and wicker furniture and tropical flourishes. It’s worth the extra ten for an ocean-view room, which also include a breezy terrace and rocking chairs from which to take it in.

Otherwise, there’s a big communal terrace that’s also furnished with rockers. Yoga classes are held here several times a week.

La Tropicale Bungalow $$ (Tel 8884-9471, 2656-0159;; d incl breakfast US$60; paWs) Across from La Selva is a fun, funky, fabulous inn that has ramshackle charm and plenty of hip touches. Two colorful macaws stand guard at the porch, from where a stony path winds around the sparkling swimming pool and through mango, papaya and coconut trees. Stand-alone bungalows are draped with bold linens, lit with funky light fixtures and hung with original art. The romantic restaurant is open only for guests to enjoy continental breakfasts, light lunches and exotic Mediterranean dinners.

Cabinas El Colibrí Cabina $$

(Tel 2656-0656;; d breakfast US$60, apt US$65; p a W s ) At relaxed Argentine-owned property, pleasant, spacious cabinas have vaulted beamed ceilings and hammocks on the porch. You’ll be well fed at the attached steak house, which serves traditional Argentine parrilladas (grilled meats), empanadas (turnovers stuffed with meat or cheese) and fresh grilled tuna.

Hotel Esperanza Hotel $$$ (Tel 2656-0564;; d incl breakfast US$124; p a i W s ) Cheerful rooms at this recently remodeled hotel are set back from a columned promenade, opening on to the pool area. The rooms are smallish, but nicely decorated, featuring mahogany furniture, excellent mattresses and tile bathrooms. All the expected amenities

are here, and you can also book tours or – even better – a massage in the lovely garden. Located 100m west of the soccer field.

Hideaway Hotel Boutique Hotel $$$ (Tel 2656-1145;; d incl breakfast US$145; p a W s ) Midway between Carrillo and Samara, this attractive whitewashed place is noteworthy for its super service and intimate atmosphere. A dozen spacious tiled suites all overlook the pleasant pool and blooming gardens. The airy restaurant is excellent. There is a small beach at the end of the road; alternatively Playa Carrillo is a 15-minute walk.

88 Getting There & Away

Sansa flights were no longer servicing the airstrip just northwest of the beach at research time. The Traroc buses from Nicoya to Samara continue on the well-paved road to Playa Carrillo (US$2.50, 90 minutes, 12 daily).

Islita Area

The coast southeast of Playa Carrillo remains one of the peninsula’s most isolated and wonderful stretches of coastline, mainly because much of it is inaccessible and lacking in accommodations. But if you’re willing to tackle rugged roads or venture down the coastline in a sea kayak (or possibly on foot), you’ll be rewarded with abandoned beaches backed by pristine wilderness and rugged hills.

There are a few small breaks in front of the Hotel Punta Islita, where you’ll find a gorgeous cove punctuated with that evocative wave-thrashed boulder that is Punta Islita. At high tide the beach narrows, but at low tide it is wide and as romantic as those vistas from above. Another good beach and point break lies north of Punta Islita at Playa Camaronal, a charcoal gray stretch of sand strewn with driftwood and sheltered by two headlands. This beach also happens to be a protected nesting site for leatherback, olive ridley, hawksbill and black turtles, and is officially known as Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Camaronal (h 8am-6pm). Nearby hotels and tour operators such as Carrillo Tours can make arrangements for nighttime turtle tours.

Playas Corzalito and Bejuco to the south of Punta Islita are both backed by mangrove swamps, and offer good opportunities for bird and wildlife-watching.

Islita is a pretty little town centered on a church and a soccer field, spruced up by artwork. The place looks unexpectedly prosperous, thanks to the efforts of the Hotel Punta Islita, which channels funding into the local community. Case in point: Museo Islita (h 8am-4pm Mon-Sat), an imaginative contemporary art house crusted with mosaic murals, and featuring carvings and paintings that adorn everything from houses to tree trunks. Worth a peek.

The hotel’s most recent sustainability project is a partnership with the Ara Project (, a local NGO dedicated to the conservation of Costa Rica’s two species of macaw: the great green macaw and the scarlet macaw. Thanks to the hotel’s donation, the Ara Project has opened a new breeding center in Islita, as well as an education and viewing center, Lapa Lookout, where guests can learn more.

