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18 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Costa Rica

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

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.

Wildlife

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: www.waterfallgardens.com

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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tourist hot spots costa rica

23 Epic Things to Do in Costa Rica

Updated Apr. 2, 2024

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

  • All Things To Do

tourist hot spots 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 . 

tourist hot spots 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.

tourist hot spots 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.

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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.

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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.

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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 .

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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.

tourist hot spots 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

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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.

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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.

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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. 

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tourist hot spots 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. 

tourist hot spots 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.

tourist hot spots 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.

tourist hot spots 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.

tourist hot spots 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).

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tourist hot spots 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.

tourist hot spots 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.

tourist hot spots costa rica

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The 19 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica in 2024

best-beaches-in-costa-rica

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!

top-places-to-visit-in-costa-rica

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

best-places-in-costa-rica

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

surfing-in-costa-rica

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

manuel-antonio-costa-rica

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

vacations-costa-rica

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

costa-rica-destinations

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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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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The 16 best things to do in Costa Rica

Mara Vorhees

Jan 26, 2024 • 9 min read

Stock photo of happy female friends laughing and talking in the streets of Costa Rica.

Read on for all the best experiences in Costa Rica from sleeping in a tree house to wild water sports © Kike Arnaiz / Stocksy United

Come to Costa Rica to discover magnificent landscapes, endless outdoor activities and creatures great and small. This smallish Central American country offers a world of adventure, from water sports to mountain hikes, and rainforest wildlife watching to cloud-forest birding. 

And when you’re ready to take a break from outdoor activities, there are tree houses to sleep in, meals to relish and cities to explore. Here are the 16 best things to do in Costa Rica.

A person walks on a beach in Nosara at sunset, surfboard in hand

1. Ride the waves

Surfers in the know plan their entire vacation around the wild and wonderful waves on the Costa Rica coastlines. If you're new to Costa Rica's surf scene, this is a fantastic place to find out what it’s all about thanks to inviting warm waters, long and luscious waves and non-stop good vibes.

The most popular surf destinations include Tamarindo , Nosara and Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula; Jacó , Dominical and Pavones on the central and south Pacific; and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean side.

Note that any given destination has a few different surf spots, some of which are better for beginners and others that offer more challenging waves. They all enjoy a bit of a party scene, though Nosara and Santa Teresa are more laid-back.

Planning tip: Find the biggest waves on the Pacific coast from May to October (though the dry season is better for beginners). The waves are biggest on the Caribbean side from November to May.

2. Fly through the clouds in Santa Elena

There are zip-line courses all around the country – some higher or faster or longer than others – but the Santa Elena canopy tours are special.

The Costa Rica canopy craze started here, but more importantly, there’s something fantastic about soaring over the treetops with the clouds swirling all around you. Take in the misty magic of the cloud forest, supercharged with an adrenaline rush.

Planning tip : While zip-lining is on many people's Costa Rica travel list, make sure you check your operator's safety procedures before committing. It's also okay to change your mind when you're there – zip-lining isn't for everyone.

3. Raft into the Pacuare Lodge

The Pacuare Lodge is a gorgeous, luxurious facility surrounded by dense rainforest and little else. The only road in is not a road at all, but rather a river: the namesake Río Pacuare.

Here is a case where the journey rivals the destination, as you travel to the lodge by white-water rafting over Class III-IV rapids on this world-famous river.

The roar of the rapids, the spectacular scenery and the thrill of the ride make for a fantastic adventure – and you’re just getting started. Once at the lodge, you’ll enjoy sumptuous accommodations, incredibly satisfying meals, super-attentive service and a roster of activities before rafting back out again.

Planning tip: Pacuare Lodge packages include transportation to and from San José, but you can also have them deliver you anywhere on the Caribbean Coast.

4. Commune with the creatures

For wildlife watchers, there’s no better place to meet Costa Rica's fauna than the trails around Sirena station in Parque Nacional Corcovado , the area  National Geographic called “the most biologically intense place on the planet.”

Here, visitors have a good chance of seeing animals (some endangered) that are rare in other parts of the country, including peccaries, tapirs, crocodiles, tiny squirrel monkeys and more. Note that the best wildlife watching happens at dawn and dusk, which necessitates an overnight stay in the park.

Easier to reach and rich with life, the regions of Río Celeste and Sarapiquí have many eco-lodges and private reserves that are also fantastic for wildlife watching.

5. Hike, swim and climb to La Leona Waterfall

This outing is more than a hike or a waterfall swim – it’s a canyoneering adventure. That’s the only way to describe this excursion down the Río Blanco in Curubandé de Liberia, which involves swimming, scrambling, spelunking, climbing and cliff jumping.

You’ll ogle three different waterfalls on the way, including a final celestial-blue beauty hidden inside a cave that's a real a stunner. 

Detour: This adventure takes place just outside of Parque Nacional Volcán Rincón de la Vieja , a great destination to see volcanic activity (more on that below) and soak in hot springs.

A tiny sea turtle peeks up from its nest in the sand on a Costa Rican Beach

6. Spy on nesting sea turtles

Every few years, female sea turtles perform an ancient ritual, returning to their natal beach to lay their eggs beneath the moonlight before returning to the welcoming waters of the sea.

Elsewhere on the same beach, tortuguita  (little turtle) hatchlings dig out of their nests and scurry to the sea. It’s an incredible and intimate episode to witness. 

Planning tip: The timing varies, depending on the location and turtle species, but you can see this spectacle of nature in Tortuguero in the north Caribbean and at Playa Grande and Playa Ostional on the Nicoya Peninsula.

7. Splurge on a multicourse meal in the sky

San Lucas is not just a restaurant; it's a dining experience – that is, a surprise nine-course menu that's also a lesson in Costa Rican history and culture.

The food presentations are innovative, interesting and excellent overall, but the highlight is the fantastic setting in the sky. Each table occupies a private glass cube high atop a mountainside, overlooking the cloud forest and the village of Santa Elena below.

Planning tip: The San Lucas Treetop Dining Experience offers two seatings per night. If you reserve for the early one, your first course comes with a spectacular sunset.

On the Sendero Las Coladas in Arenal Volcano National Park, a tourist climbs over the rocky remnants of the southernmost lava fields from the last major eruption of the Arenal Volcano in 1968.

8. Explore an active volcano

The mountains of northern and central Costa Rica are lined up in a row of hissing, steaming, sputtering volcanoes, some of which are open for exploration.

Wander among boiling mud pots and steaming fumaroles of Volcán Rincón de la Vieja ; hike the lava flows and soak in volcanic-heated pools at Volcán Arenal ; peer into the steaming crater at Poás and leave footprints in the lava fields of Irazú.

Each experience is a little different, but all will leave you awestruck at the earth’s unbridled power.

Want some help? Let Elsewhere plan your next trip.

9. Kayak through sea caves

Along the Costa Ballena on the southern Pacific coast, Playa Ventanas is a small but spectacular palm-backed beach that has a special feature: intriguing caves in the cliffs at its north end.

At low tide, you can investigate the two caves that open onto the beach (taking care to retreat if the water starts to rise).

But if you’re up for a challenge, you can paddle a kayak along the gorgeous coastline and explore the cliffs and sea caves along the way.

Planning tip: The sea caves are only accessible in certain weather conditions, and they are often impassable during the rainy season. Book tours in Uvita. 

A turquoise and scarlet resplendent quetzal soaring through the trees with wings spread

10. See some magnificent birds

Even if you’re not a bird nerd, it’s easy to geek out about the avian life in Costa Rica. Of course, there are myriad multicolored beauties that you’ll see flitting about pretty much everywhere; then there are a few showstoppers – rare in other parts of the world but relatively easy to see in Costa Rica (if you know where to look).

Most famously, the scarlet macaw has made an incredible comeback along the Pacific coast, with sightings practically guaranteed in Parque Nacional Carara and on the Osa Peninsula.

The aptly named resplendent quetzal makes seasonal appearances in the cloud forests of Monteverde and the Dota region .

And the great green macaw – still critically endangered – is sometimes spotted in Sarapiquí and Boca Tapada. Getting a glimpse of these gorgeous creatures in the wild is an awesome and inspiring experience that might just turn you into a bona fide birder.

11. Sleep in a tree house

In the wilds of northern Costa Rica, surrounded by lush forestlands, you can indulge your inner monkey and spend the night in the treetops .

On the edge of its eponymous wildlife refuge, Maquenque Eco-Lodge has a collection of fantastic tree houses – each constructed amid the leafy canopy, 12m (39ft) off the ground and surrounded by trees.

With wide balconies, outdoor showers and screen walls, the tree houses offer complete rainforest immersion with a touch of luxury. It’s a 10-minute walk to the main lodge (or a quick buzz on the walkie-talkie, in case of emergency). 

Detour: On your way to or from Boca Tapada, stop in at the restaurant Centro Familiar Cuyito to try to glimpse a pair of great green macaws nesting in a wild avocado tree on the grounds.

Small groups of people in bathing suits gathered on the rocky ground around Montezuma Falls in Costa Rica

12. Cool off under a waterfall

There’s no more exhilarating plunge than one beneath the downpour of a wild waterfall. And Costa Rica has no shortage of glorious cascades – many of which are swimmable. One fan favorite is Montezuma Waterfalls , on the outskirts of the eponymous village.

It requires a rugged hike, but the reward is a triple-tiered catarata , with a thrilling (and chilling) cliff jump from the top.

Detour: If you can’t get enough, El Chorro Waterfall  is another highlight in Montezuma. It’s a long hot hike, but the cascade – which falls from a high cliff directly into the ocean – is worth the effort.

13. Discover what happens after dark

Some 70% of animals are most active at night. Take a night hike with a nature guide to find out who they are and what they’re doing in the dark.

Night tours are popular in the main rainforest destinations in Costa Rica, including La Fortuna , Sarapiquí, Río Celeste and Manuel Antonio . You’re bound to see plenty of bugs and bats, frogs and snakes, but you might also catch a glimpse of a nocturnal mammal, such as a kinkajou or a tree possum.

A traditional passenger boat navigating the muddy-looking Tortuguero canal in Costa Rica

14. Cruise a jungle lagoon

One of the most rewarding ways to see wildlife in Costa Rica is to take a cruise through the jungly canals of Tortuguero or the wild wetlands of Caño Negro . From the comfort of your boat, you’re likely to see several species of monkeys, two- and three-toed sloths, green iguanas, striped basilisks, caimans and crocs, not to mention incredible birdlife.

15. Witness a bioluminescent bay

Some aquatic organisms contain luciferin, which reacts with oxygen to produce a sparkly light. This magical glow in the water is called bioluminescence, and it lights up the coves of Ballena Bay, near Tambor on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Bioluminescent tours depart from Santa Teresa, Montezuma or Tambor itself, giving you a chance to kayak over ethereal, illuminated waters. Remember, swimming in bioluminescent waters can cause harm to the glow bacteria.  

Planning tip: Save some cash by driving yourself to Playa Pochote and booking a bioluminescence tour at Don Trino campground, where tours are far less expensive than in the larger towns. 

People walking through the square in front of the famous neoclassical National Theater of Costa Rica in San Jose at night.

16. Take a city break in San José

You probably came to Costa Rica for wild animals and outdoor adventure. But guess what? San José is a cool, creative capital, packed with historic architecture, unique museums and trendy cafes and clubs.

Don’t miss the Museo del Jade for its insightful exhibits about pre-Columbian cultures and the  Teatro Nacional for its artistic misrepresentations of Costa Rican culture.

Best of all, Barrio Escalante has the best dining scene in the city – if not the country – so here’s your chance to dig in before heading out to the land of rice and beans.

This article was first published Feb 7, 2023 and updated Jan 26, 2024.

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Things to do in Costa Rica

20 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica + MAP

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There are so many incredible places to visit in Costa Rica , from lush forests full of wild fauna and stunning paradisiacal beaches to turquoise-blue waterfalls, hot springs, and otherworldly volcanoes.

Hands down, Costa Rica is one of my top 3 travel destinations to date, and we had an amazing adventure of gastronomy, relaxation, and wildlife photography during our 2-week trip through Costa Rica . This trip was special to me for another reason: I traveled with my brother and three of my cousins, so we enjoyed some partying, refreshing Imperial beers, and incredible sunsets on the beach.

If you want to plan your own trip, this guide will tell you what to see in Costa Rica for an unforgettable time. I’m sharing the absolute must-dos since, unless you’re spending a couple of months here, you can’t do everything in one trip.

Before counting down the 20 best things to see and do in Costa Rica , you should know that many of the country’s national parks require you to buy a timed ticket online in advance . This prevents these protected spaces from becoming overcrowded with tourists, but it also means you must plan some things in advance.

While your itinerary still has room to improvise, one thing you should never leave to chance is your safety. I highly recommend getting travel insurance for Costa Rica , because while the country is safe, there are lots of water sports, outdoor activities, and places where you can run into wildlife. We’ve been using Heymondo for years and it’s perfect for us, so if you’re interested, use our Heymondo discount code to save on your policy.

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1. Visit San José, an essential thing to do in Costa Rica

Located in the heart of the country, San José is the capital of Costa Rica and exudes a humble mix of tradition and culture. While many people travel to Costa Rica for its rainforests and beaches, San José has a distinct atmosphere of its own. Many people end up spending an extra night here just to have more time to experience its culture, food, and art.

The majority of San José’s cultural attractions are neatly collected in the city center. This area pulsates with activity and life, so it’s a must-see in Costa Rica .

Plaza de la Cultura, San José, Costa Rica things to do

We took this free tour from the National Museum of Costa Rica and learned a lot about the history, art, and gastronomy of San José. David, our guide, was awesome, and we had so much fun. If you go on your own, make sure you visit the Plaza de la Cultura on Central Avenue , the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum , and the National Theater .

