25 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is the place to experience the easy-going pace of pura vida – the pure life. This popular travel destination is the eco-adventure capital of Central America. Visitors will love the diversity of outdoor activities – one day zip lining the rainforest canopy and another surfing the reliable breaks of Nosara. With nearly one-fourth of the county’s terrain under environmental protection, Costa Rica’s biodiversity is unmatched, and the perfect destination for sustainable travel. For visitors who simply want to lounge on the soft sand beaches and watch mesmerizing sunrises or sunsets on their honeymoon, there are plenty of opportunities for that too. Photo: Mihai-Bogdan Lazar/Fotolia

» San Jose

San Jose

San Jose is situated in the heart of Costa Rica and known for being one of the most varied provinces in the country because of its urban capital city of the same name. It is both a cosmopolitan urban center and a traditional Central American city rich with culture and history. It serves visitors historical architecture, energetic nightlife, and a wide array of attractions and activities. Visitors will find various art galleries, museums, parks, and eateries with premier attractions such as Spanish Park, Democracy Plaza, Central Park, and the Jade Museum. The latter houses the world’s largest American jade collection, organized by cultural regions. It also includes ceramics, gold pieces, and stonework. Photo: Bogdan Lazar/Fotolia

»Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is a park unlike any other, covering roughly 47,000 acres and an additional 129,000 maritime acres. It’s one of the only national parks where it’s better to view it by boat, canoe, or kayak instead of on foot, although there are marked trails along the beach for those wishing to observe turtles nesting. Tortuguero is made up of canals, beaches, wetlands, and lagoons serving as a safe haven for various turtle species, including green sea turtles, hawksbill, and leatherback. The park’s highlight requires an evening guide, allowing visitors the chance to catch glimpses of turtles coming in to lay eggs or new hatchlings making their way to the sea. Photo: zampe238/Fotolia

»Cocos Island

Cocos Island

Once a haven for pirates, Cocos Island is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most in-demand scuba dive venues in the world. The island is uninhabited, except for the permanent ranger’s station. One of the reasons for its popularity among divers is that it hosts the largest schools of hammerhead sharks in the world, various species of rays – including giant manta rays, a few species of whales, a number of dolphins, and over 300 types of brilliantly colored fish. It’s the perfect dive for film makers, scientists, photographers, and other scuba divers. Jacques Cousteau called it the most beautiful island in the world. Other island activities include wildlife watching, hiking, and sport fishing. Photo: leonardogonzalez/Fotolia

»Costa Rica Tourism: Alajuela

Costa Rica Tourism: Alajuela

Alajuela is Costa Rica’s second largest city and is most well-known for its rich history. It was an active player in gaining independence from Spain, and is the hometown of national hero and drummer boy, Juan Santamaria. He sacrificed his life to save his country against the forces of William Walker during the battle of Hacienda Santa Rosa. The Juan Santamaria Cultural Historical Museum showcases portraits, artifacts, and historical maps from that battle. Near the museum is the prominent Central Park, a great place to mingle with locals and experience the culture. Visitors should also make time to visit the butterfly farm, tour Zoo Ave, and check out the Poas Volcano. Photo: Olaf Speier/Fotolia

»Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park is located on the edge of the Talamanca Mountains. It was originally established to put a protective safety zone around the active Arenal Volcano. There was a time when visitors to La Fortuna, the closest town to the park, could watch the fiery nighttime displays of the volcano’s eruptions from their hotels. These days the park protects 131 mammal species that include howler monkeys, sloths, spider monkeys, coatis, and others, plus 135 species of reptiles, including the deadly fer-de-lance viper, along with their rainforest and river habitats. There are numerous hiking trails and opportunities for guided tours. Visitors won’t want to miss the nearby La Fortuna Waterfall. Photo: lightphoto2/Fotolia

»Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve

Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is situated on the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula. It has the distinction of being Costa Rica’s first protected national park. This is the place to come for avid bird watchers. Dubbed the White Cape for its guano (seabird dung) encrusted rocks, large numbers of ospreys, brown boobies, frigate birds, laughing gulls, brown pelicans, and terns have made this their home, leading to the creation of a seabird sanctuary. Seabirds are just a part of the 240 bird species that can be found in the reserve. It is also a refuge for animals like wild cats, capuchin monkeys, pacas, and others. Naturalists of every sort will enjoy Cabo Blanco. Photo: Mischa Krumm/Fotolia



