Best places to visit in Costa Rica

Updated: 25th March 2021

Top 10 Destinations

Monteverde-National-Park-Costa Rica
Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #1


The nature reserve of Monteverde is set atop the spine of Costa Rica’s continental divide. Located in the north west of the country, it is surrounded by volcanic mountains and lush forest. Monteverde is best known for its cloud forest, so named as these forests stand at a high altitude surrounded by clouds that provide life-giving moisture. The moisture of the clouds and ever-present fog collects on branches of the tallest trees and drips down to the foliage below feeding entire ecosystems. A 13km network of trails with scenic overlooks runs through the forest and there is even a suspension bridge running 325ft long and 80-100ft high. Containing four ecological life zones, over 100 species of mammals, including the mysterious jaguar, 400 species of bird and 3,000 species of plant, Monteverde is a naturalist’s dream and a biodiversity hot spot.

Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #2

Tortuguero National Park

Situated on the north east Caribbean coast, Tortuguero is one of the most visited national parks in Costa Rica and is made up of a network of canals and dense rainforests. The name Tortuguero can be translated as ‘Region of Turtles’, and Tortuguero beach is the most important nesting site of endangered green turtles in the western hemisphere. The national park was established in 1970 with the purpose of protecting the turtles. With its incredible biological variety of rainforests, swamps, beaches and lagoons, Tortuguero is also home to a diverse range of wildlife. Its forests are home to jaguars, sloths, monkeys and lizards whilst the rivers within the park are the dwellings of sensitive populations of manatees and crocodiles. The river and canal systems of the park make it a great place to explore by boat.

Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #3

Manuel Antonio National Park

It may be Costa Rica’s smallest national park but Manuel Antonio is also one of its most diverse with 109 species of mammals and 184 species of bird. Established in 1972 is famous for its white sand beaches backed by evergreen forest. Situated on the Pacific coast, the park contains a variety of wildlife and twelve little islets off the shoreline, providing mating and nesting sites for a number of bird species. Punta Catedral is the best known island - with forest topped cliffs, it is connected to the mainland by a thin land bridge that divides two of the park’s beaches. The coral reefs along these beaches and islands present superb snorkelling opportunities and it’s also possible to try surfing, rafting, and kayaking, bird-watching and sport fishing. Visitors can also explore the mangrove forests and rocky islands along the park’s numerous hiking trails. Forested hillsides afford scenic vistas and are home to many of the animals, plants and flowers that are unique attractions of Costa Rica – sloths, monkeys, iguanas, toucans and scarlet monkeys.

Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #4

Cahuita National Park

Located along Costa Rica’s exotic Caribbean coast, Cahuita is a relaxing paradise. The National Park was set up in 1970 to protect the coral reef that runs along the coast, the largest reef in Costa Rica. The park is home to several ecological zones including swamp forest, rainforest, woodlands and coastal flora. Divers will find an underwater garden of marine life and the calm, warm waters are ideal for swimming and snorkelling. The wide array of fish found in these waters makes sport fishing another popular past time. Trails lead from the white sand beaches of the national park to the lush coastal rainforest behind, perfect for hikers and those who enjoy natural beauty. There is also a well maintained butterfly garden and a number of shipwrecks in the area. One of the best known is located north of the mouth of the River Perezoso, a ship believed to have transported slaves during the 18th century. According to local history, the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica was constantly visited by pirates. The village of Cahuita itself is a laid back and vibrant village with a unique Creole culture. With the unhurried parade of pedestrian traffic, the palm lined beaches and alluring Afro-Caribbean cuisine and way of life, Cahuita is a great place just to relax and soak up the atmosphere.

Arenal Volcano - Costa Rica Tours - On The Go Tours
Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #5


Of all the natural wonders that Costa Rica has to offer, the Arenal Volcano is definitely one of the best. Almost perfectly symmetrical and rising up to a height of over 1,600m, the volcano was active for decades, erupting daily until 2010 and has now entered a dormant phase. However, it is still an incredibly striking geographical feature and its even slopes make it a photographer’s dream. Surrounding the volcano is a huge stretch of wilderness, the Arenal Volcano National Park, where travellers can take part in some thrilling activities. Whitewater rafting, zip-lining and waterfall rappelling are all on offer as is a skytram, for those who want the incredible views without the adrenaline rush. There are also plenty of hiking routes that take visitors through the park, allowing them to get up close and personal with the stunning flora.

