As an avid traveler and Costa Rica enthusiast, I'm delighted to share my favorite spots in this incredibly diverse country. From steamy jungles to mist-covered mountains to palm-lined beaches, Costa Rica has something for every type of traveler. Grab your passport and get ready for an unforgettable journey!
Known for its commitment to eco-tourism, Costa Rica offers travelers the chance to immerse themselves in untouched natural landscapes. Between its extensive national park systems and dedication to sustainability, this country makes it easy to experience pura vida – the "simple life" that encapsulates the Costa Rican mindset. With so much to see, planning the perfect itinerary can feel overwhelming. To help narrow it down, here are my top recommendations for must-visit destinations.
Soak Up Caribbean Vibes in Puerto Viejo
On Costa Rica's southern Caribbean coast, just 15 miles from the Panama border, the small surf town of Puerto Viejo emanates a delightfully rustic yet lively vibe. Backpackers bliss out in hammocks, while locals sell handmade crafts in the streets. Don't miss the chance to try Caribbean-influenced cuisine here. I recommend grabbing an arepa stuffed with beans and plantains at Soda Shekiná.
Budget travelers will love Hostel Pagalú, a social and environmentally-conscious hostel with free breakfast, yoga classes, and bike rentals. It's easy to lose track of time relaxing in Puerto Viejo, whether you spend your days surfing, lounging on the beach, or wandering between the colorful buildings.
Immerse Yourself in the Jungle at Tortuguero
For an unforgettable jungle immersion, head to Tortuguero on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast. Reachable only by boat or plane due to surrounding lagoons and canals, this secluded area will make you feel a world away. Tortuguero National Park protects over 20 miles of stunning beaches where sea turtles nest from July to October. Guided boat tours provide ample wildlife viewing opportunities to spot monkeys, sloths, caimans, and over 400 bird species.
I recommend La Casona, a laid-back eco-hostel with excellent wildlife guides and delicious Costa Rican meals. Don't miss a chance to stay here and experience turtle nesting season first-hand! Tortuguero offers an off-the-beaten-path adventure perfect for nature lovers.
Marvel at Volcanic Arenal and Nearby Adventures
No first visit to Costa Rica is complete without seeing the majestic Arenal Volcano. Situated at 1,670 meters in the province of Alajuela, Arenal Volcano remains active and has regular mild eruptions. Hiking trails like the Arenal 1968 Trail bring you directly to old lava flows for an up-close look at the volcano.
After gazing up at Arenal, unwind in the area's volcanic hot springs. I'm partial to Tabacón Hot Springs for its opulent cascading pools and luxurious spa treatments. Other activities around Arenal include canoeing, ziplining over the rainforest canopy, and spotting monkeys and sloths on suspension bridges.
For a conveniently located hostel, check out Arenal Backpackers Resort with its pool, bar, and volcano views. Arenal offers nonstop mountain adventures!
Find Beaches and Rainforests in Manuel Antonio
The best of both worlds awaits in Manuel Antonio National Park on Costa Rica's central Pacific coast. Lush rainforests full of wildlife border idyllic beaches with azure waters and palm trees. This is one of Costa Rica's most beautiful destinations. Don't miss the cathedral-like Punta Catedral viewpoint or keep an eye out for monkeys, iguanas, toucans, and sloths. Early morning visits are best for wildlife viewing before the beach crowds arrive.
After exploring the park, relax at an oceanview hostel like Vista Serena Hostel. They offer private rooms and dorms, along with surfboard rentals and yoga classes. With so much to do between hiking, snorkeling, surfing, and simply relaxing on Manuel Antonio's beaches, you may want to stay a while!
Immerse Yourself in the Majestic Monteverde Cloud Forest
For nature lovers, Monteverde Cloud Forest is a must-visit when traveling to Costa Rica. These expansive cloud forests in north-central Costa Rica contain astounding biodiversity, with over 400 bird species and 100 different mammals. Don't miss a walk across the famous hanging bridges suspended over lush ravines. This offers prime birdwatching for a chance to glimpse the resplendent quetzal, Monteverde's most beautiful resident.
I recommend staying at Cloud Forest Lodge, located right by the reserve entrance. Their observation deck overlooks the continuous mist and lush vegetation of this magical place. Make sure to book early since this small eco-lodge fills up fast. The cooler, mistier weather of Monteverde also makes it one of the most comfortable regions to hike.
Discover Laid-back Santa Teresa Beach
Imagine walking along empty sandy beaches collecting seashells, then watching the sunset with new friends. The fishing village of Santa Teresa offers this quintessential Costa Rican escape for travelers craving hammocks and bonfires more than sightseeing.
After surfing Santa Teresa's famous waves, refuel at The Bakery, serving up delicious breakfast sandwiches and treats. In the evenings, lounge around the pool at Selina Santa Teresa, a trendy beach hostel chain with yoga, salsa dancing, and surf lessons.
With its welcoming community vibe, Santa Teresa tends to attract nomadic travelers and digital nomads. It's easy to lose track of time in this hippie-chic beach town.
Conclusion: Get Ready to Fall in Love with Costa Rica!
From steamy jungles to secluded beaches, Costa Rica overflows with natural beauty waiting to be explored. As you plan your travels, I hope these destination recommendations help inspire your own adventure. Remember that advanced booking - especially during high season - is crucial for accommodation and activities. And don't forget to pack binoculars, hiking boots, and an eco-friendly mindset.
With so much diversity across its landscapes and ecosystems, Costa Rica offers something for every type of traveler. Have an amazing journey filled with pura vida! Feel free to reach out if you need any other Costa Rica trip-planning tips. I'm always happy to talk about travel and share advice for having the best experience in one of my favorite countries.