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Oh Costa Rica… a paradise for adventure and nature lovers. I have rarely traveled to a country where the locals feel as connected to their homeland and nature as they do here! The people’s top priority is to preserve Costa Rica’s unique landscapes and wildlife. This makes Costa Rica a very special destination for me, which at the same time has an incredible wealth of different activities and sights to offer. In this article, I will tell you the best places to visit in Costa Rica & travel tips, including the most beautiful sights you should not miss during your Costa Rica vacation!

When is the best time to travel to Costa Rica?

Costa Rica has a tropical climate with a dry season, which is generally warm & sunny, and a rainy season with more humid days. However, the climate varies greatly depending on the location in the country. The highlands are significantly cooler, while both coastal regions can get very hot, especially during the dry season.

The dry season from November to April is particularly suitable for beach vacations and has the advantage that it hardly rains and there are almost no insects.

The rainy season from April to November also has its charms. Due to the rainfall, the waterfalls are particularly intense, the leaves are lush green and there are flowers everywhere. Even in the rainy season, it doesn’t usually rain all day, but there are mostyl some downpours which subside after a while. Only between August and October you may experience complete rainy days, which is why I would avoid these months.

How many days are ideal for your Costa Rica vacation?

In order to explore the diversity of the country and the best places in Costa Rica, I recommend you 10-14 days for your trip – this way your Costa Rica vacation won’t be hectic and you won’t miss any of the must see places! Further down in the article you will find a travel duration recommendation for each destination.

a beach with palm trees in costa rica

Is it safe to drive your own rental car in Costa Rica?

A rental car is essential for your Costa Rica trip, as there are hardly any train or bus connections across the country. However, you should definitely rent a sturdy SUV with four-wheel drive, as the roads in some remote regions are covered with deep potholes. You should therefore always allow enough time for longer journeys and avoid driving in the dark. But don’t worry, most of the roads are in good condition and safe to drive on. With a rental car, you are more flexible during your Costa Rica trip and can explore much more of the country than without your own car.

Some Packing Essentials for your Costa Rica vacation:

  • At least one reusable water bottle – in many national parks, you are only allowed to bring this type of bottle to avoid plastic waste.
    → By the way, you can drink the tap water in Costa Rica in all inhabited areas! I usually have a very sensitive stomach, but had no problems in Costa Rica and drank tap water throughout the trip.
  • a thin rain jacket & sweater – even though Costa Rica is a tropical warm destination, it can get chilly and wet in some places due to the altitude
  • coral-friendly sunscreen – sunscreen is essential, especially at all beach destinations, but make sure it’s not harmful to corals!
  • eco-friendly insect repellent – if you are traveling in the dry season, you will hardly need it, but for jungle tours it can prevent insect bites. Harmful chemical repellents are not allowed in the national parks and before swimming in waterfalls.
  • Screenshots of your reservation confirmations – recently you have to reserve the entrance to almost all parks online in advance and show the confirmation email on site. Unfortunately, you often have no reception, which is why it saves a lot of time to save screenshots on your cell phone beforehand.
    If you book any guided tours the entrance is usually already taken care off so you don’t have to worry about it. Always check in the tour description if the Admission is included before booking a tour online.

The best places to visit & must see destinations in Costa Rica

The best way to explore Costa Rica is on a round trip through the country by car! You should definitely not miss these places & sights in Costa Rica:

My map with the best places to visit in Costa Rica:

San José – the capital of Costa Rica

Accommodation:

Grand Hotel Costa Rica by Hilton → Book your stay here!

Let’s start with San José – the capital of the country – which is usually the start and end point of a Costa Rica vacation due to the location of the international airport. However, San José is unfortunately not very beautiful and offers very few sights. But since we had our return flight to Germany in the morning and as it is the capital, we spent the last night in the → Grand Hotel Costa Rica. It is the best hotel in Costa Rica and is located on the main square with the National Theater – the only beautiful sight in the city. So are you missing out if you don’t include San José in your Costa Rica itinerary? In my opinion: No.

the national theater in San Jose Costa Rica
the skyline view over jan Jose in costa rica

Corcovado National Park – The impressive wildlife of Costa Rica

Accommodation:

Corcovado Private Villas → Book your stay here!

