The 10 Must-See Places in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is consistently rated as one of the happiest countries on Earth. It’s no wonder why so many tourists travel to this country every year! Whether your goal is to lose yourself in the “pura vida” experience or to soak up as much of this country’s diverse beauty as you can, these ten popular destinations have earned their spot on the ultimate Costa Rica bucket list.

This bucket list was created by a frequent tourist, but inspired and approved by the locals. Every tico will agree that these ten places are the must-see marvels of Costa Rica.

A dirt road leading to the active side of Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, Costa Rica.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna is actually a canton of Costa Rica (similar to states, but not nearly as big!) and it is jam-packed with awesome attractions. People from all over the world flock to this area to experience the natural hot springs, a breathtaking waterfall, and one of the only active volcanoes in Costa Rica.

Volcán Arenal

Not too many people can say that they’ve seen an active volcano, but in Costa Rica there are plenty of opportunities to do just that. For the past 50 years, Volcano Arenal has been considered the most active volcano in all of Costa Rica. The Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the most visited attractions, with plenty of paths that let you explore the base of this volcano.

La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most visited places in all of Costa Rica!

La Fortuna Waterfall

Within a couple of minutes from Volcano Arenal, you’ll find another natural wonder of this country, the amazing La Fortuna Waterfall. This waterfall may be the most popular in all of Costa Rica, which can make it a bit crowded. But the crowds do not dull the stunning beauty of this place! The sheer size and the remarkable color of the water will be sure to leave you breathless.

Tabacón Natural Hot Springs

Another reason why La Fortuna is one of our must-see destinations is because of the natural hot springs in this area. The volcanic activity from Volcano Arenal heats the pools of water creating an unforgettable spa experience. Although this experience isn’t quite as “natural” as one might hope (almost all of these hot springs have been commercialized), Tabacón Natural Hot Springs has done a great job of preserving the natural beauty. There are no mechanical pumps and it prides itself on being immersed in the jungle.

Panoramic view from Santa Elena Cloud Forest from a suspended bridge in Monteverde, Costa Rica


Visiting Monteverde is a thrilling experience from beginning to end. It’s true that it’s one of the trickier attractions to get to in Costa Rica… but you won’t be disappointed!

While there are public buses that you will can take from San José, the capital, to Monteverde, many people opt for the exciting experience of driving the steep, rocky road that leads you to the charming town of Santa Elena. This experience alone will leave you with plenty of stories for those at home. Be sure to rent an all-wheel drive vehicle and to travel during the day, while the sun is still shining (so you can see all the curves of the road).

In Monteverde, there are plenty of exciting activities to keep you busy. You’ll find the longest zip-line in all of Latin America at the Aventura Canopy Tour. You’ll literally be soaring from one mountain top to another! There is also the Cloud Forest that lets you explore the canopy of the rainforest.

In addition to all this, you will be sure to spot plenty of diverse wildlife, both at reserves and in the wild. Monteverde is known for its bird watching tours and butterfly gardens.

The gorgeous, natural beach found at the tip of the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a national park on the Pacific side of Costa Rica. It includes some of the most beautiful beaches found in this country. White powder sand, clear blue water… Manuel Antonio beach is breathtaking.

At the entrance, you will have the opportunity to join a tour guide on a walk through this park. You will spot animals that most people only get to see in National Geographic—sloths, a variety of monkeys, beautiful birds, tiny pigmy bats, several different species of lizards, frogs, and more.

The town of Manuel Antonio also has a lot to offer. You’ll find delicious restaurants, an interesting souvenir market, and plenty of places to stay with an amazing view of the Pacific Ocean.

The famous painted boat anchored on the shore of Puerto Viejo.

Puerto Viejo/Punta Uva

Puerto Viejo is an endearing port town that will let you experience the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. You’ll enjoy a more relaxed atmosphere and a surprisingly different cuisine. Rice and beans are cooked in coconut milk, which adds a nice flair to the Costa Rican casado.

There are restaurants that have nightly salsa dancing and plenty of seafood. While Puerto Viejo is a bit more rugged that Manuel Antonio, it’s carefree and lively vibe is unique to this small town. Reminiscent of Jamaica, Puerto Viejo can be a ball.

Punta Uva Beach near Puerto Viejo

If you’re looking for a more elegant escape, be sure to check out Punta Uva. You can rent bikes for the day and head for this secluded beach frequented by the locals.

Tamarindo is a relaxing getaway with plenty of amenities.


