Costa Rica's Top Destinations
Updated: Oct 4, 2019
For such a small country (about the size of Scotland!), Costa Rica packs a lot into it. There is so much to see and do here. Luckily, we live here and can let you know all the best places and the best ways to experience them. Read on for our favourite Costa Rican destinations.
Costa Rica Top Destinations
From cloud forests to coastlines to active volcanoes and lush rainforest, Costa Rica’s diversity inspires exploration.
Narrowing down the best holiday spots in Costa Rica is difficult if you're not familiar with the country, so we’ve tried to condense each location into an easy-to-digest guide of the sights, sounds, and adventures that await.
We hope you enjoy this armchair tour of Costa Rica’s best destinations. The only thing better is actually visiting!
Please note: these destinations cannot be pigeon-holed as good for only one type of holiday. All types of traveller can find something for them at each location.
Arenal Volcano—Adventure Capital of Costa Rica
Known by everyone as the adventure capital of Costa Rica, the Arenal Volcano area boasts some of the most adrenaline-inducing activities you can try.
Ever-popular adventures include zip lining, rappelling, and white water rafting. , You can also try some other adventures you may not have heard of like the Gravity Falls and Sky Limit.
Arenal is the place to push the limits!
After all that excitement, there’s nothing like visiting the hot springs to ease those sore muscles.
Tension will melt away and leave you completely relaxed. Many area hotels have their own on-site thermal hot springs so you don’t even have to go far.
Manuel Antonio—#1 National Park
Manuel Antonio is an especially intriguing destination. With tons of beach activities, the national park, and nearby mangroves and estuaries, there's plenty to explore while having fun.
Visitors will love discovering and learning about the rainforest and all its creatures.
You’ll likely spot wildlife from your hotel room or even from the roadside, but you’ll have the most luck in the national park.
With almost unlimited activities to enjoy, including some uncommon but great options like Santa Juana and Damas Island, there's no shortage of options.
Tamarindo Beach—Surf & Sunsets
Tamarindo is a beach hot spot and the surrounding area has much to offer.
Surfing - or learning to surf - is at the top of most people’s agendas but the list goes on from there.
Kayaking, sailing, rafting, diving, and seasonal fishing round out the water sports, and then you can hop on an ATV, go horse riding, or try zip lining.
Whatever you do, you can reflect on your adventure-filled day with a cocktail as you watch the sun set over the Pacific. And save some energy for the nightlife. Tamarindo is one location that doesn’t quit!
Monteverde has a true mystical feel.
Located in the cloud forest, this one-of-a-kind ecosystem will leave you filled with wonder. We recommend a guided hike of the cloud forest reserves to spot the various birds and animals living here.
Nature lovers will be in paradise here as Monteverde has the highest number of orchids in the world, as well as being a stop for many migratory birds.
Families will love visiting the Frog Pond, Butterfly Garden, and Serpentarium. There are also other fun activities like visiting a dairy farm, coffee tours, horse riding, and hanging brides that everyone will love.
Conchal Beach—Shell Beach
Playa Conchal (Shell Beach) is one of the most unique and special beaches in Costa Rica.
Here the crystal-clear blue water is calm and kids and adults alike will love picking through all the shells that make up the white “sand” that give the beach its name.
For luxury accommodations, no one can compare to the all-inclusive, beachfront Westin at Playa Conchal.
Situated steps from the picturesque beach, there is no one that does luxury like the Westin.
With on-site amenities and entertainment and plenty to see and do nearby, this is the one and only stop for many travellers.
Gulf of Papagayo—Calm Waters
Most of Costa Rica's all-inclusive resorts are around the Papagayo Peninsula, making it a top luxury beach destination.
While more budget-friendly accommodations are available, there is something attractive about being pampered with five-star amenities while you’re surrounded by some of the most beautiful beaches in the country.
With calm waters and a laundry list of activities available, this area is ideal for watersports, swimming, and a general good time.
Nosara Beach—Surf & Yoga
The Nicoya Peninsula offers a laid-back vibe, great surf, and a range of accommodation types from camping to luxury.
Beach towns like Santa Teresa and Nosara dot the coastline and are a hub for yogis, surfers, and backpackers.
Don’t let the relaxed facade deceive you – there is plenty to do and explore if you’re looking.
Tortuguero—A Wildlife Wonder
Tortuguero is a unique and special part of Costa Rica that not all tourists get the chance to visit.
Just getting to Tortuguero is an adventure in itself. The area is not accesible by road, only by boat or plane. As you wind through the canals and lagoons, you'll see some of the many animals that call the area home.
It doesn’t end there, though. With turtle nesting, early morning canal tours, and walks through the national park, the opportunities for enjoying nature go on and on.
Coco Beach—Beaches & Nightlife
Located a convenient 30-minute drive from Liberia International Airport, Coco Beach—aka Playas del Coco—is a funky beach town with a lot of spirit.
It’s well known for its nightlife with bars and restaurants open late.
While Coco Beach itself may not be the most impressive, the sunsets are breathtaking, and this area is great for exploring the many surrounding picturesque beaches.
Puerto Viejo—Laid-Back Vibe
They say time moves slower in Puerto Viejo.
It’s something about the Caribbean breeze and Rasta vibes that makes even the most stressed traveler slow down and embrace the “pura vida”.
It’s common to see locals and travellers sip cocktails together beachside or meander down the road on a bike in no hurry to get anywhere, just enjoying life.
Drake Bay—Most Biodiverse
The Osa Peninsula is the most remote part of Costa Rica, meaning less people and more nature.
This area alone hosts over 5% of the world’s biodiversity so there's a lot to see.
Most Osa hotels offer on-site guided tours to give you the best chance of spotting animals. This is also a great jumping-off point for scuba diving, snorkelling, and whale watching at Caño Island.
Flying into Drake Bay is the easiest way to get here.
Rincon de la Vieja—Country Living
Rincon de la Vieja is about as far as you can get from San Jose in distance and experience.
The activities and adventures you find here are exciting and also provide insight into the “real” Costa Rica. Ride with real cowboys and experience the authentic countryside—or campo.
San Jose—Shopping & Dining
You can find culture everywhere you look, albeit in different capacities.
San Jose is often skipped over as visitors rush to find more nature-oriented destinations.
Those looking for a vibrant city experience, however, with culture-rich museums, theaters, and great dining will enjoy a few days here.
There is a reason half the population lives in the metro area. Plus a coffee tour in the surrounding hills is a must!