Costa Rica is a popular vacation destination in Central America with breathtaking beaches and impressive biodiversity. People visit for all kinds of reasons, from the nightlife to the weather to the nature!
19 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica in 2023
If you’re going to visit Costa Rica, it helps to know the best places to visit. While there are many beautiful beaches and places, having some information on the best spots will make your vacation better.
Whether you’re visiting to check out the rainforests and waterfalls or you want to sun yourself on the beach, this list will give you the best places to do so. Check out the nineteen best places to visit in Costa Rica to make your vacation unforgettable.
1. San José
San José is the bright and bustling capital of Costa Rica. When you go to Costa Rica, this is a must-visit, even if you want to lounge on the beach for the whole vacation.
There is so much to do and culture to explore that you’ll regret it if you don’t spend at least half a day exploring this location. There are many museums, parks, and restaurants to explore and enjoy.
Kids especially can have a fun time in the city, checking out the Children’s Museum or the mission-focused amusement park called Parque Diversiones. Visit San José’s central park or the Costa Rica National Zoo, featuring wildlife you can’t find anywhere else!
Even if you visit Costa Rica to enjoy the wildlife and get away from the city, you’d be remiss not to check out this spirited city that encompasses the energy of the country.
2. Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is a small town known for its black sand beaches and insane waves ideal for surfers. While it’s recommended you don’t brave these chaotic waves unless you’re an experienced and confident surfer, it can be just as fun to watch the pros rip the waves.
But there’s more than just beaches in this quaint town. Check out the jaguar sanctuary or the rainforest in the National Wildlife Refuge.
The locals are friendly and welcoming, inviting you into their restaurants and shops or giving helpful directions! This town is an excellent place to experience local Costa Rican life for a day.
3. Poas Volcano
Poas Volcano National Park is one of the most stunning places to visit in Costa Rica. It includes an active volcano that could blow at any moment! Not really, but it could erupt one day soon, making the trip here all the more exciting.
The last eruption was in April of 2017, and its erupted roughly 40 times since the early 1800s. You can hike up to the volcanic rim and peak through the mist and clouds to see the bubbling lake at the bottom.
The water is piping hot thanks to the geothermal energy underneath, but consistent rainfall maintains the bluish-green volcanic lake, a natural miracle. Any geology nerds or curious outdoor enthusiasts will relish the beauty and complexity of this spot.
Cahuita is a town and national park located just north of Puerto Viejo, so you can visit both places in one day if you have time. The national park is a majestic rainforest lined with more black sand beaches.
But the real gem of this spot is the massive and lively coral reef that lies just offshore. You can scuba dive around the reef and even visit an underwater shipwreck for an eerie but thrilling experience.
The town is quiet and serene, but the locals are still pleasant and welcoming to all tourists. And just outside of the park is a sloth sanctuary where you can watch the slow creatures meander about and donate money to help care for them.
Tortuguero is a village that also has a national park on the outskirts (there are many national parks in Costa Rica). This one is a rainforest-covered sandbar that is well-populated with sea turtles.
So you can watch these magnificent creatures crawl around the sand or float through the ocean. And if you’re lucky, you may visit during their nesting season when the baby turtles hatch and brave the beach sands to reach the water and find their parents.
To learn more about these incredible animals, check out the Sea Turtle Conservancy and visit their many turtle-related exhibits and activities.
6. Arenal Volcano
If you can’t get enough of volcanoes, the Arenal Volcano is another amazing place to visit. Arenal is Costa Rica’s best-known volcano and is still active.
The surrounding national park has many activities, like guided horseback rides, strenuous hikes, casual sightseeing, fishing, and bubbling hot springs. Many go to see the immense beauty of the perfectly symmetrical volcano.
It’s easily accessible and is a great family activity, as you can also go white water rafting or ziplining through the trees. And while Arenal is still technically active, it hasn’t erupted in 400 years and has recently entered a state of indefinite resting, so, no reason to worry about an eruption!
Tamarindo is a hot spot for tourists because it has loads of wildlife as well as luxury hotels and resorts. So if you choose to stay here, you can enjoy the comfort and safety of an all-inclusive resort but easily step out to experience Costa Rica’s nature and wildlife.
There are beaches nearby famous for their high population of leatherback turtles and monkeys. You can visit the Las Baulas National Marine Park, where you can see some of the rarest and most colorful aquatic animals in Costa Rica.
One of the most common reasons people choose to stay here is the long and immaculate stretches of beach along the Pacific coast of the country. The beaches are rarely crowded because there is so much space.
