Costa Rica seems to have it all. As we have reached our 6 month mark in calling this amazing country home, we've realized how diverse the landscape in Costa Rica truly is. Everything from waterfalls to white, sandy beaches, active volcanos to misty cloud forests, Costa Rica is one destination that will satisfy almost any type of traveler.
While every traveler and blogger will have a different "must-see" list for when visiting Costa Rica, many blogs end up having the same places so I've tried to add a few off the beaten path places to mine. Also, while some places may not be in my top places to see doesn't mean they aren't worth checking out. Costa Rica is such a beautiful and unique country and every inch of its landscape is worth visiting!
So with that said, check out my top must-see sites while visiting Costa Rica !
The Arenal Volcano is an iconic image of Costa Rica and one many visitors recognize. Its giant structure towers over the surrounding land and it takes your breath away the first time you lay eyes on it. While the national park is a great hike and there are dozens of adrenaline-pumping activities, what draws many people to this part of the country are the hot springs.
Thanks to the volcano, thermal water pools can be found all over this area and its a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate after a day of hiking or zip lining. There is nothing more exotic than soaking in a volcanic, thermal pool beneath the rainforest. Check out which hot spring is right for you if you decide to make the trip to Arenal.
Arenal is one of my top three favorite destinations in Costa Rica. Its incredibly beautiful and there is so much to do! Between zip lining, whitewater rafting, wildlife spotting and spa days, every type of traveler will find something they love!
Costa Rica has several active volcanoes inside its borders. One of the country's most beautiful and visited volcano is the Paos Volano which is only a 1.5 hour drive from San Jose. Its a perfect day trip from Costa Rica's capital city and well worth the visit.
The volcano has two calderas that are filled with sulphur lakes which are a bright, blue color. The water looks almost surreal as clouds enclose around the caldera. The hike to the volcano is an easy walk amongst Costa Rica's beautiful wildlife. It does get busy so try and make the trip early in the morning. While it can be difficult to see the lakes without cloud coverage, its well worth making the quick hike to Paos.
*Currently, the Paos Volcano National Park is closed since the volcano is active. It will remain closed until further notice.
With 80 miles of pristine beaches along the Pacific Ocean, the Nicoya Peninsula is a secluded yet beautiful part of Costa Rica. In the past several years, tourism has really boomed in the beach towns along the peninsula as travelers discovered the remote and breathtaking shorelines.
The atmosphere in Nicoya is always chill as people are looking to simply relax and enjoy the sunset or surf its famous waves. Some of the most popular beaches are Santa Teresa, Montezuma, and Samara but there are dozens of sleepy beach towns waiting for you. Grab an Imperial, order a ceviche and watch some of the most beautiful sunsets in the country!
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica's most popular beach destinations and my favorite day trip from our home in Dominical. While the national park's pristine, white beaches are a huge draw for tourists, the wildlife and hiking trails are worth the trip all in itself.
Boasting the title as the smallest national park in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio makes up for its size in its beauty and diverse wildlife. There are four types of monkeys, colorful birds, bats, giant butterflies, iguanas, and my personal favorite, sloths! As you walk along the trails, you can sometimes hear the howler monkeys in the distance and see bright butterflies flying through the trees. Its pretty magical and fun to try and spot all of the creatures in the park.
The trails throughout Manuel Antonio are well-maintained and make for an easy hike for all ages. There are several secluded beaches along the trails that welcome you with clear, blue water and white sand. Its perfect for snorkeling or simply relaxing after your hike.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Picture yourself standing beneath the towering rainforest, completely covered in mist and low hanging clouds while spotting some of the world's most unique animals. Welcome to Monteverde!
While Monteverde isn't a secret in the traveling community, its definitely a must if you are planning a trip to Costa Rica. The 27,700 acre reserve boasts some of the most beautiful sights and wildlife in the country. I recommended to take a hanging bridge tour to feel fully immersed in the forest and see Monteverde from a different perspective. For a more action-packed tour, try zip lining through Monteverde and get your adrenaline pumping!
If you are an avid bird watcher, Monteverde is the destination for you. There are 400 types of birds in the reserve and several tours you can take to catch a glimpse of some of the most exotic and beautiful birds in the world.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
The Pacific Coast in Costa Rica boasts some of the country's most popular destinations with the Caribbean coastline often getting overlooked. The reason? The Caribbean coast is more difficult to reach but this is why Puerto Viejo is a must see!
Many tourists don't make the trek to Puerto Viejo which has allowed the Caribbean coast to maintain its laidback and authentic culture. The small port town sits an hour south of Limon and is popular among the younger crowds and backpackers. Famous for its surfing, Puerto Viejo has recently become more popular because of its mix of white-sand beaches, lush vegetation and location to several national parks.
Known for its eccentric culture, Puerto Viejo is an ideal trip for those looking for remote bungalows, reggae fueled bars and easy access to secluded beaches.
Like most locations in Costa Rica, pictures just don't do the Rio Celeste justice. The crystal blue water that sits below the waterfall at Rio Celeste can only be described as magical. It doesn't seem possible that this iridescent blue could exist naturally in the rainforest. But due to good ole' science, two rivers meeting and the reflection of the sun, this pool its bright, enchanting color.
