Places to Visit in Costa Rica
- San Jose
- La Fortuna
- Manuel Antonio
Unique Things to See and Do in Costa Rica
- Learn to surf the warm waters of Tamarindo
- Walk up the trails of Volcano Arenal
- Explore the mangroves and listen for howler monkeys
- Go zip-lining in a cloud forest in Monteverde
- Eat Caribbean foods in Chuita
A Snapshot of Costa Rica’s Hot Spots
Costa Rica has so many activities and diverse landscapes to see it can be a bit daunting if you only have a week to visit. Thankfully the country is relatively small, however, it means that you will inevitably have to backtrack at some point – usually through San Jose.
Starting with San Jose, the city itself is interesting but not that pretty. The university district offers some great restaurants, and there are some interesting parks to visit, but overall the city feels cold-ish. There are market areas, local plazas, and some shopping, but even the locals will tell you to leave and spend your time elsewhere.
Monteverde is the most popular destination in Costa Rica where you’ll find the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Take a guided tour through one of the forests to really appreciate what you are seeing; they’ll be able to point out things you wouldn’t normally see. The butterfly farms and insect museums are worth a visit (and to know what’s lurking about), but the best activity there is zip-lining. Traversing through the forests and then suddenly finding yourself travelling across a valley is absolutely stunning.
Next on the list is visiting La Fortuna and Volcano Arenal. The town of La Fortuna is a sleepy town during the day and lively one once the sun goes down. Which, by the way, happens around 5 pm since you’re so near the equator (for us northerners that’s early for summertime months!). There are many places to stay around the volcano with some exclusive resorts just outside of the town. In town, there are plenty of hotels, pensions, and backpacker’s hostels, like Gringo Pete’s (a popular spot). The only way to view the volcano up close at night is to book a tour company. Prices vary, and some will take you to some hot springs along the way – so much fun to be had.
Heading over to the west coast, the town of Tamarindo has become wildly popular. A cute seaside town with tons of young people surfing and sunbathing, great shopping, and some fabulous ocean view restaurants that serve freshly caught seafood. With plenty of little shops and restaurants, Tamarindo caters to the tourist population, so if you’re looking to search out a quieter scene rent a scooter and head north to some of the other coastal towns, like Playa Brasilito, and Playa Conchal (a beautiful white beach).
Two hot spots for encountering wildlife are Tortuguero National Park (Caribbean side), which is the breeding ground for 3 species of marine turtles, and Manuel Antonio Park (Pacific Ocean side) which is home to white-faced monkeys, three-toed sloths and squirrel monkeys!
Did you know…?
Costa Rica is home to over 52 species of hummingbirds, one of which is named the Violet Sabrewing and it is one of the largest in the world.
Did you ALSO know…?
25% of the country is under environmental protection – forests and reserves – and serves as the country’s primary tourist attraction.
Getting Around Costa Rica
Getting around Costa Rica is quite easy as their public transit is extensive, even into the remote areas. How you get there can be interesting though, for example you can take a bus ride down from Monteverde to Lake Arenal, where you catch a boat and get dropped off on the other side of the lake, and then catch a taxi into town. But don’t fear, all this can be organized for you or you can do it yourself.
Most people arrive in San Jose and stay for a night or two (although the locals don’t recommend it), and then venture out from there. Taking a bus from the city to smaller communities is easy but you need to double check which bus station to go to. And getting a taxi there is the best way since some bus stations are a bit hidden unless you know what to look for. Double check your tickets for the right fare, location, and date. And buy your return tickets when you arrive at your destination to ensure you get a seat on the bus and are able to get the date you want. If you are taking a local bus/remote bus, they may pile up your bags at the back of the bus or at the front. Most don’t have air conditioning so expect a hot ride.
You can also arrange for transportation with tourist vans, which are air conditioned and provide direct service. They are generally newer models and comfortable, plus they act as a tour bus making some pleasant stops for lunch or telling you about the local life of that area. Most prices are reasonable, say $40-$80 US depending on the distance. The most expensive bus ride may cost you on $12 US, but will generally take longer.
Renting cars, motorcycles, and bicycles are other options if you’re familiar with driving winding roads and uneven streets. Domestic flights are another option if you are pressed for time and would like to see both ends of the country. Sansa and NatureAir offer service on small aircrafts to many spots including beach towns.
Best Time of Year to Travel to Costa Rica
Costa Rica has seen a resurgence in travellers in recent years and particularly during the high season, which coincides with the dry season from November to April. Accommodations, tours, and flights can book up quickly. The rainy season is essentially from May to October, and when the rains come they typically last a few hours in the afternoons and can be intense depending on where you are. If you’re in the remote areas the dirt roads can be a mess and often impassable while raining, but everything dries up pretty quickly. There really are only two major seasons.
The average temperature for Costa Rica is 21C to 27C, but if you are travelling to higher elevations the temperature drops and the nights are cool. The climate is fairly diverse, so as always, bring layers.
Ready to plan your visit to Costa Rica? Check out these popular guides and trips.