Costa Rica is one of the happiest countries in the world—and it’s easy to see why. It has beautiful beaches, biodiverse terrain and basically every type of outdoor recreation you could possibly imagine. Pura vida manifests itself in many ways, from the laid-back attitude of Ticos and array of wellness-oriented activities to eco-conscious accommodations and fresh food. Thankfully, you don’t have to be a resident to enjoy the good vibes, great coffee and year-round warm weather. The only question that really needs to be answered? Whether your idea of a fabulous trip leans more on surf lessons and beachfront yoga or spa rituals and ziplining—because all that and more is waiting in this tropical paradise. Here are the ten best places to stay in Costa Rica.
Best for adventure
Getting There: 2 hours 30 minutes from Juan Santamaría International Airport
Rentals: Explore top rentals in La Fortuna
Situated in the Northern Highlands, just shy of three hours outside of San José, La Fortuna is the gateway to Arenal Volcano National Park. As you might predict in a place with lush rainforests and an active volcano, adventures take center stage. On the itinerary? Hiking through the lava fields, trekking along jungle trails, rock climbing, white water rafting on the Balsa River, horseback riding and chasing waterfalls. It’s not all go go go the entire time. Soaking in the bubbling hot springs is an idyllic way to unwind without missing even a moment of the stunning natural surroundings.
Best for ecotourism
Getting There: 2 hours 30 minutes from Liberia International Airport
Rentals: Explore top rentals in Monteverde
Perhaps you’ve heard of Monteverde Cloud Forest? Nestled along the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range, this 10,500-hectare reserve is one of Costa Rica’s most popular attractions. Not surprisingly, the small town of Monteverde and the surrounding region have become a major hub of ecotourism, drawing upwards of 250,000 travelers annually. The low-hanging, moisture-rich clouds seem to hover atop the trees. This doesn’t just produce a visual that looks more like a film set than real life but also creates prime conditions for an almost mind-blowing number of species of birds—including 30 kinds of hummingbirds—insects, mammals and plants to thrive.
Best for culture
Getting There: 25 minutes from Juan Santamaría International Airport
Rentals: Explore top rentals in San José
Most people associate Costa Rica with small beach towns rather than big, bustling cities. We’re not suggesting you spend the entirety of your trip in the urban sprawl of San José. Though, it might be worth doing a night or two to understand the juxtaposition between the coast and the jungle and the metro area where 83% of the population lives. The country’s capital has all the shopping, dining, nightlife and traffic you’d expect of a major metropolis. It also houses many government buildings, significant landmarks, cultural institutions such as Teatro Auditorio Nacional and some superb museums.
Best for wellness
Getting There: 15 minutes from Nosara Domestic Airport
Rentals: Explore top rentals in Nosara
Nosara is beloved for its pura vida lifestyle. Surfing and wellness play a big part in that. Beginner-friendly swells at Playa Guiones make it an ideal spot to take lessons or enroll in a surf camp. There are also retreats that combine surfing and yoga as well as many teacher trainings. Whether you flow daily or practice more sporadically, the array of yoga classes at open-air studios in oceanfront and forested settings will certainly inspire you to roll out your mat. Playa Pelada is nice for cooling off after a sweaty session. While forest-covered hillsides provide the perfect backdrop for hiking and ATV adventures.
Best for surfing
Getting There: 50 minutes from Tambor Domestic Airport
Rentals: Explore top rentals in Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa has world-class surfing, a vibrant culinary scene with many international flavors and a vibe that draws holiday-goers to extend their vacations indefinitely. While many people flock to this chill beach town on Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula for surf clinics and camps, the swells are typically better suited for folks who’ve spent a bit of time on a board before (though tenacious beginners do just fine). If you’d rather catch rays than waves, the sandy beach is the perfect place to sprawl out. Pack some snacks and stay through sunset or grab a table at one of the beachfront restaurants.
Best for nightlife
Getting There: 80 minutes from Liberia International Airport
Rentals: Explore top rentals in Tamarindo
Best known for its sandy beaches and waves, Tamarindo was one of the first destinations in Guanacaste Province to have a tourist presence. Over the last few decades, it’s continued to attract an influx of travelers from around the world. Some come to surf, others prefer to party and stay at a backpacker hostel. As a result, Tamarindo is more built up and feels a lot less sleepy than many of the nearby coastal towns—especially in the evening. For a nice change of pace from slogging back chiliguaro shots and making new friends, head to Tamarindo Wildlife Refuge or visit Playa Grande during turtle nesting season.
Best for luxury
Getting There: 40 minutes from Liberia International Airport
Located on the Golfo de Papagayo in the northwest province of Guanacaste, Peninsula Papagayo is an exclusive slice of paradise that covers 1,400 acres of emerald forests and surprisingly empty beaches. It’s the rare mix of meticulous landscaping and wild natural beauty that bring in the big bucks and has turned it into a playground for people who can very much afford to vacation anywhere. To that end, you’ll find many second (or maybe even third) homes as well as stunning holiday rentals, two five-star resorts with posh spas, a handful of high-end restaurants and an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course.
Best for nature lovers
Getting There: 80 minutes from Drake Bay Domestic Airport
Sitting near the tip of the rugged and remote Osa Peninsula—renowned as one of the most biodiverse places on the planet—Puerto Jiménez is the ultimate home base for outdoor enthusiasts because so much, OK really everything, revolves around communing with the untamed beauty of nature. It’s the perfect jumping-off point for exploring Corcovado National Park. In this wild wonderland, travelers can navigate mangrove wetlands, unspoiled coastal trails and rainforests and peep majestic creatures like scarlet macaws. Besides its star attraction, Puerto Jiménez also gives visitors access to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary, Golfo Dulce, Rancho Raices de Osa and some incredible eco-lodges.
Best for seeing sea turtles
Getting There: 5 minutes from Tortuguero Domestic Airport
Rentals: Explore top rentals in Tortuguero
One of the most captivating things about Costa Rica is that so much of it feels untouched by man and really gives visitors a glimpse of how Mother Nature operates. Tucked away in Limón Province, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, the small village of Tortuguero sits within greater Tortuguero National Park, a protected wilderness area that’s famous for its beaches where critically endangered sea turtles come to nest (July to October). The winding canals, rivers and lagoons are best explored by boat, whether it’s a motorized vessel, kayak or canoe. We recommend the latter paddling for a more leisurely experience that allows for better observing wildlife.
Best for big game sport fishing
Getting There: 10 minutes from Quepos La Managua Domestic Airport
Rentals: Explore top rentals in Quepos
Fans of big game sport fishing are no doubt familiar with Quepos—it’s one of the best places in the world to hook sailfish, dorado, marlin and yellowfin tuna. But the appeal of this friendly community on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast goes way beyond reelin’ in prize-winning catch. Other popular activities include horseback riding, kayaking and surf lessons. Proximity to Manuel Antonio National Park means the chance to explore rainforest canopies and see howler monkeys. Don’t miss Playa Espadilla and Playa Biesanz. If you have more time, consider a boat tour of the Damas Island Mangrove Estuary.
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