The Ultimate Guide to Costa Rica's Best Travel Destinations: From Tropical Beaches to Enchanting Rainforests
If you're dreaming of a tropical getaway filled with stunning beaches, lush rainforests, and incredible wildlife, look no further than Costa Rica. This vibrant Central American country is a haven for adventure seekers and nature enthusiasts alike. From the picturesque coastal town of Puerto Viejo to the breathtaking beauty of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, there is no shortage of amazing destinations to explore. Whether you're seeking relaxation or adrenaline-pumping activities, Costa Rica has something to offer everyone. Join us as we dive into the best places to travel to in this captivating country.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca transports you to the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. The town exudes a Jamaican vibe, with its weathered cantinas and casual eateries permeated by the aromas of coconut curries and the rhythms of reggaeton music. Vibrant bars serve rum cocktails and cold beers, ensuring a lively nightlife for visitors.
Once a small fishing village, Puerto Viejo gained popularity among surfers who were captivated by the powerful waves at Salsa Brava and the hollow peaks at Playa Cocles. These spots have now become legendary surf destinations in Costa Rica, offering thrilling tube rides during the dry season from November to April when the Pacific coast is less consistent.
However, Puerto Viejo is not just about surfing. It is also an ideal base for exploring the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge, a vibrant ecosystem inhabited by eyelash vipers and emerald parakeets. The town is home to the renowned Jaguar Rescue Center, which educates visitors about frontline conservation efforts in Costa Rica.
To discover the best places to go in Costa Rica, visit our Costa Rica Adventure page.
Cahuita is reminiscent of Puerto Viejo before it became a popular destination for surfers and backpackers. Situated about six miles north of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast, this small town spans only a few streets. Colorful homestays and tin-roofed shacks are clustered between two picturesque bays—one with black sand and the other with pristine white Caribbean sand.
Cahuita is gaining popularity among surfers due to its beginner-friendly waves, especially during the winter months when the Pacific coast experiences smaller swells. Several well-rated surf schools and surf camps cater to surf enthusiasts.
The highlight of Cahuita is the Cahuita National Park, which encompasses coral gardens and coastal jungle. Hikers and snorkelers can revel in its natural beauty and encounter sea cucumbers, manta rays, and howler monkeys.
Tortuguero is a unique destination located on the edge of the Caribbean Sea in northern Costa Rica. The entire area is designated as a national park, offering unparalleled natural beauty. The main attraction here is the resident population of sea turtles, including green sea turtles, leatherbacks, and hawksbills.
Witnessing these magnificent creatures nesting on the beaches is an unforgettable experience. Turtle safaris, usually conducted during the nighttime, allow visitors to observe the turtles under the starry sky and witness the hatchlings' journey back to the sea.
Visit our Custom Travel page for assistance in creating your dream adventure in Costa Rica. Apart from the turtles, Tortuguero provides access to the wetlands and creeks of Tortuguero National Park, where visitors can explore pristine waterways and encounter diverse wildlife.
Corcovado National Park is a sprawling natural wonder located on the remote Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica. Established in 1975, it covers a vast area of 163 square miles, making it the largest park in the country.
While Corcovado has gained popularity over the years, it remains a rugged and secluded destination, far away from the typical tourist circuits. The peninsula's challenging accessibility deters many visitors, but those who make the journey are rewarded with deserted beaches, abundant wildlife, excellent hiking opportunities, and breathtaking views. The marine life in the surrounding waters is also impressive.
Considered one of the best places in the country, a visit to Corcovado should not be missed.
WHERE TO STAY IN CORCOVADO:
- Corcovado Foundation BioHostel – This off-the-beaten-path ecohostel provides a peaceful retreat surrounded by nature. With a bar, a yoga deck, vegan and vegetarian food options, and breathtaking views of the lush landscape, it is a perfect place to unwind.
Arenal, one of Costa Rica's impressive volcanoes, stands at an elevation of 1,670 meters (5,480 feet). While eruptions are less frequent since 2010, visitors may still witness lava flows if lucky. Besides volcanic activity, Arenal offers a plethora of activities and attractions, making it a popular destination.
The area boasts a magnificent waterfall called La Fortuna, a national park with excellent hiking trails, sunset views over the lake, opportunities for caving, canyoning, and famous hot springs. Wildlife enthusiasts will enjoy bird-watching tours and wildlife spotting, such as observing the diverse bird species in the area.
WHERE TO STAY IN ARENAL:
- Arenal Backpackers Resort – This vibrant hostel offers a social atmosphere and features a pool with a wet bar, hammocks, and stunning views of the nearby volcano.
READ MORE: How to Visit and Explore Arenal
Manuel Antonio is a popular beach destination on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Known for its wide, white-sand beaches and clear blue waters, the area offers more than just pristine beaches. The nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, established in 1972, attracts over 150,000 visitors annually and is home to picturesque hiking trails, secluded beaches, and a variety of native monkey species.