Visitors to Limón Province will not want to miss Cahuita. The laidback village with its long Afro-Caribbean heritage is a must-do bohemian experience. Hippies both young and old have found their Shangri-La here. Travelers can enjoy lazing on the black sand beach of Playa Negra, or the white sand beach in Cahuita National Park. Separating the two is Costa Rica’s best coral reef, which is excellent for snorkeling and scuba diving. The food on the eastern coast is characterized by its savory spiciness with dishes like jerk chicken and curried goat. Seafood dishes are equally spicy. There are several guided tours available for both Cahuita National Park and offshore open water activities. Photo: Simon Dannhauer/Fotolia



Cartago rests in the foothills of the Irazu Volcano in Costa Rica’s Central Valley. Visitors can explore the historical ruins of past volcanic eruptions, including the outer walls of Las Ruinas de la Parroquia and Las Ruins of Cartago at the town’s square. On the other end of the spectrum is the city’s most technologically advanced attraction, the Museo Municipal de Cartago. Volcanic eruptions have made the surrounding area exceptionally fertile, so visitors will find a thriving agricultural center. Lankester Botanical Garden is a great place to visit and view all types of flora, particularly orchids. Basilica de Nuestra Senora de los Angeles is a pilgrimage destination each August in honor of sightings of the famous Black Virgin. Photo: robnaw/Fotolia

»Costa Rica Tourism: Chirripo National Park

Costa Rica Tourism: Chirripo National Park

Chirripo National Park is the ultimate adventure climb in Costa Rica. It’s the country’s highest peak, and a trek to the top takes hikers through a number of ecosystems along the way. Altitude sickness is real here, so climbers must be ready for the strenuous, 9-mile, 3,000-foot-high climb. The reward at the top is a 360-degree panoramic view that takes in both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. There is a rustic 40-bed shelter at Centro Ambientalista El Paraíso near the summit, made with rock walls and a tin roof. Electricity is limited to 1 hour after dark. Other area points of interest include the Talamanca Reserve, Cloudbridge Reserve, and thermal springs near the San Gerardo de Rivas ranger station. Photo: frog/Fotolia

»Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park

Travelers looking for the perfect eco-tourism destination will find it at Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula. Once a remote conservation research station, it’s now a highly sought after and easily accessible eco-travel destination. The nearest towns for accessing Corcovado Park are Drake Bay, Carate, Puerto Jimenez, and La Palma. One, two, and multiple day expeditions leave from these starting points. It’s best to choose what you want to see by trail (there are six), and then match it to an expedition. Travelers should know that park permits are required and only issued 31 days or fewer before a visit. All visitors must be accompanied by certified professional guides. Photo: Simon Dannhauer/Fotolia

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Dominical is a charming surf town along the Pacific Coast about 30 miles south of Quepos. Travelers can leave pretention behind at this laidback beach town. The 2.5-mile-long main surf beach is heaven on Earth for experienced surfers, but strong rip currents keep novice surfers and swimmers away. Playa Dominicalito south of the main beach is more suitable for these visitors. Punta Dominical is one of the best spots to watch the sunset. Canopy tours, horseback riding, hiking to waterfalls, sea kayaking, sport fishing, and scuba diving are some of the other outdoor activities for nature lovers. Nauyaca Waterfalls is a popular attraction just 7 miles from Dominical. Photo: Simon Dannhauer/Fotolia

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»Drake Bay

Drake Bay

Travelers looking for that place of peace and quiet will find it at Drake Bay on the northern side of the Osa Peninsula. This is truly where visitors can get away from it all. Long stretches of deserted coastline, secluded coves, tranquil sunsets, and starry nights refresh and rejuvenate. There are lots of ways to explore the outdoors at Drake Bay: horseback riding, bird watching, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, scuba diving, hiking, and sport fishing. Drake Bay is also in close proximity to Corcovado National Park for an exciting guided eco-tour. Visitors who don’t secure a permit to Corcovado can instead experience their eco-adventure at Punta Río Claro National Wildlife Refuge and Campanario Biological Station. Photo: andamanse/Fotolia

