20 Top Rated Tourist Attractions in Costa Rica

Jul 22, 2021

Almost as much a kaleidoscope of natural beauty as a vibrant and welcoming cultural destination, Costa Rica has long been a favorite holiday destination for travelers from all over the world.

A landlocked country, Costa Rica is formed by a unique series of coral-studded islands off the Central American coast, and as you would expect, the country's top tourist attractions include its phenomenal natural beauty and the amazing wildlife that calls this place home.

Take the chance to explore the beauty of the landscape, from dramatic and rainforests to sprawling coffee farms and pristine beaches. You may see some incredible wildlife, from frogs to monkeys, birds to butterflies. Don't be surprised if you bump into some lemurs and otters as well. Costa Rica's wildlife-rich locations are difficult to access, but the country offers plenty of opportunities to get up close and personal with all sorts of wonderful creatures.

Any first-time visit to Costa Rica is bound to bring unique experiences. Staying in one of the country's family-friendly hotels is a great way to see its natural beauty, and every type of traveler will find something to love in this destination. Keep in mind that some of the top attractions and best things to do will involve activities such as zip-lining, waterfall rappelling, or taking a boat ride.

Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Costa Rica.

Arenal Volcano

Photo of Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano: en.wikipedia.org

Arenal Volcano is an impressive active volcano, the southernmost of the "big three" of the Costa Rica volcanos and one of the most accessible for visitors. It can be visited by hike on the paths through the lush jungle on the north and east flanks of the volcano, and by road or boat on the north-west slope. Located close to the country's capital, the town of La Fortuna is the gateway to the area, with a vibrant bar scene at night and the perfect starting point for hikes. Nearby, Corcovado National Park is the site of the eponymous national park and Volcán Arenal, which is easily accessed from the town of La Fortuna.

La Fortuna Waterfall

Photo of La Fortuna Waterfall (Costa Rica)
La Fortuna Waterfall (Costa Rica): en.wikipedia.org

About 22 miles northeast of San Jose lies this glorious series of nine waterfalls strung along the Río Diamante, a tributary of the Rio Coca, Costa Rica's second-longest river. Perhaps the most spectacular of these is La Fortuna, which rises in an impressive cascade that tumbles 33 feet into a pretty swimming hole. The attraction lies in the fact that the pool and surrounding area are much less developed than in neighboring Monteverde and Manuel Antonio national parks, as well as San José, Costa Rica.

Corcovado National Park

Photo of Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park: en.wikipedia.org

The Corcovado National Park, on the southeastern tip of Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, is one of the best places in the country for nature lovers. Corcovado's abundance of jungle-clad mountains is home to an astounding number of endemic flora and fauna, including tapirs, jaguars, sloths, monkeys, and a vast number of bird species. Corcovado is famous for its seasonal spectacle of flamingos, who arrive in great numbers at the beginning of April. However, the best months to visit are from July through October, when the rains subside and the landscape takes on a brilliant color. The park's most important area is the protected zone of Isla del Caño (Wetland Island), where the deep, clear waters and their hundreds of species of fish are the reasons why the country's top aquariums, Bribón Waterfowl Sanctuary, The Monkey Farm, and Corcovado Marine Turtle Center all have headquarters here. A visit to this biological hotspot is an essential part of any Costa Rican excursion.

La Paz Waterfall

Photo of La Paz Waterfall (Costa Rica)
La Paz Waterfall (Costa Rica): en.wikipedia.org

La Paz Waterfall is one of the top natural attractions in Costa Rica. Located in San Carlos, the city of La Paz, you can drive up to the top of the active volcano for the spectacular views. You can also visit the mouth of the La Paz Waterfall on foot, a 200 foot drop into the azure waters of the Pacific Ocean. It is the tallest waterfall in Costa Rica and an important source of water for the valley below. Visitors can walk the route from La Paz, a six-mile hike which passes several interesting points of interest along the way. Visitors also can see the beautiful red clay buildings, called Corozo, made from the volcanic ash, as well as the small tree frogs that live in the rainforest.

