tourist attractions in costa rica

12 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica

12 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica

It may be a small country in land mass, but Costa Rica is one of the world’s biggest natural playgrounds. Bordered between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica boasts the world’s largest density of flora and fauna in addition to a varied terrain of mountains, valleys, forests, volcanoes, beaches, lakes, and rivers. An overview of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is a wonderland of natural attractions, with volcanoes, beaches, cloud forests, and wildlife. This is a country that appeals as much to bird watchers and luxury travelers as it does to surfers and backpackers.

The busy city of San Jose is home to the country’s best museums, lovely squares, and cultural attractions, but the real treasures lie beyond the capital, in the forests and small coastal towns and villages.

Endless stretches of beach line the Pacific Coast, with small towns that cater to surfers and sun seekers. The province of Guanacaste in Costa Rica is considered the best place to visit for beautiful beaches and beach towns.

Inland, the forest-covered mountains offer their adventures, from volcanoes and waterfalls to ziplining and extraordinary wildlife viewing. Although wildlife is prevalent throughout the country, the lush south is where tourists tend to head if they are looking to find animals. The areas south of Jaco down to the Osa Peninsula are some of the best places to visit for wildlife.

For something completely different, check out the Caribbean coast with its calm waters and unique cultural vibe.

Discover the best places to visit with our list of the top tourist attractions in Costa Rica.

Table of content
1. Arenal Volcano
2. Tamarindo
3. Tortugero National Park
4. Mal Pais and Santa Teresa
5. Chirripo National Park

6. San Jose
7.Corcovado National Park
8.Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
9. Manuel Antonio National Park
10. La Paz Waterfall Garden
11. Jaco
12. Irazu Volcano National Park

1. Arenal Volcano

The Arenal Volcano National Park, found in the rugged Cordillera de Tilarán, is one of the top volcano viewing areas in the country. The main attraction here is the Arenal Volcano, a cone-shaped mountain with huge ash columns frequently streaming from the crater.

Arenal was dormant from AD 1500 until a massive eruption on July 29, 1968, which killed 82 people and destroyed two villages. Since then, it has seen regular activity, and, depending on the day or week, visitors can expect to see anything from a cloud of ash to glowing red lava flowing down the mountain.

The park is also known for its wide range of biodiversity, with approximately half of all Costa Rican birds, reptiles, amphibians, and mammals represented somewhere within its boundaries.

The Arenal Observatory Lodge, originally a private observatory established in 1987, is the only lodge within the Arenal Volcano National Park boundaries. It is located on a macadamia nut farm on the south side of the volcano. From the lodge, check out the excellent views of the volcano and Arenal Lake in the opposite direction. Numerous hiking trails are in the area; many lead to waterfalls and old and recent lava flows.

Soaring high in a perfectly symmetrical shape over the green hills and pastures of Costa Rica’s northern lowlands, Arenal Volcano is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations. Until the past few years, Arenal was the most active volcano in Costa Rica, and its frequent, small explosions once provided incredible shows of spewing lava.

However, in 2010, Arenal’s cycle entered into a resting phase, putting an indeterminate pause on the eruptions. Nevertheless, the area surrounding Arenal still offers plenty of outstanding sights and exciting activities.

The area surrounding Arenal Volcano, along with the dormant Chato volcano, is protected by the Arenal Volcano National Park. Within the national park are picturesque landscapes of lakes, rivers, mountains, and rainforests all offering adventures like fishing, whitewater rafting, mountain climbing, hiking, horseback riding, ziplining, canopy tours, caving, and waterfall rappelling.

Nature and wildlife enthusiasts will find the Arenal Volcano area a paradise with its many species of exotic flowers, mammals like howler monkeys, deer, and jaguars, and birds such as parrots and resplendent quetzals. What’s more, due to Arenal’s geothermal activity, tourists have the opportunity to luxuriate in several hot springs ranging in every style and budget, all with beautiful views of the volcano. There are also several resorts in the area offering accommodation and tour operations.

The small town of La Fortuna de San Carlos is the gateway to the Arenal Volcano. It is easily reached by bus from San Jose.

Arenal Volcano

2. Tamarindo

Year-round sunshine, breathtaking views, laid-back atmosphere, and proximity to national parks all make Tamarindo a popular destination for family vacations and eco-adventures. Located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, Tamarindo is one of the most developed and accessible beach towns in the region with paved roads and plenty of tourist facilities.