While development has increased over the years, Manuel Antonio still offers abundant wildlife sightings, and its beaches have been well-preserved. The entrance fee to the park is $18.08 USD per person, or visitors can opt for a guided tour that includes park admission for $59 USD.
WHERE TO STAY IN MANUEL ANTONIO:
- Hostel Vista Serena – This tranquil hostel offers stunning ocean views and a colorful interior. Located near the rainforest and the beach, it provides a prime location for a relaxing stay.
READ MORE: What to See and Do in Manuel Antonio
Monteverde is a must-visit destination for nature lovers, renowned for its stunning cloud forests!
Monteverde is nestled in the hillside of central Costa Rica, offering a paradise for nature lovers. The mountainous rainforest at high altitude creates a unique habitat abundant with diverse plants and animals.
Exploring the Monteverde Cloudforest Biological Preserve with a knowledgeable local guide is highly recommended. These guides possess the remarkable ability to identify birds by their faint calls and locate rare species like the bellbird and resplendent quetzal.
🧳 Packing Tip: Don't forget to bring binoculars, as they are essential for birdwatching in Monteverde. I highly recommend these lightweight binoculars.
If you seek a secluded beach destination on the Pacific coast, Guanacaste is worth considering. Spanning a whole province, this region stretches like a curled thumb from the Costa Rica-Nicaragua border over the Gulf of Nicoya. The western side is the hub of activity, particularly along the 40-mile stretch between Tamarindo, a renowned beginner surf spot, and Samara.
The northern part of Guanacaste is home to Santa Rosa National Park, where visitors can discover deserted golden sand beaches, mangrove forests, and broadleaf woodlands inhabited by rare capuchin monkeys. Inland adventures await, with Guanacaste gaining a reputation as a ziplining mecca. One popular option is the Monkey Jungle Zip Line near Tamarindo, but there are several more exhilarating choices available.
Along the coast, there is an abundance of experiences, ranging from relaxing in a hammock to snorkeling and taking sunset sailing excursions in the serene Playa Hermosa. Witnessing the turtle hatching season on Playa Grande is a unique and unforgettable experience. And of course, there are ample opportunities for surfing at renowned spots like Nosara, Tamarindo, and Playa Guiones.
Jaco is perhaps the closest you can get to a full-fledged beach resort experience in Costa Rica. Packed with large hotels, lively backpacker bars, and fast-food outlets, Jaco stands apart from the rest of the country. However, it still possesses a certain charm within its gritty streets, with its ramshackle hostels and beach bars overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Jaco gained its initial popularity due to its excellent surfing conditions. The two-mile beach offers forgiving and consistent shoulder-height waves breaking over soft sand, making it an ideal destination for beginners. Playa Hermosa, the first official World Surfing Reserve in Central America, caters to more advanced surfers. Located just south of Jaco, it boasts glassy left-handers and A-frames, although caution should be exercised with the ocean currents.
Jaco is surrounded by fantastic beaches. Playa Blanca features a rare stretch of white sand along this coastline, lined with sea grapes and swaying coconut palms. Playa Herradura is also noteworthy, situated just over 10 minutes' drive north of Jaco. It offers a spacious horseshoe-shaped bay with shallow crystal-clear waters caressing powdery cinnamon-toned sand. For adrenaline seekers, treks to the Nauyaca Waterfalls or high-octane ATV tours through coastal forests are additional options to consider.
Playa Tamarindo, nestled between two rocky headlands, is an iconic surf town on Costa Rica's Guanacaste shoreline. It has gained fame as one of the country's most renowned surf destinations, making it a top choice for visitors. The town has witnessed significant development over the years and now offers a vibrant atmosphere with bustling bars, pubs, and stylish hotels nestled among the palm trees.
The surf in Tamarindo is still exceptional, accommodating all skill levels. From the shifting sandbars of the Estero River to the mellow point break at Capitan Suizo, there is a wave to suit everyone. Tamarindo is also home to numerous surf hostels, surf camps, and surf schools, resembling Central America's version of Kuta, Bali.
When the waves are not ideal, Tamarindo offers other attractions. The main one is the Marino las Baulas National Park, which partially surrounds the town. Playa Grande, located within the park, hosts thousands of nesting leatherback sea turtles between October and March. The Catalina Islands archipelago, approximately 10 miles offshore, presents an opportunity for scuba enthusiasts to explore crystal-clear waters and encounter manta rays.
San José is likely to be your first encounter in Costa Rica after arriving at the airport. While most travelers do not spend much time here, the city is buzzing with energy and offers numerous eco-friendly attractions within reach. Poas Volcano, known for its turquoise caldera lake, and La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a paradise of cascading waterfalls, are just a short distance away.
The heart of San José lies along Avenida Central, a long boulevard that cuts through the city and connects key neighborhoods. Vibrant Central Market is a must-visit, particularly on Saturday mornings when tropical fruits and aromatic coffee beans are in abundance. The Cultural Plaza is home to the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, which showcases dazzling relics from ancient times.
