Where to Go in Costa Rica
Do you wish you could think of a fantastically lush, beautiful place to take your family where the list of animals you can see and the activities you can join are virtually endless? Do you wish you could visit a beach, a cloud forest and a volcano all in one trip? Do you like the idea of being able to speak English and be understood in an exotic destination? If you answered “yes” to any or all of these questions, I recommend you plan a dream trip to friendly, over-the-top-magnificent Costa Rica.
Yet once you’ve decided Costa Rica is your preferred destination, how do you decide where to go? There are so many stunningly beautiful towns and regions in Costa Rica, it can be hard to choose adventures that are right for you. Well, worry no more because I’m about to decode some different areas of Costa Rica that are my favorites for you. And I’ll also give you a list of some of the experiences we can organize for you there:
CLOUD FOREST CANOPY - MONTEVERDE
There are many wonderful areas of Costa Rica where you can walk on canopy bridges, zip-line, climb trees and search for wildlife among the green leaves. Monteverde is my favorite. Located at an elevation of 4000 feet above sea level, the green hills of Monteverde call you into their embrace with promises of seeing sloths, jaguars, Morpho butterflies and–the elusive quetzal. Rainbow-hued and crested, the quetzal was the sacred bird of the ancient Mayans and Aztecs. Disappear and get very far away from it all in the Monteverde cloud forest.
What to Do There: Zip-line, take a canopy walk, go bird watching, take a night walk to see nocturnal animals, take a sky tram, go horseback riding, climb a giant strangler fig tree, bike, bungee jump, see waterfalls, see orchids, take a coffee tour and generally commune with the deep green leaves.
BEACH TIME - GUANACASTE
The province of Guanacaste is located on Costa Rica’s northwest border with Nicaragua and the terrain there includes both stunning beaches and desert features like the American West or African savannas. It’s a great place to start or end your trip as you can fly into Liberia and then end your trip in San Jose or vice versa, having seen many different regions. Guanacaste has some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. Tamarindo Beach is popular for surfing. Peninsula Papagayo is home to several 5-star resorts. Guanacaste features cowboy culture, surprising forest landscapes and many sunny beaches.
What to Do There: Relax on the beach, surf, swim, go snorkeling, go boating, go diving, visit an active volcano at Rincon de la Vieja National Park, see stunning Rio Celeste waterfall in Tenorio Volcano National Park, explore tropical dry forests, see sea turtles nesting and get some delicious rest.
HOT SPRINGS & VIEWS - ARENAL, LA FORTUNA
Arenal near the town of La Fortuna is a very popular destination in Costa Rica. People love seeing and hiking the Arenal volcano and people love soaking in the luxuriant hot waters created by the volcano’s heat. There are many active adventures available near the Arenal volcano including zip-lining, horseback riding and so many more. You probably should include it somewhere in your itinerary because your friends will ask you if you’ve been to Tabacon, a hotel that has created sumptuous gardens around many tiers of beautiful hot springs. Arenal is a blast!
Things to Do There: Hike, zip-line, ride horses, sit in the hot springs, raft, take canopy walks, wildlife viewing, bird watching, canyoning, rappelling–if you can do it outside, you can probably do it here.
WETLANDS & WILDLIFE - TORTUGUERO
Named for the population of sea turtles who nest on these Caribbean beaches, the tiny town of Tortuguero and its environs offer up dense wetlands home to a wide array of species including fishing bats, three-toed sloths, iguanas, basilisk lizards, and poison dart frogs, plus howler, white-faced, and spider monkeys. Brilliantly colored butterflies waft through the trees making you feel like you’re in a Disney movie. The weather gets hot and steamy in this watery habitat, yet that won’t stop true animal lovers from cherishing their time traveling the waterways in skiffs or kayaking past mangrove forests and exotic bird habitats. (Ask us for an air-conditioned hotel if that helps.)
Things to Do There: Wildlife viewing, especially turtle nesting, boat trips, kayaking, hikes, fishing, night walks. This area is for animal lovers!
RAINFORESTS & DIVERSITY - OSA PENINSULA
Located on the southern Pacific coast, the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet. It’s home to at least half of all species living in Costa Rica. The region offers beautifully secluded beaches along with some of the densest rainforest in Central America. Corcovado National Park is home to one of the largest populations of scarlet macaws in Costa Rica. All four species of sloths and four species of monkeys live in this park. If you’re an animal lover, you’ll enjoy exploring this lush, fascinating region.
Things to Do There: Hiking, snorkeling, scuba diving, boat tours, dolphin & whale watching, bird watching, and so much wildlife viewing!
TOUCANS & SLOTHS - MANUEL ANTONIO
Manuel Antonio National Park is located on the central coast on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. Like Arenal, Manuel Antonio is a centrally located region offering many kinds of experiences with easy access to nature areas. The beaches are beautiful. Hotels sit right on the beach. Towns like Quepos and Jaco are charming and full of local color. And the National Park is a great location for viewing sloths, toucans, and monkey species including capuchin, howler, and squirrel monkeys. If you don’t quite have time to go deep into the Osa Peninsula, Manuel Antonio is an excellent alternative.
Things to Do There: Hike, snorkel, boat trips, sailing, surfing, fishing, mangrove boating or kayaking, culinary adventures with locals, waterfalls, wildlife viewing, night walks, sea kayaking and a lot more.
CULTURE & GREAT BASE: CENTRAL VALLEY
The Central Valley which includes San Jose is a great place to base yourself and explore nearby areas. From here you have great access to coffee plantations, Poas volcano (dormant yet very colorful), rafting, music, and dance. There’s a famous artisan town called Sarchi where you can see the giant oxcart representing all the colorfully painted oxcarts used to build the country. They still make them there. La Paz waterfall gardens and Peace Lodge offer lots of sweet trails and plantings. This region is a great place to bring children for easy nature-focused and cultural experiences.
Things to Do There: Visit a coffee plantation, see Poas volcano, hike La Paz waterfall gardens, go rafting, see music, dance, and other performances in San Jose, visit an orchid farm or an animal rescue center.
There are actually quite a few more fantastic Costa Rican towns and areas I would love to share with you, yet for the sake of article length, I’ll ask you instead to contact us so we can create a custom Costa Rica itinerary you'll love. Our Signature Journey, Immersive Costa Rica: Lush and Verdant Land visits Pacuare in Limon, Arenal, Monteverde, and Bajos del Toro. Our Iconic Costa Rica: “Pura Vida” at its Finest program visits a fantastic resort in the Central Valley, Hacienda Alta Gracia, Arenal, and Tenorio Volcano National Park en route to a stunning beach property in Guanacaste.
We’re excited to help you plan the trip of your dreams to fabulous Costa Rica! There’s nowhere else in the world where you can have so many different kinds of experiences all on the same adventure.