Costa Rica has endless destinations and attractions to see, and even when planning a vacation package is not difficult, it may take you a long time if you are not sure of what you want to see and do or if you don’t know what the country has to offer.
That’s why Travel Excellence, create this brief guide, to let you know the best places that you must visit if you decide to visit Costa Rica this year. We hope this guide can help you decide the destinations and attractions that you want to include in your itinerary.
Most of the popular places to visit in Costa Rica can be enjoyed by everyone… children, seniors, couples looking for romantic escapes, families, solo travelers; but of course, we know that there are special places for special occasions, so we also include in this guide a small section of recommendations depending if you are visiting the country for your honeymoon, looking for a natural encounter or to simply relax.
Poás Volcano National Park
Nearest airport: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) – 30 km, 45 minutes approximately
Recommended for: Family vacations
The Poás Volcano National Park is one of the most visited attractions of the country thanks to its proximity with the San José city and the international airport. Its main crater is one of the largest in the world and the expedition consist consists of a hike to the crater rim. A visit to this active volcano can be done as a one day tour or as a stop during a transfer to other destination such as Arenal. Besides, it can be combined with a coffee tour or a visit to La Paz Waterfall, which is a very good idea if you don’t have a lot of time in San José.
The weather in this park is humid and cold, with rain possibilities all year round and an average temperature of 15ºC This weather conditions make it possible to always have a lush, green vegetation around.
Arenal Volcano National Park
Nearest airport: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) – 135 km, 3 hours and 30 minutes approximately
** There is an airstrip in Arenal used for domestic flights. A flight from San José will take you up here in 25 minutes
Recommended for: Family vacations, honeymoon vacations, adventure vacations, wellness vacations
The Arenal Volcano National Park and its surroundings are full with a variety of conditions and attractions to please everyone. This means that no matter if you are looking for adventure, relaxation or a nature encounter, in this region you can find a variety of hotels and activities suitable for you.
Obviously its main attraction is the Arenal Volcano – a volcano that is currently in a resting phase – but the hot springs are also one of the wonders of this region. If you are looking for adventurous experiences, here you can enjoy of whitewater rafting tours, zip line tours, hikes, hanging bridges walks and a lot more; and after all that, you can simply relax in the hot spring pools while enjoying the incredible views of the volcano or treat yourself with a hot stone massage or a volcanic mud wrap in one of the incredible spas located in the hotels.
The weather in this region is varied, the annual temperature ranges between 21ºC and 28ºC and the rainy season goes from May to January.
Additional sites to see nearby:
There are two additional sites located near this region that we didn’t want to leave out. One is closer from the Arenal Volcano and the other one is a little bit longer but worth the trip.
La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall is located at a short distance from the hotels and you can get there combining a short car ride and a hike or taking a horse ride. It is a little bit challenging so it is better if you have a good physical condition to take this tour. Once you get to this 200 feet waterfall, you can enjoy of a refreshing swim or simply relax and have a picnic around.
One of the natural wonders of the country is without a doubt the Celeste River and maybe you have already heard about it, as it is one of the most famous places of Costa Rica. What makes it so special is the incredible light blue color of the water that seems to be artificially colored. To get here it is also important to have a good physical condition since the hike will last around 3 hours through the rain forest, more or less. It is no possible to swim in the river but getting to see this spectacular phenomena is more than enough.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Nearest airport: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) – 160 km, 3 hours approximately
** There is an airstrip in Manuel Antonio used for domestic flights. A flight from San José will take you up here in 25 minutes
Recommended for:Family vacations, beach vacations, adventure vacations, wildlife and nature encounters
This is maybe one of the most popular destinations in Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio National Park combines a variety of wildlife, a lush vegetation and an incredible beach, and that’s why it is one of the favorite places of families, couples and solo travelers.
Here you can find, as in Arenal, zip line tours, whitewater rafting tours, snorkeling tours, fishing expeditions and many more activities. Besides, in other article we recommended this destination as one of the best places to visit in December, since here you can enjoy incredible kayak tours in the sea or in an estuary.
Something very important to know is that there are no all-inclusive resorts in this area, and the lodging here is mainly small boutique hotels immersed in the forest.
Corcovado National Park
Nearest airport: The best way to get to Corcovado is taking an internal flight of 50 minutes from San José to the Puerto Jimenez airstrip, and from there, a boat ride that will take you directly to the park or the hotels nearby the park. A road trip from Juan Santamaría International Airport for example will take you more than 8 hours.
Recommended for: Wildlife and nature encounters
This is maybe one of our favorite recommendations, but we know that it is a really special destination so it is important that you are sure you want a real encounter with nature and wildlife before you decide to visit Corcovado.
Corcovado National Park was named by National Geographic as “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity» and that means that you will be immersed in one of the most amazing forests of the world. Here, of course, there are no roads. You have to take a boat to reach the small lodges and to the park and you will have no access to Wi-Fi or telephone signals. Corcovado is the perfect place to disconnect completely from the noise of the city.
Besides these conditions, the lodges of this region offer rustic-but-luxurious experiences, always focused on personalized services and knowing that if you decide to visit this part of the country is because you really want to live a different experience.
