Costa Rica is a verdant corner of Central America. It boasts lush rainforests edged by the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea. Costa Rican beaches are excellent for surfing and diving, while the country’s forested areas are treasure troves of diverse wildlife.
When you pinpoint Costa Rica on the globe, it may appear small. Still, this Central American nation is a perfect example that a country doesn’t have to be large to have dozens of national parks, several UNESCO sites, and countless leisure opportunities.
We suppose that you don’t have all the time in the world to explore this piece of heaven. If so, prioritise the following attractions of Costa Rica to make the most of your time!
Explore The Nicoya Peninsula
Although the number of visitors to the Nicoya Peninsula is on the rise, the peninsula remains off-the-beaten-path attraction of Costa Rica. Coastal towns, long beaches, and luxuriant forests offer extraordinary opportunities for travellers seeking relaxation and adventure.
To enjoy both, visit the tip of Nicoya Peninsula. There, you will find white-sand beaches ideal for diving and the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve brimming with monkeys, coatis, and other wildlife. Whatever you do during the day, take a sunset walk on the beach in the evening.
Due to some poorly maintained roads, domestic airlines and ferries provide the most efficient transportation options to the Nicoya Peninsula. Nature Air and Sansa Airlines fly several times a day from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, to Tambor.
Ferries depart from Jako and Puntarenas. Arrive at least an hour in advance at the ferry terminal to be sure to board.
Feel The Heat At The Arenal Volcano
The Arenal Volcano is a dormant volcano in the Alajuela province, about 100km (62mi) northwest of San Jose. The simplest option for getting there is by bus, which costs around 2,000 CRC (around US$3.5). The duration of the journey is approximately 3:30 hours.
Plan to complete the entire trip during daylight, from 5:30 am to 5:30 pm, in case you wish to drive. If you plan to stay longer at the Arenal Volcano, prices for overnight stays at hostels start at 6,000 CRC (US$10.5). The park is open daily from 8 am to 4 pm, and the full price ticket for foreign visitors is US$15.
The Arenal Volcano is among the top attractions of Costa Rica. There, you can admire views of the surrounding countryside during a clear day, enjoy mountain biking, explore the lava fields, relax by a beautiful lake or a stunning waterfall, and more.
Take a walk through the nearby forest to observe parrots and toucans among other birds and rejuvenate in the hot springs of the Tabacon Thermal Resort. For the best experience, hire a local guide that will elaborate the history and the highlights in the area.
Experience The Beauty Of Guanacaste
Costa Rican “Gold Coast” abounds with beaches with white, black, and pink sands and plains full of cacti. While exploring the countryside, you will marvel at the volcanoes of the Cordillera de Guanacaste that dominate the skyline in the distance.
If you are a discerning traveller, visit luxury resorts by the coastline that offer exceptional surfing and diving activities. On the other hand, if you are a wanderer, go inland and get a taste of the cowboy culture. This cowboy culture is especially alive in the small towns of the Nicoya Peninsula in January and February.
Fly to the international airport in Liberia and take an hour drive to the majority of Guanacaste’s resorts from there.
Cruise Through Corcovado National Park On A 4×4
Fans of wildlife should take the word of National Geographic and visit the Corcovado National Park. Occupying half of the Osa Peninsula on the Pacific coast, Corcovado is among the most biologically diverse places in the world. To access the national park efficiently, take a flight from San Jose to Puerto Jimenez and rent a 4×4 vehicle there.
Hire a mandatory guide to exploring highland cloud forests, lowland jungles, mangrove marshes, and winding waterways. Have a camera at the ready to take photos of wild cats, strange monkeys, unusual amphibians, and colourful birds. Feel free to wet your skin in the ocean, but mind the sun.
The best period for visiting the National Park of Corcovado is from December to April. The park is open daily from 7:30 am to 5 pm and the daily admission is US$15. To spend a night in the NP, book accommodation in the Sirena ranger station.
Whenever you decide to visit this natural marvel of Costa Rica, make preparations well in advance so you won’t be disappointed.
