Surreal Places in Costa Rica That Locals Wish Were Kept Secret

Explore an abundant diversity of flora and fauna while in the midst of clouds at Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest
Explore an abundant diversity of flora and fauna while in the midst of clouds at Costa Rica's Monteverde Cloud Forest | © Kumar Sriskandan / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jenn Parker
2 September 2021
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Between the abundant wildlife, multitude of national parks and reserves, over a dozen different ecosystems and hundreds of beaches, Costa Rica is jaw-droppingly stunning and is the epitome of paradise. Here are places that locals have known about for ages and that travellers are discovering on their adventures to this magical country.

If you’re looking for a truly unique experience led by a Local Insider, book yourself on our epic nine-day trip to Costa Rica, where you’ll get the chance to savour the best landscapes in the country.

Isla del Coco

Natural Feature
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Marbled Stingray, Taeniura meyeni, Cocos Island, Costa Rica
© WaterFrame / Alamy Stock Photo

Isla del Coco is a mystical island located 340mi (550km) off the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is the only island in the tropical eastern Pacific region that has a rainforest. Jacques Cousteau described Isla del Coco as the most beautiful island in the world. The protected marine area surrounding the island is teeming with sharks, rays, tropical fish and dolphins. It is a diver’s paradise.

Isla Tortuga

Natural Feature
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Tortuga Island Costa Rica
© Jason Ondreicka / Alamy Stock Photo
Isla Tortuga is located off the southern edge of the Nicoya Peninsula. It is uninhabited by humans, but is host to a wide range of activities, such as snorkeling, birdwatching, hiking, swimming and kayaking. The white-sand, palm tree-lined beaches make this island one of the most picturesque places to spend a day basking in the warm sun by the beautiful turquoise sea.

Isla del Caño

Natural Feature
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ISLA DEL CANO, COSTA RICA - Aerial of coral reef, Cano Island National Park, an Island in Pacific Ocean
© Rob Crandall / Alamy Stock Photo

Isla del Caño is located just 6mi (10km) off the Osa Peninsula and is a favorite spot among divers and beach-lovers. This stunning, uninhabited island is rich in spectacular flora and fauna. Whales, dolphins and turtles also love the surrounding waters here, and it is common to spot these special creatures while boating to and from the island. There are also great nature trails for hiking throughout the island.

Playa Marbella

Natural Feature
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Playa Marbella Costa Rica
© Bryan Lowry / Alamy Stock Photo

Playa Marbella is a beautiful black-sand beach in Guanacaste. This is one of the few beaches in Guanacaste where there is very little development. It is a place right out of a postcard. The ocean here is pretty wild and not particularly ideal for swimming, but for experienced surfers, sometimes there are waves.

Playa Hermosa

Natural Feature
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Playa Hermosa is home to a very well-known surf break that locals wish they had all to themselves. The waves here can be truly world-class with the right swell and conditions. The black-sand beach and minimal development also make this spot quite dreamy. Playa Hermosa is close to the popular beach and surf town of Jaco in the central Pacific region of Costa Rica.

Playa Carrillo

Natural Feature
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Palm trees and the Pacific Ocean at Playa Carrillo near Samara, Costa Rica.
© David R. Frazier Photolibrary, Inc. / Alamy Stock Photo

Playa Carrillo is situated next to the better-known beach, Playa Samara. This relatively secluded and palm tree-lined beach is an amazing place to take a beach walk, go for a swim or watch the sunset. There aren’t many accommodation choices here, but Playa Samara is very close by and has plenty of options. If you are looking for a laid-back beach spot to spend the day or week, this one is a surreal choice.

Playa Esterillos

Natural Feature
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Playa Esterillos Este, Puntarenas, Costa Rica
© Minden Pictures / Alamy Stock Photo

Playa Esterillos is a large, but very unpopulated beach located close to Playa Hermosa. The golden sand and almond trees create a captivating setting. The waters here are turquoise and calm. This is an excellent swimming beach that also sometimes has breaking waves for surfing. Due to the popularity of Playa Hermosa and Jaco, Esterillos has remained relatively untouched and is often completely overlooked.

Playa Uvita

Natural Feature
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Aerial view of Marino Ballena National Park in Punta Uvita Beautiful beaches and tropical forest at pacific coast of Costa Rica in shape of whale tail
© Christoph Lischetzki / Alamy Stock Photo

Playa Uvita is a whale tail-shaped beach in the central Pacific region of Costa Rica. This gorgeous beach is ideal for sunbathing, swimming, surfing, snorkeling and for whale and dolphin watching. It is such a beautiful coincidence that one of the most whale-populated areas of Costa Rica is also shaped like a whale tail. At low tide, you can walk all the way out to the “tail” of the beach.

