There truly isn’t a bad place to visit in Costa Rica: this small country, about the size of West Virginia, is teeming with incredible wildlife and unbelievable scenery. With both a Caribbean and Pacific coastline, the country is nestled between Nicaragua and Panama in Central America and is home to 6% of the entire planet’s wildlife. It’s no wonder that tiny Costa Rica welcomes over 2 million tourists per year, despite having a population of only 5 million itself.
Even amongst a country with top-tier vacation destinations, some are more renowned than others, either because of their advantageous location or rich cultural history. These are five of the best places to visit in Costa Rica, with one to suit every travel style. Pack your sunscreen, grab your hiking boots, and head off into the jungle for an adventure of a lifetime.
Despite being the smallest national park, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most visited places in Costa Rica; this is due to its abundant wildlife and luxury accommodations. In fact, Manuel Antonio is so popular that, in order to protect its wild residents, entry to the park is limited to only 1,200 people a day.
Pristine white sand beaches, roaring waterfalls, and tranquil mangrove forests make this a must-see location. There are plenty of opportunities to get out and explore, such as ziplining and horseback rides through the forest, where you might see sloths, anteaters, capuchins, howler monkeys, and agoutis.
This area is also home to some of the best all-inclusive Costa Rica rental options for those who would like to enjoy the country in comfort and style.
The capital of Costa Rica is located in the Central Valley region and is perfect for those who want a less rugged experience while still soaking in the remarkable sites of the area. This city has numerous world-class museums, including the Jade Museum, which is home to the largest collection of jade in the world, and the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, full of precious cultural artifacts from before Western influence.
The National Museum also explains the history of the country, giving you a better appreciation of why this small tropical nation has become so special in the hearts of its visitors.
Up in the north of the country, on the Caribbean side, is Tortuguero National Park, which is the most important nesting site of the endangered green turtle. These animals can weigh up to 400 pounds and have a shell diameter of 44 inches; they’re truly a tremendous sight to behold when relaxing on the beautiful beaches of Costa Rica from June to October. However, there’s still plenty to do in Tortuguero besides turtles: you can also hike and take a tranquil cruise across one of the many rivers that wind through the park.
If you want to head off the beaten path and wander beaches without fighting off crowds of tourists, Corcovado is your best bet. It’s in a much more isolated area on the Osa Peninsula, located in the southwest corner of Costa Rica, and is a bit harder to get to than the rest of the country.
In a country full of biodiversity, Corcovado surpasses it all: this area has the most diversity of anywhere else and is home to the only remaining old-growth wet forest in the Pacific region of Central America. There are 13 different biomes here, which include lowland rainforests, highland cloud forests, palm forests, and mangrove forests, as well as both underwater and coastal regions. Some of the most beloved symbols of Costa Rica live here, which include the red-eyed tree frog, scarlet macaws, and the boa constrictor. You can also see over 100 species of butterflies, making this area a rainbow of light, fluttering wings.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is renowned across the world for its remarkable beauty; in fact, it was named one of Costa Rica’s seven wonders by the residents, proving that it is a beloved national treasure. Abundant mosses drape across the walkways and from the trees, making this forest seem more like a fairytale than a real place.
Cloud forests are mountainous rainforests that have an almost ever-present cloud cover, which creates an ethereal effect unlike anything else. Only 1% of the world’s remaining forests are cloud forests, and Monteverde is one of the best-preserved examples of this unique ecosystem. Here, you may be able to see all five of Costa Rica’s big cat species: the ocelot, margay, oncilla, puma, and jaguar all call this place home. Keep an eye out for the incredible quetzal, a bird so otherworldly that it is considered a celestial messenger by Central Americans. Other famous residents include sloths, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, and hummingbirds.
Wondrous things await you everywhere you look in Costa Rica, especially because decades of tourist presence have made many of the animals quite bold; you’ll be able to get up close and personal with some of the world’s most amazing creatures regardless of where you visit. Consider these five spots as a home base for your vacation, but be careful – you may just fall in love with Costa Rica and never want to leave.