When it comes to finding the best places to visit in Costa Rica, there are lots of places to choose from! Costa Rica is home to some of the most beautiful and diverse landscapes in the world. If you’re deciding on the best places to visit in Costa Rica for your next adventure be it with a friend, on your own, or with your significant other, I suggest choosing a combination – enjoy waterfalls, amazing views, stunning beaches, and biodiversity.
I’ve been to Costa Rica twice, and had a chance to visit 2 very different parts of Costa Rica. The first time was with friends and the second time was with my boyfriend. Costa Rica might look small on the map, but it’s a country with a lot to offer and still so many beautiful places that I have yet to see myself. I asked some other bloggers who have been there as well to contribute what they believe are the best places to visit in Costa Rica so that you have an incredible list to choose from!
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The Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio is a small beach-side town that includes more than one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. There are plenty of things to do in Manuel Antonio, from the relaxing to the adventurous. Manuel Antonio is a 3 hours drive from San Jose, and well worth it.
Once you’re in Manuel Antonio, you’re surrounded by ocean and jungle. Manuel Antonio National Park and Espadallia Beach are the highlights, but views like the one below can also be found at patios in the area! If you love wildlife and nature, enjoy a day hiking in National Antonio National Park. There’s a very good chance that you will see monkeys and other animals! Head to Espadallia Beach for surfing, horseback riding, and even paragliding above the ocean. The town of Quepos is also nearby, a great place to enjoy an afternoon exploring local shops and ice cream. Perfect for solo travellers, friends, and couples because there are great bars, restaurants, nightlife, and lots to do.
Rincon de la Vieja National Park
Outdoor adventurers, this one is for you. Rincon de la Vieja National Park is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica because of the combination of natural wonders, and the offerings for different difficulty levels of hikes. Most people visit Rincon de la Vieja National Park on a day trip, but there are also resorts nearby to stay at for a secluded vacation.
A 2 hour hike through changing landscapes will bring you to La Cangreja Waterfall. This hike is fairly rigorous, and make sure to arrive before noon to get started because otherwise you will not be permitted to enter the trail. If you decided to visit, check out this guide to hiking in Rincon de la Vieja National Park!
There is also a shorter, volcano trail called La Palais Trail. It’s an easy 3km loop with lots to see. This trail is perfect if you want an outdoor adventure but are not an experienced hiker. The trail has 6 view points so you can see volcanic activity and hot springs. My boyfriend and I opted to spend the day at Rincon de la Vieja and did both hikes. We did not stay in the area, but there are also resorts nearby where you can stay for a couple nights and go horseback riding, zip lining, and hiking.
Playa Hermosa is a small town outside of Coco, a larger and very popular beach town. Playa Hermosa is more relaxed, and it’s an amazing place for a couple that wants to enjoy a peaceful getaway.
The beach is one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful, and with trees encroaching on the shoreline it also provides a lot of shade. Playa Hermosa has several restaurants right on the beach with very reasonable prices, making for the perfect date night. There’s not a lot to do directly in Playa Hermosa because it’s very small, but it’s the perfect base if you want to take day trips within the Guanacaste region. This is the perfect place if the object of your visit to Costa Rica is to relax.
One of the best places to visit in Costa Rica if you’re looking for an adventure is Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Monteverde itself is a small town that you can stay in, with the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve as the absolute highlight of the area. Only 1% of the world’s woodland is cloud forest, so it’s unlikely you’ve experienced a place like this before! It’s incredibly diverse – There are roughly 9,000 species of plants in Costa Rica, and 3,000 of them grow in Monteverde.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is home to Costa Rica’s first hanging bridge, several hiking trails varying in difficulty, a waterfall, and an incredible lookout. When we arrived at the lookout, we could see for miles on either side. Within minutes, clouds rolled in that we so thick we couldn’t see even a couple meters down. It was definitely one of my favourite hikes, but be warned – the drive up is treacherous and not great with a low vehicle. Get a truck or jeep for the journey.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve entrance fee is $22 per person, and the reserve is open everyday from 7 AM to 4 PM. There’s a free shuttle available to take you from a parking lot to the reserve entrance for your day of hiking.
