A lot of people dream of going to Costa Rica. This country is famous for its laidback atmosphere, amazing natural scenery, and incredible beaches. In fact, if you’re looking for places to visit in Costa Rica, you’ll be spoiled for choice no matter what type of activities you like to do when you’re on vacation.
Costa Rica may be a dream destination, but it isn’t always easy to travel there. It’s a huge country, and people who prefer more established travel destinations may struggle to plan a trip there. That’s why we’ve created this guide to which places to visit Costa Rica, so you can work out exactly what you want to see while you’re there and how to get the most from your trip.
Need a place quick? Here’s the best neighbourhood in Costa Rica:
San Jose, the capital city, is very vibrant and has a lot to offer. It is also the perfect base for exploring the country thanks to its central location. From here you’ll be able to enjoy convenient access to all of Costa Rica’s top landmarks, sightseeing attractions and major tourist centres.
- Explore the Ruinas de Ujarras.
- See a performance or take a tour of the elegant Teatro Nacional Costa Rica.
- Take a stroll through Parque Central.
These are the BEST Places to Visit in Costa Rica!
Are you ready to take the plunge and discover all that Costa Rica has to offer? That’s great, but wait just a minute and check out where to stay in Costa Rica first. Think Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – you’ll need food and shelter before you start exploring.
#1 – Arenal – A very cool place in Costa Rica to go for a day
Why it’s so awesome: Arenal is an active volcano that soars more than 1,600 meters above the jungles of Alajuela. It’s located just outside of San Jose and is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica. Aside from its aesthetic appeal, the entire area also offers a range of outdoor activities and sites including waterfalls, hiking trails, bridle paths, and animal encounters.
What to do there: You’ll need a reasonable level of physical fitness to get the most from this destination, but there’s something for everyone there. If you want to explore on foot, then try the hiking trails that crisscross the landscapes. You can also do white water rafting on the river rapids, explore the jungle on swinging wire bridges, or go horse-riding. Just remember that the volcano is still active, which just adds a touch of excitement to the experience!
#2 – Territorio de Zaguates
Why it’s so awesome: This mountainside sanctuary otherwise known as the Land of Strays has been saving the stray dogs of Costa Rica for years. Over the years, it’s taken in thousands of animals from the more than a million strays in the country, and visitors are an important part of the animals’ rehabilitation.
What to do there: If you like dogs, then you’ll enjoy taking the two-mile hike through the park. You’ll have the company of hundreds of dogs of all kinds, shapes and sizes, and playing with the friendly crowd will probably be one of the highlights of your trip. It also helps get the dogs used to being among humans again so they can be adopted. And this means that you’ll walk away with the amazing feeling of making the world better, one pat at a time! It’s a great spot to visit if you’re not sure where to go in Costa Rica.
#3 – Rio Celeste
Why it’s so awesome: Wondering where to go in Costa Rica for some stunning pictures? Check out Rio Celeste. This is an absolutely beautiful looking river that looks unbelievable in pics, so make sure you bring your camera with you. The color comes from the place where two clearwater rivers combine and their minerals create an optical illusion at a point called El Tenidero or the Dyer. The river itself is located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park, but it curves outside of the park at certain points.
What to do there: People who see photos of this river usually think that it’s been photoshopped, but the truth is that it’s really that bright, clear color. The best way to see it is to hike to Laguna Azul and then head back towards the waterfall. You can’t swim inside of the national park but ask the locals about the places where the river curves out of the park. They tend to use these sections as hot springs, so you can take a dip for a small fee in these sections.
#4 – Witch’s Rock – An unknown (but awesome!) place to see in Costa Rica!
Why it’s so awesome: If you enjoy surfing, then you should try it in this area. Located just off Playa Naranjo and close to surf Mecca Tamarindo, this area was made famous in the surf film The Endless Summer II and for good reason. The rock is positioned perfectly to create world-class waves that are suitable for almost every surfer, and as an added bonus it’s also away from the crowds at better-known surf spots!
What to do there: You can paddle out to the break but it’s easier if you take a boat out there. This is the perfect place to visit in Costa Rica to go surfing no matter how good you are on the board, so just show up and work on your skills!
#5 – San Lucas Island Prison
Why it’s so awesome: For more than a century, this island housed Costa Rica’s most brutal prison. The prisoners endured conditions that are hard to imagine now. However, you can experience a small part of their suffering through the artworks they left behind, often etched in blood.
