The very first question anyone planning a trip ask is ‘When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?’ immediately followed up with “What is the best place to go in Costa Rica?” and then “Where should I stay?” and “What’s the best thing to do while there?”…
And the avalanche of never ending questions about an exciting new trip just goes on and on.
Costa Rica’s strikingly diverse natural habitat—volcano ridden mountain range that splits the country in three main areas: the Pacific, Caribbean and central mountain region—offers great variety of reasons to visit.
Its complex eco-system features lush forests, wildlife reserves, swampy marshlands and pristine tropical beaches—all packed on a very small territory. Micro climates formed around central mountain range provide a year-round opportunity to find a spot that has great weather at any specific time of the year and plenty of activities you can enjoy.
So, here is the guide on ‘the best of… Costa Rica’ helps you discover Costa Rica through the eyes of the local…. expat.
On this episode, our travel consultants discuss the very BEST of Costa Rica. All things from The best beaches, the best time to visit, the best tours, the best food… and the list goes on! This time Adam is talking to local travel experts Lisa Cederberg and Aidan Mullan.
Hoteliers with imagination began building beautiful luxury lodges while keeping with the environmental goals of the country.
Nowadays, you have some perfect examples of eco-luxury in the Osa Peninsula with Lapa Rios and Copa de Arbol. Other examples include the Pacuare Lodge, accessible by river rafting, and Senda Monteverde.
These hotels offer a different experience from big resorts like the Four Seasons, aiming for a very understated and Costa Rican form of luxury.
It’s a chance to connect with pure nature in a tropical paradise while still keeping the amenities that a high-end traveler expects.
Once upon a time, a traveler either expected luxury or basic accommodations depending on where they were. If they were staying in a beach resort, then they wanted luxury. If they were doing a nature expedition, then they didn’t mind roughing it.
Costa Rica sought to seek a middle ground between the two extremes and today’s luxury eco-lodges around the country are a testament to that.
The best hotel for nature and wildlife is situated in the bio-diversity hotspot of Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula. Lapa Rios is also a meal-inclusive hotel, making your retreat a comfortable and tasty experience.
Copa de Arbol is one of the best hotels for jungle luxury. Jungle treehouses provide a totally unique experience in a secluded area of Osa Peninsula.
The Pacuare Jungle Lodge is a unique, adventurous property in the secluded jungle. Great for those looking for luxurious, enriching nature experience.
While everyone has different tastes, some hotels and lodges in Costa Rica are hands-down favorites among everyone.
These favorites offer unique accommodations and on-site activities that make for a memorable all-around experience rather than a typical hotel stay.
My personal favorite lodge in Costa Rica is Lapa Rios.
Located on a 1000-acre reserve of primary and secondary rainforest on the Osa Peninsula, one of the most untouched areas in the country, staying at Lapa Rios is an entire experience.
Sprinkled through the rainforest, the 17 individual bungalows each boast unobstructed ocean views. The open-air concept style of screened walls and outdoor showers give the effect of being completely immersed in nature, while maintaining privacy.
Even if you’re not an early riser, you won’t want to miss the sunrise at Lapa Rios as the first rays of sunlight hit.
Waking to the symphony of macaws, parrots, monkeys, and hundreds of other birds while sipping on freshly-brewed Costa Rican coffee on your balcony is like a scene out of National Geographic.
Lapa Rios creates experiences for their guests and includes them in the nightly rate.
They have a great selection of on-site tours like interpretive hikes, birdwatching walks, and sustainability tours. There are trails throughout the property, and beach access a few minutes away. You can also book off-site tours like horseback riding, whale/dolphin watching, and surf lessons.
The open-air restaurant has something for everyone. Lapa Rios includes all meals and non-alcoholic drinks in the nightly rate, so you don’t have to worry about where to eat.
To get the most out of your stay at Lapa Rios, I’d recommend no less than a three-night stay. This way you can enjoy all the on-site tours and activities, and immerse yourself in this one-of-a-kind experience. Lapa Rios is a true window to the heart of the still-wild Osa Peninsula.
Other lodges and resorts also offer world-class experiences, and it’s more than possible to find the right fit for you. It’s also easier than you think, contact us and you’ll see!
While there’s never a bad time to visit Costa Rica, some times are better than others.
Certain times of the year are better for pricing, hotel availability, and weather. But it’s not uniform throughout Costa Rica. It all depends on where you plan to go and when.
Confused? No worries! Let’s try to help you:
If you’re visiting the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, December-April will provide the best weather. This is the peak or "high" season. Because it's high season, pricing during this time will be higher at most hotels.
The Arenal Volcano region—one of the most visited and popular parts of the country—tends to have the same weather pattern as the Caribbean. It's a little more unpredictable here, with a chance of rain regardless of time of year.
