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24 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica & Things to Do

24 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica & Things to Do

Costa Rica, a jewel between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, is renowned for its stunning cultural sites, abundant wildlife reserves, mystical cloud forests, and commitment to eco-tourism. Here are the best places to visit in Costa Rica to make the most of your trip.

Costa Rica is a small Central American country with a rich history, which can be traced back to the time of the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations. Over the centuries, this country has been ruled by a number of different countries, including Spain, Portugal, and Mexico.

But today, the constant pursuit of Pura Vida becomes not just a journey through breathtaking natural landscapes but a deep dive into the heart of conservation and cultural respect.

Costa Rica is home to over 5% of the world’s biodiversity, making it one of the most beautiful and diverse countries. And in a changing climate, you must visit before it’s too late. I’ve enjoyed all of my several trips here and can’t wait to go back.

Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica & Things to Do

1. Arenal Volcano National Park

Cloudy Arenal Volcano from The Springs Resort
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Arenal Volcano is a central landmark of Arenal, the self-declared adventure capital of Costa Rica. Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the most beautiful places that surrounds the Arenal Volcano.

The park is full of lush green forests and provides stunning views of the volcano. The park also has many hiking trails for nature lovers, which lead to waterfalls and other stunning areas.

This national park features one of the world’s most active volcanoes and heavenly scenery that will take your breath away! La Fortuna Waterfall is located in the National Park and is a must-visit. You can hike to the top of the falls or relax in the pools below.

See Related: Best Travel Lightroom Presets

2. Manuel Antonio National Park

Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan in Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Named after President Manuel A. Figueres Ferrer (the founder of democracy in Costa Rica), this park offers amazing hikes through jungles and waterfalls!

Manuel Antonio National Park is located on the Central Western Coast of Costa Rica, and it’s famous for its beautiful beaches and untamed rainforest.

There are many things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park, but some highlights include hiking, swimming, and spotting wildlife. The park is home to monkeys, sloths, and tropical birds, so keep your eyes peeled as you explore.

Small Monkey on a Tree at  Manuel Antonio National Park

Be sure also to spend time relaxing on the beach – the perfect way to end a day of adventure in Manuel Antonio National Park.

See Related: Essential Travel Tips for Visiting Costa Rica

3. Tamarindo

Sunset over Playa Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

If you’re looking for a great place to visit in Costa Rica, check out Tamarindo! This beach town is known for its incredible surfing conditions with its gentle waves along Tamarindo Beach, and it’s the perfect place to relax and soak up the sun.

You’ll also find plenty of great restaurants and bars in Tamarindo, so you won’t have to go far for a good time. The culture of Tamarindo is heavily influenced by its proximity to the beach.

Locals are known for being laid-back and friendly, and you’ll find that people here are always ready to have a good time. Tamarindo is also home to a diverse mix of cultures, and you’ll see evidence of this in the town’s architecture, food, and music.

We stayed at El Capitan Suizo and loved the experience of staying in a room on the beach. Read our full review of staying at El Capitan Suizo to get an authentic perspective of what it’s like staying here.

4. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Small Waterfall in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Valerija Dmitrijeva / Adobe Stock

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a popular tourist destination in Costa Rica for a legitimate reason. This reserve is a haven for the most fascinating wildlife in the country, including howling monkeys, colorful frogs, and jaguars.

You’ll also find plenty of beautiful waterfalls and hiking trails in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, so it’s the perfect place to get outdoors and explore.

Keep a watch on the local wildlife with an unmissable wildlife spotting tour, or take it up a notch and zipline through the canopies to get the heart racing.

See Related: Best Costa Rica Excursions to Book Today

5. Cocos Island National Park

View over Wafers Bay on Cocos Island, Costa Rica
ingusk / Adobe Stock

Cocos Island is incredibly underrated and has marvels rivaling the Galapagos Islands’ wonders. This incredible national park is tough to reach.

Most people don’t even know about it, and it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a famed spot for incredible whale watching! Isla del Coco is world-famous for diving. It is appropriate for all divers, but most visitors are intermediate-level divers.

The waters are cold, between 55 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit, depending on the time of year. There are white-tip reef sharks and humpback whales that reside here year-round.

This national park is one of the most pristine that you will find in Costa Rica. You might even see some dolphins on your trip. It’s a real-life Isla Nublar for the Jurassic Park fans out there.

No, seriously, there is a Jurassic Park on the island. If you want to see our beautiful planet Earth in its raw form, this is the place to do it. Come prepared!

