Costa Rica Top Destinations
From ethereal cloud forests and splendid coastline, to active volcanoes and lush rainforest, Costa Rica’s diversity inspires wonder and a spirit of exploration. Narrowing down the best vacation places in Costa Rica is a difficult task, so we’ve done our best to condense each location into an easy-to-digest guide of the sights, sounds, and adventures that await. We hope you enjoy this armchair vacation to 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 vacation since all types of travelers will be able to find something for them at each location. Contact us to help you narrow down which places are best for you and build your ideal Costa Rica vacation package.
Commonly known as the adventure capital of the country, the Arenal area has some of the most adrenaline-inducing activities you can try. Some always-popular options are zip lining, rappelling, and white water rafting, but there are other adventures you may not have heard of like Gravity Falls and Sky Limit. Arenal is the place to push the limits!
After all that excitement, there’s nothing like a visit to the hot springs to ease those sore muscles. Tension will melt away and leave you completely relaxed. Most area hotels have their own on-site thermal hot springs so you don’t even have to leave the hotel.
Manuel Antonio is an especially intriguing destination. With tons of beach activities, not to mention the national park and nearby mangroves and estuaries, there is a lot to explore while you’re 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 take part in, including some uncommon but great options like Santa Juana and Damas Island, there is no shortage of options.
Tamarindo is a beach hot spot and the surrounding area has much to offer. Surfing during a lesson or on your own 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 of course you can hop on an ATV, go horseback riding, or try zip lining, just to name a few. Then you can reflect on your adventure-filled day with a cocktail as you watch the sun go down. Save some energy for the nightlife. Tamarindo is one location that doesn’t quit!
Monteverde is a mystical-feeling place. Located in the cloud forest, this one-of-a-kind ecosystem will leave you filled with wonder. Guided hikes are recommended to be able to spot the many animals that live in the varied topography. Nature lovers will be in paradise here as the region 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, and, of course, there are other fun activities like visiting a dairy farm, coffee tours, horseback riding, and hanging brides that everyone will love.
Conchal Beach is one of the most unique and special beaches in the country. Here the crystal-clear blue water is calm, and both kids and adults 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. Just 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 travelers.
The majority of the country’s all-inclusive resorts are located around Papagayo, making it a top luxury beach destination. While more budget-friendly accommodations can be found, 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.
Jaco is the easiest beach to access from the Central Valley, making it a popular spot for locals and tourists alike. Famous for great waves, it’s a funky surf town with plenty of expats, eateries, and happening nightlife. With attractions like the Carara National Park nearby, there is more to Jaco than meets the eye.
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 is a unique and special part of the country that not all tourists get the chance to visit. Just getting there is an adventure in itself. As you wind through the canals, you will likely start to see some of the many animals that call the area home. It doesn’t end there, though. With sea turtle nesting, early morning canal tours, and walks through the national park, the opportunities for enjoying nature go on and on.
Conveniently located just a short 30-minute drive from the 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.
It’s said that time moves slower in Puerto Viejo. It’s something about the Caribbean breeze and Rasta colors that makes even the most stressed traveler slow down and embrace the “pura vida”. It’s common to see locals and travelers sip cocktails together beachside or meander down the road on a bike in no hurry to get anywhere, just enjoying life.
The Osa Peninsula is the most remote area of the country, and with that you get fewer people and more nature. This area alone hosts more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity so there is a lot to see. Most hotels in the area offer numerous on-site guided tours which will give you the best chance of spotting animals. This is also a great jumping-off point for scuba diving at Caño Island. Flying into Drake Bay is the easiest way to get here.
Rincon de la Vieja is about as far as you can get from San Jose in distance and experience. The adventurous activities you find here are exciting but also provide insight into the “real” Costa Rica. Ride with real cowboys and experience the authentic countryside—or campo.
Culture can be found everywhere you look, albeit in different capacities. San Jose is often skipped over as visitors are in a rush to get to more nature-oriented destinations, but those looking for a vibrant city experience 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!
The Arenal Volcano is located in Costa Rica’s lush interior northern lowlands. In a country known for it’s natural beauty, the Arenal Volcano is stands out for its breathtaking scenery and endless activities.