You should also see the Central Market , a labyrinth of colors, flavors, aromas, and sounds with more than 200 fruit, coffee, and spice stalls. San José has some of the best restaurants in Costa Rica , so I recommend grabbing a bite to eat at a traditional soda (locally-owned restaurant).

Other places of interest in San José include the Plaza de la Democracia with its lively open-air markets, the National Museum of Costa Rica , and the Jade Museum for insights into Costa Rican culture.

2. Manuel Antonio National Park, another amazing place to visit in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio National Park ‘s rich biodiversity makes it one of the most important places to visit in Costa Rica . Here, you’ll find beautiful beaches, nature trails, and a dense tropical jungle full of animals.

The park’s two main beaches, Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Espadilla Sur , are about a 30-minute walk from the main entrance. The first offers spectacular views, but if you’re looking for some quiet time away from the crowds, it’s worth the extra walk to the second beach. Both beaches are incredible places to see in Costa Rica .

Of course, if there’s one thing that made me fall in love with this park, it is the incredible variety of animal species in Costa Rica that live here.

Manuel Antonio National Park, best places in Costa Rica

While you can spot some animals on your own, there are smaller critters that you’ll surely miss, so I recommend hiring a guide . We took this tour , and it was totally worth it since half the creatures our guide pointed out we weren’t even aware of. For our next trip to Costa Rica, we plan to do this night tour so we can see all the nocturnal species that aren’t out during the day.

In addition to the jungle animals, Manuel Antonio has thousands of different types of sea creatures in its waters, including humpback whales. If you’re like me and love seeing cetaceans in the wild, I highly recommend the catamaran ride we took .

On the other hand, this cruise through the Isla de Damas mangroves is also interesting, and you can find even more recommendations in our guide to Manuel Antonio National Park .

3. Arenal Volcano National Park and La Fortuna Waterfall, two of the best places to see in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano National Park is home to the iconic Arenal Volcano, one of the top attractions in Costa Rica . Although climbing the slopes of the Arenal Volcano is not permitted due to it being an active volcano, visiting this national park is a must-do. Here, you can immerse yourself in a rainforest ecosystem and see its biodiversity first-hand. I recommend walking along one of the nature trails; we took the Las Coloradas route and enjoyed seeing the solidified lava from previous eruptions.

Arenal Volcano National Park, where to go Costa Rica

As I mentioned in our guide to Arenal Volcano National Park , the area is surrounded by several hot springs and the incredible La Fortuna Waterfall . To get to the waterfall, you must descend over 500 steps, but there are rest areas along the way.

If, like us, you want to maximize your day here, I recommend this tour , which includes a hike along the Las Coloradas trail, swimming at the base of La Fortuna Waterfall, and a relaxing soak in the hot springs.

Another interesting option, especially if you prefer adventure, is this excursion that goes to the hanging bridges of Mistico Park instead of the hot springs. Both tours depart from La Fortuna , so I recommend staying in this town to make things easier.

4. Marino Ballena National Park, one of the coolest destinations in Costa Rica

Marino Ballena National Park is a fascinating place on the Southern Pacific coast and was the first marine national park in the country. It has four entrances: Uvita, Colonia, Ballena, and Piñuela. The first two are the most popular since they’re open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.

Marino Ballena National Park, best things to do in Costa Rica

This park is one of the best places to go whale watching in Costa Rica , so it’s no surprise why I consider it one of the best Costa Rica attractions . I highly recommend taking a tour to visit the whale tail-shaped peninsula in Punta Uvita, where paradisiacal beaches and tropical forests await.

We did this tour from the town of Uvita and had a wonderful time. We saw a mother humpback whale with her baby, which was quite lucky since we went in October. The best time to see humpback whales in Costa Rica is in August and September, and the Annual Uvita Whale Festival is held during the first few days of September.

You can also spot humpback whales from January to March , although there’s never a bad time to visit since this is one of the best national parks in Costa Rica .

5. Visit Poás Volcano National Park and La Paz Waterfall, another great thing to do in Costa Rica

Poás Volcano National Park is one of the best spots in Costa Rica for adventurers. Situated over 2,000 meters (6,500 feet) above sea level, in the middle of a cloud forest, this geyser is in one of the largest craters in the world.

As I explain in our guide to visiting the Poás Volcano , you can take an excursion from San José since the capital is just 50 km (31 mi) away, or about a 1.5-hour drive. Along the way, you can enjoy an incredible view of the valley and pass by local shops selling souvenirs and fresh produce.

Poás Volcano National Park, cool places in Costa Rica

Plus, the views within the national park are super impressive. Once inside, take the walking path to the observation point, which has viewing platforms for the crater.

About 21 km (13 mi) from the Poás Volcano, Vara Blanca and Cinchona are home to another interesting place in Costa Rica : the La Paz Waterfall . It’s about a 35-minute drive, but you can make this easier by booking this excursion that goes to both places. We took this tour, and I highly recommend it.

The La Paz Waterfall is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica . You can see it from the main road, but you really have to enter the park to appreciate its majestic beauty. Besides, there are four other waterfalls in the 28-hectare (69-acre) park: Templo, Magia Blanca, Encantada, and Escondida.

Even if you aren’t in the best shape, you shouldn’t have a hard time on the trails, so you can enjoy the splendid views.

6. Cahuita National Park, a very touristy place in Costa Rica

Cahuita National Park is full of white sand beaches, lush jungles, and abundant wildlife, so it’s the perfect attraction in Costa Rica for nature enthusiasts. We have a whole guide to Cahuita since it’s one of our favorite destinations. It’s not far from Puerto Viejo and it’s the most accessible national park in the southern Caribbean. There are several entrances, including the Puerto Vargas one, which is free, and the Puerto Viejo one, which requires a ticket.

Cahuita National Park, destinations in Costa Rica

We used the Playa Blanca entrance, which is donation-based. It was part of this tour , which included a naturalist guide who pointed out all the distinct fauna in the park. We saw countless white-faced monkeys, coatis, snakes, and birds. Our guide, José, told us that the rivers there often have alligators, but we didn’t see any. That said, Cahuita is one of the best places to see sloths in Costa Rica , and we saw 5 in just 30 minutes.

What impressed me the most about this park was the snorkeling; it was the best place we snorkeled in the country, and maybe the world. To give you an idea, the park covers 1,200 hectares (3,000 acres) of land and 22,300 hectares (55,000 acres) of protected marine area. It was created to protect the largest coral reef in Costa Rica , with 35 species of coral and over 100 species of fish, mollusks, crustaceans, and sea turtles.

Here, snorkeling on your own is prohibited , so if you want to witness the seabed for yourself, you must book a tour.

7. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, another place to see in Costa Rica

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is one of the most famous places in Costa Rica , and the perfect destination for hiking and bird watching. Unfortunately, cloud forests are highly vulnerable and sensitive to climate change, so I recommend visiting them while they still exist.

There are three reserves in Monteverde: the Monteverde Cloud Forest , the Santa Elena Cloud Forest , and the privately managed Children’s Eternal Forest . The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is the most popular, with nine well-maintained trails leading to beautiful viewpoints, a suspension bridge, and a waterfall. The Nuboso and Ventana trails have the best views, although if you walk the Cloud Trail, you’ll be able to see the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, Costa Rica what to do

Our guide to visiting Monteverde, Costa Rica , has all the details on this magnificent place, but I’ll tell you here that ziplining is a must-do . I recommend this zipline and hanging bridge tour to fly above the cloud forest. It’s an adrenaline-pumping activity in Costa Rica , the perfect mix of nature and adventure.

In addition, the biodiversity in Monteverde is incredible, but the vegetation is dense. The best way to spot animals is by taking a guided tour, like the one we did . Keep in mind that Monteverde comes alive at night since most of the species that live here are nocturnal. For example, two-toed sloths are much more active at night, so you can see them on this wildlife night tour .

8. Spend the day at Tamarindo and other beaches in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Tamarindo has some of the most beautiful beaches in Guanacaste , and they’re some of the best in Costa Rica . This area is popular among surfers, thanks to its perfect year-round waves. Tamarindo is also close to the Liberia Airport and has a nice tourist hub, so it’s also a great destination for families and couples taking a honeymoon in Costa Rica .

As soon as we arrived, we took this boat tour to see the Tamarindo mangrove and estuary, which is part of Las Baulas National Marine Park . Our captain, Roberto, told us all about the importance of this natural environment and its preserved forests. At night, we took this tour to watch turtles nesting , and while we only saw green turtles, olive ridley and leatherback turtles come here, too. It all depends on when you go, so check out our guide to sea turtles in Costa Rica for more information.

Tamarindo, must see in Costa Rica

The next morning, we explored some of the beaches in Tamarindo and thought they were the most stunning beaches we saw in the country. You can walk to Playa Langosta or drive to Playa Grande, Playa Avellana, or Playa Conchal. The latter is 40 minutes away, but it’s also where you can take a horseback ride along the shore, so it’s worth it.

Later, we took this catamaran cruise with snorkeling , which was a blast. We loved how we spent our day, but there are other interesting things to do in Tamarindo if you have more time. In fact, you can spend a few days discovering the province of Guanacaste and all its interesting attractions.

9. Tortuguero National Park, another national park to visit in Costa Rica

Tortuguero National Park is one of the main destinations in Costa Rica for ecotourism , and is an important nesting place for green turtles. The park even has a protected beach designated for turtle nesting. The rich biodiversity here includes habitats ranging from mangroves, beaches, swamps, tropical jungles, canals, and lagoons .

Moreover, the 30,000-hectare (74,000-acre) park forms a natural corridor with a protected reserve in neighboring Nicaragua. The park is on a sandbank, so it’s impossible to visit Tortuguero, Costa Rica , by car. Instead, you have to take a 1 to 2-hour boat ride from La Pavona , which is about three hours from San José.

Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica beautiful places

Another option is this 3-day excursion from San Jose or this day tour if you’re short on time. Both excursions include a canoe tour similar to the one we took , in which you’ll explore the Tortuguero canals in search of caimans, snakes, monkeys, all kinds of birds, and, if you’re lucky, jaguars and manatees.

Of course, you can’t miss watching the turtles nesting . The only way to do this is with a guide, and only a certain number of visitors can enter per day, so you must book a spot in advance .

Lastly, there are several great park trails, with the Jaguar Trail being the most popular. It’s a 5-km (3-mi) circular route that runs parallel to Tortuguero’s main beach. You’ll notice several numbered signs along the way, which help park rangers identify turtle nests.

10. Corcovado National Park, a very beautiful place to visit in Costa Rica

Corcovado National Park is another one of the most biodiverse places on earth, so visiting it is a must-do in Costa Rica . In addition to nature trails and wildlife viewing, you can go camping in this spectacular park.

To reach Corcovado, you must take a boat from Sierpe or drive a 4×4 vehicle from Puerto Jiménez . The former is the easier option, and the one most people choose. The boat drops you off at Drake Bay , where the main attractions, hotels, and restaurants are, as well as where most park tours depart. We ended up taking this tour from Drake Bay to get to know the area, and our guide, Emilio, helped us spot quite a few animals.

Corcovado National Park, cool things to do in Costa Rica

If you want to delve deeper into Corcovado National Park to see animals like tapirs, ocelots, jaguars, and, with a little luck, pumas, I recommend a tour. I like this tour from the Sirena Ranger Station and this tour to San Pedrillo . There are even multi-day tours that allow you to spend the night inside the park, so read our guide to Corcovado National Park for more details.

If you can only spend the day in Corcovado, this tour is the best option since it includes the boat from Sierpe and the tour of San Pedrillo. That said, I urge you to spend the night here so you can take this nighttime wildlife tour . It’s one of the best things to do in Drake Bay , so you won’t regret it!

On the other hand, Corcovado is more than a jungle; it’s home to a true underwater paradise. We took a snorkeling tour on Isla Caño , and it was one of the best things we did in Costa Rica .

11. Puerto Viejo, one of the best cities to visit in Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo has a vibrant, Caribbean reggae atmosphere that stands out from the rest of the country. Located in the province of Limón , on the southern Caribbean coast, it’s a top tourist attraction in Costa Rica , thanks to its mix of cultures, stunning beaches, and abundant wildlife. Here, you can try the most delicious food and try something other than the typical dishes of Costa Rica .

While it’s not big, there are lots of things to do in Puerto Viejo , so it attracts visitors from all over the world. Within its 30-km (18-mi) radius, you’ll find Cahuita National Park, the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Refuge, the Jaguar Rescue Center, and some of the best beaches in Costa Rica , like Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, Punta Uva, and Manzanillo.

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica places of interest

Best of all, each of these places is less than a 30-minute drive away, making Puerto Viejo one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica . Moreover, you don’t have to drive at all to go to the beaches. The best way to get there is by renting a bicycle and enjoying the journey.

In addition, Puerto Viejo is the ideal place to see sloths. You can usually spot them along the beach or the roads, perched in the trees. Keep your eyes peeled!

12. Río Celeste and Tenorio Volcano National Park, another must-see attraction in Costa Rica

Tenorio Volcano National Park is best known for being the site of the Río Celeste , a strikingly turquoise river with a stunning waterfall. Visiting this scenic area is one of the most popular things to do in Tenorio Volcano National Park , and along the way, you can see the Blue Lagoon, the Borbollones, and the Teñideros hot springs.

If you’re up for some sightseeing in Costa Rica , Río Celeste won’t disappoint. Its waterfall is around 30 meters (98 feet) high and descends into a pool of bright blue water. Swimming is prohibited here, but in our guide to visiting Río Celeste , I share some other places where you can take a dip less than 10 minutes away.

