The Most Beautiful Spots in Costa Rica

The Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica has been captivating people with its beauty for thousands of years
The Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica has been captivating people with its beauty for thousands of years | © imageBROKER / Alamy Stock Photo

Cloud forests, active volcanoes and untouched beaches along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts – you’ll find some of the world’s most beautiful natural wonders in Costa Rica. This Central American country, known for its biodiversity (it’s home to more than 500,000 animal species), attracts more than 1m visitors annually. But where exactly to go? These are the most beautiful places to visit in Costa Rica.

Poás Volcano National Park

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Caldera with crater lake, Poas Volcano, National Park Poas Volcano, Costa Rica
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Fancy seeing an active volcano? Head to Poás Volcano National Park, an hour-and-a-half drive from San Jose, where the Poás Volcano sits among 16,000 acres (6,475ha) of parkland. The most recent eruption took place in 2019, spewing smoke and solid material into the atmosphere. Today, it’s a popular tourist destination, with numerous hiking trails and viewpoints over an area dense with vegetation and wildlife.

La Fortuna Waterfall

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La Fortuna Waterfall
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To reach La Fortuna Waterfall, an hour’s walk from downtown La Fortuna, you’ll have to journey through the rainforest near the edge of the Arenal Volcano. Those determined enough to hike down the canyon will be rewarded with one of the country’s most beautiful waterfalls, with a colossal drop of about 246ft (75m). There’s a small admission fee, but it allows you to swim in the stream and small rapids directly below the fall.

Corcovado National Park

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The Corcovado National Park, the largest park in Costa Rica, attracts ecologists and enthusiastic travelers eager to discover its biodiversity. It covers a huge area of about 164sqmi (424sqkm) and is among the world’s most biodiverse regions – jaguars and macaws are a couple of its live-in residents. Join a jungle trek to explore its terrain fully.

The Guanacaste beaches

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Playa Conchal beach Guanacaste Pacific Ocean Costa Rica
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The Guanacaste beaches, spanning the northwestern point of the country, are the epitome of tropical paradises. Think lush scenery, soft sand and clear waters perfect for fishing, swimming, diving and surfing. Tamarindo Beach is a prime spot for all of the above but also one of the main nesting areas for leatherback turtles; these endangered creatures take over the beach from November to April, digging their nest up to 3ft (1m) deep and laying their eggs before returning to the sea.

Tortuguero National Park

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Landscape in Tortuguero National Park Costa Rica
© Francesco Puntiroli / Alamy Stock Photo
Tortuguero National Park is only reachable by plane or boat, but the effort is well worth it. There are 11 different habitats here, including rainforests, mangroves, swamps, beaches and lagoons. Once an archipelago of volcanic islands, the national park is also a nesting area for green sea turtles, leatherbacks and hawksbills. Going inland along the extensive network of freshwater creeks and lagoons, you may also spot one of seven species of river turtles or the endangered West Indian manatee. As no roads lead to Tortuguero, it’s worth coming here on an organized tour for ease of access.

Manuel Antonio National Park

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Manuel Antonio National Park, Costa Rica
© Susan E. Degginger / Alamy Stock Photo
Manuel Antonio, once an archipelago of volcanic islands, is most famous for its national park. It features several natural habitats and is home to many endangered species, such as the squirrel monkey. Hike the lush undergrowth of the jungle before kicking back in its nearby bustling town. Consider staying at one of the luxury condos along the white-sand beaches or a cozy hideaway in town for a true immersion into Costa Rican culture. During the warm evenings, dip into the refreshing waters of the public beaches, such as Playa Espadilla and La Playita.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Forest, Hiking Trail
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Tourist on Hanging bridge walk at Monteverde cloud forest,Costa Rica,Central America
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The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve prides itself on being one of the best examples of sustainable tourism in the world, housing an impressive 2.5 percent of the planet’s biodiversity within 25,946 acres (10,500ha). The forest is home to more than 2,500 plant species, 100 mammal species, 400 bird species (including the famous quetzal) and 120 reptilian species. Join 70,000 other travelers annually, and embark on one of the many guided tours or go solo on a hiking trail.

Santa Teresa

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Santa Teresa, on the edge of the Nicoya Peninsula, is among the most beautiful small fishing villages in the country. It’s a favorite travel destination for thrillseekers, including surfers of all levels, keen hikers and those who want to try out horseback riding. Fancy heading out to the rainforest? Book onto a canopy tour. The Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve is nearby, and as the country’s first protected area, it remains an integral part of Costa Rica’s wildlife conservation programs, featuring an important seabird sanctuary.

Arenal Volcano

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With a perfect cone shape, the Arenal Volcano is one of the most spectacular volcanoes and natural wonders in the country and the world – so much so that even tribes thousands of years ago considered it as such. Dormant since 2010, the volcano draws thousands of visitors each year. Today, those visiting the area are welcome to walk through the humid rainforest of the Arenal Volcano National Park, observing the old lava trails and exceptional wildlife.

Cocos Island

Natural Feature, Park
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A view of the coast of Cocos Island, an island off the coast of Costa Rica, as seen from a boat.
© Kip Evans / Alamy Stock Photo
Cocos Island, 342mi (550km) off the coast of Costa Rica, is known as the only eastern Pacific island with a tropical rainforest. Its unique beauty greatly inspired the Jurassic Park movie franchise. Today, it’s a paradise for scuba divers who travel from near and far to explore its 20 dive sites and come face to face with the ocean’s population of scalloped hammerhead sharks, rays, moray eels and dolphins. As nobody is allowed to stay on the remote island (except for a few chosen Costa Rican park rangers), you can only explore it aboard a professional Costa Rican liveaboard dive boat.

Tamarindo

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Come to Tamarindo for a slice of Costa Rican beach life. This former fishing village, on the northern Pacific coast, is now an immigrant and tourist haven. Surfers flock here to ride the huge waves, which crash onto white sands backed by thick jungle. There are surf schools for novices and vibrant beach bars where you can dance into the night. You’ll also have the chance to see leatherback turtles nesting between October and February at nearby Las Baulas National Marine Park.

Rio Celeste

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The turquoise waters of the Rio Celeste, fed by two other rivers, snake through Tenorio Volcano National Park. While the color of the river is an optical illusion, many locals believe that God dipped his paintbrush into the river after coloring the sky. Hike through muddy, jungle-covered trails to soothing hot springs and the park’s star feature, a 98ft (30m) waterfall that crashes into a topaz pool. While swimming is prohibited inside the national park, it’s possible to take a dip by the free public entrance, surrounded by colorful morpho butterflies.

Montezuma

Natural Feature, Architectural Landmark
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Montezuma, Peninsula De Nicoya, Costa Rica,
© Stefano Paterna / Alamy Stock Photo

Looking for a bohemian beach retreat? Montezuma is a magnet for hippies, artists and those seeking an alternative lifestyle – think yoga classes, vegetarian dining, meditation retreats and markets selling handmade trinkets. Enjoy the mountainous surroundings of the southern Nicoya Peninsula, complete with jungle waterfalls and exotic wildlife. Playa Montezuma is a highlight, and you can book a trek to the nearby Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve to explore jungle trails and quiet beach coves.

Amy Blyth contributed additional reporting to this article.

These recommendations were updated on May 10, 2021 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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