Costa Rica is an ecological treasure-trove, home to lush rainforests, footprint-free beaches, tumultuous volcanoes, and dense mangrove swamps, teeming with a variety of wildlife. Bordered by the thick tropical jungles of Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the southeast, the democratic and prosperous nation is a peaceful oasis in a historically tumultuous region, and one of the most bio-diverse areas on the planet. Costa Rica offers a plethora of adventures, excursions, and attractions to explore, from hiking trails through ancient rainforests, climbing active volcanoes, or exploring the Americas’ last vestiges of high-altitude cloud forests that are home to jaguar, tapir and the resplendent quetzal.
1.Arenal National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal)
Nestled in the heart of the Arenal Tilaran Conservation Area in Costa Rica’s fertile northern lowlands, the Arenal National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal) is home to both the Arenal Volcano and the dormant Chato Volcano, the tranquil Lake Arenal and a plethora of unique fauna and flora. The perfectly symmetrical Arenal Volcano has been Costa Rica’s most active volcano since 1968, spewing enormous amounts of lava, gas, and ash regularly, attracting visitors from around the world to witness this spectacle. Since 2010, however, the volcano has entered an indeterminate resting phase, so visitors have had to make do with the rest of the beautiful sights, sounds, and activities the park has to offer.
Arenal Conservation Area, Costa Rica
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Surrounded by densely forested hills and endless coffee and sugarcane plantations, Atenas is a small town that exudes traditional Costa Rican culture. Located less than an hour outside the bustling city of San José, Atenas is the capital of the Atenas canton in the province of Alajuela and is one of the region’s top coffee-growing areas. The town is situated on the Historic Oxcart Trail, which was once the primary route for transporting coffee beans from the Central Valley to Pacific and Caribbean ports in the 1800s. Today, fragrant aromas of coffee still linger in the air, and Atenas is an excellent place to try some of the country’s best coffee beans.
Atenas Canton, Alajuela, Costa Rica
Nestled in the foothills of the Irazu Volcano in the Central Valley, the city of Cartago is one of the oldest towns in the country. Once the capital of Costa Rica, Cartago was partially destroyed by a volcanic eruption in 1732 but remains one of the largest cities in the country. The city is home to many beautiful old buildings, historic and cultural sites and exciting attractions, including La Negrita, the Black Madonna shrine at Our Lady of the Angels Basilica; Las Ruinas de la Parroquia; the Santiago Apostól Parish Ruins; the Lankester Botanical Garden; and the Tapantí Macizo de la Muerte National Park.
Cartago, Costa Rica
4.Catarata del Toro
Catarata Del Toro is a private ecological reserve that is committed to the conservation of the surrounding natural environment. Located in the remote mountains north of Costa Rica’s Central Valley near the tiny town of Bajos del Toro, Catarata del Toro is home to Costa Rica’s most impressive waterfall of the same name that tumbles 270 feet into an old volcanic crater. The ecological reserve is also home to a diverse array of fauna and flora from tiny hummingbirds to Oropendola Montezuma, toucan, hawks, vultures, and black turkey.
Bajos Del Toro Amarillo, Sarchi, Costa Rica, Phone: +506-24-76-08-00
5.Costa Rica Coffee Tour
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Costa Rica is renowned for its lush rainforests, breathtaking beaches, diverse wildlife, and coffee. The country’s fertile soils of volcanic origin, high altitudes, and cool climates and steady rainfall come together to create the perfect environment to produce aromatic and flavorsome coffee beans. Since 1989, all of the coffee produced in Costa Rica is Arabica (Promotora del Comercio Exterior de Costa Rica), most of which is produced in the Central Highlands and Southern Mountain range. Visitors can sample the best coffee on guided tours of various coffee plantations throughout the country, including the 600-acre Hacienda Espíritu Santo plantation in the town of Naranjo, and the boutique Finca Rosa Blanca in the greater Central Valley area.
Hacienda Espíritu Santo: Naranjo, Provincia de Alajuela, Costa Rica, Phone: +506-41-04-05-00
Escazú is a luxurious hillside suburb about five miles west of the downtown San José area that dates back to Colonial times and is a popular destination for wealthy expatriates and travelers. Upscale yet charming, Escazú is home to grand residences, deluxe hotels, elegant restaurants, buzzing bars, and one of the best shopping malls in San José. Foodies will delight in the many gourmet restaurants in the area serving a wide range of cuisine from French to Spanish, and recreational activities in the area include hiking and visiting the old town of San Rafael in the mountains of Escazú.
Escazú, Costa Rica
Nestled in the foothills of the Cordillera Central mountain chain, Grecia is a small picturesque farming community with spectacular natural scenery and several interesting attractions. Located north of the city of Alajuela city, the village is surrounded by densely forested mountains and rolling farmlands and is home to several attractions such as the magnificent Cathedral de la Merced, the family-friendly Butterfly Farm, the World of Snakes, and the Grecia Regional Museum, which documents the history of the town and the surrounding region.