What to do there: If you have a strong stomach, then take the tour for the best experience. The artwork is often carved out in blood, whether the artist’s or someone else’s, and depicts naked women, religious imagery, and detailed images of the brutality and hopelessness experienced by those interred there. Definitely not for children or for the sensitive, but still an interesting place to visit in Costa Rica.
#6 – Teatro Nacional
Why it’s so awesome: This is one of the most beautiful buildings in the country, which is why it must be on your Costa Rica itinerary. It was opened in 1897 and features a neoclassical façade and ornate, gilded interior which have made it a cultural icon and source of national pride. Some of the best plays, concerts, operas and musical events are held at this venue and there’s also a museum with exhibits based on Italian artworks and sculptures.
What to do there: When you’re planning to backpack through Costa Rica, find out what’s on at this venue while you’re there and make sure you take in a show. You can also take a great tour of the building that will teach you about the building’s design features and finishes in the café for a drink or snack.
#7 – Parque Francisco Alvarado – One of the more unique places to visit in Costa Rica!
Why it’s so awesome: This garden is one of the most stunning in the world, which is why it’s also one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica. Created by a single artist, the hedges and shrubs offer the otherworldly experience of walking amongst dinosaurs, religious figures, and abstract human figures. It’s truly a masterpiece and deserves all the attention it gets.
What to do there: If you’re wondering where to go in Costa Rica for some peace and quiet, this is the right place for you. Take a few hours to explore this garden and the genius of its creator. Make sure that you have your camera with you too, so you can get lots of photos to remember your trip by. And make sure that you don’t miss the series of sculptured tree arches that have been positioned to form a naturally grown tunnel.
#8 – Iglesia de Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes
Why it’s so awesome: This church was constructed in the 1890s and was a technological marvel at the time. It’s made entirely of Belgian steel and still remains the most metal church in the world today. For a long time, people wondered why Belgian steel was used in its construction, though the reason turned out to be fairly ordinary. But today, it’s just a visually arresting church that’s painted red and white and is definitely more than it seems.
What to do there: This church is one of the most unusual in the world, which is why it’s one of the most unique places to visit in Costa Rica. Have a look at the unique construction, marvel at how it was made and put together, and make sure you take pictures to silence the skeptics back home.
#9 – Puerto Viejo – A great place to visit in Costa Rica if you are alone/traveling solo
Why it’s so awesome: If you’re looking for where to go in Costa Rica for great nightlife and amazing beach scene, then this Puerto Viejo is for you. It’s a lively place where backpackers congregate to swim, surf, and party, but there are also several beach resorts in the area if you want to enjoy the beach without the noise. There’s also a jaguar rescue center nearby where wildlife is rehabilitated and returned to the wild.
What to do there: This is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica if you want to enjoy some great nightlife. There’s always something going on at night in this area and during the day is just as lively because of the vibrant beach scene. You should also spend some time at the jaguar rescue center to support the important work done to protect and safeguard Costa Rica’s wildlife. There are also loads of great hostels in Puerto Viejo so finding somewhere to stay won’t be an issue.
#10 – Sloth Sanctuary
Why it’s so awesome: if you’ve ever seen the movie Ice Age and want to see a sloth close up, you’ll have plenty of chances at this sanctuary. Since its opening in 1992, the volunteers have raised more than 700 orphaned sloths, doing their part to protect and support this endangered animal. This is what makes this location one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica if you love cute little furballs.
What to do there: You can take the tour through this sloth sanctuary and explore it with the help of some very enthusiastic volunteers. The tour includes the learning center and enclosures so you can see the animals up close and learn about the very real threats to the two indigenous sloth breeds in Costa Rica. You can also adopt one of the sloths, though this doesn’t mean you can take it home.
#11 – Playa des los Artistas – One of the most romantic places to visit in Costa Rica!
Why it’s so awesome: Located on the outskirts of Montezuma, this restaurant was founded in 1994 and focuses on seafood with a Mediterranean twist. It’s one of the best places to visit Costa Rica for incredible food and is tucked away between the beach and the jungle in what might be one of the most romantic locations in the world.
What to do there: If you’re wondering where to go in Costa Rica for a bit of romantic vibes, this is the perfect place for a dinner date with your partner. It’s an incredibly atmospheric spot where you can sit at a rickety wooden table and dine by candlelight. You’ll also be able to eat some of the best and freshest seafood dishes of your life, so make sure that you’re hungry!
