13 best places to visit in Costa Rica
Are you ready to say Buenos Dias to Costa Rica? We know we are! The land of beautiful beaches, lush green rainforest and vibrant cities is always a part of every traveller’s bucket list. So, if you’re ready for the adventure of a lifetime, Costa Rica is ready for you! With surfing, zip-lining and countless other activities to enjoy, not to mention the staggering wildlife on offer, it’s a country that can’t fail to impress. Plus, its inhabitants are officially some of the happiest on the planet.
Don’t worry though, if you’re not the adventure type, there’s plenty of gorgeous beaches, walking trails and more to get your zen on. That’s why, whether you’re thinking about heading to Costa Rica to relax, explore or adventure (or to do all three) we’ve pulled together our list of the best places to visit while you’re there that cover it all.
The best part? You can tick most of these off your list when you travel on the Viva Costa Rica trip with Contiki!
The misty Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of the most surreal sights to see in Costa Rica – and it is considered one of the most sustainable tourism destinations in the world. Home to 2,500 plant species, 400 varieties of birds and more than 100 types of mammals including sloths and howler monkeys it’s no wonder why this forest is a must visit while you’re in Costa Rica. Take a stroll through the misty forest and suspension bridges on the Sky Walk, try out the Sky Trek zip-lining tour, or learn all about authentic Costa Rican coffee on our Don Juan Coffee tour. Monteverde’s got it all!
2. Playa Tamarindo
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an expert or just starting at surfing, one of Costa Rica’s best surf and party destinations is Playa Tamarindo. This gorgeous spot is known for its free-spirited vibe and golden beaches. Wondering what else you can do there outside of surfing? You can spend a few days swimming and snorkelling in the town’s best spots or embrace the beachy vibes by watching the waves and taking a walk. Nature lovers can head to nearby Marino Las Baulas National Park to walk in the forests and scope out turtles.
On Contiki’s Viva Costa Rica tour, one of the best Free Time Add Ons to enjoy in this beach town is the afternoon catamaran cruise on the turquoise waters in Playa Tamarindo.
3. Arenal Volcano (La Fortuna)
Visit famous Arenal Volcano, an active stratovolcano in a near-perfect symmetrical shape. This photogenic peak is surrounded by pastured green hills and the beautiful Lake Arenal, not to mention, geothermal hot springs with healing properties. From your Contiki base in the nearby La Fortuna, you can check out hiking trails around the volcano, canyoneering in Arenal or take a waterfall hike in La Fortuna. You’ll also get the chance to learn all about how chocolate is made when you visit mainland Arenal on our tour.
Image source:Costa Rica
4. La Fortuna (for a waterfall hike)
Even if you’re not a hiker, this is something you’ll want to experience since it’s definitely one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. In La Fortuna, on Contiki’s Viva Costa Rica trip, you’ll be able to explore lush, green landscapes and see gorgeous waterfalls up close and personal. This hike is one you’ll never forget as you pause to take in the scenery, listen to nature’s sounds and explore every corner that the trail has to offer.
5. Manuel Antonio National Park
One of the most iconic spots along Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is Manuel Antonio. This spot is a national park with ancient rainforests, light sand beaches, crystal clear waters and beautiful coral reefs. Thanks to its ideal location just outside of San Jose and Quepos, it’s a popular destination for keen adventurers looking to try out snorkelling, diving, sea-kayaking, mountain biking and more. It’s also a must-visit for animal lovers, with squirrel monkeys, sloths, birds and other cool creatures to spot.
Tortuguero is known as the best place in Costa Rica to see turtles – and in 2021 Contiki launched its very own Turtle Trek in Tortuguero. The village in Tortuguero National Park is known for its rainforest-covered beaches, which are home to green sea turtle nesting sites. On Contiki’s new trip, you’ll visit the Sea Turtle Conservancy, take a boat tour of the Tortuguero Canals, enjoy a guided night tour of the Tortuguero Beach and Turtle Breeding Area and more.
