Costa Rica is a land of natural wonders, boasting volcanoes, beaches, cloud forests, and abundant wildlife. It’s a country that captivates a diverse range of travelers, from bird watchers and luxury enthusiasts to surfers and backpackers.
The Pacific Coast stretches endlessly with beautiful beaches, catering to surfers and sun seekers in small towns. Among these, the province of Guanacaste is renowned as the prime destination for its stunning beaches and beachfront towns.
Inland, the forest-clad mountains provide their own set of adventures, from volcanoes and cascading waterfalls to exhilarating ziplining and unparalleled wildlife encounters. While wildlife abounds throughout the country, the lush southern regions, from Jaco down to the Osa Peninsula, stand out as some of the finest wildlife destinations.
For a completely unique experience, explore the Caribbean coast with its tranquil waters and distinctive cultural ambiance.
Discover the top tourist attractions in Costa Rica with our curated list of the best places to visit.
1. Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal National Park is home to the country’s most active volcano. As a result of its turbulent volcanic activity, the region’s lava fields have left a lasting mark on the landscape, creating a rugged and desolate terrain beneath the crater.
As you venture deeper into the area, you will be amazed by the vibrant tapestry of colors that adorn the lush landscape. The eruptions have generously nourished the surroundings, resulting in a breathtaking display of diverse flora and fauna. As a result, this destination offers breathtaking hiking opportunities, allowing travelers to explore the stunning surroundings. Moreover, with its diverse range of approximately 850 bird species, this park is a paradise for birdwatchers as well.
As you ascend the slopes of the volcano, the scenery becomes more prominent, offering an incredible view of the surrounding landscapes. Below, you’ll find the magnificent Lake Arenal, glistening under the warm sunlight.
2. Manuel Antonio National Park
Repeatedly recognized as one of the world’s most exquisite national parks, Manuel Antonio captivates all who lay eyes on it. Its unspoiled beaches, lush rainforests, and pristine blue waters are sure to enchant visitors from the moment they arrive.
The breathtaking scenery has a calming effect on the soul, and taking a dip in the crystal-clear waters while gazing at the mesmerizing shoreline will make you wish you never had to depart from this oasis of serenity.
The remarkable landscapes it showcases are equally inviting to explore, with various trails and pathways meandering through the dense foliage. Such is its magnificence that Manuel Antonio stands as the most frequented national park in the country.
Dominical serves as a tropical haven for backpackers and ranks as one of Costa Rica’s premier surfing destinations. This town has garnered its reputation for its picturesque beaches, affordable lodging options, relaxed open-air eateries, and a vibrant bohemian atmosphere. However, in the nearby mountains, upscale resorts, cozy inns, and luxury rentals cater to a more affluent clientele.
The town boasts an extensive beachfront, while vendors set up tables under the cool shade of trees, offering a variety of crafts and goods. In recent years, the once unpaved streets have been transformed into well-maintained roads, and brick sidewalks have replaced dusty pathways, elevating Dominical from a simple beach town to a more refined tourist hotspot. Beyond the town, you’ll discover quieter beaches, where you can seek out your own secluded spot.
Dominical offers an excellent opportunity to observe wildlife without straying too far from urban life. Toucans, monkeys, sloths, and scarlet macaws are frequently seen, even within the town of Dominical.
In late February or early March, Dominical hosts the annual Envision Festival, which attracts a diverse crowd. This event is centered around music, arts, wellness, and sustainability, and features activities such as yoga and various workshops.
Jaco is an excellent option for those seeking an escape from San Jose while still desiring the comforts and conveniences of a larger town or city. The beach in Jaco offers ample space, a pleasant atmosphere, and a lively vibe.
Both surfing and swimming are highly enjoyable here, with smaller waves compared to other coastal areas in this region. What sets Jaco apart from the numerous coastal towns along the Pacific is its modern apartments, stores, a diverse selection of excellent restaurants and hotels, and various modern amenities, making it a favored choice among expats and retirees.
