Planning your trip to Costa Rica? From lush jungle to paradisiac beaches and vibrant cities, you’ll find a list of the absolute best places to visit in Costa Rica below. Check it out!
Costa Rica is one of the most adventurous places on the planet, featuring impressive volcanoes (don’t worry, they’re not really dangerous!), lush rainforests with exotic wildlife, beautiful natural hot springs and waterfalls, and pristine beaches with turquoise waters and abundant sea life that attracts quite a few divers.
While this country is ideal for hikers, wildlife lovers, and adventurers, it’s also a fantastic destination for families, couples, and those looking to unwind and enjoy a relaxing holiday away from home – there’s no beating a postcard-picture beach or a hammock in the jungle for relaxation!
Whatever your dream trip looks like, this list of the best places to visit in Costa Rica should help you plan an unforgettable holiday.
Monteverde is known as the top eco-tourism destination in Costa Rica, and there’s a good reason why: situated 4,590 feet (1,400 meters) above sea level, the region is constantly subdued to rain and clouds filled with moist, which generate the lush and evergreen cloud forests Monteverde is so famous for.
The cloud forests, called after the low clouds that can be seen hanging among the trees, are the highlight of any visit to Monteverde! But the area is also home to wonderful nature reserves, thousands of species of plants and insects, and many varieties of birds.
If you’re traveling to Costa Rica for the adventure, you’ll also find it in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where you can do anything from hiking to ziplining, taking the sky tram, or walking over a suspension bridge amidst nature.
The Cloud Forest is one of the most diverse primeval forests left on the planet, and in it you’ll have the opportunity to admire the proud quetzal (the multicolored national bird of Guatemala) and the extremely rare golden toad, among other fantastic creatures.
If you’re still in doubt of what’s the best place to vacation in Costa Rica, you can’t go wrong with Monteverde!
Located in the southeast of Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca will show you the vibrant life of the country’s Caribbean coast. Puerto Viejo is especially popular with surfers, as it has one of the most legendary surf spots in Costa Rica, Playa Cocles, which is ideal for intermediate and advanced surfers. Beginners will find a lovely surfing spot in nearby Punta Uva, and non-surfers will surely make the most of the palm-fringed, sandy beaches of Cocles and Playa Negra.
Puerto Viejo also offers a bustling nightlife, and you’ll find no shortage of beach bars, pubs, and restaurants with good music and ever-flowing cocktails. You can expect happy hour deals in most of them!
If you’re interested in Costa Rica’s thriving ecosystem, the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Sanctuary, which is home to macaws, emerald parrots, jaguars, snakes, and sloths, as well as hundreds of different vegetation species, is located very close to Puerto Viejo and it’s a wonderful place for a day trip.
Tamarindo is a bustling town located on the Pacific Coast, and a favorite destination among travelers looking to enjoy the beach. Its long stretches of golden sand and wide areas prevent it from feeling crowded, even during the high season, and there are magnificent mountains in the backgroud.
The beach also offers perfect conditions for surfing, and you can also kayak, join a snorkelling or diving excursion, or sunbathe. Tamarindo has a great number of high-end restaurants, as well as shops and luxurious hotels, and it’s a great base to explore other areas.
One of the best visits is to Las Baulas National Marine Park, where every year leatherback sea turtles come to lay their eggs. The park features mangroves and hiking trails, and you’ll get to meet the wildlife and over 100 bird species that live there.
Getting from San Jose to Tamarindo is fairly easy, and there are many means of transport to get there.
One of the best places to travel in Costa Rica, San Jose is where most people will arrive for their vacation, but not where they’ll stay. This lively city, however, is definitely worth exploring, and its animated atmosphere and interesting history will surely enchant you.
You’ll get to enjoy some of the yummiest Costa Rican street food, and visit the most renowned (and very interesting!) museums, among which the Gold Museum is a total hit. San Jose is the perfect place to learn about the culture and history of the country, boasts a very vibrant nightlife, and is a fantastic base for other trips.
Whether you want to chill at the beach or explore the active volcanoes, you can easily do it from San Jose.
The Arenal Volcano rises 5,436 feet (1,656 meters) above sea level in the central northern Cordillera region. It’s part of the Arenal Volcano National Park, a 29,692-acre region that also houses a second volcano, Chato Volcano, which has been inactive for over 3 thousand years.
Areal Volcano, on the other hand, has been dormant since 2010, after a volcanic eruption that lasted 42 years! It now offers a stunning backdrop for any visit to the National Park, and it’s a must see in Costa Rica.
There are many activities to be enjoyed at the park, including hiking to La Fortuna Waterfall, soaking in natural hot springs, kayaking and ziplining.
In addition, you’ll also get to meet the deer, howler and white-faced monkeys, snakes, and numerous bird species that inhabit the National Park.
One of the best places to go in Costa Rica is Tortuga Island (tortuga means turtle in Spanish). It lies off the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, home to beautiful and unspoilt white beaches.
It’s a great place to take part in snorkelling or scuba diving activities, swimming among the coral reef and plenty of colorful fish. Rainbow fish, angelfish and stingrays are among some of the sealife you’ll come across.
If diving is not your thing, don’t worry – there are plenty of land-based attractions to be enjoyed, from rock climbing ziplining and hiking to more leisure pursuits such as animal spotting and tanning by the sea.
Dominical can be considered a hidden gem in Costa Rica because not many people know about this place.
It’s still a holiday destination for locals, so it retains most of its original wilderness and none of the massive touristy facilities.
Here you can visit beautiful waterfalls in tropical forests, stroll along the picturesque main street, surf at the beach, and enjoy the most gorgeous sunsets. It’s also a good place to try local dishes, and practice yoga at one of the many yoga studios in town.
While Arenal Volcano is most popular, Irazu Volcano is actually the tallest volcano in Costa Rica, at 11,260 feet (3,432 meters). Irazu is an active volcano, although no significant activity has been noticed since the late 1990’s, so you’re safe to visit!
It’s a very impressive natural attraction and one of the must see places in Costa Rica. Located inside the Irazu Volcano National Park, you can drive to the top and access two of its craters from the visitor’s center – you’ll be in for a treat of astounding views!
Admiring a volcano from upclose (especially an active one!) is an incomparable experience, so be sure to check it out!
La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is a favorite destination among families, especially those with small children.
Although it resembles a zoo, it is actually a place for wildlife conservation and care for injured or abandoned animals. You’ll have the chance to see monkeys, a variety of birds, insects, butterflies and snakes, and it’s a great place for kids to learn about them in their natural habit.
The highlight of the park is, as its name indicates, the waterfall. Surrounded by a garden and offering glorious views, you’ll be in love with it in no time!
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is best known for its pristine white sand beaches and colorful coral reefs, and it’s arguably one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica.
The park is also a great spot to enjoy excellent local food, and mingle with the locals in the small town nearby.
The most popular activity at Manuel Antonio, however, is walking around its lush forest discovering the thriving ecosystem and spotting the wildlife that lives here. If you’re lucky, you’ll find not only squirrels, howler and white faced monkeys, and sloths, but also raccoons and ocelots.
Located southwest of San José, Jaco is a large town known for its beautiful beaches and bustling nightlife.
It attracts a large number of surfers because of the spectacular waves, but there’s also Jaco Beach, a quieter spot that’s ideal for relaxing under the sun and enjoying the mind-blowing sunsets.
Jaco downtown is filled with bars and pubs, clubs, and busy restaurants, offering the perfect vibrant atmosphere for a night out.