Photo by Bruce Thomson
Located about four hours from San Jose (give or take traffic) and 2 hours from Fortuna, Rio Celeste is definitely a trek to get to. Renting a car is highly recommended as public transportation would be a long and exhausting trip with several bus changes. After you arrive at the Tenorio Volcano National Park, you will still have a 45 minutes hike to reach your final destination. The trail is fairly easy for novice hikers but it is known to be muddy so bring the right attire.
Atfter your quick hike you will be welcomed by the beautiful waterfall plummeting into the Rio Celeste. While you can't swim in the pool, the beauty of the water and surrounding jungle is a sweet reward for your trek.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Located only 15 minutes from the iconic Arenal Volcano lies one of the tallest waterfalls in Costa Rica, La Fortuna. Known to the locals as Catarata Fortuna (Fortune waterfall), it is an impressive display of nature's sheer power. Hidden deep in the forest, getting to the waterfall adds to the appeal of La Fortuna. The waterfall waits for you at the bottom of a 480 step staircase and you can hear the roar of the water way before you can see it. The water plummets 70 feet down into a pool below which is perfect for cooling off in after your hike.
Standing before La Fortuna is humbling. Its massive size makes you feel so small and you can feel the strength of the water as it falls into the blue pool below. You can relax for awhile hidden beneath nature while enjoying one of the most beautiful sites in Costa Rica.
Miles away from souvenir shops and crowded tour groups lies Drake Bay. Located on the northern side of the Osa Peninsula in southern Costa Rica, Drake Bay is a hidden gem.
The raw beauty and nearly untouched by tourism, this bay is a nature lover's paradise. When visiting the bay, you will truly feel unplugged and isolated from the rest of the world. The jungle surrounding Drake Bay is full of diverse wildlife and one of the most biologically diverse rainforest in Central America.
What keeps Drake Bay is so special is how remote the destination is. The road to the bay is closed during most of the rainy season and even difficult to access throughout the rest of the year. Take a flight on Sansa or a boat taxi from Sierpe are recommend. While this trip isn't for every traveler, its unique charm allows any visitor to take a peak into the natural wonders of Costa Rica. No busy streets, no stress, and no tourists allows you to escape the day-to-day hassles and simply enjoy the Pacific Ocean and connect with nature.
Tucked away on the Nicaraguan border lies one of Costa Rica's most sought out destinations, Guanacaste. This region, known as the Gold Coast, contrasts other popular destinations, like Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, in that the it is mostly dry and desert-like due to its rare dry-rainforest. White, sandy beaches and a thriving cowboy culture draw many tourists to the area.
Guanacaste boasts some of Costa Rica's most beautiful and popular beaches (Tamarindo, Flamingo, Conchal, etc.) with dozens of outdoor activities that make it a perfect trip for any type of traveler. Between surfing, zip lining, hiking volcanoes, snorkeling, scuba diving and simply relaxing by the beach, Guanacaste is popular for a reason! While it can be very hot during the dry season, its the perfect location to enjoy the sunshine and tranquil lifestyle of Costa Rica.
So I am a bit biased on this destination. Actually, very biased since we call Dominical home but anyone who has visited Costa Rica will agree that Dominical is a must-see. Our family decided to move to Dominical because we love the natural beaches and the friendly, laid back culture of the small surf town. If you are looking to beat the crows but want to surf and enjoy the beach with access to lush rainforests, Dominical is the place for you.
Before the Costanera Sur highway was built, Dominical was way off the beaten path and hidden to most tourists. After the highway, Dominical has seen a large increase in tourism but has been able to maintain its small town charm. There are no chain hotels or restaurants, the roads are bumpy and unpaved, and locals and tourists all seem to known one another. Its a breath of fresh air from the commercialized towns like Tamarindo.
The beaches along the coast in Dominical have great surfing which draws many tourists. The beaches are dark in color and usually rocky which gives them a natural beauty. The mountains surrounding the coast tower over the beach creating a unique contrast from the green rainforest to the blue ocean. Its one of my favorite things about the beaches in Dominical. Also, Dominical is basically green all year round thanks to the rainforest. So no matter when you visit you will be welcomed with a lush and green landscape.
Tortuguero National Park
Ever since I was a little girl, sea turtles have been my favorite animal. They are incredible creatures that have a sense of peace that has always drawn me in. So it only makes sense that one of my must-see sites in Costa Rica has some of the best spots to see sea turtles.
Known as Costa Rica's Amazon, Tortuguero National Park sits along the northeastern coastline and draws tourists every year for its large number of turtles who build their nests along the beaches. The national park contains rivers and canals that cut through the rainforest which gives any visitor up close encounters with the wildlife. Tortuguero is very remote so nature-seekers will be able to feel very isolated and fully immersed in the jungle.
Its best to see the national park by boat so you can spot the nesting sea turtles and the various other animals and reptiles. Inside Tortuguero you can spot white-faced monkeys, toucans, jaguars, red-eyed frogs and blue morpho butterflies.