One of the highlights of this sprawling capital is the surrounding lush hills of Escazu district. These hills rise to the west of the city, marking the beginning of Costa Rica's hinterland. Here, you can find fantastic restaurants like Ram Luna and Tiquicia, offering traditional Costa Rican cuisine. Enjoy gallo pinto and tamales while taking in panoramic views of the capital unfolding on the horizon.
This tropical mountain town is a haven for nature lovers, boasting cloud forests, volcanoes, waterfalls, and hot springs.
La Fortuna, a charming mountain town in northern Costa Rica, sits at the base of the active Arenal Volcano. The surrounding rivers create natural hot springs that meander through the dense jungle, offering a unique and rejuvenating experience. Many hotels and resorts have harnessed these natural hot springs to create lavish spa facilities.
The mountainous cloud forest surrounding La Fortuna, including Arenal Volcano National Park, provides breathtaking hikes with stunning views of towering waterfalls. One of the most memorable hikes is Cerro Chato, an inactive volcano with a mesmerizing blue lake in its crater. Visitors can also explore La Fortuna Waterfall, located at the base of the volcano.
Drake Bay / Bahía Drake
Drake Bay: Your Gateway to Exploring the Natural Wonders of the Osa Peninsula
One of the highlights of my time in Costa Rica was scuba diving off the stunning Caño Island. This small village in Drake Bay serves as the perfect home base for adventurous travelers looking to explore the vibrant jungle, breathtaking beaches, and underwater wonderland of the Osa Peninsula. 📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse the Best Hotels in Drake Bay on Booking
Located on the picturesque Osa Peninsula, the village of Drake Bay attracts adventurous visitors from all over the world. While the town itself may not offer much, the surrounding area is a paradise of natural beauty. Immersed in lush jungle and blessed with stunning beaches, Drake Bay is a haven for those seeking to connect with nature. One of the must-visit spots near Drake Bay is Isla del Caño, renowned for its remarkable diving and snorkeling experiences. This island's underwater reef is home to an abundance of marine life, including sharks, sea turtles, and rays. If you're lucky, you might even spot some whales during your boat ride to the island!
🚗 How to Get There: There are two ways to reach Drake Bay. You can either take a bus or drive to Sierpe and then embark on a boat journey to Drake Bay. Alternatively, you can choose to fly from San Jose, enjoying spectacular aerial views of the Pacific Coast along the way!
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Discover the Wonders of Rincón de la Vieja National Park: A Tropical Dry Forest Oasis with Waterfalls and Mud Springs
After trekking through the captivating dry forest of Rincón del la Vieja, taking a refreshing dip in the waterfall pool was an incredible experience!📍 Google Maps | Visit the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park Website
Situated in the northwestern Guanacaste Province, Rincón de la Vieja National Park is a true gem of Costa Rica. This park boasts an array of natural wonders, including bubbling hot springs, thunderous waterfalls, extensive trails through the captivating tropical dry forest, and an active volcano that most recently erupted in June 2021.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Embark on a Hiking Adventure through Breathtaking Forests to Encounter Five Majestic Waterfalls
La Paz Waterfall Gardens is an enchanting eco park nestled within a lush cloud forest in the central Alajuela Province. This hidden gem features a collection of five magnificent waterfalls, connected by a scenic hiking trail that leads to awe-inspiring viewing platforms. The serenity and grandeur of the park make for an unforgettable experience.
Embark on an Epic Hike to the Highest Point in Costa Rica and Marvel at Panoramic Views from the Pacific to the Caribbean
Cerro Chirripó, the highest peak in Costa Rica, offers a challenging and rewarding hike that spans approximately 25 miles (~40km) and features an elevation gain of about 12,500 feet. The journey takes you through a diverse range of landscapes, from lush montane forests to the unique Talamancan páramo, known for its extraordinary flora and fauna. On a clear day, hikers are treated to panoramic views stretching from the Caribbean to the Pacific coasts.
Discover the Enchanting River and Waterfall with Unbelievably Blue Hues
True to its name, Río Celeste is a river that showcases an otherworldly light, electric blue color, thanks to unique mineral deposits. A short hike through the lush rainforest brings you to a mesmerizing waterfall that cascades into a bright turquoise pool. This natural wonder is a sight to behold.
Witness an Extraordinary Natural Phenomenon: the Nesting of Hundreds of Thousands of Sea Turtles
During an arribada, a breathtaking event occurs as hundreds of thousands of sea turtles come to nest simultaneously on the shores of Playa Ostional.📍 Google Maps | 👉 Browse the Best Hotels near Playa Ostional on Booking
Nestled within a tranquil coastal town, Ostional, this destination comes alive during the arribada phenomenon. Within a few days, an explosion of around 100,000 sea turtles arrives to nest on the beach, creating a marvel of nature. The exact reasons for this phenomenon remain mysterious to scientists. The arribadas, which are most spectacular between September and November during the waning quarter moon, offer a captivating spectacle of nature's wonders.