Less than an hour from the town of Liberia, Tamarindo is a small tropical paradise that can be easily explored by foot, taxis, rental cars, and scooters. Tamarindo’s main attraction is its sprawling beach where visitors can enjoy a wide range of activities from swimming to surfing, kayaking, sailing, snorkeling, diving, windsurfing, and boat cruises. With deep-sea waters teeming with snapper, marlin, grouper, and tuna as well as other trophy fish, Tamarindo is a sport fishing mecca with first-rate fleets and ample operations. Golfers will delight in Tamarindo’s world-class golf courses.

With close proximity to the rainforest, visitors can enjoy adventures like jungle trekking, ATV tours, horseback riding, and whitewater rafting. Home to one of the country’s most important sanctuaries for nesting leatherback sea turtles, the nearby Marino Las Baulas National Park is also a great place for hiking, bird watching, and wildlife viewing.

If you’re looking for an action-packed beach town to settle into for a while, Tamarindo is just the place. Located on the Nicoya Peninsula in Guanacaste, Tamarindo is a top destination for surfing, beach, and fun. Once a quiet fishing village, the town has grown into a tourist haven, where you can find a good assortment of restaurants and hotels.

The town is spread along Tamarindo Beach, a beautiful wide crescent that runs for approximately 1.5 kilometers. The area is known for surfing, with a range of breaks ideal for both experienced surfers and learners. The biggest waves are generally found here in November and December.


3. Tortugero National Park

For something a little different and a little off the beaten path, visitors may want to head to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast. This area, accessible only by boat or plane, is one of the wettest areas in the country and offers something different than the rest of Costa Rica. The park is an important breeding ground for the green sea turtle and as a result, turtle watching is the main activity here.

While there are many beaches, the coastal area is not suitable for swimming as the surf and currents are rough and strong. Sharks are common. Hundreds and even thousands of green and leatherback turtles can be viewed (guides are necessary) nesting and laying eggs on the beaches overnight. Recent conservation efforts have increased the number of turtles nesting in the area.

From the hiking trails or boat rides along the canals, it’s possible to spot monkeys, sloths, and kinkajos. Peccaries and tapirs are also present but more difficult to see. Freshwater turtles, lizards, snakes, frogs, toads, and other amphibians are also common.

Even though it is remotely located in northeastern Costa Rica and accessible only by boat or airplane, the Tortuguero National Park is one of the country’s most visited national parks. One of the most important turtle sanctuaries in the western Caribbean, the park’s main draw is the sea turtles that nest and hatch on the beach.

Because of its wet, tropical climate, the Tortuguero National Park fosters a rich environment of rainforest, wetlands, mangroves, beaches, canals, and lagoons that are all teeming with plant and wildlife species, making it a nature lover’s paradise. The most popular activity here is a guided walk on the beach to spot mother turtles nesting and hatchlings racing to the sea. The best time to view green and hawksbill turtles is between July and October, while the nesting season for leatherback turtles is from February to April.

However, the turtles are not the park’s only attraction. Visitors can take boat rides or paddle canoes through the mangroves and canals to glimpse a wide array of wildlife that includes mammals like manatees, sloths, river otters, tapirs, monkeys (spider, howler, and capuchin); birds like green macaws, toucans, parrots, and herons as well as reptiles such as giant iguanas, basilisk lizards, and crocodiles.

Tortugero National Park

4. Mal Pais and Santa Teresa

Mal Pais on the Nicoya Peninsula is an area along the coast known for great waves that attract surfers from around the world. The town of Santa Teresa is the main hot spot in the area, however, a chain of villages and beaches lie along the Mal Pais, including the villages of Mal Pais and Manzanillo.

Today, the area is a mix of backpackers, surfers who never managed to leave, and tourists who wish they had planned a longer vacation. The area is more trendy and has more of a scene than places like Dominical, and development in the area has turned it more upscale.

Mal Pais and Santa Teresa

5. Chirripo National Park

The Chirripo National Park is another nature lover’s paradise that preserves a wide range of wildlife species and habitats. It was named after the highest mountain in the country, Cerry Chirripo as it highlights a combo of fern groves, marshlands, green rainforests, treeless mountain plateaus as well as glacial lakes that feature plenty of fauna and flora.

Also, the national park is among some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica that enable rock climbing. You can get visitor information, camping services, and rustic lodging from ranger stations at various spots in the park.

Rabbits Valleys, Monte Sin Fe, Cloudforest, Cerro Terbi, and La Amistad International Park are a few of the most remarkable attractions here. Furthermore, the park is spread over Cartago, Limon, and San Jose in southern Costa Rica.

Chirripo National Park

6.  San Jose

San Jose is a modern city that offers amazing nightlife, arts, culture, dining, shopping, architecture, and accommodation. You can comfortably explore it by bus, taxis as well as on foot. Mountains and lush valleys are located around it.

