Is this the first time you are visiting Costa Rica? Are you overwhelmed by the many attraction sites located all over this beautiful country? To narrow down your choices, the guide below will highlight the best places worth visiting. Costa Rica is home to volcanic mountains, rainforests, sandy beaches, and friendly locals. You will also find many parks, protected jungles, and cultural institutions. Considering how many tourist destinations this country has been blessed with, first-time visitors can find it hard to choose the sites they need to prioritize.
The good news is that we have explored Costa Rica for years. And as a result, we have identified some of the must-see areas for tourists visiting this country for the first time. Before we begin our review of the best places to visit in Costa Rica in 2023, allow us to share one useful tip. It can be tempting to want to soak in all of Costa Rica’s wonders in a two-week or one-month trip. But this is almost impossible because Costa Rica has a lot to offer. So, take your time when going through the list below and identify the most interesting places.
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If you are visiting Costa Rica for the first time in 2023, Tortuguero should be at the top of your bucket list. Tortuguero means land of turtles, and it’s the Amazon rainforest version of Costa Rica. At Tortuguero, you will find a park located on 77,000 acres of land. In this vast park, you can marvel at thousands of turtles that flock to the shores from July to August.
In case you prefer to visit at another time of the year, you may spot a few turtles and engage in canal cruises or hikes. At Tortuguero, there is a lot of wildlife waiting to be explored.
There are plenty of reasons why you should visit Monteverde, but one of the most exciting activities in this destination is the thrilling zipline. Monteverde is ever-green thanks to the heavy rains experienced almost throughout the year. A zipline adventure in this vast forest allows you to enjoy a bird’s eye view of canopy trees and different types of vegetation.
For those who are scared of zip lines, you can still view this rainforest by climbing the sky bridge. Apart from vegetation, in Monteverde, you will also spot quetzal birds, a rare species. You can take part in plenty of tours when visiting Monteverde.
Read Also: Costa Rica’s Top National Parks
3. Puerto Viejo:
This is the best tourist destination in Costa Rica for backpackers and young travelers. It is situated along the Caribbean coast of Panama and hosts many beach-related activities, such as surfing and snorkeling. It’s a pretty lively town, and it’s known to have wild night parties. Also, for those who prefer tranquility, other hotel beaches are a bit more reserved.
Apart from the beach and nightlife, Puerto Viejo is also home to a jaguar rescue center. Here you will find a wide range of local wildlife rehabilitated in the facility and then released into the wild. If you are touring Puerto Viejo on a budget, there are a couple of hostels that offer affordable accommodation.
Earlier, we mentioned that Costa Rica has many parks. Other than Tortuguero, the Corcovado is also a must-visit destination. This park stretches 424 square kilometers. It’s, therefore, the biggest park in Costa Rica. It was launched in 1975 and is situated in the remote parts of the Osa Peninsula.
Corcovado isn’t easy to navigate. Therefore, it’s a suitable option for hiking enthusiasts. Once you pass the beaten paths, Corcovado introduces you to stunning views of desert beaches and wild and marine life. When visiting Corcovado, you should stay at one of the close-by eco-hostels. Here, you will experience a vegan lifestyle and be one with nature. It’s a great place to disconnect from the busy city life.
5. Manuel Antonio:
Should you find yourself on the Pacific Coast, make sure that you visit Manuel Antonio. This is one of the most popular beach destinations in Costa Rica. Apart from the blue and crystal-clear waters, Manuel Antonio is home to native wildlife and exciting hiking trails.
If you have always been fascinated by monkeys, a trip to Manuel Antonio is an opportunity to explore different breeds of native monkeys. There are many kinds of wildlife, and even though this park was opened in the 70s, it has been well maintained. There are a few hostels and hotels close by. Make sure you pick one with a view of the rainforest and beach.
6. Rio Tarcoles:
While still on the Manuel Antonio coastline, you should stop by Rio Tarcoles. Also known as the Crocodile River, Rio Tarcoles is home to some of the largest crocodile species. This will be an exhilarating experience. Make sure your camera is fully charged because you will want to take photographs of these giant monsters. After your trip to Rio Tarcoles, you can step into one of the nearby restaurants and enjoy the local Costa Rican cuisine.
Cahuita refers to both a national park and a town, and it’s located close to Puerto Viejo. In your Costa Rica tour, Cahuita is a town worth visiting for a day or two. First of all, Cahuita is heavily influenced by the Afro-Caribbean culture. That is evident when you look at the food.