8. Rincón de la Vieja
Rincón de la Vieja is hands down one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica because it has so much natural beauty to offer. There are many waterfalls hidden in the rainforest where you can swim and relax in an unbelievably pretty tropical atmosphere.
There’s also a volcano in the area. You can even hike up to view the lake in the crater.
Throughout the forest are narrow bridges and hiking trails, ideal for people who want to explore the wilderness without getting lost. Follow in the footsteps of the many people who have traversed this marvelous area.
Dominical has amazing surfing water and a rushing river brimming with wildlife. However, this is a hidden gem in Costa Rica, meaning not many people know what this sensational spot has to offer.
The sleepy-beach town vibe is relaxing and welcoming and mostly consists of longtime locals. You can easily walk to rainforest waterfalls and may see monkeys or sloths just lounging around outside of the main village.
Many people don’t realize how many dining options there are in the area, from casual food to lavish meals. Plus, the entire village seems to be a bit of a yoga hub. So you can join in at a local yoga studio and stretch your body in one of the most exquisite locations in the world.
Malpais is a popular location for beach-goers, as the beaches have been rated among the best in the entire world. You can enjoy stunning sunsets, impressive ocean waves, soft sands, and graceful palm trees blowing in the warm tropical wind.
Be warned, it’s a super popular tourist spot, so you likely won’t be alone in your Mal Pais adventures.
It’s on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, so there are plenty of beaches to try and spread out. People call Mal Pais a surfer’s dream, thanks to the consistent waves and big breaks that are easy to predict.
Located southwest of San José, Jaco is a large town known for its nightlife and, of course, its beaches. If you want to explore the club scene and party vibe in Costa Rica, Jaco is the best place.
There are comfortable hotels and rentals you can stay at to have easy access to all the fun downtown. Their beaches are also excellent because they give you some options.
One beach has massive and torrid waves that appeal to surfers, while another side of the town has a calmer beach, perfect for a relaxing day in the sun. The area is also famous for its large population of scarlet macaws, a colorful and loud bird that’s hard to miss when you visit.
12. Osa Peninsula
The Osa Peninsula is possibly the best place to visit if you want to see tons of wildlife and explore the wilderness. It was dubbed one of the most intense biological locations by National Geographic, so there’s a lot to see here.
There is a complex and precarious combination of rainforest creatures, freshwater animals, and ocean life that coexist together in impressive harmony.
The peninsula is the ideal spot for people who visit Costa Rica to soak in nature and rare wildlife that doesn’t exist anywhere else in the world. This area is secluded and a bit tricky to access, so most tourists avoid it.
13. Irazu Volcano
That’s right, another volcano! Near the city of Cartago lies Irazu, an active and majestic volcano that is overgrown with lush greenery. It’s the largest and highest volcano in Costa Rica and an incredible sight to behold.
The name Irazu means ‘peak of thunder’, which is an adequate name as the top reaches well above storm clouds. The volcano releases toxic fumes in the center, so you can’t get too close, and there isn’t much wildlife around.
But the beauty of this volcano is unmatched. There are plenty of hiking trails and guided tours you can follow to avoid the fumes while still appreciating and exploring the insane terrain around this volcano.
14. Braulio Carrillo
Braulio Carrillo is a national park partially in the San José Province, so you can reach it easily from the capital city. This park is one of the best areas to hike through, as many trails range from easy-peasy to nearly impossible.
But there are also places to zipline among the trees or take a tram through the canopy of the forest and get a whole new perspective on nature.
People recommend this for kids of all ages because there are many safe and guided ways to be one with nature and explore the majesty of the rainforest. The area is also known for its magical population of butterfly species, making you feel like you’re in a dream when they flutter around you.
Corcovado National Park is an incredibly biodiverse area that goes from thick, lush rainforests to mangrove swamps to mountainous ranges.
This location is considered one of the best and most important national parks in Costa Rica because of how many different species of animals and plants reside here.
A large portion of this park is practically untouched by humans, so there are tons to explore and discover, including squirrel monkeys and rare birds. Many people stay at Sirena Ranger Station, a quaint lodge.
But don’t expect any five-star luxury resorts in this remote area. But you can expect hot weather, high humidity, and a scorching sun on most days, so bring lots of water and sunscreen. A journey to Corcovado is not for the faint of heart.
16. Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio National Park is best known for its pristine white sand beaches and colorful coral reefs that live just offshore. You can go diving around them or just relax on the beaches.
While it certainly has a beach bum atmosphere, the area also makes considerable efforts to preserve the wildlife and ecosystems. There are many delightful resorts you can stay at, and the nearby towns have excellent dining options and some decent nightlife.