Guide to Costa Rica's Top Locations
Please note that each of these destinations offers a wide range of experiences, suitable for different types of travelers. Whether you're seeking adventure, relaxation, or cultural encounters, Costa Rica has something to offer every visitor. If you need assistance in choosing the best places to visit for your preferences, please don't hesitate to contact us. Our team will be delighted to help you tailor your ideal Costa Rica vacation package.
Conchal Beach—Shell Beach
Conchal Beach, also known as Playa Conchal, stands out as one of the most unique beaches in Costa Rica. This stunning coastline boasts crystal-clear blue waters and a peaceful atmosphere. Both kids and adults can have a great time exploring the beach, as the "sand" is composed of countless shells. For an unmatched luxury experience, nothing compares to the all-inclusive Westin at Playa Conchal. Just a few steps away from the beach, this resort offers exceptional amenities, entertainment, and easy access to nearby attractions, making it a top choice among travelers.
Gulf of Papagayo—Calm Waters
The Gulf of Papagayo, renowned for its tranquil waters, is a premier destination for luxury beach getaways. Many of Costa Rica's top-notch all-inclusive resorts are nestled in this area, offering a perfect blend of relaxation and indulgence. While more budget-friendly accommodations can be found, the allure of being pampered with five-star amenities amidst the stunning beaches is hard to resist. With an array of water sports and activities available, the Gulf of Papagayo is an idyllic playground for beach enthusiasts.
Coco Beach—Beaches & Nightlife
Just a short 30-minute drive from Guanacaste International Airport in Liberia, Coco Beach, known locally as Playas del Coco, stands as a vibrant beach town brimming with energy. The town is famous for its lively nightlife scene, with bars and restaurants that stay open late into the night. While the beach itself may not be the most impressive, the captivating sunsets and the town's proximity to picture-perfect surrounding beaches make it an excellent base for exploration.
Getting Around Costa Rica
Airports in San Jose
NOTE: The capital city of San Jose is home to two major international airports in Costa Rica:
- Juan Santamaria Airport in Alajuela serves as the main international airport.
- Pavas (Tobías Bolaños) Airport in San Jose is the secondary airport, handling flights to destinations such as Panama.
When planning your trip, it's essential to determine which airport you will be flying into and out of, as they are not located close to each other. Most flights to and from the USA operate through Juan Santamaria Airport.
Renting a Car in Costa Rica
Renting a car is a popular choice for exploring Costa Rica. Though some routes may still be bumpy, driving across the country has become relatively easy compared to the past. We recommend reliable car rental companies such as Solid Car Rental (pronounced SO-lid) and Budget Car Rental. These providers offer excellent service and assistance throughout your trip, ensuring a smooth experience. In case of any unexpected incidents, their customer service teams are responsive and helpful. If you plan to rent a car, it is advisable to acquaint yourself with the country's driving regulations and road conditions.
If your arrival in Costa Rica is scheduled for the evening or if you have an early departure, it may be convenient to stay near the airport on your first or last night in the country.
By opting to stay at a local hotel near the airport, you can enjoy several benefits:
- Driving in daylight — If you plan to rent a car and self-drive, it is easier and safer to drive in daylight, especially on roads that may be unpaved.
- Traffic considerations — Depending on the time of day, traffic around both Costa Rica airports can be congested. Staying near Alajuela or San Jose, particularly on your last night in the country, allows for a relaxed and refreshed arrival at the airport for early morning flights.
- Last-minute shopping — If you wish to do some last-minute shopping at Mercado Centrale downtown, allow extra time to return to the capital city. Staying overnight gives you the opportunity to catch your flight the next day without rushing.
3 Exceptional Hotels near the Airport in Costa Rica
We have been frequent guests of this hotel since its previous incarnation as Las Orquideas Inn. Recently renovated in 2020, Villa San Ignacio now offers a fresh and stylish ambiance. The property features a marvelous pool, delicious complimentary breakfast, and unbeatable value with rates under $100 per night. Conveniently located just 15 minutes from the airport, the hotel can assist you in arranging a transfer service. Check availability and rates
Situated in San Jose, Hotel Grano d'Oro is our preferred choice regardless of our destination within the country. This charming historic property embodies elegance, and its restaurant is a culinary delight. Whether you are staying for a single night or plan to extend your visit, Hotel Grano d'Oro offers an unparalleled experience. Check rates and availability
For a luxurious treat, indulge yourself with a stay at the breathtaking Xandari Resort and Spa. This extraordinary property offers spectacular views of the valley and a range of on-site amenities. It serves as an ideal base for exploring the area around Alajuela while enjoying the utmost comfort. Check rates, availability, and more details
Best Places to Visit in NORTH Costa Rica
Bajos del Toro, La Fortuna, Arenal Volcano, and Monteverde Cloud Forest
During our first trip to Costa Rica, we decided to rent a car from the airport and head north towards La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano. This drive only takes about 3 hours, with the opportunity to make stops in the charming craft town of Sarchi between Alajuela and La Fortuna.
Once you arrive in La Fortuna, you'll be greeted with active volcanoes, soothing hot springs, and an abundance of exciting outdoor activities like hiking, zip lining, and rejuvenating spa treatments.