Both Cahuita town and the national park have a lot to offer. In the town, you can mingle with the residents at one of the local joints. Alternatively, you can go surfing, swimming or hiking. The park is home to some native monkeys and jungle vegetation. Regarding accommodation, there are plenty of hotels and hostels in Cahuita.
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Have you ever witnessed lava erupting from a volcanic mountain? Well, a trip to Arenal should grant you this once-in-a-lifetime experience. Arenal is one of the active volcanic mountains in Costa Rica. Even though it has been dormant for a while, experts claim it will erupt anytime soon.
Standing 1,670m tall, Arenal is surrounded by lush vegetation. As you hike through Arenal, you will spot waterfalls, hot springs, caves, and canyons. They do offer rafting services most times of the year. So, if you are daring enough, you can get into the rough waters.
There is a backpacker’s resort close by for those who want to soak in all of the beauty of the Arenal mountain. It has a pool and a bar. Plus, you also enjoy outstanding views of the mountain.
9. Poas Volcano:
If you find volcanoes fascinating, you are in for a treat when you visit Costa Rica. Poas Volcano is a twin caldera active volcano where the lakes are filled with sulfur. These two volcanoes erupted recently in 2019. Therefore, you can still see the dried lava on the sides. The view of the Poas Volcano is quite breathtaking. But you need to arrive early to see it. Sometimes it gets too cloudy, hindering visibility. There is a waterfall nearby that you should also check out when visiting Poas Volcano.
10. Santa Teresa:
During your trip to Costa Rica, you will need to take a break from the wildlife, rainforest, and volcanoes. The perfect place to take that break is in the town of Santa Teresa. It’s practically a beach town surrounded by hostels, yoga centers, and restaurants. Surfing is the main leisure activity in this town. If you enjoy surfing or have always wanted to learn how to do it, the locals can help you out.
Santa Teresa is known to have a laid-back vibe. And it’s a great place to go if you want to spend some time relaxing at the beach.
One thing you will realize about Costa Rica is that there are plenty of beach towns. Dominical is another ideal beach town for solo travelers or backpackers, especially those who are into surfing. Like Santa Teresa, Dominical is also a hippie town with a chilled vibe. Surfing is also popular here, but the waves can be pretty intense. So, it’s not ideal for amateurs.
Nonetheless, Dominical is a tourist-friendly town. There are lots of hotels, restaurants, and amenities such as banks. Dominical is also near Nauyaca waterfalls, and you can also visit the Hacienda Baru, a private nature park with tons of wild animals and fascinating hiking trails.
Kayak enthusiasts can also go for an excursion along the Baru River. If you are planning a trip to Manuel Antonio, Dominical is pretty close-by, and you should definitely check it out.
12. Drake Bay:
Drake Bay is a must-visit destination if you are a nature lover. What we love most about this destination is that you can travel here by boat. This is fun, and you can check in at an affordable hostel upon arrival. Or if you prefer a royal treatment, there are a couple of high-end hotels such as the Rainforest Resort.
We highly recommend a trip to Drake Bay when visiting during peak season because this part of Costa Rica rarely gets crowded. Some of the popular activities in this area include snorkeling at Cano Island. There are plenty of hiking trails, and it’s close to the Corcovado National Park we discussed earlier.
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13. Flamingo Beach Community:
Very few areas in Costa Rica are as luxurious are the Flamingo Beach Community. This is the ideal destination for visitors interested in exploring Costa Rica’s marine life. In Flamingo, scuba diving and fishing are the main tourist activities. Besides that, you can sun tan at the beach, book a snorkeling trip, charter a yacht, and have dinner at sea. Being a beach community, the rates here are pretty expensive. If you are traveling on a budget, you can consider visiting Brasilito or Potrero.
Understandably, not everyone visiting Costa Rica enjoys wildlife, volcanoes, and rainforests. If you fall under this category, you may enjoy spending a few days at Jaco beach town. It’s a pretty developed town with lovely beaches and vibrant nightlife. There are all sorts of accommodations ranging from high-end to affordable options. The food is also fantastic, and you can enjoy other cuisines such as Italian.
On the outskirts of Jaco, you can explore hidden waterfalls and go surfing at the beach.
15. Papagayo Peninsula:
Is spending quality time at a luxury hotel your idea of a perfect vacation in Costa Rica? You should consider Papagayo Peninsula. This peninsula has the best luxury hotels in Costa Rica, such as the Four Seasons, Secrets, and Planet Hollywood.
Papagayo resorts are ideal romantic or honeymoon destinations. Here you will find white sandy beaches and plenty of day trips, scuba diving, kayaking, snorkeling, and swimming.
