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Taking The Road Less Travelled In Costa Rica


Modified: January 3, 2024

by Marj Harty



Welcome to Costa Rica, a Central American paradise that offers much more than just pristine beaches and luxurious resorts. While the country is known for its stunning coastlines and vibrant tourist hotspots, there is a whole other side of Costa Rica waiting to be explored. If you’re someone who craves adventure, thrives on uncovering hidden gems, and seeks an authentic experience, then it’s time to take the road less travelled in Costa Rica.


Costa Rica boasts a rich and diverse landscape, from lush rainforests teeming with exotic wildlife to majestic volcanoes and cascading waterfalls. But it’s not just the natural beauty that sets this country apart; it’s the opportunity to escape the crowds and immerse yourself in the untamed wilderness.


Forget the well-trodden tourist path and embark on a journey to discover secluded beaches, secret waterfalls, and remote national parks that will take your breath away. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, an adrenaline junkie, or simply seeking a slower pace of life, Costa Rica has something for everyone.


One of the best ways to truly experience Costa Rica is by renting a car and taking to the open road. This gives you the flexibility to explore at your own pace and venture off the beaten path. From navigating winding mountain roads to crossing rickety bridges to reach hidden pockets of paradise, every twist and turn reveals a new adventure.


This article will guide you through some of the lesser-known destinations and experiences that await you in Costa Rica. From tranquil beaches tucked away from the tourist crowds to remote waterfalls where you can reconnect with nature, prepare to be captivated by the untouched beauty and charm of these hidden gems.


The Beauty of Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a country that boasts unparalleled natural beauty. From its breathtaking coastlines to its sprawling rainforests, the country is a haven for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. With over 25% of its landmass designated as protected areas, including national parks, wildlife refuges, and biological reserves, Costa Rica is committed to preserving its ecosystems and biodiversity.


One of the most iconic features of Costa Rica is its stunning beaches. Whether you prefer the pristine shores of Manuel Antonio or the untouched beauty of the Nicoya Peninsula, you’ll find a beach to suit your taste. From surfing and snorkeling to simply relaxing in a hammock under the shade of palm trees, the beaches of Costa Rica offer endless opportunities for relaxation and adventure.


Costa Rica is also home to a remarkable array of wildlife. In fact, the country is known to have one of the highest biodiversity levels in the world. From monkeys and sloths to toucans and resplendent quetzals, you’ll have the chance to encounter a wide variety of species in their natural habitats. Exploring the dense rainforests and cloud forests will give you a glimpse into the rich and vibrant ecosystems that make up Costa Rica’s unique natural heritage.


Another aspect of Costa Rica’s beauty lies in its volcanoes. The country is home to several active and dormant volcanoes, including the famous Arenal Volcano. Hiking through volcanic landscapes, soaking in thermal hot springs, and witnessing lava flows are just a few of the thrilling experiences that await you.


But the beauty of Costa Rica is not limited to its natural wonders. The country is also known for its warm and welcoming people, who take immense pride in their culture and traditions. From vibrant festivals and colorful markets to traditional cuisine and folk music, immersing yourself in the local culture will add a whole new layer of beauty to your Costa Rican experience.


Costa Rica truly offers something for everyone. Whether you are seeking adventure, relaxation, or an authentic cultural experience, this enchanting country will captivate your senses and leave you in awe of its sheer beauty.


Exploring Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations

While Costa Rica is known for its popular tourist destinations, there are plenty of hidden gems that offer a more authentic and off-the-beaten-path experience. These lesser-known destinations provide a chance to escape the crowds and embark on a truly unique adventure.


One such place is the Osa Peninsula, located in the southwestern part of the country. Often referred to as “the last wild place in Costa Rica,” the Osa Peninsula is a haven for nature enthusiasts. With its untouched rainforests, secluded beaches, and incredible biodiversity, this remote region offers a glimpse into Costa Rica’s wildest landscapes. Explore Corcovado National Park, renowned for its incredible variety of wildlife, including jaguars, tapirs, and macaws. Or, wander along the pristine coastline of Drake Bay, where you can snorkel, kayak, and witness humpback whales during their migration season.