If you want a once-in-a-lifetime honeymoon experience, here are some of the best places to stay in Costa Rica for couples. There is something for everyone!
From volcanoes to beaches, rivers to lakes, rain forests to cloud forests, and picture-perfect landscapes in-between, Costa Rica is heaven on earth for newlyweds looking to unwind once all the wedding dust has settled.
While there’s no bad spot for honeymooners in Costa Rica, I have two personal favorite areas for such an important trip: Arenal and Santa Teresa.
Arenal is home to the iconic cone-shaped Arenal Volcano, and is the adventure capital of Costa Rica. That means it’s the main place (not the only place, but the main place) for rafting, zip lining, rappelling and all sorts of other activities.
Another big draw to the Arenal Volcano are the natural thermal hot springs. Heated by the volcano, they flow through the entire region, and many hotels harness them for their guests to use.
My favorite pick for honeymooners in Arenal is the adult-only Nayara Springs Villas.
If you prefer a beach location, Flor Blanca in Santa Teresa on the Nicoya Peninsula is one of my favorite hotels for romance and relaxation.
The beaches here are some of the most beautiful we have in Costa Rica, and Santa Teresa is a great choice to get away from the crowds and tourists. Even in high season, it never feels crowded here.
Here, honeymooners will find private villas nestled in the rainforest, with private thermal hot spring plunge pools.
Guests of Nayara Springs can enjoy Arenal’s top restaurants, an award-winning spa and yoga pavilion, two pools, a swim up bar, and an espresso bar with daily fresh roasted coffee.
Oh, and don’t miss the sloths in the Nayara Gardens, too!
Nestled between the beach and rainforest, Flor Blanca is a boutique hotel comprising nine, private villas. The hotel has a restaurant on site with incredible fresh and organic food.
If you stay at Flor Blanca, rent ATVs for a day to drive around the peninsula and visit Montezuma, Malpais, and Cobano.
You’ll leave feeling relaxed and refreshed.
The concept of the wellness vacation has taken off in recent years, and Costa Rica is at the forefront.
With its beautiful scenery, pristine rainforests, beaches, and friendly “pura vida” vibe, it’s no surprise that people feel good in Costa Rica. So why not take that a step further and offer some of the best yoga and wellness centers in the world?
When it comes to yoga and wellness, it’s all about location. You’ll find certain areas of Costa Rica that attract yogis more than other areas.
And no area attracts more yogis than Nosara.
Nosara is on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, on the Nicoya Peninsula. This area has always been about health and wellness. There’s something about this area that exudes this spirit. Maybe it’s the proximity of Nosara to the town of Nicoya, one of the world’s Blue Zones.
Whatever the reason for the good vibes, Nosara has made good use of them. Yoga retreats and training centers are everywhere here.
My favorite place for yoga in Nosara is the Harmony Hotel, right on Guiones Beach. This rustic yet cosy boutique hotel offers yoga workshops throughout the year and has its own open-air studio.
It’s the perfect place to nourish your mind, body, and soul.
From monkeys to sloths, frogs to snakes, people visit Costa Rica for its incredible nature. But where is the best place to spot wildlife?
While mammals, birds, reptiles, and marine life are all over the country, there are some spots where you’re likely to see more animals.
My top three places for wildlife viewing in Costa Rica are Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Tortuguero National Park.
Corcovado National Park, on the Osa Peninsula in the Southern Pacific area, is the most biologically diverse region in Costa Rica, if not the world. It houses five percent of the world’s biodiversity.
Monkeys, sloths, tapirs, iguanas, macaws, toucans, jaguarundi, pumas, margays, ocelots, and jaguars live down here. It’s not easy to get to, but for those who want to experience the true, wild Costa Rica, Corcovado is a must-see.
Manuel Antonio National Park, the smallest park in Costa Rica, is also one of the most important for wildlife.
On the Central Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio is home to monkeys, sloths, coatis, toucans, macaws, white-tailed deer, raccoons, snakes, iguanas, and frogs. And a bonus is that this park also contains three incredible white-sand beaches to enjoy.
Tortuguero National Park is in the province of Limon on the Northern Caribbean side of the country. Accessible only by boat or plane, this place is remote. Getting here by boat through jungle canals offers incredible opportunities for wildlife viewing.
The beach here is the largest nesting ground for green sea turtles in the Western Hemisphere. Each year these incredible animals make their way to shore to lay their eggs and return to sea. The babies then hatch on their own and fight to make it out to sea to begin their new lives.
If want more value for your money, and don’t have to travel in the peak season, I always like to suggest shoulder months like May, June, and November.
These are our transitional months between our wet (“green”) and dry seasons. May-June is the transition from dry to wet, and November (and early December) vice versa. You get great weather during these transition months, there are far less people, and the pricing is much better.
During the “green season,” many hotels offer free nights or discounted pricing, so your dollar goes a lot further.