Tenorio Volcano, interesting places to visit in Costa Rica

In any case, it’s worth hiking this route and going beyond the waterfall. My favorite part was seeing the Blue Lagoon, as well as a friendly coati passing by. While the 5.5 km (3.4 mi) trail isn’t too difficult, some sections are pretty steep, especially the 250 steps descending to the base of the waterfall. It’s a worthwhile activity in Costa Rica, but make sure to include in your packing list for Costa Rica closed-toe shoes to protect your feet from the rocks and tree roots.

If you don’t have a way to get there, this tour from La Fortuna is the best option and will allow you to spend the whole day in the park.

13. Gandoca National Refuge – Manzanillo, one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica

The Gandoca Wildlife Refuge in Manzanillo is in the southern Caribbean, very close to the border with Panama, and contains an important rainforest, wetland, and mangrove swamp. The refuge is home to a wealth of species, including alligators, crocodiles, sloths, turtles, toucans, parrots, and much more.

However, as I explained in our guide to Manzanillo, Costa Rica , the refuge also has virgin white sand beaches, small coves, and picturesque cliffs. You can visit on your own, but if you want to see all the wildlife, you should take this half-day tour led by a naturalist guide. They’ll help you get the most out of your visit and learn what makes this ecosystem unique.

Gandoca National Refuge -Manzanillo, interesting things to do in Costa Rica

Walking along the trails of this beautiful Costa Rica attraction is one of the best ways to spend your time. However, pay attention to the timing of your visit; during the rainy season, the roads may be muddy and difficult to navigate. Even so, the refuge’s remote location means that you can spot wild critters that you won’t find in the country’s other national parks. Plus, there are way fewer tourists.

If you’re like us and have a passion for photography, follow the path at the end of Manzanillo Beach for spectacular views. Then, continue along the coast to Punta Mona , another dreamy beach.

14. Rafting on the Pacuare River, an exciting thing to do in Costa Rica

Rafting on the Pacuare River is one of the most exhilarating things to do in Costa Rica . The Pacuare River is in the Talamanca mountain range and flows into the Central Caribbean coast, specifically in the province of Limón.

If you do the excursion we did , you’ll see why this river is one of the best in the world for rafting. The tour includes pick-up in San José and goes through 30 km (18 mi) of Level III and Level IV rapids.

Rafting on the Pacuare River, top attractions in Costa Rica

If you didn’t know, the rapids here are classified into Levels I through V, with V being the most difficult. Although it was my first time rafting, I felt safe the entire time (although my face says otherwise). Our guide, Pedro, knew all about navigating these rapids, and there was a rescue kayak in case of an emergency. Make sure you follow all the guide’s instructions and properly wear your safety helmet and life vest. And if you want a tamer experience, check out our Costa Rica rafting guide for more options.

Some other popular rafting excursions are this one from Manuel Antonio , which goes to the Savegre River , and this one from La Fortuna , which takes you rafting on the Sarapiquí River .

15. Diving in Cocos Island, an interesting activity in Costa Rica

Diving is a popular activity in Costa Rica , and the UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site of Cocos Island is one of the best places in the world for diving .

This is a super-remote island, so you must book a multi-day excursion (about 10 days) to visit it. Moreover, the island is about 500 km (310 miles) off the Pacific coast and doesn’t have any hotels or services. Only the park rangers who take care of the island live here.

It’s not a cheap expedition, but it’s one of the coolest things to do in Costa Rica and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ll be able to disembark on the island once or twice to explore the trails and waterfall, but most of your time will be spent on the boat or on the water, enjoying the impressive marine life.

Cocos Island, list of things to do in Costa Rica

Diving on Cocos Island is only for advanced certified Nitrox divers, as the currents here are strong. If you brave the waters, you’ll be able to dive alongside hundreds of hammerhead sharks, millions of different types of fish, and manta rays.

If you need some alternatives, our Costa Rica diving guide has got you covered. Certified divers can take this tour to Caño Island from Drake Bay, and this tour to the Catalina Islands from Tamarindo. This dive in the Gulf of Papagayo from Playa Hermosa is also very good.

If you don’t have the PADI certification, you can get it on Caño Island . You can also get certified in Tamarindo. That way you will be able to dive anywhere in the world.

In case you don’t want to get certified yet, this Scuba Diver Discover Tour in Playa Flamingo or Tamarindo is a great option to start with.

16. Carara and Río Tárcoles National Park, two unique places to visit in Costa Rica

Carara National Park is the only transitional forest in the Pacific, where dry and humid forests coexist. As such, it’s home to a privileged array of flora and fauna that you won’t find anywhere else. It’s a particularly great place to visit in Costa Rica if you enjoy bird-watching.

Here, you can observe countless birds in their natural habitat, including the beautiful and endangered scarlet macaw . Carara National Park serves as a sanctuary for this bird species, and thanks to our naturalist guide, Ronald , we were able to see it.

Río Tárcoles National Park, what are the best things to do in Costa Rica

If you visit Carara on your own, you should know that the park consists of four interconnected trails: the Universal Access Trail, the Encounter of Ecosystems Trail, the Quebrada Bonita Trail, and the Las Aráceas Trail. Together, the paths create a circular 4.5-km (2.8-mile) route. The Las Aráceas Trail is the best area to spot birds, although if you don’t have a trained eye, you might not be able to spot them through the thick vegetation . This is why I recommend hiring a guide.

On the other hand, the Laguna Meándrica Trail is a linear 4-km (2.5-mile) route where you can see crocodiles. You can also venture outside the park and go to the Tárcoles River Bridge next door, which has even more crocs and is free to visit.

The Crocodile Bridge on the Tárcoles River has become a popular tourist attraction in Costa Rica since it’s free to visit and completely safe. The American crocodiles here measure between 3 and 4 meters (9.8 and 13.1 feet), with some even reaching 7 and a half meters (25 feet). This tour from San José goes to Rio Tárcoles and Carara National Park, so it’s a great option if you don’t want to drive.

17. Irazú Volcano National Park, one of the most visited volcanoes in Costa Rica

Irazú Volcano National Park has become one of the most interesting attractions in Costa Rica , thanks to its convenient location just 50 kilometers (30 miles) from San José. The Irazú Volcano is one of the most impressive volcanoes in Costa Rica , and the highest, reaching 3,432 meters (11,260 feet).

To visit this volcano, you can go to one or both sectors of Irazú Volcano National Park : the Craters sector and the Prussia sector.

Irazú Volcano National Park, best Costa Rica attractions

From the Craters sector , you can see the five craters of the Irazú Volcano , including the main crater, which becomes an emerald-green lake during the rainy season. The Diego de la Haya crater also becomes a beautiful lagoon after heavy rains. While you’re here, you can also walk through the Playa Hermosa crater , which is covered in volcanic ash.

The Prussia sector is mostly dense forest. There are 16 kilometers (10 miles) of interconnected trails here: El Roble, Micaela, La Gruta, Chiverrales, Cabeza de Vaca, El Ahorcado, El Puma, and Los Abuelos. The main attraction is the “ haunted tree ” along the Los Abuelos trail, which you can reach from El Roble or El Puma trails.

In our case, we decided to take this tour from San José since it also passes through Cartago , one of the coolest cities in Costa Rica , especially for those who like art. Cartago was the country’s capital until 1823 and is home to fascinating places in Costa Rica , like the Basilica of the Virgin of the Angels and other colonial monuments.

18. Tortuga Island, one of the best spots in Costa Rica that you can’t miss

Isla Tortuga is located off the southeast coast of the Nicoya Peninsula, so it’s only accessible by boat. The quickest way to get there is with this tour from Paquera . Of course, Tortuga Island has become a popular Costa Rican destination, so there is also this tour that departs from Arenal, La Fortuna, Guanacaste, Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, or San José. The excursion includes your boat ticket and round-trip bus transportation.

Isla Tortuga, awesome things to do in Costa Rica

Isla Tortuga may be small, but it’s a spectacular natural paradise that you won’t want to miss. Keep in mind that you can’t spend the night here , but there are countless activities that you can sign up for during the day.

In addition to relaxing on the beach, you can stroll along the Sendero de Los Poetas trail, go jet skiing, paddle board, or ride a banana boat . This is also an excellent place to go snorkeling or diving , as the transparent turquoise waters contain all kinds of marine life.

19. Go surfing in Santa Teresa and other Nicoya Peninsula beaches

Surfing is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica , and the country is known around the world as a top surfing destination. Its Pacific and Caribbean beaches have excellent waves and a quiet natural environment that anyone can enjoy.

Places like Santa Teresa are a paradise for surfers. This town is in the Pacific, at the western end of the Nicoya Peninsula , and boasts a stunning white sand beach. Plus, there are several schools where you can take surfing lessons , making this a great spot for all skill levels.

Surf in Santa Teresa, popular things to do in Costa Rica

Tamarindo is another prime surfing destination in Costa Rica , with beautiful tropical beaches, large waves, and a relaxed atmosphere. Pros flock here for the ideal surfing conditions, while beginners often sign up for these surf classes .

Some other popular surf spots on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast include Uvita, where you can attend this surf school and go whale-watching, as well as Jacó , which offers these classes . Even Manuel Antonio has good waves for all levels, and you can take surf lessons there, too.

The Caribbean coast doesn’t have as many surf schools, but if you’re an experienced surfer, you’ll find plenty of excellent waves. You can even try your luck at the Salsa Brava wave , the largest and most powerful wave in the country, located in Puerto Viejo. There are also good waves for professionals at Playa Cocles and Manzanillo .

20. Rincón de la Vieja National Park, another fun place to visit in Costa Rica

Rincón de la Vieja National Park is just 60 km (37 miles) from Liberia, or about a 1.5-hour drive away. It’s named after its main attraction, the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano , the only active crater in Guanacaste and the largest.

Despite being close to Liberia, the 160km 2 (61mi 2 ) park feels isolated and remote. Also, you should know that it’s divided into two parts: the Las Pailas Sector and the Santa María Sector .

Rincón de la Vieja National Park, best spots in Costa Rica

Las Pailas has a trail network that includes the Las Pailas Circular Trail, which goes past volcanic mud pools, hot springs, and a small volcano. You can also take a hike to the La Escondida or La Cangreja waterfalls. The Oropendola waterfall is the closest one, but it’s equally as beautiful. Las Pailas also has a route leading to the crater, but it’s currently closed due to volcanic activity.

The Santa María Sector is a 30-minute drive away and home to the Santa María mansion . Here, you can hike the Colibrí trail, go to the Bosque Encantado waterfall, and enjoy the cool-water pools and hot springs.

If you’re short on time, this day tour from Guanacaste will take you to the best places in the park.

20+1. Excursion to Bocas del Toro (Panama), something to do in Costa Rica if you have time

Bocas del Toro is a natural paradise located northeast of Panama, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the Costa Rican border. It’s very popular thanks to its myriad recreational activities, dreamy beaches, nightlife, and fauna. It was a must-see during our Costa Rica trip , and we spent 3 days there. However, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you’re doing at least a 10-day tour of Costa Rica .

The easiest way to get to Bocas del Toro is from Puerto Viejo , so if you want to take a detour to Panama, add this town to your Costa Rica itinerary .

Excursion to Bocas del Toro (Panama), experiences in Costa Rica

The rental car company we used wouldn’t let us take the vehicle to Panama , so we took this shuttle to Bocas de Toro . It was super quick and simple, with one van taking us to the border, and another taking us to the dock, where we boarded the boat to Puerto Valencia on Isla Colón .

Isla Colón is the main island of Bocas del Toro, and we loved exploring its gorgeous scenery. We particularly liked Estrella de Mar Beach , where you can see starfish from the shore, and Bluff Beach , where turtles nest from September to March.

From Isla Colón, there are various excursions to other islands within the archipelago, and this is how locals get around. We took advantage of the opportunity to visit Isla de Bastimentos , a quiet island full of flora and fauna like the famous red frog.

Where to stay in Costa Rica

When deciding where to stay in Costa Rica , you have options for every type of trip and budget.

For example, in Santa Teresa , we stayed at the Canaima Chill House , one of the most recommended hostels in Costa Rica . It may be cheap, but it’s super comfortable and perfect if you plan to spend most of your time outdoors.

If you’re planning a honeymoon or want to treat yourself, there are many luxury hotels in Costa Rica . My favorite is the Mawamba Lodge in Tortuguero National Park .

Best hotels in Costa Rica

You’ll also find many all-inclusive Costa Rican hotels in the beach areas. For example, the Occidental Papagayo , near Playa Hermosa in Guanacaste , is amazing both in terms of entertainment and dining options.

On the other hand, if you want to make yourself at home, consider renting an apartment in Costa Rica . I like Los Pinos Cabins & Reserve in Monteverde , which has a kitchen so you can prepare your own meals.

Finally, the Urban Green Hotel & Suites is one of the best hotels in Costa Rica and is conveniently located in San José . If you’re flying in late or have an early-morning departure, the Hampton By Hilton San Jose Airport is great.

How to get around Costa Rica

While we fell in love with this country, I must admit that getting around Costa Rica can be complicated . You can rent a car or use public transportation, but be aware that the infrastructure isn’t great, so the roads aren’t always clear or well-marked. Don’t worry, though; you can learn from my experience!

If you don’t mind driving on less-than-ideal roads, I recommend renting a car in Costa Rica . Just make sure it’s a 4WD vehicle so you can navigate some tougher roads (this is especially important during the rainy season in Costa Rica ). Also, we ran into some traffic issues, so it’s a good idea to factor in more travel time than what the GPS or Google Maps suggests.

I also recommend getting a SIM card for Costa Rica so you can use Google Maps and other apps, as well as keep in touch with loved ones. We have a complete guide on how to get Internet in Costa Rica , but I’ll tell you here that we love the Holafly eSIMs, which have unlimited data . If you decide to buy one, use our Holafly discount code to save some money.

