Best Places To Visit In Costa Rica During Vacations


Written by Angie Vargas
January 11, 2016

Manuel Antonio is a small town in the Central Pacific of Puntarenas, and it is one of the most beautiful and richest wildlife spots in Costa Rica, having its own National Park called Manuel Antonio.


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 we 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, but also, don’t forget to look over our best Costa Rica vacation packages. These ones have been prepared taking into account all the places you will find here, considering what you want to experience during your Costa Rica vacations.

Most of the popular places to visit in Costa Rica can be enjoyed by everyone… The country has the perfect destinations to satisfy the needs and likes of 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 for having a good time of relax.


The Poás Volcano National Park is one of the most visited attractions of the country thanks to its proximity with the San José city.


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 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 to Doka Coffee Estate and a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, 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 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.


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 it doesn’t 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. Also you can treat yourself with a hot stone massage or a volcanic mud wrap in one of the incredible spas located in the hotels of the area.

The weather in this region is varied, the annual temperature ranges between 21ºC and 28ºC and the rainy season goes from May to January, but it changes a lot during the day so we recommend you to be prepared for both, rainy and sunny days.

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Video Arenal National Park



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 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.


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.



Video La Fortuna Waterfall



Manuel Antonio is a small town in the Central Pacific of Puntarenas, and it is one of the most beautiful and richest wildlife spots in Costa Rica, having its own National Park called Manuel Antonio.


Celeste River

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.



Video Celeste River



Manuel Antonio is a small town in the Central Pacific of Puntarenas, and it is one of the most beautiful and richest wildlife spots in Costa Rica, having its own National Park called Manuel Antonio.


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, hiking in the National Park, ATVs, and many more activities. Besides, we recommended this paradisiac destination in the Pacific region of Costa Rica 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, among other benefits of planning your vacations to Costa Rica such as a great weather and a cool beach ambiance.

Something very important to know is that there are no all-inclusive resorts in this area, and the lodging here is mainly composed by small boutique hotels immersed in the forest, each one featuring its unique and characteristic style.

The area is also well-known for its multiple places for dining out. Here you can find a wide variety of Costa Rican typical food and international cuisine, just for the delight of all its visitors.



Video Manuel Antonio National Park



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 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.

You can always think about renting a car, but we do not recommend this option because you will lose some valuable time trying to get there by road, the driving distance is considerably huge. That’s why we always suggest to take a domestic flight to the area… You will save a lot of travelling time.

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 approach to the natural beauties of the country and its biodiverse wildlife, before you decide to include the Corcovado National Park on your vacation package to Costa Rica.

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 that you rarely will find in another part of the world.

Another important thing to take into consideration is that here, the weather conditions are extreme during several months. There are some months such as September and October where most of the lodges are closed due to the rains… an important fact to consider if you are planning to add this amazing adventure to your itinerary.



Video Corcovado National Park



Tortuguero National Park is a set of water canals and it is locally known as the Amazonas of Costa Rica.


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 minute. Besides, you can choose a road trip of 3 hours approximately and after that a boat ride through the canals of the Tortuguero River for about 2 hours approximately.

Recommended for: Family vacations, wildlife and nature lovers.


Tortuguero is a unique destination a jewel among the lush green of Costa Rica. 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.



Video Tortuguero National Park



Chirripó is the 38th most prominent peak in the world. In terms of Holdridge life zones, the park can be categorized into five ecosystems. - Wikipedia


Chirripó National Park

Nearest airport: Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) – 161 km, 3 hours and 40 minutes approximately. Driving to Pérez Zeledón.

** There is an airstrip in Pérez Zeledón used for domestic flights. A flight from San José will take you up here in about 30 minutes. To get there, most people drive through the locally known “Cerro de la Muerte”; the highest point of the Inter-American Highway.

Recommended for: Adventure, hiking tours, nature lovers.


Chirripó is one of the Costa Rica’s wilder national parks. Despite the fact of the climate and the lush vegetation that make it son wild, the park is accessible by foot. The only thing about it is that you have to be in good shape to hike through this mysterious park.

The park is located in San Isidro del General, encompassing parts of three provinces of the country: San José, Cartago and Limón. The place was stablished as national park in 1975, in order to protect the great biodiversity of the area, which constitutes a fascinating spot for biologists, nature lovers and adventure seekers. This place is a must see if you love challenges and if you are having some Costa Rica vacations!

This National Park is Costa Rica’s highest peak, that’s why hikers find here a challenging adventure of hiking. Besides the challenge of conquering the Cerro Chirripó, there are a lot of trails that can be found in here travelling through a bunch of diverse ecological zones. Here, you can find more biodiversity that the one you can probably find in other entire countries.

Here, at the highest point of the country, the views are incredibly spectacular, allowing visitors see both, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, at the same time on clear days. It is an exquisite delight for nature lovers and also for those who want to add an unforgettable experience to their Costa Rica adventure vacations.