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»Costa Rica Tourism: Jaco

Costa Rica Tourism: Jaco

Jaco is a quaint beach town and the most developed of its kind in Costa Rica. It retains its surfing village charm with an ambiance reminiscent of surf towns in California during the 1970s while also providing a wealth of commercial conveniences and interesting activities. The most prominent fixture is of course the beach with its cinnamon-colored sand, warm waters, and consistent surf. Its central location provides easy access to outdoor adventures such as surfing, sport fishing, snorkeling, whitewater rafting, zip lining, and golfing. Naturalists will enjoy nearby waterfalls and beaches, and Manuel Antonio National Park, which is just over an hour away, near Quepos. Photo: Dudarev Mikhail/Fotolia

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»La Fortuna

La Fortuna

La Fortuna is a charming town situated at the base of the Arenal Volcano, which has been erupting with some regularity since 1968 and is the most active volcano in Costa Rica. The area is most well-known for its natural wonders and nature adventures. Relaxing in soothing hot springs, visiting the dazzling La Fortuna Waterfall, and swimming in the gentle waters of the Arenal Lake are among the town’s highlights. Adventure activities include whitewater rafting, tubing, canyoneering, mountain biking, horseback riding, ATV riding, bird watching, kayaking, zip lining, fishing, and fly-boarding, among many others. Highlights include hiking the Arenal Volcano, trekking through the Venado Caves, and exploring the Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge. Photo: Tanguy de Saint Cyr/Fotolia

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»Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park was established in 1972 to preserve one of the most bio-diverse and beautiful areas in the world. It might be the smallest National Park in Costa Rica at just over 1,600 acres, but it packs a big punch with its captivating combination of coral reefs, beaches, and rainforests. The beaches here, lined with rainforest, are among the best in the country. Cathedral Point is a focal point; this one-time island, now a natural divider, forms the barrier between two of the park’s most prominent beaches, Playa Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur. The forest is home to sloths, colorful crabs, iguanas, and adorable rare squirrel monkeys. Photo: sphraner/Fotolia

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Monteverde is an internationally recognized environment situated atop the backbone of the country’s continental divide. This lush and mountainous area is a world above the beachside towns that line Costa Rica’s iconic shorelines. It is a place consisting of coffee plantations, cloud forests, mists, monkeys, and welcoming locals. The charming town of Santa Elena is filled with folksy artisan shops and delectable restaurants, while the rainforest nearby is home to an extraordinary wealth of biodiversity. The area shelters 400 bird species, more than 100 types of mammals, and over 2,500 different plants. Visitors can explore the area utilizing trams and trails as well as museums and various tours. Photo: Robert Leßmann/Fotolia

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Montezuma is a bohemian-style, laidback beach town located on the southeastern edge of the Nicoya Peninsula. It presents a lush and varied landscape consisting of dense tropical forests, mangroves, estuaries, and beaches. The area is known for its culture and jovial spirit, with days spent soaking up the sun and nights spent indulging in its energetic nightlife scene. Grande Beach is the popular beach where the majority of visitors go to relax or hit the surf. Outside town, visitors will find a majestic 80-foot-tall waterfall with superb swimming holes as well as various warm natural springs. Photo: TellyVision/Fotolia

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Nosara is one of the world’s premier surf towns, a quaint, peaceful, multicultural community surrounded by wildlife and jungle. The town has a large and diverse expat community and is best known for its world-renowned yoga and incredible surf. Situated along its border is the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, the world’s largest olive ridley turtle nesting site and home of the two longest rivers in the country, Montana and Nosara, which are teeming with wildlife. Hiking, boxing, horseback riding, fishing, snorkeling, kayaking, and stand-up paddleboarding are all common activities here. Visitors will also find an array of canopy tours and dance classes. Photo: lightphoto2/Fotolia

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»Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is a small port town known for its cultural diversity, a mix of Bribri Indian, Afro-Caribbean, Tico, and a bohemian counterculture are all present here. It is also extremely well-known for its premier surf, white-sand beaches, tropical flora, and its close proximity to national parks. The Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Reserve and Cahuita National Park are just a quick drive away, offering visitors a chance to observe the area’s incredible wildlife. The Native American traditions here are well established and offer visitors cultural experiences such as Talamanca Indigenous Village Tours. Just outside of the tiny village there are plenty of opportunities to engage in activities such as zip lining, horseback-riding, and Caribbean fishing. Photo: julienxw/Fotolia

