Costa Rica is a country that is filled with history, oriented around its natural beauty, wildlife and religion, but there’s even more to it than that. These are the most historical and famous landmarks in Costa Rica that you need to visit.
Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, bordering both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Costa Rica’s Costa Rican coffee is famous for being some of the best coffee in the world.
Costa Rica has many natural wonders such as Arenal volcano, Costa Rican rainforest, and Manuel Antonio National Park.
Table of Contents
- Tips for Visiting Costa Rica
- Most Famous Historical Landmarks in Costa Rica
- 1. National Museum of Costa Rica
- 2. National Theater of Costa Rica
- 3. Guayabo National Monument
- 4. Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol
- 5. Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles
- 6. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
- 7. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve
- 8. Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges
- 9. Parque Nacional Corcovado
- 10. Plaza de la Cultura
- 11. Parque Morazán y Templo de la Música
- 12. Museo del Jade
- 13. Braulio Carrillo National Park
- 14. Catarata Río Fortuna
- 15. Irazu Volcano National Park
- 16. Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal
- 17. Catholic Church of Playas del Coco
Tips for Visiting Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, there are over 2 million species of native wildlife, both flora, and fauna, including tamarindo trees, Lechon pigs, and Costa Rican green turtles.
Often, the white-washed crayfish migrate here as well. Costa Rica offers beaches, mountains, and opportunities to explore the water.
It’s also home to the odd volcanic eruption from time to time!
Here are some of our Costa Rica travel tips as we take you through the rainforests and mountains on our famous landmarks in Costa Rica guide.
Before you begin your trip to Costa Rica’s most famous landmarks, make sure you have travel insurance for rainy days and pack good hiking boots for jungles!
Most Famous Historical Landmarks in Costa Rica
The Costa Rican Coat of Arms is inscribed with the motto, “Por la raza habla el espíritu” which means “For the race speaks the spirit”.
Costa Rica has a diverse population speaking as many as 57 different languages. Costa Ricans are multi-ethnic, multi-racial, and multi-cultural.
Thanks to colonialism and slavery, Costa Rican culture has been described as a blend of European tradition with some African and Indigenous American traditions.
If you’re ready to get started, we can help. Our range of Costa Rica vacations ensures a great time to book a visit and stay for travelers of all types.
1. National Museum of Costa Rica
Location: Cuesta de Moras, Av. Central, Bella Vista, San José, Costa Rica
The Museo Nacional is Costa Rica’s national museum and one of its most famous landmarks. Located in San Jose, Costa Rica, the museum has been open to the public since 1950.
Costa Rican President Juan Calderon named it Costa Rica’s National Museum in 1964. The museum holds over 2 million artifacts, consisting of Costa Rican archeology, natural history, and cultural history exhibitions.
These exhibits cover Costa Rican topics from pre-Columbian times all the way through contemporary Costa Rica. There are also educational programs for Costa Ricans and school children.
The Costa Rican National Museum is open Tuesday through Thursday from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm. It is closed on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays.
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2. National Theater of Costa Rica
Location: Avenida 2, C. 5, Catedral, San José, Costa Rica
The National Theatre of Costa Rica, also known as Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica is a textbook example of the neoclassical style which was popular in Latin America after its introduction by the French architect Émile Bénard in the late 19th Century.
It opened to public viewing on October 21st, 1897 with a performance of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Faust.
The National Theatre is one of Costa Rica’s most famous landmarks and has hosted performances for over a century.
It is located in Costa Rica’s capital city, San Jose. Costa Rican President Federico Tinoco Granados named it Costa Rica’s National Theatre in 1931.
It was restored to its original state by architects Roberto Castro Brenes and José Mora Hernandez in the second half of the 20th Century. The work was finished in 1973.
This beautiful theatre has large seats, a spacious stage, and a wonderful acoustical system. The theatre has hosted many famous Costa Rican and international performers and events, including the Costa Rican Bach Festival, Costa Rica Ballet Company, and many more.
The Costa Rican National Theatre is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:00 am to 5:30 pm and on Sunday from 10:00 am to 4:30 pm. It is closed on Mondays.
