Stunning Places in Costa Rica You Won’t Believe Are Real

The Rio Celeste will enchant you with its beauty
The Rio Celeste will enchant you with its beauty | © John Crux / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jenn Parker
6 September 2021

Costa Rica is a country with awe-inspiring natural wonders seemingly around every corner. From the Caribbean to the Pacific coast and everything in between, there are plenty of magical places brimming with surprises in this captivating country.

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Rio Celeste

Natural Feature
Map View
Rio Celeste river in the Tenorio Volcano National Park, Costa Rica, Central America
© Stefan Huwiler / imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Rio Celeste lies within the Tenorio Volcano National Park. You can access this dreamy river on foot, and although the hike can be a bit challenging, it’s most definitely worth it. The opaque turquoise color of the water is quite special. It is said that Rio Celeste’s truly unique color comes from the reflection of sunlight off a combination of minerals within the river. The rainforest surrounding Rio Celeste is dense, vibrant and full of life. This is a place that should not be missed.

Rio Tarcoles

Natural Feature
Map View
American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus) on the Rio Tarcoles, Costa Rica. Image shot 2007. Exact date unknown.
© Tosh Brown / Alamy Stock Photo

Rio Tarcoles is quite the opposite of the dreamy Rio Celeste; it has been suggested that the Rio Tarcoles has the largest population of American crocodiles in the world. There are roughly 10 crocodiles per square mile or 25 crocodiles per square kilometer here, and many of them are mammoth in size. There is a viewing bridge where you can stop to see some of these humongous reptiles up close.

Playa Uvita

Natural Feature
Map View
Sunset at paradise beach in Uvita, Costa Rica - beautiful beaches and tropical forest at pacific coast of Costa Rica - travel destination in central a
© Simon Dannhauer / Alamy Stock Photo

Playa Uvita is a whale-tail-shaped beach coincidentally located within the Marino Ballena National Park. This white-sand beach is surrounded by crystal-clear waters and juts out into the sea, taking the shape of a whale’s tail at the end. Between the months of December and April, humpback whales spend time in this area to mate before migrating north.

Islas Murciélagos

Natural Feature
Map View
Bull Shark (Carcharhinus leucas). reefs of the Sea of Cortez, Pacific ocean. Cabo Pulmo, Baja California Sur, Mexico. The world's aquarium.
© Jaime Leonardo Gonzalez Salazar / Alamy Stock Photo

The Islas Murciélagos (Bat Islands) are home to an impressive population of massive bull sharks. At the tip of the Santa Rosa National Park, the islands have remained free of human life and development, which has kept the area a pristine and perfect habitat for the sharks as well as manta rays, eagle rays, devil rays and a visiting whale shark every once and a while. Between the months of May and November, visibility is best, and bull shark encounters are the most frequent. Don’t worry though, there have been no reported shark attacks here in the past 30 years. For an experienced diver, this dive will top the charts as one of the best.

Playa Ostional

Natural Feature
Map View
A Massive turtles nesting of Olive Ridley sea turtles in Ostional beach; Costa Rica, Guancaste
© Francesco Puntiroli / Alamy Stock Photo

A great natural phenomenon called an arribada takes place on the shores of Playa Ostional one to two times during each month of the rainy season (August-December). Typically occurring for three to seven nights a week before the new moon, thousands upon thousands of olive ridley sea turtles emerge onto the sand at the darkest hours of the night to lay their eggs. Over the course of one arribada, up to 10m turtle eggs can be laid. Around 50 days later, baby turtles will surface and make their way to the sea. Both the nesting and the hatchings are two of the most beautiful sights to see in Costa Rica.

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Forest, Hiking Trail
Map View
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Costa Rica, Puntarenas, Monteverde
© blickwinkel / Alamy Stock Photo
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of the most mystical places in Costa Rica. This dense rainforest is home to an immense diversity of birds, butterflies, insects, monkeys, reptiles, amphibians, flowers, plants and trees. On a cloudless day, you can actually see both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts from an elevated viewpoint. The endangered but spectacular quetzal lives in these magical forests, too.

Nauyaca Waterfall

Natural Feature
Map View
The top section of Nauyaca Waterfalls in Costa rica, a majestic cascading fall in Dominical province, Costa RicaTW3W3W
© Chris Rabe / Alamy Photo Stock

Just a short trip inland from Playa Dominical, there is a relatively secret valley that’s home to a dozen spectacular waterfalls and beautiful primary rainforest. There are various hiking trails leading to the waterfalls, and adventurers are free to climb up, jump off, swim beneath and gaze up in wonderment. The Nauyaca Waterfall is part of this collection, as well as the Diamante Waterfall.

Cahuita National Park

Forest, Natural Feature, Park
Map View
Aerial view of Cahuita National Park along the southern Caribbean coast of Costa Rica.
© Carver Mostardi / Alamy Stock Photo

The Cahuita National Park is famous for its stunning coral reefs close to the shore. During the drier months (February–April), the water visibility is great and ideal for snorkeling. There are more than 125 species of fish that make their home on the reefs of Cahuita. There are also 35 species of coral, including huge sea fans, brain coral and blue staghorn coral. What’s so special about this park is that the land portion is equally as impressive as the underwater portion, with both accessible to nature-loving visitors.

These recommendations were updated on September 6, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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