This beach town is more built up than most other getaways in Costa Rica. You’ll find sprawling coastlines to sunbathe, fantastic restaurants, and all kinds of touristy things to try. You can go surfing and sportfishing. Visiting nearby quieter beaches is another popular activity. You can even see leatherback sea turtles when they come in to nest on Grande Beach!

White sand and warm blue water will greet you in Tamarindo. While exploring downtown, you’re likely to meet friendly Costa Ricans and many expats that have come to reside in this relaxed waterfront town.

View of the Tesoro Escondido Waterfall from afar

Tesoro Escondido Waterfall

The hike to this waterfall can be a bit treacherous, particularly during the rainy season (from May until November). But if you’re up for a bit of adventure, you won’t be disappointed when you reach the Tesoro Escondido Waterfall.

Getting there requires crossing small streams and steadying yourself on hanging ropes, so you will get a bit of exercise on the way! The water is a magical blue color that is set off by the deep greens of the surrounding jungle. You’ll see beautiful flora and fauna (and maybe even a few cows!).

The turquoise waterfall and natural pool of Rio Celeste, Costa Rica.

Rio Celeste

Río Celeste is one of the most famous attractions in all of Costa Rica. It’s a river located in the north of the country that’s known for its incredible turquoise color. The hike near the river leads to a beautiful waterfall and a pool of bright blue water.

It’s so blue that a unique color is used to describe it in Spanish: “celeste”, like the blue color of the sky on a sunny day. Legend has it that the reason this river is so blue is because God used it to clean his paintbrush after painting the sky! Unlike many other natural attractions in Costa Rica, Rio Celeste has a clear path that leads you to this stunning waterfall, so it’s very accessible. You’ll be thrilled to have visited this natural wonder and seen this amazing blue water in person!

The Restaurant Scene in Nicoya

Nicoya Peninsula

Nicoya Peninsula is home to several sweet, laid-back beaches such as Santa Teresa and Montezuma. These tiny towns are a relaxing escape, with tasty restaurants, crystal clear waters, and gorgeous sunsets. The Nicoya Peninsula is almost a household name in the world of yoga enthusiasts. You’ll find awesome surfing, snorkeling, and spa services in this area.

Malpaís is a neighboring community that is frequented by movie stars and other celebrities! This coastal town includes the famous Playa Carmen, along with many other hidden gems. If you’re looking for a more lively stay, Malpais has restaurants and parties, many of which can be found right on the beach!

Lastly, be sure to take the turtle tour found at Ostional Beach! Spotting leatherback turtles in their natural environment is something you’ll never forget!

The National Theatre in San José

San José

The capital of Costa Rica is located in the center of Costa Rica. San José is an up-and-coming foodie’s paradise. You’ll find charming little cafes and Costa Rican eateries with fantastic drinks. There are also many cultural attractions such as the National Museum and the National Theatre.

Last but not least, you’ll find an open-air market that is the perfect place to find authentic Costa Rican souvenirs!

View over the Central Valley from the Poás volcano

More Central Valley Thrills

The Central Valley includes San José, Heredia, and many other nearby cities. Although the Central Valley isn’t typically noted as a must-see in Costa Rica, there are quite a few remarkable activities!

White-water rafting on Río Pecuare is a once in a lifetime experience. You’ll be able to try your hand at navigating one of the strongest rivers in all of Costa Rica! On the calmer parts of the river, you’ll be able to jump out of the raft and float along with the cool current. You’ll pass tall cliffs and caverns on either side of the emerald-colored water.

Café Britt is another fabulous activity that lets you experience the process that a coffee bean undergoes. You’ll see what it takes—from the time a bean is harvested to when it ends up in your coffee cup! You’ll also get to try the famous Café Britt chocolates, made from Costa Rican cacao beans.

Coffee from Dulce Junio Café in San José

Final Thoughts on the Top 10 Places to See in Costa Rica

For years, expats and retirees that have come to Costa Rica in search of a refreshing change of pace. Tourists have escaped their fast-paced lives to experience the “pura vida” for the first time. No matter which camp you’re in, you’ll find that this country has so much to explore. At each of these destinations you’ll make memories that will last a lifetime.

Tourists and locals agree—the ten places above are the most unique places to visit Costa Rica. Each of these destinations have a well-earned spot on the ultimate Costa Rica bucket list. Make sure to see these marvels for yourself when visiting this Central American country!

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