Best of Destinations
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2012
From verdant rainforests to fiery volcanoes and balmy beaches to cool cloud forest, Costa Rica packs much of the world's biodiversity into one small package. We’ve traveled all over and are often asked about our favorite places and top recommendations. The truth is that all of Costa Rica promises amazing travel opportunities throughout the year. Join us on a tour through Costa Rica’s highlights and discover our favorite destinations—both popular and off the tourist trail.
With 800 miles of gorgeous coastline, it’s easy to see why Costa Rica is named the “rich coast.” White and black sand beaches line the Caribbean and Pacific shores, offering a year-round utopia of warm water, gentle waves, and a menagerie of wildlife.
- Cabo Matapalo: On the tip of the Osa Peninsula, this pristine beach offers the best of raw nature: colossal strangler fig trees, vibrant scarlet macaws and consistent surf are just part of the appeal.
- Playa Conchal: With its pink-sand beach and turquoise ocean, Playa Conchal our uncontested favorite. Playa Grande, one of the world’s most important leatherback turtle nesting spots, takes a close second.
- Manzanillo: This secluded southern Caribbean beach is one of the country’s most picturesque. Sea almond trees line the shore and one of Costa Rica’s two living coral reefs affordincredible snorkeling.
- Santa Teresa: With some of the best waves in the country, this Nicoya Peninsula beach town is a veritable surfer’s dream. Nothing compares to a Santa Teresa sunset – the intense purples and pinks over the horizon will make you fall in love.
Step into a wonderland of trees that seemingly drip with emeralds where birds come in colors that rival rainbows. Cloud forests, or high-altitude rainforests, are one of the world’s most unique ecosystems, offering spectacular vistas and unforgettable wildlife encounters.
- Chirripo National Park: Climb Costa Rica’s highest peak at 12,533 feet and discover the area’s distinctive glacial valleys and paramo. Experience a variety of microclimates and extreme environmental contrasts in this national park.
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: Varied elevations promote unbelievable biodiversity in this landmark reserve. Try your luck spotting tiny tree frogs, jaguars and ocelots. The Monteverde area is one of Costa Rica’s resplendent quetzal hotspots – try to visit from March-July, during the birds’ mating season.
- San Gerardo de Dota: The cool highlands of this hidden gem offer some of the best birding in the country, with peak quetzal season between December and June. Explore scenic trails on foot or horseback and glimpse the pristine Savegre Waterfall.
Costa Rica is home to several indigenous groups that live on government-protected land where their ancient traditions, culture and heritage can be observed today.
- Osa Peninsula: Immerse yourself in Guaymi culture at the Guaymi indigenous reservation. Watch community women fashion jewelry and handmade dolls, while men weave elaborate Panama hats made out of plant leaves and fibers. The 300,000 square-foot reserve is a short walk from Corcovado National Park’s Los Patos ranger station.
- San Isidro del General: An ideal base for visits to both the Durika and Boruca Indigenous Reserves, where travelers are invited to experience shaman tours, traditional festivities and other highlights of indigenous rural tourism.
- Southern Caribbean: Visit the indigenous Bribri, Cabecar and Kekoldicommunities near the towns of Puerto Viejo or Cahuita. Enjoy one of the reserve’s delectable chocolate tours and get insight to their traditional ways of life and work.
National Parks and Refuges
More than 26% of Costa Rica’s total landmass is designated a protected park, reserve or wildlife refuge, offering countless outdoor experiences.
- Carara National Park: A crucial sanctuary for the endangered scarlet macaw, this park also hosts enormous American crocodiles, colorful toucans and myriad other wildlife species.
- Curu Wildlife Refuge: This lush animal oasis is home to kinkajous, pumas, whitetail deer and more. Swing by the refuge’s monkey sanctuary, a safe haven that rehabilitates wounded and abandoned spider monkeys.
- Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge: Step into primal nature as you explore the refuge’s mangrove swamps, rainforest, coral reefs and sublime beaches. Tread lightly; the refuge protects nearly 70% of the southern Caribbean coast.
- Tortuguero National Park: One of the world’s most important turtle nesting sites, where four species of marine turtle – loggerhead, leatherback, hawksbill, and green sea turtle – nest from March through October each year. Book a turtle tour to observe nesting and learn more about these gentle giants.
Experience the quintessential Costa Rica, where thriving jungle overflows onto secluded hiking paths, wildlife forgets to be shy, and a brilliant sun burns orange in the evening sky.
- Braulio Carrillo National Park: Often overlooked in favor of its coastal counterparts, Heredia’s Braulio Carrillo boasts roaring waterfalls, untouched rainforest, and a natural slice of untouristed Costa Rica.
- Corcovado National Park: Corcovado is one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth, and home to 13 distinct types of forest. Covering nearly 70% of the Osa Peninsula, the park hosts large populations of rare and endangered species like the Baird’s tapir, white-lipped peccaries, and at least four species of wildcat.
- Manuel Antonio National Park: One of Costa Rica’s most popular parks, Manuel Antonio is a haven for over 100 mammal species including the highly endangered squirrel monkey. Green trees and brilliant flowers spill over into the Pacific Ocean, andturquoise water beckons visitors to enjoy a swim.
Tropical Dry Forest
Many of the world’s rare and endangered animals live exclusively in tropical dry forests, making these disappearing habitats one of the best destinations for wildlife watching and unique outdoor experiences.
- Barra Honda National Park: Test your spelunking skills and mingle with cave dwellers like bats and blind salamanders in this phenomenal park. Only 19 of the park’s 42 caves have ever been explored, with two open to the public. Above ground, its forest-covered hills and plains are home to armadillos, deer, and white-faced monkeys.
- Palo Verde National Park: A mosaic of 15 distinct habitats, Palo Verde protects more than450 animal species. Glimpse elegant egrets, ibis and 15-foot American crocodiles along luxuriant riverbanks.
- Santa Rosa National Park: One of the oldest national parks in Costa Rica, Santa Rosa protects the world’s largest remaining tract of dry forest. The park’s diversity ranges from world-famous surfing at Witch’s Rock to nesting Olive Ridley sea turtles.
From daily eruptions to quiet dormancy, Costa Rica’s 200 volcanic formations offer the best in molten mountains. As an added bonus, visitors are welcome to relax in healing waters at the country’s volcano-fed, restorative hot springs.
- Arenal Volcano: Costa Rica’s most active volcano, Arenal’s major claim to fame is a nightly lava show – its near-perfect cone rumbles with ash, smoke and red-hot rocks more than 20 times daily. The area’s volcanic hot springs come in a very close second.
- Poas Volcano: One of the most accessible volcanoes in the Americas, Poas is home to three craters, the largest boiling lagoon in the world, and a picturesque cold-water lake.
- Rincon de la Vieja Volcano: The third-most active Costa Rican volcano, this one million-year old giant is surrounded by healing hot springs, nine contiguous craters and several hiking trails that wind their way to intense volcano views.