The National Museum of Costa Rica and the National Theatre in San Jose are two of the most famous landmarks in Costa Rica and are relatively close to each other, making them perfect for a day trip.
Every country has well-known tourist attractions, but this pair is especially popular with locals as well as visitors who come to visit.
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3. Guayabo National Monument
Location: Cartago Province, Turrialba, Costa Rica
One of the most famous places in Costa Rica is Guayabo National Monument. This archeological site is near the Turrialba district, within a national forest.
Located near San José and overlooking the Central Valley, the monument covers about 2.3 square kilometers (0.89 sq mi) and is surrounded by green rainforest vegetation due to high precipitation and rich soils.
Only a small part has been excavated; however, scientists are continuing to study it for more insight into Costa Rican history.
The Costa Rican government declared it a National Monument by decree in 1939.
Guayabo was once the capital of Costa Rica, and its ceremonial center has been named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The name Guayabo is Spanish for “big tree” or “old oak”.
In the early 20th century, Costa Rica became known for having the largest oak trees in Latin America.
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4. Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol
Location: Frente a la Plaza Mayor, Avenida Central, Cartago Province, Cartago, Costa Rica
The Church of Apostol Santiago (or Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol [The Incomplete Temple of Saint James the Apostle]) is one of the most famous Christian landmarks in Costa Rica. It can be found in Cartago and it is called La Iglesia del Tope or “The Topped Church”.
It was first laid down centuries ago in 1563 and was built on top of a native ceremonial center.
It was called the Incomplete Temple because the Costa Rican soldiers who originally started building it couldn’t finish!
They made up for it later though. When Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948, they gave a cannon to the church and it is now sitting outside of the Church of Apostol Santiago.
Costa Rica abolished its army after WW2. Seeing the horrors this devastating conflict had wrought worldwide, Costa Rica no longer wanted to be involved in any type of conflict.
In 1996, the government implemented the Public Force of Costa Rica to fill the void. The Public Force now acts as a police force and border patrol force.
The Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol is a popular tourist attraction because people can climb up into the central tower, walk around the miniature city with Costa Rican monuments, and climb up into the steeple of the church.
Not only is it a historical landmark but many Costa Ricans still use this church every Sunday for mass.
Costa Rica is such a beautiful country because of places like Costa Rica’s famous landmark, the Templo Inconcluso de Santiago Apóstol.
It is now known as La Iglesia del Tope (The Topped Church). Costa Ricans also call this landmark El Templo del Órgano.
This name comes from Costa Ricans calling the church’s tall spire, the organ. Costa Rica is often represented by this landmark because it has been Costa Rican and famous for hundreds of years.
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5. Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles
Location: Calle 1, Provincia de Cartago, Cartago, Costa Rica
One of Costa Rica’s most famous monuments is the Virgen de los Angeles, also known as La Negrita.
Costa Ricans believe the statue of the Virgin Mary brought them protection during Costa Rica’s first civil war, and Costa Rican authorities declared it a national monument in 1877.
La Negrita can be found in Cartago’s city square, where Costa Ricans often pray to her for health and happiness.
If you visit Costa Rica, make sure to stop by the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels, and be sure to say a prayer for Costa Rica.
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6. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
Location: Puntarenas Province, Quepos, Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio National Park (or Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio) is located less than 130 kilometers from San Jose and just south of Quepos on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
This small national park has been a popular tourist attraction for over three decades.
One of Costa Rica’s first national parks, this place is an oasis on the country’s coast to protect monkeys, native predators, and Costa Rica’s fragile ecosystems.
As one of the world’s 12 most beautiful national parks, this 1,983-ha land area welcomes up to 150,000 annual visitors and has a beautiful beach in the middle of the park.
Most Costa Rican national parks are open to the public 365 days a year during daylight hours. Costa Rica’s Costa Rican National Park is open to the public daily from 7:00 am until dusk. It is definitely among the best destination to visit in the world.