Tortuguero National Park

Park
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Green iguana (Iguana iguana) on a tree Tortuguero National park Costa Rica
© Renato Granieri / Alamy Stock Photo
Tortuguero National Park is often referred to as the Amazon of Costa Rica. This incredibly dense and biodiverse area on the Caribbean coast is bursting at the seams with wildlife and exquisite plant life. The park is only accessible by boat or plane, but the journey is beyond worth it. For decades, the Caribbean coast received far less attention than the Pacific coast from travellers, but all that is changing now that people are realizing how incredibly special this zone really is.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Park
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Scenic Sunset View and Dramatic Landscape of Playa Espadilla Beach, Pacific Ocean Coastline in Manuel Antonio National Park Costa Rica
© Autumn Sky Photography / Alamy Stock Photo
Manuel Antonio is famous for its national park, which is home to a rich diversity of plant and animal life, amazing hiking trails and some of the most awe-inspiring and pristine beaches in the country. Over the years, Manuel Antonio has become a very popular destination for visitors, but remains one of the places that really shouldn’t be missed when visiting Costa Rica.

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Forest, Hiking Trail
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Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. Costa Rica
© Stefano Paterna / Alamy Stock Photo
As little kids, most of us dreamed of touching clouds; well, this is your chance. The cloud forests in Monteverde are truly unique. These special forests are also home to 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, 120 species of reptiles and 2,500 different types of plants. It is this abundant diversity of life and the opportunity to explore it all while in the midst of clouds that brings nearly 70,000 visitors to this area every year.

Poas Volcano National Park

Park
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Caldera with crater lake, Poas Volcano, National Park Poas Volcano, Costa Rica
© Sonja Jordan / Alamy Stock Photo
The Poas Volcano, which is still active even though there hasn’t been a major eruption since 1910, is considered one of the most spectacular volcanoes and national parks in Costa Rica. There are beautiful crater lakes, dense forests, abundant wildlife and breathtaking viewpoints that can be reached by a variety of hiking trails.

La Fortuna Waterfall

Natural Feature
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Tourists and locals visiting the La Fortuna waterfall in Costa Rica
© Nick Fox / Alamy Stock Photo
La Fortuna Waterfall has an unbroken 230ft (70m) drop at the base of the dormant Chato Volcano. The powerful cascade falls into a huge pool, where you can go swimming after you have hiked down to the falls via a manmade trail that takes about 15 minutes. Surrounding the waterfall and pool is dense tropical rainforest. It is likely that you will encounter a multitude of birds and other wildlife during your hike to this magnificent waterfall.

Nauyaca Waterfalls

Natural Feature
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Nauyaca waterfall
© Foap AB / Alamy Stock Photo

The Nauyaca Waterfalls have two different levels of cascading water, ending the high-energy journey in the perfect swimming hole. The first cascade falls 200ft (60m) down before flowing over into the second level. You can access this astonishing site via horseback or by hiking down a well-maintained trail that takes about an hour to complete. The sheer power of these falls is enveloping and a sight not to be missed.

Catarata del Toro

Hiking Trail
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Costa Rica's most beautiful waterfall | © ronnybas/Shutterstock
© ronnybas / Shutterstock

Catarata del Toro is a humungous waterfall that appears in the middle of a lush and very dense cloud forest. This cascade falls nearly 300ft (90m). For being one of the most outrageously beautiful waterfalls, it is not typically crowded here. It is best to hike in from El Silencio Lodge, which is also an amazing place to stay. Catarata del Toro is definitely in the running for the most mystical place in Costa Rica.

Río Agua Caliente

Natural Feature
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Agua Caliente river in Arenal Volcano National Park, Costa Rica
© Adam Major / Alamy Stock Photo

Río Agua Caliente is a free-access natural hot spring located near the Arenal Observatory Lodge. This is one of the few natural springs in the area that is not connected to a resort or privately owned establishment. However, it is nonetheless a divine experience soaking in a hot tub that is heated up by Mother Earth in the midst of nature. For a long time, only locals knew about this spot. It is still way less crowded than the bigger hot springs in the area.

Papagayo Peninsula

Natural Feature
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The Peninsula Papagayo in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
© EQRoy / Alamy Stock Photo

The Papagayo Peninsula is one of the most surreal spots in northern Guanacaste. There are 31 beaches along the 15mi (24km) of coastline. The peninsula is home to the Four Seasons, a wide selection of luxury rental properties, a beach club, several other resorts and hotels and a golf club. The peninsula has been taken over by “the finer things in life.” If you aren’t on a budget, the Papagayo Peninsula provides quite the luxurious vacation in Costa Rica.

These recommendations were updated on September 2, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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