With a name that means “Rich Coast” in Spanish, Costa Rica is a Central American gem that combines spectacular nature and affordability. Relax on white sand beaches, hike through a cloud forest, witness bright lava flowing from an active volcano, snap photos of cascading waterfalls, zipline among the treetops in lush rainforests or soak in natural hot springs. Beautiful year round, the most popular time to visit is December through April (which is considered the dryer season). Here are seven places to inspire you to start planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Costa Rica!
#1 Tortuguero National Park
Costa Rica’s “Little Amazon” is just a short ride from San Jose. Experience lush rainforests, rich biodiversity, banana plantations and scenic waterways. Enjoy taking pictures of exotic wildlife including toucans, monkeys, sloth, iguanas, caimans, herons and more. Home to a stunning Caribbean beach, it’s also where sea turtles come to lay their eggs from July to October. While here, be sure to rent a canoe, kayak or enjoy a boat tour through the park’s extensive network of freshwater creeks and lagoons.
See Tortuguero National Park on a day tour from San Jose or enjoy it as part of six-day Costa Rica adventure.
#2 Poas Volcano National Park
The Poas is one of the most spectacular volcanoes in Costa Rica and rises 8,884 feet (2,708 meters) above sea level. Upon arrival, it’s just a short walk to the caldera, which sits in one of the world’s largest volcanic craters. Discover a bubbling turquoise lake inside the crater which erupts into a geyser 820 feet (250 meters) in the air!
Note: Be sure to book your entry tickets in advance since you will not be able to buy tickets at the location. (Even better, skip the hassle and see it on a guided day trip or as a part of a Costa Rica tour.)
#3 La Paz Waterfall and Gardens
Not too far from Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall and Gardens is just about an hour drive from San Jose. Featuring several stunning waterfalls, this park is also home to wildlife enclosures featuring jungle cats, frogs, birds, snakes, monkeys, and butterflies. (Technically, zoos are illegal in Costa Rica but these are mostly rescue animals.) If you want to see more waterfalls, the impressive Catarata del Toro is also close by.
#4 Playa Samara
Located in the scenic Guanacaste province, Playa Samara is one of Costa Rica’s most gorgeous white sand beaches. Situated on a palm tree-lined, crescent shaped section of the Caribbean coast, its tranquil turquoise waters are the perfect place to relax and soak in the sun. Or, enjoy a wide variety of outdoor activities including horseback riding, fishing, swimming, stand up paddleboarding, snorkeling and yoga. Playa Samara also offers an authentic Costa Rican beach town experience complete with local shopping, dining and more.
#5 Monteverde Cloud Forest
As its name implies, Monteverde Cloud Forest is a magical place! Imagine walking through a lush green rainforest enveloped in white clouds thousands of feet above sea level. One of the most diverse ecosystems in the world, it features a wide variety of plants, animals and over 500 species of birds. Monteverde is also home to numerous waterfalls, a thrilling zipline course and long pedestrian bridges that stretch as much as 500 feet (150 meters) and are more than 200 feet (60 meters) high.
#6 Manuel Antonio National Park
Named one of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world by Forbes magazine, Manuel Antonio is a must see on any trip to Costa Rica. Located on the Pacific Coast side of the country, the national park is home to three beautiful white sand beaches popular for their colorful sunsets. Espadilla Sur Beach and Manuel Antonio Beach are about a 30-minute hike from the main entrance and are perfect for relaxing, swimming, snorkeling or taking surf lessons. The park also contains a rainforest full of exotic wildlife including three types of monkeys.
#7 Arenal Volcano National Park
Located just 80 miles from San Jose, this iconic destination boasts amazing hiking, waterfall rappelling, therapeutic hot springs and the Arenal Volcano, an active volcano with lava flowing consistently since 1968. It’s an amazing sight not to miss and can be experienced safely on a guided hike. The park also contains Chato Volcano, an inactive volcano with a stunning blue lagoon in its collapsed caldera; a lush rainforest full of diverse wildlife and Lake Arenal, the largest lake in Costa Rica.
For more trip ideas and things to do in Central America, click here.