Enjoy The Best Of Costa Rica In Jaco
To enjoy a laid-back vacation by the Pacific Ocean, visit Jaco, the party and water sports hub about two hours west of the Costa Rican capital city. Opportunities to enjoy yourself here are almost endless, and surfing, fishing, kayaking, rafting, and boating are just a few among available alternatives.
If you prefer to remain ashore, take a horse ride to find the Bijagual Waterfall, watch birds in the Carara NP or come across sloths, monkeys, and iguanas in the Manuel Antonio NP. To relax by the sea and swim in calm waters, visit Herradura, a beach seven kilometres north of Jaco.
Visit The Adorable Sloth At The Sloth Sanctuary
You don’t need to roam rainforests of Costa Rica to lay eyes on sloths. To do so, drive some 15 minutes from Cahuita, on the Caribbean coast, to the Sloth Sanctuary. You can take tours introducing the sloths’ habitats and observe these cute creatures in the Sloth Sanctuary Learning Centre daily from 8 am to 2 pm except on Mondays.
The full price ticket is US$30, while children between the ages of 5 to 12 pay half the price.
You might have familiarised yourself with Sid, the sloth from the Ice Age series. When you arrive at this Costa Rican Sloth Sanctuary, you will quickly realise that modern sloths are far less agile. They prefer to take a more laidback approach to life!
Meet The Inhabitants Of The Tortuguero National Park In Costa Rica
Fans of turtles should visit the Tortuguero National Park, another natural gem of Costa Rica. Turtles frequent the “Land of Turtles” between May and October for nesting, and some species you will see during that time are hawksbill, loggerhead, and green turtles.
While you are at the Tortuguero National Park, don’t miss a chance to spot big cats, strange lizards, playful monkeys and parrots, toucans, and herons among other bird species. For the best tour of the place, rent a canoe in the park.
To explore this Caribbean wildlife reserve, book tours departing from San Jose and other Costa Rican towns. Fares fluctuate from around US$100 to US$550 per person depending on the duration. We suggest anywhere between a day to four.
Revel In The Natural Beauty Of Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is pretty much like Costa Rica – small and beautiful beyond description. The surface of the smallest NP of Costa Rica is less than 8km2/3mi2, but you will find white-sand beaches, secluded coves, and diverse wildlife in it.
Manuel Antonio NP has broad trails winding through the rainforest inhabited by monkeys, birds, iguanas, and many other animals. For the best sightseeing, hire a guide that will point out things you are very likely to miss on your own. Also, find a beach around lunchtime to have a clear view of the monkeys searching for food.
Located on the Pacific coast, the Manuel Antonio NP is 75km southeast of Jaco. If you travel from San Jose, take the route via Jaco. This route isn’t direct (175km), but travel times are the shortest. Manuel Antonio operates from 7 am to 4 pm daily except on Mondays, and the standard fare for foreign visitors is US$16.
Since the officials limit the number of visitors, arrive as early as possible to secure the ticket. The best months for a visit are between December and April.
Go Rafting Along The Pacuare River
Running along the Talamanca Mountains, the Pacuare River is a world-class rafting destination. Overcome rapids flanked by cliffs and spot ocelots, jaguars, toucans, and monkeys as you reach calm waters in a rainforest. You will see waterfalls along the way, too.
Flowing from the Talamanca mountain range into the Caribbean Sea south of the Tortuguero NP, the River Pacuare is just over 100km long. Day trips (over US$100) that include transportation, lunch, necessary equipment, and briefing are available from the capital city of Costa Rica.
To join the Pacuare River rafting, participants need to be at least 12 years old during the dry season (Dec-May) and 14 years old during the wet season.
Find The Perfect Souvenir At Sarchi
By driving along the Route 1 northwest from San Jose, you arrive in the town of Sarchi within an hour. Famous for colourful, traditional oxcarts, Sarchi is a Costa Rican artisan centre that excels in handicrafts. Besides traditional masks, appliances, jewellery, and works of art, you can browse among elegant and stylish tables, chairs, and other furniture.