See Related: Best Whale Watching Places in the World

6. Montezuma

Waves Crashing Along the Shores of Montezuma Beach

Montezuma captivates with its relaxed ambiance and rich natural beauty. Thrill-seekers can zip-line through rainforests or hike Montezuma Hill for panoramic views. For a gentler pace, canopy tours offer an immersive jungle experience. Horseback rides along the beach provide a unique perspective of the coastline.

To get there from San Jose, a three-hour bus ride showcases the countryside. However, taxis and rental cars are available for those preferring direct travel, albeit at a higher cost or with navigation challenges. Montezuma is a destination that effortlessly combines tranquility with adventure.

See Related: Top Outdoor Activities in Costa Rica

7. Bay of Papagayo & Papagayo Peninsula

Aerial of the Ocean and Island in Papagayo Peninsula
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Located in the northwest corner of Costa Rica, the Bay of Papagayo and Papagayo Peninsula encapsulate the essence of tranquility and untouched beauty. I’ve stayed in this area several times and am always greeted by incredible sunsets, lovely beaches, and tropical rainforests at the nearby Santa Rosa National Park.

The peninsula, a haven of luxury amidst nature’s splendor, offers an array of world-class resorts that promise an escape into complete relaxation and vacay mode. There are a number of beautiful beaches near the Papagayo Peninsula, and each beach in the vicinity of Papagayo tells its own story of charm and allure.

Playa Hermosa, with its crystal-clear waters, became my sanctuary for moments of peace beneath the sun. At Playa Panama, the rhythm of the waves matched the heartbeat of local culture, offering a taste of Costa Rica’s renowned seafood.

Meanwhile, Playa Danta and Playa Ocotal are presented as canvases of natural beauty, inviting me to unwind and revel in the simple joys of sunbathing and morning strolls along miles of soft sand.

See Related: Where to Stay in Costa Rica on the Beach

8. Rincon de la Vieja

Bridge in Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Rincon de la Vieja is a volcano in the Guanacaste province of Costa Rica. It’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, thanks to its stunning natural scenery and the variety of activities available.

Some things you can do at Rincon de la Vieja include hiking, zip-lining, horseback riding, whitewater rafting, and swimming. A must-visit is the Rio Negro Hot Springs, where you can soak several different temperatures of hot springs and take a mud bath.

I tried this, and I felt ten years younger. It was incredible. Here’s a picture of the entrance to the Rio Negro Hot Springs. After this one, I took no other pictures since I thoroughly enjoyed myself in the hot springs.

Relaxing Rio Negro Hot Springs amid lush Costa Rican forest
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

There are a number of great places to stay near Rincon de la Vieja, including the Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin, Hacienda Guachipelin Volcano Ranch Hotel & Hot Springs, and Hotel Casa Conde. All of these resorts offer great amenities and views of the volcano.

9. Tortuguero National Park

Sea turtle digging in the sand in Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
Jarno Gonzalez Zarraonandia / Shutterstock

Costa Rica is home to many beautiful places, but one of the most stunning is Tortuguero National Park. Most notable for its vast array of nesting leatherback sea turtles.

This park is known for its lush tropical rainforest and miles of unspoiled beaches. It’s also a great place to see wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and crocodiles.

There are many great places to stay near Tortuguero National Park. Still, one of the best is the Mawamba Lodge since it is located in the park’s heart and offers guests an incredibly unique and memorable adventure.

10. Nosara

Aerial View of the Boats and Beach in Nosara, Costa Rica

The Nicoya Peninsula is located on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and is known for its beautiful beaches and lush rainforest. Some of the best places to visit on the Nicoya Peninsula include Nosara, Tamarindo, and Santa Teresa.

Nosara is a small town known for being a fantastic beach destination with beautiful beaches and thriving rainforests. There are options to suit various interests in Nosara, from surfing and stand-up paddleboarding to ziplining and wildlife spotting.

11. Irazu Volcan National Park

Lake Surrounded by Mountains in Irazu Volcan National Park

Irazú Volcano National Park is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica. The park is named after Irazú, the country’s second most active volcano.

The volcano is located in the Cordillera Central mountain range and is a part of the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Irazú Volcano National Park was established in 1965 and covers an area of 58 square kilometers.

The park features various landscapes, including rainforest, cloud forest, paramo, and lava fields. Visitors can also enjoy hot springs, waterfalls, and crater lakes.

Irazú Volcano is known for its spectacular eruptions, which can be seen from great distances. The last major eruption took place just 20 years ago.