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#12 – Torteguero – A beautiful and scenic place to check out in Costa Rica
Why it’s so awesome: When you’re visiting this country, you absolutely must have as many animal encounters as possible and this is one of the best places in Costa Rica to do that. It stretches across a massive area and includes rivers and canals that crisscross the dense jungle. It’s also a known turtle nesting area, so if you’re there in the right season then make sure you check out this amazing sight!
What to do there: This area includes the Tortuguero National Park, which is one of the most well-known hotspots in Costa Rica for animals. If you’re in the area between April and May, make sure you visit the turtle nesting areas to experience this amazing spectacle. But even if you visit at other times of the year, you can also go hiking, take a canal cruise, or look for the other animals that live in this remarkable area.
Short on time and want to see as much as possible? Check out our sample itinerary for Costa Rica before visiting!
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#13 – Corcovado National Park – A nice non-touristy place to visit in Costa Rica
Why it’s so awesome: located in Southwestern Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula, this park was established in 1975 and covers 424 square kilometers, which makes it the largest park in the country. It’s a more off-the-beaten-path park than the others because it’s a little harder to get to. However, once you’re there you’ll be treated to deserted beaches, amazing hikes, lots of wildlife and marine life.
What to do there: This park is a Costa Rica must-do if you enjoy nature without all the tourists. Whatever you enjoy doing in nature, whether it’s hiking, camping, relaxing on the beach or looking for animals in the ocean, you’ll be able to do it in this park without fighting the crowds. This kind of peace and quiet is what makes this park so attractive to travelers and one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica!
#14 – Manuel Antonio
Why it’s so awesome: This beach area draws people by the thousands to enjoy the warm waters and white sands but there’s more. Manuel Antonio is close to a national park that’s home to secluded beaches, hiking trails, and is the home of three types of native monkeys. It’s a fairly busy park that gets over 150,000 visitors annually, so expect some crowds if you choose to experience this area. There are some nearby hostels in Manuel Antonio but do book in advance.
What to do there: You absolutely must spend some time at the beach when you’re in this part of Costa Rica. There’s nothing like swimming in clear blue, warm waters and enjoying the sunshine and white sands. But you can also get some physical activity in as well. The hiking is amazing in this area, and who doesn’t like seeing monkeys in their natural habitat?
#15 – Monteverde
Why it’s so awesome: Monteverde is one of the most popular eco-friendly tourism hubs in the country, which is why over 250,000 people visit there every year and you’ll find it on every Backpacking Costa Rica Travel Guide. This location is right on the continental divide and experiences high winds and unusual weather patterns, which is why it’s an incredibly verdant area. This climate makes it stunningly beautiful and draws in nature lovers from all walks of life. There are some great hostels in Monteverde that offer a comfy bed to rest your head, so you can start the next adventure ready and recharged.
What to do there: Go on a tour looking for the quetzal bird or explore on your own on foot or via zip line. The zip lines are a very popular option and will allow you to explore the area in the most exciting way possible. There are also a number of sky bridges in the area that you should visit as well.
Pssst! Haven’t packed yet? Check out our ultimate Costa Rica Packing List to know what to bring with you on your Costa Rica adventure!
#16 – Poas Volcano – One of the most amazing places in Costa Rica!
Why it’s so awesome: This is a remarkable scenic place that looks absolutely incredible in photos. It’s an active volcano with twin calderas that are filled with sulfur lakes. You obviously can’t swim, but in pictures, the colors look so still that you’ll think they were painted on. The volcanos are very active and last erupted in 2017. In fact, they’ve erupted 40 times since 1828, so be alert for more!
What to do there: You need to visit this place in Cost Rica early in the morning to avoid the crowds and before the clouds block the view. Take your camera and make sure you get lots of photos of the famous lakes before exploring the area in more depth (stay safe by standing back and not falling in the lake though, that is definitely not what we mean by exploring in depth). There are small trails around the area that are easy to navigate and will give you lots of vantage points for sightseeing and pictures.
#17 – Santa Theresa – A nice quiet place to see in Costa Rica
Why it’s so awesome: If you’re tired of cities and don’t want to party then you’ll love this small town. It’s a haven for hippie backpackers and is the perfect place to kick back and relax with some surfing and great food. The famously relaxed vibe in this area is addictive and people tend to stay much longer than they planned when they visit Santa Theresa as part of their Costa Rica itinerary. There’s also some great hostels in Santa Teresa too.
