Costa Rica is a tropical country that has gone to great lengths to preserve its natural resources. As a result, you will find some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. Such is the dedication to preservation that it has a national policy for decarbonization and has been touted as ‘Champions of the earth’ by the United Nations. Whether their impact will be significant is left to be seen but what’s certain is that once you visit Costa Rica, you will fall in love with its rainforests, Wilderness, tropical beaches, and the water activities you can do.
The distinct and diverse things you can see in Costa Rica inspires adventure and invokes the spirit of exploration. With all this variety, whitling down the best places to visit will be splitting hairs, but we’ve done just that. In this guide, we have covered some top places to visit, given a description in a simple-to-process-manner, giving you a short description, and the highlights of what to do in each place. So, sit back, relax and enjoy this remote excursion of the country’s crème de la crème.
As a global tourism destination, thousands of tourists flock to Costa Rica for their holidays each year.
Here you will find some of the most famous and some of the least known places, but they are all worth your exploration. If you are planning a group or individual vacation, and you don’t know any points of interest to visit, you will be spoilt for choice with our recommendations below.
Talk of an attitude, and the Arenal Volcano will be there. Be if, for the fact that it sticks out so gracefully or the fact that it can choose to erupt anytime, you will agree that it has a lot of diva in it.
Rising up to 1633 meters, the mountain dwarfs everything around it and casts an imposing figure on its surroundings, and as such, this stratovolcano will make for a standout wallpaper.
Since its first eruption in 1968, it has buried over 15 square kilometres with lava and debris and its standing today manifests the power of nature. During its eruption phase, 87 people have died, and the surrounding areas became unproductive.
However, seeing the vegetation around it today, you can hardly imagine the destruction. During its eruption, it put on quite the show for visitors, but today, people come from far and wide to appreciate its immense size and the amazing vies and the cloud-covered peak.
Despite being quiet at the moment, visitors can catch the occasional glimpse of the hot puffs of steam and rumbles, anticipating the next eruption. Around it, many hotels have developed providing patrons with a front-row seat in case this were to happen soon. While we continue to anticipate the glowing lava to dominate the sky once again, you can get up close with the mountain on its hiking trails that lead to viewing points at Mirador and Las Coladas.
At Mirador, you will see lava flows, whereas Las Coladas will lead you through the regrowth of trees and shrubs to the perfect view. Of course, with the volcanic activity, you can expect hot springs, and Arenal Mountain does not disappoint.
There is a free public hot spring on the Río Agua Caliente river, where local and just a few miles north of La Fortuna are series of manmade pools from an aquifer.
Poás Volcano is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. It is one of the largest active craters in the world, and an aerial view on a helicopter is the best way to view it.
Having become a national park on the recommendation of Mario Boza, these free-standing volcanoes manifest the geothermal forces at play in the formation of Costa Rica. When the skies are clear, you are treated to the steaming bubbles rising from the pool at the top. The water has a characteristic green hue thanks to the Sulphur content of the rocks.
When the pressure forms, the fumaroles rise, geysers can erupt and reach a height of 250meters. However, this should be no reason to worry as the crater is a whopping 320 meters deep and almost a mile wide, and thus it is unlikely that the stream will reach you.
Despite being an active volcano, no eruptions have been witnessed since 1954.
If you are unfamiliar with the concept of acid rain, you need not look further. Downwind from the Paos volcano, you will witness stunted vegetation and rainfall from the clouds that are always forming at the top due to evaporation from the crater.
The rainwater is acidic because of the high Sulphur content of the volcanic ash that belies the crater. To visit the mountain, there are several hiking tracks, some paved and some unpaved. With them, you can go through the Escalinia trees that form much of the vegetation around the mountain.
Cahuita is one of the essential places to visit on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. It has elements covering the best of what Costa Rica serves to tourists from gorgeous beaches, rainforests, amazing wildlife, and breathtaking coral reefs just offshore.
The story for Cahuita is that of lost glory. When an earthquake rocked the country in 1991, Cahuita National Park lost much of the tourist population that used to frequent it. This shouldn’t bother you at all – despite offering similar features to the Manuel Antonio National park, it has just a fraction of the traffic. Here you can let loose if you don’t like crowded beaches.
