Top-rated tourist attractions in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a wonderland of natural attractions, with volcanoes, beaches, cloud forests, and unique wildlife. This is a country that appeals as much to birdwatchers and luxury-focused travellers as it does to surfers and backpackers. It may be a small country in land mass, but Costa Rica is one of the world’s biggest natural playgrounds.
Bordered by Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica boasts the world’s largest density of flora and fauna in addition to a varied terrain of mountains, valleys, forests, volcanoes, beaches, lakes, and rivers. With so many intriguing options, it is helpful to know what some of the best and must-visit attractions are including some of the best hotels and popular Costa Rica luxury vacations.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Wildlife, beaches, and fun are what attract visitors to Manuel Antonio National Park and the adjacent town of Manuel Antonio. The park is known for its beautiful stretch of sand, forest, and the wildlife that inhabits the area. The rich biodiversity of this area, coupled with a wealth of activities make this a destination that offers something for everyone. It’s easy to spend your entire holiday in this area of the country. Manuel Antonio National Park is open Tuesday through Sunday from 7.30am to 4pm.
Regulations have been implemented to limit the amount of visitors to 600 on weekdays and 800 on weekends and holidays. To avoid large crowds, early morning from May to November may be the best time to experience the park. The main beaches in Manuel Antonio are Manuel Antonio, Gemelas, Puerto Escondido, Espadilla Sur and Espadilla Norte. The most visited beaches are Espadilla Norte and Playa Manuel Antonio in the national park.
Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal)
The Arenal Volcano National Park is found in the rugged Cordillera de Tilarán and is one of the top volcano viewing areas in the country. Arenal was dormant from 1500 AD until a massive eruption on July 29, 1968, which killed 82 people and destroyed two villages. Since then, it has seen regular activity and, depending on the day or week, visitors can expect to see anything from a cloud of ash to glowing red lava flowing down the mountain.
Without doubt, the most popular and recognised of Costa Rica’s volcanoes is Arenal. The Arenal Volcano is a symmetrical cone-shaped volcano that dominates the fertile landscape of Arenal Volcano National Park. Travelers to Arenal will surely enjoy its bountiful sights, sounds, and activities— there are mountains to be hiked, lakes to be fished and rivers to be floated. As one of the country’s most scenic and accessible areas, it is a requisite stop on any tour of Costa Rica.
Monteverde and the Cloud Forests
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a Costa Rican reserve located along the Cordillera de Tilarán within the Puntarenas and Alajuela provinces. The Cloud Forests near Monteverde and Santa Elena have become popular ecotourism destinations within Costa Rica. There is an assortment of activities within the Monteverde area to help visitors engage with these forests. Hikes through the reserves allow tourists to see, smell, and even touch the interior of these jungles.
Dominical is a tropical backpacker’s haven, with dirt streets, beautiful beaches, cheap accommodation, casual open-air restaurants, and its own unique vibe. What travellers seem to love most about this region of Costa Rica is the combination of jungle-filled mountains and ocean. Don’t be surprised if you find surfers camping out on the beaches. The warm, year-round temperatures make it an ideal spot for beach-campers who don’t want to waste a minute getting back to the surf after a night’s rest.
Tamarindo is the place on the Nicoya Peninsula for surfing, beaching, and fun. Once a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo is now a tourist haven where visitors can find good food and accommodations, as well as all kinds of other tourist amenities. Tamarindo Beach is a long beach with great waves. The currents here can be strong so watch the posted advisories when swimming, but much of Tamarindo Beach is perfect for those just learning how to surf. Just north of Tamarindo Beach, Grande Beach is a quieter beach known for the Leatherback sea turtles that come to lay their eggs. Between November and April, the largest of all living sea turtles dig metre-deep pits and bury their eggs before returning to the sea. Shopping and dining options are also superb and plentiful, perfect for sampling the true flavours of Costa Rica.
Mal Pais and Santa Teresa
Mal Pais on the Nicoya Peninsula is an area along the coast known for great waves that attract surfers from all over. It provides consistent and outstanding swells year round. The entire area unfurls along one bumpy coastal road that rambles south from Santa Teresa through Playa El Carmen and terminates in the relaxed, sleepy fishing hamlet of Mal País. In addition to surfing, there are so many other beach activities that people do in Costa Rica, such as snorkelling, fishing, hiking, and horseback riding.
Jaco is a good choice for anyone looking to get out of San Jose but still wanting the comforts and amenities of a larger town or city. With rolling green hills of jungle and farm pasture in the distance, Jaco sits in a wide cove with rocky points on each end. The beach is a long grey arc that has a backdrop of palm trees, surf-side hotels, souvenir and boutique shops, a huge selection of restaurants and bars, and the occasional mid-to-high-rise condo complex.
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