Duration: two nights

After landing in the capital San José and entering Costa Rica, we booked a short onward flight directly from the domestic terminal of Juan Santamaria Airport to Puerto Jiménez. The terminal is just a few steps outside the international airport building. From here, we took a domestic flight in a tiny plane to the south-west of Costa Rica to the Osa Peninsula. It consists almost entirely of dense rainforest and beaches on the Pacific coast.

The peninsula is popular thanks to one of Costa Rica’s best places to visit: Corcovado National Park, which covers almost the entire peninsula. Here you will find the highest density of wildlife in Central America: 375 bird and 125 mammal species have their home here! This makes up 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. It’s the perfect place for nature and animal lovers.

an aerial view of the Corcovado National Park one of the must see places in Costa Rica

Access to the national park in Sirena is only possible by boat from Puerto Jiménez or Drake Bay and is strictly limited. It is therefore not possible to explore it on your own, but you must book a tour in advance. As these book up quickly, you should organize them at least 2 months before your travel date in order to get a place for your preferred day. Every guest is registered by name and checked. No food or plastic bottles may be brought into the Corcovado National Park. Only water in reusable bottles is permitted. This regulation was introduced to avoid waste and to prevent visitors from feeding the animals. But don’t worry, there is a restaurant for lunch in the park itself, which is usually included in all tours.

→ Here you can book the same Corcovado National Park tour from Puerto Jimenez!

→ Here you can find Corcovado National Park tours from Drake Bay!

After the inspection, we head into the rainforest on foot to look for animals. And it didn’t take long before we spotted families of monkeys, sloths, anteaters, colorful birds and even tapirs, crocodiles and much more. Our guide not only had a trained eye, but also a spotting scope for observing the animals – without him we would probably only have spotted a third of them! A guided tour definitely pays off in Corcovado National Park!

Uvita – a relaxed coastal town

Accommodation:

→ Here you will find the best accommodations in Uvita

Duration of trip: two nights

Uvita is one of the must see places in Costa Rica that we unfortunately had to skip due to lack of time, but which you should definitely not miss! The coastal town is also located in the south and is known for its great beaches, its proximity to Corcovado National Park and is popular for surfing and whale watching.

These are the best things to do in Uvita, Costa Rica:

  • Marino Ballena: a uniquely shaped stretch of beach in the Marino Ballena National Park in the shape of a whale’s tail fin
  • Relaxing or surfing on the beautiful beaches: Playa Uvita, Playa Hermosa, Playa Chaman and Playa Colonia
  • Whale watching between January and March or July and October to see humpback whales
  • One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica: Nauyaca Waterfall – two waterfalls with a natural swimming pool
  • Visit the Uvita waterfall, where you can swim as well
  • A boat tour through the mangrove forest on the Sierpe River for wildlife spotting
an aerial view over the Marino Ballena Park one of the must see places in Costa Rica

Marino Ballena

sunset at the Uvita beach one of the must see places in Costa Rica

Beach in Uvita

→ Activity Tips in Uvita:

Manuel Antonio – one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica

Accommodation:

→ Here you will find the best hotels in Manuel Antonio

Travel duration: one night

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the absolute must see places in Costa Rica! Here you will not only find beautiful beaches and blue water, but also dense green rainforest where you can marvel at Costa Rica’s wildlife. During a guided tour, you will discover numerous animals thanks to the experienced guides. As it is the smallest national park in Costa Rica, a full day is enough to explore the Manuel Antonio National Park and enjoy the beautiful beaches and snorkeling. The park really is a perfect mix of jungle, beach & coral reef.