Holafly logo

5% OFF your international eSIM card

Remember that you can also book a nice hotel in San José and take advantage of the day tours that depart from the capital city. There are plenty of excursions in Costa Rica that allow you to see the main attractions without having to worry about transportation. You can even book a Costa Rican vacation package and take all the planning off your shoulders.

Lastly, while public transportation is the cheapest option , I don’t recommend it unless you’re spending quite a bit of time here. I wouldn’t consider it for trips of less than a month, and certainly not for a 7-day trip to Costa Rica . The local buses make countless stops, so even if you’re traveling a short distance, it seems to take forever. As a last resort, you can book a private transfer . This service isn’t cheap, but it comes with the freedom of having a car without the headache of driving around Costa Rica.

Costa Rica map

To finish up, here is a map with all the attractions in Costa Rica that I recommended. I also suggest consulting our tourist map of Costa Rica , which will help you plan your itinerary around this beautiful country:

That’s it from me! I hope you feel better prepared to plan your trip to Costa Rica , and that you have the time of your life. The magical places in Costa Rica left me in awe, and I can’t wait to come back here for even more adventures.

If you have any questions or want to share your favorite things to do in Costa Rica , leave a comment below. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

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Tour de La Fortuna al Río Celeste, Costa Rica

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From cloud forest hikes to chocolate farm tours, these are the best things to do in Costa Rica.

Lindsay Cohn is a writer, editor, and avid traveler who has visited 45 countries across six continents — and counting. She contributes to Travel + Leisure, Hotels Above Par, InsideHook, Well+Good, The Zoe Report, and more.

tourist hot spots costa rica

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From rainforests and cloud forests to volcanoes and hot springs, Costa Rica is a hub of ecotourism with great weather and an endless parade of pristine natural areas to discover. Framed by coastlines along both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the country has countless places to surf (hello, Santa Teresa and Nosara ) and chill on beautiful beaches . Add cultural institutions like the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in the capital, San Jose, plus some wonderful eco-lodges and resorts , and it’s easy to see why tourists flock to Costa Rica.

While it’s hard to cull down the myriad activities and attractions in this peaceful Central American country where pura vida is the way of life, with the help of a dream team of local experts (Lucas Medeiros, chief concierge at Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo , Natasha Brown, the founder of Salty Afro Surf , and Jemma Wright, director of experience at Hacienda AltaGracia, Auberge Resorts Collection ), we’ve rounded up 20 of the best things to do in Costa Rica. 

Related: T+L’s Guide to Costa Rica

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve

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Nestled along the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve covers more than 35,000 acres of lush trees. Besides incredible endemic flora, it’s also home to animals such as howler monkeys and sloths. One of the best ways to soak in all the beauty? A high-flying zip-line tour.

Rincón de la Vieja National Park

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Rincón de la Vieja National Park spans 34,000 acres of rugged terrain. It’s also a hotbed for adrenaline-pumping activities. “Mountain bikers of all levels can enjoy a thrilling ride around the largest volcano in Guanacaste,” says Lucas Medeiros.

Ecotermales Fortuna

The ideal place to soothe overworked muscles and relax after countless rugged adventures? Ecotermales Fortuna. The warm, magnesium-rich waters heated by the nearby Arenal Volcano are said to help combat inflammation and relieve pain, and the cool pools provide the perfect opportunity for hot and cold therapy.

Corcovado National Park

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“Corcovado National Park, located on the Osa Peninsula, protects one of the most biologically diverse and complex ecosystems in the world,” says Jemma Wright. “The natural richness of this area — unspoiled beaches, rainforest trails, mangrove swamps, waterfalls, and wildlife — helps visitors appreciate our beautiful country.”

Arenal Volcano National Park

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One of Costa Rica’s most famous attractions, the 30,000-acre Arenal Volcano National Park draws upwards of 100,000 visitors each year. It's also home to one of the  best hotel resorts in Costa Rica . Most travelers make the journey to witness its crown jewel stratovolcano, which rises 5,357 feet toward the clouds. Hiking, horseback riding, zip lining, and river rafting are also popular activities.

Santa Teresa

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Santa Teresa is a must-visit spot for pura vida chasers and surfers. New to paddling out? First-timers can take group or private lessons. Back on land, the palm-fringed beach draws crowds for sunbathing and sunsets. 

Tenorio Volcano National Park

Situated in the rugged northern part of Costa Rica and part of the broader Arenal Tempisque Conservation Area, Tenorio Volcano National Park thrills travelers with its namesake volcano along with the spectacular Rio Celeste Waterfall (and the 3.5-mile trail that leads to it), wildlife peeping, and canopy bridges. 

Playa Chiquita

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With over four miles of pristine waters, Playa Chiquita is the place for travelers looking for long swaths of untouched, uncrowded beaches and snorkeling the beautiful reefs, says Natasha Brown.

Manuel Antonio National Park

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Manuel Antonio National Park packs a ton of nature into a relatively small area. It’s just seven square miles, but within its boundaries are rainforests, tropical plants, untouched white-sand beaches, coral reefs, coastal hiking trails, and diverse wildlife — from three-toed sloths and white-faced capuchin monkeys to orange crabs and black spiny-tailed iguanas. 

Coffee Farm Tour

Left: Kathleen Messmer/Travel + Leisure; Right: Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure

Costa Rica produces some of the best coffee in the world, and it’s a huge economic driver for the country. While it’s certainly not difficult to procure a great cup of joe, serious java enthusiasts keen to learn more about the process should consider booking a tour at one of the many coffee farms outside of San Jose. 

Related: The Best Times to Visit Costa Rica 

Tabacon Hot Springs

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While Costa Rica has many wonderful places to reap the benefits of volcano-heated mineral waters, few are as iconic as Tabacon Hot Springs. Tucked inside a lush, private rainforest reserve, this natural oasis wins points for its thermal pools and cascading waterfalls with healing, stress-melting benefits.  

Bijagua Ranas

“I love going to Bijagua Ranas to enjoy the rainforest and see the sloths!” says Medeiros.  Snakes, frogs, and toucans also call the wildlife sanctuary home. There are hiking trails, bridges, and viewing platforms that help you get a better look at all the wild inhabitants. 

Playa Cocles

Just south of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, Playa Cocles is a popular surf spot and afternoon hangout. “Both locals and travelers come here at the end of the day to watch fire shows, enjoy a drink with friends, or sneak a few waves while watching the beautiful sunset,” says Brown.

Pre-Columbian Gold Museum

Head to the capital, San José, to learn about Costa Rica’s history and culture at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Housed in an underground building beneath the Plaza de la Cultura, it dazzles visitors with a huge collection of gilded artifacts. 

Tortuguero National Park

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Hidden away on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast and only accessible by boat or plane, Tortuguero National Park is one of the most distinct, isolated, and biodiverse places in the country, according to Wright. Nature lovers venture to this remote wilderness area to peep sea turtles, manatees, speckled caimans, and birds while navigating the canals on a canoe. 

Courtesy of Visit Costa Rica

One of the top spots to learn, practice, or master surfing in Costa Rica, Nosara is awash with strong breach breaks and knowledgeable instructors. It’s also a wellness destination with many yoga studios, retreats, and wellbeing centers. 

Tapir Valley Nature Reserve

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Tapir Valley Nature Reserve in northern Costa Rica operates a spate of eco-tours through the spectacular 220-acre private preserve where animals ranging from ghost glass frogs to hummingbirds live. Visitors can follow tapir tracks with the help of a local Bijaguan guide, rise early for a birding adventure, or do a nighttime jungle tour to glimpse nocturnal critters. 

Térraba-Sierpe Wetland

Jesus Fung Yan/Courtesy of Visit Costa Rica

“Exploring the mangroves, which hold so much biodiversity, supplies a deeper understanding of where the land, river, and sea unite," explains Medeiros. You’ll find the largest mangrove swamps in Costa Rica at the Térraba-Sierpe Wetland, just north of the Osa Peninsula. 

Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge

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Part of the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area in the remote northern part of the country near the Nicaraguan border, Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge is a paradise for birdwatchers with good odds of spotting roseate spoonbills, jabirus, and even the reclusive agami heron in the “Everglades of Costa Rica.”

Chocolate Farm Tour

Jonathan Ledezma/Courtesy of Visit Costa Rica and Rainforest Chocolate Tour

When most people think of Costa Rican food, plates of pork, fish, rice, beans, and vegetables come to mind. But chocolate is a major staple (and export) as well. If you’re interested in learning more about how cacao becomes fine artisan chocolate — and sampling the “food of the gods” — book a beans-to-bar tour at one of the many chocolate farms.

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

By Author Jurga

Posted on Last updated: April 30, 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.

Keep in mind that temperatures here can be a lot cooler than at lower elevations, so – depending on the weather forecast – you may need to wear a sweater or even long pants and a jacket.

READ ALSO: Costa Rica Packing Essentials

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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Costa Rica Travel Life

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  • Central America
  • 20 Must Visit Attractions In...

31 Must-Visit Attractions in Costa Rica

tourist hot spots costa rica

There are so many things to explore in Costa Rica that it is impossible to cram them all into one trip. Between national parks, volcanoes, waterfalls, hot springs, animal sanctuaries and more than 300 beaches, there is always something new and exciting to do. Here’s our list of must-visit attractions in Costa Rica.

1. arenal volcano national park.

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2. La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park

Park, Natural Feature

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La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is a privately owned nature sanctuary close to San Jose. There are five waterfalls, cloud forests and rainforests as well as a snake, frog, orchid and heliconia exhibit. There’s also a petting zoo, a hummingbird garden and an animal sanctuary with over 100 different species, including jaguars, ocelots, monkeys and pumas. This is an exciting attraction for the whole family and a perfect way to experience some of the natural wonders of Costa Rica all in one convenient and beautiful place.

3. Tabacón Hot Springs

Natural Feature

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Tabacón Hot Springs is the largest accessible network of natural hot springs in Costa Rica. The pools are located within a private rainforest reserve and part of the Tabacón Thermal Resort. You don’t have to stay here to use the hot springs, as you can purchase a day pass. The highly mineralized and naturally heated water flows through the resort and fills multiple pools that vary in temperature. Soaking in a natural hot tub in the midst of a lush landscape up in the mountains is our idea of heaven.

4. La Fortuna Waterfall

Forest, Hiking Trail

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5. Venado Caves

In 1945, by a total accident, the Venado Caves were discovered by a farmer who literally fell into them. Eight magnificent chambers make up a maze of limestone deep down in the earth. The rooms, which are filled with stalagmites and stalactites, were carved over the course of millions of years from underground rivers and the shifting plates of the Earth near the Arenal Volcano. This is not an experience for those who are claustrophobic. However, if small spaces don’t faze you and you want to dip down below sea level to these ancient caverns, then checking out the Venado Caves is a must-do.

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6. La Selva Biological Station and Reserve

La Selva Biological Station and Reserve is on a protected 3,700-acre (1,497ha) piece of land that is home to some incredible biodiversity, especially birds. The station is also home to almost 300 visiting students and scientists. The combination of this being a learning and research center, protected reserve and eco-tourism hot spot makes this a must-stop place. Out of the 450-plus birds that make Costa Rica their home, either permanently or seasonally, nearly half of them spend time on the La Selva Reserve. This is a spectacular place to experience some of the unique flora and fauna of Costa Rica in such a small zone.

7. Del Toro Waterfall

Hiking Trail

The Del Toro waterfall is the largest and most spectacular waterfall in Costa Rica. The sheer magnitude and power of this waterfall that appears out of the dense jungle will surely take your breath away. There are great trails and lookout points surrounding the waterfall. Visiting the Del Toro Waterfall is an amazing way to spend the day surrounded by nature. This is also a chance to see an abundance of wildlife. If you are only going to visit one waterfall on your trip, visit this one.

8. Catalinas Islands

The Catalinas Islands offer some of the best scuba diving locations in Costa Rica and are easily accessible from Tamarindo , Playa Flamingo, Conchal and Papagayo. This island chain is located off the Nicoya Peninsula in the northwest part of the country. The islands are famous for their population and variety of rays, as well as tropical fish, sharks , sea turtles and even sometimes whale sharks and pilot whales. Diving is incredible here all year round.

9. Cano Island Biological Reserve

Forest, Park, Natural Feature

The Cano Island Biological Reserve is an amazing place to spend the day and go snorkeling. It’s just 10miles (16km) off the Osa Peninsula , and the waters are warm, crystal clear and teeming with marine life. The coral reefs here are home to a wide variety of tropical fish, rays and turtles. As the reserve is located just off the reef, it is common to see bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales here. Violines Island, which is part of the reserve, is a beautiful island lined with white sand and palm trees, where you can kick back and relax after you are done snorkeling.

10. Rio Celeste

11. poás volcano national park.

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The Poás Volcano National Park is one of the most-visited volcanic parks, and for a very good reason: the volcano is the largest and most active in Costa Rica. It rises 8,885ft (2,708m) high, and the main crater is filled with a stunning blue-green-colored lake called Laguna Botas. Surrounding the volcanic area, there are multiple different ecosystems, including cloud forests and rainforests, which are home to many species of birds and small mammals. There are well-maintained and marked hiking trails in the park, too.

12. Manuel Antonio National Park

13. rainmaker aerial walkway.

Architectural Landmark

Walk across six suspension bridges that are almost 800ft (245m) long and 25 stories high above the lush and lively rainforest in Quepos . The view from the bridge is unmatched by any other; the feeling of being so high up in the treetops, where most of the rainforest inhabitants live, is truly phenomenal. Just before you get to the first bridge, you will encounter a beautiful waterfall and natural swimming pool, where you can take a dip and cool off. This zone is bursting with wildlife, especially birds, amphibians, reptiles and small mammals like monkeys.