Jaco is conveniently located within a two-hour drive from San Jose. If you arrive in San Jose and are eager to leave the city without venturing too far on your first day, Jaco is an easily accessible destination. Additionally, you can use Jaco as a base to explore nearby beaches and attractions on day trips.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Jaco: Best Areas & Hotels
5. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Immerse yourself in the breathtaking beauty of lush green mountains and tropical jungles, as they become enveloped in a mystical mist. Experience the harmonious symphony of nature, as exotic birds, animals, reptiles, and insects serenade you with their enchanting calls. Welcome to the mesmerizing Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where nature’s beauty knows no bounds. Nestled amidst the picturesque Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range in central Costa Rica, this reserve is a sought-after travel destination renowned for its breathtaking natural landscapes, an incredible variety of wildlife, and an array of exciting adventures awaiting visitors.
The reserve can be reached by buses departing from the neighboring town of Monteverde. Once there, visitors can find a cozy lodge, a delightful restaurant, and a charming gift shop. One of the most popular activities to experience while traveling here is embarking on scenic hikes along the various trails. As you explore, you’ll have the opportunity to marvel at stunning waterfalls and the vibrant array of exotic flowers and plants. Keep an eye out for glimpses of the local wildlife, including tapirs, agoutis, frogs, wild pigs, monkeys, porcupines, butterflies, and the elusive resplendent quetzal. This magnificent bird, once revered as sacred by the Mayans, adds a touch of enchantment to your journey.
Another exciting way to explore the cloud forest and its diverse wildlife is through horseback riding, thrilling canopy tours that take you above the treetops, exhilarating Sky Walks across suspension bridges, and zipline adventures that let you soar through the jungle trees.
Furthermore, within the vicinity, there lies a captivating destination known as the reserve, where a delightful dairy farm awaits. This farm, originally established by Quakers back in the 1950s, offers a unique experience for travelers. Visitors have the opportunity to indulge in delectable cheese and ice cream, all produced on-site. Moreover, an immersive tour allows guests to witness the intricate process of cheese-making firsthand. Additionally, travelers will be able to explore a nature center, where they can stroll through captivating butterfly gardens and gain insights into the abundant biodiversity found within the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
6. Rincón de la Vieja National Park
The main attraction in this park is the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, a must-see for travelers. One of the most popular travel activities is embarking on a hike to reach the summit. Embark on a thrilling adventure along the 9.6-kilometer trail that commences at Las Pailas and meanders through a captivating array of ecosystems, gradually ascending toward its summit. The travel destinations offer breathtaking views. You can explore the breathtaking Nicoya Peninsula, and on a clear day, catch a glimpse of the stunning landscapes of Nicaragua.
Other enchanting paths guide you to breathtaking waterfalls and rejuvenating hot springs. Inhabiting the park, you will find a diverse range of wildlife, including tapirs, sloths, monkeys, and majestic large cats like the jaguar, puma, and ocelot.
If you’re seeking an action-packed beach town to settle into for an extended stay, Tamarindo is the perfect choice. Situated on the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste, Tamarindo stands out as a premier destination for surfing, beach activities, and all-around enjoyment. Once a quiet fishing village, it has evolved into a bustling tourist hub, offering a diverse selection of restaurants and hotels.
The town stretches along the stunning expanse of Tamarindo Beach, a wide crescent-shaped shoreline that extends for approximately 1.5 kilometers. This area is renowned for its surfing, boasting various breaks suitable for both seasoned surfers and beginners. The largest waves are typically found here during November and December.
In the vicinity of Tamarindo, you’ll discover eco-friendly adventures and activities, including snorkeling, diving, horseback riding, ziplining, and seasonal turtle watching. Nearby Playa Grande serves as one of Costa Rica’s vital nesting grounds for leatherback turtles. From October to March, you can witness over 100 turtles nesting and laying their eggs overnight.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Tamarindo: Best Areas & Hotels
8. Las Catalinas
If you are in search of a breathtaking beach town to explore in Costa Rica, make sure to include Las Catalinas on your list. Nestled along the Pacific coast, this idyllic town boasts some of the country’s most exquisite beaches.
Las Catalinas offers a wide range of activities, from leisurely swimming and sunbathing on the beach to adventurous hikes through the lush green forests that surround the area. For those seeking underwater wonders, consider embarking on a scuba-diving tour to uncover the marvels that lie beneath the waves.
Furthermore, the town boasts a variety of restaurants, bars, and a few charming shops. Whether you crave a tranquil getaway or an action-packed vacation, Las Catalinas is undoubtedly a destination worth considering!