→ Here you can find the best tours for Manuel Antonio National Park

Opening hours & tickets:

→ Manuel Antonio National Park is open from 7 am to 4 pm (closed on Tuesdays)

→ The entrance fee of 18.08 USD has to be booked → online again! (However, I recommend booking a → guided tour, which already includes the entrance fee)

→ It is forbidden to bring any food into the national park, but all non-alcoholic drinks are allowed.

Standing in front of a giant tree in the jungle of Costa Rica
a toucan sitting on a tree in Costa Rica
a beach in the Manuel Antonio National Park one of the must see places in Costa Rica

Monteverde

Accommodation:

El Establo Mountain Hotel → Book your stay here!

Duration: two nights

Monteverde is 1,500m / 4,920 ft above sea level, which means the weather here is much cooler than at the coast. Nevertheless, the area is covered in dense tropical forest, while clouds hang in the mountains. This results in a rare vegetation that makes up only 1% of the world’s forests: the mystical cloud forest.

Monteverde Cloud Forest nature reserve

A tour through the cloud forest is an absolute highlight in Monteverde to experience the unique flora and fauna up close. Thanks to the dense clouds of mist, the forest has a mystical atmosphere. The red suspension bridge, which leads through the nature reserve, is characteristic and provides a great contrast to the surroundings. It reminds me of a small version of the Golden Gate Bridge!

Opening hours and tickets:

→ 7 am – 4 pm
→ Book your ticket to the Monteverde Cloud Forest here! (At least two days in advance)
→ Price: 26 US dollars for a day ticket

standing on a hanging bridge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Natural Reserve one of the must see places in Costa Rica
the cloud forest of Monteverde in Costa Rica

My hotel tip for Monteverde

By the way, you can see the cloud forest not only in the nature reserve. Our hotel, the → El Establo Mountain Hotel, is also located right next to the forest. The hotel’s private paths lead through the forest and the view from the rooms is fantastic! An absolute hotel recommendation from my side!

Other must see places in Monteverde, Costa Rica:

  • Visit the Sloth Sanctuary in the Selvatora Adventure Park – this is where sloths live that have been rescued after accidents or other tragic circumstances, but unfortunately can no longer survive alone in the wild.
  • Right next door is a butterfly garden with numerous colorful species that can be admired up close
  • Zipline Park: A popular activity in Monteverde is a zipline tour through and over the tree tops of the cloud forests. There are various providers → here you can find our tour!
  • Night tour: A night tour to observe animals is popular in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. Most of the animals in the region are nocturnal and only come out of hiding after sunset.

Restaurant recommendations in Monteverde:

  • Wine & Grill Monteverde: Here you can get the best steak as well as pasta & pizza with a breathtaking view of the sunset
  • Taco Taco Monteverde: The best tacos and margaritas we tried in Costa Rica! An absolute recommendation, also for lunch

→ Activity Tips in Monteverde:

The Rio Celeste – an absolute must see in Costa Rica

Accommodation:

Katira Treehouses → Book your stay here!

Travel duration: one night

The most beautiful waterfall in Costa Rica can be found in Tenorio Volcano National Park: the Rio Celeste Waterfall!

The water of the Rio Celeste River has an intense turquoise blue color, which seems to be artificially colored. However, the color has a natural origin: just before the Rio Celeste waterfall, two rivers with different pH values flow together. The abrupt change creates a chemical process that changes the particle size of certain minerals, which are responsible for the deep blue color.

standing in front of the blue Rio Celeste waterfall must see places in Costa Rica
the Rio Celeste Waterfall in Costa Rica with blue water, a staircase leading down to the waterfall

How do you get to the Rio Celeste waterfall?

The Rio Celeste waterfall is about a 30-minute hike from the entrance to Tenorio Volcano National Park. It is easy to moderate and easy to do. However, just before the waterfall, 250 steps lead 150 meters / 500 ft down to the waterfall. On the way back, these have to be climbed again, which is clearly the most strenuous part of the tour.

