Playa Junquillal is one of Costa Rica’s hidden gems.
Located in the northern Guanacaste province, Playa Junquillal offers the very best of Costa Rica – a pristine beach, lush tropical flora, amazing wildlife and friendly people.
This small, coastal community is peaceful and quiet even in high season. If you are looking to get off the beaten track in Costa Rica, Playa Junquillal is the perfect location.
Plus, with its incredible wildlife opportunities, Playa Junquillal is an ideal base if you are visiting Costa Rica with kids.
Why is Playa Junquillal one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica?
Playa Junquillal beach
Guanacaste beaches are hugely popular with both domestic and international tourists.
Nearby Tamarindo, 30 kilometres north of Junquillal, is one of the most visited beaches in Costa Rica. As a result, it is one of the most developed in the area.
Playa Junquillal remains blissfully unspoilt because the sea here is not ideal for swimming. You can swim in the sea as long as you don’t go too far out. There are strong currents here, it is rocky and the waves can be powerful. If in doubt, ask a local.
The benefit of a ‘non perfect swimming beach’ is a quiet, undeveloped beach devoid of people, bars and noise! For a traveller or a family looking for a more authentic taste of rural Costa Rican life, Playa Junquillal is the perfect location.
The ‘Blue Flag’ awarded beach is lined with coconut and mango trees, banana plants and vivid Hibiscus. It is a stunning location for a deserted stroll at anytime of the day. Be sure to catch the spectacular sunsets.
Most of the accommodation at Playa Junquillal offer swimming pools but if you wish to swim in the sea, there is a small swimmable cove at nearby Playa Blanca. Alternatively, Tamarindo is a 40 minute drive away.
If you have any doubt about where and when to swim, always ask a local person for advice.
Things to do at Playa Junquillal
Playa Junquillal’s 4 kilometre stretch of sandy beach is perfect for beachcombing for unusual shells and sea beans.
There are several rock pools for kids to explore – home schooling at its best!
Bring your binoculars to Playa Junquillal. As the beach is so quiet, wildlife abounds.
Watch howler monkeys swing in the trees or lie on the beach and watch parrots and cranes fly overhead.
On one walk, a huge iguana ambled out of the dense undergrowth to devour a fallen mango just metres away from us. We just sat and watched it have its dinner!
If you like nature and solitude, Playa Junquillal has to be one of the best beaches in Guanacaste.
There are multiple locations to observe sea turtles in Costa Rica but we visited Playa Junquillal because we wanted to get involved in turtle conservation in Costa Rica.
As a family of five, we found few volunteering opportunities on our family gap year so we leapt at the chance to help at Playa Junquillal’s turtle sanctuary.
Playa Junquillal is one of Costa Rica’s most important nesting sites for Leatherback and Olive Ridley Turtles. However, it is not a designated conservation area like Ostional, Costa Rica. This is a local project started by ecologically minded local people.
Run in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund, the project aims to protect turtle nests from poachers. During the nesting season (July-February) groups of volunteers patrol the beach looking for nesting turtles.
Egg laying turtles are carefully observed and nests marked. Once the adult has returned to the sea, the eggs are carefully dug up and rehomed in a secure, beachside ‘nursery’. This prevents being stolen, trod on by unsuspecting visitors or taken by predators. When hatched, the turtle hatchlings are collected and released into the sea at sunset.
There is no commitment involved for the daily volunteers who wish to join the ‘releasings’. Plus, longer-term volunteering opportunities are also available.
How visitors to Playa Junquillal can help Costa Rica turtles
Join a night time patrol
Tourists are welcome to join the unlit, supervised night walks. You must register and join the nightly volunteer briefing before starting the patrol so you do not cause more harm than help.
Do not bring or use flashlights, torches or camera flashes as the lights will prevent turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.
It is a magical experience walking along the beach under a moonlit starry sky, listening to crashing waves whilst scanning the sand for nesting turtles.
Join the sunset turtle release
At dusk, locals and tourists alike arrive at the turtle conservation base for the sunset release. Visitors should know that a release is dependent on hatchings. We had several days in our January visit (at the end of the Costa Rica turtle season) where there were no hatchlings.
If there are hatchlings, a location is chosen for the release. Different locations are chosen each day so predatory birds do not become accustomed to one particular location.
Be prepared to offer or receive a ride share if the release location is away from the main beach. We crammed into the back of a hoteliers’ jeep!
At the designated release site, volunteers are given strict instructions on where to stand, where to walk and how to hold the baby turtles.
Volunteers must wear gloves to carefully lift the individual baby turtles from their temporary storage containers. The turtles immediately start flapping and for such tiny animals, they are surprisingly powerful!
The turtles are then carefully placed onto the sand and released.