Reaching Las Catalinas is both straightforward and adventurous. You can fly into Liberia Airport, and we recommend either taking a private shuttle or renting a car. As you drive along the Monkey Trail near the Congo Trail, you’ll even get to cross your first river—an exciting welcome to Costa Rica!
9. Tortuguero National Park
For a unique and less-traveled experience, tourists might consider heading to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast. This region, accessible exclusively by boat or plane, ranks among the wettest areas in the country and offers a distinct contrast to the rest of Costa Rica. The park holds significant importance as a breeding ground for the green sea turtle, making turtle watching the primary activity here.
Although the area boasts numerous beaches, swimming is not recommended due to the rough and strong surf, along with the common presence of sharks. Hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of green and leatherback turtles can be observed nesting and laying eggs on the beaches overnight, with the guidance of necessary guides. Recent conservation efforts have led to an increase in the number of turtles nesting in the region.
While exploring the hiking trails or taking boat rides along the canals, visitors may have the opportunity to spot monkeys, sloths, and kinkajos. Peccaries and tapirs also inhabit the area, although they are more challenging to spot. Freshwater turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs, toads, and other amphibians are commonly found as well.
10. Irazu Volcano National Park
The Irazú Volcano, towering at 3,342 meters, claims the title of Costa Rica’s highest active volcano. Its summit presents a landscape reminiscent of the moon, adorned with craters. Among them, the Principal Crater measures an impressive 1,050 meters in diameter and plunges to a depth of 300 meters, while the Diego de la Haya Crater, though smaller, features a small lime-green lake that occasionally takes on a red hue.
Well-marked trails guide visitors to these craters and two others, with one of the smaller ones also housing a lake. Additionally, a pyroclastic cone, formed from fragmented volcanic rock, is visible. On clear days, from the summit, you can enjoy panoramic views extending to both the Pacific and Caribbean oceans.
11. Playa Montezuma
Playa Montezuma, affectionately called ‘Monte Fuma’ because of its sizable hippie community, remains a beloved destination among backpackers for its laid-back atmosphere and stunning beach.
Surrounded by unspoiled rainforest, the beach offers a variety of enjoyable trails and hikes for visitors. Venturing into the lush trails that lead into the rainforest, you will discover enchanting waterfalls tucked away amidst the foliage, making them a worthwhile detour from the beach and a chance to rinse off the salt and sand.
Playa Montezuma is gaining well-deserved recognition for its exceptional scuba diving opportunities in the inviting waters along the beach. In addition to vibrant coral reefs and schools of shimmering fish, divers can explore three shipwrecks and numerous other impressive dive sites.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Montezuma: Best Areas & Hotels
The Nicoya Peninsula, situated on the stunning Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, beckons travelers with its breathtaking beaches and vibrant rainforest. If you’re planning a trip to the Nicoya Peninsula, make sure to include Nosara, Tamarindo, and Santa Teresa on your itinerary. These destinations offer some of the most incredible experiences and sights for travelers. Nosara is a picturesque travel destination, renowned for its stunning beaches and lush rainforests. In Nosara, travelers can indulge in a variety of exciting activities that cater to their interests. From riding the waves while surfing or stand-up paddleboarding to soaring through the treetops on thrilling ziplines, there is no shortage of adventure. Additionally, nature enthusiasts can delight in the opportunity to spot diverse wildlife species in this captivating destination. If you’re seeking an exhilarating travel experience in a tropical paradise, make sure to include Nosara on your itinerary!
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
Q: Is Costa Rica safe for tourists?
A: Costa Rica is considered one of the safest countries in Central America, but like any travel destination, it’s important to exercise caution and follow local guidelines.
Q: What is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
A: The dry season, from December to April, is the most popular time to visit as it offers sunny weather and ideal conditions for outdoor activities.
Q: Do I need a visa to visit Costa Rica?
A: Most visitors do not require a visa to enter Costa Rica for tourism purposes, but be sure to check the specific requirements for your country of origin.
Q: What are the must-try dishes in Costa Rica?
A: Don’t miss out on trying gallo pinto, casado, and ceviche. These dishes showcase the delicious flavors of Costa Rican cuisine.
Q: Can I see sloths in the wild in Costa Rica?
A: Yes, sloths are commonly spotted in Costa Rica’s rainforests. Consider taking a guided wildlife tour to increase your chances of seeing these adorable creatures.