Above the stairs, another trail leads along the river to the exact spot where the Rio Celeste is formed by the mixing of two rivers. The characteristic blue color seems to simply appear out of nowhere here. It is an incredible natural spectacle that you should definitely not miss. The hike is a little more challenging in some places but definitely doable and takes around 30 minutes each way.

the mixing point of Rio Celeste River in Costa Rica
the blue water of the Rio Celeste river must see places in Costa Rica

Opening hours and tickets

You must make an online reservation in advance for your visit. Be sure to book your desired slot a few days in advance, as Rio Celeste is one of the most popular attractions in Costa Rica. For this reason, I recommend visiting during the first time slot or in the late afternoon to avoid the heaviest crowds.

What you need to know before your visit to Rio Celeste in Costa Rica:

→ Admission is available from 8am – 2pm (you can stay in the park until 4pm) and costs 12 US dollars per person.

→ Attention: No food or plastic bottles are allowed in the national park. Drinking water may only be brought in reusable or glass bottles.

→ You can book your time slot in advance here

→ Remember to prepare a screenshot of the reservation confirmation email to show to the guards on site. The internet connection at Rio Celeste is almost non-existent.

Tubing in the Rio Celeste

Unfortunately, bathing in the blue water is prohibited inside the national park. But as soon as you are outside the Tenorio Volcano National Park, you can cool off anywhere. One popular activity is tubing in the blue Rio Celeste! You swim along the current of the river on stable floating tubes. In some places this can get very fast and adventurous, which is why I was very grateful for my helmet and life jacket! A very fun activity that you shouldn’t miss on your Costa Rica vacation!

→ I have linked the tour here!

→ More activities at Rio Celeste:

La Fortuna

Accommodation:

→ Here you will find the best accommodations in La Fortuna

Duration: two nights

La Fortuna is a cute tropical town that is popular for its waterfalls, hot springs and volcanic activity. There are also many great restaurants, chocolate stores, cafes, small stores, … The city is just great to browse and enjoy. Unfortunately, we were only in La Fortuna for a few hours ourselves, but I would recommend spending one or two nights there to enjoy the sights in the area.

the city of la fortuna, one of the must see places in Costa Rica

The La Fortuna waterfall

A highlight in La Fortuna is the waterfall of the same name. You don’t need to make an online reservation in advance, but can purchase a ticket directly on site. Admission is not particularly cheap at USD 18, but it is worth it and the profit is used to maintain the park.

From the entrance, a path first leads to a viewing platform that overlooks the waterfall and, with a bit of luck, the Arenal volcano in the background. The trail then begins, about 600 steps and 20-30 minutes into the jungle. The trail is well developed and very picturesque as it leads under the canopy of the rainforest. Once you reach the waterfall, you can enjoy the view and swim in the natural pool. La Fortuna is a very popular waterfall, but if you walk a few steps downstream along the river, you will find quiet spots from which to take great photos.

overlooking the junge with a waterfall in Costa Rica
swimming the natural pool in front of the la fortuna waterfall must see places in Costa Rica

Opening hours & tickets for La Fortuna waterfall:

→ 7 am – 4 pm (The last admission to the waterfall is 4 pm, as it closes at 5 pm)

→ Tip: If you want to enjoy La Fortuna waterfall in peace and quiet, I recommend visiting either early in the morning or in the afternoon. We were there ourselves at around 3:30 pm and were the last to leave. This allowed us to enjoy one of the most beautiful sights in Costa Rica all by ourselves for a while (until the guide asked us to leave 😀 ).