14. Rio Tárcoles

There is a section of Rio Tárcoles that is especially famous for its abundance of very large American crocodiles. You can walk out onto a bridge and look down to see dozens of massive crocodiles laying on the embankment or just floating at the surface. You will pass this bridge when you are driving from San Jose toward Jaco Beach. You can’t miss it because you will see plenty of people on the side of the bridge admiring these ancient beasts.

15. The mysterious stone spheres

Historical Landmark

Giant stone spheres were first discovered in the southern Caribbean region of Costa Rica in the 1930s. Some of the stones weigh as much as 16 tons, so it is a great mystery as to who made them and how they got all over the country. Over 300 of them have been found, yet no one is really sure how they were made, though it is thought that some may be up to 1,000 years old. Quarries with the type of stone that these spheres are made from are at least 50mi (80km) from any of the giant stones that have been discovered. You can see these mysterious balls at El Sitio Museo Finca 6.

16. Lankester Botanical Gardens

Botanical Garden

The Lankester Botanical Gardens, located in the Central Valley , is home to 15,000 orchids and 3,000 other types of plants. This impressive and gorgeous botanical garden is a must-visit for plant and orchid enthusiasts or anyone who just loves being surrounded by flowers. Since the 1940s, these gardens have been thriving and attracting visitors from all over the country and the world. Also, due to all of the flowering plants, there is quite a large population of butterflies and birds that make their home here.

17. Butterfly Conservatory

18. san lucas island.

In 2008, San Lucas Island was declared a national wildlife preserve, but, before that, between 1873 and 1991, it housed the most feared prison in Costa Rica. For those interested in eerie pasts and landmarks, this is a fascinating historical site. The old prison still sits on this island. San Lucas Island is located off the coast of Puntarenas and is accessible by boat. When walking around this island, it is common to see white-tailed deer, armadillos, boa constrictors, pythons, raccoons and pigs, along with 40 species of birds. There are also five pristine beaches on the island that you can explore. For being such a haunted place in the past, this island is full of life and beauty now.

19. The National Theater

The National Theater is a marvelous architectural and cultural attraction in San Jose. This iconic neoclassical building is as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside. Inside, there are exquisite murals and decorations. The theater hosts all sorts of different live performances ranging from theatrical plays to concerts. If you are in San Jose, you should definitely visit the National Theater for its architectural and interior beauty – and definitely try and see a live performance here.

20. Take a walk in Territorio de Zaguates, the Land of the Strays

21. take a mangrove tour.

Natural Feature, Forest

While there are mangrove forests located up and down both coasts, the Sierpe Terraba mangrove forest on the Osa Peninsula is the biggest in Costa Rica. The flooded forest stretches 67,000 acres (27,000ha) and is teeming with wildlife such as crabs, caimans, crocodiles, boas, tree frogs, river turtles, iguanas, white-faced capuchin monkeys and a wide variety of birds. This serene habitat, which can only be accessed by boat, plays an important role in protecting the coastlines from the destructive force of big storm swells. Take a tour with a certified naturalist who will share information about the mangrove forest and its inhabitants.

22. Be in the presence of giants at the Marino Ballena National Park

Natural Feature, Park

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Between December and April, the Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita serves as a base for humpback whales migrating from Antarctica. Killer whales and pilot whales (both of which are actually in the dolphin family) also spend time in these rich tropical waters. Whale-watching tours in Costa Rica have fallen under the radar for years but are gaining popularity in places like Uvita. There are so many whales and dolphins during these months that there will most definitely be some special encounters out at sea. Discover the marine wildlife of Marino Ballena National Park on a boat tour from Utiva.

23. Go birdwatching

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More than 800 species of birds call Costa Rica home – around 600 permanent residents and 200 migratory species. All of North America has just over 900 species of birds, so this is truly a bird utopia, and an incredible place for bird lovers to see some exotic and exquisite species, including the resplendent quetzal, scarlet macaw, toucan, roseate spoonbill and 50 different types of hummingbirds . The best spots for birdwatching are San Gerardo de Dota , Curi-Chancha Reserve, Tortuguero National Park , Rancho Naturalista , Manuel Antonio National Park , and La Selva Biological Reserve .

24. Learn to cook

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark

25. Free Dive Costa Rica

26. playa zancudo.

Playa Zancudo is located just 12 miles (20 kilometers) south of Golfito, but it feels like a world away from everything and everyone. This long stretch of idyllic black sand lined with coconut trees is ideal for swimming, body surfing, fishing, and just basking in the sun on what will feel like your own private slice of paradise. Some claim that Playa Zancudo is the best swimming beach in all of Costa Rica, and the tranquil crystal clear waters are quite inviting. There are multiple budget-friendly accommodations and great restaurants and bars nearby. Playa Zancudo is also conveniently located close to famous attractions such as the Corcovado National Park and La Casa Orquideas Botanical Gardens.

27. Dominical

Dominical is a charming and laid-back boho-surfer town on the Central Pacific coast just 27 miles (44 kilometers) south of Quepos . Novice and experienced surfers alike will enjoy the consistent and fun beach break waves here. Non-surfers will enjoy the expansive beach, beachfront bars and restaurants, daily artisan market, birdwatching, horseback riding, and the nearby rainforest and waterfalls. There is plenty to do around Dominical as far as nature and adventure tours go, as well as it being a place that inspires total relaxation. Surprisingly, Dominical has a pretty happening nightlife, too.

28. Santa Rosa National Park

The Santa Rosa National Park is located in Northern Guanacaste. Surprisingly, it is a park that is often overlooked in favor of other parks such as the Arenal National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park . However, overlooking it would be a mistake. What makes this park remarkable is there are 10 different habitats within it, including oak forest, deciduous forest, evergreen forest, littoral woodlands, mangrove swampland, marshland, and savannah. There are 115 species of mammals, 250 species of birds, 10,000 species of insects, 100 species of reptiles and amphibians, and multiple waterfalls and beaches. It is one of the most marvelous places to visit in Costa Rica.

29. San Gerardo de Dota

San Gerardo de Dota is nestled up against the Talamanca Mountains. This breathtakingly beautiful town is a birdwatching hotspot , as well as a nature and adventure lover’s utopia. The quaint town is perfectly placed near the famous Los Quetzales National Park, Savegre River, Naranjo waterfalls, rolling hills, fruit plantations, and misty forests. The hiking, birdwatching, white-water rafting , and fishing in this stunning part of Costa Rica are world class, and San Gerado de Dota is a dreamy destination for those looking to become fully immersed in nature.

30. Pacuare

Pacuare is located on the Caribbean coast and is a famous sea turtle nesting beach and an important research site for scientists who are studying green sea turtles, leatherbacks, and hawksbill turtles. Turtle nesting season is between May and October. Pacuare is a perfect destination for those looking to experience the remote rainforest. It is also relatively close to the Tortuguero National Park and is only a short way from the famous white-water rafting river Rio Pacuare. This is a wild and remote destination that is bursting with wildlife, ancient plant life, and endless opportunities for adventure .

31. Cahuita

Cahuita is a happening little town on the Caribbean coast just 27 miles (43 kilometers) south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. The majority of the permanent residents are of Jamaican descent and the Creole–African culture is alive and vibrant here. Visiting Cahuita is a chance to experience a totally different culture from the rest of Costa Rica, and the laid-back and free-spirited vibe of this Caribbean town is contagious. The Cahuita National Park, Playa Negra, and Playa Blanca are all nearby. The Hitoy-Cerere Biological Reserve is nearby, too, and was named a World Heritage Site in 1993; this is a relatively unknown treasure and a must-visit destination while in this part of Costa Rica.

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Top Destinations to Visit in Costa Rica

Top Destinations to Visit in Costa Rica

DESTINATION GUIDES

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Costa Rica is such an amazing country that it can be difficult to know where to go first. To get you started, here's a list of the best places to go in Costa Rica. Explore popular destinations like Arenal Lake and Arenal Volcano, or Monteverde's cloud forests. By no means is this an exhaustive list of places to go in Costa Rica, but it is a great list of Costa Rica points of interest. Remember, adding popular destinations to your travel to-do list isn't a bad thing. When you're trying to decide where to go in Costa Rica, heading to at least one or two hot spots ensures that you're not missing any of the beauty or magic associated with legitimate 'must see' destinations.

Costa Rica's top destinations offer you a wide range of activities and accommodations that have attracted visitors from all over the world. In many of these destinations, you'll find yourself captivated by the unique natural landscape and habitat — like the breathtaking beaches of Manuel Antonio. For a cultural or outdoor getaway, in Puerto Viejo, you'll find well-established Native American traditions and excursions in the nearby Cahuita National Park. Seeking a cosmopolitan tropical getaway? You'll be drawn to Papagayo Gulf's luxury hotels, and the nightlife and restaurant options which accompany them. This is Costa Rica your way!

# 1 :   Arenal Volcano, Hot Springs, Waterfalls, Rainforests & so much more!

Arenal, Costa Rica

You haven't truly been to Costa Rica until you've been to Arenal — it's everything you've heard and more, especially if you love outdoor adventure! From trekking around the massive Arenal Volcano National Park — home of the namesake Arenal Volcano, to zip lining through the rainforest, you'll have to go out of your way to find boredom in Arenal, which makes it a great destination if you're planning a family adventure vacation.

If this is a getaway for just the two of you, plan a trip of adventure, culture, and romance Get a rush of adrenaline when you careen over rapids or rappel down a waterfall. Sample delicious treats as you learn how chocolate goes 'from bean to bar' — you won't believe how fruity cacao beans turn into the decadent indulgence you know and love. Horseback riding leave you a little sore? Slip into one of Arenal's hot springs , and let your muscles relax as memories of stress fade away. Arenal hotels are some of the nicest in the country on the high end but

Home to an impressive assortment of plants and animals, the cool and mountainous region of Arenal will remind you of all of the amazing things you can do when you're free to explore the world at your own pace.

# 2 :   Ocean Views, Pristine Beaches & Adventures Await in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio , Costa Rica

Why is Manuel Antonio a 'can't miss' destination in Costa Rica? For starters, there is the Manuel Antonio National Park, which spans almost 1,700 acres of land (683 terrestrial ha) and 136,000 acres of ocean (55,000 marine ha). From the get go, you have pristine beaches and tranquil waters to look forward to. There will be plenty of opportunities to observe wildlife on land and in the sea — hello snorkeling excursion!

Romantic activities await you when you go horseback riding on the beach. Going on vacation with the family ? Then you'll enjoy wholesome and exciting adventures such as kayaking and rappelling. One of the great things about Manuel Antonio is that it's easy to plan a vacation where activity and relaxation are easy to balance — one minute you're enjoying the great outdoors, and the next, you're reading a book whilst you dig your toes into warm sand.

What about when it's time to leave the beach? Eventually, that golden sunset is going to come to an end. When it does, you can start a whole new adventure. Enjoy dinner, drinks, and dancing when you explore the nightlife of this coastal destination, or stay in and indulge in a spa treatment at your hotel . Prefer more modest accommodations? Choose a more rustic setting, where you can easily access luscious green forests. Go hiking and listen to tropical birds, or make the voyage to a waterfall and feel the cool mist on your face.

Discover why Manuel Antonio is bound to be your new favorite coastal city on your Costa Rican getaway.

# 3 :   For Good Reason Tamarindo Beach is One of Costa Rica's Premier Destinations

Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Take a closer look at Tamarindo, Costa Rica — situated along the beautiful Pacific Coast of Guanacaste , this town is an absolute must if sun, sand, adventure, and wildlife are on your agenda. Home to surf competitions, sport fishing, and other aquatic activities, there's plenty of fun to be had off the beach as well. After dark there is always a party at one of the dozen or so hot spots around town so you'll have plenty to explore, day or night.

Go on a Tamarindo ATV adventure to explore a wild region on a safe path. Take the family out on a catamaran and enjoy some snorkeling. As for accommodations , you can choose from charming economical options (with a complimentary breakfast), high-end resorts, and even private bungalows.

Eating options are plentiful in Tamarindo from local fare, quick street food or fine dining. The hardest decision will be which restaurant to go to for fresh caught red snapper, regional grass fed beef or authentic Italian cooking in one of the many international upscale eateries. Tamarindo isn't just a sophisticated beach town, it's a getaway waiting to happen!

# 4 :   An Outdoor Adventure Awaits You in Monteverde

Monteverde, Costa Rica

Get back to greenery when your Costa Rica getaway takes you to beautiful Monteverde. Situated within the central highlands, Monteverde is famous for its cloud forests, sustainable practices, and friendly community. This is the destination to head to if you want to be surrounded by tropical wildlife.

In Monteverde, you're spoiled by beauty and for choice — very good issues to have during a vacation. Walk through a hazy dream when you explore the region's legendary cloud forests. See every inch of the forests when you walk through them on treks and above them on suspension bridge canopy tours. Need an adrenaline fix? Zoom through an emerald jungle on a zip line, or climb the outside and inside of a tree. For even more excitement, rappel down six different waterfalls in the middle of a rainforest.

Throw out your alarm clock, because you're about to start each day being treated to the sounds of tropical birds and howler monkeys, all from the comfort of your eco-lodge. See sloths lazing about in trees. Visit Selvatura to learn all about nature from the experts — there are butterfly and hummingbird gardens full of flowers, an insect exhibit with over 1 million specimens, and reptile and amphibian exhibits. Then head to a working farm and learn how they play a vital role in the community's commitment to sustainability.

Spend your next vacation outdoors, and love every minute of it. In Monteverde, Costa Rica, it's easy being green!

# 5 :   Drake Bay the Gateway to Corcovado

Drake Bay, Costa Rica

Follow the same watery route as explorer Sir Francis Drake on a visit to Drake Bay — accessible only by boat, and home to biodiversity unlike anywhere else on Earth.

Stay in comfortable accommodations right on the edge of Costa Rica’s vast, tropical wilderness — Corcovado National Park. This is a starting point for tours that take you deep into the jungle or out onto the bright blue waters of the bay.