If you’re a mountain lover, head to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Tucked away in the misty highlands, this unique ecosystem is home to an astounding array of plant and animal species. Walk along the suspended bridges and winding trails, keeping an eye out for colorful birds, elusive monkeys, and rare orchids. At night, experience the mystical beauty of the forest by embarking on a guided night hike, where you can spot nocturnal creatures such as tree frogs and kinkajous.


For a taste of Costa Rica’s rich cultural heritage, visit the town of Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast. Known as the “Land of Turtles,” Tortuguero is famous for its nesting sea turtles. Take a boat tour through the intricate network of canals, spotting monkeys, sloths, and vibrant bird species along the way. During nesting season, witness the awe-inspiring sight of sea turtles making their way to the shore to lay their eggs under the cover of darkness.


If you’re seeking a beach retreat away from the usual tourist haunts, head to the Nicoya Peninsula. Explore the pristine Playa Santa Teresa, renowned for its excellent surf breaks and laid-back atmosphere. Take a sunrise horseback ride along the secluded shores of Playa Manzanillo, or embark on a snorkeling adventure to discover the vibrant underwater world of Isla Tortuga. This hidden gem offers the perfect blend of relaxation and adventure.


These are just a few examples of the off-the-beaten-path destinations waiting to be discovered in Costa Rica. By venturing beyond the well-known tourist spots, you’ll have the opportunity to connect with nature, immerse yourself in local culture, and create unforgettable memories in some of the country’s most enchanting locations.


Getting Around in Costa Rica

When it comes to getting around in Costa Rica, there are several transportation options available that will allow you to explore the country’s diverse landscapes and attractions.


One of the most popular ways to get around is by renting a car. This gives you the freedom and flexibility to travel at your own pace and venture off the beaten path. Costa Rica has a well-maintained road network, but it’s essential to note that some areas may have unpaved roads or challenging terrain. A four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended if you plan to explore remote areas or drive in rainy conditions. Additionally, be prepared for encounters with potholes and the occasional wandering cow or iguana on the road!


If you prefer not to drive, there are other transportation options available. Public buses are a common and affordable way to travel from one destination to another. Costa Rica has an extensive bus network that reaches even the most remote areas of the country. However, be prepared for longer travel times and potentially crowded buses, especially during peak tourist seasons.


An alternative to public buses is hiring a private driver or using shuttle services. These options provide comfort and convenience, as well as the opportunity to have a local guide who can offer insights and recommendations along the way.


For shorter distances or island hopping, domestic flights and boat transfers are available. Several domestic airlines offer frequent flights between major cities and popular tourist destinations. If you’re looking to explore the stunning coastline or visit remote islands, consider taking a boat transfer. It’s a scenic and memorable way to travel and can provide access to secluded areas that are not reachable by road.


Regardless of the mode of transportation you choose, it’s important to plan your journeys in advance. Consider factors such as travel times, road conditions, and traffic. It’s also worth noting that GPS systems may not always be accurate in Costa Rica, so having a physical map or relying on verbal directions can be beneficial.


Ultimately, how you choose to get around in Costa Rica depends on your preferences, budget, and the level of adventure you seek. Whether you’re driving along winding mountain roads, taking in the views from a domestic flight, or hopping on a local bus to immerse yourself in the culture, each mode of transportation offers its own unique experience. 

Hidden Gems: Secret Beaches and Waterfalls

One of the joys of exploring Costa Rica off the beaten path is the discovery of hidden gems – secluded beaches and enchanting waterfalls that offer a tranquil escape from the bustling tourist areas. These hidden treasures provide a chance to connect with nature and experience the untouched beauty of Costa Rica.


One such hidden gem is Playa Ventanas, located on the southern Pacific coast. This pristine beach is known for its unique sea caves, which provide a magical setting for sunbathing and picnicking. As the waves crash against the rocks, they create natural “windows” leading to small hidden pools. It’s the perfect spot to relax, swim, and immerse yourself in the tranquil atmosphere.