See Related: Day Trips from San José, Costa Rica

12. Dominical

Waterfall in Dominical, Costa Rica

Dominical is an island retreat for tropical backpackers with rickety wooden houses, stunning beaches, budget lodgings, laid-back restaurants, and a decent ambiance. Costa Rica’s Dominical is one of Central America’s best surfing locations.

Surfers who visit the region are trapped, and visits frequently extend. Dominical also draws a wealthy crowd that prefers small luxury hotels located on hills or overlooking the town’s outskirts.

They’re commonly set apart from one another, giving guests a close-up view of species such as howler monkeys rousing them at sunrise and toucans flying by pools.

See Related: Beaches in Costa Rica to Visit

13. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Surfer Walking Along the Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Coast

If you want a truly unique Costa Rican experience, visit Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. This town is located in the Caribbean region of Costa Rica, and it has a vibe that’s very different from the rest of the country.

It has tiny cantinas and ramshackle eateries, with the scent of coconut curries and reggaeton music in the air. The laid-back atmosphere of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca attracts travelers looking to immerse themselves in the local Afro-Caribbean culture.

The stunning beaches, golden sands, and turquoise waters are perfect for swimming, surfing, or relaxing under a palm tree. Visitors can also explore the nearby Cahuita National Park, known for its lush rainforest teeming with wildlife and beautiful coral reefs just off the coast.

While there, don’t miss the opportunity to try delicious Caribbean dishes like rice and beans, plantains, and fresh seafood.

14. San José

Mountain Range in San Jose, Costa Rica

San José is the capital of Costa Rica and is home to many fun things to do. The city is clean and friendly, with many century-old and modern buildings.

There are activities for every day of the year all over the city so it would be difficult not to find something you like. Some of the best things to see and do in San José include:

  • Visit the National Museum of Costa Rica, which contains exhibits on the history, culture, and natural history of Costa Rica.
  • Walk through Plaza de la Cultura, home to beautiful architecture and several museums.
  • Explore the botanical gardens at La Sabana Park.
  • Visit the Gold Museum, which displays Costa Rican treasures such as pre-Columbian gold.

The best places to stay in San José are tailored to your budget and preferences. Budget-friendly hostels and hotels cater to economical travelers. For those seeking luxury, exceptional options await.

Alta Hotel is a great boutique hotel in a quiet neighborhood with beautiful gardens. Meanwhile, Gran Hotel Costa Rica, A Curio Collection By Hilton, is centrally located in the city and offers a great blend of price and quality.

15. Puntarenas

Trees and Beach in Puntarenas, Costa Rica

The delightful coastal city of Puntarenas is only about an hour and a half from San José. There’s no shortage of things to do in the entire Puntarenas Province, such as taking a boat tour, bird watching, or enjoying the fabulous food.

While here, go on a boat tour and enjoy the beautiful ocean views and abundant wildlife, such as dolphins, sea turtles, and colorful birds.

Also, take a day trip to Tortuga Island, where you can hike, snorkel, swim, and dine, with the option to rent a paddle board or waverunner.

Sample some of the country’s best cuisine in Puntarenas’ many restaurants and the fabulous beaches this town offers.

The Hotel Las Brisas is a good choice for accommodation if you’d like an affordable place to stay. The hotel offers basic amenities like hot water and Wi-Fi but has a fantastic beachfront view.

See Related: Costa Rica Packing List: What to Pack for Your Trip

16. Explore Playa Bonita and the town of Limon

Beach in Limon, Costa Rica
Stephan / Adobe Stock

Venturing into Limon, Costa Rica, felt like stepping into a living, breathing postcard featuring nature’s untamed beauty and cultural liveliness. Limon, a province where protected lands dominate, offers an unparalleled exploration of dense jungles, towering mountains, and serene beaches, each a sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna.

South of the town of Limon along the Caribbean Coast features another charming town to visit in the province, Puerto Viejo. Puerto Viejo’s rhythmic blend of music, exquisite beaches, and culinary delights provided a captivating backdrop to my adventures.

Limon’s unique charm, calm Caribbean beach, and annual carnivals make this spot one of the most underrated regions of Costa Rica.

See Related: Is Costa Rica Safe To Visit? (A Guide for Travelers)

17. Central Valley and Highlands

Poás volcano crater
Marco / Adobe Stock

The Central Valley and Highlands of Costa Rica are must-visits for their breathtaking volcanoes, lush coffee plantations, and Tico culture. This region offers outdoor adventure and authentic local experiences, such as coffee plantations and delicious restaurants, against stunning natural beauty and a pleasant year-round climate.

