Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a tiny country with big vibes located on the Southern tip of Central America that has become one of the world’s premier destinations for ecotourism. Aside from being a tropical paradise with pristine beaches, lush rainforests, epic waterfalls, and friendly locals - it’s one of the most biodiverse places in the world.
The name Costa Rica is Spanish for “rich coast” and the name is so fitting. The country is sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean, offering two unique regions with bohemian beach towns as well as high-end resorts. There are 30 national parks and the protected areas cover more than 30% of Costa Rica’s land area. It’s home to 500,000 species of plants and animals which represent 5% of the total species in the world!
On top of that, Costa Rica was named the second most sustainable country in the world by the World Energy Council and one of the leaders of the world when it comes to going green. President Alvarez announced that in 2020 the Costa Rican Electricity Institute reached its goal of a 100% renewable electricity matrix and is set to be the first carbon-neutral country in the world. One of the main factors that drive the innovation is the country’s reliance on tourism - making Costa Rica a destination you can feel good about visiting.
Whether you’re looking for the best wildlife watching in the world, amazing surf, spicy nightlife, active volcanoes, vibrant culture, or sustainable tourism - Costa Rica is the place to go. For all of these reasons and more, Costa Rica is one of the few countries that we return to again and again. We’ve accumulated a list of our favorite places to visit in Costa Rica based on every type of activity. The country is small, but it takes some time to get around, so our recommendation is to pick 2-3 stops for a two-week trip so that you can experience all the regions have to offer.
If you’re in search of abundant wildlife and experiencing the wild aspects of Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula is the place for you. Ecologists estimate that more than half of Costa Rica’s animal species live on the Osa Peninsula, and as soon as you arrive in the region you will feel the buzz of life all around you. Growing up, I spent part of each year living between Puerto Jimenez and Matapalo on the Osa Peninsula, so it holds a very special place in my heart.
It’s one of the few areas in Costa Rica that remain relatively unspoiled by mega-hotels. It’s uncrowded, rugged, and laid back and the hotels and lodges in the area are known for uncompromising commitment to sustainability. On a trip to the Osa, you’re guaranteed to spot endangered and rare wildlife like scarlet macaws, 4 species of monkeys, sloths, toucans, tapirs, and more. On our last trip to the Osa, Sean and I were even blessed with a jaguar spotting!
If you’re visiting Osa, make sure that your main focus is on respecting the environment. Locals who call this region home are aggressively committed to protecting wildlife and they don’t take kindly to disrespectful tourists. Don’t feed the animals, or try to get too close. It’s the animal’s home - and they’re gracious enough to let us share it with them.
It’s also important to note, that if you’re living the digital nomad life - you might want to take some vacation days for your visit to Osa. WiFi and reception are super spotty in many areas, and a lot of the eco-hotels are off the grid.
Things to do on the Osa Peninsula
Visit Corcovado National Park
Take a boat to Drake Bay
Explore Cano Island Biological Reserve
Visit Osa Wildlife Sanctuary
Tour the Mangroves
Surf the famous break at Matapalo
Be a conservation volunteer
In the heart of the Cordillera de TIlaran mountain range, Monteverde is a pristine rainforest retreat high above the warm beaches of the lowland. It’s also known as the Cloud Forest due to the thick mists that often cover the area. Monteverde is a biological reserve that sits right on top of the continental divide and attracts more than 70,000 tourists a year. It’s especially popular for scientists and lovers of outdoor recreation.
The ecosystem is incredibly delicate and it’s home to a variety of rare and endangered species of plants and animals. Monteverde Cloud Forest covers 35,089 acres and was established as a biological reserve in 1972 by the Tropical Science Center.
It’s a paradise for bird watchers and wildlife lovers, but even if you aren’t an ecological fanatic, you’ll love beautiful Monteverde. The quaint small towns feature fun hostels, cute coffee shops, tasty restaurants, and high-end eco-lodges.
You’re bound to meet a ton of backpackers and travelers on a trip to Monteverde. It’s only about a 2.5-hour drive from San Jose, so this is an easy destination to tack on for a short stay at the beginning or end of your trip. Last summer, Sean spent a few weeks hiking and working remotely at the Selina Hostel in Monteverde and met so many cool people. He only had trouble with the WiFi a few times and found it to be a great place to relax and get some work done.
