Top Places to visit during your vacations in Costa Rica

By Tim Kroeger October 27, 2019 Central America, Costa Rica

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Ultimate list of the top places to visit on your vacations in Costa Rica for extreme adventures and luxurious relaxation.

Costa Rica is perfectly located between the Caribbean and the Pacific Ocean, with volcanoes and rainforests completing the whole tropical package. It is the happiest place on earth and contains 5 percent of the world’s bio diversity!

Ecotourism is the shared passion of every community in Costa Rica. With 29 national parks and 27 other reserves, both the government and private entities strive not only to bring tourists in for economic gains but also to educate the masses regarding the essentiality of rainforest and wildlife conservation.

Vacations in Costa Rica are not complete without visiting at least one national park!

Check out the most popular Costa Rica travel destinations and get ready for “Pura Vida”.

Top Places to visit on your vacations in Costa Rica

1

Monteverde

Monteverde is situated in the Tilaran Mountain Range and is one of the most popular sites for nature in Costa Rica. Monteverde, which means ‘green mountain’ in Spanish, is a magnificent plethora of rolling hills and lush vegetation. 

One of the best places to visit in Costa Rica, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, is located next to this rural village. The red-eyed tree frog, Costa Rica’s symbol, can be found in this protected  jungle.

The constant cloud that envelopes the Monteverde reserve is due to the high humidity in the place. The forest do become quite packed with visitors at times, with everyone wanting to explore the diverse flora and fauna in the area.

Alternatively, there is the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve which is located nearby. 

Two of the best luxury hotels to stay at in Monteverde are: The Monteverde Lodge and Gardens and the Trapp Family Hotel. Both offer exceptional amenities that bring comfort and pleasure to the rawness of the cloud forest’s surroundings.

Be sure to check out the professionally-curated nature tours that each hotel offers. Having a nature guide when exploring Monteverde is the key to understanding why Costa Rica and its towns are given high regard when it comes to biodiversity.

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2

Puerto Viejo

One of the most famous places to visit in Costa Rica for surfing is the coastal village of Puerto Viejo. Surfers travel from far away to try and conquer the elusive Salsa Brava break.

Often regarded as the best surf spot in Costa Rica, the Salsa Brava may be calling the adventurer in you but its waves are fit for masters in the art of riding waves. With the love for surfing comes the Rasta lifestyle that naturally goes with it.

Puerto Viejo’s nightlife is painted with Jamaican influence all over - from music to food and everything else in between.

Aside from surfing, Puerto Viejo is also known for its unique beaches with white and black sands. These beaches lie along the Caribbean Sea, making them perfect venues for snorkeling, scuba diving and dolphin watching.

Alternatively, you can also join cultural tours where town locals will take you on chocolate making and birdwatching explorations.

Compared to that of other Costa Rica tourist spots, accommodations in Puerto Viejo are limited to rooms with basic necessities and local offerings. For luxury travellers, Hotel Le Cameleon is the only option for a high-range hotel in the village.

Resorts like those in Fortuna or Manuel Antonio are out of the question. This, though does not make Puerto Viejo any less of an attraction. Its provincial charm and laidback atmosphere wins the heart of every visitor.

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3

La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano

Fancy sipping on your cocktail while bathing in natural hot springs and enjoying the view of an active volcano?

As you approach La Fortuna, you will be welcomed by the Arenal Volcano standing tall amidst Fortuna and the nearby areas.

Thanks to the Volcano you can enjoy nature-heated thermal pools, cascading waterfalls, thick jungles, and a whole lot of fun!

Make sure to visit the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park and allot time for the exploration of the Lake Arenal. Within these places you have several adventures to conquer. That includes rappelling, horseback riding and extreme white water rafting.

Accommodations such as the Tabacon Grand Thermal Resort take pride in their strategic locations, at the foot of the Arenal Volcano, and entice guests not only to purchase day passes for their thermal pools but also to book a room and stay in one of their lodges that promote serenity at its purest.

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4

San José

San José is the capital city of Costa Rica. There are a lot of places to see in Costa Rica that are in this metropolis, but travelers tend to skip this city altogether while in the rush to move forward to their adventure destination.

I’d say stay for two days, no less, and see all the historic sights and inviting delicacies that await you in San Jose. The weather is almost always temperate and public transport is efficient, enabling this historic city to be far more than just a pitstop.

Feast your curious eyes on the stylistic buildings and green parks that are conveniently a stroll away from each other. Head towards the La Sabana Park and start your cultural exploration within its bounds.

Here alone, you’ll find the Costa Rica Art Museum and the National Stadium. The Central Market is also unmissable, with eateries serving authentic Costa Rican cuisine and stalls selling cheap travel souvenirs.

There are plenty of accommodations to choose from in San Jose. One of the best luxury hotels in Costa Rica is here - the iconic Gran Hotel - and it is only three to five minutes away from the National Theatre and the Museum of Precolumbian Gold.

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5

Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park

Rincon de la Vieja belongs to the province of Guanacaste and is just 15 miles off of its capital city is. The Rincon de la Vieja National Park, one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica, has a 34,000-acre conservation area.

