Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful countries in Central America. It has an extensive coastline and a rich tropical landscape, making it the perfect destination for those who love beach vacations, surfing, and exploring waterfalls and wildlife. This makes it a mecca for nature lovers adventure travelers alike.
Costa Rica is a tropical country, meaning it is warm all year round! The best time to visit Costa Rica is from December to April during the dry season. There's plenty of sunshine and almost no rain during these months, making it peak tourist season and the perfect weather to enjoy the beach and explore the rainforest.
If you're considering getting away from the winter chills by visiting Costa Rica, you'll need to know more about the places and attractions that are worth seeing!
I've compelled a list of the top 10 places you should visit during your first trip to Costa Rica. I made sure to make my list a mix of some of Costa Rica's best beaches, in-land volcanos, parks to dive deep into the nature and rainforest of the country!
Learn more from the rest of our Costa Rica series…
- Navigate Costa Rican airports like a local
- Find the best areas to stay
- Stay at a Costa Rica hostels that won’t disappoint
- Add these exciting things to do to your trip plan
- Make time for a few guided tours during your adventure
- Spend the night out enjoying Costa Rica’s nightlife
- Want to simplify your planning? Follow this 5-day itinerary or 7-day trip plan
- Get our tips on budget travel in Costa Rica
- Discover the best advice for backpackers going to Costa Rica
- Find more helpful information if you’re a solo traveler
- Remember, camping in Costa Rica is also a great option!
- Dive into our snorkeling guide—essential tips and advice before you go
10 Place to See in Costa Rica
10. The Nicoya Peninsula
The Nicoya Peninsula is the 80-mile stretch of land that runs on the east coast of Costa Rica. FIlled with beach towns and green forests, it is one of the main tourist destinations in the country.
Here, you can find many hotels, resorts, and hostels for those on a tighter budget. The peninsula has some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, including Tamarindo Beach and Santa Teresa Beach, which I'll get into detail here.
Other famous highlights are the Nosara Beach, with amazing sunsets and rich sea life, for those who like to dive and snorkel. However, there are almost no shades on this beach, making it hard to spend the day during hotter months.
Montezuma is the bohemian beach of Nicoya, where the hippies gather to surf, enjoy the sun and eat at small, local cafés that stretch across the coast. Here, travelers can find affordable hotels and hostels, as well as waterfalls and other spots that haven't been tamed by tourism yet.
9. Tamarindo Beach
Tamarindo, located on the top of the Nicoya Peninsula, is one of the best surf destinations in Costa Rica. It has a beautiful and extensive beach, good food, and lots of hospitality options, making it one of the most popular spots for tourists in the country.
The waves in Tamarindo beach are suitable for both experienced surfers and beginners alike, so if you're on the fence about surfing lessons, this is the place to try them out! Also, visitors can find a vast array of adventures, like diving and snorkeling, ziplining, and turtle watching depending on the season.
The town of Tamarindo, which used to be a small fishing village, is now filled with hotels, shops, and restaurants, making it a haven for tourists. Here you can take surf lessons, chill at beach bars and even explore the jungle not so far from the white sanded beach.
It's the perfect destination for families with kids, couples on their honeymoon, and friends who want to have a good time.
8. Santa Teresa Beach
Santa Teresa is also one of the most popular spots in the Nicoya Peninsula. It is part of the Mal Pais zone, with plenty of other villages and beaches to explore.
Santa Teresa Beach is known for attracting backpackers and surfers, who seem never to want to leave. The mix of natural beauty and the development being made around the town makes it the ideal destination for those who enjoy a comfortable and exciting vacation to the beach.
Here you can catch some of the best waves of Central America, hike in the rainforest, and do some horseback riding by the beach. It is a very private beach, where visitors can enjoy relaxation and adventure, all at once.
If you're a fan of ecotourism, then Monteverde is the perfect spot for you! Here you will find unique wildlife and a dense forest that thrills every nature lover out there.
This forest is covered by many clouds, maintaining a cool temperature around it and sustaining its fauna and flora. Most visitors like to explore the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and the nearby Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reverse to do some birdwatching and observe the different species of reptiles, mammals, and many other types of animals.
The best way to visit the forest reserve is to join an organized hiking tour, preferably with local guide to better explain the wonders hidden in the jungle. There are also canopy tours available, including zip lines that stretch through the forest.