Llanos de Cortez
Llanos de Cortez belongs at the top of your Costa Rica bucket list. This stunning waterfall was deemed as must-see by Lonely Planet, and I couldn’t agree more. It is, hands down, my favourite spot in Costa Rica. The waterfall is beautiful and concealed so that the area is shaded, making it a wonderful place to relax without the risk of sun burn. The water is perfect for swimming, or you can hike up the left hand side of the waterfall for a beautiful view down.
Pack snacks, your swimsuits, and bring some cash for entry and parking. If you want to find this beautiful place, I have detailed driving instructions here. Guaranteed you will miss it otherwise (I actually did miss it and had to loop back).
Llanos de Cortez is open from 8AM to 4PM daily. There is an admission fee of $7 USD per person for Llanos de Cortez. My research before visiting indicated an additional, small parking fee of a few dollars, but on our visit we were told there was no additional parking fee. Check out this guide to Llanos de Cortez before visiting.
The river at Rio Celeste is a natural phenomenon such that river is, naturally, the bright blue colour you might associate with windshield wiper fluid. It’s created by the contents and chemical mixing of two rivers coming together. However, I personally like the ancient local legend better. This legend says that when God finished painting the sky he washed his paintbrushes in Rio Celeste.
The hike at Rio Celeste is moderate. The trails are well maintained, but if you would like to get to the base of the waterfall (and then back up again) it will involve climbing a lot of stairs. It seems that a lot of people go to the waterfall and then turn around, however I definitely suggest that you keep walking. The trail turns to dirt and follows along next to the river. Eventually you will get to two hanging bridges that you can walk across. The hike ends at the point where the two rivers meet. It is cool to see how the two rivers actually mix to create this amazing blue colour. Just be warned, if there has recently been a lot of rain, the river loses its color. It is best to visit here during the dry season (late December through late April).
It is possible to visit Rio Celeste as a day trip, and the area around Rio Celeste is a beautiful place to spend a few relaxing nights. – Sarah of Costa Rica Vibes
La Fortuna and Arenal
La Fortuna is nestled in one of the most beautiful areas of Costa Rica. It’s quite close to Arenal, with volcano hikes, rainforest walks, and lake activities, making it one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica for variety and experiences.
The jewel of La Fortuna is it’s waterfall. The hike into the falls is relatively easy, and passes through a wet, lush forest. Once you reach the river it’s just a short swim to the falls. The pool at the base of the falls is a bit treacherous to get to, as you have to hike over slippery rocks, but once you’re there you’ll realize it’s worth the hassle. Swimming in the clear pool with the falls cascading down upon you is a surreal experience!
If you’re looking for a bit more adventure, Sky Adventures Arenal Park offers ziplining with the most incredible view. Start with a nature walk through the rainforest to appreciate it from below before taking the tram to the top of the mountain. On the zipline down, you’ll soar above the trees with Arenal Volcano in the distance, and amazing views of the lake below. It’s a absolutely breathtaking experience!
The area around La Fortuna also has coffee farms, chocolate plantations, hikes and hot springs, enough to keep anyone occupied for days. If you’re looking to relax, find a bit of adventure, or discover nature, you can do it all in La Fortuna’s lush rainforest, and always with a spectacular volcano view. Kyla – Where Is The World
Playa Junquillal is a scenic, unspoilt part of the Guanacaste region that remains very quiet with just a handful of low rise hotels and locally owned restaurants. It has only one tiny grocery shop. There is little traffic and no loud bars.
The huge beach is lined with tropical plants and palms. It is clean and perfect for beachcombing – we spent hours wandering the beach and exploring the rock pools. We liked to sit on the beach and watch silently as huge iguanas ambled out of the trees to devour fallen mangoes.