Sleeping & Eating

You can camp on the beaches (without facilities) if you have a vehicle and are self-sufficient. Aside from the resort, there is one soda, a pulpería and not much else.

Hotel Punta Islita resort $$$ (Tel 2231-6122;; d incl breakfast from US$258; paiWs) S The hotel located on a hilltop, and has 57 fully equipped rooms with staggering ocean views. (If you spring for a suite, you’ll enjoy this view from a private outdoor Jacuzzi.) The infinity pool and surrounding grounds are stunning. The amenities onsite do not stop, including a full-service spa, a beach club with a sunken pool bar and lounges on a rolling lawn.

This luxury resort serves as an example of how to ethically operate a hotel. In addition to implementing sustainability measures and organizing community arts projects, it sponsored the construction of various public buildings, including the village church (which hosts many destination weddings, so that was a win-win).

1492 Restaurant international $$ (Tel 2661-4044; Hotel Punta Islita; mains US$14-28; h 7am-10pm; p W ) The movie 1492 was shot on location in Punta Islita, and some of the props adorn the restaurant. The cuisine here, which is a fusion of Costa Rican and international food, is top quality – and the view is superlative.

Getting There & Away


Nature Air has one flight daily between San José and Punta Islita (one way US$141).


The closest you can get to Islita by bus is to
take one of the two daily Empresa Aras buses from San José that go through San Francisco de Coyote and on to Playas San Miguel and Bejuco. Keep in mind that from Bejuco there is still a long uphill hike to Islita – and hitchhiking is almost impossible due to the lack of traffic.


Although Punta Islita is less than 10km by road southeast of Playa Carrillo, the coastal ‘road’ is wicked and requires some river crossings that are impossible in the wet season.

during the dry season, there is a bridge over the river that makes it easily passable. Otherwise, the ‘easiest’ route heads inland on the paved road from Playa Carrillo to the village of Estrada. When you come to the fork in the road, bear left. At the T-intersection in Santa Marta, turn right onto the gravel road to Islita. At the next T-intersection, you can turn right on the rough but decent dirt road to reach Islita (11km), or left to reach Playas San Miguel and Coyote via San Pedro, Cangrejal and Bejuco.

The beautiful province of Guanacaste is known for its spectacular beaches and Playa Carrillo is no exception.

Located on the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Carrillo is lined with palm trees and chalk-colored sand. The shore is typically not very crowded, making it the perfect place to relax and escape from stressful days at work. While relaxing, take in some amazing views of the lush mountain ranges in the distance, which provide a unique backdrop for visitors to the beach.

While Playa Carrillo is not as developed as some of the nearby beaches, this can actually be beneficial for tourists looking to enjoy a number of outdoor recreational activities. Snorkeling and swimming are two of the most popular forms of recreation at the beach, with the spectacular coral reef found beneath the water's surface. Other popular sports to participate in at Playa Carrillo include kayaking, jet skiing, water skiing and sport fishing.

Playa Carrillo in Guanacaste has also received the prestigious Blue Flag award due to its efforts to maintain the site as one of the cleanest beaches in Costa Rica.

Located three kilometers south of Samara Beach, the town of Carrillo itself boasts an enjoyably laid-back atmosphere on a small, comfortable scale. Distractions and noise in the town are minimal, making it the perfect location to wind down from other exhilarating days spent throughout the country.

Playa Carrillo is a popular destination for both international travelers and Ticos alike, as the locals often spend much of their time on the beach, particularly during some of the major holidays in the country. There are also plenty of restaurants, hotels and nightlife options close by in Samara.

With the construction of the well-paved Road 150, transportation to Playa Carrillo has been tremendously improved. The road runs south from Nicoya to Samara and Carrillo. Air travel is also available as both domestic airlines fly daily to the Samara Domestic Airport, which is located just outside of the town. Buses to and from Nicoya and San Jose also run on a daily schedule.

Playa Carrillo is the perfect place to spend a day or two and immerse oneself in the local Tico culture, relax on the beach and take in some of the most spectacular sunsets and views in Costa Rica.


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