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Quepos is situated in the northern area of the Puntarenas Province, a tropical fjord surrounded by rainforest and the gateway to Manuel Antonio National Park. This small yet bustling harbor town is most prominently known for being one of the world’s best places for big-game sport fishing. Anglers can partake in various inshore, offshore, or fly-fishing excursions catching prime game such as marlin, wahoo, amberjack, and roosterfish. The town’s center consists of six blocks filled with hotels, bars, restaurants, gift shops, and art galleries, all sitting right next to the primary beach and sport fishing fleet. Additional activities can be found within Manuel Antonio, including scuba diving, kayaking, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting. Photo: andyman2u/Fotolia

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»Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a 34,800-acre park featuring a beguiling combination of pristine tropical forests and volcanic geological marvels. The highlight and the park’s namesake is the over 6,200-foot-tall Rincon de la Vieja, a cinder cone volcano comprising nine neighboring craters that pepper the park. This collection of volcanic peaks have the most activity in the Guanacaste Mountains, where the Von Seebach crater is still active. This is a safe haven for an array of flora and fauna, including howler monkeys, pumas, and jaguars. There are several trekking trails, cascading waterfalls, hot springs, cool streams, and swimming holes. Photo: V Devolder/Fotolia

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Samara is a laidback seaside village with a Tico feel. Located in a grand crescent bay with an expansive sandy beach stretching over 4 miles, it’s protected by an offshore coral reef, meaning the water is tranquil and smooth. This makes it an excellent place to enjoy a leisurely swim or snorkel. Kayaking tours are popular here, especially the one that takes visitors to Isla Chora, a wildlife reserve with pink-sand beaches and various maritime birds. Additional activities include stand-up paddleboarding, sport fishing, horseback riding, and dolphin watching on boat tours. There are also canopy tours offered just over a mile out of town in Santo Domingo. Photo: iferol/Fotolia

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»Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is a premier travel destination featuring pristine white-sand beaches and extraordinary Pacific surf with jungle covered hills at its back. It is relatively underdeveloped, drawing in surfers and the younger crowd, but in recent years it has had several venues, restaurants, and hotels pop up on its main street, which runs parallel with the shoreline. Its primary draw is the surf, offering plenty of areas of challenging waves for experienced surfers as well as more laidback breaks for novice surfers. Visitors who venture away from the coast will find attractions like the Montezuma waterfalls and the country’s oldest nature reserve, Cabo Blanco. Horseback and ATV tours are also offered inland. Photo: Juhku/Fotolia

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Tamarindo is a premier beach town featuring warm, crystal blue water and soft beige sand on a coastal stretch of just over 2 miles. It has long been revered as a top surf spot, offering surf breaks for all levels. It is also ideal for scuba diving, snorkeling, sport fishing, kayaking, and sailing cruises aboard a catamaran or schooner in Tamarindo Bay. Land activities are just as plentiful, offering various bus tours to nearby volcanoes, nature parks, and beaches. Adventure activities include horseback riding, four-wheeling, and zip lining through the jungle. Visitors can even hit the air in a Gyro to discover Guanacaste. Tamarindo also showcases gastronomy, shopping, and leisure opportunities. Photo: Mihai-Bogdan Lazar/Fotolia

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Uvita is the ideal destination for tourists looking for an uncrowded beachside experience. Located just 11 miles south of Dominical, this tropical oasis is charmingly unspoiled, offering a serene atmosphere. It’s warm, calm, crystal-clear waters are perfect for snorkeling, swimming, and offshore diving. Sea life sightings are commonplace here; from May to October there are hawksbill and olive ridley sea turtles, and from December to April migrating humpback whales can be seen. Hiking, horseback riding, scuba diving, and surfing at Playa Uvita are common activities. There are also kayak tours of the surrounding estuaries and mangroves as well as waterfalls nearby. Photo: Simon Dannhauer/Fotolia

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25 Best Costa Rica Points of Interest & Destinations