What to do there: This town is basically a road that’s lined with yoga retreats, eateries, surf shops, and hostels. There really isn’t much to do besides relax, surf, and eat amazing food at this awesome beach village in Costa Rica. There isn’t much nightlife in this area because most people like to get up early and hit the waves, which is why it’s the perfect place to recover if you’ve had a busy travel schedule. So, just show up, enjoy the beach, do some yoga, and have leisurely meals to the sounds of the waves.
#18 – Iglesia de San José de Orosi – One of the most underrated places to see in Costa Rica
Why it’s so awesome: Located in Orosi, this is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica if you’re interested in architecture as well as a more authentic way of life. It’s Costa Rica’s oldest church still in use and was inspired by Spanish-colonial architecture. There’s also a small museum and garden attached to the church that are worth exploring.
What to do there: Big cities are great, but sometimes it’s nice to visit a small town and get a glimpse of regular, everyday life. And if you visit this church, you’ll get the chance to do just that. So, make sure you admire the church and check out the museum with its interesting art and artifacts. Spend some time exploring the garden, and then get a coffee. This area is rumored to produce the best coffee in town because of the rich soil, so have a cup and make up your own mind.
#19 – The Basílica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles – One of the most religious places to see in Costa Rica
Why it’s so awesome: If you’re in Cartago, then you must visit this stunning basilica. It was inspired by Byzantine architecture and is heavily ornate, with amazing stained glass windows, hand-painted interiors and wooden alters that were carved with exquisite care. It’s also one of the most important religious landmarks in Costa Rica, with thousands of locals making the journey there to pray every year on August 2.
What to do there: If you’re in the country in August, then take the opportunity to be part of the religious pilgrimage to this basilica. It’s the home of the relic La Negrita, a small black rock that holds the image of the Virgin Mary. La Negrita is the patron saint of Costa Rica, and locals travel there every year to pray on August 2. But if you’re there at any other time of year, just take the time to explore this building with its stunning detail work and decoration.
#20 – The Diquís Spheres
Why it’s so awesome: You might be forgiven for thinking that these spheres are simply a strange trend in Costa Rican lawn ornaments. But the truth is that they have a much longer history than that. They were found in the 1930s when workers were clearing land and unexpectedly dug up huge numbers of perfectly round stone spheres. No one knows where they came from and now, they can be found on lawns all over Costa Rica.
What to do there: This history and purpose of these spheres is unknown. They likely belonged to an extinct civilization that has since been lost, but they’ve become an accepted part of modern Costa Rican life. Looking for them throughout the country is one of the most unusual things to do in Costa Rica. As a little hint, you’ll find six of them in the courtyard of Costa Rica’s National Museum in San Jose, but they can be found all over the country.
#21 – La Oveja Negra – A must-see for foodies!
Why it’s so awesome: You probably don’t think about Costa Rica in connection with food. This is a shame because exploring a country’s native dishes is one of the best things about traveling. If you want to try some authentic Costa Rican food, then you need to have a meal at La Oveja Negra.
What to do there: This is the perfect place to kick back and enjoy foods you’ve probably never heard of before. The restaurant is relaxed and rustic, no need to dress to the nines here, and the food is delicious and homey. One of the best dishes on the menu is the classic chifrijo with pork, rice, beans and lemon, but everything else is good too. And the restaurant offers a range of locally made beers that will delight your tongue if you’re a beer drinker too.
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Final Thoughts on the Coolest Places to Visit in Costa Rica
People who visit Costa Rica rave about the natural scenery, the friendly people, and the beaches and you will too after a trip, especially if you stay in one of these epic treehouses in Costa Rica! This tropical paradise is popular with all different types of travelers and exploring this country there isn’t as intimidating as you may think. With our help and guidance, you’ll be able to find all the best places to visit in Costa Rica with a minimum of trouble.
One last thing, if you’ve ever wondered whether travel in Central America is safe, Costa Rica is one of the safest countries to go to so definitely start here if you’ve got the jitters. You shouldn’t be worried though. Whilst it can be hectic, Central America is still a safe place to visit so long as you make the right decisions; you’ll come away with some of the best and most beautiful travel memories possible.
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