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7. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve
Location: Carretera a Reserva de Monteverde, Provincia de Puntarenas, Monteverde, Costa Rica
Monteverde is a district of the Puntarenas canton in Costa Rica’s Puntarenas province. It is located in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range and draws travelers to view its natural landscapes.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has high visibility as a major ecotourism destination, alongside other Costa Rica nature preserves like La Selva Biological Station and the Daniel Ángel Public Park.
The Costa Rican government established the Monteverde Nature Preserve in 1970 to protect Costa Rica’s cloud forest, making it Costa Rica’s first protected area.
Newsweek has declared Monteverde the world’s 14th best “Place to Remember Before it Disappears”. National Geographic has called the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve “the jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves”.
Monteverde and its beautiful landscape of forests and green areas were ranked one of the Seven Natural Wonders of Costa Rica. Santa Elena is a tourist hub.
It also includes rural farming land which serves as an agricultural economic base for the region.
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8. Místico Arenal Hanging Bridges
Location: 2km este de la represa del Lago Arenal, La Fortuna de, Provincia de Alajuela, La Fortuna, 21007, Costa Rica
The Arenal Hanging Bridges (Mistico Park) are a series of suspension bridges in the Volcán Arenal National Park area, offering views of Lake Arenal and Volcan Arenal. These bridges form part of the Arenal Hanging Bridges Ecological Park.
Costa Rica’s Volcanic National Parks (Arenal, Poás, Irazú, and Rincón de la Vieja) offer tourists a natural experience in Costa Rica that cannot be found elsewhere.
The two bridges are known as Sky Bridge and Heliconia Bridge, where visitors can enjoy a snack or meal at the small restaurant of La Casa de la Roca.
The bridges are among Costa Rica’s most famous tourist attractions, and they are the biggest tourist asset in Costa Rica’s northern zone, attracting more than 100,000 visitors per month.
Arenal Hanging Bridges Ecological Park invites tourists to cross the 20 meters (66 ft) of cable to explore Costa Rica’s tropical forest and surrounding scenery.
The Arenal Hanging Bridges are part of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destination, the Arenal Volcano area. Costa Rica has a complex system of highways that is based on a series of arterial roads crossing Costa Rica from North to South.
Costa Rica’s highway system is Costa Rica’s primary transportation backbone, connecting the country from one end to the other and beyond. Some of these roads are toll roads, such as the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border highway.
A landmark of Costa Rica is Parque Nacional Palo Verde. Here, you can see highland bird species such as bellbirds and trees like yema huevo or maquenque. Lowland bird species (like toucans and crested guans) are also found in the park.
The treetop is where different birds and butterflies live. We can’t see them from the ground but you can see them if you climb to the top of a tree – an experience you won’t soon forget!
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9. Parque Nacional Corcovado
Location: Los Patos Sirena Trail, Puntarenas Province, Costa Rica
Corcovado National Park is a national park in Costa Rica. It is on the Osa Peninsula and it has an area of 424 square kilometers.
Established in 1975, Corcovado National Park was created to protect the Osa Conservation Area.
It is the largest park in Costa Rica, and nearly a third of the Osa Peninsula is protected within it. It is widely regarded as a gem in Costa Rica’s extensive system of national parks and biological reserves.
Costa Rica is very well-known for its immense ecological variety. According to National Geographic, it’s the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity.
Adventuring in and restoring tropical forests is important because they can have a profound impact on the environment. It truly is a wonderful destination to take a stroll and admire its beauty.
Despite efforts to preserve its native flora and fauna, Costa Rica is not the most progressive nation and its economy relies heavily on tourism.
This presents a profound threat to its land and biodiversity because tourists often wander off into restricted zones in search of wildlife that would otherwise remain undisturbed.
Unfortunately, this means damage and Corcovado is sadly one of those parks that have been irreparably damaged by tourists.
That said, Costa Rica’s Corcovado National Park is still one of the most bio-diverse places on Earth, though it has been named as the country’s most severely damaged protected area since it was established in 1975.
Protecting Costa Rica’s natural resources has been a major issue. Despite environmental activists’ best efforts to maintain the country’s pristine landscapes and wildlife variety, government officials are still reluctant in their plans to repair and preserve Corcovado National Park.