At Cahuita National Park is a gorgeous 240 hectare stretch of coral reefs. The reefs have been recovering steadily since their mishap. In terms of wildlife, you are treated to some exotic types like the Green Basilisk lizard (which can walk over water), howler monkeys, and many birds in the rainforest.
Apart from sunbathing on the beach, you can follow one of the hiking trails to see the wildlife in the landscape punctuated by leaning palms, blue water, and fine sand.
Rainfall is common here, so if you are planning on staying for long, carry some rain gear.
Mention Manuel Antonio National Park to anyone who has visited it before and the reaction you will elicit is possibly along the line of the best national park ever! its one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
This park is undeveloped, and everything you will encounter, from the sloths to the white sand beaches and coral reefs, is as they are supposed to be.
The lovely jungle that forms it has a rugged rainforest surrounded by the turquoise water of the sea. Here wildlife spotting is simple, with lots of species from monkeys on land to whales and plenty of marine life off the coast.
To say the least, Manuel Antonio National Park is a must-visit on your itinerary for Costa Rica. The park is open all the days of the week except for Mondays, and to see all the animals in their full glory, visiting during the dry season is advised.
Around Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, the dry season stretches from December to April, and it could be your best getaway from the troubles of winter.
There are plenty of opportunities for pictures and picnicking but as with any nature reserve, remember to clean up after yourself. This is both for the safety of the animals and to leave the place as serene as it is for future generations.
Corcovado National Park, spanning an area of 163 Square Mile, is by far the biggest lowland rainforest in Costa Rica and Central America at large.
It covers almost half of the Osa Peninsula, but given its low altitude location, it is the best place to see wildlife. The park has received plaudits for being the most biologically intense place in the world, and going into it, it’s easy to see why.
The park remains rugged, and the animals here are unfamiliar with humans, given the little contact. If you watch a lot of animal documentaries, chances are you have seen one that has been shot here, but that does not take away from the experience whatsoever.
This intense ecosystem is home to big cats like pumas, ocelot, margay, jaguars, and jaguarundi.
Spider, squirrel, howler, Capuchin, and white-faced capuchin monkeys also call this home. Here the two-toed and three-toed sloths eat lazily in the canopies shared by birds like toucans, scarlet macaws, and the Tapirs, whose global population is dwindling.
Other ground animals include crocodiles, wild hogs, lizards, anteaters, among many others. What a resume!
Being a rainforest, rainfall is pervasive hence traveling during the dry season is heavily encouraged. There are no cars allowed in the park and since access is by foot, coming in the rainy season is a definite no—unless you have the gear and endurance.
You would only need to get through the rain and long muddy walk, but once you do, you will be treated to nature in its full glory. It is an unmissable experience for environment lovers, animal lovers, and photographers. Ranger stations that serve this rainforest reserve include Sirena Ranger Station, La Leona, Los Patos, and San Pedrillo, which are accessible by hiking, by air, or by boat.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a dreamy paradise draped with clouds and one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.. Cloud forests cover only 1%, therefore, having the chance to visit one in Costa Rica is a privilege you should not pass on. Did you know this nation is home to 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity?
For a single place, this is immense, and nature lovers will find something to awe at all through. Here everything is hazy and mysterious, and everything around looks like a wonderland.
In Monteverde, the sky comes down to you, and you can walk in the cloud if you opt for a canopy tour on the suspended bridge.
With a hike on Monteverde, you walk through wind-sculpted woodlands that change to the thick rainforest with orchids, ferns, vines, and moss, making your air crisp as you hike up the mountain. If this is not a climb to the heavens, I don’t know what is.
The hiking trails are well maintained, and you may actually not need them—to be on the side of caution, just carry your boots in case you were to need them. The trails for this in the clouds include Sendero Bosque Nuboso, El Camino, Sendero Pantanoso, Sendero El Río, Sendero Chomogo, Sendero George Powell, Sendero Brillante, Sendero Roble, Suspended Bridge, and Wilford Guindon.
