Manuel Antonio National park costa rica

Blissful beaches await in Manuel Antonio National Park. (Photo: Getty Images)

Beach Travel

Are These Beach Towns in the Caribbean and Latin America the Next Big Thing?

World-class resort towns are famous for a reason, but visitors will often find that areas further afield from these hubs offer a multitude of hidden gems ripe for discovery. From bohemian beach towns and sandbars lined with beach huts to national parks and bird sanctuaries, these underrated beach towns and secluded beaches in the Caribbean and Latin America should be next on your radar.

As always, check for travel restrictions and closures before planning your trip.

Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica

If you’re a repeat visitor to Costa Rica, chances are you’ve already stayed at one of the beautiful beaches in the Guanacaste Province. But if you’re looking to get the experience of a practically deserted beach on your next trip, head 2.5 hours south of San José to Manuel Antonio National Park instead.

Manuel Antonio is not necessarily off the beaten path, but while the main beach will always be dotted with bathers, the two beaches inside the national park are infinitely more beautiful and almost empty given that you’ll need to hike for half an hour or so to reach them.

Keep an eye out for howler monkeys, sloths and flocks of colorful macaws — they’re not shy, so you’re bound to spot a few.

Aguadilla, Puerto Rico

Aguadilla Puerto Rico
Find a secluded spot in Aguadilla. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’re looking to escape the crowds in San Juan, Aguadilla, on Puerto Rico’s northwest shore, may just be the answer. While not exactly a small beach town, Aguadilla has plenty of secluded beaches to help you enjoy a relaxing vacation on this extremely popular island.

Playa Borinquen is an expansive sandy cove with interesting sights to explore, like the ruins of an old lighthouse or the remnants of Air Force planes. Note that the tides can come in quite strong, so this beach is best enjoyed in the summer when the current is weaker. Nearby Playa Peña Blanca, on the other hand, is perfect for snorkeling — and you may even spot a sea turtle or two.

Playa Punta Rucia, Dominican Republic

boat on a sandbar in punta rucia
Tranquil water awaits in Punta Rucia. (Photo: Getty Images)

Between surfing, wandering the streets admiring their 19th-century architecture, and exploring the sites, visitors staying in Puerto Plata will have plenty to keep them busy. But they’d be remiss to skip a day trip to nearby Playa Punta Rucia, located less than two hours to the west.

Flanked by mountains and blessed with calm turquoise waters and uncrowded white sand beaches, Punta Rucia is the gateway to Cayo Arena, an idyllic sandbar lined with beach huts. The combination of colorful tropical fish that can be easily seen in the shallow waters and a nearby coral reef makes this an ideal spot for snorkeling.

Santuario de Fauna y Flora los Flamencos, Colombia

flamingos on sandbar in columbia
See flamingos and the biodiversity of Colombia. (Photo: Getty Images)

A little-known fact about Colombia is that it has one of the richest bird biodiversities in the world.

If you’re staying in Santa Marta and consider yourself a nature lover, head 2.5 hours east along the Caribbean coast toward Riohacha to watch hundreds of flamingos as they descend to feed in the shallow waters. Local guides from the Wayuu community can be hired to lead the way.

Located along the Northern Colombia Birding Trail, the flamingo sanctuary has dry forests where visitors can go hiking and lagoons ideal for canoeing. Nearby, Playa Camarones is a practically undiscovered beach where visitors can laze around gazing at the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta Mountains.

San Pancho; Nayarit, Mexico

The Riviera Nayarit is made up of 23 seaside towns, or micro destinations, which allow visitors to pick a base and go on day trips to explore neighboring beach towns.

If you decide to pamper yourself with a stay in Punta de Mita, you can be in boho-chic Sayulita in under half an hour, or keep driving north for a few more minutes until you hit the laid-back town of San Francisco, affectionately referred to as “San Pancho.”

In San Pancho, you’ll find uncrowded beaches and casual eateries serving fresh seafood, as well as must-try artisanal chocolate and icy cacao drinks at Mexicolate.

You’ll also get the chance to pick up an eco-conscious souvenir at the EntreAmigos Community Center and maybe even watch some polo at La Patrona Polo & Equestrian Club.