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Playa Zapotillal is not as easily found as many of the other beaches in the area such as Playa Flamingo and Playa Conchal. There are no marked signs and it is at the end of a long dirt road. It is a beach visited and cherished by mostly local Costa Ricans.
When you first arrive, you will see that beautiful Caribbean turquoise water through the trees. The sand is white and the beach has plenty of sand to enjoy.
There are plenty of small trees to provide shade, especially in the morning. While in dry season (January through April), most of the leaves are gone but the dense branches still help give you a break from the intense Guanacaste sun.
The beach has two rocky points on both sides but because of the orientation, it is susceptible to larger waves. Also, the sand has little rises and valleys which creates more of an opportunity for rip currents as the water rushes up the sand and then goes left or right towards one of the sand valleys and forms a river going back to sea.
There are no public restrooms at Playa Zapotillal. There are also no vendors selling anything and no restaurants or places to get drinks close by. The closest town is Matapalo and that is about 5 miles away.
This beach is must less crowded than other beaches in the area, primarily because it is harder to find and get to, especially in rainy season. Weekends, especially Sundays, will have the most people. During the week it may be completely empty or just a few people. We visited midday on a Wednesday and there were three other cars in the parking area and nobody was on the beach.
December is the best time to visit. The rains have stopped and the trees are still green giving you the maximum amount of shade. Temperatures are in the mid to high 80s. January through April has temperatures in the 90s and less shade. There are plenty of beautiful days during rainy season (May through November), especially in the morning, but the road will become more difficult to access due to mud, ruts and potholes. September and October can make the road impassable. The ocean also becomes muddy from the rain runoff.
Playa Zapotillal is near the town of Matapalo and is about 1 hour drive from Liberia, 30 minutes from Tamarindo and 45 minutes from Playas del Coco.
The beach is accessed via a 5 mile dirt road. There are two entrances off of highway 933, the paved road that goes to Matapalo. If coming from the east, Googlemaps and Waze will want you to turn before you reach Matapalo. While this road will eventually join the better road, the first portion has some very large ruts and potholes and sometimes is very difficult to pass over. Is is best to continue driving into the town of Matapalo and enter the dirt road that is near the town square. You will continue on the road for about 3 1/2 miles and turn left just before Puerto Viejo beach.
You will then travel about another 3/4 of a mile and there will be a dirt road that goes to the right. The road is not a sharp right and this will be your hint that it is the correct one. Travel another 3/4 of a mile and you will be at Playa Zapotillal.
In dry season, December through April, 4 wheel drive is usually not needed. During rainy season the use of 4WD is highly recommended and during heavy rains is a requirement.
The parking lot is anywhere under the trees. There is usually a lot attendant and a small tip is appreciated. Most people set up chairs and small tents amongst the trees and then venture down to the water.
Important ! - this is an area that occasionally does have crocodiles. While they usually appear during heavy rains because they have been flushed out of the rivers, you should always keep a watch out for them, especially around any type of river or estuary.