If you’re craving a waterfall adventure, visit Nauyaca Waterfalls near Dominical. This stunning set of cascades is nestled in the lush jungle, creating a picturesque oasis. Take a refreshing swim in the crystal-clear pools, hike through the surrounding trails, or simply bask in the beauty of the cascades. The larger waterfall boasts a height of over 45 meters, making it a magnificent sight to behold.


Another hidden gem is the beach town of Cahuita, on the Caribbean coast. Known for its laid-back vibe and vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture, Cahuita offers a picturesque beach lined with coconut palms and backed by dense rainforest. Explore Cahuita National Park, which encompasses both land and sea, and offers the chance to encounter a variety of wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and colorful coral reefs just offshore.


For a more off-the-beaten-path coastal experience, head to Playa Blanca on the Nicoya Peninsula. Accessible only by boat or a scenic hike, this secluded beach offers pristine white sand and turquoise waters. Relax under the shade of palm trees, snorkel along the vibrant coral reef, or take a kayak and explore the tranquil mangrove estuary nearby. Playa Blanca is a hidden gem that will make you feel like you’ve stumbled upon your own private paradise.


These are just a few examples of the secret beaches and waterfalls that can be found in Costa Rica. As you venture off the tourist path, keep your eyes open for local recommendations and ask the locals about their favorite hidden gems. You may stumble upon your own secluded spot, away from the crowds, where you can truly connect with the beauty of Costa Rica’s natural wonders.


Embracing Authentic Costa Rican Culture

When exploring Costa Rica off the beaten path, one of the most rewarding experiences is immersing yourself in the country’s rich and vibrant culture. From the traditions and customs to the local cuisine and lively festivals, embracing authentic Costa Rican culture adds a whole new dimension to your journey.


A great way to begin your cultural exploration is by visiting the bustling markets in towns like San Jose, Cartago, or Alajuela. These markets offer a vibrant tapestry of colors, aromas, and flavors. Stroll through the stalls filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, and exotic spices. Engage with the friendly locals, practice your Spanish, and sample traditional snacks like empanadas, ceviche, or gallo pinto, the beloved Costa Rican dish of rice and beans.


Attending a traditional fiesta is another wonderful way to immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture. These lively celebrations feature music, dance, and traditional costumes. One of the most famous fiestas is the Palmares Festival, held annually in January. The festival is packed with bull riding, parades, live music, and a general atmosphere of joy and excitement.


For a deeper understanding of Costa Rican history and heritage, visit the country’s many museums and historical sites. The National Museum of Costa Rica in San Jose offers a comprehensive overview of the country’s history, including pre-Columbian artifacts and colonial-era exhibits. The Guayabo National Monument, an archaeological site near Turrialba, provides insights into the ancient civilizations that once called Costa Rica home.


Participating in traditional activities can also offer a glimpse into Costa Rican culture. Take a dance lesson and learn the steps of the national dance, the “cumbia.” Or, try your hand at making traditional crafts such as handwoven textiles or clay pottery. These hands-on experiences allow you to connect with local artisans and gain a deeper appreciation for the craftsmanship and traditions that have been passed down through generations.


Lastly, make an effort to engage with the friendly and welcoming Costa Rican people. Strike up conversations with locals, ask for recommendations, and show interest in their culture and way of life. Costa Ricans, known as “Ticos,” are proud of their country and are often more than willing to share insights and stories with visitors.


By embracing authentic Costa Rican culture, you’ll have a more enriching and memorable experience during your off-the-beaten-path exploration. From savoring delicious traditional dishes to dancing to local rhythms and understanding the history and customs, immersing yourself in the cultural fabric of Costa Rica will leave a lasting impression and create unforgettable memories.


Experiencing Wildlife in Remote National Parks

Costa Rica is renowned for its incredible biodiversity, and one of the best ways to experience the country’s rich wildlife is by exploring its remote national parks. These protected areas are havens for a wide variety of plant and animal species, offering a unique opportunity to observe wildlife in their natural habitats.