You can see plenty of marine wildlife on boating tours, including whales, dolphins, rays, and sea turtles. Dive beneath the water near Caño Island to see some of the tropical fish that thrive in this area, and sandy beaches where sea turtles are known to come ashore.

Pick what view you want from your room — the jungle, the Pacific Ocean, or both. Lodges in the area emphasize the surroundings, with terraces, hammocks, and outdoor bars that let you spend as much time as possible making memories in this incredible scenery.

# 6 :   The Best Mix of Tropical Beaches and Rainforests is Found in Puerto Viejo de Limon

Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

While Puerto Viejo de Limon’s clear water beckons to travelers, its appeal goes way beyond the beach. This is one of the top destinations on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast, and offers lots of ways to experience the beach as well as the surrounding rainforest.

This is one of the few places you can experience distinctly Costa Rican culture — explore traditional villages with a guide and meet Talamanca natives.

The vibe here is made for hippies and free spirits. While you’re here, choose from cozy bungalows and nicely appointed eco lodges surrounded by tracts of jungle.

The Caribbean canopy is especially colorful — keep an eye out for toucans and hummingbirds on your explorations of the nearby Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge. You’ll see lots of birds and monkeys on a zip-line adventure, or you might opt to move at a more observant pace on a nature walk over suspension bridges.

When you’re ready for the beach, Punta Uva awaits. The waves here are gentle enough for all surfers, making it idea, for introductory surf lessons.

# 7 :   The International & Eco Chic Atmosphere of Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

This area is well known for its surf, but there’s more than one reason these waters beckon to visitors from all over the world. People from dozens of countries pass through during their vacation while others have stayed to start businesses and make it home. The international hip vibe is reflected in all the yoga studios, hip juice bars, craft beer bars and of course all the types of restaurants!

If you’re not ready to take to the waves on your own, sign up for a surf lesson . Or, leave the beach behind altogether for a day of sport fishing . See tropical fish up close as you snorkel near Tortuga Island , on tours that include beach picnics. Take in the lush landscape at a higher speed on an ATV safari down dirt trails through the jungle.

No matter if you’re traveling with family, on a solo mission, or looking for romance, accommodations here cater to all types of travelers, from cozy lodges to beachfront resorts.

# 8 :   Bum Around The Beach Town of Jaco

Jaco, Costa Rica

Playa Jacó is a popular place to while away long, warm afternoons on the Puntarenas Coast. Come here for a variety of tours and hotels, as well as the fun vibe of a busy coastal destination.

See the canopy at a relaxed pace on a tram that glides through the trees. Paddle away from the shore and stop for some snorkeling in the clear, blue water.

It doesn’t take long to reach the other beaches in the area that offer compelling contrasts. Surfers should consider visiting the black sands of Playa Hermosa to the south. There’s also Playa Herradura to the north, where you can experience a more tranquil beach town.

The amount of visitors to this area guarantees that you’ll find the accommodations you want. Choose from comfy, affordable hotels that are perfect for families, or swanky resorts with giant swimming pools, and everything in between.

# 9 :   Take It Easy With An Outdoor Adventure in The 'Region of Turtles'

Tortuguero, Costa Rica

Translated as 'region of turtles,' Tortuguero is a favorite national park for visitors of Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. More importantly, it’s a favorite destination for several different species of sea turtles — green, leatherback, loggerhead, and hawksbill have all been sighted in the area.

Hatching season starts in July and lasts until late September. Tour the beach at night for the chance to see green sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs.

You’ll have the chance to spot more wildlife on a quiet tour of the marshlands in an expertly guided boat — look for crocodiles in the canals, and monkeys and birds in the trees. Other animals you can spot include super-rare manatees.

# 10 :   The Rincon de La Vieja Highlands of Guanacaste are Quintessential Costa Rica

Rincon de La Vieja, Costa Rica

Rincón de la Vieja National Park percolates with the energy of an active volcano. Travelers come here looking for an outdoorsy vacation, in a part of Costa Rica that knows how to make you feel at home — jungle lodges and rainforest ranches offer a sense of coziness in the forest.

Hikes and nature tours lead the way to bubbling mud pools and cylindrical vents called fumaroles. Take paths that wander near waterfalls and peer over the edge of a smoking crater. Hop on a zip line for a view of the treetops, and drift through the greenery on an inner tube in a gentle river.

At the end of the day, soak in a geothermally heated pool that’s conveniently located in beautifully landscaped spas. And while you’re here, sign up for massages and other rejuvenating treatments.

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Costa Rica’s Most Instagrammable Hot-Spots 

Costa Rica is not a country that’s short on spectacularly photogenic spots yet a few have become almost ‘legendary’ in social media circles. Adventure vacations chasing Costa Rica’s most Instagrammable hot-spots tug at the heart of those who not only cherish delivering a heavy dose of Insta-envy (because isn’t that just a little bit fun?) but also those who simply want to discover the most outrageously beautiful spots in the country.

Our list of favorite Insta-worthy spots in Costa Rica don’t just look good on camera but also require an adventurous spirit to capture. Because, after all, what’s the point of planning an adventure vacation in Costa Rica if the best Instagrammable hot-spots are just outside your hotel door?!

So get over here, strap on your boots, slap on the sunscreen and come see what photogenic gems Costa Rica has in store.

The Hanging Bridges of Monteverde

There’s something utterly surreal about the rustic bridges seemingly suspended in the clouds of Monteverde. The vibrant green of the forest mixed in with the mist of the low clouds lends this landscape a fairy-tale vibe like few others.

hot-spots

What, Where & How: Halfway between San Jose and the Liberia International Airport, the Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of Costa Rica’s most distinctive wilderness highlights . Explore the biological reserve on foot it by following a complex maze of walking trails which include several hanging bridges, and immerse yourself in this unique ecosystem right at the top of the continental divide. Costa Rica feels like another world at this altitude (pack some warm clothing!) the distinct climate nurturing an array of unique flora and fauna you simply won’t find anywhere else.

Rio Celeste Waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park

Costa Rica’s many waterfalls are among the most Instagrammable hot-spots of all and among them we’d rate the Rio Celeste Waterfall as perhaps the most photogenic of all. The iridescent color of the water is said to have inspired Photoshop (probably) creating a surreal Insta-worthy snap that’ll blow you away. The best part of capturing this startling sight? The heart-pumping hike to get there!

hot-spots

What, Where & How: Nestled in the heart of the Tenorio Volcano National Park in Guanacaste, the Rio Celeste Waterfall sits at the end of a short and sweet one-mile hiking trail through wilderness and, at the end, a very picturesque staircase that descends almost 500 feet. The stairs are unarguably the toughest challenge on the legs but if you’re after a little adventure in Costa Rica, consider this a stellar warm up. You can continue through the western section of the walking trail after ascending the stairs, which will guide you to a beautiful viewpoint over the rain-forest (just watch your feet on the uneven platform) and then onward to a turquoise lagoon and bubbling sulfur hot springs. The end of the trail is the confluence of the two rivers and one of the most unmissable parts of the park – where the celeste waters begin their journey!

Irazu Volcano

Volcanoes are about the only Instagrammable competition to waterfalls in Costa Rica, with the country’s #1 attraction, Arenal, taking out the first photo-price across the board. Yet whilst Arenal is indeed a spectacular sight, we do cherish the otherworldly view of Irazu, the highest volcano in Costa Rica and one basting three mineral-enriched caldera lakes of astonishing colors.

hot-spots

Santa Teresa Beach, Nicoya Peninsula

Waxing lyrical about waterfalls and volcanoes doesn’t hide the fact that the most photographed of all Costa Rica’s highlights would surely be its beaches. This country is defined by its exceptional stretches of postcard-perfect beaches and if anything could induce a case of Insta-envy then a glorious sunrise or sunset photo of a Costa Rica beach would have to do the trick. To this end, head to the western shores of the wild Nicoya Peninsula and cast your eyes on Santa Teresa, one of the most magnificent stretches of coast in the entire country.

tourist hot spots costa rica

What, Where & How: The Nicoya is often dubbed the ‘wild west’ of Costa Rica and it is here that you’ll find the most remote and unspoiled beaches on the Pacific coast. The town of the same name is just a cool surfer’s hangout, attracting discerning travelers who wish to get away from it all and have a few more days up their sleeve. Santa Teresa is a white sandy beach framed by palm trees, one that seems to stretch out forever. You won’t find any mega mall or huge resort hotels here but you will find is one of the best surfing spots in the world, a laid-back vibe that just screams Pura Vida and endless chances for that perfect Instagram pic.

Nesting turtles at Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge

Let’s be honest: snapping a close-up shot of an iconic turtle is pretty much equivalent to winning the Instagrammable lottery in Costa Rica and knowing where to go and when will help you achieve that goal. Whilst the Pacific is the more famous (and visited side to visit for nesting turtles) we absolutely love the remote and pristine Gandoca Reserve on the Caribbean side, one of the least-known corners of the country.

What, Where & How: Gandoca is one of our favorite Instagrammable hot-spots because this wild reserve doesn’t just serve up sloths, turtles and other wildlife on a silver platter: you still need to hike, you still need to look and you still need to pray it happens but, if you go with a specialized local guide, your chances of spotting and photographing a turtle in the wild are absolutely brilliant. Plus, chasing turtles in Gandoca means you’ll head to the lesser visited Caribbean Coast, where fewer tourists and more wildlife combine to create a magnificently remote adventure. Just south of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Gandoca is one of Costa Rica’s hidden treasures, where idyllic beaches, dense tropical forests and a multitude of wildlife await. The plus side? You’ll literally be among very few lucky folks that’ll hashtag Gandoca on Instagram.

tourist hot spots costa rica

Ruinas de Ujarra

In Costa Rica, it’s not just Mother Nature that creates the most the most Instagrammable hot-spots although, in the case of the Ujarra church ruins, she certainly plays a big hand in framing the picture.

tourist hot spots costa rica

What, Where & How: The remnants of the very first church ever built in the country date back to the 1500’s and are set amidst a verdant garden right in the heart of the Orosi Valley, a short distance southeast of San Jose. Built by missionaries and boasting a troubling history, the church ruins are both fascinating to discover and amazing to photograph.

Lake Arenal

Well, it’s not like we could really leave the star Costa Rica Instagrammable attraction off our list but, in this case, we’ll hone in on the most photographic side of Arenal Volcano and that’s from its namesake lake. Taken at the right time of day, with the right condition, the reflection of the peak on the lake is simply spellbinding.

tourist hot spots costa rica

What, Where and When: Arenal is Costa Rica’s premier attraction, one that’s easy to get to and super easy to enjoy. A multitude of resorts, some with their own private hot-springs (imagine THOSE Insta pics) as well as plenty of adrenaline-pumping activities like zip-lining, mountain biking and horseback-riding, make this a very comprehensive destination for singles, families and honeymooning couples alike. The extensive lake sits on the western side of the volcano so best plan for an early-morning visit to the lake to snap the sensational scene with a rising sun.

La Bruja Waterfall, Turrialba

Turrialba is one of the lesser-visited corners of Costa Rica. This adventurous playground hides many hidden treasures and, among them all, is where you’ll find the Witch’s Waterfall, one of the country’s most Instagrammable hot-spots.

tourist hot spots costa rica

What, Where & How: If you’re after an off-the-beaten-path adventure to one of the least photographed and known waterfalls in Costa Rica, then set your sights firmly on La Bruja. You’ll need to be in good physical shape and be ready to hike a few miles in untouched wilderness to reach it but, when you do, you’ll no-doubt consider it well worth the effort. This is one of the most off-beat destinations in the entire country and the waterfall one of the rarest sights of all.

Turrialba is Costa Rica adventure capital and it’s no coincidence that this is our backyard. At Costa Rica Rios, we can help you find an infinite array of Instagrammable hit-spots way off the beaten path, whilst dishing up a sensational week of unforgettable adventures in one of the world’s wildest countries. Check out our Adventure Vacations Packages and contact us when you’re ready to take your Instagram account to a whole other level.

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Costa Rica’s Best Kept Secrets: The Most Incredible Off The Beaten Path Spots

Costa Rica is no doubt one of the most beautiful countries in Central America — especially when you experience Costa Rica off the beaten path.

It’s hardly any wonder then that tourism is massive in Costa Rica – 2022 saw over 2 million tourists, breaking a record for the country. That’s half their entire population! 

And yet . . . what is so special about Costa Rica is that even the popular tourist places in Costa Rica to visit feel quaint and secluded. And, there are so many hidden gems in Costa Rica that are a bit more authentic and rugged and a true reflection of the jungle paradise, away from the busy tourist spots.

So, are you ready to get deep into the jungle and discover sights and experiences in Costa Rica you might not have heard your friends or other travelers discuss?

Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: The Top 10 Places To Discover

Calling all trailblazers . . .

We’ve compiled a list of our favorite parts of the country for off-the-beaten-path travelers coming to Costa Rica. Let’s dive in!

The Osa Peninsula

The Osa Peninsula is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parts of the Pacific coast and is one of the best Costa Rica vacation spots. With its wide open beaches, lined by the greenness of the jungle, the Osa is pure magic. It may not be somewhere you have heard about before, but it’s worth every minute of planning to see. 

The beaches on the Osa are nothing short of an ideal, movie-esque vision of what you might imagine when someone tells you to think of your “happy place.” You’ll see waves splash against huge, exposed rocks near the shoreline, macaws, lizards, and the most beautiful sunrise and sunset the sun can create. 

The Osa Peninsula is full of wildlife, and what’s so serene is that there aren’t rows upon rows of restaurants, bars, and hotels. You’ll likely meet other travelers during your visit, but you won’t feel surrounded by tourists. 

