With a country as big and varied as Costa Rica, from the beaches of the Pacific and the Caribbean, to the rainforests and volcanoes of the interior, where to visit in Costa Rica is not an easy question to answer! Each area has its own vibe, and there’s certainly something for everyone in this delightful place. Often asked is what is the best area to stay in Costa Rica and which side of Costa Rica is better, to which the answer is due to the seasons – west and central Costa Rica are in the grips of the rainy season from May to November, whereas conversely the reverse is true on the Carribean side. Also often asked is Costa Rica expensive? Compared to some Central American countries it is, but a budget traveller can survive on as little as 30 to 50 US$ a day. Here is a (non-comprehensive) list of the best places to travel in Costa Rica.
Popular Destinations In Costa Rica
The chances are you’ll be flying via the Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) and it would be easy to mistake this as just a transit city, but it would be a shame to miss out on some of Costa Rica’s hidden gems located in the nation’s capital. With it’s great range of architecture, culture, and history you’ll find this is one of the best cities to stay in Costa Rica, and compared to its fellow Central and South American metropolises it feels a lot less crowded. So much the better for exploring the museums, sampling the cuisine and culture, and it’s legendary nightlife. For some capital suggestions of things to do in San Jose we have further information elsewhere on this site.
To the north west of San Jose is the small town of La Fortuna which, despite it’s diminutive size, offers so much to the visitor making this one of the best towns in Costa Rica. The reason for this is that not only is it the gateway to the Arenal Volcano National Park, which contains two volcanoes surrounded by rainforest teeming with wildlife, but the town itself is blessed with great views of both the aforementioned mountains and forests. Be sure to enjoy the relaxing Hot Springs La Fortuna and the stunning La Fortuna Waterfalls, or quicken your heart rate with zip lining and rafting. To discover more as to what fortunes await you here we have a short guide available elsewhere.
Arguably the most popular eco-tourist destination in Costa Rica, the area of Monteverde is a land of rainforests, waterfalls, nature trails, and mountain views. From its humble beginnings of less than 100 tourists in 1975 the word has spread and the region now attracts a quarter of a million visitors per year! Costa Rican’s regard Monteverde as one of its “7 Wonders”, and it’s easy to see why. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is the start of the show here, a rainforest perpetually shrouded in mist, teeming with wildlife, and made very accessible due to it’s six main trails (13km in total) which are all well-maintained. But quieter areas are available, such as the Reserva Santa Elena to the north, which is doubly blessed with the best views of the Arenal Volcano. We’ve a veritable mountain of suggestions of green activities to get up to when you’re out and about here.
Over on the Pacific coast is one of the best beach towns in Costa Rica, the sand-hugging Jacó. This is the best place to stay in Costa Rica if you love both the sand and the surf – the 4km stretch of black sand beach is great for relaxing and the waves forceful enough to enjoy gliding back to terra firma from the comfort of your board. First time riding the waves? No problem, the sea is not so extreme here so learning is safe – there are surf schools a-plenty in Jacó (there are more extreme beaches nearby). Don’t forget that there is more to life than sun, sea, and surf though! Costa Rica’s tallest waterfall, Manantial de Agua Viva, is only 25 minutes to the north. You can find a short guide elsewhere on this site of swell things to do in Jacó.
A little further down the coast from Jacó is another resort vying for the title of the best beach town in Costa Rica, Quepos. Not great for the surfers (the swell is poor here) but great for those who wish for great bathing, calm fishing trips, and relaxing on the sands. Very close to Quepos is the mangrove, lagoon, beach-laden Manuel Antonio National Park, complete with squirrel, howler, and white-faced monkeys. In the evening you can enjoy some of the many bars and restaurants back in the town, and participate in the vivacious night-life. Have a dip into the little guide we have on this website for more details.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca may no longer technically be one of Costa Rica’s hidden gems but it’s certainly still on the less frequented side. If you ever imagined what a Caribbean seaside town might look like then this would probably be pretty close. The colourful streets are filled with reggae bars and beach shops, while the sandy beaches are lined with stereotypical palm trees. The waters here are so blue and inviting, you’ll wonder how it stayed just a small fishing village for so long. To save you the effort of searching the web for any old port of knowledge we’ve compiled a list of things to see and do right here on this website.
If you head west, and a little north, of San Jose you will reach Tamarindo on the northern Pacific coast, one of the most popular towns in Costa Rica. With it’s huge stretch of sunny, sandy beaches and a relaxed atmosphere it’s no wonder why this is true. The northern end of the beach lends itself to surfing (mostly beginner level, lessons available should you need it) while the southern end is calmer and safer for swimming. Other activities include watching the sea turtles during nesting season, snorkeling, diving, horseback riding, zip-lining, and fishing. Estuary safaris are also popular. We have a more comprehensive guide elsewhere on this site if this whets your appetite.
Often coupled with the question “what is the best time to go to Costa Rica” and “which side of Costa Rica is better”, to which the answer is pretty much go east coast during the rainy season (May to November, and especially September), while the west is great the rest of the year for beach life. With a plethora of sandy stretches to choose from it’s hard to decide, from Manuel Antonio’s white sandy beach and sheltered reef on the Pacific to the natural spectacle of Tortuguero Beach on the Caribbean. We’ve compiled a list of the best beaches in Costa Rica to help you a little in this struggle!
Being a country with volcanic activity it’ll come as no surprise that it’s blessed with a great many hot springs, the one of the best hidden gems in Costa Rica is the fact that so many of them are surrounded by nature, easily accessible, and often free to use while you’re in the national parks! There are plenty of specialist spa resorts too if you want something at a more regulated temperature and comfort, from the natural Tabacon Hot Springs spa resort (which uses no pumps at all) to the child-friendly Kalambu Hot Springs (almost a mini water park). We have a list of some of the best Costa Rica hot springs if you’re wondering which one to choose from.
When deciding on where you should go in Costa Rica invariably the question will at some point feature a waterfall. This is because Costa Rica is world-famous for it’s cascades, and so very many of them! Often surrounded by lush forest, providing deep pools for swimming or bathing, and occasionally near natural hot springs too, the waterfalls are among the best places to go in Costa Rica. From the towering behemoth of Manantial de Agua Viva near Jacó (Costa Rica’s tallest waterfall) to arguably the bluest waterfall you’ll ever seen of Rio Celeste in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Get inspired by our short, and utterly non-comprehensive list of the best waterfalls in Costa Rica.