Prepare to wake up around 4:45 am during your first morning in La Fortuna, as the chorus of howler monkeys fills the air and gradually awakens the whole area. Take a moment to sit outside your accommodation, whether it's a cabin or a hotel, and capture the amazing primal sounds of the howlers on your phone or video camera. Welcome to the astonishing wonders of Costa Rica!
Bajos del Toro
How to Get to Bajos del Toro - You can either drive by yourself or arrange for private van transport with your hotel to reach Bajos del Toro.
Things to Do in Bajos del Toro - If you're searching for a serene and natural destination that offers easy access to San Jose/Alajuela airport, we highly recommend spending a few nights in Bajos del Toro. Despite being just a short drive from Alajuela (approximately 20 km), Bajos del Toro feels like a different world. This mountainous region is home to the magnificent Parque Nacional Juan Casto Blanco and the nearby Poas Volcano (Vulcan Poas), offering a hidden paradise for nature enthusiasts.
Where to Stay in Bajos del Toro - We recommend checking out the El Silencio Lodge & Spa for your accommodation needs. This secluded luxury mountain resort and spa is nestled within a breathtaking cloud-forest location, exemplifying sustainable eco-lodging in Costa Rica. The resort offers rooms and houses suitable for families or a romantic getaway. The organic and modern design creates a serene atmosphere, complemented by hardwood furnishings, luxurious linens, and cozy wood-burning stoves to keep you warm during colder nights. Don't miss out on the incredible culinary delights prepared by skilled mixologists and the artisan-inspired Chef, making dining a highlight of your stay. Check out the current rates and more details for El Silencio Lodge & Spa.
How to Get to La Fortuna - Whether you choose to drive or utilize private transport, reaching La Fortuna from Alajuela or San Jose is a straightforward journey. Most hotels will also arrange shuttle services for guests flying into San Jose.
Where to Stay in La Fortuna - Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa
For an unforgettable experience, we recommend staying at Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa. As one of the only hotels within the Arenal Volcano National Park, it offers the closest proximity to the magnificent volcano. The lodge provides comfortable rooms, a stunning pool, and lush grounds adorned with beautiful flowers and a variety of bird species.
To explore the area further, we suggest paying a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, located an hour north of Alajuela. As you drive through the colorful town of Sarchi, keep an eye out for local craftsmen painting vibrant designs on oxen carts.
Don't miss the opportunity to hike to the La Fortuna waterfall and indulge in the relaxing thermal hot springs. Nature lovers will be in awe of the biodiverse Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, a paradise that offers endless sights and activities. Costa Rica's natural beauty knows no bounds, catering to adventure-seekers and those seeking luxury and pampering alike.
While the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve steals the spotlight in this region, there are various ways to experience its wonders. Apart from hiking through the forest, you can elevate your adventure by embarking on a thrilling zip-lining tour that allows you to traverse the canopy through a network of safe and supportive wires stretching for miles. Experience the Cloud Forest just like the monkeys do by trying out the Monteverde zip line tour!
Places to Visit in North CARIBBEAN Costa Rica
Tortuguero, known as Costa Rica's "region of turtles," lives up to its name as the most crucial nesting site for the endangered green turtle in the Western Hemisphere. Other turtle species, including the Leatherback, Hawksbill, Loggerhead, and Olive Ridley, also choose Tortuguero as their nesting sanctuary.
To protect these remarkable creatures, Tortuguero National Park was established. This park safeguards 22 miles of nesting beach, preventing further endangerment. The picturesque town of Tortuguero is small, charming, and characterized by a single dirt street, providing visitors with a unique and remote experience.
How to Get to Tortuguero - You can reach the village of Tortuguero through public transportation, driving, or arranging a transfer. The village is accessible only by boat, offering a fantastic opportunity to appreciate the local wildlife during the boat ride. Many hotels provide shuttle services from the San Jose airport, meeting you at the boat for a seamless transfer to your accommodation. If you decide to drive, you'll need to arrange parking in the town and plan for a boat trip to reach your hotel.
Where to Stay in Tortuguero - You have several excellent options for accommodation within Tortuguero National Park. We recommend considering Tortuga Lodge and Gardens, Laguna Lodge, or Turtle Beach Lodge. All three options provide an incredible experience within the park, ensuring a memorable stay in this unique destination. Feel free to explore these accommodations and find the perfect fit for your Tortuguero adventure. Search for hotels in Tortuguero.
Things to Do in Tortuguero
If witnessing the incredible nesting turtles is your priority, we suggest visiting during July, August, or September. Additionally, Tortuguero offers various activities such as hikes, river rafting tours, kayak tours, and nature or sightseeing tours. Immerse yourself in the wonders of Tortuguero and explore its stunning biodiversity.
>>> Want some local help planning your trip to Costa Rica?