Visit La Paz Waterfall Gardens, where you can hike through trails, swim in natural pools, zip line over one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful waterfalls, or ride on the Sky Tram, which takes you dizzyingly close to the falls.

Spot monkeys, toucans, sloths, and other exotic wildlife at Selva Verde, an animal rescue center that helps injured animals reintegrate into the wild.

Visit the Poás Volcano, a popular national park where you can hike around an active volcano and take in panoramic views from the observation points. If you have time, check out the Casa Presidencial Museum or Museo de los Niños to learn more about Costa Rican history.

18. Las Catalinas

Aerial View of the Las Catalinas Island

If you’re looking for a stunning beach town in Costa Rica, check out Las Catalinas. This picturesque town is located on the Pacific coast and is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the country.

This town is newly developed and seeks to be completely car-free. You can drive through the town, but you must park your car outside the town limits.

There’s plenty to do in Las Catalinas, Costa Rica, from swimming and sunbathing on the beach to hiking and exploring the lush green forests. On a scuba-diving tour, you could even plunge and see what marvels lie beneath the waves.

In addition, the town is home to several restaurants, bars, and a few small shops. Getting to Las Catalinas is easy but adventurous – fly into the Liberia Airport. We recommend taking a private shuttle or renting a car.

You’ll drive on the Monkey Trail near the Congo Trail, where you’ll get to drive through your first river. Welcome to Costa Rica!

19. Catarate Del Toro Waterfall

Catarata del Toro waterfall with surrounding mountains in Costa Rica
Nick Fox / Adobe Stock

The Catarate Del Toro Waterfall, located in the province of Cartago, is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica and maybe even Central America. This is a unique volcanic landscape with a dramatic waterfall in the crater, surrounded by lush green forest and tropical plants.

The waterfall is within the crater of an extinct volcano and is best viewed at sunrise. It’s worth waking up that early for. This is one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

While technically just outside of San Jose, this small beach town has some fantastic hotels and resorts. Getting to Catarate Del Toro Waterfall is easy. Just take the highway from San Jose to Cartago and follow the signs. It’s next to the highway, so you can’t miss it.

20. Corcovado National Park

Brown Monkey on a Tree Branch  in Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. This park is located on the remote Osa Peninsula of southwestern Costa Rica and is known for its fantastic wildlife.

You can see classic Costa Rican animals like jaguars, tapirs, and monkeys in the park, and it’s also a great place to go birdwatching.

There are a few different places to stay near Corcovado National Park. A great option is the Lapa Rios Eco Lodge, just outside the park, which offers cabins with views of the rainforest and river below. It also has a variety of activities available, such as hikes, birdwatching, and yoga classes.

You can stay at the Bosque del Cabo Rainforest Lodge if you want a more luxurious option. This lodge is located right on the beach and has luxury cabins. It also offers surfing lessons, yoga classes, and massages.

21. Jacó

Jacó Beach at sunset
TrylMag / Shutterstock

Jacó, located on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica, features a laid-back vibe and affordable luxury and serves as an excellent destination to create your own Costa Rica memories.

Jacó is a popular tourist destination thanks to its dynamic nightlife and beaches, which offer excellent surfing and swimming conditions.

Here, you can quickly be immersed in the simple joys of savoring the rich flavors of a traditional casado, the country’s national dish, and experiencing the adrenaline rush of ziplining over lush forest canopies.

While visiting, check out El Miro, the abandoned mansion turned graffiti-adorned lookout featuring panoramic Playa Jacó views. A short drive away, Carara National Park reveals itself as a revelation.

Here, visitors encounter the majestic beauty of Costa Rica’s wildlife, from crocodiles resting along the Tárcoles River to the colorful plumage of macaws and toucans adorning the treetops. The park’s famed Crocodile Bridge offers an exhilarating glimpse into the primal beauty of nature, untouched and raw.

22. Playa Conchal

Aerial View of the Ocean and Island in Playa Conchal
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Playa Conchal is a beautiful beach located in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. The beach is known for its white sand and crystal-clear water. It’s a must-see for anyone visiting Costa Rica.

There are plenty of things to do in Playa Conchal, Costa Rica. Whether you’re looking to relax on the beach or explore the surrounding area and its natural beauty, you’ll find plenty to keep you busy. Some of the best things to do in Playa Conchal include:

  • Relax on the beach or take a dip in the crystal-clear water.
  • Visit the nearby villages and learn about local culture.
  • Take a boat tour of the area’s beautiful coastline and maybe fit in some snorkeling along the way.

