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Top Destinations in Costa Rica

The Top 10 Destinations to Visit in Costa Rica

Roughly the size of the state of West Virginia or the European country of Denmark, Costa Rica appears small on the map but in reality, it’s big on adventure, ecotourism, and "pura vida" (pure life). 

True to its name meaning “rich coast,” this Central American country offers a wealth of adventure, cultural, culinary, and wellness options including rainforest hikes, wildlife, year-round waves, white and black sand beaches, eco-lodges, picture-perfect volcanos, and locally grown chocolate, coffee, and other tropical treats. 

Roads can be a bit precarious, making drives longer than they might appear, so choose wisely when planning your trip, and be sure to include extra time for travel. Here are the top 10 destinations to get you started. 

The Central Valley

Located at the heart of the country and home to Costa Rica’s main international airport, four volcanoes, and nearly 75 percent of its residents, the Central Valley is a great place to start your trip. Start your exploration in the capital city of San José with a stroll along Avenida Central. Pop into museums, shops, parks, eateries, and markets, including the Mercado Central (Central Market) where you can sample "comida típica" (typical local food). Take a hike to Barva Volcano or spend time marveling at Poas Volcano—20 minutes to be exact. Poas is an active volcano so visits are by reservation only and limited to 20-minute slots. The Central Valley produces some of the best coffee in Costa Rica, and you can get the full bean-to-brew experience with a guided coffee tour and “cupping” at Finca Rosa Blanca coffee plantation resort . 

Time Commitment: Two days will do if you’d like to combine some city exploration with coffee-sipping and volcano viewing. 

Costa Rica is known for its rich biodiversity, lush rainforests, and outdoor adventures. You’ll find all of that in Sarapiquí. With Chilamate Rainforest Eco-Retreat , a family-run eco-lodge located in a nature reserve near the Sarapiquí River, as your home base, you can wake to the call of howler monkeys, birdwatch from the breakfast table (macaws and toucans frequently fly by here), raft the rapids, take a chocolate tour, or even learn to dance salsa and cook Costa Rican cuisine from a local. In the evening, trek into the forest with a naturalist guide to spot nocturnal creatures like the iconic red-eyed tree frog. If you’re coming from Juan Santamaría International Airport in San José, make a stop at Mi Cafecito for a local coffee experience en route. 

Time commitment: At least two to three days to relax into the "pura vida" pace and take advantage of all of the outdoor adventures available here. 

If you didn’t soak in the hot springs near Arenal Volcano, did you even come to Costa Rica? The Arenal area attracts a large number of visitors for good reason: in addition to healing thermal hot springs and views of the perfectly conical volcano, options for hiking, adventure, and wellness are endless. Soar through the treetops along a zipline and rappel down waterfalls in the Lost Canyon . Search for wildlife, including sloths and snakes, on a guided tour across the hanging bridges . Stay at Rancho Margot sustainable farm for a chance to connect with the land, take a tortilla-making class, and get to know local chef Doña Maria in her own kitchen (can be arranged through GreenSpot Travel), or take some time to tune into your inner world with a yoga and meditation retreat at Living Forest on Lake Arenal. 

Time commitment: Two to three days to soak in the magical energy and activities of this special place.

The Caribbean Coast

While the white sand beaches of the Pacific side get a great deal of attention, Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast has an appeal of its own. You’ll hear and taste the Caribbean influence in the distinct accent and cuisine (ceviche and coconut rice and beans are a must!). Sunbathe on Playa Negra’s black sand beach, surf Salsa Brava (for experienced and fearless surfers only), and snorkel in the sea near Punta Uva or Cahuita National Park. Time your trip right for a chance to observe sea turtles laying eggs or hatching from them in Tortuguero.

Time commitment: It’s quite a trek to reach the Caribbean coast, so it’s worth at least a three- to four-day stay. 

Keep an eye and ear to the sky while wandering the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a birdwatching "paraíso" (paradise). The colorful Quetzal and the Three-Wattled Bellbird are among the 400 species of birds you might see and hear. For a truly Tico experience, arrange a homestay or farm visit with a local family, or learn about Costa Rican culture and crafts through a hands-on workshop led by a local artisan at San Luis Monteverde (contact local experts at Find My Costa Rica to book). Join a guided trek through the Children’s Eternal Rainforest (the country’s largest private reserve) by day, and then take a walk on the dark side in the University of Georgia forests by night.

Time commitment: The road to Monteverde can be bumpy, so plan at least two to three days to enjoy the area after the long journey.

Manuel Antonio

TripSavvy / Kathleen Messmer

Why choose between lush jungle and sandy beach when you can have both? The forest meets the sea at Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica’s most well-known national park, located on the Pacific coast. If you visit here, you’re likely to also meet a mischievous monkey. Trek the trail to Playa Manuel Antonio for postcard-perfect views or take a dip at Playa Biesanz, recommended by locals as a swim spot. (While Manuel Antonio offers iconic views, not all of the region’s beaches are safe for swimming.) For a more exclusive experience, Arenas del Mar , Manuel Antonio’s only beachside eco-luxury resort, is ideal for honeymooners, families, and those with an appetite for eco-tourism served up with a side of creature comforts and sustainably sourced foods.

Time commitment: Two to three days to take in the sights and soak up some sun.

The Blue Zone

Those looking to live well and live long should head for Costa Rica’s Blue Zone on the Nicoya peninsula. “Blue Zones” are designated areas of the world where residents regularly live past the age of 100. Here in the Nicoya peninsula, you’ll find a focus on health and wellness, which means plenty of organic and mindfully sourced eats, yoga, and meditation retreats, and the natural environment of sun, sea, and surf that’s conducive to healthy living. A stay at The Harmony Hotel at Playa Guiones or Latitude 10 Beach House Resort in Santa Teresa provides all of the above and then some: year-round waves for surfing, rejuvenating dining, and culinary experiences (try the ceviche or patacone-making class), and onsite yoga and wellness activities all in a relaxing natural setting. 

Time commitment: You’ll want at least three days to rest and recharge, though you may want to simply stay put here and settle into the laid-back life even longer.

If you’re searching for handcrafted souvenirs and a peek into Costa Rica's past, put Sarchí on your itinerary. This artisan town in the province of Alajuela is home to the Joaquin Chaverri Oxcart Factory, one of the oldest "carreta" (oxcart) factories in Costa Rica. Hand-painted oxcarts were traditionally used to transport coffee over the mountains and are still used today in parades and religious ceremonies. The Guinness Book of World Records “World’s Largest Oxcart” is on display in Sarchí’s Central Park, and you’ll find artisan markets and family-run leather and woodworking shops around town as well as the “wedding cake” church, a pink and blue-colored Catholic church with artisan carvings and vaulted ceilings. 

Time commitment: Make a day trip from San José, or combine your visit with a stay up at Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel and Nature Reserve. Alternatively, you can add a stop in Sarchí to your drive to Arenal.

Punta Islita

Punta Islita is the kind of place you will want to spend your whole vacation, and the eco-luxury resort at the center of it makes that possible. Take a guided hike to scout wildlife, or better yet, take in the views while horseback riding through the countryside and along the beach. Hotel Punta Islita also offers art sessions, cooking lessons, and ziplining. But perhaps one of the most memorable experiences is a visit to the Lapa Lookout to learn about and observe the scarlet macaw recovery and release . Punta Islita’s location on the Nicoya Peninsula also makes it an excellent base for exploring other nearby attractions such as sea turtle nesting and hatching at Corozalito, surfing at Camoranal and Carillo, or souvenir shopping at artisan shops and museums in Islita town.  

Time commitment: Three to four days to really take advantage of all that is on offer in this special place.

The Osa Peninsula

This southwestern peninsula positioned between the Pacific Ocean and Gulfo Dulce (one of only four tropical fjords in the world) invites visitors to go deeper and explore the rich biodiversity found here. Intrepid travelers can take a guided hike in Corcovado National Park, observe marine life (such as whales, spotted dolphins, and bioluminescent organisms) in the majestic Golfo Dulce, or spend time learning about the history and culture of the area through interactive experiences with local ethical ecotourism operator Osa Wild .

Time commitment: The Osa is quite far from the main tourist track (which means it’s also quite a distance to travel back), so plan on at least three days here.

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Written by Lana Law Updated Apr 25, 2022 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Costa Rica is a wonderland of natural attractions, with volcanoes, beaches, cloud forests, and wildlife. This is a country that appeals as much to bird-watchers and luxury travelers as it does to surfers and backpackers.

The busy city of San Jose is home to the country's best museums, lovely squares, and cultural attractions, but the real treasures lie beyond the capital, in the forests and small coastal towns and villages.

Endless stretches of beach line the Pacific Coast, with small towns that cater to surfers and sun seekers. The province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica is considered the best place to visit for beautiful beaches and beach towns.

Inland, the forest-covered mountains offer their own adventures, from volcanoes and waterfalls to ziplining and extraordinary wildlife viewing. Although wildlife is prevalent throughout the country, the lush south is where tourists tend to head if they are looking to find animals. The areas south of Jaco down to the Osa Peninsula are some of the best places to visit for wildlife.

For something completely different, check out the Caribbean coast with its calm waters and unique cultural vibe.

Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Costa Rica.

1. Manuel Antonio National Park

2. arenal volcano (volcan arenal), 3. monteverde and the cloud forests, 4. tamarindo, 5. dominical, 6. mal pais and santa teresa, 8. wildlife viewing, 9. diamante eco adventure park, 10. osa peninsula and corcovado national park, 11. tortuguero national park, 12. the national theater in san jose, 13. irazu volcano national park, 14. braulio carrillo national park, 15. rincón de la vieja national park, 16. the crocodile bridge on the tarcoles river, 17. la paz waterfall gardens, 18. kiteboarding in costa rica.

Playa Espadilla fronting the town of Manuel Antonio

Set on the edge of the town of Manuel Antonio, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica's top destinations for wildlife viewing. It also has the added bonus of being home to beautiful soft-sand beaches.

Some of the usual wildlife sightings in the park are howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, sloths, white-nosed coatimundis, and the hard-to-miss capuchins. You can also expect to see iridescent butterflies and a myriad of colorful birds flitting about. You can walk the trails on your own, but for a more in-depth experience consider joining a guided tour of Manuel Antonio Park Nature. Guides often know exactly where the animals are and carry tripods and telescopes, ideal for wildlife viewing and photography.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Part of the attraction of Manuel Antonio National Park is its proximity to the town of Manuel Antonio. In town, you can find hotels within easy walking distance of the park, as well as restaurants and other retail.

Most of the action in town is centered around the beautiful oceanfront beach, where umbrellas and beach chairs line the sand and surfers enjoy the usually gentle waves. This is a popular place for beginners to take surf lessons. Across the road from the beach and higher up on the hillside are restaurants and stores, some of which can get loud in the evenings.

If you want to linger here for a few days and treat yourself to a luxury stay, Manuel Antonio is home to one of the top beach resorts in Costa Rica.

Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal)

The Arenal Volcano National Park, found in the rugged Cordillera de Tilarán, is one of the top volcano viewing areas in the country. The main attraction here is the Arenal Volcano, a cone-shaped mountain with huge ash columns frequently streaming from the crater.

Arenal was dormant from AD 1500 until a massive eruption on July 29, 1968, which killed 82 people and destroyed two villages. Since then, it has seen regular activity and, depending on the day or week, visitors can expect to see anything from a cloud of ash to glowing red lava flowing down the mountain.

The park is also known for its wide range of biodiversity, with approximately half of all Costa Rican birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals represented somewhere within its boundaries.

The Arenal Observatory Lodge , originally a private observatory established in 1987, is the only lodge within the Arenal Volcano National Park boundaries. It is located on a macadamia nut farm on the south side of the volcano. From the lodge, check out the excellent views of the volcano and Arenal Lake in the opposite direction. Numerous hiking trails are in the area; many lead to waterfalls and old and recent lava flows.

Monteverde and the Cloud Forests

The Cloud Forests near Monteverde and Santa Elena are some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica for ecotourism. If you are itching to immerse yourself in nature and see unique plants and wildlife without venturing too far off the beaten path, this is definitely the place to come.

The clouds covering these forests provide the moisture necessary to sustain the area's unique habitats. While many people come simply for the bird-watching, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve sustain various mammals, amphibians, and reptiles. Keep an eye out for colorful frogs and howler monkeys. Jaguars and pumas are more elusive. Organized hikes are one of the best ways to see the forest. Another option are canopy tours that may involve ziplines or bridges and even cable cars.

Monteverde and Santa Elena are the two main tourist centers in the region, with accommodation, restaurants, and even shops and artists' galleries. This area, located northwest of San Juan, is a little more than four hours by bus. It can be cold up here, so be sure to bring warm clothes.

View over Tamarindo

If you're looking for an action-packed beach town to settle in to for a while, Tamarindo is just the place. Located on the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste, Tamarindo is a top destination for surfing, beaching, and fun. Once a quiet fishing village, the town has grown into a tourist haven, where you can find a good assortment of restaurants and hotels.

The town is spread along Tamarindo Beach , a beautiful wide crescent that runs for approximately 1.5 kilometers. The area is known for surfing, with a range of breaks ideal for both experienced surfers and learners. The biggest waves are generally found here in November and December.

Sunset in Tamarindo

The area around Tamarindo offers eco-friendly adventures and activities that include snorkeling, diving, horseback riding, ziplining, and turtle watching in season. Nearby Playa Grande is one of Costa Rica's most important nesting grounds for leatherback turtles. Throughout October and March, more than 100 turtles can be seen nesting and laying their eggs overnight.

Goods for sale in Dominical

Dominical is a tropical backpacker's haven and one of the best places in Costa Rica for surfing. Lovely beaches, cheap accommodation, casual open-air restaurants, and a great bohemian vibe are what this town has long been known for. But, in the surrounding mountains, resorts, small inns, and luxury rentals attract an upper-end crowd.

A long stretch of beach fronts the town and in behind, under the shady trees, vendors set up tables and sell crafts and other items. In recent years, the once dirt streets have been paved, sidewalks have been bricked, and what was formerly a dusty beach town has become a much more refined tourist destination. Outside of town are quieter beaches, where it's possible to find your own special place.

Beach at Dominical

Dominical is a fantastic place to spot wildlife without venturing too far from civilization. Toucans, monkeys, sloths, and scarlet macaws are common sights even right in the town of Dominical.

The annual Envision Festival draws a crowd to Dominical in late February or early March. This event focuses on music, arts, wellness, sustainability, and includes things like yoga and other workshops.

Mal Pais and Santa Teresa

Mal Pais on the Nicoya Peninsula, is an area along the coast known for great waves that attract surfers from around the world. The town of Santa Teresa is the main hot spot in the area, however a chain of villages and beaches lie along the Mal Pais, including the villages of Mal Pais and Manzanillo .

Today, the area is a mix of backpackers, surfers who never managed to leave, and tourists who wish they had planned a longer vacation. The area is more trendy and has more of a scene than places like Dominical , and development in the area has turned it more upscale.


Jaco is a good choice for anyone looking to get out of San Jose but still wanting the comforts and amenities of a larger town or city. The beach here is spacious, pleasant, and has an active vibe.

The surfing and swimming here are both very good, with smaller waves than other areas along this section of coast. What Jaco does have that sets it apart from the numerous coastal towns along this stretch of the Pacific is modern apartments and stores, a strong selection of good restaurants and hotels, and other modern conveniences that have made it a popular choice with expats and retirees.

Palm trees on the beach in Jaco

Jaco is less than a two-hour drive from San Jose . If you are arriving in San Jose and want to get out of the city right away but don't want to drive too far your first day, this is an easy destination to reach. You can also base yourself here and explore nearby beaches and attractions on day trips.

Capuchin monkey near Ojochal

Costa Rica is one of those rare countries where the wildlife alone can be worth the trip. What the country may lack in cultural attractions, it more than makes up for with interesting and prevalent wildlife experiences.

You rarely need to search out animals. Monkeys make regular appearances around the towns, cappuchins hang out around restaurants, scarlet macaws soar through the skies, and toucans rustle in the branches nearby.


Opportunities to see wildlife are not limited to any one area, but visiting the parks or taking organized tours with knowledgeable guides will improve the chances of seeing some of the more elusive species.

As a general rule, you may have better luck seeing a wider variety of animals in the south of Costa Rica. A guided walking tour through Manuel Antonio National Park will almost guarantee you sightings of sloths and different types of monkeys, along with a variety of other animals. Plan a stay at an eco-lodge in the Osa Peninsula or stay at a small mountainside resort or inn around Dominical, Uvita, or Ojochal, and the wildlife will likely to come to you.

But the north is also full of wildlife. Even if you are staying in downtown Tamarindo, howler monkeys are a common sight in the trees and on overhead wires along the streets. Keep your eyes peeled, and you're sure to see some interesting critter.

Ziplining over the jungle

If traipsing through the jungle in the heat is not your idea of fun, head out on a trip to Diamante Eco Adventure Park. Here, the animals, including monkeys, sloths, jaguars, and pumas, are easily spotted in their natural habitat. On-site biologists care for these non-releasable animals and are also on hand to answer any questions you may have. In addition to the large animals, a butterfly enclosure is available to walk through. If you are lucky, one of these gentle and colorful creatures may even land on you.

It wouldn't be Costa Rica if there wasn't an opportunity to go ziplining, and if you want to try it, this is one of the best places to strap in and fly. The most popular zipline at the Diamante Eco Park is the Superman course. You literally jump off the top of a mountain and zip down one mile towards the ocean – head first!

If you'd rather learn about Costa Rican culture and immerse yourself in the country's rich biodiversity, take the Costa Rican Cultural Experience tour. Here, the friendly guides showcase Tico life, food, and culture while teaching you about the local plants that surround you.

Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park

In southern Costa Rica, beyond the beautiful beaches of Dominical, is the remote Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park

The park, established in 1975, protects what is considered to be the best remaining stretch of Pacific coastal rainforest in Central America. It has an extensive trail system and is popular with travelers who enjoy long-distance hikes.

In addition to surfing, other popular activities in the region are diving, snorkeling, and fishing. Puerto Jiménez is the area's largest town, and several fine lodges are found in the Drake Bay area.

Tortuguero National Park

For something a little different and a little off the beaten path, visitors may want to head to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast. This area, accessible only by boat or plane, is one of the wettest areas in the country and offers something different than the rest of Costa Rica. The park is an important breeding ground for the green sea turtle and as a result, turtle watching is the main activity here.

While there are many beaches, the coastal area is not suitable for swimming as the surf and currents are rough and strong. Sharks are common. Hundreds and even thousands of green and leatherback turtles can be viewed (guides are necessary) nesting and laying eggs on the beaches overnight. Recent conservation efforts have increased the number of turtles nesting in the area.

From the hiking trails or boat rides along the canals, it's possible to spot monkeys, sloths, and kinkajous. Peccaries and tapirs are also present but more difficult to see. Freshwater turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs, toads, and other amphibians are also common.

The National Theater in San Jose

Costa Ricans take pride in the National Theater, which is considered to be the most impressive building in San José. In the 1890s, the ruling coffee barons voted for a tax on coffee exports in order to fund the construction of the theater, and European artisans were imported to design the building.

Completed in 1897, the building features a classical Renaissance columned façade topped by statues symbolizing Dance, Music, and Fame. Inside, the pink marble foyer features allegorical figures of Comedy and Tragedy, and painted murals depicting themes in Costa Rican life.

The most famous of the paintings is one showing coffee harvesting and export painted by Arturo Fontana in Milan in 1897.

Irazu Volcano National Park

The Irazú Volcano is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica at 3,342 meters. The summit of the volcano is a lunar-like landscape with craters. Irazú's Principal Crater is 1,050 meters in diameter and 300 meters deep, and the Diego de la Haya Crater is considerably smaller and contains a small lime-green lake that sometimes appears red.

Marked trails lead to these craters and two other smaller ones, one of which also contains a lake. A pyroclastic cone can also be seen, which has been formed from fragmented volcanic rock. From the summit, it's possible to look out to the Pacific and Caribbean on clear days.

Braulio Carrillo National Park

Braulio Carrillo National Park, a 30-minute drive from bustling San Jose, encompasses rugged mountains, waterfalls, canyons, dormant volcanoes, and virgin rainforest. The park's proximity to the country's main gateway means it is an easy way to see some of Costa Rica's unique plants and wildlife.

Many different habitats exist in the park due to the variety in elevation, which ranges from the top of the Barva Volcano (2,906 meters) to less than 50 meters in the Caribbean lowlands. The park is home to mammals such as jaguars, pumas, tapirs, sloths, and monkeys, but easier to see and hear are several species of birds including the Quetzal (national bird), toucans, and eagles.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park

The Rincón de la Vieja Volcano is the main attraction in this park. One of the most popular things to do is a hike to the summit. This 9.6-kilometer trail leaves from Las Pailas and passes through a variety of ecosystems as it climbs to the top. The views are spectacular. You can see the Nicoya Penisula, and on a clear day, right into Nicaragua.

Other less strenuous trails lead to waterfalls and hot springs. The park is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, with tapirs; sloths; monkeys; and large cats such as the jaguar, puma, and ocelot inhabiting the park.

Crocodiles on the Tarcoles River below the Crocodile Bridge

If you want to see a crocodile in Costa Rica, a stop at the Crocodile Bridge will almost guarantee your success. Located about 25 minutes north of Jaco along Highway 34, this is a quick, fun, and easy stop. The Crocodile Bridge spans the Tarcoles River, which is known for having a huge population of American crocodiles.

You'll find a parking area on the north side of the bridge, along with some stores, souvenir sellers, and a Pops ice-cream shop. The bridge has a pedestrian area to walk out on, with railings on the river side and a barrier on the traffic side, so you don't have to worry about traffic. Viewing the crocodiles couldn't be easier, as they bask on the muddy riverbed below.

La Paz Waterfall

This privately owned nature park is a must-see attraction in Costa Rica. Spread out over 70 acres, the park is home to a wide variety of wildlife including monkeys, butterflies, hummingbirds, and others.

The highlight of the park is La Paz waterfall. Rainwater from the cloud forests tumble off a high ledge, dropping 37 meters into a pool below. In addition to the waterfall, your admission ticket includes access to the serpentarium, butterfly observatory, jungle cat exhibit, and ranarium (frog exhibit).

Official site:

Kiteboarding at sunset

Costa Rica is becoming one of the "go-to" places for kiteboarding travelers. On the far northwestern coast near the Nicaraguan border is a place where the winds are strong and consistent.

Each day, the wind blows down from the massive Lago Cocibolca in Nicaragua and across the beautiful Salinas Bay. Bring your full quiver of kites, but it's likely that your seven-, nine-, and 11-meter sizes will get the greatest workout. Get the arms and legs tuned up, as it can be quite gusty at times.

Comfortable, but basic accommodation is either on the beach or up in the hills from Salinas Bay. If you'd like a more luxurious set of 5-star digs, head to the Dreams Las Mareas .

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Costa Rica's strikingly diverse terrain – lush forests, wildlife reserves, hot springs and tropical beaches – offers a little something for every traveler. Beach lovers should head west and stay along the Pacific Coast; Guanacaste  and the  Nicoya

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best tourist destination costa rica

Nicoya Peninsula Nicoya Peninsula free

The Nicoya Peninsula's sparkling, nearly 80-mile shoreline boasts beach-centric towns with cream-colored shores and dense forests. Half of the peninsula is found in the Guanacaste province, while the other half sits in the Puntarenas province. If you're looking for a shortlist of towns or attractions to visit while traveling around the peninsula, consider the following:

Tamarindo: For the most developed beach town, head to Tamarindo on the north end of the peninsula. Tamarindo's beaches gained popularity after being featured in the 1994 surf movie "Endless Summer II," and today, the town is home to a bustling nightlife scene and well-regarded restaurants. Some of its most popular beaches include Playa Grande and Playa Negra. You'll also find sea turtle beaches and birding hot spots along the Nicoya Peninsula – especially at Marino las Baulas National Park – in addition to leatherback turtles and more than 100 bird species at Playa Grande. In addition to its natural wonders, Tamarindo is also home to some of the best all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica . 

best tourist destination costa rica

Guanacaste Guanacaste free

Costa Rica's "Gold Coast" is one of the nation's top destinations, and that's not just because of its secluded beaches. The northwestern province's dry, sunny savannas contrast the misty cloud-covered rainforests found in other parts of the country. To the east, you'll admire volcanoes comprising the Cordillera de Guanacaste. Along the coast – which extends all the way to the Nicaraguan border – you'll find pockets of white sand flanking all-inclusive resorts and remote fishing villages. Farther inland, you'll discover a thriving cowboy culture that has flourished since Spanish colonial rule in the 19th century.

More notable highlights include the pristine, palm-studded Playa Carrillo, Rincón de la Vieja National Park and Costa Rica's first national park, Santa Rosa.  

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Ecotermales Fortuna Ecotermales Fortuna

Located just outside the town of La Fortuna, the Ecotermales Hot Springs offer a relaxing break perfect for soothing post-hike muscles. Its magnesium-rich waters are heated by the natural energy of Arenal Volcano and collect in several rock-edged pools that are surrounded by lounge chairs and a lush tropical rainforest, not to mention views of the volcano. Constantly moving, the natural water refreshes itself every 45 minutes. Bathers will find five pools ranging from 90 to 106 degrees Fahrenheit, as well as a pair of bars and an on-site restaurant. There are also cool water pools and a waterfall perfect for enjoying a hydromassage.

Most recent travelers thoroughly enjoyed their experience at the hot springs, praising the clean facilities, the affordable drinks and the tasty food. Even in light rain (which is frequent in Costa Rica), visitors called it "paradise on Earth." Several visitors said the hot springs never felt crowded thanks to the size and variety of the pools. 

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Manuel Antonio National Park Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica's smallest protected green spaces, but don't let its size throw you off. Within the park's 7 square miles, you'll find untamed beaches, secluded coves with coral reefs, nature trails and a thick rainforest. You can stretch out on the park's coastline or wander along one of the walking paths to spot rare birds, camouflaged iguanas and purple and orange crabs. If you're a lover of furry creatures, this park shelters sloths and a large population of monkeys. Though you can explore the park on your own, there are a variety of organized tours that take the hassle out of planning and range from guided hikes and kayak tours to boat rides, zip line tours and more.

For beach lovers, Playa Manuel Antonio is the most popular thanks to its spectacular views. But if you're hoping to avoid your fellow tourists, venture to Playa Espadilla, which combines an arching white sand beach with a rainforest backdrop. Many consider it one of the prettiest beaches in the area. Part of the beach is in Manuel Antonio National Park (where an entrance fee required), though the section near the town of Manuel Antonio (called Playa Espadilla Norte) is free to enjoy. Water sports enthusiasts can also sign up for surfing lessons and catamaran and banana boat rides.

best tourist destination costa rica

San José San José free

San José, Costa Rica's vibrant capital, serves as a central base for exploration and features a large international airport. You'll likely want to stop here before heading off to the country's magnificent rainforests and beaches. A bustling metropolis, San Jose is home to a bevy of cultural attractions. For visitors, the city's museums and distinct interconnected  barrios  (districts) are the major draws, not to mention the vibrant dining scene.

Barrio Amón is popular with tourists for its centuries-old mansions and photo-worthy architecture. Barrio Escalante is equally popular for its variety of restaurants, bars, cafes and bakeries. If you plan on staying in the city for a few days before connecting elsewhere, consider heading downtown to the Plaza de la Cultura for the exquisite collections at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. For even more treasures, don't miss the Jade Museum, which sits in front of the Plaza de la Democracia. Both museums house dazzling and rare pre-Columbian artifacts. Other must-sees include the National Theater of Costa Rica, the National Museum of Costa Rica and the Central Market.

best tourist destination costa rica

Jacó Jacó free

Far away from northern Costa Rica's foggy rainforests lies Jacó, a beautiful town teeming with shops, restaurants and beachfront hotels (some of the top Costa Rica all-inclusive resorts can be found here). It's also the closest beachside retreat to San José , the country's capital. Surfers should venture to Playa Hermosa, host of many surfing competitions and tournaments, for the best waves. If you're looking for a more relaxing stretch of sand with calm waters, consider Playa Herradura and Playa Blanca – two beaches perfect for swimming and sunbathing. Nature seekers should head to wildlife havens like the Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls, a 60-acre property that's home to the country's colorful birds and resident monkeys. For those who want a bigger dose of nature, Carara National Park is home to crocodiles, jaguars and the endangered scarlet macaw. For even more wildlife, venture about 45 miles down the coast to Manuel Antonio National Park . If you're traveling sans kids, you may also want to take advantage of the town's rollicking nightlife scene.

Recent travelers highlight one major drawback: the town's popularity. In addition to crowded beaches, family travelers cautioned against the rip currents at Playa Jacó and to heed the posted signs. For most travelers, surfing was the main draw, in addition to the unique gray and black sand beaches. Other reviewers said the national parks were a must.

best tourist destination costa rica

Arenal Volcano Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica's best-known stratovolcano, stands more than 5,000 feet high and appears to touch the clouds. For the latter half of the 20th century, admirers traveled to its base in droves to catch a glimpse of its glowing rocks and the molten lava tumbling down its sides. But Arenal wasn't always spewing fiery lava, rocks and ash. The volcano sat dormant for 400 years, then on July 29, 1968, Arenal awoke from its slumber. A thunderous earthquake shook the area and a subsequent explosion of lava wiped out three nearby villages. Frequent eruptions continued until 2010, when the volcano re-entered a resting cycle.

Today, you can explore the area by visiting the nearly 30,000-acre Arenal Volcano National Park, which is part of the larger 500,000-acre Arenal Tilaran Conservation Area. Given the area's immense size, the opportunities for adventure and exploration are nearly endless. Popular activities and attractions include hiking trails, hot springs, horseback riding, zip lining and river rafting.

best tourist destination costa rica

Corcovado National Park Corcovado National Park

Visitors travel to this more than 160-square-mile misty rainforest for its wildlife. In fact, the park is in a region that's considered one of the most biologically diverse areas in Central America. Visitors have the opportunity to spot more than 300 different bird species, 140 types of mammals, 40 fish species and more than 100 different amphibians. Buzzing insects and chirping birds can be seen and heard as you stroll through the verdant jungle. Trek along the many trails and you're likely to spot macaws, tapirs, jaguars, sea turtles or squirrel monkeys. What's more, Corcovado National Park features an untamed beach area. For the adventurous, there’s primitive camping.

Note that permits and a reservation with an official guide are required to access the park. Permits can be obtained through a tour operator ; many local hotels work with tour operators and can book a tour for you. Past visitors spoke highly of Corcovado Info Center .

best tourist destination costa rica

Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall Tour

(727 reviews)

Tortuga Island Full Day Tour from San José with Lunch

Tortuga Island Full Day Tour from San José with Lunch

(270 reviews)

from $ 115.00

Sunset Sailing Catamaran Tour from Tamarindo

Sunset Sailing Catamaran Tour from Tamarindo

(277 reviews)

best tourist destination costa rica

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Imagine winding through a forest that touches the clouds with its strikingly tall trees that wrap you in a sea of green. Add to that more than 100 mammals, 400 types of birds and 1,200 amphibian species, and you have Monteverde's lush 35,000-acre reserve. What's more, Monteverde Cloud Forest is home to more than 2% of the world’s biodiversity and 10% of its plants are endemic to the preserve. With its unique setting, Monteverde is one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica. Adventurous travelers explore Monteverde Cloud Forest from a zip line, but there's also a tram for those who’d like to see the cloud forest without long hikes. For more information about zip line tours, consult the Sky Adventures official  website . If you'd prefer to stay on ground, the reserve also offers guided walking tours year-round (for an extra fee).

More than a couple travelers called the experience of hiking through the cloud forest "magical." Recent visitors praised the forest signage and said it was easy to navigate with their group. Most said the park was a must-see example of Costa Rica's rich wildlife diversity. Recent visitors recommended taking a zip line tour to avoid the crowds and admire the reserve from an aerial view. Past visitors highly recommend hiring a guide if you've come to the reserve in search of wildlife as the local guides will be able to help you easily spot the animals. Another visitor recommended packing plenty of water and rain gear.

best tourist destination costa rica

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Puerto Viejo de Talamanca free

The village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, located on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, comes alive with reggae music, funky bamboo bars and a wild nightlife. Surfers crowd coconut-fringed Cocles Beach, a top-rated surf destination, and foodies check out the downtown's Caribbean-influenced cuisine. Meanwhile, nature lovers venture inland to explore rainforests and nearby Cahuita National Park or the Jaguar Rescue Center. Along the coast, you'll discover remote bungalows and empty stretches of sand.

Several recent visitors mentioned the rip current at Playa Cocles, the top surfing spot. Travelers recommend visiting Playa Negra's black-sand beach – located in the northwest end of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca – for its unique geography and lack of tourists. If you're just hoping to relax or swim, reviewers say the soft sand and stunning waters at  Playa Punta Uva can't be beat

best tourist destination costa rica

La Paz Waterfall Gardens La Paz Waterfall Gardens

La Paz may seem quiet and still at first glance. Though take another look, and you'll find this 70-acre eco-park buzzing with activity. From croaking frogs and fluttering butterflies to rumbling jaguars and howling spider monkeys, the park is a wildlife lover's paradise. For nature-seekers, the hiking trails, along with the garden's five flowing waterfalls are both must-dos. The entire La Paz Waterfall Gardens is draped in a sea of leafy green canopies dotted with colorful orchids. In addition to dining, visitors can book accommodations at the on-site Peace Lodge.

Recent travelers said La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a must-see for every first-time visitor to Costa Rica. Others were pleased with the friendly and knowledgeable staff and the ability to see the property in two hours. However, a few noted that the attraction felt very touristy, and some were disappointed with the small size of the animal enclosures. If you don't want to pay the admission price, you can see the waterfalls from the highway, according to visitors. Reviews for the buffet were mixed: some enjoyed the food, while others described it as overpriced.

best tourist destination costa rica

Tabacón Hot Springs Tabacón Hot Springs

After a trek to  Arenal Volcano , take some time to soak in the Tabacón's luxurious thermal springs. With its serene flowing waterfalls, tropical foliage and mineral-rich natural springs, the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort is a blissful escape for travelers. The volcano-heated mineral water collects in pools with temperatures that range from a refreshing 72 degrees to a muscle-relaxing 105 degrees. Next to the thermal baths, the Tabacón's top-notch spa boasts volcanic mud wraps, coffee exfoliations and a host of massage therapies. After relaxing under the canopy of trees, dine in one of two restaurants serving Costa Rican flavors along with international favorites. Luxury lodging is available on-site for overnight guests.