Costa Ricans have remained committed to protecting these national treasures even if they can’t protect them forever. Costa Rican officials are starting to realize this fact and change, while slow is happening, hopefully in time to save Corcovado National Park.
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10. Plaza de la Cultura
Location: Av. Central, Catedral, San José, Costa Rica
The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (Spanish: Museo del Oro Precolombino, officially Spanish: Museo de Oro Precolombino Álvaro Vargas Echeverría) is one of the best attractions to visit in Costa Rica.
It’s most famous for its extensive gold exhibits and has something for everyone. For kids, there are hands-on exhibits that show how Costa Rican gold is made as well as a simulated mine to ride through.
For the older teens, there is a small bar with Costa Rican Rum, where you can learn about how rum is produced from sugar cane. Also, there are Costa Rican art exhibits consisting of Costa Rican folk art.
The Costa Rican music exhibit is very well done, and there are Costa Rican films playing that give a taste of the Costa Rica culture.
Plaza de la Cultura (Culture Square) is located in front of the National Theater in San José. It’s popular with tourists because it is home to the Costa Rican Coffee Institute, Costa Rica Immigration office, and Costa Rica Tourism Board.
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11. Parque Morazán y Templo de la Música
Location: Calle 7, El Carmen, San José Province, San José, Costa Rica
Parque Morazán y Templo de la Música (or Parque Morazán Temple of Music) is a famous music pavillion and one of the most important landmarks in Costa Rica’s capital city.
Costa Rica is famous for its popularity with tourists, and as a result, it has several international flights, ferrying in folks to experience Costa Rica’s diverse culture, customs, and traditions, as well as its unique wildlife and natural landscapes.
The Costa Rican government typically only closes schools and government offices on the Costa Rican holidays.
The holidays are December 25, January 1, February 27, Holy Thursday, All Saints Day (November 1), Constitution Day (October 12), and Labor Day (May 1).
Depending on when this is shared or published in Costa Rica the park may be open.
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12. Museo del Jade
Location: y 13 bis, Av. Central, San José Province, San José, Costa Rica
The Museo del Jade is a museum covering ancient native Americans in San Jose, Costa Rica. It’s been relocated recently to Plaza de la Democracia.
Opened in 1977 by Fidel Tristán Castro, the first president of INS, it contains the world’s largest collection of Jade artifacts found in Costa Rica.
As a result, the Costa Rican Jade Museum is one of the most famous landmarks in Costa Rica. The Costa Rican Jade Museum is open Tuesday-Sunday 9 AM-5 PM.
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13. Braulio Carrillo National Park
Location: Quebrada Gonzalez, Carr. San Jose Limon KM 2, Heredia Province, Costa Rica
The Braulio Carrillo National Park in Heredia Province and San José Province is part of the international conservation area.
The park is located in Costa Rica’s Costa Rican Coastal Mountain Range and consists of a wide range of animal habitats. The forests in the Braulio Carrillo National Park are tropical rainforests.
There are also some dry forests in the Costa Rican Coastal Mountain Range, which is also known as Costa Rica’s “Cloud Forest”.
The Braulio Carrillo National Park attracts many Costa Ricans to hike, camp, birdwatch, or simply enjoy the views from one of Costa Rica’s highest points.
The Costa Rican Coastal Mountain Range is Costa Rica’s longest mountain range and also the highest. The Costa Rican Coastal Mountain Range has an average height of about 1000 m above sea level.
As Costa Rica’s first civil park, it was named after Costa Rica’s first president, Braulio Evaristo Carrillo Colina, who was overthrown in a coup d’état by Rafael Angel Calderon in 1894 after only 5 years in office.
Costa Rica’s Mountain Range is colloquially called “Carrillo”.
This Costa Rica landmark is open year-round.
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14. Catarata Río Fortuna
Location: 21007, Provincia de Alajuela, La Fortuna, 21007, Costa Rica
Catarata Río Fortuna is the tallest and largest waterfall in Costa Rica and is easily among Costa Rica’s most famous landmarks.