Corcovado National Park in Costa Rica - On The Go Tours
Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #6

Corcovado National Park

When you picture the lush rainforest and pristine beaches of Costa Rica, it is highly likely that what you are imagining is actually Corcovado National Park. The longstanding beauty queen of the country, this patch of wilderness is guaranteed to blow you away not just with its stunning swathes of thick, vivid vegetation but also with its astonishing biodiversity. It is believed that this national park is home to 10% of all the mammals found in the Americas, including the rare and endangered squirrel monkey. The park also boasts a range of birds, fish and reptiles as well as sparkling waterfalls and sandy shorelines. To make the most of your experience, consider spending 2-3 days hiking through the park. Camping is permitted and there is nothing more magical than drifting off to sleep surrounded by the sound of the cries and calls of the park’s wildlife.

Poas Volcano National Park in Costa Rica - On The Go Tours
Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #7

Poas Volcano

The Poas Volcano is, without a doubt, one of the most striking sights in Costa Rica with its colossal crater, which plunges down to a depth of 300m. The entire park surrounding the volcano has been designed with accessibility in mind so whether you’re able bodied or wheelchair-bound, everyone has an equal chance at marvelling at the majesty of this magnificent mountain. Although the last eruption took place in 1910, the crater is still bubbling with activity and regularly shoots geysers of steaming water 250m in the air. Those wanting to know the science behind these incredible, natural water features can take a wander through the highly informative on-site visitor centre and museum. In addition to the volcano, there are plenty of hiking trails in the surrounding area, which are perfect for exploring the lush surrounding wilderness and getting acquainted with its flora and fauna.

San Jose in Costa Rica - On The Go Tours
Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #8

San Jose

On arrival in Costa Rica, most people beeline straight for the national parks and coastlines, only using San Jose for its airport. However, those who give this buzzing capital a bit of time will find themselves pleasantly surprised at what it has to offer. There is no doubt that San Jose is the cultural epicentre of the country, with plazas, museums and theatres scattered throughout the city. The National, Jade, Pre-Columbian Gold and Natural Science museums are all fascinating and give travellers an excellent insight into Costa Rica’s rich history. Culture Plaza, Democracy Plaza and the National Palace are all fantastic places to visit and really help you to start understanding the country’s cultural heritage and identity. Culture aside, San Jose also has a thriving culinary scene and there is no end to the gourmet eateries that can be found on every street corner.

Central Valley in Costa Rica - On The Go Tours
Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #9

Central Valley

Away from the chaos of the cities and the crowds of the national parks, the Central Valley gives travellers an authentic taste of Costa Rican life. The centre point of life here is coffee and the sweeping plantations that cover the rolling hills create some of the most beautiful vistas in the entire country. Yet, natural beauty is not the only thing this region has to offer. Home to approximately 70% of the country’s population, dozens of highland villages are nestled within the Central Valley, each offering a privileged insight into the cultural heritage of the country, including its traditional rituals and fiestas. The pace of life here is distinctly leisurely but those seeking a bit of action need not look far. Rapids, exotic wildlife and colourful markets can all be enjoyed here and a little further afield are volcanoes, sandy coastlines and the buzzing capital San Jose.

Tamarindo beach in Costa Rica - On The Go Tours
Best places to visit in Costa Rica: Our pick #10


The ultimate beach destination, Tamarindo attracts travellers from across the spectrum, from businessmen to backpackers, surfers to spiritualists and foodies to fiesta-lovers. In fact, the main appeal of this thriving seaside town is its ability to cater to virtually everyone. If lying around on the beach all day isn’t your thing there are surfing lessons available at a very reasonable price and adventure tour operators line the main road, offering everything from ATV trail riding to zip-lining. There’s even a mini-golf course for those who want to do something a little less strenuous. In the evenings, there is nothing better than strolling along the main strip, popping into the numerous boutiques or checking out the handicrafts at the street stalls before heading to one of the gourmet eateries, which serve cuisine from around the world. Finish the night with a cocktail at one of the beachside bars as you look out over the ocean.

See Also

For further help planning your visit to Costa Rica take a look at our handy Travel Guide resources:

Best Time to Visit - climate, seasons and festivals of Costa Rica
Top Travel Tips - useful info on money, health and food in Costa Rica
Beach Guide - top 10 beaches in Costa Rica
Wildlife Guide - Costa Rica's favourite species and where to find them

Top Costa Rica Deals