#1 BEST THINGS TO DO IN NICOYA PENINSULA COSTA RICA
# 1. The Nicoya Peninsula’s sparkling 80-mile shoreline boasts beach-centric towns with cream-colored shores and dense forests. Half of the peninsula is found in the Guanacaste province, while the other half sits in the Puntarenas province. Nosara Beach’s powdery sands line the Nicoya Peninsula’s western edge. You’ll also find fishing and cattle-ranching communities east of the rustic coastline. After a significant rise in tourism that began in the 1970s, an influx of restaurants and hotels have enticed visitors to the peninsula’s sandy coast.
Recent travelers highlight Nosara Beach’s gorgeous sunsets, colorful fish and turquoise waters as ideal for surfers and beach lovers alike. But be warned: shade is minimal (and it gets hot!) and the undertow can be challenging; sunset walks on the beach are highly encouraged. Other hot spots include Mal País and Montezuma, a charming coastal town that boasts affordable hotel accommodations and untamed splendors, like magnificent waterfalls and gentle cerulean waves.
The Nicoya Peninsula extends from Costa Rica’s northwestern tip and skirts the Pacific. You can reach the peninsula by car from San José; the drive will take approximately four or five hours. Or, if you opt-out of a stopover at San José, you can fly directly into Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport. Keep in mind: During the rainy season (April to November), some of the roads can get washed out.
#2 BEST THINGS TO DO IN ARENAL | FORTUNA COSTA RICA
#2. Arenal, one of the world’s most active volcanoes, stands more than 5,000 feet high. For the latter half of the 20th century, admirers traveled to its base in droves to catch a glimpse of glowing rocks and molten lava tumbling down its sides. But Arenal wasn’t always spewing fiery lava, rocks, and ash. The volcano sat dormant for hundreds of years, but on July 29, 1968, Arenal awoke from its slumber. A thunderous earthquake shook the area and a subsequent explosion of lava wiped out three nearby villages. Frequent eruptions continued until 2010 when the volcano re-entered a non-active state.
Today, travelers head to the Arenal Observatory Lodge, which sits in an ideal viewing spot along the volcano’s northern side. Arenal is often concealed by a thick layer of fog, but if you visit between February and April, you will have a better chance of unobstructed views. Recent visitors say it is worth the trip, though the quality of the view depends heavily on the weather. You can hike the park’s trails on your own with just a trail map, but several recent visitors recommended hiring a guide to learn more about the history of the volcano and the flora and fauna that inhabit the area.
The easiest way to access Arenal Volcano is from the nearby base village of La Fortuna. This small town is perched at the eastern edge of Arenal Volcano National Park in northern Costa Rica. A variety of tours depart from La Fortuna. Tour prices start at about $60 and go up, depending on your desired experience. General admission to the park costs $15 per adult and $5 per child between 6 and 12 years old. You can reach Fortuna via car or bus from San José, which is located approximately 80 miles southeast of the park. The park welcomes visitors every day from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m.; the last admission is at 2:30 p.m.
#3 BEST TO DO IN GUANACASTE COSTA RICA
#3. Costa Rica’s “Gold Coast” is one of the nation’s most unique destinations and that’s not just because of its secluded beaches. The region’s dry, sunny savannas contrast the misty cloud-covered rainforests found in other parts of the country. To the east, you’ll admire volcanoes comprising the Cordillera de Guanacaste. Along the coast – which extends all the way to the Nicaraguan border – you’ll find pockets of white sand flanking hotels and remote fishing villages. Further inland, you’ll discover a thriving cowboy culture that has flourished since Spanish colonial rule in the 19th century. More notable highlights include the pristine, palm-studded Playa Carrillo beach and the Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Another must-see attraction is the Santa Rosa National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that preserves the site of the 1856 Battle of Santa Rosa.
Recent travelers particularly recommend visiting Rincón de la Vieja National Park, which boasts hot springs and beautiful waterfalls. You’ll also get to see some impressive volcanic activity.
Guanacaste is located on Costa Rica’s North Pacific Coast and can be reached by flying into Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport. For endless sunshine, lush vegetation and wildlife-spotting at its finest, you’ll want to visit from December through April (Costa Rica’s summer season).
#4 BEST THINGS TO DO IN CORCOVADO NATIONAL PARK
#4. Travelers come to this 160-square-mile misty rainforest for its diverse wildlife. Buzzing insects and chirping birds can be seen and heard as you stroll through the verdant jungle. Trek along the hazy trails and you’re likely to spot macaws, tapirs, jaguars, spiders or howler monkeys.
Recent visitors suggested arriving early in the day (7 to 9 a.m.) to increase wildlife sightings, but no matter when you go, there will be plenty to see. To fully experience all of Corcovado’s sights and sounds, you’ll want to carve out two or three days for exploring. If you need a break from hiking, head to the 23 miles of beaches, but be warned the sand is hot.