The falls have an elevation of 1,200 meters. The waterfall itself has a whopping 400-meter drop and its total height is around five times taller than the Statue of Liberty.
The Río Fortuna volcanic mountain range, in Costa Rica, contains this waterfall which was created when Costa Rica’s first volcano erupted millions of years ago.
The Catarata Rio Fortuna is open every day, but only Costa Rican citizens can enjoy Catarata Río Fortuna up close.
Non Costa Ricans must either take a day tour of Costa Rica or book a stay at the nearby Rincón de la Vieja volcano area hotel if they want to enjoy Catarata Rio Fortuna.
The falls may be viewed from viewing platforms, and have footpaths for closer viewing. A steep road provides access to the base of this waterfall.
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15. Irazu Volcano National Park
Location: Cartago Province, Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of a few countries in the world where you can still find virgin forests, and Irazu Volcano National Park is Costa Rica’s most popular rainforest park.
It covers an area of more than 2 million acres (8,000 km2) and contains 13 species of monkeys, 5 species of sloths, and 400 other animal species that inhabit this Costa Rican paradise.
Costa Rica has two seasons; the rainy season from May to December which provides water for orchids and cocoa plants found in this Costa Rican national park.
The dry season from January to April is when most Costa Ricans visit these natural wonders.
Irazu Volcano National Park is open every day of the year except Tuesdays, and the park is busiest on weekends.
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16. Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal
Location: Calle Real el Castillo, Alajuela Province, Costa Rica
Arenal Volcano National Park, in Costa Rica’s central Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area, offers visitors a glimpse of the natural beauty that awaits them.
Although not the largest park in Costa Rica, this national park was certainly one of the most well-known to tourists because it includes a volcano that had been dormant since 1968.
Until 1968, the Arenal Volcano hadn’t erupted for over 500 years!
The country’s largest hydroelectric project can be found at Lake Arenal Dam, while these mountains hold Costa Rica’s oldest cloud forest and a wealth of Costa Rican wildlife.
This Costa Rica National Park is home to 3,000 plant species (of which one-third can be found nowhere else on Earth), 400 species of resident birds, and 50 different amphibians and reptiles.
There are also more than 100 types of mammals (including white-faced capuchin monkeys).
There are many different things that the national park protects. These include 8 of Costa Rica’s 12 life zones, 16 reserves, and Lake Arenal. It can be easily accessed by La Fortuna and Tilarán.
The park has a nice variety of plants, including orchids and figs.
Arenal Volcano National Park is open every day of the year except Tuesdays, and the park is busiest on weekends.
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17. Catholic Church of Playas del Coco
Location: H822+5R9, Provincia de Guanacaste, Coco, Costa Rica|
This Costa Rican Catholic Church is one of the most recognizable religious buildings in Costa Rica.
It was built to replace an older church that burned down and reflects many of the cultural aspects of coastal Christian life in Latin America.
As one of the most famous landmarks in Costa Rica, this church is instantly recognizable from its vividly bright red doors, with gold trim. It can be seen from miles away in any direction.
As you walk closer to the building, these big red doors dominate your vision and serve as a warm welcome into this beautiful island country!
The Church of Playas del Coco was designed by Costa Rican architect Kimi Reyes who used many Costa Rican styles such as the color red (often Costa Rica’s most prominent color on buildings,) bright tropical colors, and white.
Inside the church, you will be surrounded by wooden features that are typical of Costa Rican woodworking.
Along the far wall is a mural depicting Costa Rica’s history painted by Carlos Castro and cast in rich colors. There also hangs a magnificent chandelier made for this specific space by Costa Ricans.
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Costa Rica is an absolute paradise with many natural wonders that are well-known for drawing in tourists from all over the world.
As mentioned before, Costa Rica has two seasons: the rainy season and the dry season. The rainy season offers water for the diverse and vast range of flora in this beautiful place.
On the other hand, the dry season brings visitors to these natural wonderlands to enjoy Costa Ricans’ favorite activities such as hiking through rainforests just like Tarzan!
Whether you’re looking for an active vacation destination or one filled with lush greenery and wildlife – Costa Rica’s got it covered.
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