A typical day during the green season sees bright and sunny mornings with a rain shower in the afternoon. It’s very rare for it to rain all day every day here. And even when it does start pouring, it’s warm tropical rain, and everything runs as normal.
Two of the most popular times to visit Costa Rica are during the Christmas/New Year’s holidays and Easter (Holy) Week.
These are also the most expensive times to visit Costa Rica.
If you want to avoid crowds, have more accommodation choices, and spend less money, try to avoid travel during these periods.
If that’s the only time you can travel, then plan with plenty of time in advance. Hotels fill up fast for these popular travel dates, often many months before. And the price of airfare will rocket if you wait too long. Christmas and Easter are not times to plan a quick, last-minute break down here.
Whether you’re coming to soak up the sun, hike through the rainforest, zip line through the canopy, or to swim in waterfalls, there is no bad time to visit Costa Rica.
I’ll be sure to use my local knowledge to pick the best spots for what you have in mind during your trip.
What makes Costa Rica stand out as a vacation destination is not just the amazing beaches and hotels with beautiful swimming pools, but also all the activities and action available to travelers.
There is plenty of eco-friendly action, nature, and tours for all tastes and ages. And there are few countries in the world that can beat Costa Rica when it comes to things to do.
So what are the best tours in Costa Rica? What do I recommend people do when they come down here?
Here are my three “unmissables” that I urge all visitors to Costa Rica to try out.
Zip lining (the classic canopy tour) is the quintessential Costa Rican activity. There are zip line canopy tours all over Costa Rica, but my favorite has to be the original canopy tour in the Monteverde cloud forest, a unique type of forest in the country.
There are also zip line tours around the world nowadays, but it all started here in Costa Rica in the 1970s when biologists used zip lines to study the canopy. By the early 90s zip lines were a tourist attraction.
Navigating through large rapids, small rapids, or floating with no rapids at all is something particularly special when you're doing it through a pristine tropical rainforest. This activity helped turn Costa Rica into the eco-tourism center of the world it now is. Back in the 1970s, the Pacuare River was discovered as a world-class rafting river and things snowballed from there
No country is better than Costa Rica for getting back to nature, especially in any one of its many national parks and protected areas. Whether you're hiking the virgin rainforests of Corcovado, exploring the lava fields of Arenal Volcano, or looking for monkeys and toucans in Manuel Antonio, a guided hike in a Costa Rican national park is an essential activity while here.
As someone who lives in Costa Rica and makes Costa Rica itineraries for a living, I have my own ideas about what makes a good vacation down here.
One of the main challenges when creating an itinerary is time. Travelers have a limited amount of time to see and do everything they want.
The trick is to keep things realistic. I’ve put together samples of a few Costa Rican vacation itineraries that I think are the best possible uses of your time when you want to make the most of the experience and you are not sure where to start.
The good part about this is that any vacation can be personalized to add and remove as many activities as you want. I don’t believe in cookie-cutter vacations, it’s just better to do things your way!
These are my recommendations for the best five-day itinerary (for those in search of short breaks), the best week-long itinerary (a traditional vacation), and the best two-week itinerary (for those in a longer holiday):
Shortest recommended time to visit Costa Rica would be 5 days. As soon as you arrive, get a ground transfer to Manuel Antonio.
Spend your days relaxing on the beach or by the pool.
A must do tours would be Manuel Antonio National Park tour and zip line canopy.
You can spend a week long vacation visiting two destinations. Obvious picks for first-time travelers would be Arenal Volcano area where you can do a guided hike in the national park and a visit to the thermal hot springs. This is a perfect place to enjoy a more thrilling adventure such as whitewater rafting or jungle river float.
After spending three days near the volcano, get a ground transfer to Manuel Antonio. Here you can do a zip line canopy tour and spend the last few days relaxing on the beach or by the pool.
Right of the bat, head out to Arenal Volcano area. Visit the national park, and then relax at the thermal hot springs. Whitewater rafting, waterfall rappelling, horseback riding take your pick of adventures.
The next stop is Monteverde cloud forest. Here you can do zip line canopy tour, and a
guided tour through the cloudforest.
Finally, visit one of Guanacaste’s beaches. Spend your days relaxing on the beach or by the pool, or do some fun activities like snorkeling tour or surf lessons. Just before going home get on a private catamaran sunset tour!
If you are not sure where to stay in Costa Rica on the beach, the answer is that it depends on the type of surfer you are.
With its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, warm waters, and both Northern and Southern hemisphere swells, Costa Rica is a surfer’s paradise.
Indeed, it’s surfers who helped pave the way in Costa Rican tourism, arriving years before anyone else—in the 1960s and 70s—and building up hotels and businesses. Tamarindo is a case in point.