Where to Go in SOUTH CARIBBEAN Costa Rica
Limon, Cahuita, and Puerto Viejo
The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica boasts a unique atmosphere that sets it apart from the rest of the country. As you visit for the first time, prepare to be captivated by its distinctive charm. Influenced by its West Indies heritage, the region exudes a laid-back reggae vibe that permeates not only the culture but also the delicious local cuisine. Offering a wide range of vibrant and flavorful dishes, the food experience here is truly one-of-a-kind.
What to Do in Puerto Viejo
To fully immerse yourself in the vibrant culture of Puerto Viejo, we recommend renting a bike to explore the colorful town. Make a stop at a local produce market to enjoy fresh fruits before heading to the beautiful beaches of Playa Cocles or Punta Uva. Don't miss the opportunity to drive south towards Manzanillo for a day of adventure.
For unforgettable wildlife encounters, a visit to Cahuita National Park is a must. Additionally, the Jaguar Rescue Centre outside of Puerto Viejo offers a fascinating experience for those who hold a special affinity for monkeys!
How to Get to Puerto Viejo - Drive your own vehicle and embark on a scenic journey through Braulio Carrillo National Park, enjoying the breathtaking coastal views along the way.
Where to Eat in Puerto Viejo - During your stay in Puerto Viejo, be sure to stop by Bread & Chocolate for an incredible breakfast experience. Koki Beach Restaurant Bar Lounge is another fantastic choice that promises a fun and enjoyable dining experience.
Where to Stay in Puerto Viejo - We highly recommend Hotel Banana Azul, situated on Playa Negra. This hotel has repeatedly impressed us with its exceptional property, friendly staff, lush gardens, and prime beachfront location. The culinary offerings are always scrumptious, and the property proudly embraces inclusivity, making it an LGBTQ-friendly establishment. Explore the availability and more details of Hotel Banana Azul.
Do the Panama Combo
Are you feeling adventurous? Why not elevate your Puerto Viejo experience by combining it with a few days in Bocas del Toro, Panama? This tropical archipelago is located just south of Caribbean Costa Rica, making it the perfect extension to your Puerto Viejo journey. Arrange a private transport with a reputable company like Caribe Tours to conveniently reach your destination.
>> Search Now for Hotels in Bocas del Toro, Panama — just a short hop or drive from Puerto Viejo
Best Places to Go in Northwest Costa Rica
The Nicoya Peninsula, located on Costa Rica's northwest coast, offers a relaxed and surfer-friendly ambiance. This region experiences drier weather compared to the southern Osa Peninsula, though it still receives its fair share of rain during the green season, resulting in some mud. Nicoya is renowned for its stunning beaches, making it an irresistible destination for beach lovers.
Aside from the beautiful coastline, one of the advantages of the Nicoya Peninsula is its temperate climate. Unlike the muggy and buggy conditions in other coastal areas, Nicoya provides a more comfortable environment for visitors.
North Nicoya is home to the popular town of Tamarindo and the Guanacaste region, one of the more tourist-friendly spots on the peninsula. Compared to places like Disney World, Tamarindo still maintains a relatively laid-back atmosphere. However, if you prefer a quieter experience, we suggest venturing further south to destinations like Nosara, Samara, Manzanillo, Santa Teresa, or Mal Pais. These funky beach towns offer tranquility and charm, treating visitors to an authentic and immersive Costa Rican experience.
How to Get to Nosara - To reach Nosara, you can either drive or fly into the new international airport in Liberia for added convenience.
Things to Do in Nosara
Embrace the blissful lifestyle of Nosara, which is synonymous with relaxation and adventure. Grab a surfboard and head to the beach, savoring the laid-back atmosphere that captivates this coastal town. Yoga is a way of life in Nosara, so consider taking a class or practicing yoga on the beach. Additionally, the sleepy town of Ostional offers a dreamlike setting for nature lovers, complete with a beach that welcomes thousands of nesting sea turtles each year. While exploring Ostional, remember to be respectful and maintain a safe distance from the nesting turtles to ensure their well-being.
Make sure to visit Playa Carrillo, regarded as one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, located an hour south of Nosara. Take a break in the town of Samara, where you can enjoy shopping and a delightful lunch. Samara Beach, known for its sheltered bay and gentle waves, is an excellent choice for families with children.
Where to Stay in Nosara - If you're seeking an exceptional experience in Nosara, we recommend considering Harmony Hotel. Located on Playa Guiones, one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, Harmony Hotel offers a tranquil and serene atmosphere just a two-minute walk from the beach. The spacious rooms and suites are designed with an open-air concept, allowing you to immerse yourself in nature while enjoying breathtaking ocean views from the comfort of your hammock on the veranda. Harmony Hotel is also renowned for its yoga programs and offers healthy and inspired cuisine, providing a perfect opportunity to enhance your sense of well-being during your stay. Check the availability and more details for Harmony Hotel.
Tamarindo, known as the most popular destination on the Nicoya Peninsula, offers a wide range of amenities and attractions. If you prefer a more secluded and peaceful experience, we recommend exploring destinations like Nosara, Samara, Manzanillo, Santa Teresa, or Mal Pais located further down the peninsula. (NOTE: Keep an eye on road conditions during the green season as flooding and impassable roads may occur.)