Cordillera Central, Costa Rica
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The Irazú Volcano is an active volcano in the Cordillera Central near the city of Cartago. Derived from the indigenous word for ‘thunder and earthquake mountain,’ Irazú last erupted in 1994, and although it is still deemed ‘active’ can still be visited by tourists. The 11,260-foot high volcano is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica and has several craters, one of which is named after the man who documented the first eruption in 1723 - Diego de la Haya. Based in the Irazú Volcano National Park, the Diego de la Haya crater features a bright green 985-foot-wide lake that can be reached on a challenging but rewarding hike.
Cordillera Central, Costa Rica
Jacó is a charming coastal town on the Pacific coast with a beautiful beach that is known for its wealth of water activities and buzzing nightlife. Hit the beach to enjoy an array of water-based activities, ranging from swimming, surfing, and deep-sea fishing to boating, sailing, kayaking, and rafting, or stay on land for hiking, horseback riding, mountain biking, ATV tours, waterfall rappelling, and canopy zip-lining. Attractions slightly out of town include the Carara National Park set on the Tárcoles River and the Pura Vida Park, which features lush rainforests and the impressive Bijagual Waterfall.
, Michigan beaches
10.La Paz Waterfall Gardens
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a private ecological reserve that features a series of five beautiful waterfalls, dense cloud and rain forests, an animal sanctuary with over 100 species of animals, and some of the best hiking near San José. Nestled on the slopes of the Poas Volcano, the 70-acre reserve is made up of 40 acres of cloud and rainforests and a variety of nature-based attractions, including an aviary with numerous species of birds, a butterfly observatory, a hummingbird garden with 26 documented species, an insect exhibit, and a serpentarium. Capuchin (white-faced) and black-handed spider monkeys swing through the surrounding forests, which offer excellent hiking trails.
126, Heredia Province, Costa Rica, Phone: +506-24-82-27-20
11.Manuel Antonio National Park (Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio)
Voted as one of the world's most beautiful national parks, Manuel Antonio National Park (Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio) is a small slice of paradise, with jungle-covered mountains rolling down to powder-white beaches and secluded coves, lapped by crystal-clear waters that cover colorful reefs. Covering only 680 hectares, it is the country's smallest national park but offers an unparalleled combination of exquisite beaches, glorious hiking trails, and a plethora of diverse fauna and flora. Manuel Antonio National Park was created in 1972 to preserve the richness of not only its beautiful beaches, but more importantly, its forests, which are home to many of Costa Rica's endangered species, including three-toed sloths, purple-and-orange crabs, the rare and adorable squirrel monkeys and hundreds of other species of birds, mammals, and plants.
Puntarenas Province, Quepos, Costa Rica
12.Poás Volcano National Park
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Situated in the Central Valley region, the Poás Volcano National Park is home to the Poás Volcano, which stands over 6,500 feet tall and has one of the most prominent geyser craters in the world. Surrounded by breathtaking natural scenery that includes the massive volcano and verdant cloud forests, the Poás Volcano National Park is one of the most visited national parks in the country. The volcano features a huge crater shrouded in mist with a sulfuric, bubbling; green rain fed lake at its bottom that is surrounded steam and smoke rising from fumaroles, cracks in the hot rock through which water seeps creating steam. The steam sometimes explodes in geysers that rocket up to 820 feet, making for spectacular photographic opportunities, and the park has several excellent hiking and biking trails.
Parque Nacional Volcán Poas, Costa Rica
The Río Pacuare (Pacuare River) is a 67-mile river that is home to a wide diversity of fauna and flora and is a popular location for white-water rafting, whitewater kayaking, and river-boarding. The rainforests surrounding the river teem with wildlife and birds, including jaguars, ocelots, monkeys, and numerous species of birds. Several companies offer white-water rafting trips on the river, traveling down 19 miles of Class III-IV whitewater featuring lush tropical rainforests, cascading waterfalls, exotic fauna and flora, and exhilarating rapids for all levels of rafter and kayaker.
Rios Tropicales Main office: 38 Street Ave. 3 & 5 San Jose, Costa Rica, Phone: +506-22-33-64-55
Sarchi is a quaint little artisan town known for its colorful and decorative oxcarts and intricate arts and crafts. The town has been the center of oxcart production for more than 100 years, handcrafting bright and intricately decorated oxcarts, which were historically used for transporting coffee beans and other goods. Elegantly carved and beautifully hand-painted with vibrant colors, the oxcarts are works of art in themselves, handcrafted in a Costa Rican tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. Today, the ox carts are the national symbol of Costa Rica and are used in celebrations and parades to celebrate the culture and history of the country. Sarchi is also famous for selling beautiful handmade souvenirs, including intricately decorated bowls, handmade jewelry and masks, and carved wooden utensils.
