Playa Junquillal is one of Costa Rica’s hidden gems. Located in the northern Guanacaste province, coastal Junquillal offers a visitor the very best of Costa Rica – pristine beaches, lush tropical flora, varied fauna and friendly people.
The tiny beachside village of Junquillal is devoid of tourists, even in high season, so if you are looking to get off the beaten track in Costa Rica then Junquillal is the perfect location.
Costa Rica is renowned for its environmentally minded culture and outlook and a visit to Junquillal provides a traveller with the opportunity to participate in sea turtle conservation. All ages are welcome in this voluntary conservation work making Junquillal an ideal location for a family trip to Costa Rica.
Why Playa Junquillal is 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, evidenced by the buildings and infrastructure surrounding it.
The low number of tourists to Junquillal can probably be explained by the fact that the sea here is not suitable for swimming due to powerful waves and strong currents. It is, however, ideal for experienced, veteran surfers.
Not being able to swim in the sea may ‘put off’ some visitors searching for that perfect beach location. But it also means that Junquillal remains undeveloped and unspoilt, unlike other Guanacaste beach locations. For a traveller looking for a more authentic, quieter taste of rural Costa Rican life, Junquillal is the perfect location.
The 4 kilometre stretch of sandy beach in Playa Junquillal is stunning and perfect for beachcombing. Backed by coconut and mango trees, banana plants and hibiscus flowers, a walk along this beach is beautiful and usually deserted.
Stroll along the pristine beach and search for unusual shells and sea beans.
Listen for the howler monkeys in the trees adjacent to the beach.
Lie on the beach and watch the parrots and cranes fly overhead.
Return to the beach at dusk for breathtaking sunsets.
Every beach walk brought something new for us to see. On one daily walk, we heard a loud rustle of bushes and stood perfectly still as a huge iguana ambled out of the dense undergrowth to devour a fallen mango, seemingly oblivious to the presence of humans just metres away.
Furthermore, there are several large tide pools on the beach which our children enjoyed exploring. We took photos of plants and animals we saw, drew pictures and researched what they had seen – geography and science lessons don’t get much better than that!
If you like nature and solitude, Playa Junquillal has to be one of the best beaches in Guanacaste.
If swimming in the sea is essential, there is a swimmable beach a little further north of Junquillal at Playa Blanca. This pretty, protected cove is ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
If you have any doubt about where and when to swim, always ask a local person for advice.
What To Do In Junquillal
We visited Junquillal to volunteer at the sea turtle conservation centre and in the hope of observing nesting turtles at night.
As a family of five, there are few opportunities for short term volunteering (at anything!) so we leapt at the chance to help at this local conservation project!
There is no commitment involved – volunteers for the sunset turtle release can just turn up on the day but longer-term volunteering opportunities are also possible.
Junquillal is not a designated conservation area like Ostional or other locations along the Pacific stretch of coastline.
This means that the four species of turtle that come ashore here to lay their eggs, including the endangered leatherback turtles, are very vulnerable to poachers. Illegal egg harvesting was once rampant on Playa Junquillal.
Ecologically minded locals decided to take matters into their own hands to protect these majestic animals and pairing with the World Wildlife Fund a local conservation society was formed.
Small, organised groups of local people patrol the beach at night during the nesting season (July – February) looking for egg-laying turtles.
Any egg-laying turtles are carefully observed from a distance and once the turtles depart, the nests are marked. When the turtle has returned to the sea, the eggs are carefully dug up and removed to a fenced off, roofed ‘egg nursery’ where they are re-buried in the sand.
Putting the eggs in a central location such as this deters people from stealing the eggs. It also protects them from being unknowingly damaged by beach walkers and from the many sea bird predators that eagerly lie in wait for their next meal.
The nests are checked daily and any turtles that have hatched are carefully collected and looked after until dusk at the turtle conservation base which is located just off the main beach.
How Tourists Can Help
Tourists are welcome to join the unlit, supervised night walks. Do not bring or use flashlights/torches or camera flashes as the lights will prevent other turtles coming ashore.
Arrive in time for the volunteer briefing so you do not cause more harm than help! It can be a magical experience walking up and down a moonlit beach under a starry sky listening to crashing waves scanning the sand for egg-laying turtles.