Image source:Jeremy Bishop / Unsplash
7. Cocos Island
Calling all Jurassic Park lovers! Cocos Island off the coast of Costa Rica is widely known as the inspiration for the famous Dinosaur flick. And the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Island, which is also a national park, is every bit as pretty in person as it is in the films.
The uninhabited island is perfect for nature lovers, especially if you’re into scuba diving, thanks to its impressive locals (think: hammerhead sharks, rays and dolphins). Those who prefer to stay on dry land will have plenty to keep them entertained with hiking trails that lead you through gorgeous lush forests. The island is a whopping 550km off the Costa Rican coastline though, so it takes about 36 hours to reach by boat from the Port of Puntarenas.
8. Playa Jaco
Another beachy town with a fun party atmosphere, Playa Jaco is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica for a relaxing vacation. With the picturesque Jaco Beach and proximity to a pristine rainforest, adventurous travellers can try their hand at activities like surfing, white-water rating and ATV expeditions. You’ll get to stay here on Contiki’s Viva Costa Rica trip and experience your very own taste of paradise.
Image source:Courtney Hall / Unsplash
9. Poas Volcano
Costa Rica is home to more than one volcano and this one’s another must-see for the list. The volcano we’re talking about? It’s Poas. This active stratovolcano with twin calderas and striking turquoise sulphur lakes makes you feel like you’re in a whole other world. Find your way up to the viewing platforms where you can take in the enormity of the volcano and surrounding 14,000 acres of parkland, or take a walk on the wild side on one of the hiking trails to explore the geothermal landscape. Make sure your camera has a good charge, because you’re not going to want to forget these sights since it’s one of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
The largest national park in Costa Rica, Corcovado offers up tropical rainforest, mangrove swamps, beautiful beaches and – best of all – an abundance of unique wildlife. As one of the most biodiverse regions in Costa Rica, this spot is home to animals including the endangered Baird’s tapir, American crocodile, bull sharks, sloths (we love them), all four Costa Rican monkey species and cats like jaguars, pumas and ocelots. It’s a real tropical safari! You can try out a number of hiking trails or guided tours to make the most of this wildlife extravaganza.
11. San José
Welcome to Costa Rica’s capital! This is one of the best places to visit for its sheer contrast to all the rich, immersive nature that surrounds it. All in balance, we say.
Come here to experience art, culture, colonial architecture, cool nightlife, a buzzing vibe and more. And of course, there’ll be plenty of opportunities to interact with the local ‘Ticos’ (men) and ‘Ticas’ (women). Check out the famous Gold Museum, or visit local vendors to try some traditional Costa Rican foods whilst you’re here.
12. Braulio Carrillo National Park
Northeast of San Jose, sits a stunning, protected national park in Costa Rica with dense, lush forests that will make your jaw drop you as you arrive. Braulio Carrillo National Park is home to over 500 species of birds and over 150 species of mammals, including our personal fave, the howler-monkey, jaguars and even raccoons, which you can try and spot on one of the many hiking trails on offer through the canopy layers. Just remember to bring a rain jacket because the rainforest stays wet all year round! But it’s worth it for the abundance of flowers, fauna and rich biodiversity that you’ll find when you visit, which is what makes it one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.
We drive through this enchanting side of Costa Rica on route to Tortuguero.
Sarapiqui is a location in the north-central part of Costa Rica, one that’s best known for its sustainability and fertile land. Here, you’ll find a community committed to eco-conscious living plus you get to breathe in some of the cleanest air around.
Sarapiqui also includes a massive river to go white-water rafting down. Yep, adrenaline junkies, this one’s for you! The fun activity is featured as an add-on in our Viva Costa Rica trip, but if that’s not your thing, you can soak up nature and simply enjoy serene moments of calm in this beautiful spot for a day.
Whatever the case, you’re sure to find something that takes your fancy when you visit Costa Rica. And this beautiful country is now open for visitors from all over the world, without the need to quarantine on arrival. Check out our Viva Costa Rica full itinerary for the low-down and start planning your trip today.
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