More travel tips for La Fortuna, Costa Rica:

  • Arenal Volcano National Park – the most active volcano in the country should definitely be on your Costa Rica itinerary. The national park is ideal for hiking and enjoying great views.
  • The El Salto rope swing – here you can jump from the surrounding rocks into the cool blue water on a swing. A welcome refreshment, which is very photogenic!
  • The hot springs of La Fortuna – they arise naturally thanks to the volcanic activity in the region. Access to some hot springs is chargeable (Tabacon Hot Springs) while others are free to visit.
  • Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges – on the three-kilometer trail, you cross several hanging bridges that lead through the jungle canopy. Here you can get very close to Costa Rica’s nature. The entrance fee is USD 26 per person.
an aerial view of the El Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano

the hot springs in la fortuna in Costa Rica, one of the best places to visit

La Fortuna Hot Springs

→ Activity Tips in La Fortuna:

The Poás volcano – a unique must see in Costa Rica

The Poás volcano is one of the six active volcanoes in Costa Rica. But that’s not all – it is also one of the most active volcanoes in the world with one of the world’s largest volcanic craters. In this crater is a turquoise blue crater lake, which can be seen during a visit to Poás Volcano National Park. The crater rim overlooks the solidified caldera with the lake as a splash of color in the middle. However, as the lake is located at an altitude of 2,574 m / 8,444 ft, it is often covered in clouds, which obstruct the view. These usually disappear after a short wait, but it can also happen that the view remains completely hidden (as was the case with us 🙁 ). We stood patiently on the edge of the crater for two hours waiting for a lucky moment… but it didn’t happen. That’s just nature…

→ Tip: To avoid the same fate, I recommend you check the webcam on the crater rim before your visit. This will give you a better idea of the weather situation. → I have linked the webcam of the Poás volcano here.

Opening hours & tickets:

→ 8 am – 4 pm

→ Price: 15 USD for tourists

→ Tickets can only be accepted through the online booking system and are checked on site. Due to the lack of reception at the volcano, you should have a screenshot of the confirmation email ready. → You can book your ticket here!

the blue crater lake of the Poas Volcano in Costa Rica

The usual crater view…

a cloudy view in the pots volcano crater in Costa Rica

… & how we saw it.

Santa Teresa – relaxation on the Pacific coast

Accommodation:

→ Here you will find the best hotels in Santa Teresa

Duration of trip: two nights

Santa Teresa is located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific coast. The region is the “Bali of Costa Rica” with boutique hotels, surfing camps, yoga studios and palm trees gently swaying in the wind on the beach. On Santa Teresa Street there are cute cafés, small stores, food tucks & co. that invite you to stroll around.

If you want to unwind for a few days, read a book on the beach and lose track of time, then Santa Teresa is the ideal beach destination in Costa Rica.

The Santa Teresa Beach in Costa Rica
horse back riding during sunset at the beach in Costa Rica

Puerto Viejo – the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica

Accommodation:

→ Here you will find the best hotels in Puerto Viejo

Travel duration: two to three days

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is also worth a visit and the ideal place for a beach vacation. In addition to white sandy beaches, you will also find one of the most unique beaches in Costa Rica here: Playa Negra has, as the name suggests, deep black sand, which looks very picturesque in combination with the green palm trees. Puerto Viejo is a very laid-back destination that invites you to relax and “do nothing”, but here are some …

a lonely bay with a beautiful beach, palm trees and blue water in Costa Rica
Aerial view of Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica

The best places in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

… which you should not miss:

  • Take part in a chocolate tour to experience first-hand how chocolate is grown and made
  • Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center where injured wild animals are nursed back to health
  • Enjoy Punta Uva – probably the most beautiful beach in the Puerto Viejo region
  • Relax on Playa Negra – the black sand beach
  • Visit the Cahuita National Park – entry is free and you can marvel at the rainforest, beach and coral reef

I hope this article with my must see places and the best things to do in Costa Rica will help you plan your own Costa Rica vacation. Because as the locals like to say: Costa Rica is PURA VIDA – the pure life!

If you have any further questions, feel free to ask me in the comments or send me a message on Instagram. You can also find my Costa Rica story highlight there with lots of impressions from our trip! 🙂

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the must see places in Costa Rica
the best places to visit in Costa Rica

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