The Rincon de la Vieja Volcano is an active volcano. You can explore natural hot springs, bubbling mud pools, explorable volcanic craters and cascading waterfalls, all set in a lush rainforest. 

You will be spoiled with choices when it comes to accommodations in the region. One of the many recommended places to stay in Rincon de la Vieja is the Borinquen Mountain Resort and Spa. Not only does its rooms give you a scenic view of Mother Nature but it also provides you with a strategic and convenient location to the jumpoff points of adventure tours in the area. 

While in Rincon de la Vieja, you can go horseback riding, canopy ziplining and 4x4 driving. Hiking, biking and rafting are also popular activities to do here.

From February to April, visitors travel to this Costa Rica vacation destination in order to enjoy the place amidst a favorable weather.

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6

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a short 3-hour drive from San José and without doubt one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

The most famous attraction is the Manuel Antonio National Park, a vast forest reserve that is home to numerous animal species and thick green vegetation.

From the park, you get to access two of Manuel Antonio’s stunning beaches - the Playa Espadilla Sur and the Playa Manuel Antonio. These waters are perfect venues for swimming, snorkeling and paddling.

Hotels in Manuel Antonio are some of the best in the country. A perfect example of luxury combined with care for nature is the Gaia Hotel and Reserve. Scarlet macaws consider the bounds of this hotel their secured habitat.

Villas with roof terraces and an ocean view offer a VIP seat to Costa Rica’s magnificent sunset. Expect to see a lot of guests here at Gaia and everywhere in Manuel Antonio from December to April, its most favorable months to visit.

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7

Corcovado National Park

The Osa Peninsula, where Corcovado is located, is part of the province of Punterenas. This region is known for being remote and biodiverse. A lot of the species that live in Corcovado are unique to the area, prompting National Geographic to declare the Osa Peninsula as ‘the most biologically intense place on earth. 

Among the famous places in Costa Rica which can be found in this region is the Corcovado National Park. This remote sanctuary has been a thriving home to many endangered species since 1975.

Go diving in this area and you will have the chance see bull sharks, moray eels and sea turtles in their natural habitats. Alternatively, you can just relax on the white beaches along Corcovado. Beware, though, as this place is infamously known to have really powerful riptides. 

If you are planning to go camping in Corcovado, it is best to do so between January and April. Should you opt to go for luxury hotel, there is the dreamy Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge.

Its suites offer incomparable views of the rainforest. They even have a honeymoon sweet that promises only the most intimate stay amidst the green environment. Activities within the lodge include horseback riding and scuba diving.

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More cool places to visit in Costa Rica

1. Tortuguero

Tortuguero is called the Central American Amazon, and once you arrive you will know why.

Most places are only accessible by boat. This makes the place difficult to reach, but it also makes every visit to this destination an intentional one.

I am sure you won’t mind going around by boat. Monkeys, birds, sloths and other wild creatures are always around to make your cruise interesting and fun.

Most people visit Tortuguero to explore the Tortuguero National Park. Established in 1980 for the purpose of creating a protected habitat for nesting sea turtles in Costa Rica, the park continues to be one of the wildest and most important of all the massive national parks in the country.

Nowadays, you can see not only green sea turtles here but also leatherbacks and hawksbills. This 19,000-hectare property is run by the government and enjoys high visitor turnover from July to October. Within this time frame, there is a high chance of seeing the beloved nesting turtles.

Most lodges are only accessible by boat. This includes the Manatus Hotel. With its beautiful ecolodges equipped with exceptional amenities, the Manatus Hotel is a luxurious relief within the jungle of Tortuguero.

2. Tamarindo

77 kilometers from the Liberia Airport is one of the top destinations in Costa Rica: Tamarindo.

It is popular to travellers who would like to explore nature without necessary leaving the comfort of modern amenities, familiar food and other daily conveniences.

Surfing the waves in Tamarindo must definitely be on your list of things to do in Costa Rica. There are many beaches in the area that can satisfy beginners and experts alike.

Playa Grande, located inside the Las Baulas National Park, is home to many surf schools that offer surfing lessons and surfboard rentals. Experienced surfers flock to this surf spot in hopes of playing with some of Costa Rica’s biggest waves.

Playa Tamarindo and Playa Langosta are friendlier to the inexperienced. The latter beaches do not tend to get crowded, making them good venues for those wanting to try the sport for the first time.  

As Tamarindo is a famous Costa Rican vacation spot, businesses geared towards tourists are plentiful. There is no shortage of hotels in the area, with even luxurious options dominating the scene.

3. Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica and is one of the best surf spots in Costa Rica. Another great surf spot, Mal Pais, is just three kilometer away.

Other adventure activities that you can do in Santa Teresa are amongst others Canopy tours, horseback riding and hiking. The Curu Wildlife Reserve is one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica and is situated in Santa Teresa. It was actually the country’s first private wildlife refuge.

The Pranamar Villas and Yoga Retreat is a luxury resort right next to the Santa Teresa beach. The villas are built with bamboo and wood and are surrounded by a green garden.