They’ve written books and made movies made about surfing in Costa Rica. The country hosts many international surf competitions, and in 2019 the government officially named surfing an activity of public interest, boosting its profile and paving the way for state sponsorship of the sport.
In short, Costa Rica takes surfing seriously, and now that has reached government level.
So where are the best places in Costa Rica to surf? This is such a difficult question to answer, as everyone will have their own beach. But there are beaches universally recognized as the best of the best down here.
My recommendations for travelers include Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo, and Pavones Beach.
When discussing surfing in Costa Rica, Tamarindo is a highlight. This beach town became what they are today because of the surf. If you're into your surf culture and love that surf town vibe, this place is perfect for a surf vacation, in addition to being budget friendly!
This is a massive reef break in the Caribbean Side called the “salsa brava” (meaning "angry sauce"), and it gets angry. Only for the experienced, the salsa brava will get the better of you if you don't know what you're doing. The surfer out there often wear helmets. There's a reason for that.
Another famous surfing beach in Costa Rica is way down South on the Pacific coast, near the Panamanian border. Pavones has a true end of the road feel and there's not much down here apart from a long left. There are a few longer left waves in the world, but only a handful, and when Pavones is on, you can ride over almost a mile for at least three minutes.
There’s no best spot for sunsets in Costa Rica. If you look west when the sun is setting and it’s not cloudy or raining, chances are you’ll see a spectacular sunset.
But there are a few sunsets I hold dear to my heart, I have to admit.
My favorite sunset has to be in Tamarindo, Guanacaste. There’s nothing like sitting at one of the beachfront restaurants or bars here, sipping a tropical cocktail, and watching the sun sink into the Pacific. I love El Be bar where they often have live, mellow music to go with the sunset.
Another special sunset for me is in Monteverde. This is a major cloud forest area of Costa Rica, known for its misty days and cooler climate.
But when the sun is out and the visibility good, you can sometimes see the Gulf of Nicoya from Monteverde. And watching the sunset from the forest is nothing short of sensational.
Although sloths are not the official “national animal” of Costa Rica, they might as well be. Pretty much everyone thinks they are, which might well leave the actual national animal, the white-tailed deer, feeling a little unloved.
Sloths are the most asked-about animal in Costa Rica, at least among my clients. Everyone tells me their kids want to see sloths, and they all are hoping to get a good picture of one hanging upside down or munching on a leaf.
If sloths are one of the highlights for your Costa Rica vacation, there are ways to get close to them to snap that photo and learn more about them and their habitat. So where are the best places to check out these cute creatures?
Like monkeys, sloths are not rare in Costa Rica, so it’s not very hard to see them if you’re in the right place. Both the Manuel Antonio and Arenal areas are famous for having sloths in their rainforests.
The problem is that they don’t move much, making it easy to miss them. This is why it’s always worth taking a national park or nature reserve tour with a naturalist guide in Costa Rica. These guys are expert sloth spotters and will find them for you.
There are also rescue centers for sloths in Costa Rica. The most famous is the Sloth Sanctuary, in Cahuita on the Caribbean coast. This place has been rescuing and rehabilitating injured and orphaned sloths for over 20 years.
Also on the Caribbean side is the Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo. They do the same sort of work as the Sloth Sanctuary and also have their own release center nearby.
In Manuel Antonio, there’s the non-profit Sloth Institute, which is more about research and rescue. They are not open to the public, but they do run guided sloth tours in the grounds of the Tulemar Hotel, which is where they release many of their sloths.
Outside of the parks and nature reserves, I’ve seen sloths in many places. After all, they live in the country, and they might show up in unexpected or less secluded areas.
The Hotel Parador in Manuel Antonio, for example, has sloths living in its grounds, as does the Nayara in Arenal. You’ll find sloths all over the place in the Caribbean towns of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, too. I’ve even seen sloths in San Jose, in the Escazu Mountains!
I get a lot of people asking me about holding and cuddling sloths.
I get it. Sloths look super cute and cuddly. They are gentle, peaceful creatures who love eating and sleeping. There’s a lot to love.
Keep in mind, however, that these are still wild animals. They are not dangerous, but touching and holding sloths stresses them out a lot. It terrifies them, in fact. It’s cruel to pick up sloths for the sake of a selfie.
In addition, it’s also safer for you to admire them from a distance. They’re full of algae and insects that lay eggs in their fur. This is all good for them, as this is their natural condition, but for little kids, it might be better not to risk that contact.
Take photos and admire them from afar, and please avoid any institute or guide that allows you to pick up and touch sloths.
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Originally from Los Angeles, California, I came to Costa Rica on vacation for the first time in 2007. During that first trip, I fell in love with the country, the people, and the raw beauty of this amazing little country. I love exploring new places and finding off-the-beaten-path trails that lead to magical places. Nature is my therapy, the outdoors is my playground.
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