Past visitors called the experience relaxing and beautiful, with great facilities. A handy tip from recent travelers: Bring water shoes to protect your feet as you walk from one pool to another. Though past visitors bemoaned the presence of tour bus crowds, many still said this is a "must-do," especially if you're looking for a relaxing afternoon.

best tourist destination costa rica

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

Bird-watchers rejoice: This swampy wildlife refuge houses thousands of water birds, including storks, cormorants and roseate spoonbills, along with rare jabirus. To spot these animals, you'll want to plan your visit during the dry season (July to November), when the refuge becomes a vital feeding ground for the birds. Note that this remote haven sits near the Nicaraguan border and a day tour is required to visit. Visitors will notice an abundance of wildlife, such as monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, lizards and possibly freshwater sharks along the Rio Frio.

Recent travelers enjoyed visiting the Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge; many took a boat cruise to see the wildlife and birds. In fact, some reviewers said they were overwhelmed by the amount of birds they saw, in addition to the monkeys and sloths that tend to hide in the trees. Many visitors recommend bringing insect repellent and binoculars. 

best tourist destination costa rica

Pure Trek Canyoning and Waterfall Rappelling Tour in La Fortuna

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from $ 119.00

North Fields Cafe: Craft Specialty Coffee and Chocolate Tour

North Fields Cafe: Craft Specialty Coffee and Chocolate Tour

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from $ 43.00

Sunset Catamaran in Playa Flamingo

Sunset Catamaran in Playa Flamingo

(616 reviews)

best tourist destination costa rica

Tortuguero National Park Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park sits tucked away in a northeastern pocket of the Caribbean coast and is only accessible via plane or boat (though boat is the most common). Tied to Costa Rica's mainland by weaving rivers and canals, this isolated park is the second-largest wetland in Costa Rica and lures nature seekers looking for a remote piece of jungle paradise. At various times during the year, visitors can spot sea turtles – green, leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead – nesting in the area. If you want to witness turtle nesting, plan a visit between July and mid-October. Turtle nesting walks can be arranged through a licensed guide (past visitors praised Tortuguero Tours and Tortuguero Eco Experiences). The Asociacion de Guias de Tortuguero is another resource for finding local guides.

Tortuguero National Park is also an important manatee habitat. With numerous aquatic trails (travel within the park is by canoe or skift), visitors can admire more than 400 different bird species, hundreds of different mammals and reptiles, followed by more than 400 arthropods (insects and spiders). The park is also home to white-faced monkeys, toucans, jaguars, bright lizards, red-eyed frogs and blue morpho butterflies. 

best tourist destination costa rica

Nauyaca Waterfalls Nauyaca Waterfalls

Costa Rica could be called the land of waterfalls as there are hundreds nestled in the rainforests. The Nauyaca Waterfalls are located along the country's South Pacific coast, and they're considered a must-see if you're exploring this area of Costa Rica. Discovered and managed by the same family, the popular Nauyaca Waterfalls feature two tiers of falls within a nearly 30-foot-wide canyon that are part of the Barucito River. The upper section of the falls measures approximately 145 feet; the lower section spans 65 feet and features a six-foot-deep pool that visitors can swim in. There are additional pools for wading and swimming in the area as well.

You have a few options for reaching the falls. The hike to the waterfalls from the parking lot is about 2 miles (which will take approximately an hour). However, you can also sign up for horseback riding or four-wheel drive vehicle tours, which can be reserved through the same company that manages the falls. Whichever way you choose to access the falls, note that advance reservations are required.

best tourist destination costa rica

Catarata del Toro Catarata del Toro

Measuring approximately 300 feet, this waterfall plunges over the edge of an extinct volcanic crater and is surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and mist. Unlike some of the country's other popular waterfalls, admiring Catarata del Toro doesn't necessarily require a strenuous hike. The waterfall is privately owned, and can be viewed from the on-site restaurant and several lookout points. If you'd like to get closer, there is a trail departing from the visitor center.

The first part of the self-guided trail is flat and features three lookout points. The second part of the hike requires that you traverse more than 300 concrete steps. The total length of the trail is about 2 miles round-trip. Though you can't swim in the pool at the bottom of the falls, it's still worth the trek for the views alone, according to recent vactioners.

best tourist destination costa rica

Irazu Volcano Irazu Volcano

Standing 11,260 feet tall, Irazu is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica (its last eruption was in 1994) and one of the most popular for Costa Rica visitors. From its peak on a clear day, visitors can see across Costa Rica to both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, and with the aid of a telescope, Lake Nicaragua. As a stratovolcano, it features five different craters at its peak, giving the Irazu Volcano an irregular shape. The scenery is described as moon-like, and provides a stark contrast to the lush terrain the rest of the country is known for. It also lacks the animal diversity found elsewhere due to the dry conditions, altitude and volcanic activity. Aside from the view, perhaps the biggest draw to a visit to Irazu Volcano is its craters. There are a variety of paved paths that allow visitors to safely and easily observe the craters, including the popular Diego de la Haya crater, which fills with an aquamarine lake if the precipitation conditions are right.

According to recent visitors, you'll want to plan your trip here early to avoid the usual tourist crowds (which start arriving around 10 a.m.) and to enjoy the view before the clouds and fog start to roll in. Note that the crater lake only fills during periods of rainfall, and may be empty during your visit. Reviewers also advised wearing layers and bringing a jacket or other warm clothing as it can get chilly due to the elevation.

best tourist destination costa rica

Rio Celeste Rio Celeste

The turquoise waters of the Celeste River attract visitors from far and wide to the Cordillera de Guanacaste, a volcanic mountain rage that sits in the northwestern corner of the country near the Nicaragua border. Visitors are drawn to this region for Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is home to the nearly 300-foot-tall Rio Celeste Waterfall. The waterfall attracts visitors for its brilliant blue water. Local lore attributes the stunning beryl-tinted waters to God, who legend says rinsed his paintbrushes in the river after painting the sky blue. However, scientists attribute the color to a chemical reaction between the volcanic minerals in the water. (If you want to observe the falls and the pool at their most striking, visit in the dry season; rain can dull the blue tint of the waters.)

To reach the waterfall, you'll have to traverse a short, relatively easy trail. The first portion is paved, and then it transitions to gravel. To get closer to the waterfall, you'll have to descend a set of concrete steps. After admiring the waterfall, you can turn around, or keep going to discover the rest of the natural wonders along this approximately 3 1/2-mile path, including Laguna Azul (another blue pool) and El Teñidero (the meeting of two rivers, Quebrada Agria and Rio Buena Vista).

best tourist destination costa rica

ATV or Buggy Private Tour from Tamarindo or Conchal

(444 reviews)

from $ 80.00

Arenal 12 Zipline Cables Experience with La Fortuna Waterfall

Arenal 12 Zipline Cables Experience with La Fortuna Waterfall

(427 reviews)

from $ 96.00

Arenal Volcano Full-Day Combo Tour with Lunch and Dinner

Arenal Volcano Full-Day Combo Tour with Lunch and Dinner

(2556 reviews)

from $ 179.00

best tourist destination costa rica

Pacuare River Pacuare River

For whitewater rafters, the top destination in Costa Rica sits on the Caribbean side along Pacuare River, or Rio Pacuare, which is home to rapids ranging in difficulty from Class II to Class IV. Along with its thrilling rapids, the river is also known for its wildlife, including sloths, toucans and parrots, and dramatic scenery: you'll be surrounded by a lush rainforest and cascading waterfalls.

Keep in mind: The river runs faster and the rapids are more challenging from June to October, with the highest water flows in September and October (peak rainy season). If you're up for the challenge the upper section of the river, which spans 16 miles, is rated difficult to extreme. For novices, the lower section of Pacuare River is tamer. Guided tours , which include access to helmets, life jackets and an experienced river runner, are a must. Exploradores Outdoors earns high praise from past travelers for its adept and friendly guides.

best tourist destination costa rica

Caño Island Caño Island

As one of the top diving and snorkeling destinations in Costa Rica, Caño Island draws travelers for its diverse marine life. Only accessible by organized tour, the waters surrounding the island are crystal clear and the coral reef protects smaller marine life. Scuba divers and snorkelers swim with several types of rays, along with whale sharks and even sea turtles. Most tours last all day and include a 45-minute boat ride to and from the island; visitors should come prepared with motion sickness medication as the water can be choppy. 

Several recent snorkelers said the experience topped their expectations, with sharks and turtles swimming close by and dolphins visible on the boat ride to the island. For other avid divers, the quality of the coral reef seemed to be declining, a problem the world over due to climate change. Several reviewers reported being stung repeatedly by tiny jellyfish, which are known to frequent the waters around the island. Wearing a rash guard can help protect your skin from the jellyfish.

best tourist destination costa rica

Jade Museum Jade Museum

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best tourist destination costa rica

El Toledo Coffee Tour El Toledo Coffee Tour

best tourist destination costa rica

Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary

best tourist destination costa rica

3-Hour ATV Jungle Waterfall Adventure

(499 reviews)

All Inclusive Catamaran Eco Adventure from Manuel Antonio

All Inclusive Catamaran Eco Adventure from Manuel Antonio

(293 reviews)

from $ 83.00

Tropical Rainforest, Hanging Bridges And Jungle Sloths Sanctuary

Tropical Rainforest, Hanging Bridges And Jungle Sloths Sanctuary

(237 reviews)

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10 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica

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It may be a small country in land mass, but Costa Rica is one of the world’s biggest natural playgrounds. Bordered between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica boasts the world’s largest density of flora and fauna in addition to a varied terrain of mountains, valleys, forests, volcanoes, beaches, lakes and rivers. An overview of the best places to visit in Costa Rica :

10. Tamarindo [SEE MAP]


Year-round sunshine, breathtaking views, laid-back atmosphere and close proximity to national parks all make Tamarindo a popular destination for family vacations and eco-adventures. Located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Tamarindo is one of the most developed and accessible beach towns in the region with paved roads and plenty of tourist facilities.

Less than an hour from the town of Liberia, Tamarindo is a small tropical paradise that can be easily explored by foot, taxis, rental cars and scooters. Tamarindo’s main attraction is its sprawling beach where visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities from swimming to surfing, kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, diving, windsurfing and boat cruises. With deep-sea waters teeming in snapper, marlin, grouper and tuna as well as other trophy fish, Tamarindo is a sport fishing mecca with first-rate fleets and ample operations. Golfers will delight in Tamarindo’s world-class golf courses.

With close proximity to the rainforest, visitors can enjoy adventures like jungle trekking, ATV tours, horseback riding and whitewater rafting. Home to one of the country’s most important sanctuaries for nesting leatherback sea turtles, the nearby Marino Las Baulas National Park is also a great place for hiking, bird watching and wildlife viewing.

9. San Jose [SEE MAP]

San Jose

Surrounded by lush green valleys and mountains, Costa Rica’s capital and largest city, San Jose, is a modern city, complete with accommodation, shopping, dining, nightlife, and arts and culture. Easily explored by walking, taxis and buses, the vibrant city occupies a plateau in the country’s geographical center, making it a great base for exploring other destinations in Costa Rica.

An attractive mix of historic Spanish and modern day architecture, the city’s busy downtown area is home to landmarks, government buildings, cultural venues and noisy traffic. San Jose is host to a number of museums that offer an introduction into the country’s history, culture, art and wildlife. San Jose also boasts a number of performing arts centers and theaters presenting concerts, dances and dramas year round, including the National Theater, which is admired as one of the country’s most impressive architectural attractions. Tourists may also enjoy browsing San Jose’s colorful markets for souvenirs as well as the San Pedro Mall, one of Central America’s largest malls.

Relaxation and outdoor recreation can be found among the city’s charming plazas, green spaces and public parks that feature gardens, lakes, sports areas and artistic works. A few of the most popular are the National Park, San Jose Central Park and the La Sabana Metropolitan Park. The Simon Bolivar Zoo is a good place for the whole family to see animal species from Costa Rica as well as from around the world.

8. Chirripo National Park [SEE MAP]

Chirripo National Park

Spanning over the three provinces of Limón, Cartago and San Jose in southern Costa Rica, the Chirripo National Park protects a diversity of habitats and wildlife species, making it a treasure trove for ecotourists and nature lovers. Named after the country’s highest mountain, Cerro Chirripó, the national park features a combination of treeless mountain plateaus, fern groves, marshlands, lush rainforest and glacial lakes that are all home to an abundance of flora and fauna.

Some of the most notable attractions in the national park include the La Amistad International Park Cloudforest, Rabbit Valley, Monte Sin Fe and Cerro Terbi, all natural gems providing breathtaking views. Well-marked trails lead throughout the park, presenting opportunities to admire the diverse landscapes and spot the likes of monkeys, iguanas and rare birds such as the resplendent quetzal. Chilly night temperatures and a 3-day roundtrip should be expected by those wishing to climb to the mountain summit.

The national park is also one of the few places in Costa Rica that is agreeable for technical rock climbing. Ranger stations are available at different locations in the park, offering camping, rustic lodging and visitor information. Chirripo can be reached from the town of San Isidro de El General.

7. Rincon de la Vieja [SEE MAP]

Rincon de la Vieja

Located in the North Pacific region of Costa Rica, the Rincon de la Vieja National Park is named after its main attraction, a large steaming volcano. Intriguing, natural features like craters, vapor vents, bubbling mud pits and hot springs as well as an extraordinary amount of plant and wildlife make this national park a popular destination.

Surrounding the volcano are numerous acres of hiking trails leading through wooded greenery and cloud forest to reveal spectacular scenes like stunning waterfalls, volcanic craters, mud cauldrons and plains riddled with purple orchids. The most popular trail, Las Pailas, is a short circuit trail ideal for all experience levels and leads to steaming fumaroles and boiling mud pots. Another trail, the Sendero Cangreja, brings hikers to the park’s most acclaimed cascades, the Hidden Waterfalls, which tumble into lovely lagoons and natural swimming pools. More experienced hikers looking for more of a challenge can take on the eight-hour roundtrip trek to the crater at the volcano’s summit.

In addition to hiking, park visitors can enjoy other activities like camping, canopy tours, horseback riding, whitewater tubing, soaking in hot springs and spotting some of the many wildlife species that include parrots, toucans, two-toed sloths and howler monkeys. Another experience that may appeal to some is the opportunity to stay at one of the park’s several working cattle ranches where they can participate in daily chores such as herding cattle and tending to horses. Most visitors access the national park by rental cars, taxis and buses from the nearby town of Liberia.

6. Corcovado National Park [SEE MAP]

Corcovado National Park

Regarded by many as the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s national park system, the Corcovado National Park is so overflowing in excellent wildlife opportunities, that it is one place that can guarantee plenty of sightings. Situated on the Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica, Corcovado National Park harbors several major ecosystems that include mangrove swamps, rainforest, palm forest and cloud forest in addition to beaches and coastal habitats.

With several hiking trails winding throughout the park, visitors stand a better chance here than anywhere else in the country of seeing some of Costa Rica’s more elusive and rare species such as red-backed squirrel monkeys, jaguars, harpy eagles, white-lipped peccaries, and Baird’s tapirs. It is also possible to see ocelots, pumas, sloths, coatis, monkeys (howler, spider and white-faced capuchin), poison dart frogs, glass frogs and numerous bird species. A stroll along the beach may award glimpses of sea turtles, hermit crabs, pelicans and scarlet macaws flying overhead. Besides the wealth of wildlife, hiking trails also give visitors the opportunities to check out interesting rock formations, exotic plants and beautiful waterfalls. Canoeing on the river is another fun way to experience the park’s biodiversity.

Access to Corcovado National Park is by way of the closest town, Puerto Jimenez, where visitors can arrange tours, rent bikes, horses, 4WD vehicles, or opt for a bus ride. Corcovado also has four ranger stations providing lodging, food and camping.

5. Tortuguero National Park [SEE MAP]

Tortuguero National Park

Despite the fact that it is remotely located in northeastern Costa Rica and accessible only by boat or airplane, the Tortuguero National Park is one of the country’s most visited national parks. One of the most important turtle sanctuaries in the western Caribbean, the park’s main draw is the sea turtles that nest and hatch on the beach.

Because of its wet, tropical climate, the Tortuguero National Park fosters a rich environment of rainforest, wetlands, mangroves, beaches, canals and lagoons that are all teeming in plant and wildlife species, making it a nature lover’s paradise. The most popular activity here is a guided walk on the beach to spot mother turtles nesting and hatchlings racing to the sea. The best time to view green and hawksbill turtles is between July and October, while the nesting season for leatherback turtles is from February to April.

However, the turtles are not the park’s only attraction. Visitors can take boat rides or paddle canoes through the mangroves and canals to glimpse a wide array of wildlife that includes mammals like manatees, sloths, river otters, tapirs, monkeys (spider, howler and capuchin); birds like green macaws, toucans, parrots and herons as well as reptiles such as giant iguanas, basilisk lizards and crocodiles.

Getting to Tortuguero National Park is every bit as adventurous as the park itself. Visitors will need to arrange a boat tour or rent a boat from the village of Tortuguero, which can be reached by airplane from San Jose. Tortuguero village offers restaurants, lodging and tour operators.

4. Playa Jaco [SEE MAP]

Playa Jaco

Less than two hours away from San Jose, Playa Jaco is a hugely popular destination because it offers the best of Costa Rica from gorgeous beaches to wildlife, outdoor activities and sizzling nightlife. Playa Jaco is a lively beach town well known for its laid-back, party atmosphere and excellent surfing waves.

While Playa Jaco attracts many tourists, it remains a clean, calm beach where people can enjoy sunbathing, swimming, surfing and sport fishing. There are also local surfing schools and classes available for those who want to learn to surf. Because it is nearby tropical jungles nature reserves and national parks, Playa Jaco also offers fantastic eco-tours where visitors can enjoy horseback riding, canopy tours, ATV expeditions, safaris, whitewater rafting and viewing wildlife such as monkeys and scarlet macaws.

Because it is highly tourist friendly, Playa Jaco offers a good variety of restaurants serving international cuisines as well as traditional Costa Rican fare. What’s more, Playa Jaco’s nightlife scene is one of the hottest in Costa Rica with dozens of choices ranging from casinos to bars, discos, nightclubs and dive bars.

3. Manuel Antonio National Park [SEE MAP]

Manuel Antonio National Park

It is Costa Rica’s smallest national park, but Manuel Antonio National Park is also the country’s most visited as it is easily accessible from San Jose. The park offers visitors exceptional beauty and variety of landscapes, wildlife and activities. Located on Costa Rica’s mid-Pacific coast nearby the city of Quepos, Manuel Antonio comprises a diverse array of ecosystems including lush rainforests, white sandy beaches and beautiful coral reefs, making it a coveted destination among families, backpackers, surfers, snorkelers, birders and ecotourists alike.

Manuel Antonio National Park provides a wide range of outdoor activities and adventures that include swimming, surfing, snorkeling, diving, sea kayaking, whale-watching, sport fishing, whitewater rafting and mountain biking. A number of hiking trails offer scenic vistas, waterfalls and glimpses of wildlife such as howler monkeys, iguanas, parrots and possibly the endangered titi monkeys.

Visitors can reach Manuel Antonio National Park by one of the frequent buses that operate from the city of Quepos, which also offers accommodation, dining and nightlife choices.

2. Arenal Volcano [SEE MAP]

Arenal Volcano

Soaring high in a perfectly symmetrical shape over the green hills and pastures of Costa Rica’s northern lowlands, Arenal Volcano is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Until the past few years, Arenal was the most active volcano in Costa Rica, and it’s frequent, small explosions once provided incredible shows of spewing lava. However, in 2010, Arenal’s cycle entered into a resting phase, putting an indeterminate pause on the eruptions. Nevertheless, the area surrounding Arenal still offers plenty of outstanding sights and exciting activities.

The area surrounding Arenal Volcano, along with the dormant Chato volcano, is protected by the Arenal Volcano National Park . Within the national park are picturesque landscapes of lakes, rivers, mountains and rainforests all offering adventures like fishing, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, hiking, horseback riding, ziplining, canopy tours, caving and waterfall rappelling.

Nature and wildlife enthusiasts will find the Arenal Volcano area a paradise with its many species of exotic flowers, mammals like howler monkeys, deer and jaguar, and birds such as parrots and resplendent quetzals. What’s more, due to Arenal’s geothermal activity, tourists have the opportunity to luxuriate in a number of hot springs ranging in every style and budget, and all with beautiful views of the volcano. There are also several resorts in the area offering accommodation and tour operations.

The small town of La Fortuna de San Carlos is the gateway to the Arenal Volcano. It easily reached by bus from San Jose.

1. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve [SEE MAP]

#1 of Best Places To Visit In Costa Rica

Lush green mountains and tropical jungle, shrouded in clouds, resonate with nature’s concert of exotic bird, animal, reptile and insect calls. This is the enchanting setting of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Located along the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range in central Costa Rica, this reserve is one of the country’s most coveted tourist destinations due to its astonishing natural beauty, extraordinary biodiversity and abundance of activities.

Accessed by buses from the nearby town of Monteverde, the reserve has a small lodge, restaurant and gift shop. One of the most popular things to do here is hike amid the numerous trails and admire beautiful waterfalls and exotic flowers and plants, looking for a glimpse of wildlife species like tapirs, agoutis, frogs, wild pigs, monkeys, porcupines, butterflies and the rare resplendent quetzel, the bird that was once regarded sacred by the Mayans. Other ways to experience the cloud forest and its abundance of wildlife is by horseback riding, canopy tours over the tree tops, Sky Walks over suspension bridges, and zipline adventures through the jungle trees.

Additionally, there is a dairy farm on the reserve that was established by Quakers in the 1950s in which visitors can buy cheese and ice cream as well as participate in a tour to watch the cheese being made. There is also a nature center where visitors can walk through butterfly gardens and learn more about the rich biodiversity of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

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Reader interactions.

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August 21, 2017 at 10:09 pm

I love the Arenal Volcano! This place is located in the North plains of the country. We had so much fun there, there´s a lot of things to do. I think it´s the perfect destination that features relaxing and adventure, just in one place. I recommend to stay in the beautiful Eco Resort Montaña de Fuego. Can´t wait to come back!

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April 16, 2016 at 10:37 pm

I’ve been there several times and I just can’t stop going, so amazing. I’d suggest anyone who is wiling to visit Costa Rica to go to Tamarindo, Junquillal or Quepos if you like beaches. If you are more of a countryside person, you should definitely go to Grecia, Santo Domingo de Heredia or Turrialba.

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February 10, 2016 at 7:09 am

If you plan to go to Santa Teresa stay at the Horizon. It has an amazing organic tea house, yoga every morning, gorgeous cabins and wonderful staff. We are here for a week.

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January 22, 2016 at 2:00 pm

My wife and I are getting ready to plan our 35th wedding anniversary trip on 11/28/2016 to Costa Rica never been there before anyone have any tips on where to stay and what to see ?

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Costa Rica Unveiled: The 15 Best Places to Visit for First-Timers in 2024

By Author Steph Dyson

Posted on Last updated: 30th January 2024

Few countries in the world can compare with Costa Rica. Hosting an abundance of tropical rainforests, picture-perfect beaches, and an incredible abundance of wildlife, this is a truly remarkable country and one that’s increasingly popular with adventure travelers. 

Best of all, Costa Rica is consistently ranked as the safest place in Latin America according to the Global Peace Index . Home to six percent of the world’s biodiversity and with 28 percent of its land protected – one of the largest numbers in the world – Costa Rica’s green credentials are nothing short of remarkable.

It’s this unspoiled nature, combined with its consistently excellent surf, active volcanoes, and accessible hiking trails that are behind the country’s appeal. 

And that’s even before we mention the incredibly welcoming local people. Known as Ticos, Costa Ricans are known for their cheerful approach to life, aka “pura vida” (pure life). Their hospitality and friendliness are second to none. 

But where in this vast country should you go on your first trip to Costa Rica? It was hard to whittle the destinations down, but this list comes from the month I spent exploring the far reaches of the country – and discovering the very best it has to offer. 

Scenic view of Arenal Volcano in central Costa Rica at sunrise - one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica

So, whether you’re looking for culture, to summit an active volcano, or to encounter some of Central America’s rarest wildlife, here’s my guide to the best places to visit in Costa Rica. 

Click to navigate this article:

1. San José

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: San José serves as the economic heart of Costa Rica and, while it doesn’t quite have the same cultural richness as other capitals such as Buenos Aires, Santiago, or Lima, it’s an introduction to the country’s history and urban life.

You’ll likely have at least a day in the Costa Rican capital before heading out into the backcountry. With just over 340,000 residents, San José is decidedly low-key, but there’s still plenty to do here.

Start with the capital’s handful of worthwhile museums, including the indigenous gold at the Museo de Oro Precolombino , before heading to the brilliant Museo del Jade , which houses the largest collection of jade in the Americas. 

A panoramic view of one of the busiest streets in downtown San Jose, Costa Rica.

There’s nothing quite like a Central American market for a shock to the senses, so take a wander around the Central Market and try a traditional Costa Rican breakfast or lunch of gallo pinto (red and white beans with scrambled eggs) in one of the many traditional sodas (family-run restaurants) that dot the city. 

Alternatively, head to Sikwa Restaurante , which is considered Costa Rica’s best , for a fancy take on indigenous recipes.

Where to stay in San José

I stayed in a handful of different hotels in the capital, and found the best were the family-run B&Bs, such as Casa 69 San José ($78 USD double), or, if you’ve got a bigger budget and fancy pool access, Studio Hotel Boutique ($118 USD double). 

How to get to San José

Fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), located just outside San José, and take an Uber (around $11.5 USD; 20 mins) or shuttle ride ($1 USD; 35 mins) into the city. Uber is very safe and inexpensive in the city.

2. The Osa Peninsula

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: When it comes to flora and fauna, nowhere on the planet compares with the Osa Peninsula; it’s home to a remarkable 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity . Your chance of spotting some pretty rare wildlife is exceptionally high here, making it easily one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. 

Corcovado National Park (Parque Nacional Corcovado) lies at the very heart of the Osa Peninsula and is the place to spot everything from four species of monkeys to puma, tapir, sloths, and other rare beasts.

Hiking trails crisscross its 424 square kilometers (161 sq miles), allowing you to wander through thick jungle with the calls of toucans and spider monkeys interspersed with the roar of the waves beyond.

The remotest part of the park is Sirena Ranger Station – although, as it’s only accessible by a lengthy hiking trail or one-hour boat journey, you’ll pay a pretty penny to get there. 

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Dolphin and whale watching tours are also popular activities to do from the Osa Peninsula. I headed out on a boat to the Isla del Caño Biological Reserve (Isla del Caño Reserva Biológica), a tiny island whose protected waters are lined with coral and teeming with phosphorescent fish, dolphins, and leatherback turtles. 

Hotels in the far south of the peninsula are another brilliant option for both wildlife and relaxation.

El Remanso , a luxury lodge with outstanding sea views, beautiful cabins with plunge pools, and exceptional food, was surrounded by its own slice of preserved rainforest, and I actually saw more wildlife there than in the national park itself. 

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If you’re after a relaxed but wildlife-filled trip, this is one of the best vacation spots in Costa Rica.

Where to stay in the Osa Peninsula

The most affordable means of visiting Corcovado National Park is staying in one of the many hostels and hotels in nearby Drake Bay, which lies a short drive north of the park. However, if you’ve got the cash, consider a few nights at SCP Corcovado ($1,025 USD double all-inclusive, two-night minimum), a plush hotel that sits right on the park’s boundaries and far from any other habitation – allowing for direct contact with some pretty surprising wildlife, including tapirs and the hotel’s resident puma family. 

However, by far my favorite hotel of the entire trip was El Remanso Rainforest Lodge ($800 USD double, all-inclusive, two-night minimum) in the far south of the Osa Peninsula. Not only did I see all four monkey species found here – howlers, white-faced capuchin, spider, and squirrel – but I spotted an armadillo, collared anteater, and, potentially, a kinkajou. It was a truly magical place. 

How to get to the Osa Peninsula

To reach the north of the peninsula, I traveled overland from Uvita and then by motorboat from Sierpe through the mangroves. However, the most scenic way is by aircraft from San José to either Drake Bay airport or Puerto Jiménez if you’re staying in the south of the peninsula. The views of the peninsula from above are truly breathtaking.

3. Monteverde

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Monteverde’s cloud forests are just that: forests embraced by thick clouds. Rich in flora and fauna – such as the iconic resplendent quetzal – the area is both cooler (and wetter) than other parts of Costa Rica but still absolutely magical. 

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The star attraction in this region is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde), a tract of primary cloud forest with hiking trails, viewpoints, canopy tours, and hanging bridges.

The appeal lies, like much of Costa Rica, in the fact it’s crammed full of a stupendous amount of flora and fauna: 3,000 plant species, 100 types of mammal, and over 400 species of bird. Because it’s considered one of the best places to go in Costa Rica, the reserve does get packed with tourists.

I highly recommend instead the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena) for a quieter hiking experience through the magical cloud forest.

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Both reserves, and the new Curi-Cancha Reserve (Reserva Curi-Cancha), are good places to spot the resplendent quetzal, an iconic – and magnificent – Costa Rican bird. 

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Where to stay in Monteverde

Santa Elena is home to the lion’s share of lodgings and is a short drive from all of the reserves. I stayed at Cloud Forest Lodge ($332 USD double) however, I found the downstairs suites overpriced and dingy, although the views from the restaurant and bar across the forest were spectacular.

Instead, l would highly recommend Hidden Canopy Treehouses ($329 USD double), a boutique hotel whose six treehouses sit high up in the treetops for direct views of the surrounding wildlife. The hospitality is second to none, too.   

How to get to Monteverde

To reach Santa Elena, the road from San José is in poor condition and extremely windy but still passable. Many tourists take a shuttle from the capital city, but, if you’re traveling in a couple or group, a hire car is a more affordable option. Alternatively, you can fly into the nearby Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, just outside of Liberia in Guanacaste (45 mins), and take a shuttle or car to Santa Elen

4. The Pacuare River

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Carving its way through a steep canyon fringed with primary rainforest, the Pacuare River is considered one of the best places on the planet for white water rafting and feels far deliciously from civilization.

While it’s possible to spend just a day whitewater rafting down the Pacuare River, this magical slice of jungle and tumbling water merits more of your time.

best tourist destination costa rica

Get a 10% discount off a trip to the Pacuare River

Rios Lodge is one of the leading eco lodges along the Pacuare River and has helped drive the sustainability efforts that have protected the surrounding jungle.

The team of rafting guides are brilliant, the views from bedrooms across the river mesmorizing, and the food some of the best I ate in Costa Rica.

They’re offering a 10% discount on the price of the lodge for all Worldly Adventurer readers. Just use the code wa10 when booking.

Practically all of the lodges on the Pacuare River can only be reached and left by one means: rafting and it’s something you should definitely add to your list of Costa Rica vacation activities.  

But it’s a thrill to bounce through Class I to V rapids as the raft takes you past astoundingly beautiful scenery as monkeys and kingfishers watch from above and otters plunge in the water below.

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Once in a lodge here, you can enjoy everything from tubing to day hikes to waterfalls, enjoying the lodge’s incredible zipline, which passes across the river eight times with stupendous views as you speed through the treetops, or just listening to the roar of the river as you kick back in a hammock.

The Pacuare River is not just an adrenaline-pumping adventure but also an opportunity to witness a slice of absolute heaven in one of Costa Rica’s wildest corners.

best tourist destination costa rica

Where to stay at the Pacuare River

I stayed at Rios Lodge (from $925 USD double all-inclusive for two nights; $50 USD pp dorm per night), a beautiful hotel that has historically been a pioneer in conservation in the region. Fully powered by green energy and working to reforest cleared land in the locality, this lodge sits right on the river, and the roar of the water will sing you to sleep at night. The food is brilliant, the rooms comfortable, and the staff outstanding, with additional activities including ziplining, tubing, waterfall hikes, and swimming in their natural rock pool. Fancy a 10% discount off your stay at Rios Lodge? Just use the code wa10 when booking.

How to get to the Pacuare River

Tour companies will pick you up from San José to the Pacuare River launch point, which lies a few miles north of most lodges. 

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Located on Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast, Uvita is renowned for its white sand beaches, and proximity to Marino Ballena National Park, a feeding and breeding spot for migrating humpback whales.

Whether you’re a water baby or want to catch sight of some marine wildlife from a boat, the town of Uvita is the perfect place to kick back for a couple of days and tops my list of the best towns to visit in Costa Rica for first-timers. 

Marino Ballena National Park (Parque Nacional Marino Ballena) covers more than 5,200 hectares (13,000 acres) of ocean and 14 kilometers (9 miles) of coastline and is where you hike to remote beaches, snorkel amongst rainbow-colored coral reefs, and motorboat through mangrove forests.

At low tide, take a wander to the “Whale’s Tail”, a sandbar in the shape of – yup, you’ve guessed it – a whale’s tail, although it’s most visible from the hotels in the hills above Uvita. 

best tourist destination costa rica

This is definitely one of the best areas to stay a few days in Costa Rica to sunbathe and swim, however, the real appeal for me was the opportunity to go whale watching.

Humpback whales flock to these waters between mid-July and the end of October; in a two-hour boat tour, we saw six groups of female whales with their offspring, plus bottlenosed dolphins, and hawksbill and olive ridley turtles. 

The nearby town of Dominical is a great day trip from Uvita, where you’ll find surfing and paddleboarding, plus a hike to the stunning Nauyaca Waterfalls.

best tourist destination costa rica

Where to stay in Uvita

I stayed at the beautiful Oxygen Jungle Villas ($530 USD double), a four-star hotel built into the foothills above Uvita. Their spacious cabins are extremely comfortable (and the aircon was welcome!), while the view of the ocean and watery sunsets from the restaurant and pool are divine. The food was some of the best I ate in Costa Rica, too. 

There are plenty more affordable options, however, including the boutique Uvita Paradise ($140 USD double), which is just a stone’s throw from Playa Colonia and the Whale’s Tail.

How to get to Uvita

From San José, the quickest way to get here is by hire car or a tourist shuttle bus south along the Pacific Coast (approximately 4-5 hours). Alternatively, the local bus takes seven hours, and includes a toilet and snack break). Public transport can be one of the cheapest ways to get around Costa Rica, however, a rental car will give you a lot more flexibility.

If driving, consider stopping at Crocodile Bridge , about 1.5 hours from San Jose on Ruta 34 where you might spot – yes, you’ve guessed it – crocodiles in the river below!

6. Tortuguero National Park

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Tortuguero National Park lies on the Caribbean coast, and, while the sweltering heat takes a while to get used to, this remote Costa Rican enclave is one of the best places to see green sea turtles. It’s definitely one of the best places to visit on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side for wildlife.

The vast Tortuguero National Park (Parque Nacional Tortuguero), which protects over 1,270 square kilometers (490 sq miles), is one of the most important nesting sites in the world for leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtles.

Between March and May and July and October, you can watch them pull themselves up the beach and lay some 80 eggs each into the sand. Keep an eye out for jaguars here, too; they’re easiest to spot in this area because of their love of turtle meat!

best tourist destination costa rica

Planning a visit outside of these months? Don’t worry, between September and October, you can witness the eggs hatching. 

The park’s extensive canal system is also worth exploring, with motorboat and kayak tours the best means to encounter multiple species of monkeys, sloths, and birds such as scarlet macaws and toucans.