These trails take you through strangler fig plants, magnolias, podocarpus, zapote trees, Oak, bamboo, and much more. Almost 50% of Costa Rica’s flora and fauna are found here. Expect to see various bird species, monkeys, and more. Therefore, as you walk through the patches of sunlight, you will love being detached from the rest of the world.
Marino las Baulas de Guanacaste National Park, also named Playa Grande National Park, has long been the nesting place for leatherback sea turtles.
Leatherback sea turtles are the largest sea reptiles but the presence of tourists during this nesting period confuses the turtles. For this reason, access to the area is limited.
Every year, thousands of leatherback turtles make a trip to the beaches to lay eggs. These magnificent creatures can travel over 3500 miles just to nest here.
Hence scientists are always on the lookout for them. If you are lucky, you may not have to wait for the turtles, but if you have to, the site of these 1000-pound beasts will make it all worth it.
Apart from the sea turtles, the place is also a bird watcher’s heaven. The park is home to 174 bird types and other animals that reside in the estuary.
For Las Baulas National Marine Park, we advise everyone to embrace sustainable tourism to protect these animals. Visitors should note the beach is closed at night, but you can enjoy snorkeling and birdwatching at Ventanas Estuary and Tamarindo Wetland.
At Ventanas Estuary, you can also see crocodiles.
If you are not into common tourist activities to Costa Rica, then a cave tour in Barra Honda National Park is right up your alley. Located in the Tempisque basin of the Nicoya Peninsula, the area has soft limestone, which forms caves when acted on by water.
There are 42 limestone caves in Barra Honda national park, and each of them has something unique to showcase.
From Soda straws, stalactites, stalagmites, curtains, terraces, and other unique limestone formations. You will have plenty to explore and photograph. Spelunking is the art of exploring caves, but here due to the nature of the caves, only one is open for the public to explore.
We must add that they are absolutely stunning, and once you are done with your tour, you can go to a viewpoint where you can see the Tempisque river valley and the Gulf of Nicoya in all their glory.
Likewise, you can take a hike at Barra Honda National Park to see Capuchin and howler monkeys, deer, peccaries, anteaters, agoutis, and kinkajous.
Quickly grab a map at one of the ranger stations and hit the trails.
We have spoken about volcanos, but if you want to see the largest of them all in Costa Rica, Rincónde la Vieja stands tall at 6286 feet and spans 9 miles. In fact, locally, it is dubbed the ‘Colossus of Guanacaste.’
Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and Santa Maria Volcano are the center stage of Rincon de la Vieja National Park and are part of the UNESCO protectorate of the Guanacaste Conservation Area.
Loosely translated to ‘Corner of the Old Woman,’ Rincon de la Vieja tells the legend of a princess who faced life in seclusion after her father could not condone a forbidden romance between her and an enemy of the tribe.
She ended up being a master of traditional medicine, and when people went to see her, they said they were visiting “the old woman’s nook.” The name has clearly stuck to date.
Rincon de la Vieja is great for adventure and hiking, but perhaps it is mostly known for its secondary volcanic activity and the resulting geothermal activity.
The park protects a very unique and endangered ecosystem—a tropical dry forest. Even though it is dry for a significant part of the year, there are many lovely waterways and a modest bunch of dazzling cascades, offering special forest views and landforms.
In the park is Sendero Las Pailas, a 1.86-mile loop of boiling mud pot trails with a seasonal waterfall.
There is also the Sendero Catarata La Cangreja trail, which you can hike through to see changes in landscape and waterfalls. After you are done touring, you can take a dip in the Rincon de la Vieja Hot Springs. As always, come ready to play with your swimming gear.
When you take an Island cruise to the Catalina Islands, you must stop and be amazed at some of the best dive sites in Costa Rica. Here you will be treated to some of the best underwater parks where you can choose to scuba dive or snorkel.
Dive sites on the islands include Catalina Grande, Little Cupcake, Big Cupcake, Dos Sombreros, Elefante, La Pared, Peligrosa, Roca Sucia, and La Punta, each with depths ranging from 40-110 feet. Take your pick and take and plunge into the fun.
