Costa Rica's strikingly diverse terrain – lush forests, wildlife reserves, and tropical beaches – offers a little something for every traveler. Beach lovers staying along the Pacific Coast should head to Guanacaste and the Nicoya Peninsula's palm-fringed coastline for sun and surf. Nature-seekers staying in the Northern Plains or along the Caribbean coast should pay a visit to Puerto Viejo de Talamanca before venturing inland to zip line above Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and hike Arenal Volcano. Whether you seek sun, nature or adventure, there's much to discover in this paradise. Below is a list of things to see on your vacation to Costa Rica.
San José. Costa Rica’s capital is located in the center of the country making it a great hub. Soaring offices, apartment buildings and museums will tower above you as you roam through the city's interconnected barrios (districts). Barrio Amón is popular with tourists for its centuries-old mansions and photo-worthy architecture. Barrio Escalante is equally popular for its variety of restaurants, bars, cafes and bakeries. If you plan on staying in the city for a few days before connecting elsewhere, consider heading downtown to explore the exquisite collections at the Jade Museum and Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Both facilities house dazzling and rare pre-Columbian artifacts.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Aside from the famous waterfalls, La Paz also includes an aviary, hummingbird garden, butterfly garden, reptiles, big cats and more. The gardens are the most popular tour from San José have recently been restored.
Arenal Volcano. Arenal, one of the world's most active volcanoes, stands more than 5,000 feet high. For the latter half of the 20th century, admirers traveled to its base in droves to catch a glimpse of glowing rocks and molten lava tumbling down its sides. But Arenal wasn't always spewing fiery lava, rocks and ash. The volcano sat dormant for hundreds of years, but on July 29, 1968, Arenal awoke from its slumber. A thunderous earthquake shook the area and a subsequent explosion of lava wiped out three nearby villages. Frequent eruptions continued until 2010, when the volcano re-entered a non-active state. Today, travelers head to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which sits in an ideal viewing spot along the volcano's northern side. Arenal is often concealed by a thick layer of fog, but if you visit between February and April, you will have a better chance of unobstructed views.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. The village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, located on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, comes alive with reggae music, funky bamboo bars and a wild nightlife. Surfers crowd coconut-fringed Cocles Beach; nature-lovers venture inland to explore rainforests; and foodies check out downtown's delectable cuisine. Off the beaten path, you'll find dusty biking and walking paths running through tropical farms and gardens. Along the coast, you'll discover remote bungalows and empty stretches of sand.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens. Short for Catarata La Paz (or "peace waterfall"), La Paz may seem quiet and still at first glance. But take another look, and you'll find this rainforest buzzing with activity. From croaking frogs and fluttering butterflies to rumbling jaguars and howling spider monkeys, there are plenty of creatures to be found in this wildlife-lover's paradise. And there is much for nature-seekers to admire too, from the garden's five flowing waterfalls to its colorful orchids and sea of leafy green canopies.
Corcovado. Corcovado National Park is on the remote Osa Peninsula in southwestern Costa Rica. Established in 1975, the park covers an area of 424 square kilometers, making it the largest park in the country. Though more popular than it used to be, it’s still a very rugged, quiet, and off-the-beaten-path destination in a country where almost everything is on the beaten path. The peninsula is not easy to get to (which helps keep tourists away), but your efforts will be greatly rewarded with deserted beaches, tons of wildlife, great hiking, camping, and lots of marine life.
Poas Volcano. A great day trip from San José, Poas Volcano is an active stratovolcano with twin calderas filled with sulfur lakes. The lakes are so still, you’ll look at your picture and think you painted the color on. The volcanos last erupted in 2017, and have actually erupted 40 times since 1828! There are some small trails around the area too. Arrive early in the morning to avoid the clouds closing in and ruining the view.
The Stone Spheres. Down in the Osa Peninsula is Finca 6, a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site and museum dedicated to the stone spheres of Costa Rica. The purpose of the spheres have not yet been determined and have been one of the biggest mysteries in Costa Rican history. This is a great off the beaten path activity near Sierpe and incredibly interesting. It’s also an excellent cheap activity in Costa Rica. However, you will need your own transportation. You can also book a tour which includes transportation and a bilingual guide.