If you want to have a beach-going, cocktail-drinking type of Costa Rica vacation, this is an optimal place to visit and, better yet, stay here for your trip.
Monteverde is a national park with plentiful wildlife, but it’s best known for the mist and clouds that hang low in the forest thanks to high humidity.
You can walk across narrow rope bridges and feel like you’re walking through clouds in the sky because you kind of is. There is an excess of greenery and leaves bigger than your head.
Monteverde is a magical forest area that will make you feel like you’re on a movie set but also give you the chills at the same time.
Walking along the hiking trails and through the trees removes you from the hustle and bustle of city life, which is what many people want when they visit Costa Rica!
18. Tarcoles River
The Tarcoles River is famous for the treacherous Crocodile Bridge, where these prehistoric beasts cluster in groups and lounge in the mud. As long as you don’t get too close, this can be an exhilarating, memorable, and safe experience.
There are restaurants and souvenir shops in the area because this is a hot spot for tourists and thrill-seekers. In reality, you just walk over a beautiful bridge where loads of crocodiles chill below you.
So don’t worry about wearing your running shoes; you’ll be safe. But most visitors get to see about forty American crocodiles lazing around in their natural habitat.
19. La Paz
La Paz Park is a stunning place to explore as a family. There is a famous garden of waterfalls that will enchant you immediately. The La Paz Peace Lodge is a sanctuary for many animals, like monkeys, sloths, butterflies, and more.
You can walk around the area and watch these handsome creatures wander around. There are jungle cats kept at a safe distance and vibrant birds and snakes.
While it may feel like a zoo, La Paz is a sanctuary where they care for injured or helpless animals that would otherwise perish. And when you visit, you contribute to their well-being! You could easily spend an entire day, if not longer, wandering around the park.
Things to Consider
Before you plan out your itinerary and commit to certain activities, there are some things to consider.
Not everyone will enjoy the same places in Costa Rica, so think about what activities you enjoy, who you travel with, and much more before you book anything, including:
- Group. If you are traveling in a large group or bringing children to Costa Rica, this can affect what the best places to visit will be for you. For example, going to the Osa Peninsula or Corcovado with small children may not be the best idea as the elements can be exhausting and uncomfortable.
- Budget. While many of these places are free to visit, some cost a fee. Places like San José will also drain your wallet faster because there are so many paid activities like museums or restaurants. Most beaches and national parks are free, so aim to visit these if you’re traveling on a restricted budget.
- Homebase. Costa Rica is a pretty large place, so you physically won’t be able to check out every destination. Consider where you are staying in Costa Rica and plan your trips around this. It makes no sense to traverse the entire country to go to a beach that is similar to one that was just a short drive from your hotel! Let Google Maps be your friend!
- Accessibility. Many spots on this list can be challenging to visit if you don’t have a car or someone in your group has a disability. Most places don’t have ramps or other features to enhance accessibility, so you may want to stick to the beaches and easy access locations. But San José and most beaches are not difficult to get to.
- Interests. Consider what interests you and the other people in your group. Fortunately, there is no shortage of options in Costa Rica, from seeing vivid wildlife up close to surfing the waves or enjoying the nightlife. You can do all these things in Costa Rica, but you must prioritize your interests because you likely won’t have time to do everything!
Frequently Asked Questions
Below are some common questions and answers to help you plan your trip:
Is Costa Rica safe?
Generally, Costa Rica is a safe place to visit. In cities, violent crime rates are low, but theft is high. So just be sure to keep an eye on your valuables and never leave anything unattended. In the rainforests, the most dangerous animals keep their distance from you. And on the beaches, just be careful not to venture into strong currents if you’re not an excellent swimmer.
Is Costa Rica expensive?
Costa Rica is expensive to get to, but once you’re there it’s relatively low cost. But it mostly depends on what activities you choose to do and what places you decide to dine at.
How big is Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is pretty big, nearly 20,000 square miles. For perspective, this is a bit smaller than the state of West Virginia.
Is Costa Rica crowded with tourists?
Unfortunately, Costa Rica is crowded with tourists due to the low cost of rentals and hotels. But the Pacific coast is much more crowded, so try to avoid that area.
What is Costa Rica’s weather like?
Costa Rica typically has beautiful weather, with temperatures between 70 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. It rains often but not for whole days at a time usually.
So, What Are the Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica?
Many would agree that the best places to visit in Costa Rica are the national parks full of wildlife and beauty. But the volcanoes are also one of the most popular tourist attractions because of how powerful yet lovely they are.
All of the above options have something unique to offer, so choose whichever place caters to your preferences, and you’re bound to have a great time.