If you want to try yoga for the first time, there is no better place. It’s a perfect way to relax your tense muscles after a full day of adventures in Costa Rica. While looking for luxurious places to stay in Santa Teresa, consider the Canaima Chill House as well.

4. Cerro Chirripó

The highest mountain in Costa Rica is the Cerro Chirripo, making the place an ideal hiking destination for people excited with the idea of reaching the topmost part of the country.

Several provinces serve as an entrance to this Costa Rican tourist spot, and these include Cartago and San Jose. The 25-kilometer hike to the summit may be physically daunting, but the views of the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean  from the top are mesmerising.

Only 60 visitors are allowed per day to explore the park. In here you will find trails that have hardly undergone any modification so that even hiking enthusiasts find it exhilaratingly challenging to traverse.

While you are there, pay a visit to the village of San Gerardo de Rivas and let the locals take you on a unique coffee exploration. Before you leave, relax in the natural hot spring in Rio Chirripo.

Crestones Base Lodge is the only accommodation inside the Chirripo National Park. It offers basic amenities to hikers and a resting place for the ones wanting to see the captivating sunrise from the mountains the next day.

5. Central Valley

The Central Valley or “Meseta Central” is where many Costa Ricans reside. With its naturally stunning backdrop and bountiful lands, no wonder people choose to build their lives here.

It is home to the Irazu and Poas Volcanoes, both of which are active thus providing richness to the soils around the area. This makes farming thrive in the plateau – and yes, strictly speaking it is not a valley. 

The Braulio Carillo National Park is one of the main attractions in the Central Valley. Just by driving along the roads, your eyes and lungs are definitely in for a nature retreat.

Into the jungle, there are hiking trails that lead you to breathtaking waterfalls and diverse flora and fauna. Further into the forest, there is an aerial tram that takes you through treetops and sloth habitats.

The Central Valley offers a wide range of luxury accommodations like the Best Western Irazu Hotel and Casino, the Grano de Oro and the Bougainvillea Hotels.

6. Playa Sámara

Playa Samara in Guanacaste, Costa Rica is one of the best parts of Costa Rica to visit. Samara’s good reputation as a small, safe town makes it a popular choice. The beach itself is a 5-kilometer haven for ocean lovers.

Aside from the beach, Samara hosts yoga practices, horseback riding and stand-up paddle boarding. As a form of livelihood, locals go for farming and fishing.

Sámara has an airstrip for small planes and Liberia International Airport & the Nosara Domestic Airport are close to the town.

Hotel Punta Islita is hard to miss when in Samara. This luxury hotel allows guests to do popular Costa Rican adventures all in the comfort and splendor of its 3,000 acre property. 

Another town gem is the Villas Playa Samara Beach Front Resort. 116 rooms and villas make up this wedding-ready tropical destination.

7. Montezuma

Here is yet another beach destination in Costa Rica – good thing they’re all too beautiful to get tired of.

Montezuma is proud of its white sand beaches, majestic waterfalls and snorkeling sites that attract adventurers wanting to experience the natural wonders that Costa Rica is widely known for. Montezuma’s temperate weather is best enjoyed anytime between December to August.

Going to Montezuma means paying a visit to one of the top destinations in Costa Rica, the Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve. It is located at the south of the Nicoya Peninsula and can be reached through Mal Pais as well.

Inside the reserve, you can go on a hiking expedition and spot different animals such as armadillos, howler monkeys and raccoons.

There are also beautiful beaches where you can enjoy the diverse marine ecosystem. These beaches are the Playa Cabo Blanco and Playa Balsitas.

Costa Rica Travel Information 

Climate in Costa Rica: Costa Rica has two seasons: high season (dry) and green season (wet). Its climate varies greatly among the different locations of each city and province.

From December to April, the country experiences high season which is great for travelling. September and October are subject to green season, making them popular months to go surfing in Costa Rica.

Temperatures in Costa Rica: The country’s temperature ranges from 12 to 27 degrees Centigrade. The place that is said to have the best weather in the country is the Meseta Central plateau.

It enjoys a temperature of 22 degrees Centigrade. In the high areas, the temperature can reach up to 17 degrees Centigrade. In all the other areas, 26 degrees Centigrade is the average temperature.

What to bring to Costa Rica: While on tours, bring a dry bag, high SPF sunscreen, insect repellent, sun visor, closed hiking shoes and an underwater camera

ARE YOU KEEPING UP WITH MY COSTA RICA SERIES

I have lived and worked in Costa Rica for one year. While working for a local tour company in the capital city San José I travelled to all the BEST PLACES TO VISIT IN COSTA RICA.

To help you plan your trip to Costa Rica I put together a guide about HOW TO GET AROUND IN COSTA RICA and BEST LUXURY HOTELS IN COSTA RICA.

Costa Rica is well known for its beautiful beaches and hot springs. Find here THE MOST BEAUTIFUL BEACHES IN COSTA RICA and the BEST HOT SPRINGS IN COSTA RICA.

Do you prefer organised tours and all-inclusive resorts? I’ve put together a list of BEST ALL-INCLUSIVE RESORTS IN COSTA RICA and COSTA RICA MULTI DAY TOUR PACKAGES.

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