Central America is well known for its beautiful beaches, massive parties, friendly residents, and laid back lifestyle. If you’re looking for perfect destination to kick back for your holiday, here are the 9 best beaches in Central America that you should keep an eye on.
1. Playa Estrella, Bocas del Toro, Panama
Located within the 9 island Archipelago of Bocas del Toro, on the main island of Colon, is Playa Estrella, or Starfish beach. The beach resides on the remote and unexposed side of the island. It takes about 30 minutes on the bus (departs frequently) through the jungle to arrive here. After arriving at the drop off, the beach is a 15 minute walk through a jungle pathway, and when you arrive you will not be disappointed. You will know exactly why this is one of the best beaches in Central America.
The beach is nestled in a bay so the water is clear and still, a perfect place to grab a drink at one of the many little restaurants, sit in the water and enjoy. Bring a snorkel and mask with you because the water here is clear enough to see tons of fish, including a lion fish or two. Because it is so clear and still here, the beach is populated with starfish (where it gets its name) and I am talking…a lot of starfish. We had enough starfish to write our names on the bottom so watch where you step. It is very cool. The beach is not overly large or wide, sometimes only 4 meters from the water, but it boasts a few great food stands, lots of sea life, and is not over populated. This makes it one of my favorite places to spend a day.
2. El Tunco, El Tunco, El Salvador
The tiny coastal town of El Tunco in El Salvador is one of those beach towns where many people get stuck for ‘way too many days’. Why is that? El Tunco is a small 2 street town right on one of the best surf beaches in El Salvador. You can literally surf at any time of day here as the waves are always rolling.There are plenty of places to rent boards and get lessons, so this is a great beginner surf destination. On top of having great surf, the beach itself is stunning, making it one of the best beaches in Central America. It is big, wide and has crazy beautiful rock formations that make for magnificent sunsets. Walk to the end of the beach to explore some beach side caves or enjoy the nicely manicured walking path which passes numerous bars and restaurants along the sea. In El Tunco everything is nearby and the vibe is super chill. Grab a smoothie, a papusa and enjoy the El Salvadorian sun. This is a perfect location for any beach bum.
3. Playa Tamarindo, Tamarindo, Costa Rica
If you are looking to learn how to catch some waves, Playa Tamarindo is one of the best beginner beaches in Central America. Sure the town of Tamarindo is a little bit more expensive than other places in Costa Rica, but if you are interested in a surf lesson, it is perfect. The beginner waves here are always flowing. You do not even have to watch the tides. If you already know how to surf then Playa Langosta has intermediate waves and is a 20 minute walk away. There are abundant places to rent boards, lots of people giving lessons, and the line-up of people in the ocean are all open to beginners and very supportive. This way you do not have to worry about stealing someone’s wave. The vibe in Tamarindo is that all waves are good waves. On top of surfing, the beach is wide, long, and has many fabulous bars and restaurants right on the water. So if you are into sunbathing, a drink, and maybe a little shopping, Playa Tamarindo is the place for you. Once the sun goes down the night life offers a variety of bars and discos for your entertainment.
Playa Tamarindo, Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Playa Hermosa, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
A short 30 minute drive away from Nicaragua’s, San Juan del Sur, is beautiful playa Hermosa (literally). This is the best of Nicaraguas beaches on the west coast to grab a board and learn to surf. Not only does this beach provide great learners breaks, but also has sweeping views as far as playa Tamarindo in Costa Rica. Even though playa Hermosa is a little secluded it does have one hostel on the beach and a restaurant with food, drink, fresh water showers. Everything you could need for a day at the beach. If you are looking for a quiet and relaxed Nicaragua beach with access to a larger town, then Playa Hermosa could be what you are looking for. Nicaragua is definitely a backpackers paradise; with great surf, the best party in Central America (check out my top 5 choices), and a chilled out vibe, it is a must-stop for anyone backpacking in Central America.
Red Frog Beach-Bocas del Toro, Panama
Red Frog beach is another fabulous location within the archipelago of Bocas del Toro in Panama. Located on the north eastern side of Bastimentos Island and facing the Caribbean Sea, this beach is about a 15 minute water taxi ride from the main Island of Colon. Once you arrive there, a short 10 minute walk through a beautifully manicured jungle path takes you across the island to Red Frog Beach. Red Frog Beach is full of cool eco lodges, fancy restaurants, fabulous bars and an all-around awesome vibe. Less calm than Playa Estrella, the ocean brings in waves that are entertaining to swim in. If you are looking to stay a little off the beaten path, then Isla Bastimentos and Red Frog are great. You will still get a little of the party vibe from beach front bars and resorts but you will be away from taxis, cars and buses. The beach itself is wide, long and full of empanada vendors and others selling delicious Panamanian treats. If you are interested in getting more in touch with nature, there are a number of trails heading into the island jungle at your disposal. Ps. The Beach is named after the Strawberry Poison-dart Frogs which you can find in the interior of the island, so watch your step at night.