One aspect that makes Junquillal so special is the local people’s efforts to protect endangered turtles. Local people, along with volunteers, patrol the beaches at night looking for nesting turtles. Newly laid eggs are then removed to a protected ‘egg nursery’ on the beach. At sunset, tourists can join the volunteers from the local turtle sanctuary to release any hatched baby turtles into the sea. Releasing and standing guard over these tiny animals as they made their slow journey into the Pacific Ocean was a moment our family will never forget. – Sinead Camplin Map Made Memories
Located on Guanacaste’s “Golden Coast” lies the small beachfront neighbourhood of Playa Avellanas. This peaceful paradise is the perfect escape from the hustle and bustle of the more popular Tamarindo. The neighbourhood doesn’t have much in the way of shops, there are few restaurants and fewer tourists, but that is what makes Playa Avellanas so special. This is one of the best places in Costa Rica to experience the ‘Pura Vida’ lifestyle– just kick back and relax on the secluded white sandy beach backed by lush rainforest and take in the sights and sounds of the ocean.
If you do fancy some action, then there are plenty of things to do in Playa Avellanas and in the surrounding areas. Known to the locals as “Little Hawaii”, Playa Avellanas offers some of the best offshore waves in the world, some reaching up to 18 feet! You don’t have to be an experienced surfer to enjoy the water here, there are spots along Playa Avellanas that are suitable for beginners where you can take surf lessons or rent stand-up paddleboards.
If you need a break from beach sports, then Playa Avellanas has more to keep you entertained with horse riding along the beach, mountain biking along the coast, kayaking in the nearby Estero Venado Junquillal or a canopy tour of the rainforest. – Oksana & Max of Drink Tea & Travel
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park lies on the north-west coast of Costa Rica. It is a mecca for 4 species of sea turtles who arrive here to nest. The best season is from June –October. If you are truly interested in getting close to nature, then I would recommend staying in one of the lodges away from the village. I was at Rana Roja Lodge where I had howler monkeys waking me up every morning & capuchins constantly trying to steal from the restaurant. It was a truly magical place to be!
The best way to see the river & wildlife in all its glory is to take a canoe safari. By going in a canoe, you can get closer to the animals. My guide was Miguel who had been leading tours on the river for 30 years & had a wicked sense of humour. Throughout the morning we spotted blue heron, baby crocodiles, iguana, kingfishers, swallows, a two-toed sloth, capuchin & howler monkeys, a “Jesus Christ” lizard (so named as it walks on water), a tiger heron & most special of all, a rare sighting of a spider monkey.- Sue Where? Why? What?
Puerto Viejo is a small town in the southeast of Costa Rica, near the border of Panama. Unlike most of the beach towns in Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo is situated on the Caribbean coast, giving it a unique atmosphere from the rest of the country. It’s one of the most beautiful places to visit in Costa Rica. The town is dotted with beaches along the Caribbean waters, offering stunning sunsets and epic waves for advanced surfers.
The lush vegetation around Puerto Viejo will have you feeling like you’ve escaped into a jungle just by walking a few minutes outside of town. Rent a bike, as the roads are flat and you can cycle from beach to beach while admiring the surrounding scenery.
Rent kayaks or stand up paddle boards at Playa Punta Uva and explore the river next to the beach. The water is calm and easy to paddle through, providing a relaxing setting to see some of Costa Rica’s best wildlife. While kayaking, we saw sloths, toucans, howler monkeys and turtles!
Puerto Viejo is also home to The Jaguar rescue center, an incredible organization helping to conserve Costa Rica’s wildlife. Visiting the center is a great way to see the wildlife up close while supporting an important cause. During my visit, we saw adorable baby sloths!
Corcovado National Park
Located on the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica, Corcovado National Park is a true nature-lover’s paradise that National Geographic once referred to as “the most biologically intense place on earth.” Encompassing over 160 square miles, the country’s largest national park is home to 13 different ecosystems, with extensive hiking trails through highland cloud forest, lowland rain forests, mangrove swamps, and sandy beaches. The biodiversity of its wildlife is astounding, including over 10,000 insect species, 370 bird species, and 140 mammal species (ranging from several kinds of monkeys and sloths to rarely spotted animals such as jaguars and Baird’s tapirs).
There is camping allowed at the park’s ranger stations, but be forewarned that the heat, humidity, and bugs can be brutal. But Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge, an eco-resort located just outside the park that has earned a 5-Leaf rating for its sustainable initiatives, ranks high among our favourite places to stay in Costa Rica. They offer excellent guided hikes into the national park daily. – Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel