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Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a beautiful country in North America. It is known for sandy beaches, palm trees, cloud forests, and sloths.

When planning your next vacation, you might want to consider a trip to Costa Rica. We have been to Costa Rica three times now. Because of its beauty and tropical wonders, it always makes it onto our list of vacation places for December.

La Costa Rica = “the rich coast”

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - Santa Teresa
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Here are some of our favorite places to visit in Costa Rica:

Table of Contents

Putarenas Province

The Nicoya Peninsula

When first traveling to Costa Rica, we visited the Nicoya Peninsula on the Pacific side of the country. At the tip of the Nicoya peninsula, there are a handful of delightful beach villages; Santa Teresa, Mal Pais, and Montezuma. We spent a few weeks surfing, hiking, ziplining, and exploring this area. After two additional visits to Costa Rica, this is still one of our favorite places to visit.

How to get to the Nicoya Peninsula:

  1. You can fly into San Jose and drive 5 hours, including a trip on the Purtarenas-Paquera Ferry across the Gulf of Nicoya.
  2. You can fly into the Liberia Airport in Guanacaste and drive 4 hours south on the peninsula to reach the southern tip.
  3. You can do what we did and take a 45-minute flight with Sansa Airlines from San Jose to the Nosara Airport on the Nicoya Peninsula.
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Santa Teresa

Mal Pais = “bad country” ???

Surfing in Santa Teresa

Once on the Peninsula there is so much to do. If you are up for a surf or yoga retreat, there are many activities to choose from. If you are looking to do your own thing, set up some surf lessons at Costa Rica Surf and Sup and spend the week on the beach catching some waves.

Once you have a good grasp of the surfing basics, you can rent boards and spend the week improving on the white water waves.

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - Santa Teresa - Surfing
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Surfing in Santa Teresa

Hiking in Montezuma

Hike 4.2 km on the Sueco Trail down to the beach at the Reserva Natural Cabo Blanco. This beautiful and secluded cove is worth the trek. Be sure to bring lots of snacks and water, as this hike will take about 4 hours round trip.

If you are considering to visit the Reserve Natural Cabo Blanco, it is only open Wednesday-Sunday from 8-4. The entrance costs $12 per person. Note that there is only an entrance from the east side of the peninsula in Montezuma. You cannot enter from Mal Pais.

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - Montezuma
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Beach at the end of the Sueco Trail

Zip Lining Over Waterfalls

If you are up for an adventure, book a Zip Line Tour through the canopy of trees with Parquera Costa Rica. They have many cable lines that take you from platform to platform. Along the way you will have the opportunity to jump and swim in a few waterfalls halfway through your tour.

Although the zip lining is fun, the best part of this tour for me was jumping off the falls and swimming in the cool water. I didn’t even want to finish the zip line tour, because I was having so much fun in the water.

Note: If you are not up for zip lining, you can hike to the falls for a swim instead.

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - Nicoya Peninsula
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Howler Monkey

Pacific Coast of Putarenas Province

Manuel Antonio National Park

One of the largest national parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is a must see spot on one of your trips here. Less than 3 hours from San Jose by car, you can witness all of the nature Costa Rica has to offer. In our walk from the entrance to the beach, we witnessed many beautiful creatures including white faced capuchin monkeys, fruit loop toucans, a gladiator tree frog, and of course a sloth.

Once you reach the beach, you can relax for hours in the blue-green warm waters of the Pacific. With its white sand beach and calm waters, it is the perfect place to spend an afternoon.

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - Manuel Antonio National Park
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Important Information about Manuel Antonio National Park

  1. Only 1500 visitors are allowed into the park daily so book ahead.
  2. The park is open everyday but Tuesday from 7:00 AM – 4:00 PM.
  3. Entrance tickets cost $18 for adults (12 and up) and $6 for children (2-11).
  4. Outside snacks are not allowed into the park, you can only eat food inside the cafeteria of the park. Be prepared for a line. There is only one register.
  5. Only reusable water bottles are allowed into the park.
  6. There is a long walk from the parking lot to the park entrance. Once in the park, there is another long walk (about a mile) down to the beach.
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Swimming in Manuel Antonio

Tarcoles

If you are looking for a place to stop and stay on your way to and from Manuel Antonio, I recommend Tarcoles. In just under 90 minutes from San Jose by car, Tarcoles is directly on the Pacific Ocean and is a showcase of the beauty Costa Rica has to offer. On my last trip to Costa Rica, we spent two nights at the Hotel Ville Lapas Jungle Village. This hotel is only a mile from the beach and over a mile from the Tarcoles River.

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - Tarcoles
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Sunset on the Tarcoles River

While here I recommend booking a Jungle Crocodile Safari on the Tarcoles River. On our last trip, we took a sunset tour and saw dozens of American crocodiles, scarlet macaws, brown pelicans, white-faced capuchin monkeys, iguanas, flamingos and many more native water birds.

Tours are about 90 minutes long and cost $35. Tours are available daily from 7:30 AM – 4:00 PM.

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American Crocodile in the Tarcoles River

Jaco

Another great place to stay is the surf village of Jaco. Also just 90 minutes from San Jose, it is easy to get to and is a great launching place to explore the Pacific coast. If you are a beginner surfer, the long, slow waves at the beach in Jaco are a great place to learn and practice.

Jaco = “small horse”

Unlike the beaches of Nicoya and Guanacaste, the beach in Jaco is made of black sand.

If the waves are not rolling in Jaco or they are not challenging enough, travel just 10 miles south to Playa Hermosa for some larger waves.

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Jaco Beach at Sunset

Alajuela Province

La Fortuna

Although it is a winding, three-hour drive through the mountains from San Jose to La Fortuna, it should definitely make it on one of your Costa Rica itineraries. After visiting La Fortuna the first time, I was left with the impression that it was just a busy tourist location. Upon my recent second visit, it is still a busy tourist destination, but it is also a lovely place to relax and enjoy what nature has to offer.

La Fortuna = “the fortune”

The Town of La Fortuna

The town of La Fortuna is relatively small and walkable. There are many restaurants, ice cream shops and grocery stores. You can find everything you might need. In the center of town there is a small park and a church that is lovely to explore in the evening. You will find that both tourists and locals alike gather here in the evenings to meet up and hang out.

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Downtown La Fortuna

The La Fortuna Waterfall

A brief 10 minute drive northeast out of town will take you to the La Fortuna Waterfall. This waterfall is owned and maintained by the community. The fees collected are used to maintain the park and to support the local community. Entrance fees in 2024 were $20 per adult (ages 9 and up) and free for children (ages 8 and under). The waterfall itself is stunning and a dip in the pools is just the thing needed on a hot day.

Be sure to save some energy for the return trip to the entrance, as you will have to climb back up more than 500 steps. Also don’t forget to stop in for a smoothie at the cafe and stroll through the Orchid Garden before you leave.

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - La Fortuna
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La Fortuna Waterfall

The Hot Springs

If you are staying in La Fortuna for a day or two, consider staying at the Baldi Hot Springs Resort Hotel and Spa or grabbing a day pass.

Although the day passes can be pricey ($47 for adults and $34 per child), it is definitely worth it. Throughout the spa there are 25 thermal pools and 4 water slides to enjoy. Three of the pools even include swim up bars for your enjoyment.

On our recent trip, we spent two hours here relaxing, playing in the pools, and talking to the locals.

Lake Arenal

While you are in the La Fortuna area, be sure to check out Lake Arenal. This originally natural lake was made three times larger in the late 1970s, when a dam was built on the far east end to provide hydro-electric power. The lake and the surrounding land is now owned by the Costa Rican government, however there is still lots to do here.

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Eyelash Viper spotted while hiking at Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park

Between La Fortuna and Lake Arenal is the Arenal Volcano National Park. If you are looking to get up close to nature, be sure to include a hike or two here. Trails travel through secondary forests and old rocky lava fields. On our last trip to Costa Rica, we did a 4 km round trip trail to a look out point of both the volcano and the lake.

On our way we saw an eyelash viper, a hummingbird wasp, kawati, and many crested guans (Costa Rican Turkeys). Arenal Volcano National Park is open daily from 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM and costs $25 for adults (ages 13 and up).

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - Arenal Volcano National Park
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Arenal Volcano

Kayaking on Lake Arenal

On the east end of Lake Arenal, at the boat ramp, you can adventure out onto the water by kayak with Arenal Kayaks. With a variety of tours to choose from, you can decide how much time you would like to spend paddling around. We spent an hour paddling around and swimming in calm waters of the far east end of the lake. Tours are offered daily. Prices and length may vary depending on the tour you choose and the number of people in your group.

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Kayaking on Lake Arenal

Kitesurfing and Windsurfing at Tico Wind

If you are into wind sports, check out Tico Wind for Kitesurfing or Windsurfing. Tico Wind is a wind-sports club that has access to Lake Arenal. It is located on the northwest end of the lake. From the road, there is only a small sign leading down to the water. Once you make the turn it is a bit of a drive through the woods until you get down to the beach.

If you are looking to get out on the water, Tico Wind offers both lessons and rentals. You can call ahead or drop in to book a session! Tico Wind is open daily during the dry season, but hours may vary during the wet season.

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Kiting Lake Arenal from Tico Wind

Guanacasta Province

Rio Celeste

In route from the Arenal Region to Tamarindo, a trip to Rio Celeste is recommended. The gorgeous waterfall and bright blue river are stunning and worth the detour.

Along the hike out to the river, you will witness bright tropical flowers and local fauna. On our last trip, we saw porcupines, monkeys, and lizards on the 3.7-mile round trip Rio Celeste hike. Similar to the La Fortuna Waterfall, the hike includes 250 steps down to the bottom of the falls. However, unlike La Fortuna swimming is not permitted here.

Rio Celeste = “celestial or heavenly river”

The Rio Celeste is located in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. The park is open daily from 8:00 AM – 4:00 PM and costs $12 for adults (13 and up) and $5 for children (ages 2-12).

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Rio Celeste Waterfall

Playa Grande and Tamarindo

On our second trip to Costa Rica, we spent a week in Tamarindo. As in Santa Teresa, there are many surf shops and schools to choose from in the Tamarindo area!

Although Tamarindo is known as a great spot for beginner surfers to practice, we unfortunately had a week of no waves. Lucky for us, Playa Grande was just across the estuary, adding another one more spot to our favorite places to visit in Costa Rica.

Favorite Places to Visit in Costa Rica - Playa Grande
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Playa Grande

Note: Do not swim across the estuary from Tamarindo to Playa Grande. There are American Crocodiles in the water!!! You can either take the boat across the river from beach to beach for a couple hundred colones or you can opt to drive out and around. We did both!

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Watch out for Crocodiles!

Once you are in Playa Grande, rent a surf board at a local surf shop before heading down to the beach. Personally, we used A Cachete Surf because it was the closest board rental place within walking distance of Playa Grande.

Overall, this is a great place to spend the day riding and enjoying the waves. There are also fewer crowds here as compared to Tamarindo.

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Surfing in Playa Grande

Costa Rica in Conclusion

We love traveling to and exploring this beautiful country. As Americans it is fairly easy to travel to and the weather is always fantastic here during our miserable dreary winter months in Michigan. The dry season is warm and sunny. The waters of the Pacific are around 85 degrees year round.

Costa Rica has so much to offer from hiking to surfing to relaxing in hot springs. If you love nature and being outdoors, Costa Rica should definitely make it on your bucket list of places to travel next.

Pura Vida = “Pure Life

These are our favorite places to visit in Costa Rica. We hope this helps you decide what places to put on your itinerary. It is almost impossible to decide!

Let us know what places you enjoyed the most in Costa Rica in the comments below.

Have fun and safe travels! ~KiteBikeVan

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“Love” from Costa Rica!
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