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Why everyone's talking about Costa Rica

Looking for inspiration for a Costa Rica trip? You're not alone, the Central American country has raced to the top of the agenda for many travellers, attracted by the prospect of tropical forests, exotic wildlife, towering volcanoes and golden beaches. What's more, since British Airways launched direct flights between San Jose and London Gatwick in 2016, it has never been easier to reach the Switzerland of the Americas (it hasn't had an army since 1949). Costa Rica enjoys a reputation as a safe and stable country, offering a mix of adventure, discovery and relaxation for singles, couples and families alike. Let's have a look at six of the best places to visit in Costa Rica and what to do at each.

costa rica map

Map of Costa Rica's most popular nature destinations

Central Valley

  • Peer into the crater of an active volcano
  • See beautiful butterflies and hummingbirds up close
  • Tour a coffee plantation and raft down rivers

The natural starting point for your Costa Rica holiday is the capital. Although the city lacks the depth of colonial or pre-Hispanic heritage of many of its Latin American contemporaries, San Jose does have some interesting buildings and museums and is also surrounded by diverse areas of natural beauty.

Using San Jose or the Xandari Resort as a base, you can spend a memorable day trip combining views over the crater of the active Poas Volcano with a visit to to see fabulous butterflies and hummingbirds up close at the tropical La Paz Waterfall Gardens (please note the Poas Volcano National Park has been closed since April 2017 due to volcanic activity). The renowned Doka Coffee Plantation gives visitors the chance to sample one of Costa Rica's most beloved exports, whilst those looking for more high octane activities might choose to raft down the Pacuare River or ride through the rainforest on an aerial tram.

Discover more things to do in San Jose

Poas Volcano & La Paz Waterfall Gardens

Poas Volcano & La Paz Waterfall Gardens 

One of the best ways to truly immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Central Costa Rica is with a stay at the idyllic El Silencio Eco Lodge and Spa in Bajos del Toro. Surrounded by exuberant cloud forest, the lodge is a wonderful base from which to set out on gentle hikes to discover hidden waterfalls and spot some of the region's wildlife, or perhaps embark on a horse ride in the shadow of the Poas Volcano or visit a coffee hacienda.

Arenal National Park

  • Enjoy stunning views of Arenal Volcano
  • Cross hanging bridges, raft on rivers or fly down zip lines
  • Stay at specialist lodges and resorts

Perhaps the natural wonder most synonymous with Costa Rica is the Arenal Volcano, situated in the northern tropical lowlands. There are several ways to gain panoramic views of the perfectly conical peak, explore the tropical forests around the base and learn about the devastation it wrought during the last eruption in the 1960s. These include short hikes to see ancient lava flows, hanging bridges and exhilarating zip wires through rainforest canopies and even quad bike expeditions. You can also raft down flourishing rivers and cruise down the nearby Rio Frio in the Caño Negro Refuge to spot monkeys, sloths, caiman, turtles and a variety of colourful birds.

See our range of Arenal activities

best places to go in Costa Rica - Arenal

Things to do and see in the Arenal National Park (photos by Arenal Lodge

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

  • Venture into the misty cloud forest
  • Peer into the forest canopy on a sky walk
  • Ride horses and zip lines and spot exotic bird life

Another eco-system closely linked with Costa Rica is the cloud forest, and there is no better place to experience this than Monteverde in the north east of the country. The Cloud Forest Reserve is best explored on a sky walk through the canopy, affording the chance to have a good look at the interesting plant life and trees found here, under the guidance of a naturalist expert. The walks also hold the potential for sightings of some of the tropical birds which reside in Monteverde, including the elusive Resplendent Quetzal. Monteverde also provides opportunities to take scenic horse rides through forests, sail down zip lines, tour a coffee plantation and visit the Butterfly Garden at Sepultura.

