The Top-Rated Central America Beach Towns, Ranked by Backpackers

Find out the best beaches to hit along your Central America backpacking trail.

We recently published a list of the top Central America backpacker islands, and now we’re focusing on the top-rated Central America beach towns, which aren’t islands. Islands are amazing but they’re usually tough to get to because, well, they’re islands and you need to take a boat there and once you get there you never want to leave because it’s so amazing. Beaches are sort of the same except they’re not usually as difficult to reach, which is always a good thing when you’re on a shoestring budget.

Most Americans I talk to who aren’t backpackers wouldn’t dare venture to anywhere in Central America other than Costa Rica, but since I’m writing for backpackers I’m sure that you don’t possess those thoughts, and if you do, here are some great reasons to visit other countries in Central America. Yes, Costa Rica does have some of the most beautiful beaches and; therefore, occupies a few spots on our list. Also, Costa Rica is the safest country in Central America, but the majority of other Central American countries are also really safe.

Central America has some of the best beaches in the world and it’s one of the first things I missed when I finally backpacked all the way through Central America and made it to South America.

With so many different attractions and adventures to embark on in Central America, it’s hard to map out the perfect backpacking trail that hits all of the best beaches, hostels, cities, and more – which you didn’t even know about when you started your journey; so this list should help you a bit when choosing which Central America beach towns to visit.

#1 San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

San Juan del Sur is not only a party town for backpackers, but it also has some of the most beautiful beaches, and viewpoints of those beaches, in Central America.

This picture was taken from Cristo de la Misericordia (Christ of the Mercy), a beautiful viewpoint with a colossal statue of Jesus (directly behind me) that overlooks the bay of San Juan.

There are a ton of different hostels to stay - lots of them are party hostels and book up quick - and I can personally recommend Yajure Surf Hostel. San Juan is also home to the infamous Sunday Funday pool crawl so make sure not to miss that - even if people tell you it's overrated, I assure you it's worth it.

P.S. A friend of mine took this photo of me without my knowledge and sent it to me a few months after. It's safe to say I was ecstatic to have captured a great photo of this location unknowingly.

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#2 Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio is home to the wonderful Manuel Antonio National Park, where I saw my first sloth and heard my first howler monkeys. There are several great beaches in the national park but they tend to be overcrowded and you can find beaches that are just as nice with much fewer people just down the road.

There is a Selina hostel in Manuel Antonio and I can personally say that it is probably my favorite Selina hostel and I've stayed at more than five Selinas.

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#3 Jacó, Costa Rica

Jaco, Costa Rica is a great beach town for anyone backpacking through Costa Rica. Its beaches are lined with horses and trainers offering horse rides up and down the beach for a cheap price. Jaco is located on the Central Pacific coast of Costa Rica so it's a great spot for surfing and surfers come from all over the world to surf here.

There are plenty of hostels to stay at along the beach and the main street of Jaco and I can personally recommend Room2Board hostel and Surf School. There is great nightlife and all of the popular backpacker hostels are located along Jacó Beach, which is adjacent to the main street with all the nightclubs and bars.

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Written by Derek

Derek, our editor in chief, is an avid reader and lifelong backpacker who has traveled to more than 30 countries and 30+ U.S states. He is a digital marketing specialist with over 10 years of experience growing companies using innovative growth strategies.

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