Santa Rosa

Photo of Santa Rosa National Park
Santa Rosa National Park: en.wikipedia.org

Santa Rosa, Costa Rica, is a beautiful colonial town best known for its traditional markets, its magnificent arches and bells, and its colonial architecture. Though it attracts fewer visitors than its more famous neighbors, Cartago and San Jose, Santa Rosa has an understated charm of its own. On a clear day the expansive vistas make this one of the most delightful towns in Central America. Attractions in Santa Rosa include two well-preserved public markets, Santa Fe and the old center, the Ciudad (town), as well as a wealth of beautifully restored colonial architecture and the chance to go hiking through one of the country's largest protected tracts of primary forest. Santa Rosa is about a three-hour bus ride from San Jose.

Tamarindo

Photo of Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Tamarindo, Costa Rica: en.wikipedia.org

Tamarindo is a beach town with white-sand beaches, calm waters and waves suitable for surfing. It's surrounded by a scenic tropical forest that contrasts nicely with its clear and blue waters. Located in Guanacaste, it's roughly the halfway point between Liberia and the capital of San Jose. The town itself has several lodging options, including a large casino resort. Inexpensive and ideally located for getting to and from Liberia, Tamarindo can be a good base for visiting various attractions in Guanacaste such as Arenal Volcano and Monteverde Cloud Forest. The town of Tamarindo also boasts plenty of excellent surf breaks that provide a healthy selection of surf conditions for beginners to professionals, with plenty of water sports. The nearest airports are Liberia and Daniel Oduber International in Heredia, leaving from Liberia in 15 minutes.

Cartago City

Photo of Cartago, Costa Rica
Cartago, Costa Rica: en.wikipedia.org

Despite its remarkable number of cultural and historic sites, Cartago City is a laid-back traveler's haven in the midst of Costa Rica's central highlands. The city has an excellent central bus terminal which handles all national and international connections, and a nice air-conditioned place to relax and a variety of restaurants, most with reasonably good food. The Catedral de San Antonio in the center of town has been rebuilt to its original Renaissance-era design. The imposing structure is a tall and narrow, with a pointed belfry at the top. It was built in 1609, making it the oldest church in Costa Rica. With its pointed bell tower and graceful white colonnades, it's a classic example of Renaissance architecture. Another popular landmark is the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, which dates back to 1617 and serves as the principal church of the Costa Rica branch of the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits. After a severe earthquake in 1989, the church was rebuilt in its current classical style.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Photo of Rincón de la Vieja Volcano
Rincón de la Vieja Volcano: en.wikipedia.org

Just as Costa Rica's name translates to 'land of a thousand white-sand beaches,' so too does Rincon de la Vieja National Park (from the Spanish for 'canyon of the old woman') reflect its attractive hilly setting and wide-open panoramas with mountains on either side. As you cross the pass leading into this protected area, the stately Gavilanes Rainforest Museum (it is closed Mondays), showcasing a dramatic setting of canyons and jungles with indigenous plants and animals, is on your left. Get up early to enjoy the dawn sky and its amazing multicolored show, before settling down to enjoy the spectacular views from the village of Barra del Colorado, the capital of Rincon de la Vieja.

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Photo of Monteverde
Monteverde: en.wikipedia.org

Situated in the Pacific highlands, Monteverde Cloud Forest lies in the southeastern corner of Costa Rica and is an extraordinary place. At 2,000 meters above sea level and surrounded by heavily forested mountains, it consists of five separate ecosystems: cloud forests, cloud forest-savanna transition, wet lowland tropical rainforest, montane cloud forest, and montane tropical forest. These dense and shady forests are the result of the Pacific trade winds, making it one of the wettest areas on earth. Monteverde is also a site of worldwide importance for the conservation of wildlife: more than 230 species of plants and 40 species of mammals (including endangered species like the Monteverde harlequin frog, blue-spotted poison dart frog, white-throated sloth, howler monkeys, white-faced spider monkeys, spider and bat eared opossums, and golden lion tamarins), are living in this area of outstanding biodiversity, including 500 species of birds and six species of reptiles. The five ecolodges (some offer sleeping in either domed or thatched-roofed eco-huts) have a variety of lodging options including small, private rooms and huge, dormitory-style dorms. Most have been re-designed and are well maintained with attention to detail. Also at Monteverde are two major parks: the La Reserva Biológica Hitoy Cerere (Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve) and Bosque Eterno de los Niños (Children's Eternal Forest) and Costa Rica's best butterfly farm, La Fortuna.

