There’s a lot to see when you’re traveling around Costa Rica, and you really don’t want to miss anything. You may not have time to see it all, however, so you may have to pick and choose. It’s good to know, though, the must-see spots—the places the locals recommend.
Once you’ve booked your trip using a site like Expedia to find the best flights and Costa Rica hotels, you need to decide how you’ll spend your time there. Here are our top 10 highlights of Costa Rica to help you plan your stay.
Known primarily for its beach-centric towns, this peninsula is a place you have to visit. Whether you’re a surfer or an ocean lover, the fine sand beaches there will have something to offer you. Be warned, though, that there’s little shade, and it does get hot.
Still, there’s no better cure for a bad case of jet lag than a sunset walk on the beach before you get a good night’s rest.
One of the world’s most active volcanoes, Arenal rises over 5,000 feet. Although dormant at the moment, visitors can visit the Arenal Observatory Lodge on the north rim of the volcano. The mountain is often hidden by fog, but if you arrive in early spring you may get a good shot of it.
Tours to this area depart from the nearby village of Fortuna at the eastern edge of the Arenal Volcano National Park. Several tours are scheduled each day, so be sure you have reservations as they often sell out.
The Gold Coast of Costa Rica is amazing not just for its secluded beaches, but also because of its cowboy culture that has been thriving for centuries, as well as the open savannas that contrast with the rainforest elsewhere in the country.
The pockets of white sandy beaches stretch all the way to the Nicaraguan border, and they’re often flanked by hotels or remote fishing villages. Another must-see in this area is the Santa Rosa National Park.
Want to do some general exploration of the country? San José is a great base for that. In fact, no matter where you’re headed, you might want to stop here first, if nothing more than for supplies you may not have been able to bring along.
The Jade Museum and Pre-Columbian Gold Museum are well worth visiting if you have a few days in the country’s capital. Its streets aren’t well marked, but you can mostly navigate on foot, and the simple layout makes it pretty easy to get a feel of the city. If you have time, wander a few miles outside the norm to Escazú, a trendy nightspot and shopping area.
Corcovado National Park
The Corcovado National Park is nearly 11,000 acres of rainforest that’s filled with diverse wildlife. There are plenty of trails for exploring, and the park is easy to navigate. Visit early in the morning for the most wildlife sightings.
If you want to see all that the park has to offer, schedule a few days to enjoy it. When you tire from hiking, you can head to the vast beaches, but be warned: they get hot. You can get to the park a number of ways, but the three main entry points are San Pedrillo, Los Patos, and La Leona.
Manuel Antonio National Park
The smallest of Costa Rica’s national parks, this area is packed with fantastic options to experience within a few square miles. Easily reached by car or bus from nearby San José, the park has beaches, secluded coves, and a thick rainforest where monkeys, gorgeous birds, and camouflaged iguanas call home.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
This is a great place to see a great variety of wildlife, birds, and plants in a true rainforest—a definite must-see. The only reason this one doesn’t rank higher on our list is that it’s extremely popular with tourists. Also, the trek to reach the park is a bit arduous compared to the easy access you’ll find to others.
The Sky Walk (elevated trails) and Sky Trek (zip lining) allow you to take in the park above most of the crowds. A mere three hours north of San José by car, you’ll certainly want to make the trip if you have the extra time.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
The village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean coast has a vibrant nightlife, thanks to surfers and others who come to experience the charms and off-the-beaten-path experiences in the area. There are amazing restaurants and shops in the downtown area, as well as dusty walking and biking paths that wind through tropical farms and gardens. You won’t want to miss the black sand beach in the northwest end of the village, either.
Jacó is where surfers often come for the best waves, and nature seekers tend to be more inclined to head to the Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls, where they’ll see the monkeys and colorful birds the area is known for.
Only a short drive from San José, it’s well worth enjoying its beaches and discovering the village’s quaint shops.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
This home of wonderful waterfalls is also home to some incredible wildlife, from small birds to elusive jaguars. The only drawback is that the entrance fee is high, but this also keeps the crowds at bay.
La Paz is a short one-hour bus, car, or taxi ride from San José, and it may be one of the most stunning locations you’ll set your eyes upon during your entire trip.
Costa Rica is amazing and a real treat for visitors. If you have limited time, though, use our suggestions to experience the top highlights this beautiful Central American country has to offer.
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