Alajuela, Costa Rica
15.The Balsa River
The Balsa River is a fast-flowing river with Class II and III rapids that offers excellent white-water rafting and kayaking. Situated about a 45-minute drive from La Fortuna, the river is visited by several river rafting companies that offer guided river rafting and white-water kayaking trips for all levels with professional river guides. The river is surrounded by lush tropical forests teeming with a diverse range of fauna and flora, including exotic animals like sloths and monkeys and colorful birds like toucans. Most river rafting trips end at the San Carlos Bridge, where snacks and drinks can be enjoyed from one of the small food concessions next to the river.
Alajuela Province, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
16.Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga)
Tortuga Island, also known as Isla Tortuga, is a beautifully lush island off the southeastern shore of the Nicoya Peninsula that is covered in dense tropical forests and lined with pristine white sandy beaches. The island is forms part of the Islas Negritos Biological Reserve off the peninsula and is only accessible only by boat, making it a popular day trip for many tourists. Several tour companies offer day trips from the towns of Jacó, Montezuma, or Puntarenas on the mainland, and the tranquil bays are sometimes filled with private boats and catamarans who come to enjoy the spectacular natural scenery.
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17.Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is all about turtles. Situated within the Tortuguero Conservation Area in the northeastern part of the country, the park is a protected area for its rich biological diversity and ecosystems that support threatened flora and fauna species and home to a variety of turtle species that come here to spawn. Accessible only by air or sea, long, sandy beaches along the shores of the marshy islands are an ideal nesting ground for turtles, and every year sees thousands of Green Sea, leatherback, and Hawksbill Turtles making their way onto the shores. The best way to see the park is by boat – take guided tours around the island or rent canoes and kayaks (cayucas or botes) for a sightseeing workout.
Limón Province, Costa Rica, Phone: +506-25-22-65-00
18.Toucan Rescue Ranch
The Toucan Rescue Ranch is a sanctuary for Costa Rican wildlife that rescues, rehabilitates, and releases local wildlife back into their natural habitat. In addition to rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing a variety of animals and birds back into the wild, the Wildlife Refuge Center also has a captive breeding program for all six species of Costa Rican toucans and provides an array of educational programs, workshops and volunteer opportunities for national and international individuals. Visitors can explore the sanctuary on guided tours led by professional naturalists and wildlife specialists.
Off of Route 112 near downtown San Josecito, Heredia, San Josecito, Costa Rica, Phone: +506-22-68-40-41
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19.Turrialba Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Turrialba)
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The Turrialba Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Turrialba) surrounds the Turrialba Volcano, an active 11,000-¬foot ¬tall stratovolcano in Turrialba in Cartago that last erupted in 2017. Situated at the southeast end of the Central Volcanic Corridor, the volcano is a popular destination for both tourists and scientists who flock to the area to explore and experience the majestic beauty and power of the volcano and its craters. A climb to the summit on a clear day is rewarded with breathtaking views of volcanoes such as Barva, Irazú, and Poás, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Av. 9 12, Provincia de Cartago, San José, Costa Rica
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Zacero is a scenic little town in the northern hills of San Ramon in the Cordillera Central. Nestled in the San Jose Highlands on the edge of the Central Valley, the town rests at an elevation of 1,736 meters and offers spectacular panoramic views of the surrounding coffee plantations and majestic mountains in the background. The capital of Alfaro Ruiz canton in the agricultural zone of Alajuela, Zarcero is home to several attractions worth exploring, such as the Iglesia de San Rafael church, which features beautiful stained-glass windows, graceful archways, and inspiring religious paintings, and the Los Ángeles Cloud Forest Reserve, which boasts excellent hiking trails and a plethora of wildlife.
Alfaro Ruiz, Alajuela, Cordillera Central, Costa Rica
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20 Best Day Trips & Weekend Getaways from San Jose, Costa Rica
- Arenal National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal), Photo: foto-select/stock.adobe.com
- Atenas, Photo: Curioso Photography/stock.adobe.com
- Cartago, Photo: robnaw/stock.adobe.com
- Catarata del Toro, Photo: ronnybas/stock.adobe.com
- Costa Rica Coffee Tour, Photo: Gilberto Velarde/stock.adobe.com
- Escazu, Photo: Gian/stock.adobe.com
- Grecia, Photo: spacaj/stock.adobe.com
- Irazu Volcano, Photo: Gilberto Velarde/stock.adobe.com
- Jaco, Photo: Graham/stock.adobe.com
- La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Photo: Ji/stock.adobe.com
- Manuel Antonio National Park (Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio), Photo: natakuzmina/stock.adobe.com
- Poás Volcano National Park, Photo: Simon Dannhauer/stock.adobe.com
- Rio Pacuare, Photo: Gian/stock.adobe.com
- Sarchi, Photo: spacaj/stock.adobe.com
- The Balsa River, Photo: PPstock/stock.adobe.com
- Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga), Photo: WildPhotography.com/stock.adobe.com
- Tortuguero National Park, Photo: roca83/stock.adobe.com
- Toucan Rescue Ranch, Photo: Kim/stock.adobe.com
- Turrialba Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcan Turrialba), Photo: Alexey Stiop/stock.adobe.com
- Zarcero, Photo: Bogdan Lazar/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Simon Dannhauer/stock.adobe.com