Turrialba Volcano

Photo of Turrialba Volcano
Turrialba Volcano: en.wikipedia.org

Located in the Alajuela region of Costa Rica, Turrialba Volcano is the oldest active volcano in the world. It began forming at the end of the Eocene epoch (some 34 to 50 million years ago) and reached its first major activity (eruptions) at the end of the Miocene epoch (about five to 10 million years ago). This activity intensified in the late Pliocene epoch (2.5 million to five million years ago) until reaching its highest activity (eruptions) about 7,500 years ago. Although its activity has greatly decreased since then, the volcano has been a constant presence in the area, constantly active and active again. For this reason, Costa Ricans have developed a special affection for the volcano. Just 20 minutes away from the capital of San Jose, it is a short distance from the country's main airport in Palma Solano. Travelers going to Turrialba Volcano National Park or the volcanological museum in the town of San Isidro de El General are allowed to visit the crater and may hike to the upper crater of the volcano.

Puerto Viejo

Photo of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: en.wikipedia.org

Located on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, 30 minutes from the Panama border, Puerto Viejo is a perfect paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers. The area is full of untouched rainforests and the best-preserved Caribbean jungle in the country. Indeed, Puerto Viejo is a paradise for nature enthusiasts. During the day, visit Playa Flamingo or El Blanco beach, one of the longest, most beautiful and pristine beaches on the Pacific Coast. Puerto Viejo is known as one of the best surfing destinations in the world. It's also home to a unique community that is open to both tourists and travelers seeking a more natural experience.

Isla del Caño

Photo of Isla del Caño
Isla del Caño: en.wikipedia.org

Off the coast of the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica, Isla del Caño is the perfect destination for beach lovers. In fact, there's barely a square inch of the 15-mile-long island that is not filled with attractive white sand beaches. Furthermore, the waters surrounding the island teem with marine life, making the island an ideal destination for snorkeling, scuba diving, and just hanging out on the beach. There are no real town to speak of on the island, only a few small residential enclaves and a handful of small hotels. Guests of the hotels, however, can enjoy amenities like gourmet dinners, snack bars, and small restaurants, with plenty of delicious seafood on the menu. The only drawbacks are that many of the villas and hotels offer Wi-Fi only in the lobby area and some of the island's best beaches are not reachable by car. Isla del Caño's isolation, however, is part of its charm.

San Jose City

Photo of San José, Costa Rica
San José, Costa Rica: en.wikipedia.org

San José, the capital of Costa Rica, is located on the central Pacific coast. Founded in 1563 as a Spanish trading post, San Jose today is the largest city in Costa Rica, with a population of some 3.5 million people. It is the second largest city in the country after San José, with the national population located mainly outside the capital. San José is one of the least visited sites in Central America. Due to the lack of paved roads and serviceable transportation, most travelers arrive by air or sea, and then travel overland to the area. The city has an intriguing mixture of old-world Spanish, Baroque, colonial and art-deco buildings from its heyday. Popular areas of interest in San José include Parque La Sabana, Plaza de la Independencia, Museums of Art and History, Fortaleza and the Palacio de la Cultura. Several old stone churches are found in the city. As is typical for Costa Rica, you will also find busy, lively markets. The city is known for its seafood and the crayfish (a large freshwater crab found only in Costa Rica) is a San José specialty. The central Zona Industrial of San José is easily accessed from most of the hotels. Included in this report is information about the local economy, lifestyle, climate, in addition to leisure and tourist information, including some of the notable sites in and around San José. San José is the main city and metropolis of Costa Rica.

Irazu Volcano

Photo of Irazú Volcano
Irazú Volcano: en.wikipedia.org

Costa Rica's largest volcano erupted in 1965. It was extremely active, spouting streams of ash for 14 years. Today, the area is a popular tourist attraction. Hiking on the volcano's upper reaches, which are topped with a series of cascades and waterfalls, is the most popular way to see it. Other fun things to do in this area include boating, fishing, rafting, horseback riding, and zip-lining. Note that the volcano itself and the surrounding country have received a green rating for wildlife and sustainable tourism.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Photo of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve: en.wikipedia.org

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located about 100 km northeast of the capital, San José. The forest is home to more than 150 types of birds as well as eight types of monkeys, and about 30% of the reserve is covered by primary rainforest. Visitors may find themselves feeling very small in this vast cloud forest, but there is a variety of ways to enjoy the beauty of the area.