Each year, divers make the annual pilgrimage to come and enjoy the spectacular marine life, including the trademark Manta rays, Humpback whales, white-tipped reef sharks, Dolphins, Sea turtles, and much more.
Catalina Islands is an archipelago of 20 islands that divers use as dive boards all through.
Luckily the Catalina Islands are accessible throughout the year, so you can pack up and enjoy the 75-85º F (24-29º C) water.
If your itinerary involves spotting the magnificent Manta Rays, schedule your visit between November and May, but their numbers reach their peaks between January and March.
There are also plenty of bird watching opportunities all through the year, with Albatross, spoonbills, bridles tern, brown boobie, and frigate birds all on show when they come to brood.
If you are in Costa Rica, a visit to Catarata Llanos de Cortes is a must. It is among the low-budget things to do in Guanacaste, and the fact that it’s drop-dead gorgeous, why not try it
just don’t forget to carry your swimsuit, towels, sandals, and all your wares for a nice afternoon in the sun.
To appreciate its immense beauty, travel during the rainy season when the water flow is raging.
In fact, some mini waterfalls come up during this time. Since the Guanacaste region is generally flat, finding a waterfall like this is rare hence why it is popular among locals and tourists.
For the safety of swimmers, the local government put up a robe barrier, but you can still get up close with the waterfall as the rope is barely noticeable.
However, if you want to enjoy the landscape alone, a visit to the Celeste river in Tenorio Volcano national park is prescribed. Here swimming is not allowed, but you will be treated to some spectacular views.
Bahia Ballena is a humble community on the Southern Pacific shore and one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.. Loosely translated to ‘whale bay,’ the region lays claim to its huge expectation.
First, because the bay has a giant whales-tail-shaped sandbar reaching into the Pacific Ocean and the other because, during two seasons in the year, humpback whales use the area as a breeding ground, you will love Bahia Ballena if you are into a tranquil place free of most tourist traffic.
Whether you go there for a stopover or a lengthy stay, there are plenty of activities that you can engage in when in Bahia Ballena.
If surfing is your thing, you will appreciate the uninterrupted access to big waves. You can also take advantage of the tranquility to find inner tour peace with yoga in nature or a visit to the Marino Ballena National Park, which is one of only two marine parks in the country.
However, the most popular activity by far is whale watching.
Jump onto a whale watching tour to spend your day in the company of pilot whales, humpback whales, dolphins like the bottlenose, spinner, and spotted dolphins. Marine life thrives in this bay, and on the boat tour, expect to see plenty of turtles, jellyfish, etc.
Located on the west side of the Nicoya Peninsula, Playa Samara is a serene hideaway that gives you access to many activities.
If photogenic were a beach, it would most definitely be Playa Samara.
When you arrive here, you will notice things work a little slow, and the pace of life is so relaxed. It is highly rated among Costa Ricans as a holiday and weekend destination but not so much by tourists.
If you want to experience an unfiltered Costa Rica, this little corner of the Guanacaste Province classified as a blue zone (where life expectancy is above the average of most places) is just the getaway you need. The town retains most of its charm, with pristine beaches and dirt roads all over.
In Playa Samara, there are four beaches in close proximity to each other. These are Playa Buenavista, Playa Barrigona, Playa Izquierda, and Playa Carrillo.
These glorious strips of sand mean you won’t lack outdoor activities to pass the day away.
If you are not on the beach, you can check-in for an ultralight flight at Flying Crocodile or view the waterfalls at Catarata Belen. For the novice surfers, you won’t run out of bay waves to perfect your skill. Given the expansive beaches, one thing that’s in plenty are sunrises and sunsets to cuddle to. There’s simply no better way to start or end days here.
If you were told to describe a tropical paradise, you would probably describe Playa Tamarindo. The one thing that sets it apart from other Costa Rica Beaches is its accessibility.
Playa Tamarindo is a tourist favorite because of its modern vibe with paved roads, access to shopping areas, and lots of bars. However, you could have found this at your home.
The centerpiece for Playa Tamarindo is, of course, its beaches. The beach here stretches for 2.5km and even appeared in the movie Endless Summer II (1994). Nowadays, it is flocked religiously by tourists who want a piece of the beach.