Red Frog Beach
Playa Maderas-San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
San Juan del Sur, the center of all things party in Nicaragua, is also home to some of my favorite beaches. You can grab a transfer (in the back of a pick-up truck) from the city center and about 15-20 minutes later you will be at Playa Maderas. This is another great beach to catch some waves. This one is a little more intermediate level, and the line-up is slightly less forgiving. Do not let that deter you from learning to surf. Just do your best to learn the rules of the water and give it a shot. The beach area is pretty expansive and is a great place to go for a walk, especially at low tide where you can hop along some rocks beside the water. This is a great beach for exploring the coast line of Nicaragua, a backpackers paradise. Located on the beach are a number of restaurants and bars for you to grab meals and drinks after a long day of surfing and swimming. There is also a premiere hostel right on playa Maderas if you are interested in spending the night and chilling in a hammock with an outstanding ocean view.
Playa Maderas, San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua
Tulum Beach- Tulum, Mexico
Some of the most stylish beach destinations in Mexico are the fabulous beaches of Tulum. Tulum, with its beautiful beaches and historical 1000 year old ruins, is rapidly becoming a go to destination for travelers to Mexico. The town is full of expats and is extremely safe and comfortable. Here you can expect the typical stunning white sand beaches of the Caribbean, just a little more bohemian than other popular places in Mexico such as Cancún. The community here is also very eco-focused. There are a number of resorts and cabanas for rent along the beach as well as plenty of boutiques, restaurants and bars, not to mention invigorating night life. Tulum Beach is definitely an area of Mexico to keep on your radar if you are interested in partying, dining, and relaxing on the white sands of Caribbean Mexico.
Tulum Beach, Tulum, Mexico
Maya Beach- Placencia, Belize
Belize, famous for its amazing scuba diving, accessible sea life for snorkelers and unexcavated ruins, is a country full of beautiful coastal towns. All beach craving travelers and vacationers should keep their eyes on this destination. Placencia is a small town of around 500 inhabitants on the southeast coast of Belize. Both sides of the peninsula are covered in long expanses of perfect Caribbean white sand beaches interrupted by occasional mangrove patches. Surrounded by corral studded cays and close to both jungle rivers and rainforests, Placencia is a nature lover’s dream. Visitors can kayak through the mangroves and tour the jungle seeing crocodiles, howler monkeys and much more. There is also a wide selection of hotels, bars and restaurants available on the 16 km stretch of natural beach that is Placencia beach. A trip here is not complete without a boat trip to one of the many cays between the mainland and the barrier reef which provide world class scuba diving. Beach goers can also visit a large array of ancient ruins conveniently located close to the town. If you are interested in a more adventurous holiday, then Placencia beach should no doubt keep you busy.
West Bay Beach- Roatán, Honduras
Roatán is quickly becoming a very popular destination for beach enthusiasts around the world. The Island of Roatán is the largest of the Honduras’ Bay islands which are well-known for their beautiful clear waters perfect for diving and snorkeling. Roatán is situated on the Southern edge of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef system. Eco-tourism and diving are the main attractions here. If you are looking to explore the waters and enjoy some relaxation on beautiful white sand beaches then you may be interested in spending some time here. The beach and surroundings resemble the typical image of paradise. There are quite a few resorts to stay at and villas to rent. Add bars, restaurants and shopping to make this particular beach location one of the best up and coming vacation destinations.
West Bay Beach, Roatan, Honduras
These all look gorgeous but Playa Estrella in Panama is calling my name loudest. STARFISH!! ?
Doreen Pendgracs says
Of the ones you’ve listed, I think Tulum Beach is my favourite. There’s something magical about that place.
I went to Roatan in 2002 and there were no tourists whatsoever. The entire place was isolated, remote and so peaceful. I see nowadays there are charter flights from even European cities and it is getting more crowded. I keep such fond memories of the mosquitoes chasing us around! ;)
The Educational Tourist says
I’m not much on beach fun but these are just gorgeous!! What inspiration.
Dannielle Lily says
Wah this has given me serious wanderlust! I’ve always wanted to travel around Central America, it just seems like the perfect place for me and I’m such a beach bum. Definitely going to refer back to this when I plan my trip!