Where to stay in Tortuguero National Park

I stayed in Mawamba Lodge , whose wooden cabins have much-needed fans and hammock-slung terraces; a swimming pool and daily wildlife spotting tours around the grounds are an added bonus. We saw scarlet macaws flying above the pool and two porcupines in a tree in the gardens.

How to get to Tortuguero National Park

The fastest way to reach Tortuguero is a domestic flight from San José to Tortuguero Airport (25 mins). Alternatively, many of the lodges will include overland transportation from San José to La Pavona (2.5 hours), from where you’ll board their boat to Tortuguero.

best tourist destination costa rica

7. Laguna de Arenal

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: The picturesque Arenal Lake, on whose shores lie the perfectly conical Volcán Arenal, is a pretty, low-key part of Costa Rica, where you’ll get a great introduction to the country’s volcanic background and find adventure and relaxation in spades. 

The area around the regional capital, La Fortuna, is packed with activities. The most popular is hitting the hiking trails in Volcán Arenal National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal), where you’ll pass through the rugged lava flows from the volcano’s 1992 eruption. 

best tourist destination costa rica

Whitewater rafting, kayaking, and ziplining are popular too. For tired limbs, the geothermal energy from the volcano (which is considered active but hasn’t erupted since 2010) has given birth to underground thermal rivers that feed mineral-rich hot springs.

You’ll find plenty in the surrounding area – many with direct views of the volcano looming in the distance.    

best tourist destination costa rica

Where to stay in Laguna de Arenal

I stayed at the wonderful Rancho Margot ($335 USD double, minimum two nights, all-inclusive), a fully self-sufficient, carbon-neutral eco-resort, with cute bungalows and spring-fed swimming pools set within its extensive organic gardens. You could easily spend days here without even leaving the lodges’ grounds, with paid activities including kayaking, horseback riding, and cheese or soap-making workshops available to guests.  

How to get to Laguna de Arenal

Drive or take a shuttle from San José to La Fortuna (around 3.5 hours), the gateway to Arenal. 

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Nosara, situated on the Guanacaste coast, is a laid-back surf town known for its picture-perfect beaches, consistent surf, and yoga retreats. Unlike other popular surfing spots on the Pacific coast, it’s not rammed with tourists, either.  

This sleepy, secluded town offers the perfect blend of active water sports and relaxation, without the same mass tourism of better-known towns such as Tamarindo further north. I found it ones of the most beautiful parts of Costa Rica that I visited on my one-month trip.

best tourist destination costa rica

Start with a surfing class on Playa Guiones and release tired limbs with a yoga class at one of the many wellness centers in the town.

If you’re not overwhelmed by the sticky heat, go for a wander through the trails of the Nosara Biological Reserve (Reserva Biológico Nosara) on the north edge of town, where you can spot howler monkeys and even ospreys and peregrine falcons in its mangrove swamps. 

best tourist destination costa rica

Further north, the Ostional Wildlife Refuge (Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Ostional) sees the mass nesting of olive ridley turtles between July and December – although they only clamber onto the shore to lay eggs during the week before the full moon. 

Where to stay in Nosara

Accommodation in Nosara is pricey, and you’ll be lucky to get a double room cheaper than $200 USD a night. I stayed at Nosara Beach Hotel ($335 USD double, which has ostentatious architecture and a prime location on the headland above both Playa Guinoes and Playa Pelada. 

I found it a little overpriced, so instead would recommend Hotel Boutique Lagarta Lodge ($424 USD double), which controls access to the Nosara Biological Reserve and whose restaurant, bedrooms, and pools have pretty views across Playa Nosara .

A more affordable option is Green Sanctuary Hotel ($130 USD double), which isn’t as slick as other options, nor ocean views, but has a welcome pool and is only a ten-minute walk to the beach. 

How to get to Nosara

To get here, you’ll need a high clearance vehicle (a 4WD isn’t necessary), which you can pick up from Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport, a short flight from San José (45 mins). Alternatively, catch a shuttle from the airport, or fly directly into Nosara Airport from San José (45 mins)

9. Manuel Antonio National Park

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Situated on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the country’s top destinations, thanks to its spectacular beaches and ample access to wildlife. 

Protecting both picture-postcard beaches, mangroves, and rainforest, Manuel Antonio (Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio) packs a lot into what is Costa Rica’s smallest national park. If you’re not a big trekker, you’ll find short hiking trails here that are still a brilliant place to spot ample wildlife. 

A tropical beach set against the backdrop of the Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica - a must visit for first-timers to the country.

Three species of monkey – white-faced capuchin, howler, and the squirrel monkey (which is hard to see in Costa Rica) – call this protected area home, while everything from two- and three-toed sloths to agoutis, pelicans, and kingfishers are abundant here.

Visit early to avoid the crowds and ensure you’re one of the 1,200 people allowed into the park each day. 

Once you’ve explored the rainforest, the park’s beautiful beaches are a good place to relax or jump in the water; beware, not all are suitable for swimming. Playa Manuel Antonio is the safest. 

Where to stay for the Manuel Antonio National Park

The small town of Quepos is the best base for the park, with a selection of small boutique hotels and hostels that are significantly more affordable than those in Manuel Antonio village. If you’re looking for slick bedrooms and balconies looking out into the forest, consider the semi-affordable Hotel Plaza Yara ($200 USD double); for homespun charm, head to the family-run Casas Guaney ($90 USD double), which has extremely helpful owners and is a short drive from the town. 

How to get to the Manuel Antonio National Park

Fly into Quepos La Managua Airport (30 mins) or take a shuttle or drive from San Jose (approximately 2-3 hours) to Quepos. You can reach the park by public bus or tour.

10. Volcán Poás

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: One of Costa Rica’s most accessible – and active – volcanoes, Volcán Poás is an easy day trip from San José and a unique opportunity to view one of the largest volcanic craters in the world. Undoubtedly, it’s one of the coolest places in Costa Rica.

Almost continually active, Volcán Poás offers a stark landscape of ash and lava from previous eruptions. The most striking features are its three craters, two of which are filled with pretty turquoise water – although, be warned, it’s acidic and the fumes are toxic sulfurous gases. 

The acid lake found in the crater of the Volcán Poás in Costa Rica. Hiking to the top of the crater is an easy day trip from San José, and is a must-do for visitors to Costa Rica.

Hike to the edge of the active crater, which is bubbling and smoking, before taking on another of the short trails that wind through the cloud forest, both of which rank among the best experiences in Costa Rica.

Keep your eyes peeled for the resplendent quetzal, in all its feathery glory, and the flitting, endemic Poás volcano hummingbird.  

Where to stay and how to get to the Volcán Poás

It’s best to stay in San José and take either a tour or drive up to the volcano (approximately 1.5 hours). Bear in mind you’ll need to book here in advance to arrange your visit and the park occasionally closes due to volcanic activity, so check ahead.

11. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a beach town on the Caribbean coast, has become a popular hangout for backpackers and surfers, thanks to its dynamic nightlife, pretty, palm-fringed beaches, and some of the best waves in the country. It also has access to an indigenous reserve, where you can learn about the Bribrí culture. 

Surfing is one of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca’s biggest draws, thanks to La Salsa Brava, a beginner-friendly wave that’s at its best between December and March. More challenging swells are within reach for expert surfers. 

People at the beach in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Costa Rica. Located along the Caribbean coast, it's one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

Nearby, Playa Chiquita boasts a white sand beach and is the place to kick back and relax. The clear Caribbean waters surrounding this beach are also home to colorful coral reefs and diverse marine life, making them an appealing place for a spot of snorkeling or diving. 

At Punta Uva, you can also enjoy calm waters perfect for swimming. If you want a place to relax, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is probably the best place in Costa Rica for a chilled vacation.

The town’s culinary scene is also unique, having been influenced by the Afro-Caribbean flavors of the local culture. Savor local delicacies like rice and beans, jerk chicken, and fresh seafood at the numerous beachfront restaurants, and don’t miss the chocolate, made from locally-grown cacao. 

If you’re looking for culture, the nearby KéköLdi Indigenous Reserve (Reserva Indígena KéköLdi), which protects the lands of the Bribrí indigenous people, can also be visited with a local guide. As part of a tour, you’ll learn about their customs, explore the rainforest, and have a chance to buy local crafts. 

Where to stay in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Bedrooms are spacious and it’s unusual to find a pool at this price point, but La Tica y La Gata ($86 USD double) punches above its weight when it comes to services and hospitality. It’s a short walk from the main town and the beach, ensuring a restful sleep.

How to get to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

From San José, travelers can take a direct bus or rent a car for the approximately 4-5 hour journey to Puerto Viejo. Alternatively, a domestic flight to Limon (40 mins) followed by a 1.5-hour bus or taxi ride provides another convenient option.

12. Rincón de la Vieja National Park

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: With some of the best hiking in the country, Rincón de Vieja National Park in the northwest is a protected area with brilliant infrastructure, steaming hot springs, a smoking volcano, and plenty of wildlife. 

Rincón de Vieja, the park’s namesake volcano, is one of the country’s most active, and the steep, 8-kilometer (5-mile) hike up to its summit is the park’s star attraction. 

A waterfall at the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park, one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

From the top, you can observe the stunning turquoise waters of the volcano’s crater lake, Lago los Jilgueros, as well as panoramas of Lago de Nicaragua across the border on a clear day.

Those preferring to go on two wheels will discover the endless mountain biking possibilities here, too. 

Hot springs and the beautiful La Cangreja Waterfalls can also be visited, while nearby lodges lead horseback riding tours into some of the park’s lesser-visited areas. 

Where to stay in Rincón de la Vieja National Park

Las Pailas ranger station is the best entry point into the park, so opt for a nearby lodge, such as the high-end Borinquen Mountain Resort ($243 USD double), which sits on the fringes of the volcano and has villas, a brilliant restaurant, thermal pools, and a swimming pool. Liberia has more affordable accommodations. 

How to get to Rincón de la Vieja National Park

From Liberia International Airport, it’s a roughly 1.5-hour drive to Las Pailas, the entrance to Rincon de Vieja National Park. Transfers from many of the hotels in Liberia if you don’t have a hire car. 

13. Santa Teresa

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Bohemian Santa Teresa might be past the days of being an overlooked little town, but it’s worth all the hype. Join the backpackers and glitzy celebrities who come to the south of the Nicoya Peninsula to surf, swim, and party. 

Santa Teresa is renowned for its consistent waves, with its long sweeping beaches an ideal place for beginners to learn how to surf. Many schools offer lessons for all skill levels, with Playa Carmen the best break for newbies. 

The sweeping coastline of Santa Teresa - a town known for its beaches and nightlife

You can also join yoga classes on the beach or at one of the town’s many wellness retreats, with Santa Teresa’s serene surroundings creating the perfect environment for rejuvenation. Sunbathing, swimming, or just watching as the sun slips into the ocean at dusk are other chilled pastimes. Santa Teresa is another of the best relaxed vacation spots in Costa Rica.

Alternatively, head to Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve (Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco), the country’s oldest protected area. This tropical forest is interspersed with trails, picturesque beaches, and plenty of wildlife, including monkeys, deer, and collared peccary. 

At night, jump into the town’s acclaimed nightlife, where you’ll find international DJs and plenty of time to party. 

Where to stay in Santa Teresa

There’s everything from surf camps, to hostels, and high-end luxury in Santa Teresa, meaning plenty of choice and making it one of the cheaper places to visit in Costa Rica. Only a small handful of hotels can properly call themselves beachfront, which is why Casa Cecilia ($160 USD double) is such good value for money. Rooms are a little basic but it’s far enough from the center to be peaceful and close enough for wandering in of an evening. 

How to get to Santa Teresa

To get here, don’t miss the picturesque passenger and car ferry from Puntarenas on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast to Paquera in the southern Nicoya Peninsula (70 mins). From here, head southwest by car or shuttle to Santa Teresa. Alternatively, domestic flights from San José to Tambor (30 min) followed by a short drive are another option. 

14. Caño Negro National Wildlife Refug e

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: Sitting right on the border with Nicaragua, Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge is a pristine wetland teeming with biodiversity, including a staggering number of birds, making it the ultimate spot for seeing Costa Rica’s incredible endemic avian species. 

Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge (Caño Negro Refugio Nacional de Via Silvestre) is a paradise for bird watchers. The reserve is home to well over 400 migratory and resident bird species, including large storks, cormorants, and multiple types of heron, plus rarer species including the beautiful pink-hued roseate spoonbill.

Reptiles are also out in numbers, with caimans, iguanas, and swimming snakes possible to see, whether you want to or not!

A Boat Billed Heron, found in the trees of the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge. Home to over 400 species of birds, the Refuge is one of the best places to visit when in Costa Rica.

The best way to explore the refuge is with a tour, and, depending on the time of year, the experience will be vastly different.

Between December and April, you’ll be walking along the dried riverbed of the Río Frío; outside of these months, you’ll putter across the reserve by motorboat as the river floods its banks to become a 1,980-acre (3 sq-mile) lagoon. 

Where to stay in Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge

Caño Negro has some surprisingly good accommodations, including Hotel de Campo Caño Negro ($111 USD double). You can book trips directly from the hotel, which has a beautiful garden and a farm-to-table restaurant. 

How to get to Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge

The easiest way to visit the park is as part of an organized tour departing from La Fortuna, a 2.5-hour drive south of the reserve. Alternatively, you can travel by car to reach Caño Negro village or Los Chiles, both of which are gateways to Cano Negro and from where you can organize a tour.

15. Heredia

  • Why it’s great for first-timers: This extension of San José’s urban sprawl promises great views of the capital from its lofty location, plus organic coffee tours and wildlife. 

Most of the capital’s appeal actually lies outside of the city and basing yourself for a couple of days in the hills above is a great way to relax at the start or the end of your trip.

One of the best places to stay is Finca Santa Rosa , an organic coffee farm and family-run boutique hotel that has been pioneering sustainable and regenerative tourism in Costa Rica for over 30 years.

Their 12 hectares (30 acres) of land are cultivated according to permaculture principles and it’s well worth doing a tour of their estate followed by a coffee cupping. You’ll realize how little you ever knew about coffee!  

best tourist destination costa rica

Wildlife watching is a possibility here, too. If you’re worried about not seeing some of Costa Rica’s signature wildlife, then a trip to the nearby Toucan Rescue Ranch can ensure you get up close and personal with sloths, spider monkeys, and even rare oncillas, then this is your place. 

Where to stay in Heredia

While there are plenty of hotels within San José, I much preferred staying in Finca Rosa Blanca . Its whimsical architecture characterized by sweeping towers and nature-infused decor, the hotel’s 13 rooms are packed to the rafters with the owner’s artwork and all have astounding views across the capital. I stayed in the Rosa Blanca, whose bed sits in a tower with 180-degree windows, and, boy, was it worth it! 

How to get to Heredia

Heredia is a short Uber right from San José, that shouldn’t cost more than around $10 USD. 

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The 19 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica in 2024


Biodiverse and beach-fringed Costa Rica has to be one of the most adventure-rich locations on the planet. Spanning a whole cut-out of Central America, the country ranges from the aquamarine lagoons of the Caribbean Sea to the frothing waves of the Pacific Ocean. Read on to see my choices for some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

From soaring volcanoes that sprout through the clouds, primeval rainforests inhabited by howler monkeys and golden frogs, and roaring waterfalls that look like something plucked out of Shangri La, there is something here for yogis, hikers, surfers, wildlife lovers, and more.

This guide to the 19 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica will only scratch the surface of this enthralling nation. It hops from the wave-washed shores of Guanacaste province to the lush Monteverde cloud forests, and includes the buzzing capital of San José along with long-lost island groups that you can only get to by boat.

Plus, you’ll find tips on how to get to Costa Rica and the best time to go at the end of this post. Enjoy!

1. Guanacaste

tropical palm trees a Costa Rican building during a sunset

If you’re after something of a more secluded beach destination on the Pacific coast,  this awesome Guanacaste tour  should be on the radar. It’s actually a whole province, bending like a curled thumb from the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border over the Gulf of Nicoya. Its western side is where the action is, especially in the 40-mile (64-kilometer) run of sparkling sands and lagoons and palm-threaded beaches between Tamarindo (a major beginner surf spot) and Samara.

The northern part of Guanacaste is home to the Santa Rosa National Park. Go there to explore empty wisps of golden sand, mangrove forests, and broadleaf woodlands that swing with rare capuchin monkeys. Adventures await inland, too, especially as Guanacaste has established itself as something of a ziplining mecca – kids will love the Monkey Jungle Zip Line near Tamarindo, but there are plenty more hardcore ones to boot.

Back on the coast and there’s so much to get through. Hammock-swinging days meet snorkeling and sunset sailing expeditions in chilled Playa Hermosa. You can watch the turtle hatching season on Playa Grande. And there’s more surfing than you can shake an ecotourism handbook at – consider Nosara , Tamarindo, and Playa Guiones for some of the best waves. Check out more details of this coastal paradise in our Ultimate Travel Guide to Guanacaste .

2. Islas Murciélagos (Bat Islands)

scuba diver surrounded by a school of fish

There’s one main reason that the Islas Murciélagos (also known as the Bat Islands), make it onto this list of Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica: Diving. Yep, the scuba here is some of the best in the country – nay, the world! Visibility can extend up to a whopping 98 feet (30 meters) when the currents and the weather align, and there’s such a plethora of bucket-list dive sites that even the most seasoned PADI maestro won’t get bored.

They include the ominously named Big Scare, where there’s a fantastic chance that you’ll be going under in the company of bull sharks. Rugged Bajo Negro, a submerged wedge of lava stone that’s usually replete with spadefish, moray eels, and massive octopi, is also a wonderful option. However, the marine safari really starts from the moment you hop on the boat at Playa del Coco, because spinner dolphins and whales occupy the straits between the mainland and the islands. 

The Islas Murciélagos are actually a part of the larger Santa Rosa National Park in Guanacaste Province. A string of remote isles that poke out into the Pacific Ocean from the north-western tip of Costa Rica, they can be tricky to get to but reward water babies with virtually empty coral gardens and volcanic reef systems. Most people will stick to the ocean, but you can hike a single trail on the largest of the islands – Isla San José. It’s a short two-mile (three-kilometer) back and forth to a ranger station and lookout point.

3. Tamarindo Beach

surfer holding his board while walking on the beach shoreline during sunset

Enfolded by two rocky headlands and a long sliver of shimmering sand midway down the Guanacaste shoreline, Playa Tamarindo has risen and risen to become arguably the most famous surf town in Costa Rica, making it one of the Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica. But don’t just take our word for it. You can experience it for yourself on this thrilling Guanacaste vacation tour .

It was first found by board riders in the 1970s but has boomed in recent years. Now, you get rollicking bars and pubs and all sorts of slick hotels nestled between the coast palms.

The surf is still epic, though. There’s something for all levels, too, from the shifting sandbars of the Estero River to the mellow point break for starters at Capitan Suizo. Of course, Tamarindo also has a seemingly endless supply of surf hostels, surf camps, surf schools – you name it. It’s like Central America’s answer to Kuta, Bali.

When the waves are off (not often), the focus will shift to Tamarindo’s other draws. The main one is the Marino las Baulas National Park , which exists in patches to the north, south, and east of the center. It includes the likes of Playa Grande, which hosts thousands of nesting leatherback sea turtles between October and March. There’s also the Catalina Islands archipelago, with super-clear waters and resident manta rays some 10 miles (16 kilometers) offshore – one for the scuba folk!


Arenal Volcano is the centerpiece of Arenal, the self-proclaimed adventure capital of Costa Rica. Soaring to a whopping 5,436 feet (1,656 meters) above sea level in the heart of the northern cordillera, the Arenal Volcano is a perfectly cone-shaped mountain that once erupted more than 41 times each day! Don’t worry…it’s now dormant, but you still can’t hike to the peak because of all the geothermal activity. Instead, delve into the verdant lands of the Arenal Volcano National Park that surround the mountain – you won’t be bored!

Perhaps you could begin with a hike to th e crashing La Fortuna Waterfall? There, the H2O plummets more than 240 feet (73 meters) from a black-rock mountain into a turquoise pool hidden in the jungles. Alternatively, there’s gnarly whitewater rafting to be had on the Peñas Blancas River, or s pelunking in the deep Venado Caves – they pierce a disconcerting 8,850 feet (2,697 meters) below ground.

On the far side of Arenal itself is vast Lake Arenal. It’s the largest lake in Costa Rica and now a haven for outdoorsy activities. Ziplines lurk in the peaks above it. There are hot springs near Tabacon just to the north. Meanwhile, SUP boarding and kayaking and wild swimming are all popular on the water itself.

Ready for a thrilling getaway? Book your Arenal tour   for a vacation you won’t soon forget!

5. Monteverde

hazy cloud forest with lush plants in costa rica

Some say that Monteverde single handedly brought ecotourism to Costa Rica, and is high on the list of our Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica. True or not, this is the place to go to get out and about in the tropical wilds of this very wild land.

Perched on high in the misty midst of the Cordillera de Tilarán, it covers a vast swathe of over 20 square miles (53 square kilometers) in all. Within are countless nature reserves and protected forest areas, which draw a continual stream of hikers, wildlife spotters, and adventurers.

The place that 100% cannot be missed is the epic Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Visitors there get to delve into some of the most biodiverse patches of primeval jungle left on the planet. It’s all linked up by well-maintained trails that hit a zenith with that 492-foot-long (150-meter) suspension bridge that cuts straight through the canopy. Keep your eyes peeled for glimpses of the proud resplendent quetzal (the multicolored national bird of Guatemala) and the uber-rare golden toad as you hike there!

Accommodations in these parts are usually eco-friendly in the extreme. We’re talking places like the Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge, a series of timber-built cabanas with decks that gaze out over the strangler trees and flowerbeds close to the backpacker hub of Santa Elena. From there, you can also plan adrenaline-filled jaunts through the greater region, from whitewater rafting to canyoneering to horseback outings.

Here are some other Top Things to Know Before Visiting Monteverde .

6. Poás Volcano

milky volcano lake surrounded by mountains in the clouds

The Poás Volcano looms large over the Central Valley of Costa Rica. You can almost see it from the streets of San José, shouldering 8,848 feet (2,697 meters) over the heights of the sierras in the distance. 

It’s actually one of the most active volcanoes in Central America, with a busy eruption schedule over the last decade consisting of eruptions in 2017 and then again in 2019. At the time of writing, the Poás Volcano National Park that surrounds the peak is once again open to visitors, though access to some trails and viewing decks might be limited. 

Is it still worth the trip? You bet it is! This is your chance to peer directly over the top of not one but two colossal volcanic calderas. You’ll also be able to gaze at the unique crater lakes, from inky blue Lake Botos (Laguna Botos) to the acidic milky waters of the Hot Lagoon (Laguna Caliente) atop the main volcano.

Visit our Custom Travel page to learn about how we can help create your dream adventure to Costa Rica!

7. Tortuguero

turtle perched on a log in the river

North, south, east, west – wherever you look around little Tortuguero is a national park. That’s the beauty of this remote and isolated spot on the edge of the Caribbean Sea in northern Costa Rica. Just as the name implies, it’s mainly known for its resident population of sea turtles…

They’re still the top draw attraction. Thousands of visitors come to watch green sea turtles, leatherbacks, and hawksbill turtles crawl from the ocean to build their nests between July and October (August is the best of the lot). It’s an experience you’re not likely to forget in a hurry. Turtle safaris to the nearby beaches typically take place in the thick of the night, with the stars blazing overhead and the moon glinting on the Caribbean Sea. Lucky groups will even get to see the first baby hatchlings make their way back from the beach into the water.

Aside from the turtles, Tortuguero is also a perfect gateway to the wetlands and creeks of the Tortuguero National Park . It extends nearly 10 miles (16 kilometers) into the hills and rainforests behind the town itself, unfolding in a feral patchwork of caiman-filled waterways where you can canoe and kayak through truly untouched landscapes.

Book your Tortuguero trip for an unforgettable adventure that’s perfect for families, travel companions, or exploring by yourself!

8. Santa Teresa

golden sunset on a beach with crashing waves with a surfer

Santa Teresa is bathed in the salty airs that roll off the Pacific Ocean at the tail end of the Nicoya Peninsula. One of the last of a whole string of surf towns in the region, it might just be the cream of the crop…

Yep, a trio of fantastic beach breaks join up here. In total, they roll for over six miles (over nine kilometers), starting with beginner-friendly Playa Hermosa in the north and ending with the hollow point breaks of Mal Pais down south. There’s surfing for all levels in Santa Teresa, but it’s a true intermediate mecca, with regular, rippable A-frame waves of five-plus foot throughout the summer months.

You don’t have to wax down the board to enjoy Santa Teresa, though. The town in Santa Teresa has also risen to become something of a buzzy nightlife spot. International DJs can often be spotted around New Year and at Christmas, and there are pumping disco clubs like La Lora for those post-surf après sessions. Behind town, the jungles take over pretty quick. If you’ve managed to dodge a hangover, head up into the trails there to discover the plunge pools and gushing cataracts around the Montezuma Waterfall.

9. Tortuga Island

colorful feathers of a macaw bird perched on dried leaves in Tortuga Island of Costa Rica

There’s an air of the Thai islands about little Tortuga. Fragmented off the south side of the Nicoya Peninsula, a 90-minute boat trip out of Puntarenas, it draws thousands of city slickers from big San José with the promise of powdery white beaches framed by jungle-topped rocks that lurch straight out of the Pacific. Idyllic is the keyword.

Tortuga is surrounded by some seriously immersive ocean territory. Scuba aficionados and snorkelers will have loads to chose from. There’s the El Aquario reef, which teems with rainbowfish and angelfish and stingrays and all manner of strange underwater corals. You’ve got the Bye Bye Reef and its colossal submerged volcanic rocks, a favorite hangout for sea turtles and manta rays. Then there’s the Caroline Star shipwreck, where you can go to encounter formidable, white-tipped reef sharks.

When you’re done exploring the seas and soaking up the rays on the sand, there’s more fun to be had in the forested hills behind. Tortuga boasts its very own zipline course, along with some challenging jungle hikes that have lookout points over the tops of the canopies. Up there, it’s possible to meet colorful scarlet macaws, tapirs, strange iguanas and much, much more. View this amazing Classic Costa Rica tour for more details.

10. San José


It’s very likely that San José will be the first place you encounter in Costa Rica after stepping off the plane. Most travelers won’t linger too long. Myriad eco draws are on the doorstep, you see, from the smoking Poás Volcano and its turquoise caldera lake to the paradisiacal La Paz waterfall gardens. But choose to stay put just a few days and this buzzy and energetic town can really leave a mark.

Avenida Central is the beating heart of it all. That long boulevard bisects the city, connecting up all the key neighborhoods, from vibrant Central Market (go there on Saturday mornings to shop for strange tropical fruits and aromatic coffee beans) to the Cultural Plaza (the proud home of the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and its glimmering relics from ages long gone).

One of the best things to do in the sprawling capital is to make for the lush hills of Escazu district and its surroundings. They rise immediately to the west of the center, scrambling up the cloud-topped peaks that mark the start of the Costa Rican backcountry. A couple of fantastic restaurants – Ram Luna, Tiquicia – offer traditional Tican cooking in those parts, which means gallo pinto and tamales with a view of the capital unfolding to the horizon. 

11. Jaco Beach


Jaco is probably about as close as it’s possible to get to a full-on beach resort in Costa Rica. Bursting with big hotels, beer-sloshing backpacker bars, and fast-food outlets, it’s not at all like the rest of the country. But there’s some charm in these gritty streets, between the ramshackle hostels and salt-washed beach bars by the Pacific.

What really put Jaco on the map to begin with is its surfing. It’s great for complete beginners, because the two-mile (three-kilometer) beach here has forgiving and consistent shoulder-height waves that break over soft sand. Playa Hermosa – the first official World Surfing Reserve in Central America – takes care of more advanced riders. It’s just to the south of town and comes replete with glassy left-handers and A-frames, but you’ll need to watch out for the rips.

Fantastic beaches abound close to Jaco. Playa Blanca offers a rare stretch of white sand on this side of Costa Rica, backed by clusters of sea grapes and stooping coconut palms. Playa Herradura is another standout. Located just over 10 minutes’ drive north of Jaco proper, it opens into a huge horseshoe bay with a shallow bottom and azure waters that lap against cinnamon-tinged powder. And when it’s time for that adrenaline fix? Treks to the Nauyaca Waterfalls or high-octane ATV tours through the coast forests can be added to the menu too.

12. Manuel Antonio


Huddled between the lush rainforests roughly midway down the Costa Rican Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio is one of the leading eco-tourism hotspots in the country (and that’s saying something – this is Costa Rica, remember?). Manuel Antonio is mainly famed for what’s right on the doorstep: The Manuel Antonio National Park. At just 4,900 acres (1,983 hectares), Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest reserve in the country. But boy does it pack a punch… Come to see swinging howler monkeys, scurrying red-backed squirrel monkeys, basilisks, capuchins, and – who could forget – the famously lazy two-toed sloth.

The village of Manuel Antonio sits just to the north of the main entrance to the park. It’s now a bustling and vibrant place, complete with sport-fishing outfitters (elusive sailfish inhabit these waters, you know), zip-line courses, and hiking guides. The hotels in Manuel Antonio aren’t allowed near the coast due to conservation regulations, but that’s a gift in disguise – they stud the cliff tops instead, offering sweeping panoramas of the wave-smashed shoreline.  

Talking of waves, plenty of good-quality breaks roll into the beach at Espadilla Sur to the south of the village. In fact, you’ll find peaks for beginners and advanced surfers alike, with both lefts and rights on the menu. There’s also snorkeling offer around the rugged coves of Playa Biesanz, and sunset lookout points at the end of the steep one-mile (1.6-kilometer) trek to Punta Catedral.

Click for more Manuel Antonio tour details and book your dream vacation with The Explorer’s Passage – an industry award-winning premier adventure travel company.

13. Chirripó National Park

vibrant resplendent quetzal bird perched on a tree branch while finding shade under leaves on a sunny day

There is no higher point in all of the mountain-carved, volcano-spotted Costa Rica – than Mount Chirripó. The peak rises a mega 12,536 feet (3,821 meters) above sea level in the midst of the Cordillera de Salamanca range just south of San José. Today, it’s the centerpiece of its namesake national park and is noted for its incredible biodiversity and range of medium- and high-altitude habitats.

The piece de resistance of the reserve is surely the hike to the summit itself. That usually takes two or three full days, including transfers from the capital. It’s a 23-mile (37 kilometer) loop path that starts on a rough trail through primeval rainforests and then emerges into the strange world of the Talamanca páramo, a rare climactic zone that has tussock ridges and hardy plants that look like they’ve been plucked off another planet.

Sightings of stunning quetzal birds and endangered monkey species are all part and parcel of a trip to the Chirripó National Park. So, too, are potential views of both the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east, though those depend on getting the clearest of days and making a successful attempt at the summit of Mount Chirripó.

cascading waterfalls rolling down side of rocky grassy mountain into a lake

Time slows down as you cruise into sleepy Uvita, a backpacker town that clutches the sides of the Bahía Ballena on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. It’s got all the things you’d expect of a chilled beach escape – think miles and miles of coffee-colored sand running away to the north and south, strings of coastal jungles filled with monkeys, and a backing of rainforest-tufted hills carved out by waterfalls.

A couple of days here can take you from sweaty jungle treks to R&R on the coast to whale watching. Probably the most iconic sight is Punta Uvita. It’s a half-mile (900-meter) long headland that juts out of the town’s northern side to form the shape of a whale fin. That’s fitting, because Uvita is a popular place to catch a glimpse of humpbacks between December and April and then again between July and September.

Going inland, you can hike to the wonderful Cascada El Pavón, a waterfall that gurgles over granite ridges in the middle of the woods into a turquoise plunge pool. There’s also the Nauyaca Waterfalls, which are much larger, much more dramatic. Cap off the day with an unforgettable sunset show on the main Playa Chaman (also known as Playa La Colonia). Check out this Classic Costa Rica tour and customize it to include all the things you want to do and see.

15. Cahuita

tropical fish and coral reefs in the caribbean

Cahuita is kind of what Puerto Viejo de Talamanca was before the big-name surfers and the backpacker partiers came. About six miles (9.7 kilometers) north of its bigger brother on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, the town is only a couple of streets across and a couple of streets wide. It’s made up of tin-roofed shacks and colorful homestays, which cluster between two long, scything bays; one of pure black sand, the other of Caribbean sugar white.

Surf is becoming more and more popular here, mainly because there’s a rare offering of beginner-friendly waves that work best in the winter months when the Pacific side of the country is smaller. Expect a handful of well-rated surf schools and surf camps to match.

Then there’s the special Cahuita National Park. Spread over large swathes of coral gardens out at sea and a small pocket of coastal jungle on the headland to the south of town, it’s a world for both hikers and snorkelers. Dive under to meet sea cucumbers and manta rays. Stay dry and you’ll wander paths that echo with the calls of howler monkeys.

16. Puerto Viejo


Little Puerto Viejo de Talamanca whisks you over to the Costa Rican Caribbean. It shows, too. The town here would look right at home somewhere on the Jamaican north coast. It’s filled with paint-peeling cantinas and ramshackle eateries where the scents of coconut curries twist and turn with the rhythms of reggaeton in the air. Oh, and there are buzzing bars that slosh with rum cocktails and cold beers, meaning you won’t be short on nightlife.

Once upon a time, Puerto Viejo was just an unknown fishing village. Then the surfers came. They were drawn by the promise of the thundering left-hand barrels that peel over the reefs of Salsa Brava, and the hollow beach peaks at Playa Cocles. Those are now two of the most legendary surf spots in Costa Rica as a whole, offering a place to score tubes in the dry season months between November and April, when the Pacific coast is usually a little less reliable.

Puerto Viejo isn’t just about waves, though. The town is perfectly located for launching expeditions into the Gandoca-Manzanillo W ildlife Refuge, a lush land of eyelash vipers and emerald parakeets. It’s also the home of the acclaimed Jaguar Rescue Center, where you can go to learn all about frontline conservation efforts in Costa Rica.

Check out our Costa Rica Adventure page to see how you can explore the best places to go in Costa Rica. 

17. Osa Peninsula

marine whale jumping out of water on a boat tour

Come visit the most untouched, natural area of Costa Rica. The Osa Peninsula dips out from the southwestern side of Costa Rica like the flapping fin of a humpback whale. Incidentally, it’s pods of these majestic marine giants that make this such a famous destination. Whales can be spotted during December and April each year on their annual migrations. Head to the north end of Osa to take a boat trip in Drake Bay for one of the best ways to see these fascinating creatures. 

But there’s also more than just mighty whales in these parts – as if you needed any more convincing! Hope over to Caño Island for one of the best spots for snorkeling and diving in Costa Rica. Plus, a large part of the Osa region is covered by the indelibly wild Corcovado National Park – a 164-square-mile (424-square-kilometer) stretch of primeval rainforest filled with tapirs, jaguars, and the world’s loudest monkeys – the howler monkeys. It’s an incredible place to hike and experience the sheer biodiversity of Costa Rica. Read more on Corcovado below.

The southern side of the Osa Peninsula is dotted with charming coastal towns that have become the province of surfers wanting to escape the crowds of Tamarindo. They used to be hard to reach but have since been linked up with the main highways running south from San José. Check out the likes of Playa Carate and Matapalo for serious beach vibes, but note that a 4X4 is still recommended if you’re going that far. Here are some other Top Attractions on the Osa Peninsula .

18. Corcovado


If you only have time to visit one national park in Costa Rica, there’s a good argument to make it the Corcovado National Park . Draped over large parts of the Osa Peninsula in the far south of the country, it was established to protect some of the last remaining old-growth wet forests on the Central American Pacific. Just in time, too – the loggers and the miners already had their eyes on the place!

Today, it’s an enticingly hard-to-reach part of the country. The best way is to arrive is by boat via Drake Bay or Puerto Jimenez. Then, get ready to hit the trails. There are a few that stand out. The Los Patos to Sirena trek is the longest, whisking you through lush cloud forests and gushing waterfalls. Budding botanists might prefer the 1.9-mile San Pedrillo Trail, a loop that delves into groves of huge purple heart and mahogany trees with ferns and orchids by the bucket load. However, Corcovado can also be a real Costa Rican safari, and wildlife spotting is probably best on the well-trafficked Sirena Trail, where coatis, pumas, wild pigs, and toucans can make an appearance.

The point where the Corcovado jungles tumble into the Pacific Ocean is jaw-dropping to put it lightly. There, you could take to the seas to do some whale watching (August-November) or channel your inner Robinson Crusoe on the black-tinged sands of forever-deserted Carate Beach. Either way, get ready for a land of mist-haloed coast peaks and wave-splattered shores.

19. Pavones

woman doing yoga at sunset on a beach

Lying in the southwestern corner of Costa Rica, you’ll find Pavones. While Tamarindo caters to the beginner surfers and Santa Teresa offers punchy waves for the intermediates, Pavones quietly continues to satisfy travelers with some of the country’s most epic left-hand waves. Pavones is considered by surf purists to be among the highest-quality point breaks on the whole planet. When it links up, you’re looking at rides of over half a mile (or over a kilometer – yep, 1,000-plus meters)! They begin on the outside of the Rio Claro and bend around Pavones’ black-sand beaches to the inside of the main bay.

Pavones is more than just a surf town, though. It’s starting to rise as a major ecotourism and yogi hotspot. The beaches are coal-tinged arcs of sand and stone that drop straight out of the jungles and mangroves. We’re talking really wild, undeveloped coastline that’s a picture of the old Costa Rica before the days of the many resorts you’ll find further north. 

The town also happens to be a great pitstop on cross-continent land trips, since the Panamanian border is just seven miles (11.3 kilometers) to the south. Get a taste of Central America with stress-free planning by booking your Costa Rica Adventure with The Explorer’s Passage.

How to get to Costa Rica?

San José’s Juan Santamaría International Airport has long been the main gateway to Costa Rica. However, the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport in Liberia has risen as an alternative gateway in recent years, mainly because of its convenient proximity to the popular Pacific coast surf towns and beach resorts. Still, most people will travel into the capital first since it’s served by far the largest array of air connections coming from the United States, Europe, and South America alike.

You can also drive here if you’re up for an adventure. Costa Rica lies smack dab on the courses of the Pan-American Highway. That’s one seriously hefty undertaking, requiring something like 70 hours on the road from the USA-Mexico border. Oh, and said roads are rarely the five-lane highways you might be used to!

When’s the best time to visit Costa Rica?

There’s no real “best time” to visit Costa Rica. It all really depends on what you’re after. The locals divide the year into two seasons: The dry season and the wet season. The first runs roughly in line with North America’s wintertime, from December through to April. The second takes up the rest of the year, starting in May and ending around November.

True to its name, the dry season sees WAY less rainfall than its counterpart. Take Tamarindo – the cool, surf-washed town on the Nicoya Peninsula – as an example. There, precipitation ebbs to a mere millimeter of rain in January but soars to over 14 inches (358 millimeters) in the wettest month of September. Naturally, that makes the winter the peak time for beach lovers and sun seekers.

However, don’t write off the green season just because of the drizzle. Notice that it’s called the ‘green’ season – not, simply, the wet season. That’s because it’s when the jungles of Costa Rica burst into 10,000 shades of emerald. It’s high time for spotting all the weird and wonderful creatures of the forests, from those lazy sloths to the big-beaked toucans. On top of that, green season ushers in the best surf and the finest whale-watching over on the Pacific.

smiling baby sloth hanging upside down from a tree branch

This guide runs through just 19 of the most enthralling places to visit in Costa Rica. There are many, many more, from smoke-belching volcanos hemmed in by coffee plantations to idyllic beach escapes where sloths patrol the shoreline.

We’ve got our own tailor-made Classic Costa Rica itinerary . It will whisk you through the famous national parks to see howler monkeys crying from above. It will drop you in broiling hot springs under the gaze of mighty mountains. And it will offer the chance to get on Costa Rica’s famous surf breaks. Or you can check out our other customizable vacation tours to destinations across Costa Rica .

And if you want to see more of the world with us, explore all the places you can go on our main Adventures Tour Page .

If you  are interested to learn more about how we can take you to these extraordinary places, email us at [email protected]

I look forward to seeing you in Costa Rica!

Jeff Bonaldi Founder & CEO The Explorer’s Passage

About Jeff Bonaldi

Jeff Bonaldi is the Founder and CEO of The Explorer’s Passage, a premier adventure travel company. His mission is to provide travelers with the opportunity to transform their lives and the planet through the power of adventure.

Learn more about Jeff’s story and his company HERE .

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Home » Central America » Places to Visit

24 BEST Places to Visit in Costa Rica (2024)

A lot of people dream of going to Costa Rica. This country is famous for its laidback atmosphere, amazing natural scenery, and incredible beaches. In fact, if you’re looking for places to visit in Costa Rica, you’ll be spoiled for choice no matter what type of activities you like to do when you’re on vacation.

Costa Rica may be a dream destination, but it isn’t always easy to travel there. It’s a huge country, and people who prefer more established travel destinations may struggle to plan a trip there.

That’s why we’ve created this guide to which places to visit Costa Rica, so you can work out exactly what you want to see while you’re there and how to get the most from your trip.

Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in Costa Rica:

These are the best places to visit in costa rica, faq on the best places to visit in costa rica, final thoughts on the coolest places to visit in costa rica.

San Jose, Costa Rica

San Jose, the capital city, is very vibrant and has a lot to offer. It is also the perfect base for exploring the country thanks to its central location. From here you’ll be able to enjoy convenient access to all of Costa Rica’s top landmarks, sightseeing attractions and major tourist centres.

  • Explore the Ruinas de Ujarras.
  • See a performance or take a tour of the elegant Teatro Nacional Costa Rica.
  • Take a stroll through Parque Central.

Are you ready to take the plunge and discover all that Costa Rica has to offer? That’s great, but wait just a minute and check out where to stay in Costa Rica first. Think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – you’ll need food and shelter before you start exploring.

best tourist destination costa rica

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#1 – Arenal – A very cool place in Costa Rica to go for a day


  • This active volcano is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica.
  • If you enjoy outdoor activities, you’ll like them even more on the side of the volcano!

Why it’s so awesome: Arenal is an active volcano that soars more than 1,600 meters above the jungles of Alajuela. It’s located just outside of San Jose and is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica. Aside from its aesthetic appeal, the entire area also offers a range of outdoor activities and sites including waterfalls, hiking trails, bridle paths, and animal encounters.

What to do there: You’ll need a reasonable level of physical fitness to get the most from this destination, but there’s something for everyone there. If you want to explore on foot, then try the hiking trails that crisscross the landscapes. You can also do white water rafting on the river rapids, explore the jungle on swinging wire bridges, or go horse-riding. Just remember that the volcano is still active, which just adds a touch of excitement to the experience!

#2 – Territorio de Zaguates

Territorio de Zaguates, Costa Rica

  • A mountainside dog sanctuary where you can interact with hundreds of man’s best friends.
  • If you want to combine your trip with a good deed, then interacting with these animals and helping them get used to humans again is a worthy way to do it.

Why it’s so awesome: This mountainside sanctuary otherwise known as the Land of Strays has been saving the stray dogs of Costa Rica for years. Over the years, it’s taken in thousands of animals from the more than a million strays in the country, and visitors are an important part of the animals’ rehabilitation.

What to do there: If you like dogs, then you’ll enjoy taking the two-mile hike through the park. You’ll have the company of hundreds of dogs of all kinds, shapes and sizes, and playing with the friendly crowd will probably be one of the highlights of your trip. It also helps get the dogs used to being among humans again so they can be adopted. And this means that you’ll walk away with the amazing feeling of making the world better, one pat at a time! It’s a great spot to visit if you’re not sure where to go in Costa Rica.

#3 – Rio Celeste

Cascada at Rio Celeste

  • Probably one of the most beautiful and startling looking rivers in the world.
  • You can’t swim in the park, but the river does meander out of it to make natural hot springs where the locals enjoy taking a dip.

Why it’s so awesome: Wondering where to go in Costa Rica for some stunning pictures? Check out Rio Celeste. This is an absolutely beautiful looking river that looks unbelievable in pics, so make sure you bring your camera with you. The color comes from the place where two clearwater rivers combine and their minerals create an optical illusion at a point called El Tenidero or the Dyer. The river itself is located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park, but it curves outside of the park at certain points.

What to do there: People who see photos of this river usually think that it’s been photoshopped, but the truth is that it’s really that bright, clear color. The best way to see it is to hike to Laguna Azul and then head back towards the waterfall. You can’t swim inside of the national park but ask the locals about the places where the river curves out of the park. They tend to use these sections as hot springs, so you can take a dip for a small fee in these sections.

#4 – Witch’s Rock – An unknown (but awesome!) place to see in Costa Rica!

Witch’s Rock

  • A rock called Roca Bruja was hurled into the water by a volcano at this spot and has created some of the best surfing in the world.
  • No matter how good you are on a board, the waves here are suitable for almost every level.

Why it’s so awesome: If you enjoy surfing, then you should try it in this area. Located just off Playa Naranjo and close to surf Mecca Tamarindo, this area was made famous in the surf film The Endless Summer II and for good reason. The rock is positioned perfectly to create world-class waves that are suitable for almost every surfer, and as an added bonus it’s also away from the crowds at better-known surf spots!

What to do there: You can paddle out to the break but it’s easier if you take a boat out there. This is the perfect place to visit in Costa Rica to go surfing no matter how good you are on the board, so just show up and work on your skills!

#5 – San Lucas Island Prison

San Lucas Island Prison

  • This was once one of Costa Rica’s most brutal prisons and is now a wildlife refuge.
  • If you want to learn more about the darker side of this tropical paradise, then this is definitely the place to come.
  • The prison and the tour aren’t for kids.

Why it’s so awesome: For more than a century, this island housed Costa Rica’s most brutal prison. The prisoners endured conditions that are hard to imagine now. However, you can experience a small part of their suffering through the artworks they left behind, often etched in blood.

What to do there: If you have a strong stomach, then take the tour for the best experience. The artwork is often carved out in blood, whether the artist’s or someone else’s, and depicts naked women, religious imagery, and detailed images of the brutality and hopelessness experienced by those interred there. Definitely not for children or for the sensitive, but still an interesting place to visit in Costa Rica.

#6 – Teatro Nacional

Teatro Nacional

  • This beautiful building is a Costa Rica must-see.
  • Within the building is a museum and theatre that explores the artwork and culture of the country.

Why it’s so awesome: This is one of the most beautiful buildings in the country, which is why it must be on your Costa Rica itinerary. It was opened in 1897 and features a neoclassical façade and ornate, gilded interior which have made it a cultural icon and source of national pride. Some of the best plays, concerts, operas and musical events are held at this venue and there’s also a museum with exhibits based on Italian artworks and sculptures.

What to do there: When you’re planning to backpack through Costa Rica, find out what’s on at this venue while you’re there and make sure you take in a show. You can also take a great tour of the building that will teach you about the building’s design features and finishes in the café for a drink or snack.

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#7 – Parque Francisco Alvarado – One of the more unique places to visit in Costa Rica!

Parque Francisco Alvarado, Costa Rica

  • A surreal garden located in Zarcero with some of the most extraordinary garden sculptures you’ll ever see.
  • This is the life’s work of artist Evangelisto Blanco who has been working on the garden since the 1960s.

Why it’s so awesome: This garden is one of the most stunning in the world, which is why it’s also one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica. Created by a single artist, the hedges and shrubs offer the otherworldly experience of walking amongst dinosaurs, religious figures, and abstract human figures. It’s truly a masterpiece and deserves all the attention it gets.

What to do there: If you’re wondering where to go in Costa Rica for some peace and quiet, this is the right place for you. Take a few hours to explore this garden and the genius of its creator. Make sure that you have your camera with you too, so you can get lots of photos to remember your trip by. And make sure that you don’t miss the series of sculptured tree arches that have been positioned to form a naturally grown tunnel.

#8 – Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes

Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes

  • A quiet church located in the city of Grecia.
  • At first glance, this church is pretty but normal looking, but when you look closer, you’ll work out what makes it special.

Why it’s so awesome: This church was constructed in the 1890s and was a technological marvel at the time. It’s made entirely of Belgian steel and still remains the most metal church in the world today. For a long time, people wondered why Belgian steel was used in its construction, though the reason turned out to be fairly ordinary. But today, it’s just a visually arresting church that’s painted red and white and is definitely more than it seems.

What to do there: This church is one of the most unusual in the world, which is why it’s one of the most unique places to visit in Costa Rica. Have a look at the unique construction, marvel at how it was made and put together, and make sure you take pictures to silence the skeptics back home.

#9 – Puerto Viejo – A great place to visit in Costa Rica if you are alone/traveling solo

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

  • Located on the Caribbean Coast, this area is popular amongst backpacker for its surfing and nightlife.
  • This is a lively town that’s one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica along the Caribbean Coast.

Why it’s so awesome: If you’re looking for where to go in Costa Rica for great nightlife and amazing beach scene, then this Puerto Viejo is for you. It’s a lively place where backpackers congregate to swim, surf, and party, but there are also several beach resorts in the area if you want to enjoy the beach without the noise. There’s also a jaguar rescue center nearby where wildlife is rehabilitated and returned to the wild.

What to do there: This is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica if you want to enjoy some great nightlife. There’s always something going on at night in this area and during the day is just as lively because of the vibrant beach scene. You should also spend some time at the jaguar rescue center to support the important work done to protect and safeguard Costa Rica’s wildlife. There are also loads of great hostels in Puerto Viejo so finding somewhere to stay won’t be an issue.

#10 – Sloth Sanctuary

sloth, costa rica

  • An entire sanctuary dedicated to the world’s cutest and slowest animal.
  • This sanctuary is known worldwide for the work it does protecting these adorable animals.

Why it’s so awesome: if you’ve ever seen the movie Ice Age and want to see a sloth close up, you’ll have plenty of chances at this sanctuary. Since its opening in 1992, the volunteers have raised more than 700 orphaned sloths, doing their part to protect and support this endangered animal. This is what makes this location one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica if you love cute little furballs.

What to do there: You can take the tour through this sloth sanctuary and explore it with the help of some very enthusiastic volunteers. The tour includes the learning center and enclosures so you can see the animals up close and learn about the very real threats to the two indigenous sloth breeds in Costa Rica. You can also adopt one of the sloths, though this doesn’t mean you can take it home.

#11 – Playa des los Artistas – One of the most romantic places to visit in Costa Rica!

Playa des los Artistas

  • This restaurant is said to be one of the best in Costa Rica.
  • If you enjoy fresh seafood, then you’ll enjoy your meal at this restaurant.

Why it’s so awesome: Located on the outskirts of Montezuma, this restaurant was founded in 1994 and focuses on seafood with a Mediterranean twist. It’s one of the best places to visit Costa Rica for incredible food and is tucked away between the beach and the jungle in what might be one of the most romantic locations in the world.

What to do there: If you’re wondering where to go in Costa Rica for a bit of romantic vibes, this is the perfect place for a dinner date with your partner. It’s an incredibly atmospheric spot where you can sit at a rickety wooden table and dine by candlelight. You’ll also be able to eat some of the best and freshest seafood dishes of your life, so make sure that you’re hungry!

#12 – Torteguero – A beautiful and scenic place to check out in Costa Rica

Torteguero Costa Rica

  • The Costa Rican version of the Amazon rainforest.
  • This is a massive area that dominates the northern coast and offers a huge range of animal encounters.

Why it’s so awesome: When you’re visiting this country, you absolutely must have as many animal encounters as possible and this is one of the best places in Costa Rica to do that. It stretches across a massive area and includes rivers and canals that crisscross the dense jungle. It’s also a known turtle nesting area, so if you’re there in the right season then make sure you check out this amazing sight!

What to do there: This area includes the Tortuguero National Park, which is one of the most well-known hotspots in Costa Rica for animals, and one of our favorite Costa Rica National Parks . If you’re in the area between April and May, make sure you visit the turtle nesting areas to experience this amazing spectacle. But even if you visit at other times of the year, you can also go hiking, take a canal cruise, or look for the other animals that live in this remarkable area.

Short on time and want to see as much as possible? Check out our sample  itinerary for Costa Rica   before visiting!

best tourist destination costa rica

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#13 – Corcovado National Park – A nice non-touristy place to visit in Costa Rica

Corcovado National Park

  • One of the biggest and remote national parks where you’ll be able to enjoy nature without all the crowds.
  • This is a more rugged park, so you’ll need a good level of physical fitness to make it around.

Why it’s so awesome: located in Southwestern Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula, this park was established in 1975 and covers 424 square kilometers, which makes it the largest park in the country. It’s a more off-the-beaten-path park than the others because it’s a little harder to get to. However, once you’re there you’ll be treated to deserted beaches, amazing hikes, lots of wildlife and marine life.

What to do there: This park is a Costa Rica must-do if you enjoy nature without all the tourists. Whatever you enjoy doing in nature, whether it’s hiking, camping, relaxing on the beach or looking for animals in the ocean, you’ll be able to do it in this park without fighting the crowds. This kind of peace and quiet is what makes this park so attractive to travelers and one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica!

#14 – Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio

  • One of the most popular beach destinations in Costa Rica.
  • If you love white sand and warm blue waters, this is the best place to visit in Costa Rica.

Why it’s so awesome: This beach area draws people by the thousands to enjoy the warm waters and white sands but there’s more. Manuel Antonio is close to a national park that’s home to secluded beaches, hiking trails, and is the home of three types of native monkeys. It’s a fairly busy park that gets over 150,000 visitors annually,  so expect some crowds if you choose to experience this area. There are some nearby hostels in Manuel Antonio but do book in advance.

What to do there: You absolutely must spend some time at the beach when you’re in this part of Costa Rica. There’s nothing like swimming in clear blue, warm waters and enjoying the sunshine and white sands. But you can also get some physical activity in as well. The hiking is amazing in this area, and who doesn’t like seeing monkeys in their natural habitat?

#15 – Monteverde


  • Costa Rica’s best cloud forest.
  • This is the home of the elusive quetzal bird and most people travel to this forest in search of this rare sight.

Why it’s so awesome: Monteverde is one of the most popular eco-friendly tourism hubs in the country, which is why over 250,000 people visit there every year and you’ll find it on every Backpacking Costa Rica Travel Guide . This location is right on the continental divide and experiences high winds and unusual weather patterns, which is why it’s an incredibly verdant area. This climate makes it stunningly beautiful and draws in nature lovers from all walks of life. There are some great hostels in Monteverde that offer a comfy bed to rest your head, so you can start the next adventure ready and recharged.

What to do there: Go on a tour looking for the quetzal bird or explore on your own on foot or via zip line. The zip lines are a very popular option and will allow you to explore the area in the most exciting way possible. There are also a number of sky bridges in the area that you should visit as well. You can even hop on a tour of the Monteverde Cloud Forest .

Pssst!  Haven’t packed yet? Check out our ultimate  Costa Rica Packing List  to know what to bring with you on your Costa Rica adventure!

#16 – Poas Volcano – One of the most amazing places in Costa Rica!

Poas Volcano

  • This is a great day trip from San Jose.
  • Poas Volcano is an active volcano with twin calderas that are so still they look painted on.

Why it’s so awesome: This is a remarkable scenic place that looks absolutely incredible in photos. It’s an active volcano with twin calderas that are filled with sulfur lakes. You obviously can’t swim, but in pictures, the colors look so still that you’ll think they were painted on. The volcanos are very active and last erupted in 2017. In fact, they’ve erupted 40 times since 1828, so be alert for more!

What to do there: You need to visit this place in Cost Rica early in the morning to avoid the crowds and before the clouds block the view. Take your camera and make sure you get lots of photos of the famous lakes before exploring the area in more depth ( stay safe by standing back and not falling in the lake though, that is definitely not what we mean by exploring in depth). There are small trails around the area that are easy to navigate and will give you lots of vantage points for sightseeing and pictures.

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#17 – Santa Theresa – A nice quiet place to see in Costa Rica

Santa Theresa, Costa Rica

  • A small, hippie town at the bottom of the Nicoya Coast.
  • This town has a relaxed town that’s based on surfing, yoga, and food rather than partying.

Why it’s so awesome: If you’re tired of cities and don’t want to party then you’ll love this small town. It’s a haven for hippie backpackers and is the perfect place to kick back and relax with some surfing and great food. The famously relaxed vibe in this area is addictive and people tend to stay much longer than they planned when they visit Santa Theresa as part of their Costa Rica itinerary. There’s also some great hostels in Santa Teresa too.

What to do there: This town is basically a road that’s lined with yoga retreats , eateries, surf shops, and hostels. There really isn’t much to do besides relax, surf, and eat amazing food at this awesome beach village in Costa Rica. There isn’t much nightlife in this area because most people like to get up early and hit the waves, which is why it’s the perfect place to recover if you’ve had a busy travel schedule. So, just show up, enjoy the beach, do some yoga, and have leisurely meals to the sounds of the waves.

#18 – Iglesia de San José de Orosi – One of the most underrated places to see in Costa Rica

Iglesia de San Jose de Orosi

  • This cathedral is located in a peaceful mountain town around 22 miles outside of San Jose.
  • The climate in this area is incredibly pleasant, which is why this area is said to produce the best coffee in the world.

Why it’s so awesome: Located in Orosi, this is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica if you’re interested in architecture as well as a more authentic way of life. It’s Costa Rica’s oldest church still in use and was inspired by Spanish-colonial architecture. There’s also a small museum and garden attached to the church that are worth exploring.

What to do there: Big cities are great, but sometimes it’s nice to visit a small town and get a glimpse of regular, everyday life. And if you visit this church, you’ll get the chance to do just that. So, make sure you admire the church and check out the museum with its interesting art and artifacts. Spend some time exploring the garden, and then get a coffee. This area is rumored to produce the best coffee in town because of the rich soil, so have a cup and make up your own mind.

#19 – The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles – One of the most religious places to see in Costa Rica

La Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles

  • One of the most important religious monuments in Costa Rica.
  • This basilica is located in Cartago and is the home of the relic La Negrita, which is one of the most important religious objects in Costa Rica.

Why it’s so awesome: If you’re in Cartago, then you must visit this stunning basilica. It was inspired by Byzantine architecture and is heavily ornate, with amazing stained glass windows, hand-painted interiors and wooden alters that were carved with exquisite care. It’s also one of the most important religious landmarks in Costa Rica, with thousands of locals making the journey there to pray every year on August 2.

What to do there: If you’re in the country in August, then take the opportunity to be part of the religious pilgrimage to this basilica. It’s the home of the relic La Negrita, a small black rock that holds the image of the Virgin Mary. La Negrita is the patron saint of Costa Rica, and locals travel there every year to pray on August 2. But if you’re there at any other time of year, just take the time to explore this building with its stunning detail work and decoration.

#20 – The Diquís Spheres

The Diquis Spheres

  • Mysterious spheres that were created by a civilization that has since been lost to time.
  • These spheres can now be found all over Costa Rica and are usually used as lawn ornaments.

Why it’s so awesome: You might be forgiven for thinking that these spheres are simply a strange trend in Costa Rican lawn ornaments. But the truth is that they have a much longer history than that. They were found in the 1930s when workers were clearing land and unexpectedly dug up huge numbers of perfectly round stone spheres. No one knows where they came from and now, they can be found on lawns all over Costa Rica.

What to do there: This history and purpose of these spheres is unknown. They likely belonged to an extinct civilization that has since been lost, but they’ve become an accepted part of modern Costa Rican life. Looking for them throughout the country is one of the most unusual things to do in Costa Rica. As a little hint, you’ll find six of them in the courtyard of Costa Rica’s National Museum in San Jose, but they can be found all over the country.

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#21 – La Oveja Negra – A must-see for foodies!

  • The best place in Costa Rica to enjoy authentic Costa Rican food.
  • This restaurant is located in San Jose and offers a relaxed atmosphere along with the traditional foods.

Why it’s so awesome: You probably don’t think about Costa Rica in connection with food. This is a shame because exploring a country’s native dishes is one of the best things about traveling. If you want to try some authentic Costa Rican food, then you need to have a meal at La Oveja Negra.

Costa Rica can be expensive , but one area you can save a few bucks is with your food!

What to do there: This is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy foods you’ve probably never heard of before. The restaurant is relaxed and rustic, no need to dress to the nines here, and the food is delicious and homey. One of the best dishes on the menu is the classic chifrijo with pork, rice, beans and lemon, but everything else is good too. And the restaurant offers a range of locally made beers that will delight your tongue if you’re a beer drinker too.

Get insured for your trip to Costa Rica!

ALWAYS sort out your backpacker insurance before your trip. There’s plenty to choose from in that department, but a good place to start is Safety Wing .

They offer month-to-month payments, no lock-in contracts, and require absolutely no itineraries: that’s the exact kind of insurance long-term travellers and digital nomads need.

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Click the button below to learn more about SafetyWing’s setup or read our insider review for the full tasty scoop.

Find out what people want to know about the best places to visit in Costa Rica

Which part of Costa Rica is the best place to stay?

The overall best place to stay in Costa Rica is Tamarindo. For more information about where to stay in Costa Rica, check out our comprehensive guide .

Where is the prettiest place to visit in Costa Rica?

Torteguero is in my opinion one of the most beautiful and prettiest place in Costa Rica.

What is the most visited place in Costa Rica?

The most visited place in Costa Rica is San José.

Is Costa Rica safe for tourists?

Costa Rica is mostly safe, but there are some areas to avoid. Check out our comprehensive guide on safety in Costa Rica for more details.

People who visit Costa Rica rave about the natural scenery, the friendly people, and the beaches and you will too after a trip, especially if you stay in one of these epic treehouses in Costa Rica! This tropical paradise is popular with all different types of travelers and exploring this country there isn’t as intimidating as you may think. With our help and guidance, you’ll be able to find all the best places to visit in Costa Rica with a minimum of trouble.

One last thing, if you’ve ever wondered whether travel in Central America is safe , Costa Rica is one of the safest countries to go to so definitely start here if you’ve got the jitters. You shouldn’t be worried though. Whilst it can be hectic, Central America is still a safe place to visit so long as you make the right decisions; you’ll come away with some of the best and most beautiful travel memories possible.

best tourist destination costa rica

And for transparency’s sake, please know that some of the links in our content are affiliate links . That means that if you book your accommodation, buy your gear, or sort your insurance through our link, we earn a small commission (at no extra cost to you). That said, we only link to the gear we trust and never recommend services we don’t believe are up to scratch. Again, thank you!

Rachel Lee

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The Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica

A stunning waterfall in the lush jungles of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the most visited countries in Central America . American tourists have been flocking to the country for years, and it’s become a hot spot for retirees and expats due to its cheap living, great weather, amazing beaches, and friendly locals.

I love Costa Rica. It was the first place that inspired me to travel and holds a special place in my heart.

I’ve been back to visit many times since, falling in love with it over and over again. But, because it’s not as cheap to visit as its neighbors, many budget travelers skip over Costa Rica.

And, while that’s true (though there are many ways to save money in Costa Rica ), in my opinion, the beauty of the destinations below are worth the extra price.

Here are some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica:

Table of Contents

2. Tortuguero

4. puerto viejo, 5. monteverde, 6. corcovado, 7. manuel antonio, 8. poas volcano, 9. santa teresa.

Mount Arenal surrounded by lush jungles in Costa Rica

The area has tons of wonderful activities: there’s an awesome waterfall (La Fortuna), the national park with great hiking, sunset views over the lake, caving, canyoning , rafting options, famous hot springs , and wildlife spotting opportunities, such as on a bird-watching tour . With so much to do, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most visited places in the country.

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN ARENAL : Arenal Backpackers Resort – A fun, social hostel with a pool (and wet bar), hammocks, and gorgeous views of the nearby volcano.

READ MORE: How to Visit and Explore Arenal  

A huge turtle crawling on the sandy beach of the famous Tortuguero, Costa Rica

The biggest draw to this area is the large number of turtles (hence the name) that come to nest along the shoreline. The best time to see them nesting is in April and May, but if you’re visiting during the off-season, you’ll still be able to go hiking and participate in canal cruises. However, there’s lots of wildlife to see year-round.

If you want to get off the grid, you can take a three-day guided tour of the national park with Destiny Travel Costa Rica for around $600 USD.

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN TORTUGUERO : Aracari Garden Hostel – With free Wi-Fi, a big kitchen, hot showers, and comfy beds, this hostel is a little slice of paradise just a stone’s throw from Tortuguero National Park.

READ MORE: Tortuguero Travel Guide  

A monkey climbing on a tree on the beach in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

The region is known for its Afro-Caribbean influences, which you might notice in the food and local culture as you chill out with some dessert crepes or grilled chicken.

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN CAHUITA : Estilo Hostel Hakuna Matata – This laid-back hostel has plenty of outdoor common space to relax in, a pool, and plenty of hammocks. It’s just a short walk from the beach as well.

READ MORE: How to Visit Costa Rica’s Cahuita National Park  

The beautiful coastline of Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica with a wide, sandy beach stretching along the jungle

The town is very lively and you’ll find something going on every night. It’s probably the most popular destination on the Caribbean coast. There are also many quiet beach hotels around for those who are looking for some peace and quiet. There is also a jaguar rescue center nearby that rehabilitates all sorts of local wildlife and releases them back into the wild.

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN PUERTO VIEJO : Pagalu Hostel – A spacious and clean hostel located right in town so you can easily get around. They have hot showers too!

READ MORE: How to Explore Costa Rica’s Beautiful Caribbean Coast

An empty bridge in the cloud forests of Monteverde, Costa Rica

Monteverde, which rests right on the continental divide, experiences high winds and unusual weather patterns. The entire area is very green and wet and like La Fortuna, there are a lot of adventure activities here. Witness it all on a zip-line adventure through the tree canopy , explore some of the sky bridges in the area, or go on a guided night walk through the cloud forest to spot nocturnal wildlife.

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN MONTEVERDE : Sloth Backpackers – This quiet, clean hostel has free Wi-Fi, a tasty breakfast, and free coffee and tea all day. The location is great and the staff can help you book all kinds of fun tours.

READ MORE: What to See and Do in Monteverde  

The stunning beach of Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica

Though more popular than it used to be, it’s still a very rugged, quiet, and off-the-beaten-path destination in a country where almost everything is on the beaten path. The peninsula is not easy to get to (which helps keep tourists away), but your efforts will be greatly rewarded with deserted beaches, tons of wildlife, hiking, camping, and lots of marine life.

To me, this is probably one of the best places in the entire country. Try not to miss it!

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN CORCOVADO : Corcovado Foundation BioHostel – This off-the-beaten-path ecohostel is a great place to unwind and disconnect. There’s a bar on-site, a yoga deck, vegan and vegetarian food, and gorgeous views of the lush landscape.  

The wide, white sandy beach along the coast of popular Manuel Antonio in Costa Rica

It’s become a lot more crowded and developed over the years. It’s definitely not the park I first visited in 2006. That said, you’ll still see a lot of wildlife and the beaches in the area have been kept surprisingly pristine! Admission to the park is $18.08 USD per person, or you can take a guided tour for $59 USD (includes park admission).

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN MANUEL ANTONIO : Pura Natura Lodge Manuel Antonio – Offering stunning ocean views and a colorful interior, this chill hostel is right near the rainforest and the beach, making it a prime place to stay for a relaxing visit.

READ MORE: What to See and Do in Manuel Antonio  

The photogenic caldera of the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

The lakes are so still, you’ll look at your picture and think you painted the color on. Arrive early in the morning to avoid the clouds closing in and ruining the view. There are some small trails around the area, or you can take a tour with Destiny Travel , which costs around $199 USD and includes a visit to the La Paz Waterfall Garden and a local coffee plantation.

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN SAN JOSE : Stray Cat Hostel – A clean hostel conveniently located near the bus station, the staff here go out of their way to ensure you have an amazing visit.  

The wide, white-sand beach of Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Santa Teresa is a good place to lie on the beach, hang out with people, and relax. Because of the “chill” vibe, many people end up staying in Santa Teresa for weeks, and even months, on end.

MY FAVORITE HOSTEL IN SANTA TERESA : Lost Boyz – A chill and social eco-friendly hostel with a bar on-site, a restaurant (that serves wood-fired pizza), and pool, this is a fun hostel for travelers looking to relax and meet people. It’s near the beach too.

While Costa Rica can be a bit touristy and crowded, I think the diversity of wildlife, natural beauty, white-sand beaches, amazing sunsets, and warm, clear water make it worth the price. There are still so many unexplored and unvisited parts of the country.

No matter what you’re interested in — hiking, adventure activities, wildlife, beaches — you’ll be able to find a spot that’s perfect for your needs without breaking the bank.

Don’t skip Costa Rica. It’s one of the best countries I’ve ever been to!

Book Your Trip to Costa Rica: Logistical Tips and Tricks

Book Your Flight Use Skyscanner to find a cheap flight. They are my favorite search engine because they search websites and airlines around the globe so you always know no stone is left unturned!

Book Your Accommodation You can book your hostel with Hostelworld as they have the biggest inventory and best deals. If you want to stay somewhere other than a hostel, use as they consistently return the cheapest rates for guesthouses and cheap hotels. My favorite places to stay are:

  • Arenal Backpackers Resort (Arenal)
  • Selina Puerto Viejo (Puerto Viejo)
  • Pura Natura Lodge Manuel Antonio (Manuel Antonio)

Don’t Forget Travel Insurance Travel insurance will protect you against illness, injury, theft, and cancellations. It’s comprehensive protection in case anything goes wrong. I never go on a trip without it as I’ve had to use it many times in the past. My favorite companies that offer the best service and value are:

  • Safety Wing (best for everyone)
  • Insure My Trip (for those over 70)
  • Medjet (for additional evacuation coverage)

Looking for the Best Companies to Save Money With? Check out my resource page for the best companies to use when you travel. I list all the ones I use to save money when I’m on the road. They will save you money when you travel too.