Check out one of the many luxury resorts in Playa Conchal. These resorts offer everything from private beaches to world-class restaurants, and they will make your vacation unforgettable. If you’re on a tight budget, don’t worry! There are plenty of affordable hostels in Playa Conchal as well.

Read Also: Things to Do in Liberia

23. Braulio Carrillo National Park

Hiker going through Braulio Carrillo National Park
Jakub Maculewicz / Shutterstock

Set within the dramatic landscapes of Costa Rica’s Central Volcanic Range, Braulio Carrillo National Park is a testament to nature’s splendor, offering adventurers a chance to immerse themselves in its breathtaking biodiversity.

With its towering volcanoes, such as Barva and Cacho Negro, and its dense forests stretching across steep topography, the park is a sanctuary of flora and fauna, boasting spots that feel untouched by time.

Here, the sheer variety of flora, including the majestic manú caoba and towering ceiba, paints a complex botanical ecosystem that is as educational as it is beautiful.

For those crafting an itinerary rich in nature and adventure, Braulio Carrillo offers trails through rainforests filled with the calls of macaws, echoing the park’s rich fauna diversity. Braulio Carrillo National Park is an excellent example of the expanse of wild Costa Rica, with its paths leading to serene vistas and rivers carving through canyons.

24. Islas Murcielagos

Aerial View of Islas Murcielagos, Costa Rica
Paul Urena Mora / Shutterstock

The Islas Murcielagos, or Bat Islands, are a group of uninhabited islands off the northwest coast of Costa Rica. These islands are best known for their excellent scuba diving and snorkeling conditions and their populations of marine animals, including dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles.

This is one of the best places to scuba dive in Central America… But only if you dare enter the waters.

When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

Hiking adventure at La Leona Waterfall, Costa Rica's hidden canyon gem
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

Ideally, you’ll want to visit Costa Rica in the dry season, from December to April. Just remember that the high season runs around Christmas time, so be prepared for potentially higher costs, larger crowds, and fewer options for accommodation and activities if you don’t book ahead.

If you want lower costs, the shoulder months of November and May are also brilliant options. The weather is still agreeable, and the crowds even more so! You might even manage to get some cheaper accommodation options around this time if you’re after saving some money.

Costa Rica has many notable attractions, including its many national parks, which allow most visitors to see some of the country’s most beautiful and pristine landscapes. Some popular parks include Manuel Antonio National Park, Corcovado National Park, and Santa Rosa National Park.

Read Also: Essential Excursions in Costa Rica

Costa Rice Video Travel Guide

But be sure to watch the ViaTravelers YouTube video below about what it’s like visiting Costa Rica. If you love to travel, consider subscribing to the YouTube channel.

We’re posting travel vlogs and guides about destinations we love worldwide, so if you love to travel as much as we do, you won’t want to miss the next update. Check out our other Costa Rica articles and our full Costa Rica travel guide to learn more about this fantastic country.

In the meantime, Pura Vida.

FAQ

What is the prettiest city in Costa Rica?

San José is the capital and largest city in Costa Rica. It is also the country’s artistic and cultural center, home to many theaters, museums, and galleries.

The city features pleasant weather year-round, with an average temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Beyond that, the Guanacaste Province is exceptional with its gorgeous beaches and Pacific Coast waves.

What should you not miss in Costa Rica?

There are a lot of things to see and do in Costa Rica, but here are some of the most popular, including the beaches on the Pacific Coast, the vast rainforest, the coffee plantations, visit the volcanoes in Fortuna and Arenal, and check out the wildlife at Manuel Antonio National Park.

What places should you visit in Costa Rica?

This is a difficult question because it all depends on what you like. There are tons of national parks, volcanoes, plantations, waterfalls, and beaches. Beyond this, several outstanding resorts, hotels, and fantastic beach towns like Nosara, Tamarindo, and Playa Conchal exist.

Where is the best place to go in Costa Rica for the first time?

For your first time visiting Costa Rica, consider visiting the Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna region. This area is bursting at the seams with outdoor activity options that provide an effortless blend of adventure and natural beauty.

One day, you could be hiking through the rainforest; the next, you’re testing your nerves on the rapids! Then, for some rest, bite in between and relax in a natural hot spring!

If you’re after packing in as many things to do in Costa Rica in one trip as possible, the Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna region are calling your name.

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