Find out what to do in Monteverde

what to do in Costa Rica - Monteverde

Cloud forest, sky walks, zip lining and horse riding in Monteverde 

Tortuguero National Park

  • Watch three types of turtles nesting on the beach
  • Explore lagoons and narrow rivers to spot water-based wildlife
  • Home to hundreds of birds and interesting plant and tree life

Situated on Costa Rica's northern Caribbean coast and accessed by boat or light aircraft, Tortuguero is a region of canals, lagoons and rivers best known for the Green Sea, Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles which nest on the volcanic beaches. These are best seen after sunset, in the company of a naturalist guide, though a real highlight would be the privileged chance to see new hatchings making their first perilous journey to the sea.

Of course, it's not all about the turtles. Venture out on boat trips through the narrow creeks and back water lagoons of Tortuguero in search of caiman, river otters, monkeys, jacanas, egrets and many more species. The national park is also home to a wide range of colourful frogs and various habitats, with delightful plant and flower life.

Where to visit in Costa Rica - Tortuguero

Exploring Tortuguero's creeks by boat (photo by Isidro López-Arcos

Corcovado National Park

  • Immerse yourself in one of the continent's most biodiverse areas
  • Explore diverse habitats, home to a huge variety of wildlife
  • Stroll along empty beaches and hike long trails

Corcovado is found on the Osa Peninsula on Costa Rica's southern Pacific coastline. It is a vast wilderness of pristine tropical rainforest, coral reef, swamps, mangrove and empty beaches, largely untouched by human development and so offers intrepid nature enthusiasts the chance to have a truly immersive and off the beaten track experience. Corcovado is one of the world's most biodiverse places, packed with an astonishing abundance and variety of wildlife and plant species. Some of the endangered species that make their home here include jaguars, white-lipped peccaries and scarlet macaws and Corcovado is also thought to be the only place in Costa Rica where all four species of native monkeys live; howler, squirrel, spider and white-faced capuccin.

Staying at a specialist lodge, you can embark on guided hikes along the nature trails, swim below wild waterfalls, explore on horse-back, discover interesting marine biology on beach walks and go snorkelling or sea kayaking. Venture out at night with a naturalist guide and you'll see the peninsula's lesser-known nocturnal creatures, or get up early morning to see and hear the birds waking up.

where to visit in Costa Rica - Corcovado

Corcovado's splendid nature and wildlife (photos by Lapa Rios

Manuel Antonio National Park

  • Combine coastal forest with idyllic golden beaches
  • Look out for exotic birds, sloths and monkeys on short hikes
  • Stay at luxury rainforest resorts near the beach

Manuel Antonio's combination of inviting Pacific coast beaches, easily accessible and wildlife-rich jungle and luxury rainforest resorts have made it one of Costa Rica's most beloved national parks. A stay here offers contact with a cross-section of Costa Rica's natural beauty and the perfect balance between exploration, activities and relaxation. Two-toed sloths, a variety of monkeys and a huge array of birds reside in the treetops and can be seen on easy hikes, either self-guided or in the company of a local expert. There are hidden waterfalls, verdant forest canopies, flourishing rivers and quiet mangroves to be discovered and explored.

Just outside the boundaries of the park are a number of excellent hotels and spa resorts from which to base yourself, immersed in the jungle and wildlife and many overlooking the ocean. These also typically offer activities for their guests, including fishing, horse riding, cycling, zip lining, rafting, kayaking, quad biking, surfing and spa treatments.

best places to go in Costa Rica - Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio's beach and jungle (photos by Arenas del Mar)

Better with experts

Travelling in Latin America can sometimes be a challenging and unpredictable undertaking for even the most well-versed globetrotters. With our vast experience and expertise, Veloso Tours will carefully create the perfect itinerary for you, handling all the tricky logistics, negotiating the best prices, liaising with local suppliers and ensuring everything flows perfectly during your time in Costa Rica. All you have to do is decide where to go! Our collection of expert local guides will help bring these wonderful places to life. They'll give you their insider knowledge and offer an authentic and personal perspective that will leave you informed and inspired.

See our range of carefully crafted Costa Rican tours to get you started on your adventure. Should you wish to personalise any aspect of these, our expert staff would be delighted to work with you to craft an unforgettable journey, full of memories that last a lifetime. Get in touch today and start planning your dream trip with Veloso Tours.