The bustling downtown region of the city houses cultural spots, Government premises, and landmarks. For souvenirs just get to its vibrant markets and San Pedro Mall which is among the largest malls in Central America.

Plus, the other best places to visit here are the Simon Boliver Zoo, San Jose National Park, and La Sabana Metropolitan Park. You will also get an orientation on wildlife, history, and culture in the museums of San Jose. Moreover, visitors will find outdoor excursions in its sports zones, gardens, lakes, green spaces, and public parks.

San Jose

7. Corcovado National Park

The Corcovado National Park gives the best chance to visit wildlife including rare and more elusive species of Costa Rica such as jaguars, white-lipped peccaries, harpy eagles, red-backed squirrel monkeys, and Baired’s tapirs.

That crown jewel of Costa Rica guarantees tons of wonderful views. Having numerous trails in their entirety, guests will explore beautiful waterfalls, unique plants, and impressive rock settings. Visitors will also get the best opportunity like any other in the country to spot coatis, ocelots, poison dart frogs, and a variety of bird species.

Lying on the Osa Archipelago in southwestern Costa Rica, there is a wide array of ecosystems within the park such as palm forests, cloud forests, mangrove swamps, and much more.

If you are walking beside the beach you will grasp the views of pelicans, scarlet macaws, hermit crabs, and sea turtles. Additionally, you will be offered lodging, camping, and food in the four ranger stations of Corcovado.

8. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

The Monteverde Cloud Reserve is rewarded with fabulous settings to have glimpses of reptiles, insects, animals, and unique bird species. Backed by tropical forests, clouds as well as lush mountains. You won’t really forget its exceptional biodiversity, tons more activities, and charming nature.

This natural reserve is among the most coveted places in the country. While strolling in the butterfly gardens in the nature center you will get to learn about the enriched biodiversity over here. It is situated beside the Cordillera de Tilaran mountain range in central Costa Rica.

There is a lodge, gift shop, and restaurant in the reserve. Canopy visits over the treetops and horseback riding offer ways to experience the abundant wildlife and the cloud forest. You can’t help praising the best waterfalls and several trails when going hiking in their middle.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

9. Manuel Antonio National Park

By virtue of being easily approachable from San Jose, Manuel Antonio National Park is a place that is visited much irrespective of being the smallest park in Costa Rica. You will find plenty more outdoor adventures and activities like diving, kayaking, sport fishing, whale watching, snorkeling, swimming, mountain biking, and whitewater rafting.

Different hiking trails provide a bird’s eye view of wildlife like parrots, iguanas, howler monkeys, and horrible Titi monkeys. You will also see waterfalls and amazing vistas from them.

The city of Quepos offers nightlife, dining, and accommodation in their buses to get to the park. Therefore, plan your hassle-free trip. While sandy beaches, coral cays, and lush rainforests, make this tourist attraction an appealing place for eco-tourists, families, bird watchers, and backpackers.

Manuel Antonio National Park

10. La Paz Waterfall Garden

La Paz is a must-visit place in Costa Rica. A personally owned park is the true gift of nature covering an area of over 70 acres that features a broad array of wildlife such as butterflies, monkeys, hummingbirds, etc.

La Paz Waterfall is its major highlight. When the rainwater starts striking off an elevated ledge, it flows below 37 meters into a pool. Along with the waterfall, get ready for the admission tickets to reach the butterfly observatory, rhinarium, and jungle car expo.

 La Paz Waterfall Garden

11. Jaco

Playa Jaco is the best part of Costa Rica like activities in the outskirts, vibrant nightlife, wildlife, and drop-dead gorgeous beaches. Lying less than 2 hours from San Jose, it offers outstanding surfing and a laid-back atmosphere.

Therefore, a huge number of tourists are drawn to this Costa Rica tourist attraction. People enjoy swimming, rafting, sun-seeking, and sport fishing on the serene, clean beach of this lively beach town.

You will definitely get an active vibe on this spacious beach. As it lies in the neighborhood of national parks and tropical jungles, visitors will also enjoy, ATV tours, canopy tours, horseback riding, and safaris here.

What is much that differentiates Jaco from other beach towns besides the Pacific expansion is its restaurants, modern stores, and apartments. So, this eco-friendly tourist spot is hugely popular among retirees and ex-pats.


12. Irazu Volcano National Park

At 3342 meters, an elevated active volcano in Costa Rica, the Irazu Volcano encompasses a panorama having craters like a lunar. These craters are led by marked trails. There is also a lake that comes into sight now and then turns red in the other smaller crater namely Diego de la.

It is likely to observe the Caribbean and Pacific from the summit in times of clear days. The scattered volcanic rock has formulated a pyroclastic cone that will be easily explored by tourists.

 Irazu Volcano National Park

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