Want More Information on Costa Rica? Be sure to visit our robust destination guide on Costa Rica for even more planning tips!

Got a comment on this article? Join the conversation on Facebook , Instagram , or Twitter and share your thoughts!

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links above may be affiliate links, and at no additional cost to you, I earn a commission if you make a purchase. I recommend only products and companies I use and the income goes to keeping the site community supported and ad free.

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panoramic view of the Poas Volcano with its aquamarine caldera surrounded by rocky cliffs in Costa Rica

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10 Places Locals Love to Visit in Costa Rica — From Beaches and Hot Springs to Markets

Explore beyond the tourist hot spots in Costa Rica.

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With one-fourth of its land located in national parks and reserves, Costa Rica is a dream destination for nature lovers and intrepid travelers. Among the country’s natural wonders are five active volcanoes, 800 miles of unspoiled coastline, and diverse ecosystems, from cloud forests to tropical beaches. For those lucky enough to call this stunning Central American country home, its laid-back, pura vida way of life and the warm hospitality of its people make it an appealing place to both live and explore. But beyond its popular tourist hot spots, where do the locals go? From natural pools to secluded coves, here are 10 incredible places in Costa Rica, as recommended by locals.

Related : The Ultimate Costa Rica Packing List

Corcovado National Park

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Containing roughly five percent of the world’s species, Corcovado National Park is one of the greatest biodiversity locations in the world. Blessed with beautiful lagoons, marshes, mangroves, rivers, forests, sandy beaches, and hiking trails, the park is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts like Yeison Kim, travel blogger at Mytanfeet . "There’s no better place in Costa Rica for nature and adventure than Corcovado; it feels otherworldly, like Jurassic Park," he says.

Playa Naranjo

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Costa Rica’s geographical position makes it a world-renowned surfing destination that experiences swells from both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. One of Kim’s primary surfing spots is Playa Naranjo, also known as Roca Bruja (Witches Rock), in Santa Rosa National Park. "Although I wouldn't call myself a pro surfer, I can confidently conquer some midsized waves here," says Kim, who has seen sharks, manta rays, and even a humpback whale. Beloved by surfers for its extraordinary surf and stunning backdrop, this bay earned its moniker from a local legend that a witch's spirit dwells within a rock in the park. 

Mercado Central

Courtesy of Vista Costa Rica

Established in 1880, the bustling Mercado Central is one of the country's oldest and most cherished landmarks. It’s also a cultural and culinary hot spot where locals gather, shop, and eat. Among the more than 200 shops, stalls, and small restaurants called "sodas," Kim’s favorite place to go here is Soda Tala, a popular restaurant for locals that sells talapinto . This twist on Costa Rica’s classic breakfast dish, gallo pinto , includes rice, beans, and a thin omelet served in a tortilla, which is either set on top or wrapped in a banana leaf. Patrons can also add fried plantains, cheese, and meat to the dish.

Manuel Antonio National Park

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David Konwiser, architect and co-owner of the Villa Punto de Vista estate , was born in Costa Rica, his mother’s homeland, but grew up in California. On a trip to Costa Rica 20 years ago, he fell in awe of Manuel Antonio National Park , so much so that he created his own luxury haven right next to it. "It’s not just the park’s lush rain forests that draw visitors, but also its pristine beaches," he says. Konwiser enjoys visiting Biesanz Beach, a scenic cove with calm waters, ideal for swimming and snorkeling, as well as Manuel Antonio Beach. But he cautions against weekend excursions to these areas, as they tend to get crowded. Instead, he suggests venturing just north of the park to Espadilla Norte Beach, where there are usually fewer people. 

La Fortuna, the adventure capital of Costa Rica, is the ultimate destination for adrenaline junkies. But for Konwiser, the highlight of this region is its thermal hot springs, such as Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa . "Taking a dip in the various temperature pools naturally heated by the volcano is the perfect way to relax, especially after a day of thrill-seeking," he says. 

Paola Bolaños Zumbado, commercial manager at Copey Estate Winery , touts La Fortuna as well, notably Arenal Volcano National Park and Arenal Hanging Bridges . According to Zumbado, hiking along the lava trails in the national park is invigorating, as are the treetop canopies at the hanging bridges. "If you visit the bridges in the early morning, you can often see the full volcano without cloud cover," she adds. 

Los Santos Zone

Costa Rica’s high-altitude volcanic soil and sustainable farming practices provide favorable conditions for growing high-quality beans. For a true coffee experience, Zumbado recommends venturing into the towns of Dota, Tarrazú, and León Cortés in the heart of Los Santos Zone, a beautiful mountain region that's about a two-hour drive from San José. One place to try a good cup of Costa Rican coffee is Coopedota , a cooperative that offers more than 40 unique blends, tours, and a cafe. 

Nauyaca Waterfalls

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"One of the things I love about Costa Rica is the presence of wild waterfalls all over the country," says Hans Pfister, co-founder and president of the Cayuga Collection . Pfister, who has been living in Costa Rica since 1999, takes an annual hike to Nauyaca Waterfalls , north of Uvita, where he swims in the natural pools, which he admits makes him feel 10 years younger. Reaching these majestic cascades takes a bit of effort, requiring a 3.7-mile one-way trek on an intermediate trail, either by foot or horseback. 

Puerto Viejo

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Pfister’s preferred beaches are on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica. "It’s where most well-traveled locals spend their vacations," he notes, citing Playa Chiquita in Limón Province as one of the finest stretches of sand in Costa Rica. Sadie Jordan agrees. She recently relocated from the U.S. to Costa Rica to provide Afro-Costa Rican-centered multiday itineraries through her company, Soul Life Travel . As an Afro-Latina herself, Jordan heads to El Sendero Beach Club in Puerto Viejo to soak up beautiful ocean views and cultural vibes. "It’s a locally owned spot right on the beach, where patrons can relax with lively reggae music, delicious Afro-Caribbean cuisine, and strong cocktails."

Pacuare River

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With thrilling Class II to Class V rapids flowing 67 miles from the Cuericí mountains to the Caribbean Sea, the Pacuare River is one of the world’s most scenic and best rafting rivers. "It’s a death-defying yet exhilarating experience," says Jordan, who recently embarked on a rafting tour with her adventurous aunt, Rebecca. Led by Exploradores Outdoors , the pair rafted 18 miles along the famed Pacuare River Gorge and Valle del Pacuare, encountering various wildlife such as toucans, sloths, and butterflies. 

Playa Panama

Stephanie Sheehy, co-owner of Il Viaggio Travel , runs the only local ground operator specializing in accessible travel in Costa Rica. Her deep affinity for Costa Rica’s coastline always leads her to its beaches, including Playa Panama, which has shallow, tranquil waters shielded by Culebra Bay in the Gulf of Papagayo. "It’s one of the calmest and most swimmable beaches in Costa Rica," according to Sheehy, who is on a mission, alongside her husband, Emilio, to establish at least one accessible solution on every public beach in Costa Rica. She says these efforts will make the country an inclusive destination for everyone.

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The perfect seven days in Costa Rica

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My under-the-Radar family adventures on the Nicoya Peninsula

best tourist destination costa rica

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Get your adrenaline pumping.

best tourist destination costa rica

If you're feeling fancy-ish

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Costa Rica on a dime

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Next-level happy hours

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See nature do its thing

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A beach day for the books

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The sound of Costa Rica

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Bring those binoculars

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Ride the waves

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Take a hike

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More Latin American sunshine

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Costa Rica Travel Guide

Travelers' pro tips or experiencing costa rica.

best tourist destination costa rica

A 10% service charge is included or added to every restaurant bill. Tipping is not a part of Costa Rican culture but some Ticos in the service industry who cater to North American tourists have come to expect it.

best tourist destination costa rica

Costa Rica is a beautiful and generally very safe country to visit, but petty theft is a problem, so don’t ever leave valuables in your car or on the beach while you go in swimming.

best tourist destination costa rica

raquel_z 🙊🙉🙈🐒

The sun sets in Costa Rica by 6 p.m. all year round, and it is really not advisable to drive after dark — especially if it is your first visit.

best tourist destination costa rica

I have realized that this is a huge part of the real Costa Rica experience....the people. They are so friendly, helpful, kind, humble, and absolutely genuine. Another reason why I want to keep coming back over and over again.

best tourist destination costa rica

I just love Costa Rica!

best tourist destination costa rica

Manuel Antonio Beach is truly one of the top beaches in the world. Don’t miss it when you come to Costa Rica.

best tourist destination costa rica

Costa Rica deserves to be proud!

What is the best way to get there?

Costa Rica is served by two international airports: San Jose International Airport (Juan Santamaria) and Liberia International Airport.

Do I need a visa?

Most visitors from the US, Europe, and Australia will not need a visa to travel to Costa Rica; but do consult the  Costa Rican embassy  for details.

When is the best time to visit?

Costa Rica has two distinct seasons. The wet season (May to November) sees daily showers up and down the country, with the heaviest rains occurring in September and October. The dry season is the most popular time to travel, with daytime temperatures in the late 70°Fs (mid 20°Cs) — ideal for hitting the beach or hiking through the cloud forests. This is also festival season, with major events including the Fiestas Palmares (January), Semana Santa (Easter), and the Festival de la Luz (Festival of Lights, December).

Domestic airline Sansa has regular flights between all of Costa Rica’s main cities. Other airlines that fly domestically are Skyway, Aerobell, and Green Airways.

The cheapest way to travel around Costa Rica is by bus, and there is a wide network of long-distance buses that will take you wherever you want to go. Find route information and fares.

For shorter trips and local transport, taxis are widely available.


Uber is available in San Jose and some other Costa Rican cities on your smartphone.

On the ground

What is the timezone.

Central Standard Time

What are the voltage/plug types?

The standard voltage in Costa Rica is 120 V and the standard frequency is 60 Hz. The plug has two flat parallel pins.

What is the currency?

Costa Rican colón. US dollars are widely accepted, especially in cities and tourist areas.

Are ATMs readily accessible?

Yes, in all large towns and cities.

Are credit cards widely accepted?

Yes, but it’s worth carrying some cash, especially outside of major cities and tourist areas.

How much do I tip?

Tipping is not obligatory in Costa Rica, although tipping for exceptional service is always appreciated.

Are there local customs I should know?

The federal legal age for buying and drinking alcohol is 18 years old.

Try to speak the language

English is widely spoken in establishments frequented by travelers, but learning a few Spanish phrases will be appreciated. If you plan on venturing further afield, a basic knowledge of Spanish will go a long way.

Expect relaxed time-keeping

Locals tend to be laid-back about timekeeping, so don’t get too worried if your taxi or tour guide shows up 15 minutes late.

Tap water is drinkable in Costa Rica, except in remote rural areas, so pack a refillable water bottle.

Keep your clothes on!

Topless sunbathing is not acceptable in Costa Rica, and while you may find it’s tolerated at some private resorts, it’s best to do as the locals do and keep covered.

Full Suitcase Travel Blog

Costa Rica Bucket List: 17 Top Places & Must-Do Experiences

By Author Jurga

Posted on Last updated: April 26, 2024

Costa Rica Bucket List: 17 Top Places & Must-Do Experiences

Planning a trip to Costa Rica and wondering what are the top places to visit and best experiences not to miss on your first visit? In this guide, we share some of the  must-dos in Costa Rica that should be on your bucket list . Find out!

Costa Rica is one of the most unique destinations in Central America. The country is best known for its natural wonders and wildlife, but it also boasts a wide variety of amazing experiences for all types of travelers.

From misty cloud forests, majestic waterfalls, and impressive volcanos, to sandy beaches, geothermal springs, and an array of adventurous activities, Costa Rica is surprisingly diverse. Whether you want to explore lush rainforests, hope to see some exotic wildlife, soar above the canopy on ziplines, or simply relax amidst breathtaking landscapes, Costa Rica offers all of this and so much more.

But where to go and what to do in Costa Rica if you have limited time and want to experience the VERY BEST that the country of Pura Vida has to offer?

Rather than overwhelming you with 129 things to do in Costa Rica, in this guide, we only focus on top places and most special experiences that are absolute must-do for first-time visitors. These are all experiences that make it worth traveling to Costa Rica even if you are coming from the other side of the world as we were.

This list is based on our extensive research, personal experience, and what we feel is worth your time and money the most. We listed our family’s absolute favorites at the top.

I hope that this list will help you narrow down your Costa Rica bucket list so that it’s actually doable in one short trip while at the same time giving you a chance to experience all kinds of different facets of this beautiful country. Find out!

READ ALSO: Costa Rica Itinerary for 2 Weeks

Traditional oxcart (carreta) in Costa Rica

These are the best things to do in Costa Rica:

1. Zipline Canopy Tours

Zip-lining above the forest canopy should be at the top of any list of the best things to do in Costa Rica. When I asked my family to rank their favorite experiences from our recent trip, everyone indicated zip-lining in their top-2 (without knowing what others chose). I was actually quite hesitant to do ziplining at first, but I gathered all my courage and I am so glad I did – it was amazing!

There are many places in Costa Rica where you can find ziplining experiences, but there is a big difference between simply ziplining and canopy tours.

By far the best place for ziplining in Costa Rica is Monteverde . Here, you can experience the true meaning of canopy tours that not only give you the thrills of ziplining itself but also allow you to enjoy the most spectacular scenery. As you soar above treetops, you can enjoy a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful surroundings. You might even find yourself flying through the clouds here. It’s such a unique experience!

Good to know: There are several places where you can go zip-lining in Monteverde. If you are simply looking for the best-value zipline experience, check out 100% Aventura (this is the tour we took and highly recommend). It includes the longest zip line, Superman experiences, and a Tarzan swing (most other places charge extra for these).

If you want an all-in experience including zip lining, hanging bridges, and more, check out all the different options offered by Selvatura Park .

The second best location for zip lining in Costa Rica is the La Fortuna – Arenal area . Also here, there are quite a few options . One of the best places with great views is Sky Adventures Park .

Zip lining in Monteverde - best things to do in Costa Rica

2. El Tigre Waterfalls

El Tigre Waterfalls is my personal favorite of all the places we visited in Costa Rica. The whole family, including the kids, listed it in their top-3 so I guess that says it all. If your trip brings you to Monteverde and you can spare a couple of hours, don’t miss this beautiful place!

Located on private land, El Tigre boasts a series of waterfalls (4 big ones and 4-6 smaller ones) that can be reached by hiking through a forest. Along the way, you also pass several hanging bridges. In addition, they also offer a Zipline Bike experience and a local lunch (the views from the restaurant are phenomenal!).

The hike to the waterfalls is mostly downhill with some up-and-down sections. It takes about 2-2.5 hours and the trail can be muddy and slippery, so it’s not a simple walk in the park. That said, it should be doable for most people (wear good shoes!). Plus, you can save yourself the uphill hike by taking a horse or a 4×4 ride at the end of the hike.

The price of the experience depends on what exactly you opt to do and you can book it via their website or on Viator . You can upgrade to Zipline Biking on the spot if you feel like it.

Good to know: Just like most roads around Monteverde, the road to get to El Tigre is quite steep and bumpy and you will need a 4WD vehicle to get here. If you book this experience via Viator, most tours usually include a transfer from Monteverde hotels.

TIP: We recommend the all-in experience that includes the waterfalls hike, a horseback ride, and lunch at their beautiful restaurant (+ hotel pick-up/drop-off).

El Tigre Waterfalls in Monteverde - top places in Costa Rica

3. Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is the most popular national park in the country and for a good reason. This small park has several stunning beaches and an easily accessible rainforest with a surprisingly wide variety of wildlife.

If you want to spot wildlife in Costa Rica without too much effort, this is the place to be!

You can expect to see capuchin monkeys, sloths, iguanas, howler monkeys, and all kinds of colorful birds. With some more luck, you will likely see many more animals, some of which you may have never even heard of.

Good to know: Due to its popularity, Manuel Antonio National Park is sometimes dismissed by repeat visitors to Costa Rica as too touristy and overrated, but don’t let this put you off. There is truly no better place in Costa Rica where you can see so many wild animals with so little effort. The park is easy to reach, the pathways and boardwalks make it simple to explore, and there is an abundance of wildlife.

PRO TIP: Entry tickets are sold via the official national parks’ website SINAC and have to be booked well in advance. In addition, we highly recommend visiting here with a local guide . You will miss 90% of the animals if you go on your own! We booked this private tour and it was great.

Important! No matter which tour/guide you book, you still need to reserve the park tickets yourself. Also, we highly recommend visiting first thing in the morning – that way, you will avoid the crowds and will likely see more animals too.

LEARN MORE: Tips & Tricks for Visiting Manuel Antonio National Park

Capuchin monkeys in Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica

4. Hot Springs of La Fortuna

La Fortuna area around Arenal Volcano is known for its natural geothermal hot springs . The entire area here is dotted with thermal pools. Many hotels have hot springs and they are usually beautifully set up in a rainforest with the volcano as a backdrop (if you are lucky to visit when it’s not hiding in the clouds).

If you love soaking in the hot geothermal waters, you may want to consider booking an accommodation that has some hot springs on site (e.g. the luxury thermal resorts like Tabacón or Baldi , mid-range resorts like Los Lagos or Chachagua Rainforest Hotel , or budget-friendly options like Relax Thermalitas , to mention just a few). Most of the hotels also offer day passes, so you can also check out different hot springs every day.

While it’s usually so warm in Costa Rica that the idea of jumping in a hot pool might not sound too appealing, the Arenal area is often quite cloudy/rainy making hot springs really enjoyable. Plus, most places have pools with different water temperatures for you to choose from.

La Fortuna hot springs - must do in Costa Rica

5. La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park

La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is located about 1-hour drive north of San Jose and about a 1.5-hour drive from La Fortuna. This makes it a very popular destination for day trips from the capital city or a great sightseeing stop when driving to/from La Fortuna.

We didn’t expect much and only stopped here because we had a few hours to fill before heading to the airport from La Fortuna. But wow, if there is one place in Costa Rica that exceeded all our expectations, it’s the La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

This park is like the best of Costa Rica all in one. Set in the rainforest high up in the mountains, the park boasts stunning views and gives you access to a series of impressive waterfalls. But there are so many reasons to visit here that the waterfalls are just a cherry on the cake. You can enjoy beautiful gardens and see all kinds of (rescued) animals and birds that are not always easy to spot in the wild.

We came here at the end of our trip, after seeing lots of wildlife in national parks and forests all over Costa Rica, so we thought we would be hard to impress. But the way this park is built and the animal encounters they have exceeded all our expectations. We could walk between sloths and toucans, see dozens of hummingbirds, snakes, frogs, and stand eye-in-eye with leopards and pumas. It’s not the same as seeing animals in the wild, but it’s also not a zoo.

La Paz gardens are well-maintained and manicured and not something you can compare to a wild nature destination, but it’s so well done that even the biggest skeptics will be impressed. I would have never thought I would say this, but it’s definitely one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica. Even our teenagers who were not thrilled about us stopping here quickly changed their minds and afterward ranked this place in their top 5!

Good to know: Count at least 2 hours for a visit, 3 if you also want to have lunch here. You can book entry tickets in advance on Viator , but we were able to visit just like that. Just like all the attractions and tours in Costa Rica, a visit here is not cheap (and was the main reason we were hesitant if it was worth it). But it is worth it way more than many other places/tours which we did during our 2-week trip.

PRO TIP: If you have a night or two free in your itinerary, consider staying at the Peace Lodge here. This hotel is amazing and guests get free access to the gardens.

Toucan in Costa Rica

6. River Tubing in Rio Celeste

If you are looking for more adventurous things to do in Costa Rica, then you cannot go wrong with river tubing ! The best place to do this is at Rio Celeste (famous for its azure-blue waters and a stunning waterfall – more info about it further below).

River tubing in Rio Celeste is so much fun and the waters are indeed as blue as in the pictures. The river is quite calm and has a combination of more adventurous sections with river rapids but also calmer waters where you just float. There are also several opportunities to go swimming, including over-the-water rope swings that our kids just couldn’t get enough of.

Often, you can also see all kinds of animals on tubing tours. For example, we saw a sloth and tons of monkeys as well as many birds.

Good to know: River tubing is adventurous, but not scary and the river isn’t deep at all. It’s an activity that the whole family can enjoy. A lot will also depend on the water levels when you visit. Also, if you float on your own, you will always go faster and spin more than when you hold on to each others’ tubes and float as a small group. So you can make it more or less adventurous based on your comfort level.

TIP: Book river tubing in advance (even if just a few hours before) because there are no ‘offices’ by the river where you can walk in and book on the spot. In most cases, they will drive you to the river and back to your car at the end of the tour. We did this highly-rated tubing tour and really enjoyed it.

River tubing in Rio Celeste - top experiences in Costa Rica

7. Nauyaca Waterfalls

Whether you are looking for impressive waterfalls or just like the idea of swimming and jumping off cliffs (be careful though!), don’t miss Nauyaca Waterfalls in southwestern Costa Rica. This stunning waterfall is located close to the Quepos area (Manuel Antonio National Park) and is therefore easy to include in any trip itinerary.

Just to be clear, there is no shortage of waterfalls in Costa Rica and you will be spoiled with the choice of which ones to visit. However, there is just something special that makes Nauyaca Waterfalls one of the best places to see in Costa Rica, so don’t miss this one!

I have a friend who calls Costa Rica her second home and spends several weeks there every year and she keeps on telling me that Nauyaca Waterfalls is her absolute favorite spot in the country. So if you visit just one waterfall, make it this one.

We visited Nauyaca Waterfalls at the end of the dry season after weeks and weeks with no rain and the falls were still impressive. I have seen pictures of them during the rainy season and it’s even more spectacular.

Good to know: There are several waterfalls here – the upper one is more scenic, and the lower one is better suited for swimming. Don’t forget to take your swimwear. Water shoes are recommended as well.

The waterfalls can be reached by hiking or you can opt to travel by horse or a 4×4 shuttle (reservations recommended, especially for horse riding – see the official site for more info). The hike is about 2.5 miles (4 km) one way and the trail is quite hilly with little shade. It’s more expensive to take a 4×4 but believe me, it’s worth it.

TIP: Avoid weekends and arrive early in the morning if you want to enjoy the swim without too many other people around. If you don’t have a car, you can easily visit the waterfalls with tours or private transfers .

Kids jumping off the cliffs at Nauyaca Waterfalls in Costa Rica

8. Hanging Bridges in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of the most unique places in Costa Rica. Some of our absolute favorite activities (ziplining at #1 and El Tigre Waterfalls at #2) can be found here. But there is more!

No visit to Monteverde would be complete without visiting the actual cloud forest and walking through the clouds (or at least at treetop level if you are exceptionally lucky with the weather).

The ‘official’ place to visit is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve , with hiking trails, birds and wildlife, etc. But it’s not always well organized, can get crowded, and often has a long wait. Plus, if you want to see some wildlife, it’s best to visit with a guide , and this park only has one hanging bridge.

Alternatively, you can also opt to visit other – private – reserves in the same area. That’s what we chose to do.

After spending hours and hours researching the best spots to enjoy the scenery in Monteverde, we were left with two final choices: Treetopia (previously Sky Adventures) and Selvatura . They both also offer zip-lining experiences and more, or you can just opt to do the treetop walk and enjoy the scenery. Based on recommendations from the locals that I found in different online forums and Facebook groups, we chose Selvatura.

This park borders the cloud forest and is located higher up than most others. Their treetop walk also has 8 hanging bridges and the scenery is spectacular. I can’t compare it to others from personal experience, but I can definitely say that it didn’t disappoint! More than that – we LOVED the hanging bridges of Selvatura! Ziplining also looked amazing here, so if your time in Monteverde is limited, just book a combo deal and do everything in one place.

Good to know: No matter which hanging bridges you decide to visit, most roads around Monteverde are really bad and you need a 4×4. If you don’t have a car, you can easily book tours that include transfers.

READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in Monteverde

Selvatura hanging bridges in Monteverde Cloud Forest Costa Rica

9. Rafting in La Fortuna

La Fortuna is often called the Adventure Capital of Costa Rica and one of the most popular adrenaline-rushing experiences here is rafting . In fact, if you want to go rafting in Costa Rica, there is no better place to do that than in La Fortuna!

There are two main rivers for rafting in La Fortuna: Balsa and Sarapiqui. Sarapiqui is wilder (including class 4 rafting), whereas Balsa has two sections – the lower one with class 2-3 rafting and the upper one with a bit more adventurous 3-4 class rafting. So you can easily find a rafting experience that you are comfortable with.

Here are some of the best La Fortuna rafting tours for different levels:

  • If you are looking for the ultimate adrenaline-rushing white water rafting experience, opt for a class 4 Sarapiqui rafting tour (ages 14+).
  • If you want a fun rafting trip without too many challenges and steep drops, then choose a class 2-3 rafting tour on the Balsa River . It’s also suitable for families (ages 6+). We recently did this rafting tour and the whole family (including 13-15 year-olds) enjoyed it. The first part was wild and fun and the second one was more relaxing with tons of wildlife sightings from the boat.
  • If you are not sure which rafting option to choose, then opt for the class 3-4 rafting on the Upper Balsa (ages 8+). It’s more adventurous than Class 2-3 but not as extreme as Sarapiqui Class 4.

READ ALSO: Best Things to Do in La Fortuna

Rafting in La Fortuna - must do in Costa Rica

10. Ballena National Marine Park in Uvita

Uvita is a small beach town located about 1 hour drive south of the famous Manuel Antonio National Park. It is best known as home to the Ballena National Marine Park and its Whale’s Tail Beach (which looks like the tail of a whale from above).

The best thing to do here is simply to walk on the beach and enjoy the views. In season, you might get lucky to see whales in the sea (+- December to March and July to November). There are also some crocodiles, caimans, and water birds at the river mouths (don’t go swimming here!) and all kinds of wildlife in the rainforest.

The scenery at Playa Uvita is stunning, the beaches are gorgeous, and you can also go swimming if you like. Just be careful with your belongings as some cheeky monkeys (or people) can run away with them.

Good to know: Contrary to most other popular national parks in Costa Rica, Marino Ballena doesn’t require reservations (but there is a small entry fee). What you can see/do will also depend on how high the tide is. Either way, prepare to walk through some water, so it’s best to wear sandals.

TIP: While you can easily visit Uvita from Quepos (Manuel Antonio), we recommend staying here for a few days. The town has such a nice authentic vibe and it’s also a great base for excursions to some of the best places in Costa Rica (see the next two points!).

Sunset at Ballena National Marine Park in Uvita Costa Rica

11. Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula is the best place in Costa Rica to see wildlife. This park is home to 3% of the world’s biodiversity, which means that 3 out of 100 animal species worldwide can be found in this rather compact area.

If you want to see some truly unique animals in Costa Rica, then Corcovado should be very high on your bucket list!

So why is this unique and untouched place not at the top of our list of the best things to do in Costa Rica, you might wonder…

It’s mainly because of its more remote location, far away from the most popular tourist destinations. Furthermore, it’s not simple to get here so it requires more time to visit.

If you are only going to Corcovado for a day as we did, the journey takes about as much time as sightseeing. Plus, you only get to see a tiny part of the park. So if you have more time, plan a longer stay in this area! I promise you, it will be worth it! Even with just a few hours in a park, we saw a tapir, several different species of monkeys, a group of coatis, and tons of other wildlife that we didn’t see anywhere else during the trip.

Good to know: We had limited time in our itinerary so we visited Corcovado on a day tour from Uvita/Sierpe . A better way to do this would be by staying in Drake’s Bay for a few days and taking day tours from there ( like this one ), or by booking a multi-day tour to this stunning area.

There are also overnight stays possible inside the park itself, if you don’t mind a rather basic shared accommodation and want a real rainforest experience.

Coati in Corcovado National Park Costa Rica

12. Rio Celeste Waterfall

Rio Celeste Waterfall is one of the most picturesque waterfalls in Costa Rica. It’s not that much the waterfall itself that attracts the attention, but the bright turquoise color of the water in the river.

This remarkable river and the waterfall are the main attractions of the Tenorio Volcano National Park in Guanacaste Province in the northern part of the country. In addition, you might spot some wildlife here, but it’s not comparable to the species you get to see at Corcovado or Manuel Antonio.

TIP: Combine a visit to Rio Celeste Waterfall with the earlier-mentioned river tubing. If you prefer something less adventurous, there are also sloth tours and night tours in the area.

Good to know: If you don’t have a car, you can easily visit Rio Celeste with day tours from La Fortuna . However, most of these tours do not include tubing.

Rio Celeste Waterfall in Costa Rica

13. Snorkeling at Caño Island

Caño Island is one of the best places to go snorkeling in Costa Rica. If you want to see colorful fish, sea turtles, stingrays, and maybe even small sharks, this is the place to be. On the way to the island, you may also get lucky to spot some dolphins and – in season – also whales.

Just like the nearby Corcovado National Park, Caño Island is located quite remotely and requires some extra effort to get to. The two places are rather close to each other, so many people visit here from Drake’s Bay , or as part of multi-day tours that combine the two .

We visited Cano Island on this day tour from Uvita . It’s quite a long boat ride to get there, but snorkeling itself was impressive enough to make up for it. The kids loved snorkeling with sea turtles!

Snorkeling with sea turtles at Cano Island in Costa Rica

14. Night Tours

There is one more thing that you really have to do in Costa Rica at least once and that’s taking a night tour . Many animals are nocturnal and are only active in the dark, so it’s difficult to see most of them on day tours.

Think of the famous Red-eyed tree frog (and most other frogs), snakes, and scorpions, but also mammals such as tapirs, agoutis, opossums, armadillos, or kinkajous…

There are many places where you can do night tours, all over Costa Rica. What you get to see will highly depend on where you take a tour and you will find different types of animals at lower elevations than in the mountains.

We booked this night tour in Monteverde and saw some animals we had never seen before – kinkajous, opossums, golden beetles, spiders, certain types of frogs, and many others I don’t remember the names of.

Good to know: If you want to see the iconic Costa Rica red-eyed tree frog (awake), then book a night tour in the Manuel Antonio area or around La Fortuna .

Red-eyed frog on a night tour in Costa Rica

15. Volcanos

Costa Rica is home to quite a few volcanos, including 6 active and over 60 dormant ones. So you may want to add a visit to a volcano to your list of things to do.

The most famous volcano in Costa Rica is undoubtedly Arenal . However, it’s often hiding in the clouds and we were told that only about 25% of visitors actually get to see it in its full glory. Furthermore, there are no roads to get to the crater or such, just a few hiking trails over lava fields.

If you want to see a volcano crater without too much effort, then you can visit either Poás Volcano or Irazú Volcano . In both cases, you can drive all the way to the top and the walk to the crater itself is just a few minutes.

Both – Poas and Irazu Volcanos are just about 1-hour drive from San José, which makes it quite simple to add a visit to one or both of them to any Costa Rica itinerary. However, they are located in different regions quite far from each other, so you will have to plan separate trips if you want to see them both. Whether it’s actually worth going to both, depends on your interests and overall itinerary.

Good to know: For both volcano craters, you have to reserve timed entry slots via the SINAC website: here for the Poas Volcano and here – for Irazu . Alternatively, you can also visit the volcanos with guided day tours from San Jose, in which case, they will take care of the tickets.

Irazu Volcano in Costa Rica

16. Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park  is another place that should be on your Costa Rica bucket list, especially if you are visiting in late summer – early fall. This is the prime green sea turtles nesting season and the beaches of Tortuguero are a great place to see them.

July and August are the prime months for turtles, but Tortuguero National Park is well worth a visit at any time of the year. Its remote location accessible only by boat means that nature here is still unspoiled so you can expect to see lots of wildlife.

Here, you can find a big variety of birds and frogs, but also different types of monkeys and sloths, iguanas, and even jaguars.

Good to know: Getting to Tortuguero National Park requires some effort since you can’t just drive to it. On the other hand, it’s not too far from San Jose and you can even visit on a day tour . However, just like in Corcovado, the better way to visit would be by taking a multi-day trip and staying a night or two in the area.

Turtle in Tortuguero National Park - top places in Costa Rica

17. Coffee & Chocolate Tours

And finally, no list of the best things to do in Costa Rica would be complete without mentioning chocolate and coffee tours . After all, this is where cacao trees and coffee beans grow.

If you want to learn more about coffee – from growing to harvesting and roasting or discover the secrets of really good chocolate, then it’s well worth visiting one of the plantations that organize guided tours. It’s a deliciously immersive experience that also gives you a chance to discover some local culture.

Good to know: There are many places in Costa Rica where you can find coffee and/or chocolate tours, so it’s easy to find one that fits your plans. La Fortuna area is a good place for chocolate tours and Hacienda Doka near San Jose is one of the best places to do a coffee tour.

We did this 3-in-1 coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane tour in Monteverde and it was quite interesting (and delicious ;)).

Chocolate tour in Costa Rica

So, this sums up our list of must-dos in Costa Rica. As you can see, the country has a lot to offer!

From wildlife spotting in the rainforest, swimming in breathtaking waterfalls, or soaking in relaxing hot springs to adventurous activities such as ziplining, river tubing, or rafting, there are so many amazing places to visit and things to do in Costa Rica!

Good to know: In this article, we only focus on the VERY BEST places and things to do in Costa Rica. Even so, you will need at least 10-12 days to do all of this in a somewhat relaxing way. If you are in a hurry, you could do it all a bit faster as well, but remember that Costa Rica is the land of Pura Vida! So if your trip is shorter, you may want to visit fewer places and explore them deeper rather than trying to see ‘everything’.

If you are wondering how to plan a trip so that you can cover most of these top spots and activities in Costa Rica, take a look at our recommended itinerary for first-time visitors via the link below!

If you found this post helpful, don’t forget to bookmark it and share it with your friends. Are you on Pinterest? Pin these images!

Best things to do in Costa Rica

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The Most Popular Costa Rica Destinations

Unlike many other Central American and Caribbean destinations, there is no shortage of options for places to go in Costa Rica! The excellent tourist infrastructure, varied climates and geography creates a wide variety of options to choose from. Top natural and adventure destinations include Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, Drake Bay, Tortuguero and Rincon de la Vieja. Popular beach areas include Manuel Antonio, Playa Samara, Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo. Take advantage of the diversity while on your trip by splitting up locations and you will go home satisfied. Click on the links to read more about the most popular destinations in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica offers a host of options for travelers. Find out what places, climates and attractions are best for you with our guide to Costa Rica’s most popular destinations.

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Manuel antonio.

For good reason, Manuel Antonio is the most popular beach area and national park in Costa Rica.  This area is incredibly beautiful with gorgeous beaches, jungle lined hillsides and an astounding amount of wildlife.  With the combination of these factors, Manuel Antonio is considered to be a world class tropical beach destination.  Click on the links to read more about Manuel Antonio.

La Fortuna is the closest town to the magnificent Arenal Volcano and considered to be the Adventure Capital of Central America.  The town is well known as a top tourist destination with hot springs resorts and loads of activities.  The people are always warm and welcoming, eager to show off their beautiful piece of paradise.  Click on the links to read more about La Fortuna.

Monteverde is the most well-known cloud forest destination in the world.  This area is a birdwatchers paradise as it is home to Resplendent Quetzals, Bellbirds and Emerald Toucanettes.  Birdwatchers come from all over their world for a chance at spotting these beautiful and rare species.  Monteverde is also home to the best canopy ziplines in the world, with some of the longest, highest and fastest courses.  Click on the links to read more about Monteverde.

Tamarindo is one of the most popular beach destinations in Costa Rica and for good reason.  This fun filled beach town is home to several gorgeous beaches, loads of restaurants, shops and even some good night life.  The beaches here are varied with some great beaches for swimming and boogie boarding, while others are perfect to learn how to surf or even for experienced surfers.  Click on the links to read more about Tamarindo.

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo has long been one of the best kept secrets, but the word is getting out quickly that this is one of the top destinations in Costa Rica.  The area is home to magnificent palm studded beaches which are varied with surfing, swimming and snorkeling all nearby.  The town itself offers a wide variety of restaurants, shops and night life.  Click on the links to read more about Puerto Viejo.

Similar to Puerto Viejo, Samara has long been one of the best kept secrets in Costa Rica.  The town offers many restaurants and shops and is also home to a beautiful beach which is great for swimming, boogie boarding and learning to surf.  Playa Carrillo, which many consider to be the most beautiful beach on the Pacific side, is located just 5 minutes away.  The proximity of these scenic beaches, availability of fun activities and location make Samara one of the top destinations in Costa Rica.  Click on the links to read more about Samara.

Tortuguero is one of the most popular eco-tourist destinations in Costa Rica.  The town is located on a strip of land between the beach and lagoon and is only accessible by boat or plane.  Visitors come to Tortuguero from all over the world to witness nesting turtles and the other amazing wildlife that inhabits the national park.  Click on the links to read more about Tortuguero.

Drake Bay is one of the most remote destinations in Costa Rica.  Similar to Tortuguero, it is only accessible year round by boat or plane.  It is considered an outpost for accessing the wilds of Corcovado National Park and Cano Island.  Visitors will be astounded by the natural beauty of the area with spectacular beaches and loads of wildlife.  Click on the links to read more about Drake Bay.

Mal Pais – Santa Teresa

This area is quickly becoming one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica.  Visitors come for beautiful beaches which are ideal for surfing.  The area is also well-known for its many yoga retreats.  Click on the links to read more about Mal Pais and Santa Teresa.

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Welcome to Costa Rica! This beautiful country is known for its stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and incredible wildlife. Whether you’re looking for adventure or relaxation, Costa Rica has something for everyone.

Some of the top attractions include Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio National Park, La Paz Waterfalls, Papagayo Peninsula, Tamarindo beach, Rio Celeste, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Corcovado National Park.

You can enjoy activities such as surfing, snorkeling, fishing, ziplining and hiking. Costa Rica is also home to many unique and diverse animal species such as sloths, monkeys, birds, turtles and more. We hope you enjoy your stay!

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Located on the central Pacific coast, the Puntarenas region extends from Punta Conejo south to Puerto Caldera to the mouth of the Bongo River. The region’s rich coastline overlooks small islands, inlets, beaches and beautiful natural wonders. The port town of Puntarenas serves as the center of the region and is home port to a ferry that carries visitors over to the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula.


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The combination of breath-taking white-sand beaches, sweeping mountain views and an ideal tropical climate has made Guanacaste one of Costa Rica’s most popular regions. It boasts many of the country’s popular beaches, including Playa del Coco, Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal and the Papagayo Peninsula. By day visitors can challenge themselves with a surf lesson, cool off under a waterfall at Rincón de la Vieja National Park, discover the craters of an active volcano with the same name and more before enjoying the active nightlife in Tamarindo.


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Recognized as home of Arenal Volcano National Park, which boasts 75% of Costa Rica’s bird population, the Northern Plains present endless activities for visitors. Excursions range from hiking and waterfall rappelling to canopying and exploring via a hanging bridge tour. Those looking for activities on the water will find that Lake Arenal is an ideal location for canoeing, fishing and kite surfing.


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Those in search of cultural and natural attractions will find both in the Central Valley region. Home to the destination’s capital city, San José, many of Costa Rica’s most popular museums can be found in this urban setting including the Gold Museum, Jade Museum, National Museum and Children’s Museum, in addition to the architectural jewel of San José, the National Theatre.


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Beautiful beaches, wildlife sanctuaries, lagoons, rivers and waterfalls make the Central Pacific region an ideal destination for visitors in search of variety. The region stretches from the city of Puntarenas to Dominical de Osa and is made up of some of Costa Rica’s most visited areas including Monteverde, Quepos, Jacó, Bahía Ballena and Manuel Antonio. The region’s climate creates a unique landscape that transitions from tropical wet forest to tropical forest to tropical dry forest, providing the opportunity to observe a wide range of plants and animals.


The diverse coastline of the Northern Caribbean region attracts anglers, naturists and water enthusiasts in search of unique experiences. The North Caribbean region is famous for its interconnected canals and for Tortuguero National Park, where visitors have the opportunity to witness green turtles nesting. Limón City, the largest city on the country’s Caribbean coast, is perched in the center of the coast. The Southern Caribbean boasts some great beaches and picturesque parks, which are complemented by the area’s inviting culture.

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Home » Travel Planning and Inspiration » 50 BEST Things to do in Costa Rica: Your 2024 Bucket List

50 BEST Things to do in Costa Rica: Your 2024 Bucket List

By Author Costa Rica Travel Life

Posted on Last updated: March 17, 2024

50 BEST Things to do in Costa Rica: Your 2024 Bucket List

This blog may contain affiliate links. Read our disclosure policy for more info.

Costa Rica is truly one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. This small Central American country is well known for its abundance of wildlife, natural attractions, fun activities, and friendly people. It is not only the most developed country in Costa Rica but also the safest.

This makes Costa Rica a popular place for tourists!

Bailey and I first visited Costa Rica back in 2017 and have been coming back ever since – we even lived there at one stage. We have done some pretty cool activities during that time, most of which I’ll never forget.

To help other travelers, we have come up with the 50 best things to do in Costa Rica. This list includes lots of specific activities in Costa Rica, top tours (including multi-day tours ) as well as general activities with info about where to enjoy them.

So, if you’re planning on visiting Costa Rica for the first time or returning again, this blog on the best things to do in Costa Rica is perfect for you!

Don’t have time to read the full article?  Check out our list of our absolute favorite things to do in Costa Rica:

  • Spot sloths in Manuel Antonio National Park on this guided tour .
  • Look into a volcano crater at Poás Volcano.
  • Go on a whale watching tour–like this one in Drake Bay .
  • Hike to Nauyaca Waterfalls, the most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica!
  • Swim with turtles and explore the reef around Caño Island on this snorkeling tour .

1. Explore Manuel Antonio National Park

2. visit an animal rescue center, 3. stare into poás volcano, 4. learn to surf, 5. go whale watching , 6. hike to nauyaca waterfalls, 7. explore caño island, 8. take a trip to la fortuna waterfall, 9. explore marino ballena national park , 10. see the blue water of rio celeste , 11. day trip to tortuga island, 12. navigate a canyon to reach la leona waterfall, 13. go hiking in arenal volcano national park, 14. relax in hot springs, 15. see wildlife in corcovado national park, santa teresa, tamarindo/ guanacaste , 17. explore downtown san jose, 18. visit the crocodile bridge , 19. go ziplining, 20. go whitewater rafting , 21. visit tortuguero national park, 22. see bioluminescent plankton, 23. explore mangroves, 22. bird watching , 24. explore rincon de la viejo national park, 25. see sea turtles, 26. go fishing , 27. enjoy a sunset cruise, 28. hike in cahuita national park, 29. eat local food, 30. go on a night walk, 31. see a sloth, 32. enjoy the nightlife, 33. walk the hanging bridges in la fortuna , 34. visit monteverde cloud forest, 35. atv tour, 36. go canyoning, 37. coffee tour, 38. chocolate tour, 39. eat freshly-caught seafood, 40. drink delicious craft beer, 41. wander la paz waterfall gardens, 42. stay in a luxury treehouse, 43. visit irazu volcano , 44. enjoy a beach day , 45. go on a hike , 46. take a cooking class, 48. farm-to-table dinner experience , 49. visit montezuma waterfalls.

  • 50. Drive the "Waterfall Trail"

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A birds eye view of Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the best national parks in Costa Rica . This sprawling coastal area is filled with tons of biodiversity and natural beauty.

Within the park, there are several short hiking trails including “The Sloth Trail,” where you have great chances of seeing two and three-toed sloths. Other trails lead to spectacular viewpoints over the coastline or to pristine beaches and mangroves. Some wildlife you should expect to see includes snakes, monkeys, sloths, macaws, and more.

The park sits on the doorstep of the small town of Manuel Antonio (2.5 hours from San Jose) and is only a short drive from the city of Quepos. It’s best to  stay in Manuel Antonio  to explore the park, which you can do on your own or on a guided tour from Manuel Antonio .

A sloth in Manuel Antonio National Park

This specific tour  is the best option for those staying in Manuel Antonio town. The tour is only $30 USD and includes a 2-hour guided walk through the park. However, don’t just visit during the day.  This jungle night tour  is awesome too, and Andre is talented at spotting critters in the dark! 

Manuel Antonio National Park is open from 7 am to 4 pm every day except Tuesday. Entrance tickets to the park, which cost $18.08 USD for adults and $5.65 for children,  NEEDS to be purchased online in advance . When booking, you need to select the day that you’re visiting. This is beacuse the park has limited tickets available every day. If you are booking a tour, check if it includes your entrance ticket or not.

Check out the  best things to do in Manuel Antonio , where I have lots of detailed info about visiting the park. Also, don’t miss the  best restaurants in Manuel Antonio  during your visit!

A sloth at the Jaguar Rescue Center, Puerto Viejo

Costa Rica has worked really hard to protect its local wildlife. However, there are still issues that lead to animals needing help. Luckily, all over Costa Rica you’ll find non-for-profit organizations rescuing these animals and rehabilitating them for release.

Visiting one of the many animal rescue centers in Costa Rica is a great way to support the cause (your entrance fee goes directly to helping the animals) and see some really cool animals for yourself that are elusive in the wild. You can see baby sloths, jaguars, pumas, monkeys, crocodiles, snakes, and more.

Some of the best wildlife rescue centers in Costa Rica are:

Jaguar Rescue Center  – Located in Puerto Viejo , this is my overall favorite wildlife rescue center. Tours to the center cost $24 USD and include an in-depth look at the different animals, including their baby sloth program. You can also volunteer here, which is very popular.

Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center  – Rescate is located on the outskirts of San Jose and is a cool thing to do in the city. The property is huge, and on a self-guided tour, you’ll get to see just about all of Costa Rica’s wildlife! Only 2% of the animals here stay for life, which is fantastic! Entry is $35 USD for adults and $15 USD for kids.

Kids Saving the Rainforest Wildlife Rescue Center and Sanctuary  – If you’re visiting Manuel Antonio, this rescue center should be high on your bucket list. The non-profit rescue center was created in 1999 to help protect the diverse wildlife of Costa Rica . They do this by rehabilitating wildlife, scientific research, and promoting conservation and reforestation. Tours at the center cost $60 USD for adults, $45 USD for children under 12, and are free for children under the age of 3.

Alturas Wildlife Rescue Center  – This non-profit wildlife rehabilitation center, located near Uvita and Dominical, has the goal of releasing every animal they rescue. This involves treating animals in their veterinary clinic and slowly training animals to live in the wild again. It’s a costly but rewarding process that saves thousands of animals. Tours through Alturas cost $33 USD for adults and only $17 USD for children.

Sibu Wildlife Sanctuary  – This small wildlife rescue center is located in Nosara (one of my favorites town to surf in Costa Rica ) and, like the centers above, is focused on rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife. Guided tours of the center are $60 USD. In addition you’ll also get to be led through the sanctuary by the female founder who will explain to you the different trees and plant that make up this ecosystem.

A lady at the edge of Poas Volcano Crater

Poás Volcano is one of the world’s largest open volcanoes, the crater drops a whopping thousand feet below and stretches over a mile in diameter. The active volcano had its last eruption in September 2019, but it is closely monitored so that visitors are safe. From the viewing area, you’ll be able to look right into the volcano crater – a unique experience that is easily one of the best things to do in Costa Rica.

Visiting Poas Volcano is easily done on a  day trip from San Jose  or  Alajuela , with tours running from both and a  bus running from Alajuela .

Once at the volcano, you’ll watch a video about Poás Volcano and get some safety information. With your hard hat on your head, you’ll then enjoy a short 500-meter (0.3 mi) hiking trail that leads out to a viewpoint on the edge of the crater. You get a total of 20 to 30 minutes at the crater before returning to the visitor center.

Poás Volcano is best visited in the early morning or afternoon due to cloud cover. Also, while the weather may appear warm in San Jose, the temperatures at the volcano are much lower, so bring a jacket to help keep you warm.

To access the park, you NEED to  buy your tickets online and pick your visiting date and precise time for your entry. Once you arrive at the park, ensure you have your ID and entry permits at hand. If you don’t, you will be turned away and need to purchase your tickets from a nearby shop at a premium (security at Poas will tell you where.) 

If you don’t have a car or would prefer a guide, you can  join this guided Poás Volcano tour from San Jose . The tour includes a visit to Poás Volcano Crater and La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which begins with a romantic breakfast at the Doka Coffee Estate, followed by a tour of the coffee estate where you’ll learn all about how the coffee plant turns into a cup of coffee.

Related Read: There are some really beautiful hotels located very close to the airport in San Jose – read all about them!

A man surfs on a beach in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica on a beautiful sunny day

Costa Rica is well known as a top surf destination. With great beginner, intermediate, and advanced waves, it’s become a great place to both learn and fine-tune your skills. Although you can surf on both coastlines, the most popular coastline to surf is the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica.

Surfing is popular in most coastal towns, beginning as south as Uvita and going as far north as Jaco on the inland coast. Places such as Dominical and Playa Hermosa are very popular.

After Jaco, you’ll need to travel across the Gulf of Nicoya to Santa Teresa. Those wanting to learn should add Santa Teresa to the top of their list. It’s Santa Teresa is a vibrant town with amazing restaurants , great surf schools, and also lots of fun things to see and do . From there, you can surf the entire coastline to the north, with some of the most popular surf beaches being Tamarindo , Playa Grande, and the famed Witch’s Rock.

Witch’s Rock  is a beach break for intermediate and advanced surfers. Getting there is a bit tricky, but there are  tours from Tamarindo . Keen surfers should speak to locals for transport, and if you want to spend a few days surfing, the beach break is located at  Naranjo Beach . People often camp here so they can surf.

Another surf beach with just as much hype is Nosara. Surfing is easily the most  popular thing to do in Nosara , and the entire town caters to surfers. After your surf, be sure to check out some of the  best restaurants in Nosara – it’s a foodie paradise!

A humback whale in Uvita, Costa Rica

Seeing whales in the wild is a dream for many travelers, including myself. Although Costa wasn’t the first place I saw whales, it was the first place I saw a baby whale swimming with its mother. It was such a surreal experience that happened on my way to Corcovado National Park from  Puerto Jimenez  (a remote town on the southern coast).

The good news is that you don’t have to travel all the way to Puerto Jimenez to see whales in Costa Rica . In fact, whale watching tours can be done all up the Pacific Coast, including from  Drake Bay ,  Uvita , Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Tamarindo, in the Gulf of Nicoya, and in the Gulf of Papagayo. The trick is to pick the right time of year!

In Costa Rica, the two whale watching seasons run from December to March and July to October when the whales come to give birth in the calm waters. However, the best months to visit Costa Rica for whale watching are January to February and July to September.

If you’re visiting during this time, be sure to book a whale watching tour and enjoy this memorable activity in Costa Rica!

A lady poses for a photo at Nauyaca Waterfalls, Costa rica

The most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica is  Nauyaca Waterfalls . These two spectacular waterfalls are a combined 197 feet tall (60 meters) and are surrounded by lush rainforest and wildlife. This place is a must-visit if you plan on visiting Uvita, Dominical, or Manuel Antonio.

Dominical is the closest town to the entrance, it’s only a 15-minute  drive to the ticket office from town. The ticket office is where you’ll need to buy your entrance ticket ($12 USD at the office or $10 USD online). Then, it’s another 1.2-mile drive (2 kilometers) to the parking lot, where you’ll begin the hike to the base of the waterfall.

The trail from the parking lot is 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) each way along a dirt road, and it’s best to visit in the morning, as it’s a hot walk in the afternoon sun. Thankfully, once you arrive at the waterfall, you’ll quickly forget the hike. 

My recommendation is to visit the top waterfall first to check out the view and then walk down the bottom for a swim (the top isn’t for swimming.) Make sure you spend lots of time enjoying the water, it’s so beautiful. 

Related Read: Dominical is the town closest to Nauyaca Waterfalls, learn about all of the best hotels in Dominical !

A turtle swims by while snorkeling at Caño Island, Costa Rica

One of the best snorkeling and dive sites in Costa Rica is  Caño Island Biological Reserve . This small island is located off the coast of Drake Bay but can also be visited from Uvita and Sierpe too.

Tours to Caño Island Biological Reserve involve taking a boat out to the island where you can either snorkel or scuba dive. The reef here is filled with wildlife, and during my tour, I got to swim with turtles, sharks, and a huge variety of fish.

You can both snorkel or scuba dive around the island, but visitors are no longer allowed to step foot on the island itself. The best place to start your tour is Drake Bay , and from there, the island is only a 40-minute boat ride away. In fact, tours to Caño Island are considered one of the best things to do in Drake Bay .

From Uvita and Sierpe, you’ll need to take an extra-long boat ride through the mangroves (and a short shuttle from Uvita,) but for keen divers or snorkelers, the trip is well worth it!

Caño Island Biological Reserve is my second favorite place to dive or snorkel (number one is mentioned further on in this blog) in Costa Rica and a must-do for ocean enthusiasts!

A lady enjoys the view of LA Fortuna Waterfall

It should come as no surprise that La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the top attractions in Costa Rica. This stunning 230 foot (70 meter) waterfall shoots out from a tall cliff into a powerful pool below that’s surrounded by lush forest. Visiting is nothing short of breathtaking.  

Visiting La Fortuna Waterfall is easily done without a tour. You can get a taxi or drive yourself from La Fortuna town to this parking lot , where you’ll pay the entrance fee and begin hiking. The trail is well maintained and leads down to the waterfall via lots of concrete steps. It only takes 15 minutes to get down but a little longer on the way up – it’s 500 steps!  

Once at the bottom, you can get some great pictures and swim in the pool below the waterfall, or visit the calmer pools downriver for a more relaxing swim. The water is cold but super refreshing, and the entire area is gorgeous.  

La Fortuna Waterfall from a viewpoint

We spent around 1 hour at the waterfall before “enjoying” the 30-minute walk back up. This walk takes some people much longer, so be prepared and take your time. Keep an eye out for wildlife too. We saw lots of toucans during our visit.  

Entrance to La Fortuna Waterfall is $18 USD, and you can purchase them at the gate or  here online in advance and skip the line  (it’s the same price.)

If you don’t have transport or would prefer a guide, there are some great La Fortuna Waterfall tours that also include epic extras. My pick is this guided tour of La Fortuna Waterfall . For $91 USD, you’ll get to hike near the stunning Arenal Volcano, take a swim in La Fortuna Waterfall’s cool waters, and then visit a natural hot spring – which you get to enjoy with a cocktail in hand. It’s a popular tour with hundreds of 5-star reviews that you can book online here !

Visiting La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the best things to do in La Fortuna , so don’t miss it!

Arial View of Whale Tail in Marino Ballena National Park, Uvita

Without a doubt, the number one thing to do in Uvita is to visit Marino Ballena National Park and enjoy a walk out to the famous “Whale Tail”. 

Marino Ballena National Park is a small marine and coastal national park that protects this gorgeous coastline. The shape of the sandbar in the park is completely natural and very fitting to the area considering Uvita is one of the best places to go whale watching in the country . With an aerial view at low tide, you can see this sandbar looks exactly like a whale’s tail – hence the name.

From Uvita, you can easily visit the national park and the Whale Tail. For the best experience, you should  aim to visit the park at around low tide  when you can actually walk onto the Whale Tail.

Although the Whale Tail is the main attraction, the beach itself is also spectacular. In fact, you can spot lots of wildlife in the coastal rainforest area and find secluded places to relax and enjoy a swim.

The entrance to the park is $6 USD for adults, and local guides wait at the entrance to the park in case you want to do a tour. Expect to pay around $40 USD per person for a guided tour, but this price is entirely negotiable depending on group size.

After you’ve explored the beach, it’s time to see the marine park. On this incredible whale watching tour in Marino Ballena National Park , you head out on a boat in search of these majestic creatures. For over 3 hours, you’ll explore the coastline heading out as far as Caño Island.

Marino Ballena National Park is open every day from 7 am to 4 pm. Tickets to the park can be bought directly at the park entrance gates in Uvita and do not need to be purchased in advance.

Rio Celeste Waterfall, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is home to lots of rivers, but few are as beautiful as Rio Celeste . Located around 1.5 hours north of La Fortuna, this natural attraction is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. 

Rio Celeste is famous for its bright blue color. This natural phenomenon is caused by the mixing of two rivers that literally turns the water Gatorade blue – I’m not joking! 

This happens because acidic and neutral waters combine, and they create enough particle concentration to reflect light. It’s similar to glacier lakes that reflect rock flour. 

Rio Celeste is explored by hiking the  Rio Celeste Trail , which is 3 kilometers/1.9 miles each way. The main highlight at Rio Celeste is Rio Celeste Waterfall – it’s arguably the most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica and is located around a 30-minute walk from the entrance.

The mixing of two rivers at Rio Celeste

Further along, you’ll see the Borbollones or Bubbling Hot Pot. This part of the river is really hot, and you’ll smell the sulfur before you see it! 

Finally, you’ll end your hike at the Teñideros, which is where the two rivers meet (pictured above). Here, you can literally see the water turn blue as the streams meet – it’s so cool! Teñideros is 3 kilometers (1.9 miles) from the park entrance. 

You can choose to either do a tour to Rio Celeste from La Fortuna or visit on your own. Visiting on your own is easy. Just be sure to leave La Fortuna before 7 am so you can get to  the park entrance  before it gets really busy. 

If you need to book a tour,  this specific full-day tour to Rio Celeste  is a top choice. It’s highly rated and includes lunch, transport, and an expert guide who will help to point out the native wildlife.

The main beach on Tortuga Island, Costa Rica

The small island of Tortuga is the ideal beach getaway in Costa Rica. Together with Alcatraz Island, the area makes up the  Islas Negritos Biological Reserve . It’s home to fantastic snorkeling, white sand beaches, and good vibes!

Tours to Tortuga Island are very popular from Jaco , Montezuma , Paquera , Punta Arenas , Santa Teresa , Playa Herradura and even the city of San Jose . You can only reach Tortuga Island with a tour, and these are all full-day trips.

On tours to Tortuga, you’ll take a boat ride out to the islands and take in the fantastic views along the way. Then it’s off to two snorkeling spots to swim with turtles, sharks, and lots of fish. The snorkeling here is the best I have seen in Costa Rica – even better than Caño Island! 

Afterward, the boat drops you on Tortuga Island for a delicious lunch and plenty of drinks (beers, juice, and soda.) You’ll have a few hours to relax, play volleyball, kayak, or drink lots of coco locos. Overall, it’s really an enjoyable day out and one of the best tours in Costa Rica !

La Leona Waterfall

If you’re going to be anywhere in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica , seeing La Leona Waterfall is a must. This is an easy day trip of around 1 to 2 hours from Tamarindo, Playa Coco, and Playa Flamingo. You’re even closer (around 20 minutes!) if you’re in Liberia, making it one of the  top things to do in Liberia . 

Visiting La Leona Waterfall requires a tour because you need to navigate a canyon to reach it. You can do this by driving to one of the tour offices near the waterfall, such as Guanaverde Experiences. From here, you can do tours of the waterfall starting from $30 USD.  This tour through Guanaverde Experiences  is top-rated and includes all the equipment needed, including a dry bag to take your camera or phone. 

Once you make it to the La Leona Waterfall your guides will serve you fruits and ice cream with a fresh fruit juice. Sounds like the perfect day to me!

Arenal Volcano as seen from Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano is the showpiece of La Fortuna, Costa Rica. While you’re here, you can’t miss seeing the volcano up close. A visit to Arenal Volcano National Park is  one of the best things to do in La Fortuna  and will take you to the base of the volcano and slightly up the steep face. The views here are incredible!  

You can explore Arenal Volcano National Park on your own or on a tour. It’s $15 USD admission for adults and $5 USD for children to get into the park. Once inside, you can hike on the many trails, see the lush forest, and even spot where lava flowed down the volcano when it last erupted in 2010.  

Come early in the morning (they open at 8 am) before the heat of the day sets in, so you have plenty of time to explore before they close at 4 pm. 

If you would prefer to join a guided tour, this afternoon Arenal Volcano tour  includes a hike on the west side of the volcano taking you across gorgeous hanging bridges. It also includes a visit to a swimming hole beneath a waterfall. Then you’ll visit a museum and take a dip in the natural Tabacon Hot Springs – one of the best hot springs in La Fortuna !  

For a longer tour, I suggest this private hiking adventure  to spend a full day in Arenal Volcano National Park. You’ll explore narrow jungle trails, climb over huge lava rocks, jump in an emerald green lake for a swim, and relax in natural hot water pools.  

The view from above of the Tabacon hot Springs in La Fortuna, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is well known for its volcanoes that have showered the countryside in volcanic ash rich in minerals – it’s one of the reasons the country is so green! Another benefit of these volcanoes is the hot springs they create.

The best place to enjoy these hot springs is in La Fortuna around Arenal Volcano. There are  so many different hot springs to visit in La Fortuna ; you could visit a different one every day for weeks! There are a variety of hot springs for all budgets, from luxurious resorts to family-friendly pools and even natural hot springs.  

One of the most popular hot springs in La Fortuna is  Tabacón Hot Springs . The pools here are surrounded by a gorgeous tropical garden. The water temperatures range from 72 F to 105 F (22 C to 40 C), and the main area has a swim-up bar and waterslide. I love the incredible view of the Arenal Volcano from the secluded pools in the lower section. If you’re  staying at the resort , access to the hot springs is free, or if you aren’t a guest, you can purchase a day pass for $81 USD or one that includes either dinner or lunch for $149 USD.

For families, I recommend checking out  Los Lagos Hot Springs . The passes here are reasonable at $20 USD and include admission to hot and cold pools and wildlife exhibits on-site. You can also choose to purchase the day pass that includes either lunch or dinner for $37 USD. The large pools here are fed by crystalline rainforest springs and are surrounded by colorful plants and flowers. There are also fun waterslides, waterfalls, and a faux volcano.  

Baldi Hot Springs  is one of the most developed and visited hot springs in La Fortuna, not to mention the most lively one! Set amongst lush vegetation, this hot spring resort boasts 25 thermal water pools with temperatures ranging from 93°F to 152°F (doesn’t it sound dreamy?!). It also comes complete with a massive jacuzzi for up to 60 guests. A standard day pass here will cost you $27 USD, a pass with lunch or dinner for $49 USD, or a pass with both lunch and dinner for $71 USD.

A monkey in Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park certainly isn’t the most popular national park in Costa Rica, but it’s the most important. In fact, Corcovado National park is home to 2.5 to 3% of the world’s biodiversity, which is huge! It’s the best place to see a huge variety of Costa Rica’s wildlife, including big cats and tapirs.

The park is most commonly visited from Puerto Jimenez and Drake Bay.

From Puerto Jimenez, you can  take this day tour to the La Leona Ranger Station  to enjoy the hiking trails and wildlife with a guide. There is also this  three-day tour that includes a stay at the ranger station  – it’s the best way to see wildlife!

From Drake Bay,  this full-day guided tour is a great option . It involves taking a boat from Drake Bay to Sirena Ranger Station and walking the trail network there. During my visit, we saw every species of monkey in Costa Rica, lots of rare birds, jaguar footprints, rodents, and other wildlife, including snakes.  You can also do an overnight tour , which I regret not doing!

Although not as popular, tours leave from Uvita too.  This specific tour  visits the San Pedrillo Ranger Station, where you’ll enjoy a hike through the park in search of wildlife.

Overall, Corcovado National Park is the best national park to visit for those who came to Costa Rica to see wildlife. Bird watchers and animal photographers love this place!

16. Go scuba diving/snorkeling 

A manta ray while scuba diving in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Snorkeling and diving are two of my favorite activities in the water, and Costa Rica is the perfect place to enjoy them! I mentioned Caño Island and Tortuga Island above, but there are lots of other amazing places to snorkel and dive in Costa Rica :

A really popular dive site and one of the best is just off the coast of Santa Teresa. Here you can dive with a huge variety of ocean life such as sharks, rays, lobsters, crabs, and depending on the time of year, giant manta rays (January to April) and humpback whales (August to September!) You’ll also have the chance to see giant schools of tuna!  Iguana Divers  is the best company to choose in Santa Teresa, and they know all the best spots!

The Catalina Islands and Bat Islands are another two dive sites around Tamarindo with lots to see. Known as one of the  best things to do in Tamarindo , the Catalina Islands are home to an abundance of sea life suited to diving and snorkeling. You can do  this Catalina Island Diving Tour  and dive with turtles, manta rays, small reef sharks, and lots of fish.

For a more adventurous dive, head to the Bat Islands. This is a fantastic opportunity for Advanced Open Water certified divers to challenge themselves and swim with large sharks.  The tour includes two dives , one at Bat Island (where the bull sharks are) and the second near Playa del Coco, where you can see manta rays, turtles, and other ocean life. 

Of course, there are many more dive sites across the country including Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo (Puerto Viejo) and  Cocos Islands  – known as one of the best dive sites globally for diving with large animals.

San Jose city

San Jose isn’t usually at the top of everyone’s Costa Rica bucket list, but as someone who once lived in San Jose, I find that such a shame. San Jose offers a unique experience in Costa Rica and a chance to see stunning architecture, learn about some history, visit a few museums, and even eat at some pretty amazing restaurants . The city is the country’s capital, after all!

One of the best things to do in San Jose when you arrive is to join a tour of the city. You can either do  paid tours such as this one  or the  free walking tour  that is on most days. Another fun thing to do is to take a tour of the National Theater of Costa Rica . Tours cost only $6 USD, and before or after, you can enjoy a coffee at the onsite cafe – they have some delicious coffee!

San Jose also provides a base to explore the surrounding area on day trips . You can enjoy  tours to Poas Volcano ,  La Paz Waterfall Garden , and the  Britt Coffee Tour .

San Jose is often the start or finish of a trip in Costa Rica, so get out and explore – it’s one of the best things to do in Costa Rica!

A crocodile at the Jaco crocodile bridge

Seeing crocodiles was never on my Costa Rica to-do list, however, after enjoying some of the  best things to do in Jaco , I stumbled upon the Crocodile Bridge over Tarcoles River .

Tarcoles River is home to one of the world’s largest crocodile populations. These are saltwater crocodiles and some are well over 15 feet (5 meters) long!

This bridge is located around 30 minutes north of Jaco and crosses over the Tarcoles River, and is a popular gathering spot (I think it’s because the locals feed the crocodiles from the bridge.) Just park your car at one end of the bridge and walk over to see the huge crocodiles in the wild.  

When we visited, we saw over 15 crocodiles! There’s a popular sand bar where they like to hang out halfway across the bridge, but you’re guaranteed to see some!

Another fun way to get up close and learn about crocs is  on a crocodile cruise like this one . It’s around 2 hours long and you’ll get to explore the Tarcoles River on a guided boat tour, spotting crocodiles, reptiles, and birds along the way. The boat also serves Costa Rican coffee and refreshments.

Because your guide on board is also a bird expert they will be able to spot from over 50 different bird species that call this place home.

Ziplining in Monteverde, Costa Rica

Ziplining is one of those activities you can do in just about every tourist town in Costa Rica. The mountains and rainforests are perfect for this adventure activity, and I’ve done some awesome tours.

Although you can zipline in most towns, not all are created equal. To help you choose, I’ll list the best places to zipline in Costa Rica in order of my preference:

Monteverde:   Ziplining in Monteverde comes in at number one for us simply because the cloud forests and mountains here make the courses that much better. On top of that,  if you book this ziplining tour , you’ll get to enjoy Costa Rica’s longest zipline at 5,220 feet or almost 1 mile (1.59 kilometers!) This is easily one of the best things to do in Monteverde !

La Fortuna:  Next has to be La Fortuna! Like Monteverde, ziplining in La Fortuna has you gliding over the central valley area. In fact,  this specific ziplining tour  has 12 different cables to experience and one of which will have you soaring right over the top of La Fortuna Waterfall!

Manuel Antonio:  If you’re traveling as a couple or just want to experience ziplining with friends, then go ziplining in Manuel Antonio. In the foothills of Manuel Antonio is  Central America’s longest dual zipline  at 4,300 feet or 0.8 miles (1.3 kilometers.) It has 14 tree platforms, three natural walks, six hanging bridges, and more!

Jaco:  The last place I really loved ziplining was in Jaco . Although the ziplines in Jaco are not as long as the ones mentioned above, the views of the ocean and available tours make it a great option. But, instead of just going ziplining, combine a few activities and  join this ATV, zipline, and waterfall tour – it’s great value and so much fun!

Pacuare River white water rafting

I’ve been whitewater rafting all over the world, including in Futaleufú – well known as one of the top 3 rivers to whitewater raft in the world. Even though my standards are relatively high, I loved whitewater rafting in Costa Rica . It’s without a doubt one of the best adventure activities in Costa Rica!

I’ve personally done two tours, one down the Pacuare River and the other down the Tenorio River . I loved both and certainly got the adrenaline rush I signed up for! Of course, these aren’t the only two rivers you can whitewater raft. In fact, most tourist destinations offer some form of whitewater rafting. Below are a few of the best rivers and where you can do tours from.

San Jose, Puerto Viejo, and Puerto Limon: The Pacuare River is one of the most well-known rivers in Costa Rica. Tours here typically leave from either San Jose , Puerto Viejo , or Puerto Limon. Although a fantastic river, tours from San Jose are really long (12 hours) and require a lot of driving. For that reason, it’s best to only do tours from Puerto Viejo (just over 2 hours driving each way) or Puerto Limon.

Guanacaste (Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, Playa Coco): From the Guanacaste Region and Monteverde, rafting tours are popular down the Tenorio River. The river is known for having lots of class III and IIII rapids. Tours from Tamarindo and the nearby beach towns are the most popular with this specific tour leaving from all locations .

La Fortuna: Since it’s surrounded by rivers, there are plenty of options for whitewater rafting in La Fortuna. The most popular with families is this white water rafting tour down the Balsa River , which has class II and III rapids. For more experienced rafters, you can do tours such as this one down the Rio Sarapiqui or Rio Toro. These are class III and IIII rivers and some of the best in Costa Rica.

The view from Cerro Tortuguero

Tortuguero National Park is a really special part of the country as it’s one of the most important nesting sites for sea turtles. The park has a huge stretch of beach where 20,000 green sea turtles come every year to nest –  the largest colony of turtles on the globe ! The highlight here is seeing thousands of turtles nesting on the beach, which happens at different times throughout the year (July to October is best).

Tortuguero itself is an area that can only be accessed by boat or plane. It’s one of the most remote Costa Rica tourist attractions. The beauty here is because it is preserved and protected, so it’s known as one of the wildest national parks in the country.  

If you’re not planning to stay in the area, it’s a  great day trip from San Jose . You can take a 30-minute plane ride from San Jose or a three-hour bus ride to Cariari, Caño Blanco, or La Pavona followed by a one-hour boat ride. Another great option is booking  this tour that includes transportation , so you’re all set to explore this incredible area. It’s a long day (12 hours) but worth it.

Those with more time can actually make the trip to Tortuguero to stay a few nights. Once you’re here, savor this truly unique location by taking in one (or more!) of the  amazing tours offered here .

You can  canoe  or  kayak  through the wetlands, keeping an eye out for sloths and monkeys. There are night tours where you’ll explore the park to see all the amazing critters who only come out after dark. And of course, there are tours dedicated to seeing the turtles who call this park home. You can easily spend a few days exploring the park and all the  activities Tortuguero has to offer .  

bioluminescent plankton in Paquera, Costa Rica

There are only a few places in the world where the ocean seems to glow in the dark, and Costa Rica is one of them! The amazing bioluminescent plankton float just under the surface and flash bright blue as you pass by. The light show by these tiny critters is used to scare off predators and help them find food.  

These creatures are so tiny that a single drop of water can contain thousands. Together, they create this magical phenomenon that looks like thousands of blue, glowing stars – definitely a Costa Rica bucket list activity! The best areas to see bioluminescent plankton are in the waters around Paquera Bay and the Gulf of Nicoya. Another hot spot is around Puerto Jiménez.  

One of the best ways to see the plankton is by gliding above them in a kayak. As you float across the water, every time you dip your paddle in, it will create bursts of sparkling light around you.  This kayak tour  (and what I did) gives you a full hour to explore Paquera Bay under the stars. This is one of the best places to go kayaking in Costa Rica and seeing the bioluminescent plankton below and the stars above you is honestly incredible.  

Another option to see them is by boat.  This boat tour  leaves from the small beach next to the ferry dock in Paquera. Partway through the tour, they anchor the boat so you can get out and swim amongst the glowing light.   

Puerto Jiménez is another popular spot to view these amazing creatures. This sunset tour  includes kayaking while the sun sinks below the horizon. Then, once it’s dark, you’ll get to snorkel to see what bioluminescence looks like underwater. I actually did this tour and got to see dolphins too!

While the bioluminescence can be seen year-round in Costa Rica, if you can, try to go in the few days after a full moon. The darker sky helps you see more of this amazing sight as the water lights up. 

Kayaking through mangroves

Mangroves can be found all over Costa Rica. These special forests are made up of a variety of shrubs and trees and can be found where any river meets the ocean. Mangroves are some of the best spots to see wildlife, including hundreds of types of birds , sloths, and monkeys. You typically won’t have to travel far to explore a mangrove swamp in Costa Rica. Here are some of the most popular places in Costa Rica to go on a mangrove tour:  

Drake Bay: The Sierpe Terraba Mangrove Forest is the largest in the country. It’s around the Drake Bay, Sierpe, and Uvita area. You can rent a kayak or boat or take a river safari tour  to explore the waterways through the trees. This is a fun way to see many animals including capuchin monkeys, squirrel monkeys, macaws, iguanas, crocodiles, and sloths in Costa Rica .  

Manuel Antonio: Near Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park, there are thousands of acres of protected mangrove forest.  On this tour, you can take a kayak  out on the water to paddle peacefully through the shade of the mangroves and spot all different kinds of animals.  

Tamarindo: Not far from the beaches of Tamarindo, you can escape the crowds by exploring the mangroves of Las Baulas National Park.  Take a boat tour  to beat the heat and enjoy the shade as you explore the vast network of the forest. Your guide will help point out wildlife like howler monkeys, crocodiles, and tropical birds too!

Puerto Jimenez: Puerto Jiménez is close to the winding mangrove forests inside the Preciosa Platanares Wildlife Refuge. There are 70-foot (21 meters) tall mangrove trees here, and it’s best to  explore the winding river by kayak . You’ll have a guide to help you spot animals and snacks after you finish paddling.  

Two macaws in the Punta Islita Wild Macaw Reserve

It goes without saying that bird watching is one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica. The country is well known for its beautiful bird species that include scarlet macaws, toucans, hummingbirds, quetzals, and more. The best part is that there really isn’t a town in Costa Rica you can’t go bird watching.

One of the most popular places is Monteverde – especially for those who want to see the rare and beautiful quetzals. Bird watching tours in Monteverde are best done in Curi Canchi Nature reserve and this tour is a great option .

Round trip transportation is included and this tour leaves very in the morning so that you can spot birds when they are most active.

If you love macaws you’re in luck. They can be seen all over the country but no place is better than Puerto Jimenez! We saw them daily in our hotel and around town even getting as close as a few meters.

Other great places to go bird watching includes Manuel Antonio, Carara National Park in Jaco , Uvita, Dominical, and more.

Boiling mud pot in Rincon de la Vieja national park, Guanacaste,

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park is another volcanic national park located just over 2 hours from Tamarindo and only 35 minutes from Liberia.

Those with their own vehicle can drive out to the Rincón de la Vieja and enjoy one or many of the hiking trails through the park. These include the trail to the Las Pailas (boiling mud pots.) This is an easy walk that takes around 20 minutes each way. Another cool hike is the  Catarata La Cangreja trail , leading to a breathtaking waterfall. This trail is around 3 miles (4.8 km) each way. 

Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park is also where you’ll find the Rio Negro Hot Springs as well as adventure centers offering horseback riding, ziplining, and tubing. One of the most popular adventure combo tours is the  Guachipelin Adventure Volcano tour , with departures from most towns in Guanacaste including Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal, Liberia, and more.

There are also guided hiking tours,  such as this guided hiking tour  from Tamarindo and  this guided hiking tour from Liberia . These are more for those interested in the national park’s history, flora, and fauna, not the offered activities.

Entry to Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park costs $17 USD for adults and $5.60 USD for children without a tour and is open from 8 am to 3 pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

Turtles walk to the ocean at Playa del Ostional

One of the most amazing creatures in Costa Rica is the sea turtle. Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles come to the beaches every year to lay their eggs. Seeing turtles in Costa Rica should definitely be on your bucket list!  

While different species of sea turtles can be found across the country, the two best areas to spot them are Tortuguero National Park and Ostional Wildlife Refuge. 

While in Tortuguero National Park, you can spot turtles on your own while exploring, however, to view turtle nesting sites, you’ll need to  book this tour . Most nesting sites are protected and can only be visited with a guide. This ensures you won’t disturb the animals. Plus, turtles only lay eggs at night, so having a guide to assist you in the dark is helpful too!   

There are also peak times of the year to visit where you’re more likely to see the turtles nesting. In Tortuguero, the nesting season for green sea turtles is from July to October and from February to June for leatherback sea turtles. While I missed the nesting season during my December visit, I did see baby turtles make their way to the ocean. It was a really special moment.  

The Ostional Wildlife Refuge is located on the Nicoya Peninsula near Nosara. Here you’ll find Ostional Beach where olive ridley sea turtles come to lay their eggs in an annual event known as “arribada”. Only nine locations on the globe see these turtles arrive by the thousands and this is one of them!

You can come anytime during the year, but the peak time to visit is in September and October. You can book tours in Nosara for around $60 USD and they will be able to let you know if the turtles are nesting.

Fishing off the coast of Tortuguero

Anyone reading this who enjoys fishing as much as I certainly won’t want to skip a fishing charter in Costa Rica. Not only can you do fishing charters all along the coast, but the fish love to bite!

There are two main types of fishing charters in Costa Rica . The first is inshore tours, which typically only head out as far as 5 miles and aim to catch fish such as tuna, roosterfish, mahi-mahi, jack crevalle, bigeye trevally, needlefish, barracuda, and snapper. Although prices range, expect to pay between $250 to $480 USD for a half-day tour for up to 5 people.

The second option is offshore tours, which head out much farther and are full-day tours. On these, you can go for all the fish above as well as big game fish such as sailfish and marlin. These tours cost around $700 USD per boat.

The best places to go fishing in Costa Rica are Santa Teresa , Jaco, Uvita, Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio/ Quepos .

A lady relaxes with a drink in hand on a cruise in Tamarindo, Costa rica

Cruising the coast on a sailboat or catamaran is such a fun way to enjoy a beautiful day in Costa Rica. I did my first catamaran cruise in Manuel Antonio after getting a bit of national park fatigue (and a sore neck from looking up). It turned out to be such a fun day out, and although the tours call themselves “sunset cruises”, they are so much more.

The tour I did in Manuel Antonio  set sail around 2 pm as we enjoyed the breathtaking coastal scenery and a few drinks (it’s an open bar!) We searched for wildlife such as dolphins and whales before going snorkeling, jumping off the boat, and using the waterslide. Our boat had great people on board, and the drinks were flowing until dinner. As we enjoyed our dinner, the sun began to set, and we headed close to the shore to spot birds feeding in the forest – we even saw scarlet macaws!

If that doesn’t sound like a great afternoon out, I don’t know what will!

Sunset cruises are popular in a few places in Costa Rica . Another one of the top destinations is Tamarindo , which has one of the  top-rated sunset cruises in Costa Rica  (also leaves from Playa Coco). It’s a very similar cruise to Manuel Antonio’s and includes an open bar and meal.

A monkey in Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is a beautiful area near Puerto Viejo best known for the coral reefs and the more than 500 species of fish that live in them. The park itself was created to protect the reefs as well as the mangrove and tropical rainforest here. It’s free to enter, but donations are encouraged for park upkeep.  

If you want to explore Cahuita by land, there’s a long trail that winds through the forest. This is a great area to spot sloths and monkeys!  

There are a few beautiful beach areas as well – keep an eye out for which ones allow swimming. Snorkeling is allowed, but only with a certified guide to ensure the coral is protected. There are even two different shipwrecks here in the shallow water you can see while snorkeling.  

You can drive yourself to Cahuita National Park, and it’s a really popular spot from nearby Puerto Viejo – you’re only 15 minutes away! If you’re staying around Puerto Limon, it’s about a 45-minute drive along the coast. From San Jose, this is a longer trip of around 4 hours. If you don’t have a rental car , buses leave San Jose daily for Cahuita, so that’s another option.  

If you’re interested in tours with transportation,  this tour goes from Puerto Viejo to Cahuita National Park. You’ll have a professional naturalist tour guide to help you spot animals, including white-faced monkeys, snakes, raccoons, and more. It also includes a visit to Cahuita’s hidden waterfall, where you can take a swim.  

This full-day tour from Puerto Limon also includes a stop at Cahuita National Park. It includes a short city tour of Limon, a covered boat cruise down the Tortuguero Canals, a visit to the Chiquita banana plantation, and a one-hour hike through the park.  

Typical casado at Taylor's Restaurant

One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is eating! The food here is delicious and known for using fresh ingredients from fruits and vegetables to seafood. The cuisine in Costa Rica is influenced by Spanish, African, and Indigenous cultures. 

While you’re here, try the traditional dish called a “Casado”. It isn’t one food, but a variety of foods all served together or “married” together since the word Casado means “marriage.” It typically has rice, beans, some type of meat like chicken or fish, and then a salad. It can also come with sides like fried plantains, avocado, tortillas with cheese, or even vegetable stew. There are so many different takes on the Casado, but all are guaranteed to fill you up for a relatively reasonable price.  

Don’t forget to try the Gallo Pinto while you’re here. This is one of the most famous dishes in Costa Rica ! The main ingredients are rice and beans, and then they are mixed with other foods like red peppers, cilantro, onions, and Salsa Lizano to give it a bit of spice. It sounds simple, but it’s really tasty. You can even have this for breakfast alongside a couple of eggs and tortillas.  

Some other popular dishes to try include Arroz con Leche, Sopa Negra, and Patacones.

Two red-eyed tree frogs on a night tour in Costa Rica

While the country is beautiful during the day, many of Costa Rica’s wildlife comes alive at night. There are so many animals who live in the many rainforests that only come out once the sun disappears. In fact, about 80% of the mammals here are nocturnal.  

If your heart is set on seeing many of the animals who call this place home, consider going out at night. Having a guide is a good idea for this as they know just where to look and can spot animals in the dark that you may have missed. 

This night walk in Monteverde  will take you through the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge. If you’re lucky, you’ll spot many different animals, big and small, including sloths, foxes, frogs, and maybe even some sleeping birds.  

I particularly enjoyed this Rainforest Night Walk and Dinner tour  in La Fortuna. You get a 90-minute hike through the forest, a visit to a frog sanctuary, and it ends with a traditional dinner prepared on a wood-burning stove. We saw a huge green lizard and even a bullet ant, which has the most painful sting of any insect in the world – luckily, we kept our distance! The meal after the hike was one of the best local meals I had!  

You can also spend two hours exploring the rainforest around Manuel Antonio with this night walk . It starts in a green cathedral-like forest with beautiful butterflies before entering the pitch-black jungle filled with the sounds of insects and frogs. You’ll get the chance to see and photograph tree frogs, snakes, colorful insects, and more.  

A sloth in Costa Rica

One of my favorite activities in Costa Rica is spotting sloths! They can be found all over the country in national parks, wildlife rescue centers, or even in towns.

Sloths are most common in the wild in places like Puerto Viejo, Manuel Antonio, Uvita, Tortuguero, Dominical, and around the Osa Peninsula . You may spot them snoozing in palm trees at the beach or climbing trees along the side of the road. Sloths very rarely come down to the ground, so look up!  

Sloths are pretty predictable creatures, so the locals here often know exactly where they like to hang out. If you want a better chance of seeing a sloth, take a tour while you’re in a national park or wildlife reserve, and often your guide can take you right to one!  

Some of the best sloth watching tours are in La Fortuna . There’s a great area to see lots of sloths known as Sloth’s Territory. You can take an observation hike  through the property along La Havana River. Two and three-toed sloths make their home here. The tour includes a guide and a professional telescope to help see the sloths up close. I have done this tour and enjoyed it, we even saw poison dart frogs.

For a full day experience,  this tour leaves from San Jose for Tenorio Volcano National Park. You can see the incredible Rio Celeste with its gorgeous blue waters and visit the Sloth Sanctuary.  

In Guanacaste National Park,  guided tours  offer the chance to see sloths in the wild. There’s also a waterfall, butterfly garden, and a visit to a coffee and banana plantation included.  

People party in the plaza in Montezuma, Costa Rica

Costa Rica has an electric nightlife created by both locals and tourists. Although I am personally not much of a party-goer, I do enjoy a few beers after a day of exploring and found Costa Rica perfect for this.

Not only will you often find live music at bars and restaurants, but with pretty relaxed street drinking laws, people tend to just hang out in the town square or on the beach. One of my favorite street parties was in Montezuma ! On top of that, lots of hostels around the country have fun bars with live music and games.

A great hostel to check out for a party is Selina . They have multiple locations around Costa Rica, including in Puerto Viejo , Manuel Antonio , La Fortuna , Monteverde , Santa Teresa , Nosara , San Jose , and Tamarindo . When I lived in La Fortuna, I spent lots of time at the Selina having a few beers!

One of the hanging bridges at Mistico Hanging Bridges in La Fortuna

If you want to get amongst the treetops to spot wildlife, I highly suggest visiting the  Mistico Hanging Bridges  while in La Fortuna. The hanging bridges are located on a large property that a local family privately protects. Although not a national park, you’ll find just as much wildlife here as you would in places such as  Manuel Antonio .  

In the park, there are 14 bridges that you can visit, with 6 of them being hanging bridges. The trail through the forest is 3.2 kilometers/2 miles long, and although the 6 hanging bridges are the main attraction, there’s lots more to see. I loved the two viewpoints of Arenal Volcano. My favorite spot was behind the restrooms at the ticket office! 

Tours at Mistico Hanging Bridges can be done self-guided or on a tour from La Fortuna . On a self-guided tour, the entrance to the Mistico Hanging Bridges is $26 USD for adults, $16 USD for teens, and kids under 10 go free! You are then free to explore at your own pace, and 2 hours is more than enough time.  

If you want to do a guided tour, I highly  suggest this specific tour with Mistico . They know the property well and know exactly where to find wildlife such as sloths, monkeys, snakes, and more. It’s a 2.5 hour guided walk that includes transport from La Fortuna, your entrance ticket, and an expert guide for only $45 USD. 

Hanging Bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest

One of the best Costa Rica activities is exploring the Monteverde Cloud Forest . As the name suggests, this tropical forest is full of low-hanging clouds and mist. It’s one of the rarest habitats in the entire world and is truly a must-see.  

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is located about halfway in-between San Jose and Liberia. If you’re coming from either of those places, it’s around a three-hour drive. While the cloud forest is the main draw, plan to spend a few days here to explore all the  other things to do in Monteverde (the town here is called Santa Elena).

Once here, there’s a $25 USD admission to pay at the entrance gate. The park opens at 7 am, and get here early as often there’s a line-up by 8 am. Once inside, you are free to explore the network of trails here that covers about 8 miles (13 kilometers). One of the best trails is the Sendero Trail which leads to a suspension bridge – a great place to spot some of the many birds that live here.  

If you want to learn more about the cloud forest and all the animals inside it, I recommend booking a guided tour. The guides on these tours are amazing at spotting animals like monkeys, sloths, and birds that you might have walked right by.  

This private tour  allows you to explore the forest at your own pace with an expert guide. Your chances of spotting rare birds are greatly increased and you’ll learn a ton. Or, for a totally different experience,  book a night walk through the forest to see all the animals that wake up at night – about 80% of the mammals here! 

Related Read: Another must-do here is a coffee tour in Monteverde ! Our absolute favorite is the Don Juan tour which includes tastings of coffee, chocolate, and sugar cane.

Riding an ATV in Jaco Costa Rica through the jungle

Riding an ATV through Costa Rica is so much fun! You can cover a lot of ground while exploring and get to certain areas you just couldn’t reach in a car.  

ATV tours are offered throughout the country, so wherever you’re based, it’s likely an option. However, my favorite areas to ride an ATV through are Tamarindo and La Fortuna. Don’t be intimidated either, it can be your first time on an ATV and you’ll still have fun. Tours are great options if you don’t have much experience as you’ll get instructions and advice before you head out. 

In Tamarindo, you can take an ATV to see a variety of beaches on this beach adventure tour . You’ll kick up sand, cross a river, and have some great mountain views. Keep an eye out for rare trees that this area is known for including Guanacaste, pochote, and teak.  

In La Fortuna, taking an ATV out for a spin is also one of the best things to do. You can ride an ATV right next to Arenal Volcano! Prepare to get muddy on this volcano ATV tour  where you’ll see impact craters from the volcano’s last eruption, a river with volcanic mud, and Arenal Lake. This is without a doubt my favorite place to ATV!

Canyoning in La Fortuna

Canyoning is an outdoor adventure sport that combines navigating through obstacles, including canyons and rivers, and rappelling down waterfalls. It’s one of the best things to do in Costa Rica as the country is known for all the incredible obstacle courses created by Mother Nature.  

While there are places to go canyoning all over the country, without a doubt, the BEST place is La Fortuna. If you’re around Jaco, that’s also another good option. You’ll need to book a tour for this to ensure you have the right safety equipment and guide to the area. 

In La Fortuna,  explore the Lost Canyon on this tour . You’ll rappel down a 150-foot (46 meters) cliff known as “Big Boy” and drop into a natural swimming pool at the bottom. Then, you’ll descend into the Lost Canyon to explore a 200-foot (61 meters) cliff and waterfall. The tour also includes lunch and transportation for under $100 USD.  

In Jaco, I loved this action-packed canyoning tour . You’ll take a short hike into the canyon and jump-start the adventure with a zipline above a waterfall. Then you’ll rappel down four different waterfalls, scramble over rocks and boulders and finish with more ziplining. It’s all based on a beautiful 800-acre property where you’re likely to spot monkeys, toucans, and scarlet macaws along the way.  

The big tanks at Hacienda Alsacia - Starbucks Coffee Farm

While you’re in Costa Rica, make sure you stop for a cup of coffee. Costa Rica is famous for its coffee. The country produces more than 1.5 million bags of coffee every year that is shipped all over the world! But while you’re here, you can enjoy a fresh cup of coffee with coffee beans grown probably not far from where you’re sitting.  

If you travel across Costa Rica, you’ll see the coffee fields covering the hillsides. The majority of the country’s coffee is grown in the Cartago, Alajuela, Puntarenas, Heredia, and San José regions. Thanks to ideal growing conditions – volcanic soil, good climate, and high altitude, the coffee is top-notch.  

Most of the coffee here (almost 90%) is grown by small farmers. One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is to get the freshest cup of coffee and learn about this important crop on a coffee tour.  

Coffee tours are offered all over Costa Rica , so you’re sure to find one near where you’re staying. Here are a few great options by location: 

  • La Fortuna – Visit a family-owned farm near La Fortuna on this tour . You’ll see how coffee goes from bean to cup and see how it is grown, roasted, and ground.  
  • San José –  Tour the Doka Estate  coffee plantation to get up close to coffee production and have a bonus visit to the working sugar mill that processes sugar cane.  
  • Quepos/Manuel Antonio – Learn about the history of the coffee bean  while touring a local farm  and enjoying a variety of tasty samples. 
  • Guanacaste (including Liberia & Tamarindo) –  Tour a coffee farm  on this day trip from the Guanacaste area that also includes visiting a nearby waterfall.  

making chocolate in Limon, Costa Rica

Chocolate is a favorite sweet treat of mine and I’m not alone – around one billion people eat chocolate every day! In Costa Rica, cocoa beans and chocolate have a long history. Cacao beans were sacred to the Indigenous people here and even used as currency. The beans were also made into a special drink for ceremonies and celebrations.  

Today, cacao beans are still a very important crop in Costa Rica. There are lots of different farms that offer chocolate tours throughout the country. You’ll have a chance to learn about the origins of chocolate and taste some (easily the best part!)  

By far, the best chocolate tour I’ve been on is at the  Rancho Raices de Osa  in Puerto Jimenez. We toured the beautiful property to see the chocolate-making process from start to finish. We learned about organic farming, got the chance to try the cacao along the way at every stage, and even snack on some fresh fruit. Then, we made our own chocolate and finished off with a refreshing cacao face mask.

In other parts of the country,  this tour in La Fortuna  and  this tour in Manuel Antonio  both take place at cocoa plantations. If you’re in the San José area,  visit Botánica Chocolate  to sample different cacao recipes from ancient cacao beverages to the chocolate we love today.  

Tuna at El Point, Jaco

As a foodie, I love trying out different restaurants, and Costa Rica has some amazing ones. The country has two coastlines – Pacific and Caribbean – so seafood is one of the specialties for sure. You know if it’s local seafood, it’s going to be fresh!  

Wherever you are in the country, don’t leave without trying some ceviche. It’s perfect for a hot day, and you’ll find it in most restaurants. This seafood dish combines diced cubes of raw fish that are tossed with a citrus juice like lemon or lime. The reaction of the citrus marinade with the seafood helps tenderize the fish and adds flavor.  

In Dominical, there are  many great restaurants  to try, but my favorite for fish tacos was  El Pescado Loco . In particular the fried fish tacos were fresh and cooked to perfection! And don’t get me started on their chips and guac. It’s a simple establishment where the locals really take pride in their food.

I also loved the beachside restaurant  Playa de Los Artistas  in Montezuma. It’s considered one of the top restaurants, and it’s among my  favorites in Montezuma . The menu is tailored to whatever fresh and local ingredients they have on hand, with a focus on seafood. I recommend the seared tuna with sour and sweet sauce and toasted cacao and mint, or the octopus in red wine.  

If you’re visiting Jaco, be sure to check out El Point . It’s one of the best restaurants in Jaco and their tuna with mango chutney is so delicious!

Two beers at Butterfly Brewing Co

The craft beer industry is booming in Costa Rica with breweries popping up across the country . This is great news for craft beer lovers like me. There’s nothing quite like enjoying a cold one in paradise!

One of the biggest names in microbrewing is  Costa Rica Craft Brewing . They are based out of San José, but you’ll find their beers widely distributed. The two most popular drinks are their Libertas Tropical Golden Ale and La Sequa Red Ale.  

My favorite spot for craft beer in Jaco is at  PuddleFish Brewery . They have a rotating selection of beers on tap, but the mango pale ale and strong IPA were great when we popped in. They also  offer tours  so you can see the brewing process and try a few samples to figure out what you like.  

In Tamarindo, pay a visit to  Volcano Brewing Co . Have a drink at the beachside restaurant and pub that often has live music and plenty of sunshine. I had lunch here too and highly recommend the pulled pork sandwich paired with an IPA or a Pale Ale – I tried both, and they were delicious.  

I was thrilled to see a brewery open in Nosara when I was last there.  Guiones Brew Co  is making a name for themselves with a few great beers on tap (especially their IPA) and excellent wood-fired pizzas. It gets busy here for supper, so book in advance to secure a table.  

In the small town of Montezuma is Butterfly Brewing Co. they are located amongst the forest and all their beer is delicious!

La Paz Waterfall, Costa Rica

For an incredible day trip from San Jose, the  La Paz Waterfall Gardens  are less than an hour from the city center. It feels like stepping into another world with lush forest, five different waterfalls, and picturesque hiking trails among both rain and cloud forest.  

The property also houses the biggest butterfly garden in the world; an animal sanctuary with jungle cats, sloths, monkeys, a hummingbird garden, a frog pond; and a trout lake where you can catch your own fish for lunch!  

You can drive yourself here in a rental car and it’s best to come early in the day. You’ll want a few hours to explore while the park is open from 8 am to 5 pm. If you want to skip the line, you can  purchase a ticket in advance . Admission is $51.20 USD per adult and $33 USD for children.  

If you don’t have a car,  this guided tour includes transportation from San Jose as well as the entrance fee. You’ll also have a tour guide to navigate the trails with you and help you spot amazing wildlife that might be hiding in the trees.  

La Paz Waterfall Gardens is close to the Poas Volcano, so it’s worth visiting both on the same day! You can also drive yourself to the volcano and I recommend doing this first to have the best chance of clearer weather earlier in the day. Or, join t his guided tour that includes Poas Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens to easily have the chance to see both!  

Nayara Tented Camp in La Fortuna

Sleeping among the treetops was, and still is, a highlight of my travels through Costa Rica. Imagine mornings waking to the sound of birds, watching hummingbirds feed, or even sloths passing by – you never know what you might see!

Some of the best treehouse hotels in Costa Rica are:

TreeHouse Lodge  – This gorgeous moderately priced hotel is located just outside of Puerto Viejo in Punta Uva. Their treehouse bungalow is so cool and often fully booked up. Expect to live amongst a living tree with spectacular views of the forest! There is also a hot tub and a terrace to relax at.

Finca Bellavista  – This next hotel is actually a community of treehouses  located near Piedras Blancas National Park . They have some really cool treehouses that can accomodate larger groups, including the El Castillo Mastate, which is 30 meters off the ground! If you want to be fully disconnected from the rest of the world this is a great option!

Topos Tree House  – Located in Cahuita, this one-of-a-kind two-bedroom treehouse is the perfect treehouse experience. It’s very common to see sloths from the house as well as monkeys! It still located in a private jungle but it’s not too far of a walk from some great restaurants and the beach.

Hotel Costa Verde  – This cool hotel in Manuel Antonio has amazing rooms that include a cockpit cottage (an old plane) room among the treetops. There are three different pools on-site so you can avoid too much of a crowd. This treehouse hotel has its own restaurant and a bunch of activites that you can participate in right from the property including horseback riding, hiking and fishing.

Nayara Tented Camp  – This luxury treehouse hotel is located in La Fortuna with magnificent views of Arenal Volcano. The rooms sleep up to four people and come with their own private infinity pool. This is luxury! Other features include an Argentinian restaurant, a hot tub, sauna, and spa.

view into the Irazu Volcano blue crater

In the province of Cartago, to the east of San José, you will find the  Irazu Volcano . This is Costa Rica’s highest volcano, and it’s still active!

It’s very accessible to get to Irazu, and you can rent a car or take a bus. If you enjoy hiking, this is also a great place since the volcano has its own national park with trails and amenities like a cafeteria, parking, toilets, and picnic areas. The entrance of the national park is $15 USD and its opening hours are from 8 am to 4 pm. 

You can also book a half-day tour  to visit the volcano which includes transportation and snacks! This tour will stay 3 hours at the volcano. Plus, on the way back, it will also stop to tour the Basilica de Los Angeles in Cartago, the Costa Rican Cathedral of la “virgencita” (the patron saint of Costa Rica to whom the Costa Ricans pay homage every August during its pilgrimage.)

Walking along North Espadilla Beach, Manuel Antonio

Who doesn’t love a day at the beach? Costa Rica is home to some of the best beaches in Central America! The white sand is often lined with lush jungle, and spending the day down at the beach is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica.

My favorite beaches to just relax are on the Caribbean side in Puerto Viejo. There are clam bays here where you can just lay back and relax in the ocean drinking fresh coconuts. Another place with breathtaking beaches is Manuel Antonio. Both inside and outside of the national park, the beaches are spectacular! When choosing  where to stay in Manuel Antonio  – I love choosing a hotel near the beach!

Of course, the beaches are beautiful everywhere in Costa Rica including Uvita, Dominical, Jaco, Santa Teresa, Tamarindo, and more. You name a place on the coast, and I guarantee there’s a great beach nearby!

A lady stands on the hand at Mantra Trail hike within Hacienda y Beneficio La Chimba to the Mantra hand

It’s safe to say you’ll do a lot of walking in Costa Rica if you want to explore some of the best attractions – many of which I have mentioned above! However, just in case the hikes above, such as Rio Celeste, La Fortuna Waterfalls, or Nuayaca Waterfalls aren’t enough, there are some other cool hikes to enjoy.

Mantra Trail La Chimba  – Located just outside San Jose, this beautiful 4.5-kilometer (2.8 miles) each way hiking trail takes you through the coffee plantations to a giant hand made of wood that overlooks the valley. The trail opens at 5:30 am and costs $12 USD to hike.

Cerro Chirripó, Parque Nacional Chirripó  – Cerro Chirripo is Costa Rica’s highest peak and on a multi-day hike you can literally stand on top of Costa Rica. Sitting at 12,533 feet (3,820 meters) above sea level, hiking Cerro Chirripo begins from the town of San Gerardo de Rivas. It’s best suited to advanced hikers.

Bajos del Toro Waterfall Hike  – The Bajos del Toro Waterfall hike is a beautiful trail located 2 hours from San Jose in Bajos del Toro. The 1.3-mile (2.1 kilometers) loop track is moderately difficult and leads to the stunning Bajos del Toro Waterfall. Entry is $14 USD for adults and $7 USD for children.

A local Costa Rican woman cooks on a cooking class

As you’ll quickly discover, the food in Costa Rica is SO good. The best way to take the tastes of the country home with you is by learning how to cook Costa Rican food.  

I did a cooking class with a local lady in Puerto Viejo and it was amazing! You get one-on-one instruction and get to eat your creations – how good is that?  

There are lots of options for cooking classes across the country, but these are a few different options.  

  • La Fortuna –  Join a Costa Rican family  in their home to make a traditional Casado as well as picadillos, tortillas, and guisados. You’ll even mix up a tropical cocktail called Kiss of the Cacique.  
  • Jaco – Learn from cookbook author, Melissa Guzman, in her home or have her come to wherever you’re staying for a  private cooking class . She’ll teach you healthy and classic dishes including ceviche and soup while you prepare a delicious lunch. 
  • Manuel Antonio – Take a cooking class  at a beautiful property that houses a botanical garden, vanilla plantation, cacao plantation, and sugarcane mill. You’ll start with a hike to learn about the local and fresh ingredients before getting to work in the kitchen. 
  • Online – Wherever in the country you may be, join this cooking class via ZOOM . You’ll get a list of ingredients to buy ahead of time and then learn recipes like empanadas, tortillas con queso, and Arroz con Pollo. The chef will pass down her secrets in the kitchen and the stories behind local dishes.  

Stand up paddle boarding in Manuel Antonio

SUP or stand-up paddleboarding is a fun way to explore the coastline of Costa Rica while also staying active. Rentals are also relatively cheap, usually costing around $10 USD per hour depending on where you are.

Three of my favorite places to SUP in Costa Rica are Manuel Antonio, Puerto Viejo, and Samara! In fact, in Samara, the waves are perfect if you have ever wanted to try SUP surfing – it’s actually one of the best things to do in Samara ! Afterward, be sure to check out the best restaurants in Samara and before you go, the best hotels !

Related Read: If you’re planning on driving in Costa Rica , be sure to read our guide before renting a car in Costa Rica !

Farm to table Uvita

One of the best meals I enjoyed in Costa Rica was at a small mountainside restaurant inside of a Bed and Breakfast in Uvita called Oasis Uvita . They offer an epic farm-to-table dinner experience and the chef creates an amazing meal based on what’s available and fresh! The restaurant offers 3 or 4-course meals and the food is delicious. On top of that, the location is perfect so you might even consider staying here!

Farm-to-table dining experiences are becoming more popular throughout Costa Rica and you can now do them in places such as Hacienda Okhra in Santa Teresa, Farm to Table Escondido in Monteverde, and La Casa in Nosara.

Sitting at the top on Montezuma Waterfall, Costa Rica

  Montezuma Waterfalls  is one of the few free waterfalls you can visit in Costa Rica .

You can easily walk to Montezuma Waterfalls from town and hike the somewhat confusing trail (read our things to do in Montezuma blog for more info) to explore the waterfall. The lower falls are the easiest to get to and involve walking along the right-hand side of the river for 20 minutes until you reach the waterfall. Although easy to get to, the lower falls are not the best place to enjoy a swim. 

Although visiting Montezuma Waterfall is free, there is a 1,000 colones fee (cash only) to use the trail up to the upper waterfalls. Be sure to bring suitable footwear and be prepared to get them wet. 

Please Note:  There is a free traill from the lower falls to the upper falls too. But it is dangerous to climb, and 1,000 Colones ($1.60 USD) is not worth your life, so please take care! 

50. Drive the “Waterfall Trail”

A waterfall at Pozo Azul between San Jose and La Fortuna

If you’re looking for some adventurous waterfalls to explore, head down the waterfall trail between San Jose and La Fortuna. I have to be honest though, I made this name up myself but trust me, this is one epic road trip!