One of the standout national parks in Costa Rica is Corcovado National Park, located on the Osa Peninsula. This remote and untouched wilderness is often referred to as “the most biologically intense place on Earth.” As you hike through the dense rainforest, you’ll spot an array of wildlife, including monkeys swinging through the trees, sloths lazily hanging from branches, and colorful macaws soaring overhead. Keep your eyes peeled, as you might even spot tapirs, jaguars, and anteaters. The diversity of bird species is also remarkable, with over 400 recorded in the park.


Tortuguero National Park, on the Caribbean coast, is another must-visit destination for wildlife enthusiasts. Accessible only by boat or plane, this remote park is famous for its sea turtle nesting grounds. During the nesting season (July to October), you can witness the incredible sight of giant sea turtles coming ashore to lay their eggs. Explore the park’s intricate network of canals, where you’ll encounter howler monkeys, caimans, and a variety of bird species, including toucans and herons.


Manuel Antonio National Park is a popular tourist destination, but its remote and less-visited areas offer fantastic opportunities to spot wildlife. As you venture into the park’s lesser-explored trails, you’ll likely encounter white-faced and squirrel monkeys, sloths, and a multitude of colorful birds. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of the elusive and endangered squirrel monkey.


La Amistad International Park, which straddles the border between Costa Rica and Panama, is one of the largest protected areas in Central America. This remote and rugged park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is home to an array of wildlife, including jaguars, tapirs, quetzals, and rare orchids. Hiking through its untouched trails will immerse you in the pristine beauty and natural wonders of the region.


Exploring these remote national parks requires careful planning and sometimes the assistance of local guides who are familiar with the area. It’s important to respect the parks’ regulations and guidelines to ensure the preservation of the delicate ecosystems and the welfare of the wildlife.


Whether you choose to visit the well-known national parks or venture into the more remote areas, experiencing wildlife in Costa Rica’s national parks is a truly awe-inspiring experience. The sights and sounds of the diverse array of species you’ll encounter will leave you with a profound appreciation for the country’s commitment to conservation and its remarkable natural heritage.


Partaking in Adventure Activities Away from the Tourist Crowds

For adventure seekers looking to experience Costa Rica off the beaten path, there is no shortage of thrilling activities that will get the adrenaline pumping. While popular tourist areas offer their fair share of adventure, venturing away from the crowds allows for a more intimate and authentic experience. Here are some exhilarating activities that will take you off the tourist radar and into the heart of adventure.


One of the best ways to explore the hidden treasures of Costa Rica is through canyoning. Strap on a harness, rappel down waterfalls, and leap into natural pools nestled within remote canyons. Remote locations like the Turrialba region offer breathtaking landscapes and thrilling descents that few tourists have the chance to experience.


Another adventure activity that takes you away from the tourist crowds is horseback riding through the countryside. Guided horseback tours provide a unique perspective of Costa Rica’s diverse landscapes, allowing you to venture into pristine valleys, ride along rugged mountain trails, and discover hidden waterfalls. Connect with local cowboys, known as “sabaneros,” as they share their love for their land and teach you about their customs and traditions. The remote Nicoya Peninsula and inland regions like Monteverde and Arenal are perfect for horseback riding adventures.


Surfing is a popular activity in Costa Rica, but you can find uncrowded and lesser-known surf breaks away from the more popular beaches. Head to the Nicoya Peninsula, specifically Santa Teresa and Mal Pais, where you’ll find world-class waves without the mass of surfers. Experienced surfers can also search for secluded beaches along the Pacific coast that are less frequented by tourists.


For adrenaline junkies, try your hand at zip-lining through the lush canopies of Costa Rica’s rainforests. Opt for zip-line tours in more remote areas like the Osa Peninsula or the Caribbean coast, where you can soar above the treetops with breathtaking views of the untouched landscapes.


If you’re a nature lover and an experienced hiker, consider embarking on multi-day treks in remote national parks like Corcovado or Chirripó. These challenging hikes allow you to immerse yourself in the wilderness, far from the crowds of more popular trails. Witness vibrant wildlife, unique ecosystems, and awe-inspiring vistas that will leave a lasting impression.


Remember to always prioritize safety when partaking in adventure activities. It’s recommended to book these activities through reputable tour operators who prioritize sustainability and have local knowledge of the area.


