Costa Rica feels like at least three countries mixed into one! It has elements of being a surfer's paradise, a hub for incredible wildlife and nature, and a bohemian laidback beach country.
There are dozens of towns and regions, each with its particular charm and list of activities. Because of that, it's hard to pick which spot to visit and where to stay while in Costa Rica.
When planning your trip, knowing what experience you want to have is essential.
Are you seeking a romantic getaway for two, or do you want to party and meet new people daily? Are you a surfer or a yogi, or maybe both? Beach or forest? Or maybe, you want to do it all!
With that in mind, here are 8 of the best and most famous cities and areas to stay in Costa Rica. These locations have lots of different hotels and hostels and lots of things to do and see!
Learn more from the rest of our Costa Rica series…
- Navigate Costa Rican airports like a local
- Stay at a Costa Rica hostels that won’t disappoint
- Don’t miss out on these local spots—the best places to go in Costa Rica
- 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
Best Places to Stay in Costa Rica
Tamarindo is one of the first areas discovered by tourists in Costa Rica, and it remains one of the most popular destinations for those who want to party by the ocean until the sun comes up.
Tamarindo has a rich backpacker culture and many hostels where you can stay for an affordable price. Close by the Playa Grande and visit turtle nesting season. You can also explore the nearby wildlife at the Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge.
Tamarindo is also a popular surfing destination. If you're a beginner,there are lots of places where you can get a lesson. Some of the best waves in Costa Rica are here, so there are always surfers on the water.
Kayaking, diving, and snorkeling are also popular activities, and there are many other water sports for you to experience. You could even ride a horse by the beach or zip line over the sea. You will never run out of things to do here!
2. Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is where you will find the reggae, laid-back vibe of the Caribbean. Embrace the Rasta colors and how slow the time can move on the Atlantic side of Costa Rica, with lots of Jamaican influences on the culture and food. Have a cocktail by the beach and ride a bike back to your hotel or a restaurant.
Find famous beaches like Montezuma, with a bohemian vibe to them. Mingle with like-minded backpackers who seek relaxation and low SPF sunscreens. Enjoy the Pura Vida that Costa Rica is so famous for.
Monteverde is famous for its cloud forest, protecting locals and visitors from the sunlight and allowing for days with a lot of exploration while escaping from the tropical heat.
In this 10,500-hectare reserve, you can indulge in ecotourism and become one with nature. The clouds that seem to hover over the trees are already reason enough to visit Monteverde and stay for a couple of days.
There are plenty of hotels in town, and most of them embrace the eco-friendly vibe of the place.
If you're a bird-watcher, this is your paradise. There are hundreds of bird species in Monteverde and plenty of tours that take you into their natural habitat. Spot migratory species depending on the season, and let your tour guide fill you in on the wonders of the Costa Rican ecosystem.
For coffee lovers, you can also go on a tour to visit some of the most popular coffee plantations in the country!
4. La Fortuna
La Fortuna is ideal for those who seek adventure in the middle of the forest.
It is seen as the entryway to the Arenal Volcano National Park, where you can find unique wildlife, ziplines, and many trekking options that lead you straight to the famous Costa Rican Arenal volcano.
Hike through lava fields and try rock climbing as well. The Balsa Rives is perfect for white water rafting, and the nearby waterfalls are a refreshing way to rest from trekking in the jungle. When you're tired, you can relax in hot water springs across La Fortuna.
5. San José
San José is the epicenter of Costa Rican culture. An urban jungle in the middle of all the natural wilderness, this is where you will find the majority of the country's population.
As the capital city of Costa Rica, San Jose has everything a cosmopolitan tourist wishes to find: shopping opportunities all over the place, some of the best restaurants and bars in the country, and amazing clubs that make the nightlife in Costa Rica unforgettable.
Aside from that, here you can discover much of Costa Rica's history. Visit museums, learn about the country and its people, and look at the governmental buildings, important landmarks, and places like the national auditorium.
6. Manuel Antonio
The Manuel Antonio National Park is an extensive stretch of land that holds some of the richest fauna and flora of Costa Rica, and there are plenty of tours and treks for you to explore it all.
Like Monteverde and La Fortuna, Manuel Antonio is perfect for those who enjoy wildlife and all the adventures you can find in the jungle. However, it is also extremely close to the beach, so it can attend to the needs and desires of those who prefer the ocean over the forest.
7. Peninsula Papagayo
If you're seeking a little luxury, it is worth staying at Peninsula Papagayo.
This is an exclusive spot of Golfo de Papagayo in the country's northwestern part, where you can find close-to-empty beaches and intact wildlife.
Because of its natural beauty and preserved landscape, Peninsula Papagayo has become the spot where people come to spend a little extra money and enjoy the perks of this lavish piece of land.
There are two five-star resorts and lots of extravagant rental homes here. Also, find elegant restaurants and even a golf course.
The famous Pura Vida life of Costa Rica seems to be concentrated in Nosara.
Here you will find the wellness mecca of surfing in the morning, practicing yoga as the sun goes down, and eating some of the freshest food you will ever try.
There are many different beaches for different surfing levels, so you can start easy at Playa Guiones and even join a surfing camp to improve your skills.
Many retreats combine surfing and yoga lessons for full-on mindfulness and a healthy experience. Open-air yoga studios in front of the ocean make you feel like one with nature.
Tired of the beach? Hike on the hillside covered by thick forests.
Plan Your Trip With Pilot
Costa Rica is a country filled with something for everyone. With the wide array of things to do and see, you'll want to make the most of your trip. Make your planning experience easy and fun with Pilot.