Using the setting sun on the horizon as their guide, the turtles propel themselves slowly and painstakingly towards the sea.
It is essential that the turtles make this journey across the sand on their own, and not be placed directly into the sea. This ‘imprints’ the beach onto the turtle so that the females can return to Playa Junquillal in the future to lay their own eggs.
Once the release is completed, volunteers spray struggling turtles with seawater to help them on their way or chase away predatory birds.
It was emotional watching the tiny hatchlings finally reach the sea to begin their perilous ocean lives. We wondered where and how far their journey would take them.
We felt very privileged to take part in turtle conservation in Costa Rica. This unforgettable and accessible experience is what makes Playa Junquillal one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
It was one of the best things our family did in Costa Rica, and a highlight of our family gap year. The experience definitely ignited a passion for conservation in our young children and should be added to every Costa Rica itinerary!
Other Activities in Junquillal
Local hotels and tour companies offer day trips and tours to local towns and coffee plantations. Adventurous trips include hiking, horse riding, zip-lining, mountain biking and canyoneering.
Water sports available include rafting, snorkelling, scuba diving, surfing lessons and fishing. Or join an inland kayaking trip on the Rio Nandamojo.
Do as little or as much as you like in but you will never be bored in Playa Junquillal!
Places To Stay In Junquillal
There are a handful of hotels excellent quality hotels in Junquillal, all of which have swimming pools. Make sure you opt for air conditioned accommodation if possible as it gets very hot here.
We stayed at the gorgeous Guacamaya Lodge, which is a short five-minute walk to the beach.
The hotel offers studios, cabins and villas, all set in beautifully landscaped grounds. There is a large swimming pool next to a central thatched lodge, an all day restaurant and a friendly bar. Plus, there is excellent WiFi, a tennis court and a children’s playground.
We stayed in a spacious detached, two-bedroom lodge (‘Villa Esther’ ) with a large living room and well stocked kitchen. We were able to self cater and loved dining on our own shaded veranda. We were surrounded by banana plants, mango trees, birds, butterflies and monkeys.
After months of backpacking/bed-sharing/squeezing into one room. Guacamaya Lodge was luxurious. So much space was wonderful!
Guacamaya Lodge was one of the nicest accommodations in our family gap year (by far!!!) and was worth every penny! The staff and owners were friendly and were very helpful when our son required hospital treatment.
Check out availability and latest prices for fantastic Guacamaya Lodge here.
Mundo Mile Eco Lodge
The highly rated Mundo Milo Eco Lodge offers private bungalows (some are self catering), a pool and an onsite restaurant just yards from the beach.
This idyllic resort is 2 kilometres away from the main stretch of Playa Junquillal beach in a tranquil area. It offers tasteful individual bungalows, many with sea views and self catering options. There is an onsite restaurant and access to a private beach area. Plus, groups of four can enjoy on site cooking classes. Casa Pelicano also offers a useful airport shuttle service.
Check availability and prices for this gorgeous property here.
Camping Los Malinches
This idyllic, budget friendly campsite also offers cabin accommodation. Details and booking available on their website and Facebook page.
How To Get To Playa Junquillal
Junquillal is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in the northern Guanacaste province. It is a rural, isolated community and the easiest access is by car.
It is a 2 hour journey from Liberia airport and approximately 4 1/2 hours to San Jose. Rental cars can be picked up at Liberia airport. The roads to Junquillal are good and well signposted. Some Junquillal hotel’s offer a useful, paid shuttle service to and from the airport.
Public transport to Junquillal is very limited and long distance journeys will require multiple changes. Catch a public bus to Santa Cruz or to one of Guanacaste’s more popular beach resorts and then continue to Junquillal by taxi or public bus.
Popular Monteverde is a 3 hour drive away and La Fortuna / Arenal is approximately 4 hours by car.
We arrived into Liberia airport late at night so decided to book a private transfer from Kikes Tours. This avoided the stress of driving unfamiliar roads when tired and at night! Plus, we felt a hire care would not pay for itself as we were not going to travel from Junquillal.
We were met by our welcoming driver and his son who were cheerful despite our much-delayed arrival. The transfer vehicle was new, spotlessly clean and as requested, was fitted with age-appropriate car seats. Plus, the seats were in fantastic condition unlike others we have experienced!
Throughout our journey, our driver and his son shared information and stories about the local area and about Costa Rica.
We were so impressed by them and their service, we booked them for another trip later on in our visit.
The incredible coastal setting, beautiful beach, lush landscape and wonderful, inspirational wildlife opportunities make Playa Junquillal one of the best places to stay in Costa Rica, especially for families.
I left a piece of my heart in Playa Junquillal and will keep my fingers crossed that we can return one day in the future.