Corcovado National Park is located along Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast; the three closest towns are Drake Bay, Puerto Jimenez, and Carate. The park can be accessed through a variety of park entrances that are marked with a ranger station. The three main entry points are San Pedrillo, Los Patos and La Leona. These are conveniently spread out at different edges of the park. Corcovado National Park’s ranger stations are in operation daily from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission costs $15 for adults; permits are required. Permits can be obtained through a tour operator. Past visitors spoke highly of Osa Wild and Corcovado Info Center.
#5 BEST THINGS TO DO IN MANUEL ANTONIO COSTA RICA
#5.Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s smallest protected green spaces, but don’t let its size throw you off. Within the park’s 3 square miles, you’ll find untamed beaches, secluded coves, nature trails, and thick rainforest. You can stretch out on the park’s coastline or wander along one of the walking paths to spot rare birds, camouflaged iguanas, and purple-and-orange crabs. If you’re a lover of furry creatures, you’ll be pleased to discover that this park contains so many monkeys that the park built a suspension bridge to grant them free reign of the area.
Travelers recommend visiting Manuel Antonio’s remote white-sand beaches in the southeastern tip of the park where visitors can relax under palm trees. Reviewers also recommend bringing a picnic lunch to enjoy. However, you’ll want to watch your food closely as the monkeys have been known to steal food. To enjoy the park’s untouched landscape without the crowds, consider arriving right when the park opens at 7 a.m.
Manuel Antonio National Park is set in Costa Rica’s Central Pacific region, about 100 miles south of San José. You can reach the national park by bus or car from San José; the ride takes roughly two to three hours. Some guided tours may offer transportation to and from the park. Public buses also offer service between San Jose and the park, though you’ll want to make sure you’re taking a direct (direct) bus to avoid a long trip with multiple stops. Visitors are welcome daily Tuesday through Sunday from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets cost $16 for visitors over age 12. Admission is free for kids 11 and younger. Guided tours are also available, starting at $51 for adults and $35 for kids. For more information, visit the park’s official website.
#6 BEST THINGS TO DO IN MONTEVERDE COSTA RICA
#6. Imagine winding through a misty oasis; strikingly tall trees wrap you in a sea of green. Add to that more than 100 mammals, 400 types of birds and 2,500 plant species, and you have Monteverde’s lush 25,700-acre reserve. While wandering along one of the hiking trails, you may spot a small hummingbird or a resplendent quetzal feasting on a ripe aguacatillo (a fruit similar to an avocado).
Although some travelers complain about the high frequency of tourists and the arduous trek to the reserve, most praise the forest as a must-see example of Costa Rica’s rich wildlife diversity. Recent visitors recommended taking a Sky Walk (hanging bridges) or Sky Trek (zip lining) tour to avoid the crowds and see the reserve from an aerial view. For more information, consult Sky Trek’s official website. If you’d prefer to stay on the ground, the reserve also offers guided walking tours year-round. Past visitors highly recommend hiring a guide if you’ve come to the reserve in search of wildlife.
Monteverde Cloud Forest is located in the Northern Plains, about a three-hour car ride northwest of San José. Admission to Monteverde Cloud Forest costs $20; prices are reduced for children. Guided tours cost extra. The reserve welcomes visitors every day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, consult Monteverde’s official website, run by Costa Rica’s Tropical Science Center.
#7 BEST THINGS TO DO IN JACO COSTA RICA
#7. Far away from northern Costa Rica’s foggy rainforests lies Jacó, a beautiful town teeming with shops, restaurants and beachfront hotels. It’s also the closest beachside retreat to San Jose, the country’s capital. Surfers should venture to Hermosa and Esterillos Este’s sprawling palm-lined shores for the best waves. If you’re looking for a calm beach day sans the waves, consider Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca and the beautiful Hotel Arenas en Punta Leona – two beaches popular with locals. Nature seekers should head to wildlife havens like the Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls to spot the area’s beloved residents – colorful birds and monkeys – and gaze at the soaring coastal mountains. Whatever you do, save some energy for the lively night scene, which is known for its adults-only activities.
Recent travelers highlight one major drawback: the city’s popularity. But if you don’t mind sharing this sprawling beach retreat with others, previous visitors said it’s worth a day or two.
Jacó is a brief car ride from San José; it’s situated about 60 miles southwest of the city. You’ll head west along Highway 27 until you reach the exit marked Jacó and Quepos. If you prefer not to drive, you can hop on one of the buses that depart daily from San José. To learn more about getting to Jacó, check out what the best hotels and restaurant in our database and get the best deal booking directly with the locals