Costa Rica is one of the most-visited countries in Central America. American tourists have been flocking to the country for years, and it’s become a hot spot for retirees and expats due to its cheap living, great weather, amazing beaches, and friendly locals. I’ve been to the country twice and have absolutely loved it both times. It’s actually one of my top five favorite places in the world. Because it’s not as cheap as its neighbors, many budget travelers skip over Costa Rica. But in my opinion, the beauty of the destinations below is worth the extra price:
Located on the Caribbean coast, this city is popular with young people and backpackers because of its great beaches, surfing, and party atmosphere. The town is very lively, and you’ll find something going on every night. It’s probably the most popular destination on the Caribbean coast. There are also many quiet beach hotels around for those who are looking for some peace and quiet.
Cahuita, a tiny town situated right next to a stunning national park with the same name, is about an hour north of Puerto Viejo. Cahuita is a place to relax. There’s one bar in town that gets lively (sometimes it’s half full!), but for the most part, after a day of hiking, animal spotting, swimming, or surfing, most people just sit around and read.
Tortuguero, the Costa Rican version of the Amazon rainforest, dominates the northern coast. This massive area is a series of rivers and canals that crisscross the jungle. The biggest draws to this area are the large numbers of turtles (hence the name Tortuguero) that come to nest along the shoreline. The best time to see them nesting is in April and May, but if you’re visiting during the off-season, you’ll still be able to go hiking and participate in canal cruises. There’s lots of wildlife to see year-round.
Corcovado National Park is on the remote Osa peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica. Though more popular than it used to be, it’s still a very rugged, quiet, and off-the-beaten-path destination in a country where almost everything is on the beaten path. The peninsula is not easy to get to (which helps keep tourists away) but your efforts will be greatly rewarded with deserted beaches, tons of wildlife, great hiking, camping, and lots of marine life. It’s one of the best places in the country.
Arenal, one of Costa Rica’s many volcanoes, still erupts from time to time. If you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see lava flowing down the volcano. (Don’t worry! The lava just oozes—no huge explosions. It’s completely safe to visit.) The area also has a great waterfall (La Fortuna), a national park with great hiking, sunset views over the lake, outdoor activities, and famous hot springs. With so much to do, it’s no wonder it’s one of the most-visited places in the country.
READ MORE: How to visit and explore Arenal
A popular beach destination on the Pacific coast, Manuel Antonio’s wide, white-sand beaches and warm blue waters aren’t the only attractions people come for. A nearby national park with great hiking trails, a number of secluded beaches to choose from, and the chance to view three different kinds of native monkeys are all additional reasons for visiting this beautiful area in Costa Rica.
READ MORE: What to see and do in Manuel Antonio
The nation’s premier cloud forest is the home to the elusive Quetzal birds. Most people come to Monteverde for a glimpse of this rare bird. Monteverde, which rests right on the continental divide, experiences high winds and unusual weather patterns. The entire area is very green and wet. Witness it all on a zip-line adventure through the tree canopy or explore some of the sky bridges in the area.
READ MORE: What to see and do in Monteverde
A great day trip from San Jose, Poas Volcano is a dormant volcano with twin calderas filled with sulfur lakes. The lakes are so still, you’ll look at your picture and think you painted the color on. There are some small trails around the area too. Arrive early in the morning to avoid the clouds closing in and ruining the view.
At the bottom of the Nicoya coast is the hippie backpacker town of Santa Theresa. This “town” is really nothing more than a beach with a road lined with eateries, yoga centers, surf shops, and hostels. Everyone gets up early to hit the waves, so the overall atmosphere in town is pretty relaxed. You won’t find a lot of crazy parties here. Santa Theresa is a good place to lie on the beach, hang out with people, and relax. Because of the “chill” vibe, many people end up staying in Santa Theresa for weeks, and even months, on end.
Everything in Costa Rica is a bit touristy, but despite the crowds, Costa Rica is a land filled with diverse wildlife and great natural beauty. The two times I’ve been here won’t be the last. I never get tired of jungles, white-sand beaches, amazing sunsets, and warm, clear water.
If you’re planning your trip to Costa Rica, visit my guide to planning a trip there. You’ll find everything you need in one place.