This is, hands down, the best place to see wildlife in Costa Rica – or perhaps anywhere. The tiny peninsula holds over 2.5% of nature worldwide , making it one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The peninsula is very rural, and you’ll find much of its coastline so quiet it’s like having your private beach. Corcovado National Park is also on the peninsula, known as one of the best national parks in the world.

Thinking about coming to the Osa Peninsula? Make your reservation at Blue Osa today, and we’ll show you around!

We’ll be honest . . .

It doesn’t get more wild and untouched than the Osa Peninsula. However, if you have a few extra days to add to your yoga vacation, check out these other spots for Costa Rica off the beaten path:

Blue Osa Yoga Retreat View in Costa Rica From Above (Drone Shot)

El Castillo

El Castillo is a small neighboring town of La Fortuna. It is definitely an option to look into for people who prefer to have access to Costa Rica’s natural wonders away from the tourist places of Costa Rica. 

It sits about 45 minutes from La Fortuna, and the drive there is bumpy, along a treacherous unpaved road filled with potholes, which steers many people away. However, those who take the more complex route are rewarded with one of the most serene and beautiful little rainforest towns in Costa Rica.

El Castillo is right on the expansive Lake Arenal, right on the edge of miles and miles of primary rainforest that lead to Monteverde , and from many parts of the town, you have better views of the volcano as well. It’s the perfect middle point between some of the country’s most famed natural destinations. It’s a small community with few amenities, but it makes up for that with its charm and hospitality. 

This cute little town is a base for tours that are more authentic and less expensive than those offered in other, more popular areas of Costa Rica, such as horseback riding, kayaking, waterfall hikes, zip lining, volcano hikes, and more.

El Castillo is a great stop to take before or after visiting the Osa Peninsula! You’ll get the jungle of the Osa and the volcanoes of El Castillo, so you’ll see much of what the country has to show you. 

Dominical is south of Jaco, and it’s a lot more of a quiet surfer paradise , so it quickly makes the list of the best vacation spots in Costa Rica. It sees enough tourists to offer some tours, yoga, and your basic amenities, but not so many that the pleasurable aspects of the town have been ruined. It’s a short drive from Uvita, Costa Rica’s “whale’s tale” beach – another lovely stop to make! 

Dominical is directly on the way to Blue Osa, so if you’re making the drive, it’s a great place to spend a few nights. You’ll want to tour the Nauyaca waterfalls, hike through the Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge, and take a SUP through the mangroves. And, of course, anyone who appreciates nature will enjoy Parque Reptilandia. 

Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary will show you some of Costa Rica’s most exotic wildlife up close. This organization is dedicated to rescuing and rehabbing animals and birds that have been injured or found left astray and then nurses them back to health so they can be released back into the wild. White-faced capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, white-nosed coati, sloths, armadillos, kinkajoos, and anteaters are among some wildlife you’ll see here! 

A mama capuchin monkey with a baby on her back looking at the camera in Costa Rica.

North of Puerto Viejo lies Cahuita, a tiny town with a fantastic beachside national park. We consider Cahuita Costa Rica off the beaten track because it’s tucked away. While unseen, it’s home to the Caribbean’s most idyllic beaches, the best snorkeling, and great hiking as well. 

Chocolate is an integral part of Costa Rica’s culture and economy, so take a chocolate tour! You’ll learn about the process of making it and getting it ready for consumption, and of course, the best part is getting to taste it at the end of the tour. 

If you’re a wildlife lover, plan a visit to the Sloth Sanctuary. Here, abandoned and injured sloths are cared for and rehabilitated before returning to the wild. The aim is to protect the sloths and educate visitors on how they can conserve wildlife to protect these animals and others. 

The Jaguar Rescue Center is another interesting and educational Costa Rica off-the-beaten-path stop.

If you’re visiting the Osa and want to experience the Caribbean side of the country as well, Cahuita is a phenomenal place to go. There are plenty of local options to rent a car, take a shuttle or bus, or fly from one side to the other. 

If you’d like to continue your laid-back Costa Rica vacation after the Osa Peninsula, Montezuma on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula is an attractive option. While it takes a little longer to get there, the beaches are lovely and lined with cliffs and mountains of lush jungle. The town itself is small but active, a mixture of youthful bohemian types from Costa Rica and abroad and a brief drive from Santa Teresa and Malpais’s more lively (and posh) beach towns.

The beaches of Montezuma are easily navigable on an ATV, which is a super fun daytime activity. Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve has monkeys, birds, and other wildlife here, and you’ll also find a remote beach nearby to enjoy after you spend time with the animals. 

Perhaps the biggest must-see is the waterfalls of Montezuma. There are a set of 3 cascades, and you can either sit and relax or, for the more adventurous type, jump off the cliffs into the water!

A waterfall cascading into a lagoon of turquoise blue water with greenery surround the waterfall in Costa Rica.

Playa Avellanas 

Playa Avellanas is close to Tamarindo and takes about 20-30 minutes to arrive. The drive is part of the experience as the roads are unpaved and gravel-ridden. On your way in, you’ll pass through small Tico towns and get a sense of life beyond the prominent tourist destinations.

At Playa Avellanas, you’ll enjoy light brown sand and beautiful blue waves. This long beach stretches from Hacienda Pinilla, north of the river mouth, south to Playa Lagartillo. This beach is charming because it doesn’t see the same crowds as Tamarindo, so it’s typically pretty easy to find a place to camp away from other beach-goers and groups of tourists. 

Of course, at Playa Avellanas, surfing is one of this beach’s biggest draws. It’s perfect for the seasoned surfer or the first-timer. Locals know the most giant wave as Little Hawaii, and you’ll catch it near the river mouth. It has a left and right-hand break that can top 12 feet on a good day.

Beginners are usually near the parking lot and Lola’s restaurant. This is a popular spot for surf companies to take people for lessons. If boogie boarding is more your thing, this is a great Costa Rica off-the-beaten-path spot. 

Drake’s Bay 

Drake’s Bay is situated in southwestern Costa Rica on a tract of land called the Osa Peninsula, so it’s super convenient if you’re on your way to Blue Osa! The beauty of this area qualifies it as one of the best Costa Rica destinations. 

The village sits on the Pacific side of the peninsula but is pretty protected from ocean swells as it’s situated on a wide cove. Snorkeling and diving are popular activities here, as is a visit to Corcovado National Park. Or, perhaps, pass through Cano Island Biological Preserve. For a more rugged experience, rent an ATV and take it for a tour of the jungle’s incredible wildlife. 

Drake’s Bay is quaint and has a small-town vibe, so it feels extra welcoming and warm. This is one of the most beautiful parts of the Osa and a sure-fire locale for those seeking Costa Rica off the beaten path , so it’s worth the visit. 

Neon pink and orange sunset over over the ocean with black silhouettes of the trees and mountains in the background.

Orosi Valley

The Orosi Valley is probably the best place to go if you’re searching for vast open space. It’s secluded and tucked away and doesn’t attract as many travelers as other parts of Costa Rica. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing to do, however. 

Orosi is one of the eight regions of coffee production in the country. Its steep valleys are full of coffee terraces, and the best brews can be found in this area. There are several hotels you can stay here with viewing parks perfect for resting your mind. The Orosi Valley is also home to Tapanti National Park, with less-visited trails for birding and hiking. 

If you love history, you’ll find ruins of the first church in Costa Rica nearby, nestled in a tranquil garden of butterflies, birds, and colorful tropical flowers. And stop by the hot springs! 

Celeste River – Tenorio Volcano

The Celeste River was difficult to reach for a long time, so it remains a top spot for Costa Rica off the beaten path. The river is unique because of the curiously bright blue color it exudes. The phenomenon of the optimal effect is caused by the water’s composition. Colloidal silica is suspended in the water particles and shines bright blue when light reflects off it. 

It’s located in the country’s Northern region, bejeweled by the Tenorio Volcano and is one of the most beautiful parts of the country. It’s mainly untouched by human activity, providing a somewhat surreal experience. 

You can access the river by a long hike in Tenorio National Park; however, you can’t swim there. Some hotels have access to parts of the river where you can swim and enjoy the cooling water and natural healing. 

You’ll want to visit the volcano during your trip, too! It’s the perfect backdrop for a nature hike or birdwatching tour. 

A toucan sitting on the perch of a tree looking to the side showing it's yellow, green, orange, blue and red beak.

Turrialba is accessible by way of Costa Rica’s capital and is not far. This little town makes it on our list of places to go because the Turrialba Volcano is one of the most active in the country. The national park is closed to visitors when it’s active, but it’s still visible from the entrance of the park. 

Turrialba is great for Costa Rica off-the-beaten-path land travel. Biking, hiking, and canyoning are popular activities here. Guayabo National Monument is a must-see, and its ruins date back to 1000 AD, making it one of Costa Rica’s most significant markers of history. 

In Turrialba, you’ll definitely want to hike through La Marta Wildlife Refuge and white water raft through Pacuare and Pejibaye Rivers. The Pacuare River is one of the best experiences for novices and experienced and a beautiful experience for even advanced rafters. The river runs through valleys and canyons, making adventurers feel utterly secluded in this remote paradise. 

Common questions about visiting off-the-beaten-track Costa Rica

Here are some of the most common questions we hear visitors ask about visiting Costa Rica. 

What is the least touristy beach in Costa Rica?

When you vacation to Costa Rica to escape the world, you want a particular vibe. Seclusion and isolation is the best way to detach and disconnect from the business of life at home. 

Here is a list of some of the most secluded beaches in Costa Rica, many of which are just a stone’s throw from Blue Osa! 

  • Playa Hermosa 
  • Playa Los Suecos
  • Playa Quesera
  • Playa Pan Dulce
  • Llorona Beach 
  • Playa Carate
  • Playa Biesanz
  • Playa Macha
  • Manuel Antonio Beach
  • Playa Espadilla Sur

The Osa Peninsula remains one of the most enchanting and secluded regions in Costa Rica. It’s a place where nature reigns supreme and the beauty of the natural world is on full display. Here, you’ll find unspoiled beaches perfect for escaping the crowds and enjoying life’s simple pleasures.

If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-path experience in Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula is the place for you. You won’t find the usual tourist traps or crowded beaches here, instead, you’ll discover a world of tranquility and natural beauty that will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated.

Coastline of Costa Rica with a palm tree in the foreground reaching out into the turquoise blue ocean.

What is the most beautiful part of Costa Rica for off-the-beaten-path Costa Rica travel?

It’s hard to pick just one spot in Costa Rica that stands out as the most beautiful because every inch of this tropical paradise is breathtaking — a land of raw and untouched beauty. 

Whether you are a jungle lover or beach lover (or both!), Costa Rica is a place you’ll want to see. 

The country offers so many different sights to its visitors and never fails to inspire wonder in the eyes of those who come to see it — especially Costa Rica off the beaten path.

At Blue Osa, we’re passionate about sharing the beauty of Costa Rica with travelers worldwide. We’ll help you plan your perfect getaway and we promise that when you leave, you’ll be forever changed by the experience. Costa Rica is waiting for you – discover its magic for yourself.

If you’re ready to plan your trip, we’re ready to greet you! Book your vacation to Blue Osa today . 

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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.

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.

Corcovado National Park

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

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

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

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

"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

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

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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Vacation like a celebrity: top travel hot spots for the rich and famous

Ben affleck, justin bieber and the kardashian sisters love to visit turks and caicos during the warmer months.

FOX Business’ Jeff Flock breaks down summer rental trends and what to know before booking a popular summer vacation destination.

Popular summer vacation destination tips and tricks

FOX Business’ Jeff Flock breaks down summer rental trends and what to know before booking a popular summer vacation destination.

With summer quickly approaching, social media will likely soon be filled with celebrities enjoying lavish vacations with their loved ones.

George and Amal Clooney frequently visit Lake Como during the warmer months. George even owns a home in the iconic Villa Oleandra in Northern Italy. 

According to Architectural Digest, Clooney purchased his mansion from the Heinz family in 2002 and frequently hosts guests, such as Prince Harry, Jennifer Aniston and Matt Damon, for an Italian getaway.

george and amal clooney and david and victoria beckham

George and Amal Clooney, left, enjoy visiting Lake Como, while David and Victoria Beckham are frequent visitors to the Maldives. (Getty Images / Getty Images)

Back when Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were still married, the couple frequently made visits to Costa Rica and reportedly purchased a home there in 2011.

SMART TECH TIPS TO MAKE SUMMER TRAVEL CHEAPER AND LESS STRESSFUL

Here is a roundup of the top celebrity vacation hot spots to visit like the stars.

Lake Como, Italy

Aside from the Clooneys, Lake Como brings in a number of high-profile celebrities looking for a tranquil vacation away from the limelight.

Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce got an early start on their summer travel earlier this month and visited Lake Como. According to Elle, the couple were photographed enjoying a meal together and stayed at Grand Hotel Tremezzo’s Villa Sola Cabiati.

Architectural Digest reported that stars like Gwen Stefani and Natalie Portman opt to stay at the Grand Hotel Tremezzo when they visit Lake Como.

George Clooney and Amal Clooney in lake como

George Clooney and Amal Clooney are seen in Lake Como, Italy, on July 22, 2015. (Robino Salvatore/GC Images / Getty Images)

Jamie D'Aria, Travel Advisor for Travelmation , told FOX Business that Lake Como is the "quintessential private escape."

"Staff throughout the region make privacy a top priority, restricting access from outside guests and protecting the interests of their elite clientele," she explained. "You can choose to be a part of the scene, staying at famous resorts like Grand Tremezzo or il Sereno, or keep private in your own personal villa. Wherever you stay on the lake, you're captivated by the mountains and glistening lake as Italian speedboats pass by."  

D'Aria said that "we can all credit George Clooney for bringing extra attention to this treasured part of Italy." 