Things to do in Monteverde
Go zip lining
Hiking in the Cloud Forest
Experience the hanging bridges
Visit Curi Cancha Reserve
Visit the Quaker town of Santa Elena
Take a guided night hike
Santa Teresa/ Mal Pais
If you like your surf towns with an international flair and a spicy night-life head to the bohemian town of Santa Teresa. We have a major soft spot for Santa Teresa because we met there while we were both staying at Believe Yoga and Surf Lodge.
Santa Teresa is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in all of Costa Rica with endless stretches of soft white sand and perfect waves. There are areas with big waves and strong currents that are packed with surfers, and plenty of calmer spots that are great for swimming and body surfing.
The town itself is pretty much just a stretch of restaurants, cute boutiques, cafes, hostels, and lodges along a wide dirt road that stretches along the coast. The popularity of the town has exploded over the past several years, so the road is often packed with swimsuit-wearing visitors and ATVs loaded with surfboards zooming to catch the best waves of the day.
Best things to do in Santa Teresa
Take a yoga class
Go surfing or take a lesson
Eat delicious food
Drink all the smoothies
Visit a waterfall
Try ecstatic dance
Get a massage
Watch the famous sunsets from the beach
Guanacaste Province is home to cute beach towns, soft white sand, and bright blue waters all of which make it a favorite for travelers from around the world. Located on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast near the Nicaragua border, the landscapes are stunning combinations of mountains and coastline that will take your breath away.
The largest towns include Liberia and Santa Cruz, but we are partial to the smaller beach towns like Samara. It’s about 2 hours from the International Airport in Liberia, so this is an awesome spot to fly into as an alternative to San Jose if you’re visiting Samara.
Samara is full of ex-patriots who have made Costa Rica their home and there are a variety of trendy restaurants, cute boutiques, and tour operators as well as small hotels and hostels. Even in the town, you’re likely to spot animals like monkeys and plenty of species of birds. Playa Samara is an extremely popular beach with calm waters for swimming and kayaking. If you’re traveling with kids, Samara would be our top pick. It’s super family-friendly and you’ll meet plenty of other families with kids during your trip.
Things to do in Guanacaste
Relax on the beach
Take a coffee tour
Explore Parque National Rincon de la Vieya
Have a beer at Volcano Brewing Company
Surf or boogie board
Take a sunset boat ride
Attend a chocolate tour
Dominical is less touristy than some of the other popular beach towns in Costa Rica. It’s located at the beginning of the South Pacific region and features cute towns, great surfing, and lush jungle. It’s about a 4-hour drive from San Jose and is a great stopping point if you’re making your way out of Osa. It’s hot and humid and often rains for short periods throughout the year.
It has some of the best surfing beaches in Costa Rica, and you’ll meet all kinds of cool surfer kids and backpackers staying at hostels or camping on the beach.
The Whale’s Tail is a famous landmark in the area, where the beach connects to a large sandbar forming the shape of a whale’s tale when viewed from above. The area hosts some cool events like the Envision Festival each year when the tiny town turns into a wild and wonderful music festival for two weeks. Some of our friends work at this festival every year, and there are plenty of volunteer opportunities so if you’re interested send us a message and we will put you in touch!
Best things to do in Dominical
Explore Marino Ballena National Park
Swim at Nauyaca Waterfall
Check out Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
Kayak the mangroves
Attend Envision Festival
Manuel Antonio is located in the Central Pacific region of Costa Rica and features the cute town of Quepos and the world-famous Manuel Antonio National Park. With beautiful beaches, rich cultural experiences, and abundant wildlife, Manuel Antonio is a top choice if you only have a short time in Costa Rica and want to experience a variety of everything Costa Rica has to offer.
Sean lived in Manuel Antonio while studying Spanish and found it to be a great mix of wildlife and nightlife. There are tons of things to keep you busy in this area alone so make sure to schedule plenty of time here.
Things to do in Manuel Antonio
Go whitewater rafting on the Savegre River or the Naranjo River
Hike Manuel Antonio National Park
Take a Spanish Class