The road is actually Highway 708, it starts about a 1.5-hour drive outside of San Jose city limits near a town called  Bajos del Toro . The highway runs between Parque Nacional Juan Castro Blanco and Parque Nacional Volcán Poás. Once you pass Bajos del Toro, you will drive a route that allows you to stop at several different waterfalls. They are all privately owned so the entrance fees vary, however, they are much cheaper than the more developed popular waterfalls all over the country.

We visited a few of them and our favorite was called Pozo Azul . Here, we paid 3,000 Colones (around $5 USD) each and walked to a viewpoint over the top of a huge waterfall. We then climbed to the bottom of the waterfall for an even more spectacular view. This involves navigating loose rocks and a steep climb – but that’s what we loved about it!

The entire time we were there we only saw a handful of other people. It’s definitely more of an off-the-beaten-path destination.

Other waterfalls in the area include Catarata del Toro , Tesoro Escondido Waterfall , and Cataratas Las Gemelas. However, this trip isn’t just about the waterfalls, the road is stunning and stop at La Terraza del Café de Logan for a coffee on the way.

Tip:  This road connects San Jose with La Fortuna, so you can choose to drive this route if you’re headed that way. Keep in mind, you should have a reliable car to drive this route. It travels along steep cliffs through gorgeous mountain towns. Pozo Azul is also home to a campsite and restaurant.

Getting Around Costa Rica

Bailey with our rental car near Rio Celeste Costa Rica

How you choose to get around Costa Rica is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make when planning your holiday here! How you do it depends on your budget, travel style, and comfort level. 

Without a doubt, the number one way to explore Costa Rica is in a rental car. We book rental cars on the Discover Cars website as we have had good experiences with them in the past.

One of the things you need to watch for when renting a car in Costa Rica is the mandatory insurance that the government requires you to have. There are a lot of very cheap rentals that don’t include this mandatory insurance (TPL) in the original booking price, but there are also ones that do. To avoid additional surprise charges when you pick up your rental car, be sure to rent a car that includes the mandatory insurance when you book.

Thankfully, on Discover Cars it’s easy to tell apart the companies that include the mandatory insurance and those that don’t. The trick is you can’t pick any car on their website. In the picture below, you can see this rental car, with pick up in Jaco, includes the TPL. That means the mandatory insurance is included in the price. Any cover you get above that is extra.

Of course, I still suggest getting the full coverage offered by Discover Cars, which covers you even more.

You can  browse cars on Discover Cars here .

TPL Cover Costa Rica

If renting a car isn’t in your budget, you don’t feel comfortable driving in Costa Rica , or you just don’t like driving, shuttles are the next best option. There are hundreds of shuttle routes available all over the country, and they are very affordable.

Shuttles in Costa Rica are specifically for tourists and often include pick up and drop off at your selected hotels and airports. The drivers also speak some English, and the vehicles have air conditioning. You’ll also be guaranteed a seat when you book a shuttle (which isn’t the case with the public bus system.)

To get the best price, use the website  Bookaway . They compare all the offers and prices of shuttle companies in Costa Rica so you get the best price! Honestly, we have saved so much money using Bookaway! 

You can search for shuttles online on Bookaway here.

Lastly, you can use the public bus system. On short journeys, such as from San Jose to La Fortuna or Uvita to Manuel Antonio, this system is great. However, the longer the journey the more hassle and time spent on a bus. It’s undoubtedly best to save the public bus in Costa Rica for short and straightforward trips!  

The public buses are definitely the cheapest way to get around Costa Rica, but they are not always very reliable and schedules often change without notice and delays are to be expected. The buses can also be very crowded and hot – so just be prepared!

It’s also good to speak some Spanish if you plan on riding the public bus since most drivers and ticket booth operators don’t speak English.

A selfie of Bailey and Daniel

Costa Rica isn’t one of the best places to visit in the world for no reason. The above activities and attractions in Costa Rica, along with the friendly faces and safe environment together, make this country one of my favorites!

Thanks so much for reading! I hope you enjoyed this guide to the best things to do in Costa Rica. It’s truly one of the most enjoyable blogs I have written, and I am sure you have lots of great ideas for your upcoming trip! If you did enjoy this guide, then be sure to check out more of our in-depth guides to Costa Rica, such as:

Things you NEED to know about shuttles in Costa Rica

Is Costa Rica expensive? Cost of traveling to Costa Rica

BEST beachfront resorts in Costa Rica (for all budgets!)

The Tourist Checklist

The 12 Reasons Why Costa Rica Is One of the Best Vacation Destinations in the World

Costa Rica, nestled in the heart of Central America, is a vibrant country teeming with life and culture. Officially known as the Republic of Costa Rica, this democratic republic boasts a population of approximately five million people.

Its scenic landscapes are bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, with the vast Pacific Ocean to its west and the Caribbean Sea to its east​​. San José, the capital, lies at the core of the nation’s political and cultural activity, embodying a hub of innovation and education.

The country’s rich biodiversity is one of its most cherished features. It dedicates considerable efforts towards environmental preservation, with a significant portion of its territory designated as national parks and protected areas.

Costa Rica’s history of stability and peace, highlighted by the abolition of its military in 1949, sets it apart as a beacon of democracy and human rights in the region. The nation continues to thrive economically through a diverse economy that includes significant contributions from tourism, agriculture, and increasingly, technology and services.

Why Costa Rica Is One of the Best Vacation Destinations in the World

Stunning natural beauty.

Tenorio Volcano

Costa Rica, home to 27 national parks, showcases a dazzling array of biodiversity, including cloud forests, coral reefs, and tropical rainforests. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a highlight of the country’s natural beauty, offers lush greenery and a constant mist that gives it an almost magical feel.

Visitors can walk along well-maintained trails, observing towering trees and diverse plant species that thrive in this cool, high-elevation environment​​. Further enhancing its appeal, Costa Rica’s commitment to conservation ensures that these landscapes remain pristine and largely untouched.

National parks like Tenorio Volcano provide dramatic scenery with its vividly blue Rio Celeste, a river that weaves through rich cloud forests and leads to stunning waterfalls​​.

Adventure and Sports

Pacuare River in Costa Rica

For those seeking thrills, Costa Rica offers an unparalleled adventure sports scene. The country is renowned for its zip-lining experiences, particularly in Monteverde, where you can soar above the cloud forest canopy, gaining a bird’s-eye view of the lush greenery below​​.

This area is also perfect for more grounded adventures such as hiking and bird watching, with guided tours available that cater to all fitness levels​​.

The rivers of Costa Rica, like the Pacuare, are famous for white-water rafting, offering exhilarating rides through breathtaking natural landscapes​​. These activities not only provide excitement but also a unique way to experience the country’s diverse ecosystems and wildlife.

Exceptional Wildlife

The Monteverde Cloud Forest

Costa Rica is a sanctuary for wildlife, with an impressive array of biodiversity that includes over 500,000 species. The Monteverde Cloud Forest is home to about 50% of the country’s species, including the elusive resplendent quetzal, known for its vibrant plumage and graceful presence​​.

The country’s wildlife conservation efforts are evident in its numerous national parks and reserves where visitors can encounter species like the three-toed sloth, vibrantly colored frogs, and a multitude of bird species.

The varied ecosystems support different habitats, from the nocturnal creatures of the cloud forests to the sea turtles that nest on the beaches of both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts​​.

This immense variety makes Costa Rica one of the best places in the world for nature enthusiasts and wildlife photographers seeking to capture the beauty of the natural world.

Volcanic Landscapes

The Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica’s volcanic landscapes are among its most awe-inspiring attractions, offering both beauty and adventure. The Arenal Volcano, one of the most iconic in Central America, ceased its regular activity in 2010 but continues to captivate with its perfect conical shape and surrounding rainforest.

The area is a hub for hiking, hot springs, and canopy tours. Similarly, Poás Volcano offers one of the largest active craters in the world, with its park providing paths that lead through cloud forests and past spectacular lake views.

For those seeking a less visited but equally striking experience, Irazú Volcano presents a moonscape of craters and a stunning turquoise crater lake, making it a perfect day trip from San José​.

Beaches for Every Preference

Playa Jacó

Costa Rica’s beaches are as diverse as they are stunning, catering to every type of beachgoer. From the black volcanic sands of Playa Hermosa in the Pacific to the calm, Caribbean waters of Playa Chiquita, the country’s coastline offers something for everyone.

Surfers flock to the renowned breaks at Playa Jacó and Playa Tamarindo, while those in search of tranquility head to the more secluded beaches like Playa Uvita.

Each beach area provides its own unique vibe and selection of activities, ranging from snorkeling and scuba diving to simply relaxing under the palm trees​​.

Rich Cultural Experience

La Fortuna

Costa Rica’s culture is a vibrant tapestry of traditions, largely influenced by its Spanish colonial history, indigenous heritage, and Afro-Caribbean influences.

The country’s “Pura Vida” approach to life is evident in its festive music, dance, and colorful festivals such as the vibrant Carnival and the solemn Holy Week processions.

Costa Rican cuisine adds to this cultural mix, with staples like gallo pinto and casado offering a taste of the local flavor. The small town of La Fortuna serves as a cultural hub near Arenal Volcano, providing a gateway to explore Costa Rican customs, crafts, and community life​.

Fresh and Tasty Cuisine

Costa Rican Casado meal

Costa Rican cuisine is a delightful exploration of flavors that seamlessly blends indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Caribbean influences. The national dish, Gallo Pinto, is a comforting mix of rice and beans, often enjoyed as a hearty breakfast alongside eggs and plantains, embodying the essence of Costa Rican culinary traditions​​.

Another beloved dish is Casado, a satisfying plate that combines rice, beans, salad, plantains, and a choice of protein, reflecting the wholesome and nourishing aspects of the local diet​.

Seafood enthusiasts must try the fresh and zesty ceviche, a coastal favorite prepared with locally caught fish, marinated in lime juice and garnished with cilantro and onions, providing a refreshing meal that is both light and invigorating​.

Eco-Friendly Tourism

Rainforest jungle of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a pioneer in eco-friendly tourism, committed to conservation and sustainable practices. The country boasts a network of national parks and protected areas that safeguard its biodiversity, which includes lush rainforests, vibrant marine ecosystems, and diverse wildlife​.

This dedication to the environment is integral to the national identity and offers visitors a multitude of ways to engage with nature responsibly.

Eco-lodges and sustainable tour practices not only enhance the visitor experience but also ensure that tourism has a positive impact on the local ecosystem and communities.

Vibrant Nightlife and Urban Experiences

Sunset along the volcanic rock beach of Corcovado national park

In Costa Rica, the nightlife is as vibrant and diverse as its ecosystems. San José, the capital, buzzes with activity and offers everything from classy wine bars to underground clubs.

Popular spots like El Social and La Esquina are known for their lively atmosphere and a mix of local and international music, making them perfect for a night out​.

Coastal towns like Jacó and Tamarindo light up after sunset with beachfront bars and clubs that pulse with music, from reggae to electronic, reflecting the lively spirit of the Pura Vida lifestyle​.

Whether you’re looking to dance till dawn or enjoy a cocktail while listening to live music, Costa Rica’s cities and towns offer memorable nights out.

Charming Local Communities

Puerto Viejo

Costa Rica’s local communities are the heart of its charm. Small towns like Puerto Viejo are known for their relaxed Caribbean vibe and community-oriented spots like Luna’s Lounge and SkyBar Vista, which provide a perfect backdrop for unwinding under the stars​​.

Each community, from the surfer towns on the Pacific coast to the mountain villages near volcanic ranges, showcases a unique blend of Costa Rican culture, hospitality, and the pura vida lifestyle.

These communities are not just places to visit but are experiences in themselves, offering insights into the traditional Costa Rican way of life, rich with local festivals, markets, and street food ventures that invite deeper exploration and connection.

Proximity to the U.S.

Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s proximity to the United States is a key factor in its popularity as a travel destination among American tourists. The country is strategically located in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, with direct flights readily available from key U.S. cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.

These flights typically range from approximately 3 to 6 hours, depending on the departure city, making Costa Rica a practical choice for both short weekend escapes and longer vacations. 

Such logistical conveniences not only appeal to tourists seeking a tropical getaway but also to expatriates and retirees looking for accessible international living options close to the U.S.

The short flight times and the minimal time zone differences allow for hassle-free travel. This makes it easier for visitors to maximize their vacation time exploring Costa Rica’s natural beauty and cultural offerings without the burden of jet lag or lengthy recoveries often associated with longer international flights.

Environmental Leadership

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a global leader in environmental conservation and sustainability, recognized internationally for its progressive environmental policies. The country has won numerous accolades, including the United Nations’ Champions of the Earth award, for its efforts in fighting climate change and protecting nature​.

Costa Rica aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050, and it has already made significant progress towards this goal. It generates over 98% of its electricity from renewable sources and has successfully reversed its rates of deforestation​.

The nation’s dedication to environmental sustainability extends beyond just conservation efforts; it also includes innovative approaches to reducing carbon emissions.

The government has implemented a comprehensive decarbonization plan that targets major sectors such as transportation and energy. This initiative not only contributes to the global fight against climate change but also positions Costa Rica as a model for sustainable development​.

Final Thoughts

Costa Rica shines as a premier global destination, offering a vibrant blend of natural beauty, adventure, and cultural richness. From its stunning beaches and lush rainforests to its friendly communities and forward-thinking environmental policies, this Central American gem promises a unique and memorable experience.

Whether you’re zip-lining through canopies, surfing on world-class waves, or simply enjoying the local cuisine, Costa Rica caters to all tastes and interests. Its accessibility from the U.S., commitment to sustainability, and the warm “Pura Vida” spirit make it an irresistible choice for travelers seeking both relaxation and adventure.

best tourist destination costa rica

8 Reasons Why April Is The Best Time To Visit Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a majestic destination with much to offer. Learn more about why April is considered one of the best times to visit Costa Rica.

Sarah Rand • Apr 26, 2024

best tourist destination costa rica

Costa Rica is a destination with some of the most lush rainforests, stunning beaches, and thriving wildlife. The Central American country has coastlines in the Caribbean and Pacific. It has many protected natural areas and some of the best weather travelers could ask for. Costa Rica has very friendly locals, so travelers commonly feel welcome to the country. 

It is ranked as one of the most visited international destinations since it has such a thriving tourism industry. Like any other destination, Costa Rica has a shoulder and high travel season. Travelers who want to capture the height of Costa Rica’s beauty should visit during the dry season, from December to April. This season brings forth some peak experiences in Costa Rica.

April is the best time to visit the country during this season. Some of the most captivating things during this month are the lush green foliage and warm sun. April is during the high season so there may be more tourists around, but the weather and events make it worth it. 

Average Temperature This Time of Year

  • The average temperature in Costa Rica during April is around 60-78 Degrees F

April is a very appealing time to visit Costa Rica. Out of the warmest months, April has the mildest weather in general. It has manageable temperatures but also has lower precipitation levels than the other months. So travelers visiting in April can enjoy some of the warm, sunny days without the heavy rainfall that accompanies the rainy season. There may be trickles of rain but overall, April is one of the best times for beach days and tourism activities. 

Travelers can better enjoy outdoor activities and community events in Costa Rica during April. The top things to do in Costa Rica during this time are catamaran rides, snorkeling, hikes, and kayaking. Visitors to Costa Rica during April should be sure to pack their sunscreen and be prepared to be active.

a lush green mountain on a cloudy day in Costa Rica

Travel Tip :

  • Travelers visiting during April should be sure to bring polarized sunglasses and UVA/UVB-protected clothing 
  • Spring break and Easter may coincide with travel during this peak season, so there may be crowds if travelers do not plan accordingly 
  • Since this is a popular time to travel to Costa Rica, the prices of travel may spike so booking ahead of time is advisable 

Water Sports 

April is still the peak season for visitors, so there is plenty to do in Costa Rica. Especially travelers who enjoy being in the water. This month is one of the best times to surf since there are tamer waves. So this time is great for beginner surfers and swimmers. Those seeking an adrenaline rush can go river rafting or go sport fishing. Travelers can expect slightly cooler waters in April since the warmer ocean waters kick in around May. The North Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is a great place for travelers to have ocean fun.   

best tourist destination costa rica

Travel Tips :

  • Costa Rica is a country with more than 800 miles of coastline, so travelers will have plenty of space to explore. A laid back beach town for travelers to visit is Santa Teresa. 

National Parks

The national parks of Costa Rica are famous due to the diversity of the natural environment. In fact, there are 30 national parks in Costa Rica. So visiting Costa Rica during one of the country’s peak weather seasons is a great plan for outdoor adventurers. The country is home to about 5% of the world’s biodiversity, which is a significant amount. National parks and forest reserves make up 25% of Costa Rica’s total land area, so conservation is a very important cause for the country. Some of the top national parks to visit are the Tenorio Volcano National Park, Corcovado National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park.

These are the most popular natural attractions in Costa Rica that travelers should visit in April. pictured: a large bridge in a national park of Costa Rica

  • Costa Rica’s most visited national park is Manuel Antonio National Park. This park does not allow guests to feed animals, but other parks may have different policies. 

Wildlife Sightings

Travelers can also discover the thriving wildlife of Costa Rica. Animal lovers will appreciate the various experiences they can have with the animal inhabitants of the country. Sea turtles, sloths, and macaws are among some of the most popular animals for tourists to see while in Costa Rica. Many tours take advantage of optimal times in April to observe animals. For example, April is a great time to visit Costa Rica for bird watchers. They will catch migratory birds right around the time they are juveniles, so travelers may be able to snag a prime watching spot.  

best tourist destination costa rica

  • Costa Rica is known as the hummingbird capital of the world, travelers should take rainforest tours to be able to observe these delicate creatures. 

Juan Santamaria Day 

Juan Santamaria Day is celebrated on April 11 every year. The national holiday is a day of remembrance for a national hero who single-handedly diverted an invasion of Costa Rica. Juan was merely seventeen and lost his life in the process. The day of his death (and those preceding it) marks a time for celebrating his legacy. 

Some popular festivities for Juan Santamaria Day include dancing, parades, concerts, and even marching bands. Although the holiday is celebrated in many areas of Costa Rica the main events occur in the city of Alajuela. Being able to observe this culturally significant holiday is simply one of the reasons why April is the best time to visit Costa Rica. 

Learn about this historically significant holiday that is popular among Costa Ricans. pictured: a lighthouse in Costa Rica near a town

  • Travelers should stay in Alajuela with locals during the week of Juan Santamaria Day. In that case, visitors will get to immerse themselves in Costa Rican culture.

Culinary Adventures  

There are many staple foods in Costa Rica. Some of the best (and most popular) foods include gallo pinto, casado, and arroz con pollo. Gallo pinto is the national dish. It consists of rice and beans with onions, peppers, cilantro, and spices. Travelers will not get bored with the local flavors that Costa Rica offers. Costa Rica has a mix of Spanish, Caribbean, and Indigenous influences which translate to the types of foods travelers can truly enjoy. To get a taste of the diverse influences, travelers can even book a tour with a Costa Rican culinary adventure group that explores the area in April.  

best tourist destination costa rica

  • Food and culture go hand in hand in Costa Rica so there are select all-inclusive resorts that offer culinary experiences to travelers. 

World Class Resorts

To enjoy the full splendor of Costa Rica in April, travelers can book a top-notch resort with all the bells and whistles. All-inclusive resorts are all the rave, especially with guests who want to sit back and relax. Total relaxation is the most ideal way to enjoy the pleasant weather of April for travelers who visit Costa Rica. Two of the top-rated all-inclusive resorts in Costa Rica include Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica and Barcelo Tambor. 

best tourist destination costa rica

  • Travelers are advised to either book their all-inclusive resorts at least nine months in advance or snatch last-minute deals. 

“Pura Vida” Culture

The overall laid-back culture of Costa Rica is a popular feature of the area. This uniquely positive outlook is shared by locals of Costa Rica, which has been referred to as one of the happiest countries in the world. “Pura Vida” translates to pure life from Spanish but it practically means being grateful and not dwelling on the past. This motto surely keeps the local stress level down, which in turn will impact travelers’ perception of Costa Rica. Lots of travelers come back to visit Costa Rica wanting to embody that way of life.

the phrase pura vida drawn in the sand in Costa Rica

  • To adapt to the “pura vida” lifestyle, travelers should slow down and enjoy life’s little pleasures. 

Costa Rica is a majestic and incredible destination with much to offer to travelers. Those planning to visit Costa Rica should aim for an April trip to appreciate the best weather and activities. From an immaculate attitude towards life and breathtaking nature, Costa Rica during April is hard to match. Surround yourself with misty waterfalls, thriving jungles, and sandy beaches this spring.

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  • A Bevy of Luxury Resorts Is About to Transform This Quiet Costa Rica Province

A Waldorf, a Ritz-Carlton Reserve, a Six Senses, and more than a dozen others are transforming the nation's once sleepy Gold Coast into a scene out of St. Tropez.

Melinda fulmer.

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A rendering of Nekajui, a Ritz Carlton Reserve Hotel and Residences

When Chris Ingham Brooke, a digital publishing entrepreneur, first came to Nosara, Costa Rica in 2016 it was just a sleepy little surf town, with one main drag and jungle stretching to the sand.  

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“It had become really vibrant and interesting,” he said. Still, there weren’t many options when it came to luxury family-friendly accommodations.  

The Nosara coast

He bought a commercial lot and three years later, in March, opened Silvestre—a boutique resort with nine, 1,000-square-foot residences, a rooftop bar, a yoga studio, and a surf “concierge.” Located steps from the beach path to Playa Guiones, Silvestre sits on one of the most consistent surf breaks in the world. 

International visitors to Costa Rica jumped 17 percent last year from 2022, and the number of visitors this January was up 59 percent from January 2023 with new direct flights being added from Los Angeles, Chicago, Denver, Minneapolis, and Houston, according to the Costa Rican Tourism Board.    

A room at Silvestre

While Costa Rica’s draw is not its amenities or nightlife (although they are improving), the year-round warm weather makes it a polestar for outdoors addicts, with perfect conditions for surfing, snorkeling, hiking, and mountain biking. The jet set here are more likely to gather to watch sunsets than disco. It’s much-touted Blue Zone wellness culture and unspoiled beaches and forests are bait for chakras that are better aligned. 

What’s coming to Guanacaste

A rendering of the Waldorf Astoria coming to Costa Rica

An incredible 18 properties are slated to open by 2025, including two new luxury properties that will hit the market at the end of this year: Nekajui, a Ritz Carlton Reserve Hotel and Residences and Waldorf Astoria Costa Rica Punta Cacique. A Six Senses Resort and Spa Papagayo is expected to open in late 2025. 

The Waldorf Astoria, located 30 minutes from the Liberia Airport, will have 188 guest rooms and suites and 41 residences built into the hillside with its own sandy beach, signature restaurants, cenote-themed spa, teen center, and kids club, including eco-tourism experiences in the surrounding área. 

“We won’t just take care of the kids at the club, we will help them experience different things about the country,” said Valeria Nowotny, vice president of operations for Hilton’s resorts in the Caribbean, Mexico, and Central America. “Visitors here are looking for a nature experience, mixed with a little local culture.”

For luxury travelers that have struggled to find a resort in the right location with the right amenities and polish, these properties will provide new reasons to return to Guanacaste, with expanding infrastructure and more paved roads making it easier to get from place to place. 

And, despite the construction boom in the Papagayo Peninsula, the área is unlikely to be overbuilt anytime soon, thanks to the vast Área de Conservación Guanacaste (ACG) , a UNESCO World Heritage site protecting wildlife on 400,000 acres from the shore of the Pacific surrounding these hotels to the lowland rainforests in the Caribbean basin. And while many locals complain that the nearby city of Tamarindo is becoming more like Cancun, there are limits to access on water rights to restrict development here and across Costa Rica, said Wagner Loria, an agent with Keller Williams Tamarindo.

Further south, in Nosara there are also protections that keep developers from building directly on the beach, leaving views pristine. 

“There’s a very powerful community here that’s very protective of the town,” said Brooke. “When you look back from the beach, all you can see is jungle. That makes it a very special place.”

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Top Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica

S et in the heart of the Central Valley of Costa Rica, San Jose (the capital city of Costa Rica) boasts rich culture and history that easily blend with modern architecture, and despite what you may have heard (or read), there are plenty of fun things to do and places to go here that’d genuinely make your stay memorable.

To make it easy for you to plan your vacation, I’ve researched some of the top things to do in San Jose Costa Rica so you don’t have to. Make arrangements for a free walking tour or a paid San Jose city tour and check out all of them!

Please do remember that the San Jose International Airport is about 30 minutes from downtown San Jose, where most of these activities are located. If you want to truly explore San Jose, the best thing to do is to spend a day or two in the city to try all of the great San Jose restaurants and explore the city more in-depth. If you choose to stay longer, there are a ton of great day trips from San Jose that you can explore too. (My favorites are the Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall Gardens , and the Espiritu Santo coffee plantation .)

Once you are finished visiting San Jose, you may want to look into another Latin American capital city . One that’s on my bucket list is Havana, Cuba as I’ve heard there are lots of things to do in Havana .

National Stadium

The National Stadium is not only a sight to behold; it’s also one of the best places to catch some of the most mind-blowing sporting concerts and events Costa Rica offers. Located west of La Sabana park, the newly built master arena is the most modern and one of the largest in Central America, accommodating more than thirty-five thousand sports fans in its three decks of seating.

Here, you can get tickets for fabulous soccer matches or cool concerts from famous artists like Shakira, Coldplay, or Lady Gaga. And don’t worry if you can’t find a seat next to the field or stage; each end of the arena has enormous TV screens where you can see a close-up of every action!

You can drive here yourself or use public transportation. However, bringing a car may not be the best way to get here, especially on match or concert days, as there isn’t enough parking. To avoid the hassle, just hop into a taxi or catch one of the trains that run to Sabana station.

La Sabana Park

Another awesome place to spend your time during your stay in San Jose would be the La Sabana Metropolitan Park. If you’ve been to New York’s Central Park, you’ll definitely love being here, as the vibe is pretty much the same – there’s a vibrant atmosphere and verdant, well-maintained greenery where you can just relax and soak in the gorgeousness of the giant skyscrapers surrounding the area.

On the days when there are no matches at the stadium, you can come here and feed the geese by the pond, indulge in various outdoor activities including jogging, biking, rollerblading, tennis, and picnicking, or just hang out with loved ones on one of the benches. Although this park can be a little crowded during the weekends, it’s a great place to mingle with the locals or simply wind down and reconnect with nature in the bustling city center.

Jade Museum

If you’re a history buff, the Jade Museum is a must-see. Located west of Plaza de la Democracia on the Avenida Central, just down the road from the iconic National Museum, this historic building houses a wide and diverse collection of artifacts showcasing rich Costa Rican history.

Here, you will find Pre-Columbian jade, adzes, tables, wood, ceramics, decorative pieces, and other artifacts dating from 500 B.C – 800 B.C carefully displayed in a renovated space. Expect to spend up to two hours touring all five floors of displays. There’s a café and restaurant on site where you can grab a drink or some munchie to keep those energy levels up as you explore the exhibits.

Got children? You’ll be happy to know that there are giant puzzles, excavation role-play, and other exciting kid-friendly activities to keep the little ones entertained.

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum

The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum is situated under the Plaza de la Cultura and houses one of the largest and most diverse collections of gold items in Latin America, making it an important destination for history and art lovers.

A guided tour of this museum will give you a chance to explore over 1,600 Pre-Columbian gold artifacts including jewelry, religious icons, handmade ceramics, and the country’s very first coin; it’s a great way to learn the history of the precious metal.

If you’ve got some time left, check out the two other currency-related museums located in Plaza de la Cultura – the Casa de Moneda and the National Coin Museum. The Casa de Moneda will showcase the minting history and the National Coin Museum will have displays dating back to 1236, all of which will get you learning more about the history of Costa Rican currency.

National Museum of Costa Rica

In the heart of downtown San Jose at Bellavista Fortress is another incredible art gallery, the National Museum, that offers impressive displays of indigenous and Pre-Columbian artwork, archaeological and geological items, and religious artifacts linked to the Ticos’ colorful history.

What was once a military barracks is now a center for studying, classifying, and protecting natural and artistic products, allowing visitors to explore ancient cultures dating thousands of years back.

While the fantastic collection of pre-Columbian artifacts including medallions, ornate jewelry, and gold statues will truly transport you back in time, do not miss the beautiful glass atrium butterfly garden at the entrance that showcases the country’s natural beauty or the building itself that still has bullet holes from the Civil War of 1948.

National Theatre (Teatro Nacional)

If you’re a fan of performing arts, then you definitely want to put the National Theater on top of the list when planning your day trips to downtown San Jose. Located on Avenida Segunda, the historic building has been entertaining both locals and foreigners with opera, symphony, and other fine art since 1897.

Apart from enjoying the alluring theatrical performances, the building’s neoclassical architecture, lavish finishings, and ornate interior will also be a true feast for the eyes. Several performances are held here every week!

Visit during the International Festival of the Arts that happens in March every year and watch San Jose transform into a giant stage with festivities and live concerts put together by the National Theater.

Children’s Museum

Visiting the Children’s Museum is undoubtedly one of the best things to do in San Jose with kids. The interactive, hands-on museum situated in the Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture and which was once a military prison now allows kids to learn, play, and explore our everyday science and interact with other children in a safe environment.

There are over forty exciting exhibits that can be enjoyed by both children and adults including one that showcases the suffering the prisoners experienced in a building that’s now a fun and happy place. Don’t forget to check out the earthquake simulator; it’s just as fascinating!

Central Market

Although Costa Rica is not known for its vibrant markets a la Mexico and Colombia, the Central Market is the closest you will get to find the best of Costa Rica under one roof. And it’s a great representation of Costa Rica culture!

The traditional Costa Rican cuisine here is sublime, and local food is super cheap , so plan to have a meal here for sure. Then shop the herbal remedies, Costa Rican national dance costumes, and even some souvenirs before you head back out into the hustle and bustle of downtown San Jose.

Museum of Costa Rican Art

Located near La Sabana and the national stadium, the Costa Rican Art Museum is worth visiting for art fans. You’ll find traveling exhibits from some of the area’s best artists, and a gorgeous sculpture garden out back. In all honesty, this isn’t the best of the tourist attractions for families traveling with young kids- teens and university students might enjoy it more.

The building itself is the crown jewel of the museum- it’s two stories built in traditional Spanish style. Make sure ot visit the library ot see the gorgeous carved wooden ceiling.

Brewery Tour

There are tons of craft brewers in San Jose, and many of them are welcoming to children. You’ll enjoy everything from IPAs to stouts throughout San Jose. Some of our favorites are included in our favorite Costa Rican breweries list.

Street Art Tour

There is so much street art in San Jose that it’s almost hard to miss. Almost any neighborhood will have street art if you just venture off the beaten path a little bit. Some of the best viewings are near the university in the suburb of San Pedro.

Street Food

Wander just a bit and you’ll find street food stalls almost everywhere in downtown San Jose. Vendors sell everything from fresh fruit to fresh empanadas and pork tamales. Since you can drink the water in Costa Rica, you don’t have to worry as much about consuming street food- so eat away!

Artisans Market

Just south of the area where the National Theater and museums are is a cute little artesian market that sells the best of Costa Rican souvenirs and decent prices. I recommend stopping by to find some fun additions to your collection. They have everything from t-shirts to earrings to painted masks. 

The post Top Things to Do in San Jose, Costa Rica appeared first on Pura Vida Moms .

Set in the heart of the Central Valley of Costa Rica, San Jose (the capital city of Costa Rica) boasts rich culture and history that easily blend with modern architecture, and despite what you may have heard (or read), there are plenty of fun things to do and places to go here that’d genuinely make...


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    Why it's so awesome: Arenal is an active volcano that soars more than 1,600 meters above the jungles of Alajuela. It's located just outside of San Jose and is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica. Aside from its aesthetic appeal, the entire area also offers a range of outdoor activities and sites including waterfalls, hiking trails, bridle paths, and animal encounters.

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    Here are some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica: 1. Arenal. Sitting at an elevation of 1,670 meters (5,480 feet), Arenal is one of Costa Rica's many volcanoes. It still erupts from time to time, and if you're lucky, you'll be able to see lava flowing down the volcano.

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    La Fortuna. Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure. La Fortuna, the adventure capital of Costa Rica, is the ultimate destination for adrenaline junkies. But for Konwiser, the highlight of this region is its ...

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    Best Costa Rica Destinations: Middle Pacific Coast Manuel Antonio and Jaco. Our first time to Costa Rica, we combined our first 3 days in Arenal with 6 days on the Pacific Coast to Manuel Antonio and the Osa Peninsula. Depending on how much time you have, you could drive the entire coast south and see some of Costa Rica's best sites.

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    Water. Tap water is drinkable in Costa Rica, except in remote rural areas, so pack a refillable water bottle. Keep your clothes on! Topless sunbathing is not acceptable in Costa Rica, and while you may find it's tolerated at some private resorts, it's best to do as the locals do and keep covered. Costa Rica Tourism: Tripadvisor has ...

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    16. Tortuguero National Park. Tortuguero National Park is another place that should be on your Costa Rica bucket list, especially if you are visiting in late summer - early fall. This is the prime green sea turtles nesting season and the beaches of Tortuguero are a great place to see them.

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    The excellent tourist infrastructure, varied climates and geography creates a wide variety of options to choose from. Top natural and adventure destinations include Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, Drake Bay, Tortuguero and Rincon de la Vieja. Popular beach areas include Manuel Antonio, Playa Samara, Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo.

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    Some of the top attractions include Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio National Park, La Paz Waterfalls, Papagayo Peninsula, Tamarindo beach, Rio Celeste, Monteverde Cloud Forest and Corcovado National Park. You can enjoy activities such as surfing, snorkeling, fishing, ziplining and hiking. Costa Rica is also home to many unique and diverse animal ...

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    Visiting La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the best things to do in La Fortuna, so don't miss it! 9. Explore Marino Ballena National Park. Without a doubt, the number one thing to do in Uvita is to visit Marino Ballena National Park and enjoy a walk out to the famous "Whale Tail".

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    Costa Rica's proximity to the United States is a key factor in its popularity as a travel destination among American tourists. The country is strategically located in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south, with direct flights readily available from key U.S. cities such as Miami, Los Angeles, and New York.

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    Like any other destination, Costa Rica has a shoulder and high travel season. Travelers who want to capture the height of Costa Rica's beauty should visit during the dry season, from December to April. This season brings forth some peak experiences in Costa Rica. April is the best time to visit the country during this season.

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    International visitors to Costa Rica jumped 17 percent last year from 2022, and the number of visitors this January was up 59 percent from January 2023 with new direct flights being added from Los ...

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    S et in the heart of the Central Valley of Costa Rica, San Jose (the capital city of Costa Rica) boasts rich culture and history that easily blend with modern architecture, and despite what you ...