On Tamarindo beach, there is no shortage of surf camps to teach you how to catch the perfect wave. There are many great waves for the seasoned surfer too. Since the beach form like a long golden arch, it’s perfect for sunbathing, or you can take a catamaran tour of the Gold Coast.
From Playa Tamarindo, Playa Conchal, another gorgeous beach is only 30 minutes north, and if you prefer a little bit more privacy, this is the place to be.
The town itself is quite small with just one main street on which you will find the bulk of the restaurants and resorts.
If you are not surfing, you can go fishing for Marlin, Tuna, Snapper, and others just a few hundred meters offshore. If the timing is right, you might just be among the lucky few who get to witness Leatherback turtle nesting at Las Baulas National Marine Park. Slots are limited hence booking in advance is highly recommended.
From Playa Tamarindo, Playa Conchal, another gorgeous beach is only 30 minutes north, and if you prefer a little bit more privacy, this is the place to be.
The town itself is quite small with just one main street on which you will find the bulk of the restaurants and resorts.
If you were wondering which of Costa Rica’s fine beaches is good for the family, look no more! Despite being a small fishing town, Playas Del Coco (fondly known as El Coco) has plenty of activities for you and your family to indulge in.
The beach here stretches 3 kilometers, and the waters have a unique grayish-blue tint, unlike the blue-green as with most beaches in Papagayo. Once here, you will fall in love with the relaxed and easy-going way of life that ultimately ushers you into your Caribbean holiday. You will appreciate its proximity to the beach.
Therefore the small commute from baggage claim to the hotel and the beach will probably only take you 30 minutes. You will enjoy pretty much all of your home amenities from hospitals, housing, and dining/nightlife in the same fashion.
In terms of activities, you will probably begin with kayaking as a family in the still waters at Bahia Coco (Coco Bay). The arching beach provides safe waters for swimming, snorkeling, or paddleboarding.
An afternoon in Playa Del Coco is the ideal time to go sail fishing. You can jump on a fishing excursion by catamaran or sailboat and fish for Marlin, Tuna, and much more.
At Catalina Islands, you can scuba dive to view cow ray schools, turtles, Eagles ray, among many others. Just 25 minutes south of Playa Del Coco is Diamante Eco Adventure Park. Here you will have the best of Costa Rica in one location. Be it ziplining, seeing exotic animals, or having classes on coffee and chocolate making. Also, close by are Rincónde la Vieja National Park and Cataratas Llanos de Cortés waterfalls.
It is a common consensus among tourists and locals that Playa Conchal is one of the more exotic beaches on the Gold Coast. To start with, the many shells that get washed ashore with each lapping wave is enough to get even a more conservative tourist excited.
Be it for its stunning location with proximity to Playa Tamarindo or the fact that it is on a private cove, and you have here the best place to cast away all your cares.
Playa Conchal’s advantage is the fact that it is almost remote and not remote at the same time—the location is just special.
The water here is clear, which makes it great for swimming or enticing a sightseeing afternoon on a kayak to the craggy cliff or the islets offshore.
The list of exclusives does not end there.
When you step on Playa Conchal’s sand, you will notice how many shells have weathered on them. This gives the sand a unique feel on the feet while also making the whole beach drop-dead gorgeous.
This white shell beach is definitely unmissable on your bucket list of Costa Rica’s Beaches. If you are set on visiting Playa Conchal, you should certainly start with sunbathing.
Likewise, you could take a dip in the water and snorkel. Paddleboarding is also ever-present, but to take advantage of the big waves, get your surfing board during an epic in high tide. Basically, you can get everything from Horse riding, sport-fishing, scuba diving, and the romantics’ favorite: sunset cruises.
Located on the southern tip of the Nicoya peninsula, Montezuma has transformed from a sleeping fishing village to a popular beach resort. You will love Montezuma and the area just south of Reserva Absoluta Cabo Blanco. It is one of Costa Rica’s most picturesque coasts, with sugar-sand beaches featuring a healthy sprinkling of protruding rocks and leaning palms punctuating the beach.