Best Middle Pacific Coast Costa Rica Destinations
Manuel Antonio and Jaco
During our first visit to Costa Rica, we decided to spend the initial three days in Arenal before heading to the Pacific Coast, specifically Manuel Antonio and the Osa Peninsula. If you have enough time, you can embark on a scenic coastal drive south, exploring some of the country's best attractions along the way.
The journey to Manuel Antonio takes you across the famous Rio Tarcoles, also known as Crocodile River, where you can witness the presence of massive American Crocodiles. We recommend parking along the road before the bridge and walking halfway down for the best view. Don't forget to capture this incredible sight with your camera!
Once you've experienced the crocodile encounter, indulge in a delightful casado (lunch) or enjoy a quick drink at one of the excellent local restaurants near the bridge.
I took this pic of the crocodiles in Rio Tarcoles with a zoom lens from a bridge a few hundred yards away!
How to Get to Manuel Antonio - Whether you choose to drive, arrange private transport, or take the bus, reaching Manuel Antonio is relatively convenient. Several buses operate daily from San Jose to Manuel Antonio, although they may make frequent stops, elongating the travel time.
Things to Do in Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio is a charismatic coastal town that effortlessly combines a touristy atmosphere with a laid-back ambiance. Its most prominent feature is Manuel Antonio National Park, an expansive natural reserve with mesmerizing trails that lead to breathtaking sights. The park is also home to the endangered Mono Titi, or squirrel monkey. As the town slogan reads, "Still more monkeys than people," you'll find yourself surrounded by these remarkable creatures during your visit.
Situated along the coast, the park offers a fantastic opportunity to witness wildlife in their natural habitats. Keep a keen eye out, as fascinating creatures often lurk beneath your feet or reside nearby.
For a memorable dining experience, we recommend Barba Roja and Cafe Aqua Azul. These two establishments consistently offer delightful meals that will satisfy any palate. El Avion is another popular spot, known for its unique setting within the remnants of an old airplane connected to the Wild West Iran Contra scandal in the 1980s. It's the perfect place to enjoy drinks and food with a cool ambiance.
Where to Stay in Manuel Antonio - Consider Hotel Villas Nicolas, an adults-only accommodation that provides spacious, quiet, and open-air rooms and suites. Each one offers amazing ocean views, which you can admire from the comfort of your veranda hammock. The hotel's location in the heart of Manuel Antonio puts you within walking distance of numerous restaurants, ensuring easy access to the town's vibrant dining scene. Check the availability and more details of Hotel Villas Nicolas.
If you prefer a luxurious and spacious setting suitable for families and groups of friends, Villa Perezoso Luxury Apartment is an exceptional choice. With its two massive bedrooms, each equipped with a king bed and private bathroom, as well as a spacious shared living area, gourmet kitchen, private parking, and a beautiful wrap-around terrace, Villa Perezoso provides a comfortable and convenient stay. The apartment is only a 5-10 minute walk from Espadilla Beach and Playitas Beach and approximately 2 miles from Manuel Antonio National Park. Check the details and availability for Villa Perezoso Luxury Apartment.
For those interested in exploring Jaco, a lively beach town, we recommend searching for hotels in the area to find the perfect accommodation for your needs.
Search for hotels in Jaco.
Search for hotels in Manuel Antonio.
Top Destinations in Costa Rica's Middle Pacific Coast
Dominical and Uvita
Journey further down the coast to discover the renowned "bumpy road" - a significant understatement! - that will lead you to the charming surf towns of Dominical, Uvita, as well as the emerging areas of Palmer Norte and Palmer Sur. The beaches here are stunning, and the locals are incredibly welcoming.
In the quirky surf town of Dominical, make sure to visit the surfer bar located on the beach. They offer a free beer in exchange for your broken surfboard and bruised ego, as their sign humorously states, "You break 'em, we hang 'em".
You'll even find a shrine dedicated to a legendary figure here. No, it's not a Costa Rican king, but the one and only Elvis Presley! If you're a fan, it's a must-see attraction on the Costa Rican beachfront.
How to Get to Uvita: Drive
Things to Do in Uvita:
Hiking and surfing are popular activities in this area. There are also numerous funky beach shops to explore and browse through.
Where to Stay in Uvita: Check out The Lookout at Playa Tortuga. This hotel offers spacious and clean individual cabinas surrounding the main hotel, pool, and common terrace, which provides a great spot for bird watching. It's just a short ride away from amazing beaches, and we particularly loved Playa Ventanas, which is nearby.
Looking for accommodations in Dominical? Search for Hotels in Dominical
Looking for accommodations in Uvita? Search for Hotels in Uvita
Looking for accommodations in Ojochal? Search for Hotels in Ojochal
Tortuguero National Park: A Haven for Endangered Sea Turtles
Situated on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park is an absolute must-visit for first-time travelers, especially between July and October. This park is home to one of the most significant nesting sites for various species of sea turtles. During these months, visitors have the unique opportunity to witness the captivating process of nesting and hatching.
