Truly the most peaceful country in Central America, Costa Rica – dubbed “The Rich Coast” by early Spanish explorers – offers a wealth of things to see and do and travelers can enjoy them without worries about their safety or other all-too-common problems present elsewhere in the region.
The country is rich in natural beauty, providing travelers with a plethora of eco-tourism opportunities, including visits to live volcanoes and more than two dozen stunning national parks. Among the places to visit in Costa Rica are a rainforest and a “cloud forest”, and visitors can even go windsurfing at one of the best locations in the world for those who enjoy the sport.
And if you’d rather just sit around and soak in the scenery, the beaches and the country’s magnificent coastline offer places to sit and read a good book or take a nap in the warm Central America sun.
Great Natural Attractions
If you’re searching for places to visit in Costa Rica and you love nature, you’ll find that this is the country for you. Visiting the destinations listed below often provides experiences that are once-in-a lifetime, and if you enjoy trekking, mountain biking, climbing, or other similar activities, you’ll especially love these attractions. However, you don’t have to be an extreme athlete to have fun here. There are plenty of non-strenuous ways to enjoy attractions as well.
- Arenal Volcano – One of the most visited attractions in Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano constantly spews smoke and lava, providing a magnificent light show – especially at night – for those visiting the area. It had its big eruption in 1968 and has since been dubbed one of the 10 most active volcanoes in the world. For safety reasons, the lava show is best watched from one of the many hotels and resorts with a view of the mountain. (Most are absolutely stunning resorts that pamper their guests!) While you’re there, take advantage of one of the hot springs in the area. All are safely located outside the risk zone and offer expansive facilities including multiple therapeutic pools, spas, and even bars and restaurants, all with a great view of Arenal Volcano.
- Manuel Antonio National Park – The smallest put most-visited national park in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is truly a gem. Located near Quepos on the Pacific Coast, most travelers come to ogle the rich scenery and see the park’s many monkeys. You’ll find all kinds here, including a few endangered species. However, the park and its 12 coastal islands are also home to beautiful white-sand beaches, where guests can snorkel and often spot a few dolphins. The flora is stunning as well. In and around the park, guests can also enjoy rainforest canopy tours, go kayaking or canoeing, ride horses, or go canyoning and rapelling.
- Corcovado National Park – Corcovado is the largest single expanse of lowland tropical rainforest in Central America, located in the southern part of Costa Rica on the Osa Peninsula. Though it’s quite a drive from the airport at San Jose (about 8 hours), it’s worth the time it takes to get there. Adventure travelers love it here! An amazingly bio-diverse area – one of the most diverse in the world – you’ll find a whopping 13 different eco-systems within the park. Though the parkland tends to be wet and rather rugged, hiking fans say it has some of the best trails in the country. Camping areas with potable water are available and trekkers can purchase meals at “bunkhouses” in advance of their hike. Short hikes are available as well. There is also 11 miles of beaches and plenty of breathtaking waterfalls, but visitors need to watch out for crocodiles and hammerhead sharks!
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – Situated in the Tilaran Mountain Range in the eastern part of Costa Rica, Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is a unique site to behold. With both eastern and western exposures and weather fronts from both fighting against each other, the area is cloudy and misty all year round – hence its name. Bio-diversity is high and it’s a wonderful place to enjoy wildlife viewing and bird watching. Be sure to all take advantage of one of the many canopy tours offered here. They give you a bird’s eye view of the tops of the trees and the wildlife and birds in their canopies. A unique tour, guests make their way from platform to platform via zip line! For the less adventurous, Monteverde offers Sky Walk, a series of suspension bridges connected with walking trails.
- Beaches – With two coasts – Pacific and Atlantic/Caribbean – Costa Rica has plenty of beaches. The ones on the Pacific side are more user-friendly, especially those that start at the border of Nicaragua and stretch down to Puntarenas. Some of the Central Pacific beaches, like Jaco, are quite popular with surfers while the southernmost are very rugged. On the Atlantic/Caribbean side, the northern beaches are often nesting places for turtles and the current can be too strong for swimming or other watersports. Travel further south, however, and you’ll find some good surfing and snorkeling spots.
A visit to Costa Rica shouldn’t include just outdoor activities. This country, rich in history, has some excellent museums and other man-made attractions that should be featured on any visitor’s itinerary. Here are just a few:
- San Jose – This capital city is most visitors’ first introduction to the country as this is where the main airport is located. The city itself is a joy to explore as it is rich in pre-Columbian history, with stunning architecture and lots of historical monuments. (This is where you’ll also find the largest selection of modern amenities, like hotels, restaurants, and shopping areas.)
- Costa Rican National Museum – Located in San Jose, this should be on everyone’s list of places to visit in Costa Rica. Opened more than 100 years ago, it offers a plethora of artifacts – including religious and archaeological objects – that outline the history and culture of the country.
- Costa Rican Art Museum – This small but excellent museum features the works of contemporary local and regional artists, including paintings and sculpture. It’s also located in San Jose.
- Ethno-Historical Museum of Limon – Located in the province of Limon (on the eastern coast), here visitors will learn about Columbus’ arrival in the area and can gather facts about the different cultures that have settled in the region throughout history, including Afro-Caribbean, Chinese, and mestizos.
- Zoological Marine Museum of the Universidad Nacional – Situated in Heredia (in the north-central region bordering Nicaragua), this museum boasts 2,000 specimens of vertebrates and other marine creatures. Many of these creatures are peculiar to the area and are quite fascinating.