The purpose of the oxcarts on display in Sarchi is purely decorative. The oxcart is a symbol of Costa Rica that had an essential role in the country’s economy in the past. The highlight of Sarchi is a Catholic church painted in blue and pink that overlooks the town.
Experience The Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve
To experience something entirely different from the rest of the country, go to Monteverde, the gateway to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Located near the border of Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces, some 60km north of the Puntarenas port town, the Monteverde reserve boasts well-maintained suspension bridges and hiking paths leading to great viewpoints.
Once you access one of them, you may see vast expanses of forests in one moment, and then clouds obscuring them in the next. Note that the Monteverde Cloud Forest is home to about 10% of endemic plants. About 50% of wildlife species inhabiting Costa Rica dwell here, too.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve operates daily from 7 am to 4 pm, and the admission fee for international visitors is US$22. Dress well for a visit.
Surf, Party, And Shop At Tamarindo
Tamarindo is a coastal town in Guanacaste especially popular among surfers and partygoers. Accessible from Liberia Airport in about an hour, Tamarindo boasts waves suitable for rookie and expert surfers alike. If you don’t need much rest after daytime activities, enjoy yourself at pubs, discotheques, and clubs at night.
Tamarindo’s stores and art galleries provide attractive options for shopaholics and devotees of art, too. Visit Grande Beach at night to see turtles weighing a few hundred kilograms laying eggs and Langosta Beach during the day to relax and relish panoramic sunsets.
Hike Through The Tenorio Volcano National Park
Located south of the Nicaraguan border and east of Liberia, the Tenorio Volcano National Park is an excellent place for hiking in a forest, bathing in hot springs, and watching birds, tapirs, and other animals. As you hike, the monkeys inhabiting the Tenorio Volcano NP will greet you at the suspension bridges.
Eventually, the trail will take you to the Rio Celeste and the 30-meter tall Celeste Waterfall. Depending on your level of fitness, you will need between two and four hours to reach the Rio Celeste from the entrance to the park. The river features aquamarine waters whose beauty challenge reality.
Full-price ticket for international visitors is US$12 and opening hours are from 8 am to 2 pm daily. Arrive early to secure the ticket because the authorities limit the number of visitors. Approximate travel times to Tenorio are 3:30 hours from San Jose and up to two hours from Liberia by car.
Pump Up The Adrenaline At Rincon De La Vieja
Some 25km northeast of Liberia lies the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. Renowned for some of the best Costa Rican hot springs, Rincon de la Vieja features a smouldering volcano with two peaks and nine craters. Zip-lining, horse riding, hiking, and swimming are a few quite entertaining activities you can enjoy there.
Diverse wildlife inhabits various ecosystems of the Rincon de la Vieja National Park. While wandering around, you may spot tapirs, jaguars, emerald toucanets, and blue-capped motmots. After a prolonged hike, bath in the mud pit and take a swim afterwards to refresh yourself.
Opening hours of the Rincon de la Vieja are from 8 am to 3 pm except on Monday, and the full-price admission fee for foreign travellers is US$15.
Whale Watch At Drake Bay
Drake Bay, north of the Corcovado National Park, is where you should go to admire magnificent humpback whales and bottlenose and spotted dolphins. The migration season in this part of Costa Rica is the longest in the world, lasting from August until March.
Join a boat tour in Sierpe, and as soon as you leave mangrove forests behind, a group of spotted dolphins may surround you. Whales, in general, don’t mind humans accompanying them, but sometimes they may prefer to stay below the surface. While you are ashore, relax on secluded beaches of Drake Bay and explore the nearby tropical forests.
That’s A Wrap!
As you can see, Costa Rica is a paradise for naturalists, wanderers, vacationers, and adventurers. Since it is a small country, you don’t usually need to travel long to get from one attraction of Costa Rica to another.
You may have heard that Costa Rica is expensive compared to other Central American countries. The truth, however, is that you can tour Costa Rica on any budget with a few simple tricks and tips!