7 Best Places to Go in Costa Rica for First-Time Visitors

Best places to go in Costa Rica

Looking for the best places to go in Costa Rica? You’ve come to the right place!

In this post, I will share the most beautiful places to visit in Costa Rica.

From the breathtaking wonders of Manuel Antonio National Park, the mystical Monteverde Cloud Forest, to the captivating wildlife of Corcovado and Tortuguero, and so much more!

You can’t miss the vibrant capital city of San José, relax on pristine beaches, witness the majestic Arenal Volcano, and immerse yourself in the country’s rich biodiversity.

Waterfall to visit in Costa Rica

For a nation that tends to such a small plot in the global garden, Costa Rica sure has a lot to offer. For a first-time visitor especially, it’s a bona fide banquet of rich experiences.

Once you’ve sorted your means of reaching Costa Rica and have begun looking at hotels and accommodation, it’s time to work out exactly how much you can fit on your travel plate.

Not sure where to start? To help you decide, here are seven must-see attractions for first-time visitors to Costa Rica. 

Best Places to Go in Costa

1. San José

If you’re planning to reach Costa Rica by air, it’s highly likely your visit will begin in San José, the nation’s capital.

Though it’s likely to feel markedly different from the rest of your trip (which will probably feel much less urban), San José is the perfect place to start.

It has everything you’d typically want from a travel destination, from museums and markets to nightlife and culture.

Spending a few days here will allow you to adjust to the rhythm of life in Costa Rica (and trust us, it is a rhythm), and will set you right for the rest of your visit.

2.  Turtle Nesting

Turtle Nesting in Costa Rica
Turtle Nesting in Costa Rica

Turtles are one of those animals that everyone loves, and Costa Rica is one of the most important nesting sites in the world.

If you’re a fan of Attenborough, you already know how magical this new cycle of life is.

This heart-warming turtle nesting event occurs from July to October in Tortuguero (a name that means ‘Land of Turtles’, in case you needed convincing), on the northern coast of Costa Rica.

If for some unacceptable reason, you can’t make it to Tortuguero during this time, don’t worry; it’s still a wonderful place for hiking and river cruises, year-round.  

Personally, I love watching animals and after finding turtles’ nests on Tulum’s beaches, I knew this experience was going to be amazing!

3.  Samara, Nicola Peninsula

Samara beach at Nicola Peninsula
Samara beach at Nicola Peninsula

There’s a national saying in Costa Rica: Pura Vida.

Roughly, it translates to ‘simple life’, and though it literally is a way of life for locals everywhere in Costa Rica, nowhere does it seem more appropriate than in the town of Samara, on the Nicoya Peninsula.

From learning to surf to visiting waterfalls to settling in at a craft beer brewery, this town, and the surrounding area certainly capture the laid-back yet fun lifestyle that epitomizes this saying.

We told you, it’s a rhythm.  

4.  Arenal Volcano

San José is the official capital of Costa Rica, but for many of the thrill-seekers who visit Costa Rica yearly, the real capital—the adventure capital—is Arenal, in the northern province of Alajuela.

And the centerpiece of this area is the Arenal Volcano, another of the most important places to visit in Cosa Rica.

Arenal is one of the world’s most well-known active volcanoes, and though you’re not allowed to climb to the crater, there are plenty of nearby hikes that will take you close enough to hopefully witness a small eruption (Arenal has been largely dormant since 2010).

And the best part? Soaking your weary body afterward in one of the many natural hot springs in the area.  

5.  Monteverde Cloud Forest

Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica
Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica

Honestly, how can you not be won over immediately by a title like that? It’s enough to have your imagination floating much much higher than usual.

The truth is, the reason behind the title is more science than science fiction, and it’s a reason we’ll let you discover yourself. But don’t let the truth take anything away from the experience.

One of the biggest draw cards of this particular cloud forest (there are numerous throughout Costa Rica) is the chance you might see the Resplendent Quetzal bird.

These rare gems can be hard to spot amongst the rainforest palette, but even if they manage to elude you, the forest itself will leave a lasting impression.

6.  Poas Volcano, one of the best places to go in Costa Rica

Poas Volcano, one of the best places to go in Costa Rica
Poas Volcano, one of the best places to go in Costa Rica

We know. Another volcano. Think about it though: when will you next get the chance to visit two active volcanoes in one trip? Exactly.

Poas Volcano is a wonderful day trip from San José, which makes it a perfect adventure when you want to get away from the crowds of the capital.

The centerpiece—or centerpieces—of Poas are the twin calderas (large craters that form when a volcano erupts and the mouth collapses) that have lakes filled with sulfur.

The eerily striking thing about these lakes is how still they are, so much so that you’ll swear to the tour guide they are, in fact, paintings.

Just remember to visit Poas early in the morning, so you avoid the risk of the clouds shrouding the view. 

7. Sloth Sanctuary

Yes, you read that correctly. A sloth sanctuary is one of the best places to go in Costa Rica.

Since 1975, when the government of Costa Rica officially declared this private property a biological reserve, the sanctuary has been a home for injured, orphaned, and abandoned sloths

Regardless of whether you have a genuine love for sloths or simply want to come face to face with an animal that genuinely knows how to go ‘viral’, this is a wonderful, heartwarming place. Yes, they sleep a lot. But they have many mysterious, enigmatic qualities you’ll remember long after you meet them.  

Final thoughts about the best places to go in Costa Rica

The great thing about visiting Costa Rica is that—depending on how long you visit for—you should be able to do and see all the things above. And more!

The beauty and magic of this country is that it packs so much into such a small space, without feeling as though it has overplayed its hand.

When you visit Costa Rica, you’ll never feel pressed to fill your days, yet will have more than enough within reach to fill them. The trick is to take a leaf from the locals’ playbook and embrace the simple life.

Sara Rodríguez

A passionate traveler with a mission: Help you plan your next trip easily and enjoy it to the fullest.

In this travel blog you will find everything you need to get inspired and organize your next adventure. Read more about my story here.

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