The natural splendor of Costa Rica is home to wildlife, beaches, cloud forests, and volcanoes. This is a nation that appeals to luxury tourists and birdwatchers just as much as it does to surfers and backpackers.
The best museums, picturesque squares, and cultural attractions in the nation are found in the bustling metropolis of San Jose, but the real gems are found outside the capital in the forests and tiny coastal towns and villages.
The Pacific Coast is lined with endless lengths of sand and little communities that appeal to surfers and sunbathers. Guanacaste province in Costa Rica is considered the ideal destination for stunning beaches and coastal villages.
The highlands in the interior blanketed in forest, provide their adventures, including ziplining over volcanoes and waterfalls and amazing wildlife sightings. Even though there is wildlife all around the country, those who want to see animals usually travel to the lush south. Some of the best spots to explore for wildlife are in the areas south of Jaco, down to the Osa Peninsula.
Check out the Caribbean coast for something different, with its calm waters and distinctive cultural atmosphere.
Our list of the top tourist destinations in Costa Rica will help you find the greatest spots.
1. Manuel Antonio National Park
One of Costa Rica’s best places to see wildlife is Manuel Antonio National Park, located on the town’s outskirts. It also has the added benefit of having lovely beaches with smooth sand.
Howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, sloths, white-nosed coatimundis, and the difficult-to-miss capuchins are a few of the frequently seen animals in the park. In addition, look out for shimmering butterflies and a variety of vibrant birds flying around. Although you can explore the trails on your own, think about taking a Manuel Antonio Park Nature Guided Tour for a richer experience. The best places to see and photograph wildlife are generally known by the guides, who carry tripods and telescopes.
The proximity of Manuel Antonio National Park to the town of Manuel Antonio is one of its attractions. Hotels, restaurants, and other retail establishments may all be found in town and are conveniently close to the park.
The lovely beachfront beach, where beach umbrellas and chairs line the sand and surfers take advantage of the often calm waves, is where much of the action in town takes place. Beginner surf lessons are frequently taken here. There are a number of loud restaurants and shops higher up on the hillside across the street from the beach.
2. Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal)
One of the best places to view volcanoes in the nation is the steep Cordillera de Tilarán, where the Arenal Volcano National Park is located. The Arenal Volcano, a cone-shaped peak with massive ash columns frequently spilling from the crater, is the area’s main draw.
From AD 1500 until a catastrophic eruption on July 29, 1968, which killed 82 people and damaged two communities, Arenal stayed dormant. Since then, there has been consistent activity, and visitors may expect to see anything from an ash cloud to bright red lava flowing down the mountain, depending on the day or week.
With over half of all Costa Rican birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals located inside its borders, the park is also renowned for its extensive biodiversity.
The only lodge inside the confines of Arenal Volcano National Park is the Arenal Observatory Lodge, first built in 1987 as a private observatory. It can be found in a macadamia nut farm on the volcano’s southern flank. View the magnificent views of Arenal Lake and the volcano in the opposite way from the lodge. There are several hiking paths in the area, many leading to waterfalls and recent and old lava flows.
3. Monteverde and the Cloud Forests
The cloud forests around Monteverde and Santa Elena are one of the best areas to travel in Costa Rica for ecotourism. This is undoubtedly the spot to go if you are eager to get close to nature and observe unusual plants and fauna without going too far off the beaten path.
The moisture required to maintain the region’s distinctive habitats is provided by the clouds that blanket these trees. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve support a variety of animals, amphibians, and reptiles, while many visitors only come for bird-watching. Watch out for howler monkeys and colorful frogs. More elusive animals are jaguars and pumas. One of the finest ways to see the forest is on a guided hike.
The two main tourist destinations in the area are Monteverde and Santa Elena, which include lodging, dining options, and even shops and art galleries. Bus travel time to this location, northwest of San Juan, is somewhat over four hours. Bring thick clothing because it can get chilly here.
Tamarindo is the ideal location if you’re seeking a beach town with lots of activity where you may stay for a while. Tamarindo, located in Guanacaste’s Nicoya Peninsula, is a popular spot for beachgoing, surfing, and having fun. The town, formerly a peaceful fishing community, has developed into a tourist hotspot with a wide selection of dining establishments and lodging options.
The town is located in Tamarindo Beach, a stunning wide crescent that stretches for about 1.5 kilometers. The region is well-known for its surfing, and it has a variety of breaks that are good for both seasoned surfers and beginners. In general, November and December are when the largest waves typically occur here.
Eco-friendly excursions and pursuits are available close to Tamarindo, such as ziplining, horseback riding, diving, snorkeling, and diving while the turtles are nesting. One of Costa Rica’s most significant leatherback turtle breeding sites is close to Playa Grande. More than 100 turtles can be seen building nests and laying eggs every night between October and March.
One of the best surfing spots in Costa Rica is Dominical, a tropical refuge for backpackers. This town has a long history of being known for its lovely beaches, affordable lodging, casual open-air dining, and fantastic bohemian culture. But in the nearby mountains, resorts, bed & breakfasts, and opulent rentals draw affluent travelers.