At Chirripó park headquarters you will find maps and guides available to help you enjoy in a better way your hiking experience. You must be prepared to experience an intense journey so it is a good advice to train previously to be prepared physically and psychologically to face the challenge of climbing the mountain.

The natural landscapes will vary as you climb the mountain from the pastures which are located at 3,300 feet (1000 meters) of elevation near the town of San Gerardo de Rivas. Then, through the climb you will find the paramo landscape (also known as tundra ecosystem) near the peak, approximately at 12,530 feet (or 3,819 meters).

If you are thinking about camping here, then you should know that this activity is not allowed here, in order to protect the ecosystems; but, you can find some shelters (locally known as “refugios”) where you can spend the night before starting your adventure to the top of the mountain.

The first shelter is located at Llano Bonito, half way up. The second one is the main “refugio” and it is found about two kilometers from the peak. You can start climbing after spending the night here. The last shelter is located some few kilometers north of the Chirripó. There are other lodging options, you just ask us for the ones that are in and near San Gerardo de Rivas.

Chirripó National Park Video

from Manu


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.


Guanacaste Beaches

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 located in Tamarindo which is used for domestic flights between different destinations inside Costa Rica. A flight from San José will take you up here in 45 minutes, instead of the approximately 5 hours that will take you a road trip from the Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Recommended for: Family vacations, beach vacations, surf vacations, diving vacations, all inclusive vacations.


The Guanacaste beaches are known around the world, in fact, a lot of famous personalities have chosen this destination for their Costa Rica 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, horseback riding, swimming, or simply taking sunbaths.

Tamarindo is a picturesque town with a great nightlife and an amazing surfing culture.


Tamarindo

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 both 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 Santamaria International Airport, a road trip of approximately 3 hours will take you up here passing by incredible plains with the most beautiful landscapes.

Here in Tamarindo you will find great accommodations, perfect for different budgets and also for different kind of visitors. The area also has a great nightlife ambiance, and it offers a variety of cuisines, ideal to spend a great time dining out. Here you can find a well-developed area, with lots of shops, stores, and fun for turn your vacations in Costa Rica into something memorable.



Video Tamarindo Beach



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.


Papagayo Peninsula

Specially recommended for: Diving vacations


The Papagayo Peninsula is one of the best places for diving tours in Costa Rica. This is not only a luxurious peninsula, where the best 5-star hotels of the Guanacaste beaches such as Four Seasons Resort and Andaz Papagayo Resort can be found, but also this destination is world known for the breathtaking diving spots it offers and its majestic views.

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 Santamaria 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 is an amazing cloud forest that has been named several times as one of the most beautiful forests of the world.


Monteverde Cloud Forest

Nearest airport: Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) – 135 km, 2 hours and 30 minutes approximately

Recommended for: Wildlife and nature lovers, volunteering groups, couples, and families.


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.

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Besides this, Monteverde is a pretty amazing destination for adventure seekers too, because it offers night walks, zip line tours, wildlife tours, among others.  

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.



Video Monteverde Cloud Forest



Puerto Viejo is located in the province of Limón, in the Caribbean part of Costa Rica.


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 masive. Combining Tamarindo and Puerto Viejo for example, is a perfect idea for a surfing vacation package in Costa Rica.

Something important to consider while arranging your vacations to this paradisiac destination is that there are no large all-inclusive resorts here and most of the accommodations are small lodges, hostels, tents and hammocks. A completely different experience that you will not regret at all after spending some days in this part of the country.

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.

You will love the lots of 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.



Video Puerto Viejo beach



Map of the Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica


Learn More About Travel Vacations in Costa Rica from the Experts:

Costa Rica Guia
Resort Guia
Arenal Guia
Manuel Antonio Guia
Guanacaste Guia
Tamarindo Guia
Food Guia

Please leave us a comment with tips or opinions about Costa Rica Beaches. TravelExcellence.com and our community wants to read from you:

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  • Rachel Booker

    nice reviews

    2016-08-28
  • Mousumi Khan

    Love this article. Pretty accurate. I used your advise while travelling there in September 2016. Arenal volcano is beautiful. White water rafting is amazing. I 'll go back there for rafting.

    2016-09-24
  • Ellinor

    I read your article and I must say that your shared all these places are the perfect as traveling point of view. Corcovado National Park is also famous destination and my favourite too. I had incredible time there before mine Tour Bus when I was visited this most amazing an adorable park. I really enjoyed there hiking and photography. It is a best place for outing and I will love to go there again in my free time for having enjoyment.

    2017-02-14
  • James

    Manuel Antonio National Park is a most adorable and lovely destination for visit around the world. I had remarkable time there before my tours bus with my friends during my holidays. We all had huge fun there through different activities like hiking, camping and photography. It is a best place where you can enjoy some time with family and kids.

    2016-12-08

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