If you don't want to miss out on this majestic spectacle and need assistance planning your trip to Tortuguero National Park, reach out to Fora for expert guidance. Fora Advisors can help you find the best hotels, adventure tours, and other perks and VIP upgrades, all at the same price as booking directly.
Did you know? Tortuguero also boasts a dense rainforest, a network of canals and lagoons teeming with biodiversity, and some of the finest jungle resorts in Costa Rica. Discover more about these resorts here.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: A Mesmerizing Wonder for Costa Rica First-Timers
As its name suggests, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is an enchanting jungle enveloped in ethereal fog. This unique ecosystem is brimming with a diverse array of plant and animal species, including the strikingly vibrant and exceptionally rare quetzal bird. With misty trails, monumental waterfalls, and exhilarating zip-lining opportunities amidst the canopy, Monteverde consistently captivates its visitors. It is undeniably one of the best places to experience the wonders of Costa Rica for the first time.
Arenal Volcano: An Unmissable Destination in Costa Rica
When picturing Costa Rica, many travelers envision the magnificent Arenal Volcano towering over lush rainforests and natural hot springs. This iconic active volcano, standing over 5,300 feet tall, is one of the country's most recognizable landmarks. Don't worry, though—the volcano's last significant eruption occurred in 1968. Today, it serves as a paradise for hiking, birdwatching, zip-lining, and of course, soaking in the rejuvenating hot springs. To catch a glimpse of eruptions, visitors can safely observe from a distance. For incredible accommodations near Arenal Volcano National Park and the best hiking tours and beyond, connect with Fora for expert guidance.
Tamarindo: A Relaxed Surf Haven on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast
Located in the picturesque province of Guanacaste on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Tamarindo is a laid-back surf town that exudes a vibrant atmosphere. Travelers can indulge in catching some waves, unwinding on the pristine beaches, and relishing in a seafood lover's paradise. Don't miss out on trying the town's specialty—ceviche.
Manuel Antonio National Park: Abundant Nature at Its Finest
If you haven't had your fill of natural wonders, continue your exploration along the Pacific coast to Manuel Antonio National Park. This stunning park is renowned for its breathtaking beaches and an abundance of awe-inspiring wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for sloths, iguanas, monkeys, and exotic birds. Despite being one of the smaller national parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio's combination of dense jungle, pristine beaches, and vibrant coral reefs make it one of the most popular destinations. Snorkelers will be delighted with the incredible underwater scenery.
Corcovado National Park: A Paradise of Biodiversity
Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica
Renowned for its extraordinary biodiversity, Corcovado National Park is a true gem among natural wonders worldwide. Situated on the Osa Peninsula, this park boasts an unparalleled ecosystem that encompasses rainforests, cloud forests, stunning beaches, and vibrant coral reefs. Wildlife enthusiasts will be thrilled to encounter all four species of monkeys found in Costa Rica, as well as tapirs, exotic birds, reptiles, and even jaguars(!).
Due to its remote location and challenging terrain, visiting Corcovado National Park necessitates careful planning and expertise. Fora's knowledgeable advisors specialize in booking trips to Corcovado and can guide you toward reputable tour companies.
The Nicoya Peninsula: A Beach Lover's Paradise
If you're a beach lover, the Nicoya Peninsula on Costa Rica's northwest coast is an absolute must-visit. Offering a collection of pristine beaches unrivaled by many other destinations, this region is a haven for relaxation and water activities. Each town and village in the Nicoya Peninsula possesses its own distinct charm. Swim, surf, snorkel, and practice yoga to your heart's content. Immerse yourself in the rich cultural heritage influenced by the Indigenous Chorotega peoples. Don't forget to explore the unique crafts, such as traditional Costa Rican pottery, textiles, and woodworking.
Uvita: A Whale-Watching Paradise for First-Time Visitors
Uvita, a delightful beach town on Costa Rica's Pacific coast, is world-renowned for its exceptional whale-watching opportunities. Every year, from July to October and December to April, humpback whales migrate to this area for mating, giving birth, and nursing their young. Witnessing these magnificent creatures in their natural habitat is an unforgettable experience. For a responsible and safe whale-watching tour, make sure to choose a licensed operator that prioritizes the well-being of the whales. Fora can assist you in finding the right operator to ensure a memorable encounter with these incredible animals.
Whether you're an adventurous traveler looking for pristine rainforests and active volcanoes or a beach lover in search of crystal-clear waters and laid-back surf towns, Costa Rica has it all. From the stunning Tortuguero National Park, where endangered sea turtles find sanctuary, to the awe-inspiring Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, guaranteed to amaze even the most seasoned of travelers, this country is a haven for nature enthusiasts. And for those seeking relaxation and breathtaking beaches, the Nicoya Peninsula offers the perfect blend of sandy shores and lush landscapes. With its abundant biodiversity and natural wonders, Costa Rica truly is a tropical paradise that should be on everyone's travel bucket list.
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