In front of the town, a long stretch of beach is bordered by shady trees where sellers put up tables to offer crafts and other products. What was once a dusty seaside village has transformed into a considerably more upscale tourist destination in recent years as the formerly-dirt streets have been paved and the sidewalks bricked. There are quieter beaches outside of the city where you can locate your particular spot.
Dominical is an excellent site to see wildlife without traveling too far from civilization. Even in Dominical, you can frequently see toucans, monkeys, sloths, and scarlet macaws.
Dominical sees a large influx of visitors during the annual Envision Festival in late February or early March. This festival emphasizes music, the arts, wellness, and sustainability, and it features yoga and other programs, among other things.
6. Mal Pais and Santa Teresa
The Nicoya Peninsula’s Mal Pais is a coastal region with excellent waves that draws surfers from all over the world. The primary attraction in the region is the town of Santa Teresa, but a string of settlements and beaches, including the settlements of Mal Pais and Manzanillo, run along the Mal Pais.
Today, the neighborhood is a mixture of travelers, surfers who never made it out, and tourists who regret not booking a longer trip. In comparison to locations like Dominical, the region is trendier, has a more vibrant nightlife, and has become an elite destination.
Anyone seeking to leave San Jose but still desire the conveniences and advantages of a larger town or metropolis should consider Jaco. There is a large, attractive, and lively beach here.
The swimming and surfing are both excellent, and the waves are smaller than in other places along this stretch of shore. Jaco differs from the other coastal communities along this stretch of the Pacific Ocean by having contemporary residences and businesses, a wide range of excellent dining options and lodging options, and other contemporary comforts that have made it a favorite choice among expats and retirees.
San Jose is only around a two-hour trip from Jaco. This is a simple place to get to if you are arriving in San Jose and want to leave the city straight away but don’t want to drive too far your first day. You can also make this your base and take day trips to surrounding beaches and attractions.
8. Wildlife Viewing
One of the few places in the world where visiting only for the wildlife is worthwhile is Costa Rica. The country’s unique and widespread wildlife experiences more than make up for whatever cultural attractions it may lack.
Rarely is it necessary to look for animals. Around the cities, monkeys frequently arrive, capuchins frequent the dining areas, scarlet macaws soar overhead, and toucans rustle in the neighboring trees.
There are numerous places where one can see wildlife, but going to parks or joining organized tours with competent guides can increase the likelihood of seeing some of the more elusive species.
Generally speaking, the south of Costa Rica may offer you a better chance of viewing a greater range of species. Nearly all of the creatures in Manuel Antonio National Park may be seen on a guided walking tour, including sloths and other kinds of monkeys. The wildlife will probably come to you if you book a stay at an eco-lodge on the Osa Peninsula or at a quaint mountaintop resort or inn close to Dominical, Uvita, or Ojochal.
But wildlife abounds in the north as well. Howler monkeys are frequently seen in the trees and perched on wires above the streets in Tamarindo, even if you are staying in the town center. Keep an eye out, and you’ll definitely spot some intriguing creatures.
9. Diamante Eco Adventure Park
Visit Diamante Eco Adventure Park if you don’t think walking through the rainforest in the heat is fun. Here, it is simple to see animals in their native habitat, such as monkeys, sloths, jaguars, and pumas. These non-releasable animals are cared for on-site by scientists who are also available to answer your inquiries. You can also stroll through a butterfly enclosure in addition to the large animals. One of these friendly, bright creatures might even settle on you if you’re lucky.
Ziplining is a possibility in Costa Rica, and if you want to experience it, here is one of the greatest locations to buckle up and soar. The Superman route is the most well-liked zipline at Diamante Eco Park.
Take the Costa Rican Cultural Experience trip if you want to explore the nation’s diverse ecosystem while learning about Costa Rican culture. Here, you may learn about the native plants that surround you while being shown Tico life, gastronomy, and culture by the welcoming tour guides.
10. Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park
Beyond Dominical’s gorgeous beaches in southern Costa Rica, are the isolated Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park.
The park, created in 1975, safeguards what is regarded as Central America’s best remaining section of Pacific coastal rainforest. It has a vast route network and is well-liked by tourists who like to go on long hikes.
Dive, snorkel, and fishing are other popular pursuits in the area in addition to surfing. The major town in the region is Puerto Jiménez, and Drake Bay is home to a number of upscale lodges.
11. Tortuguero National Park
Visitors may choose to visit Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast for something a little unique and off the main road. One of the wettest regions in the nation, this location is only reachable by boat or plane and provides something unique to the rest of Costa Rica. As a result of the park’s significance as a green sea turtle breeding habitat, the primary activity here is observing turtles.
Despite the abundance of beaches, swimming is not recommended in the coastal area due to the harsh surf and strong currents. Sharks are widespread. On the beaches overnight, hundreds or perhaps thousands of green and leatherback turtles can be seen breeding and laying eggs (guides are required). The number of turtle nests in the area has increased as a result of recent conservation measures.
Monkeys, sloths, and kinkajous can all be seen from the hiking routes or boats traveling along the canals. Tapirs and peccaries are also present but more elusive. It’s also typical to see freshwater turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs, toads, and other amphibians.