By engaging in adventure activities away from the tourist crowds, you’ll not only experience Costa Rica’s natural beauty and adrenaline-inducing thrills but also gain a deeper appreciation for the country’s hidden wonders and the spirit of true adventure.


Sustainable Tourism: Supporting Local Communities

As you venture off the beaten path in Costa Rica, it’s important to uphold the principles of sustainable tourism and support local communities. Sustainable tourism seeks to minimize negative impacts and maximize the positive social, economic, and environmental benefits of tourism. By practicing responsible travel, you can play a part in preserving the natural beauty and cultural heritage of Costa Rica for future generations.


One way to support local communities is by choosing accommodations that prioritize sustainability and have a positive impact on the environment and local people. Look for eco-lodges and hotels that implement practices such as recycling, energy conservation, and water management. Additionally, consider staying in locally-owned establishments, which directly contribute to the local economy and provide employment opportunities for community members.


Engaging in community-based tourism initiatives is another way to support local communities. Take part in activities that promote cultural exchange and provide economic opportunities for residents. This can include visiting local craft markets, attending cultural performances, or participating in cooking classes to learn about traditional cuisine.


Eating at local restaurants and trying traditional cuisine is not only a delicious experience but also supports the local economy. Seek out dining options that source their ingredients locally, supporting farmers and producers in the area. Additionally, be mindful of reducing waste by opting for reusable water bottles and avoiding single-use plastics.


Participating in community-led tours and hiring local guides is a meaningful way to support local communities. These guides have extensive knowledge of the area, offer unique insights into the culture and environment, and provide employment opportunities for community members. Engaging with local guides also promotes authentic interactions and fosters a deeper understanding of the destination.


Respecting the culture and traditions of Costa Rica is crucial when traveling off the beaten path. Observe and adhere to local customs, dress modestly when visiting religious sites, and ask for permission before taking photographs of individuals. Taking the time to learn a few basic phrases in Spanish can also go a long way in building connections and showing respect.


Lastly, practicing responsible outdoor activities is essential for preserving the natural environment. Stay on designated trails, avoid littering, and follow the principles of “leave no trace.” Consider joining conservation efforts, such as volunteering for beach cleanups or participating in reforestation projects, to actively contribute to the conservation of Costa Rica’s remarkable ecosystems.


By practicing sustainable tourism and supporting local communities, you become an active participant in the responsible management of Costa Rica’s natural and cultural resources. Your actions can make a positive impact on the environment, empower local communities, and contribute to the long-term sustainability of this remarkable country.



As you venture off the beaten path in Costa Rica, you’ll discover a world of hidden treasures and untamed beauty. From secluded beaches and cascading waterfalls to remote national parks teeming with wildlife, this country offers a wealth of experiences for those seeking adventure and authenticity. By taking the road less traveled, you’ll be rewarded with a deeper appreciation for Costa Rica’s natural wonders and cultural heritage.


Exploring off-the-beaten-path destinations allows you to escape the tourist crowds and immerse yourself in the true essence of Costa Rica. Whether you’re traversing winding mountain roads, venturing into remote rainforests, or connecting with local communities, each experience will provide a deeper connection to this captivating country.


Costa Rica’s commitment to conservation and sustainable tourism is evident in its extensive national park system and initiatives that support local communities. By practicing responsible travel, supporting eco-friendly accommodations, engaging in community-based activities, and respecting local customs and the natural environment, you can play a part in preserving Costa Rica’s natural beauty and cultural heritage for generations to come.


As you embark on your off-the-beaten-path adventures in Costa Rica, embrace the beauty and authenticity that awaits you. From the adrenaline-inducing activities to the serenity of secret beaches and waterfalls, this extraordinary country has something to offer every traveler. So, take a chance, venture beyond the tourist hotspots, and let Costa Rica’s hidden gems captivate your heart and soul.


Remember, the road less traveled is often the path that leads to the most unforgettable experiences, and in Costa Rica, it’s no different. So go forth, explore, and create memories that will last a lifetime in this enchanting land of adventure and natural wonders.