The town close to the reserves is also a popular tourist spot, with many hotels, hostels, and restaurants. Because of the humidity and the clouds covering the sky, it can sometimes get cold over there, so make sure to pack something warm for the nighttime.
6. Arenal Volcano
The Arenal Volcano National Park, not so far from Monteverde, is also one of the main attractions for those who love nature and hiking. The Arenal Volcano, the main sight in the park, is a tall, cone-shaped mountain with steam coming out of its crater.
In the forest around the volcano, visitors can explore the rich wildlife and biodiversity, with many mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. There are also waterfalls and old lava flows across the park.
Tourists can go up to the Arenal Observatory Lodge to better look at the volcano from a distance.
At the volcano's base, the small town of La Fortuna is also an exciting and charming sight, where you can find lodging.
5. Jacó Beach
Jacó Beach, on the east coast of Costa Rica, has the same attractions and amenities as a big city, perfect for those who want to find more comfort and escape the wildlife for a while.
Though Jacó isn't described as the prettiest beach in the country, you should definitely still visit the beach! It's filled with modern hotels, stores, good restaurants, and other perfect amenities for those seeking a cosmopolitan taste in their travels.
It is also the closest beachside to San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. Because of that, the town is filled with ex-pats and locals who want to spend some time by the beach, usually spending their day in Playa Blanca or Playa Mantas.
Jacó is also famous for having some of the best nightlife in Costa Rica, perfect for adults who want to dance and party until the sun comes up!
4. Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio is famous for its national park and for being the habitat of some endangered species of animals. This is also a popular destination for ecotourism lovers. Tourists can hike in the jungle exploring the biodiverse plants and animals Manuel Antonio offers.
Although the park isn't so big, it has many attractions and things to do. The beaches along the coastline have clear water and white sand, where beginner surfers can find gentle and smaller waves to catch.
The town of Manuel Antonio is also lively and filled with luxury hotels and hostels for those on a budget trip.
Its charm and accessibility make Manuel Antonio park one of the most popular tourist destinations in Costa Rica. Restaurants and stores stretch across the road by the beach, and the nighttime party scene isn't so bad either.
Corcovado Beach and National Park are part of the Osa Peninsula, in the southern part of Costa Rica. It is the largest park in the country, attracting travelers eager to explore its biodiversity, one of the largest in the world.
For those who enjoy long-distance hiking, this is the perfect destination. Also, there is the possibility of surfing and snorkeling along the coastline.
2. Puerto Viejo
On the west coast of Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo is the perfect entrance to the Caribbean world. For those who enjoy Jamaican culture and colors, be ready to become mesmerized by the coconut curries, reggae music, and lively nightlife of the town of Puerto Viejo.
Some of the beaches here, like Playa Cocles and Salsa Brava, are some of the best surf spots of the entire country of Costa Rica. Puerto Viejo is where the Costa Rican “pura vida” was born.
You can also find Cahuita Beach close to the town, another popular destination for beach lovers. The national park around it protects the largest coral reef in the country, ideal for diving and snorkeling.
And finally Tortuguero National Park, my favourite place to go! Off the Caribbean coast, Tortuguero National Park is a more remote destination than the ones above, ideal for those searching for an off-the-beaten-path activity. The park is accessible by plane or boat.
Here, the main activity is turtle watching, as it's one of the main breeding grounds for green sea turtles. The beaches, although beautiful, are not so great for swimming or surfing, as the currents can be too strong.
This is the ideal spot for hiking, where you can explore the rich wildlife in the park and go on boat rides through the canals. There are many different habitats here, so the biodiversity is extremely extensive.
There are no roads in Tortuguero, so organizing a tour beforehand can make it easier to see the park once you arrive. Inland, you can find beautiful blue lagoons and calm, relaxing rivers.
Plan your visit to Costa Rica with Pilot!
While you're visiting Costa Rica, it's easy to get lost in the amazing sceneries and views of the destination. You might even forget to visit some of the most amazing places the country has for you to see.
That's why I've made this list to make sure you've seen all that Costa Rica has to offer!
Before you fly off to the beautiful beaches in Costa Rica, make sure you're using Pilot to keep your travel plans organized, fun, and easily accessible!