Tourists are also welcome to join the sunset hatchling release.
At dusk, locals and tourists alike arrive at the turtle conservation base. If any eggs have hatched that day, a location is chosen for the release. Different locations along the 4 kilometres long Playa Junquillal beach are chosen so the predatory birds do not become accustomed to one particular location.
Everyone ride shares if the release location is any distance away from the main beach – in our car, there were multiple nationalities and ages, all here purely to help the hatchlings enter the sea.
At the designated release site, volunteer leaders give strict instructions on where to stand, where to walk and how to hold the baby turtles.
Each volunteer puts on a glove and carefully lifts the baby turtles one by one from their containers between a thumb and forefinger. The turtles immediately start flapping and for such tiny animals, they are surprisingly powerful!
The turtles are carefully placed onto the sand and released.
Using the setting sun on the horizon as a guide, the turtles slowly – and with a huge amount of effort – propel themselves painstakingly towards the sea.
It is essential that the turtles make this journey on their own as it imprints the beach onto the turtle so that the females can return to the same location in the future to lay their own eggs.
Struggling turtles are gently sprayed with seawater to help them on their way whilst low flying birds are chased away by protective tourists and locals.
The nightly release is not a guaranteed event as it only happens when eggs have hatched that day.
It happened once during our week-long stay so we were very lucky to have experienced it!
We felt very privileged to be able to take part. It was emotional watching the tiny hatchlings extend every ounce of energy to get to the sea to begin their perilous ocean lives. We wondered where and how far their journey would take them.
For our family, this one evening was one of the best things we did in Costa Rica. In fact, it is a highlight of our whole year-long trip and definitely ignited a passion for conservation in our young children.
Water-based tours on offer include rafting, snorkelling, scuba diving, surfing lessons and fishing.
You will never be bored in Playa Junquillal – that’s why it has to be one of the best places to go in Costa Rica!
Where To Stay In Junquillal
There are a handful of hotels in Junquillal, all of which have swimming pools so you will not miss swimming in the sea!
Many Airbnb options also have swimming pools. Wherever you choose to stay, ensure you have air conditioning as the days and nights are hot!
We stayed at the gorgeous Guacamaya Lodge, a short five-minute walk to the beach.
The hotel offers a variety of accommodation ranging from studios to cabins to villas, all set in beautifully landscaped, flower-filled grounds. A central thatched lodge with adjoining large swimming pool has a fantastic restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner and is a friendly bar in the evenings.
We stayed in a detached, two-bedroom lodge ‘Villa Esther’ with a large living room and kitchen. We loved dining on our own shaded veranda overlooking the beautiful grounds listening to the howler monkeys in the trees above.
After months of backpacking – bed-sharing and squeezed into one room! – having so much space was wonderful. Plus, being able to self cater in a village abundant with fresh fruit and vegetables was an added bonus.
Guacamaya Lodge stretched our usually tight budget but it was one of the nicest places we stayed in our RTW trip and was worth every penny! The staff and owners were helpful and friendly and were wonderful when our son required hospital treatment.
How To Get To Junquillal
Junquillal is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast in the northern Guanacaste Province.
The village is an easy 1 1/2 hour journey from Liberia airport. For self-driving, rental cars can be picked up at Liberia airport and the roads to Junquillal are well maintained and well signposted.
Currently, there are no direct public transfers from Liberia airport to Junquillal. You can take a transfer to one of Guanacaste’s more popular beach resorts and then continue further south along the coast to Jungquillal by taxi or public bus.
It is also possible to complete the journey by a series of public buses going via Tamarindo but there will be several connections so the journey will need careful planning!
We flew into Liberia airport late at night so we decided to book a private transfer from Kikes Tours as this was much easier and cost-effective for our family of five.
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 was fitted with age-appropriate car seats in fantastic condition.
Throughout our journey, our driver and his son shared with us 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, the beautiful beach, the lush landscape and wonderful, inspirational wildlife opportunities on offer make Playa Junquillal one of the best places to stay in Costa Rica especially for families.
I will keep my fingers crossed that we can return one day!
Have you visited Costa Rica? Where was your favourite location?
I would love to hear from you especially if you have any tips for other undiscovered gems!