16. San Jose:
Our list of places to visit on your first trip to Costa Rica ends with San Jose. It’s the capital city of Costa Rica and is home to several historical and cultural centers. There are also many good restaurants in San Jose, and you can interact with the locals.
Because Costa Rica has a lot to offer, you should only spend two to three days in the capital. While you are here, you can visit the national theatre and the Costa Rican center of science and culture. You can also participate in the San Jose City Tour. There are several hotels you can stay in, such as the Gran Hotel or Adventure Inn.
A Few Things to Keep in Mind During Your First Trip to Costa Rica
Now that you know the best places you should visit during your first trip to Costa Rica, we would like to leave you with some tips and tricks on how to best explore this wonderful country.
• Pay attention to the weather – The dry season often runs from December to April in Costa Rica. This is the peak season. It’s rainy from May to November. It’s much cheaper to visit Costa Rica during the rainy season, but it can affect your experience. The best time to visit is when it’s dry.
• Choose a Suitable Transport Option – You can use public transport or rent a car. The latter isn’t costly and allows you to enjoy seamless travels. Regarding flights, there is an international airport in San Jose, and that’s where you should start your expeditions.
• Stick to Your Budget – You need to make sure that you have a laid-out budget. Do some research before visiting about hotel rates. If you are traveling on a budget, you can book hostels as they are cheaper than luxury hotels.
• Tyr Out the Local Cuisine – Although there are many fast-food restaurants in Costa Rica, you should focus more on the local cuisine. The local meals are quite delicious and fresh.
17- Manuel Antonio National park
Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica is renowned for its diverse wildlife and stunning beaches. The park is home to over 100 species of mammals, including monkeys and sloths, as well as numerous species of birds and reptiles. Its lush, tropical rainforest provides a habitat for a vast array of wildlife, making it a popular destination for eco-tourists and nature lovers alike.
18- Tortuguero national park
Tortuguero National Park in Costa Rica is a unique and special place, known for its vast network of canals and lagoons that are home to a wide variety of wildlife. The park is one of the most important nesting sites for the endangered green sea turtle and is also a critical habitat for monkeys, jaguars, and hundreds of bird species. Best one in the national parks of Costa Rica.
19- Arenal volcano national park
famous for its well-preserved volcanic landscape and diverse wildlife. The park’s main attraction is the nearly perfectly symmetrical Arenal Volcano, which provides a dramatic backdrop to the lush rainforest below. The park is also a hub for adventure activities such as hiking, hot springs soaking, and wildlife watching in Costa rica’s
The park offers zipline tours through the rainforest canopy, suspension bridges, butterfly gardens, hummingbird gardens, and educational guided hikes through the jungle. Totally Pura Vida.
20- San Jose airport
San Jose Airport in Costa Rica is its location in the heart of the city, making it easy and convenient for travelers to get to and from their destinations. A car rental company is easily available at the airport. Tour companies also offer car rentals.
21- Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Enjoy the world-class beaches, cloud forests, and coffee plantations in the Caribbean coast town. You will love the contemporary art. cloud forest is astonishing.
22- La Fortuna
The beautiful district of San Carlos Canton is famous for the Arenal volcano national park. Best place to visit in the dry season. A must-visit place.
22- Nicoya peninsula
Best place for cakes and hotels. Tourists can visit surf shops. Enjoy Latin American food. The bus station is within walking distance. Surf lessons are provided to new surfers.
Who should visit Costa Rica?
From single to families, doctors to expats, the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica are inviting everyone from all over the world.
Other Special things about Costa Rica
Beautiful beaches, many restaurants, popular destinations, lake Arenal, rainy season, rainforest canopy, and sport fishing.
Expats can save money on public transportation. Can use the private shuttle. Pura Vida for those trip planning to enjoy hanging bridges. Cost-effective hotels and guided tours can save money as compared to expensive countries for tourists on their first visit.
Local farmers grow beans and coffee plantations. There are a lot of things to do on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.
The Bottom Line:
Costa Rica is a mid-range budget-friendly destination. Luxury travelers can enjoy white sand beaches and everything is available within walking distance. Enjoy the Costa Rican art, beach club, on-site restaurant, zip lining, and hotels with private rooms and wi-fi. Best place to enjoy and save money.
We can all agree that Costa Rica is a beautiful country with lots of things to see and do. If it’s your first time, use the guide above to identify the best places you should visit. We are 100% sure that you will have a wonderful time. And even if you don’t get to check out every destination on our list, there’s always a next time!
For further detail, Get your copy today on Amazon or at your favorite digital bookshop today of the book Costa Rica for Expats!