One important thing to take into account is that here, the weather conditions are extreme some months. There are some months such as September and October where most of the lodges are closed due to the rains.
Tortuguero National Park
Nearest airport: There is no way to get to Tortuguero by land. An internal flight from San José to the Tortuguero airstrip will take you up here in 30 minutes, or you can choose a road trip of 3 hours approximately and after that a boat ride through the canals of 2 hours approximately.
Recommended for: Family vacations, wildlife and nature encounters
Tortuguero is a unique destination. This National Park is a set of water canals and it is locally known as the Amazonas of Costa Rica. The best way to reach the town and the hotels of this destination is by boat, but you can also take a domestic flight. We recommend you to do at least one way by boat, since the ride throughout the canals is not a simply transfer but an amazing expedition in which it will be possible to see a lot of water birds, monkeys, crocodiles and the lush flora.
One of the best experiences that you can enjoy in Tortuguero is the turtle nesting. Every year from August to October, it is possible to see the nesting of the Green turtle. Tortuguero is a paradise for the turtles to come and nest their eggs, in fact, that’s the reason of its name. This experience is something that you and your family will never forget, so be sure that you don’t miss this tour if you visit this part of the country on those dates.
The weather in Tortuguero is very humid and it is one of the rainiest areas of the country. There is no dry season, but it is a fact that it rains less in February, March and October.
Nearest airport: Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIB) – no more than 1 hour, but will depend on the beach you want to visit
** There is an airstrip in Tamarindo used for domestic flights. A flight from San José will take you up here in 45 minutes, instead of 5 hours that will take you a road trip from Juan Santamaría International Airport
Recommended for: Family vacations, beach vacations, surf vacations, diving vacations
The Guanacaste beaches are known around the world, in fact, a lot of famous have chosen this destination for their vacations or even some of them has their own houses here. The 200 km of the Pacific coast are blessed with amazing weather and clear waters that have become a perfect place for surfing, diving, fishing, swimming or simply taking sunbaths.
Specially recommended for: Surfing vacations
Tamarindo is a picturesque town with a great nightlife and an amazing surfing culture. This town has become also one of the most famous places for surfing; in fact, most of the Costa Rica surf vacation packages include this destination, since it is recommended for beginners and pro surfers too.
As we said before, there is an airstrip in this town that makes it easier to come in and out of this destination, but if you are arriving to Juan Santamaría International Airport a road trip of 3 hours approximately will take you up here passing by incredible plains with the most beautiful landscapes.
Specially recommended for: Diving vacations
The Papagayo Peninsula is one of the best places for diving tours in Costa Rica. Besides being a luxurious peninsula, where are located the best 5-star hotels of the Guanacaste beaches such as Four Seasons Resort and Andaz Papagayo Resort, this destination is world known for the breathtaking breathtaking diving spots it offers.
Also, the Papagayo Peninsula hotels have some of the best and most popular golf courses of the country. If you are a golf player looking for a place to relax, pamper your family and enjoy some golfing time, this is the perfect place for you.
If you are arriving to Juan Santamaría International Airport, a road trip of 4 hours approximately will take you up here. Or you can arrive to Daniel Oduber international airport in Liberia, Guanacaste.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Nearest airport: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) – 135 km, 2 hours and 30 minutes approximately
Recommended for: Wildlife and nature encounters, volunteering groups
Monteverde Cloud Forest is an amazing cloud forest that has been named several times as one of the most beautiful forests of the world. This destination is a perfect place for the nature lovers and those looking for real natural encounters.
Several impressive birds can be seen here, but the most beautiful is the resplendent quetzal, a colorful bird that any bird lover will be happy to see.
Besides this, Monteverde is amazing destination for adventures seekers too. The most thrilling zip lines and hikes through the forest can be enjoyed here and combined with walks to explore the nature and wildlife of the place. A lot of volunteering groups of students and scientists visit this destination to do researches of flora and fauna.
The weather in this part of the country is rainy tropical, this means that the rainiest months are September and October and the ones with less rains are March and April. Besides, the coldest months are January and February.
Puerto Viejo Beach
Nearest airport: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) – 235 km, 3 hours and 30 minutes approximately
** There is an airstrip in Limón used for domestic flights. A flight from San José will take you up here in 30 minutes
Recommended for: Beach vacations, surfing vacations
Puerto Viejo is located in the province of Limón, in the Caribbean part of Costa Rica. This province is the region with most Afro-Caribbean influence in the country and this means that the culture, cuisine and lifestyle are different from the rest of the country.
Besides, Puerto Viejo beach has the best swell of the country, known as Salsa Brava. The beaches of this region are world known for being perfect for surfing and the surfing culture of this town is really big. Combining Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo for example, is a perfect idea for a surfing package in Costa Rica.
Something important to take into account is that there are no large all-inclusive resorts here and most of the accommodations are small lodges, hostels, tents and hammocks.
The weather of this region is opposite to the rest of the country, this means that the best months to visit the Caribbean side, Puerto Viejo and its nearby beaches are from September to November.
Source: Travel Excellence, Angie Vargas