Manuel Antonio

Photo of Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park: en.wikipedia.org

The former capital of the republic is a tropical paradise that attracts nature-lovers. The beaches are known for their powder-soft sand and crystal clear waters; mangroves and tropical rainforests surround its perimeter, along with numerous waterfalls. The city's highlights include white-sand Playa Norte beach, Corcovado National Park with its plentiful wildlife and the most important of its volcanoes, Poás, as well as Corcovado National Park. Other beaches in the area include Playa Ocotal, Punta Uva and Cabo Blanco. A number of attractions are also available to visitors, such as the wildlife park "Capuchin Boca del Drago" and the Doka Botanical Garden, both in Puerto Jimenez, the area's main town. The best times to visit Manuel Antonio are between February and May, during the rainy season.

The Osa Peninsula

Photo of Osa Peninsula
Osa Peninsula: en.wikipedia.org

In 2007, Costa Rica's economy was left virtually in ruins after a severe earthquake and the resultant tsunami caused extensive damage throughout the country. One of the most affected areas was the Osa Peninsula, where some 45 people died. Although still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Felix, which devastated the region in November 2007, the Osa Peninsula, in the northern part of Costa Rica, is now a place where families can relax in the jungle and make discoveries about wildlife. The peninsula is known for its pristine beaches and outstanding, highly regarded diving. It has two national parks - Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge and Corcovado National Park - and a number of hotels with beachfront locations. All of these sights can be seen with a visit to this popular tourist destination and leisure center.

Alajuela

Photo of Alajuela Province
Alajuela Province: en.wikipedia.org

Inland Costa Rica is often overlooked, but it is one of the best-kept secrets in Central America. Thanks to its lush green hills, abundant water, and low development, this inland region has the feel of a giant national park. It's a delightfully uncrowded destination, offering a wide variety of things to see and do. The heart of the area is the lovely province of Alajuela. Stretching east from the base of the majestic Cordillera Volcanica de Tilarán in the south to the banks of the Tempisque River in the north, Alajuela is noted for its rugged tropical forests, rugged and picturesque highlands, and beautiful ocean views. It is an ideal place to explore on your own two feet, mountain biking through the small colonial town of Heredia, or learning about the flora and fauna of the verdant wilds. The province is also a destination in itself. For art and culture enthusiasts, the capital city of Alajuela is an extraordinary place to visit, with its one-of-a-kind museums, amazing markets, and vibrant cultural scene. With a renowned modern-art museum housed in a colonial-style building and three more small-scale museums located in the Old Town, the city is a major center for learning about the Costa Rican art world.

Montezuma Waterfall

Photo of Montezuma, Costa Rica
Montezuma, Costa Rica: en.wikipedia.org

The towering Montezuma Waterfall in the Montezuma National Park has been featured in a number of Hollywood movies, such as Deep Rising, Ocean's Twelve, and The Other Guys. This is thanks to the main attraction, which is both the world's highest and the longest free-falling waterfall. Its deep and immaculate pools reflect rainbows of rain, and its 3,395-foot (1,000-meter) plunge of water is truly magnificent. This park also features the Montezuma Grotto, the largest in the country, which has waterfalls, caves, and hanging gardens. It is the perfect location for swimming or playing in the water. Access to the waterfall is possible by land or by a 10-minute boat ride.

Golfito

Photo of Golfito
Golfito: en.wikipedia.org

It's no wonder that Guanacaste is Costa Rica's most popular tourist destination: this is Costa Rica at its most relaxing and pristine. Surfers, fisherman and surfers, hikers and horse-riders, cattle ranchers and Tico beach-goers, travelers and backpackers, these are a few of the country's most passionate and knowledgable ecotourism professionals. Enjoy fine sandy beaches, a warm ocean and blue skies. Home to dense tropical forests, with ancient Kuanacaste palm trees with trunks covered in parasitic sapodilla trees. Go horseback riding along white sandy beaches, or kayak down the Pacuare River. Get a taste of the local culture at the Cascadas de Sarapiqui, the country's most spectacular waterfall. Just relax and enjoy the world-class nature and warm hospitality of Costa Rica.