"Furthermore, today's social media culture is bringing even more notoriety to Lake Como — more and more people are flocking to the region trying to catch a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous," she concluded.

Amalfi Coast

In July, Sofía Vergara celebrated her 51st birthday with a friend off the Amalfi Coast in Italy. 

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The former "Modern Family" star took to Instagram to share a carousel of images from her trip. "When life gives u lemons u come to Italy to squeeze them," Vergara captioned her post before tagging Hotel Villa Cimbrone.

She also shared an image of herself and friends enjoying the boat scene that the Amalfi Coast offers. The actress posed in a white one-piece bathing suit on a boat, captioning the images, "What a bday day!!!"

In 2021, model Christy Turlington took a trip to the Amalfi Coast and shared surreal images with her Instagram followers.

          View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by Christy Turlington (@cturlington)

"Felt like stepping into a dream after so long but here’s proof that I was here and now there," Turlington captioned her post.

Travelmation's D'Aria explained that "the Amalfi Coast is known to be one of the most beautiful places in the world and has drawn Hollywood elite for decades."

"It's a very popular location for all tourists, but celebrities have a variety of ways to avoid the large crowds. They can rent a luxury villa that overlooks the gorgeous sea and dramatic cliffs," she continued. 

"Some even charter a lavish yacht and spend a majority of their time taking in the stunning views aboard the vessel. This is especially popular around the coast of Capri. The A-list can hire a staff, including private chefs, to cater to their every need."

The turquoise, picturesque water seen in the Maldives is a major attraction for travelers, including celebrities. 

          View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by Gwyneth Paltrow (@gwynethpaltrow)

In 2019, Gwyneth Paltrow and husband Brad Falchuck got up close and personal to the gorgeous water on a trip to the remote islands in the Indian Ocean, which is the smallest country in Asia.

"Farewell to these beautiful atolls of peace," Paltrow captioned her post. The Goop founder hashtagged Soneva Jani, the hotel where the couple stayed during their trip.

Maldives

Maldives beach. (DEA/M. Borchi/De Agostini via Getty Images / Getty Images)

The unreal resort consists of 24 villas that sit above the crystal-clear waters in the Maldives.

David and Victoria Beckham have frequented the Maldives for years and stay at the same resort where Paltrow stayed, Soneva Jani, per the Daily Mail. The outlet noted that the Beckhams have stayed at the upscale resort for years during their trips to the region.

Sarah Basham, Travel Advisor for Travelmation, told FOX Business that "the Maldives concept of only one resort per island makes it one of the most exclusive locations in the world."

David and Victoria Beckham red carpet

David and Victoria Beckham reportedly stay at the Soneva Jani resort. (Stephane Cardinale - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"With resort guests and staff being the only people allowed on private islands, the Maldives offer the ideal destination for celebrities seeking seclusion and solitude," she explained. "Exquisite dining and personalized service are hallmarks of many Maldives resorts." 

Basham continued, "The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, for example, boasts a private island with several villas, swimming pools, a dedicated chef and a personal concierge, taking exclusivity to a whole new level. This island getaway is the ideal destination for any A-lister wanting to unwind as a couple, family, or group of friends in one of the world's most alluring locations."

In summer 2022, Reese Witherspoon visited Costa Rica, and after her stay, shared that she feels "like a new person!"

People reported that the actress stayed at the Hacienda AltaGracia hotel during her 2022 trip to Costa Rica. The hotel operates as a coffee farm and offers 50 casitas for travelers who want a more private, luxury resort. 

          View this post on Instagram                       A post shared by Reese Witherspoon (@reesewitherspoon)

The hotel is nestled in the mountains of Pérez Zeledón in the rainforest of Costa Rica. According to the resort's website , stays range from around $1,200 to around $5,300 per night.

Jackson Hole, Wyoming

Karen Kroeter, Director of Global Luxury Travel for Travelmation, told FOX Business that Jackson Hole, Wyoming, "gives celebrities a total escape from the chaos of that Hollywood lifestyle."

"High-end clients can take in the natural beauty from a private ranch where no fans or paparazzi can find them! The fresh air and expansive space allows them total relaxation they cannot find in many places," she explained. "There are also many options for luxury accommodations that lean into serenity, fine dining and 5-star concierge service." 

Kroeter continued, "Want an exclusive tour of Yellowstone National Park? That can be arranged. How about elite ski lessons from top professionals? That's no problem. This is truly a retreat that more and more luxury clients are seeking." 

Jackson Hole Wyoming

Two moose walk through a pasture as autumn arrives in Grand Teton National Park in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. (George Rose/Getty Images / Getty Images)

"When you get to Jackson Hole for the first time, many people think, 'How could I have not known this existed?' It's one of my favorite comments from clients," Kroeter said. "Jackson Hole can be the exhale that you need to reconnect with yourself, your family and nature, but it's also a dream for adventure seekers."

Last year, Ryan Gosling took his wife, Eva Mendes, and their daughters on a vacation to Jackson Hole.

A source told People that the Gosling family was spotted there around the time Ryan's hit "Barbie" film was released in theaters.

Ryan Gosling

Ryan Gosling and his family took a vacation to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in 2023. (Michael Buckner/Penske Media via Getty Images / Getty Images)

"Of all the places he could go to wind down after his whole ‘Barbie’ tour, he picked Jackson. It’s so peaceful here," the source told the outlet. "People like it because you can fly under the radar. It’s such a small community."

Another source told the outlet that Gosling, Mendes and their daughters Esmeralda and Amada stayed at the five-star Jackson Hole's Teton Village. The source said the hotel "is where a lot of celebrities stay in the village — it’s a members’ club and you can get a place there as well."

Kim Kardashian and Kanye West

Kim Kardashian confirmed that Kanye West purchased a ranch in Wyoming in 2019. (Rich Fury/VF20/Getty Images for Vanity Fair / Getty Images)

The ability for people to be able to "fly under the radar" in Jackson Hole might be intriguing for A-list stars looking for a peaceful trip.

The Kardashian family was also seen taking a trip to the luxurious boutique hotel called Caldera House during an episode of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians" in 2019.

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Kim Kardashian and Kanye West spent a lot of time together on their ranch in Jackson Hole prior to their divorce. Kardashian confirmed on NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon" in 2019 that her then-husband purchased a ranch in Wyoming.

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In 2019 and 2020, Kardashian frequently shared photos of her kids riding horses and enjoying nature in Wyoming. She and West share four children: North, Saint, Chicago and Psalm.

Turks and Caicos

According to Travel + Leisure, celebrities love Turks and Caicos Islands due to the peaceful, relaxed ambiance. The magazine compared Turks and Caicos Islands to St. Bart's and noted that the nightlife scene is not as prominent on the islands in the British Overseas Territory.

Stars like Ben Affleck, Justin Bieber and Kylie and Kendall Jenner have taken trips to Turks and Caicos to experience all the islands have to offer.

Ben Affleck, Jennifer Garner

Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner tied the knot in Turks and Caicos in 2005. (Marc Piasecki/FilmMagic / Getty Images)

Affleck and his former wife, Jennifer Garner, tied the knot in Parrot Cay, located on Turks and Caicos, in 2005 after one year of dating. 

In 2021, E! News reported that Hailey and Justin Bieber traveled to Turks and Caicos. A source told the outlet at the time, "They got in some much needed vacation time and seemed to enjoy their stay. They took walks on the beach and a private boat trip to go snorkeling."

Justin and Hailey Bieber

Justin and Hailey Bieber reportedly took a trip to Turks and Caicos in 2021. (Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Roc Nation / Getty Images)

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The eyewitness source continued, "They walked on the rocks and looked for crabs and seashells. They swam in the ocean and took naps on the beach. They seem very happy and like they are best friends."

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COMMENTS

  1. 18 Top-Rated Attractions & Places to Visit in Costa Rica

    Numerous hiking trails are in the area; many lead to waterfalls and old and recent lava flows. 3. Monteverde and the Cloud Forests. 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.

  2. 23 Epic Things to Do in Costa Rica

    Popular activities and attractions include hiking trails, hot springs, horseback riding, zip lining and river rafting. Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica's best-known stratovolcano, stands more than 5,000 ...

  3. The 19 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica in 2024

    4. Arenal. 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!

  4. THE 15 BEST Things to Do in Costa Rica

    8. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. 3,835. Nature & Wildlife Areas. Cloud forest haven with hummingbird and rare bird sightings, nature trails, hanging bridges, and panoramic views of the continental divide amidst a misty ambiance. See ways to experience (34) 2023. 9. Teatro Nacional Costa Rica.

  5. 12 Most Beautiful Places in Costa Rica to Visit

    1. Arenal Volcano and La Fortuna. One of the most pretty places in Costa Rica, the Arenal Volcano, towers majestically over the surrounding rainforest, creating a breathtaking backdrop. Its near-perfect conical shape and the surrounding lushness make it one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

  6. 8 of the best places to visit in Costa Rica

    3. Monteverde. Best place for birds, butterflies and cloud forest canopy tours. Away from Costa Rica's sun-soaked beaches and steamy rainforests, Monteverde's mist-wreathed cloud forest reserves sit high on the country's mountainous spine. It's one of the world's biodiversity hot spots, with a staggering array of flora and fauna.

  7. The Top 10 Destinations to Visit in Costa Rica

    Playa Negra, Limón, Costa Rica. 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!).

  8. 16 best things to do in Costa Rica

    4. Commune with the creatures. For wildlife watchers, there's no better place to meet Costa Rica's fauna than the trails around Sirena station in Parque Nacional Corcovado, the area National Geographic called "the most biologically intense place on the planet.". Here, visitors have a good chance of seeing animals (some endangered) that are rare in other parts of the country, including ...

  9. 20 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica + MAP

    Home | Travel | Central America | Costa Rica | 20 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica + MAP. There are so many incredible places to visit in Costa Rica, from lush forests full of wild fauna and stunning paradisiacal beaches to turquoise-blue waterfalls, hot springs, and otherworldly volcanoes.. Hands down, Costa Rica is one of my top 3 travel destinations to date, and we had an amazing adventure ...

  10. 20 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica

    Arenal Volcano National Park. Adrian Rudd/Travel + Leisure. One of Costa Rica's most famous attractions, the 30,000-acre Arenal Volcano National Park draws upwards of 100,000 visitors each year ...

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

    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).

  12. 15 Absolute BEST Places to Visit in Costa Rica

    So without further ado, here are the absolute best places to visit in Costa Rica! Table Of Contents. 1. Jaco. Surf or relax, it's up to you! First up on the list of the best places to visit in Costa Rica is Jaco, a small city on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast. It's famous for its epic surf and even better party scene.

  13. 31 Must-Visit Attractions In Costa Rica

    The combination of this being a learning and research center, protected reserve and eco-tourism hot spot makes this a must-stop place. Out of the 450-plus birds that make Costa Rica their home, either permanently or seasonally, nearly half of them spend time on the La Selva Reserve.

  14. 18 Unique Things To Do In Costa Rica & Most Beautiful ...

    Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Arenal Volcano National Park. Unique Things To Do In Costa Rica. Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges. Sunrise In Hippie Town Montezuma. Surfer Beach Town Santa Teresa. Exploring Santa Teresa By ATV. Adventure The Monteverde Cloud Forest. Hidden Gems Of Monteverde.

  15. Costa Rica Tourist Attractions: Beaches, National Parks, Volcanoes

    Popular spots include Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, Santa Teresa, Puerto Viejo - just to name a few of these Costa Rica attractions! Aside from beaches, Costa Rica is home to one of the most developed National Parks Systems in the world. There is an astonishing amount of the territory protected as either a national park, cloud forest, tropical ...

  16. Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica

    Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica →. Puerto Viejo is located in the Caribbean region of Costa Rica. While Puerto Viejo de Limon's clear water beckons to travelers, its appeal goes way beyond the beach. This is one of the top destinations on Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast, and offers lots of ways to experience the beach as well as the surrounding ...

  17. Top 10 Costa Rica Destinations

    Top 10 Costa Rica Destinations. 1. Arenal Volcano National Park & La Fortuna. Used to be one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica, the beautiful Arenal is indeed a sight to behold. Visit La Fortuna, a tiny town near the base of the volcano and you will not regret the sheer beauty.

  18. 10 Must Visit Places In Costa Rica, According To Locals

    Mercado Central. Image Credit: 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 favourite ...

  19. Costa Rica Hot Spots

    Monteverde. Monteverde is definitely off the beaten path, which makes it special! Monteverde, sits atop the continental divide at 4,662 feet and is one of the few cloud forests in Costa Rica. There is also a small town surrounding this unique ecosystem called Santa Elena. If you are up for an adventure that takes you away from the beaches and ...

  20. Costa Rica's Most Instagrammable Hot-Spots

    Rio Celeste Waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park. Costa Rica's many waterfalls are among the most Instagrammable hot-spots of all and among them we'd rate the Rio Celeste Waterfall as perhaps the most photogenic of all. The iridescent color of the water is said to have inspired Photoshop (probably) creating a surreal Insta-worthy snap ...

  21. Best Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations in Costa Rica: Alternatives to

    Turrialba is great for Costa Rica off-the-beaten-path land travel. Biking, hiking, and canyoning are popular activities here. Guayabo National Monument is a must-see, and its ruins date back to 1000 AD, making it one of Costa Rica's most significant markers of history.

  22. 10 Places Locals Love to Visit in Costa Rica

    Explore beyond the tourist hot spots in Costa Rica. With one-fourth of its land located in national parks and reserves, Costa Rica is a dream destination for nature lovers and intrepid travelers ...

  23. Vacation like a celebrity: top travel hot spots for the rich and famous

    In summer 2022, Reese Witherspoon visited Costa Rica, and after her stay, shared that she feels "like a new person!" People reported that the actress stayed at the Hacienda AltaGracia hotel during ...