While many beaches in Costa Rica are running to modernize by adding tarred access roads, Montezuma still maintains its off the beaten path charm.
There are many quiet beaches to get lost in. Add this to the occasional spotting of wildlife and marine life, and you have the perfect getaway. In town, you will love the bohemian charm, but that’s not what you came here for.
Playa Montezuma is the most popular beach here. Sunbathing, picnicking under the palms, and swimming are the catchment activities, so you better get into the mood when you are here.
If you take a stroll up north, you find some rock sculptures called cairns near close to a photogenic waterfall.
This site is beautiful, and it’s understandable if you want to spend some time here or take pictures. If you trek further, you will come to another popular beach called Playa Grande, whose big waves provide the perfect place to surf.
If you fancy some hiking Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve will be glad to play host to you and your team. If you are familiar with the Pirates of the Caribbean, then Tortuga island will ring some bells.
This is the famous island where Jack Sparrow stashed some treasure, and in true pirate fashion, there are shipwrecks to see. It’s the perfect place to have fun—pirate style. Another Island close by is Isla de Cabuya, known for its cemeteries, which give an eerie experience when you walk through its whitewashed archway entrance. If you are into the cemeteries, which macabre, this island is said to be haunted, so watch out not to be stuck here when the tide rises.
One thing that Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province reminds me of is a jungle movie. It is the jungle movies ideal set where roads begin with a tarred surface and end up as an obstacle course in lush greenery. Peninsula Papagayo comes into its own with many species of wildlife, and did I mention that Peninsula Papagayo is home to 4 UNESCO world heritage sites—yes, 4!
If you are looking for something that is not a cliché tourist destination, this place will serve you with the best outdoor vacation. If you tour Peninsula Papagayo, you will be treated to 1400 acres of rainforest, 11 miles of beach, 13 miles of nature trails. What more would you ask for?
There are plenty of activities to whet the appetite of the fun-seeking traveler. If you’ve had enough of tree climbing, you have the option to play on the mountain bikes that meander through lush greenery.
It is one of the few places you can see a superpod of dolphins, so don’t waste time. Catch a spotter plane to witness dolphins in the thousand frolicking doing dolphin things.
There are opportunities for tourist staples like kayaking, paddleboarding, Snorkeling sunset tours, etc.
But the underwater activities are where the free spirits will thrive. You can free dive with humpback whales, take anti-gravity yoga classes or choose to scuba dive to see turtles, whichever you favor.
The Nicoya peninsula is an international wellness destination for people who want to detach from toxic urban areas. If you are willing to stray away from the beaten path, the Nicoya Peninsula will fill your soul with tranquility in the ambiance of scenic natural landforms.
It is by far larger than peninsula Papagayo stretching over 80 miles and 31 miles wide. Here, the laid-back lifestyle is prescribed, and you can cast away your burdens on the magnificent beaches and enjoy sunbathing in her dry season sun that coincides with most western winters.
Being an isolated wonderland, you can have stretches of the beach to yourself.
You can enjoy treks in the many small bays, estuaries, and hidden beaches that harmoniously blend to create one idyllic place for a lazy, lovely living.
The one thing you will admire about the Nicoya Peninsula is the secluded beaches. It has some of the more famous beaches like Samara, Santa Teresa Hermosa, Malpais, Carmen, and Montezuma, among many other hidden ones.
In Nicoya, there are wellness towns like Nosara and Santa Teresa, where you will be treated to plenty of yoga with some of the biggest name yogis in the world.
The black iguana is a staple of this region, and with a variety of ecosystems, you are bound to meet sloths, monkeys, turtles, birds, etc. Offshore, you can explore marine wildlife too. For sport fishing, expect to find some Marlin, manta rays, dolphins, and much more.
Being the paradise it is, you also have plenty of opportunities to surf, kayak, boat, and do some activities that you wouldn’t normally do on crowded beaches back home. If you have been wishing to drop your phone and just have a lovely time away from the technology that pervades contemporary living, you will be happy to see some of the most healthy, hardworking people thriving in the absence of this tech.