Great list! I am planning a trip to San Juan del Sur soon. I took a few beginner surf lessons in Costa Rica, but Nicaragua seems to be more affordable right now. Thanks for the info. Will definitely be using this information for my Nicaragua trip.
Karla (Karla Around The World) says
Central America have lots of beautiful tourist spots and among them are their mesmerizing shoreline. Thanks for sharing these. I’d definitely check them out one day while enjoying a sip of coconut juice and having a good tan.
Anne Klien ( MeAnne) says
Oh no there’s lots if beaches to choose from…. but I would gladly go lazing around these beautiful beaches
Stunning photos! I loved South America & cannot wait to visit Central America & beach/island hop!
Mary Charie | Two Monkeys Travel says
Fall is just starting right now, and saw this article. Made me wayyyy jelly! :-D
As a beach lover we do not play favorites. Although central america looks a bit far at the moment, we are keeping our fingers crossed for next year :)
Gabby | The Globe Wanderers says
Oh wow. These beaches are beautiful.
Love your photo of Playa Tamarindo and Tulum Beach reminds me of one of my favourite spots in Antigua. Another awesome place for masses of stunning beaches. 365 to be exact.
Great post and hope we can tick a few of these off when we visit Central America :)
Anne | Girl Chasing Sunshine says
Love how inviting the azure waters of Tulum look!
Nice list! I lived in Panama as a teenager and loved the beaches there. I also traveled through some of the other countries and visited some amazing beaches. I definitely need to get back out there now that I can appreciate what I’m seeing.
I think Tulum Beach is my favorite. Some of the black beaches in Panama are stunning,but the sand can be a bit hot in the sun!
Carol Colborn says
Mexico is technically not in Central but North America but, hey, beautiful beaches they are! And in six weeks we will be in Mazatlan!!!
I’ve been to Tulum but that the only one on your list that I have visited. They all look beautiful and very different. Can’t wait to walk on each one of them!
Grietje from TravelGretl says
Good question, they all look so good :D
Wow some really beautiful beaches! I missed all the great beaches in Panama when we were there. We stayed at a house sit in a rain forest just east of Panama City. We never got a chance to visit the Bocas Del Toro area. Seeing those beaches maybe we will have to put Panama back on our list of places to revisit.
Paula McInerney says
The beaches all look special and would love to visit Central America. Roatán looks like a fun beach.
Jen Joslin says
Who doesn’t love great beach recommendations!? Love that you included so many off the beaten path spots as well. This is inspiration to get our butts to South America!
beautiful list girl! i’ll bookmark this just incase we go to south america. I have to keep a watchful eye for these beauties!
Beautiful beaches! It’s so sad that El Salvador and Honduras are struggling so much with crime and violence, I can’t imagine these beautiful beaches get missed all the time for fear of the situation in those countries! Panama looks beautiful and we have direct flights from Vegas! Must go!
Nic from Roaming Renegades says
I have always wanted to explore the beaches of central America and this is tempting me even more. They just look perfect!
Tracie Howe says
i spent years working on cruise ships, many of which went through that area. However, it was rare to find a pretty beach on that tourist route. This is great to know!
Alana Margaret says
So beautiful! When we move back to the US some South America trips are definitely going to be in order.
Alana Margaret says
Central America! What gives brain? I need another coffee!
Gemma Two Scots Abroad says
This has made me very excited about our trip to Nicaragua in Feb. Out of the two there I would say Playa Hermosa sounds bliss. Nice bit of eye candy through out this post!
Meg Jerrard says
Fab list! I would also add Samara in Costa Rica – yes it’s a little touristy but it’s got an amazing surfer vibe and everythings super chill, laid back, everyones happy, and it’s perfect for those looking for a party!
Gorgeous roundup of beaches! They all look fantastic, especially Tulum Beach in Mexico. I would love to visit them all!
Oh how I miss Central America! I have been to most of those places. I loved El Zonte in El Salvador which is right down the road from El Tunco. And despite how crowded Starfish Beach has become, the starfish are still there and its still so beautiful! Starfish beach 5 years ago was so quiet!
The Educational Tourist says
What a great grouping of beaches! I’m not a water person, but the kids sure love them! Lovely inspiration.
I found the beaches in South america stunning too – looks like that part of the world is pretty blessed :)
Mary Charie | Two Monkeys Travel says
Autumn just started here, and these photos just making me want to cry. I’m so jelly!!
Anne | TravelTheGlobe4Less says
I’m just amazed at how empty they all are. Were you up at the crack of dawn or were they really this quiet?!
Tulum beach looks right up my alley. However, any beach I find, I’d enjoy either way!
Lovely pictures, looks beautifully idyllic :-)