Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica for a Wonderful Vacation

Ever since the 1980s, the República de Costa Rica has become a top tourist destination for nature lovers. Although this tiny Latin American nation only covers about 0.03 percent of the globe’s landmass, it boasts 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity and has numerous nationally protected parks.

Costa Rica is one of the most respected countries in all of Latin America for its innovative environmental policies, its refusal to support a military, and its great human rights record. With tons of active volcanoes, unique flora and fauna, and a year-round tropical climate, Costa Rica is a great getaway for tourists interested in the wonders of the natural world. In this article, we’ll take a look at the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

The 5 Best Places to Visit in Costa Rica

1. La Fortuna de San Carlo

La Fortuna de San Carlo

This northern town in Costa Rica is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the entire nation. Most people come here just to visit the stunning Arenal Volcano, which is currently Costa Rica’s most active volcano. Although the last major eruption was in 2010, scientists say that this 5,437-foot high volcano is still active. Tour guides take interested guests through the 29,692-acre Arenal Volcano National Park, which protects the volcano as well as the local flora and fauna. Some tours also take guests to one of the many relaxing hot springs located all around this area.

In addition to the Arenal Volcano, many visitors at La Fortuna also visit the 200-foot Fortuna Waterfall. Guests can either hike or take a horseback ride to this wondrous oasis a few miles south of La Fortuna’s town center. If you feel so inclined, you can bring a bathing suit with you and swim in the clear waters under this mighty waterfall. Some people visit this area to admire the tropical animals spotted in this region, which includes many monkeys and toucans. These and other natural reserves make La Fortuna one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

2. San José

San José

Although some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica are concerned with the natural world, a trip to this nation wouldn’t be complete without checking out the city life in San José. With around 288,000 residents in the city’s center, San José is undoubtedly the most populous region of the nation. Since this is Costa Rica’s center of politics and culture, you’ll find plenty to do and see once you arrive in this energetic capital.

The best way to learn about the history of this great nation is to visit the National Museum. Located in what used to be an old fort, this museum tells the story of Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian history, Spanish settlement, independence, and the eventual abolition of the Costa Rican army. There’s also a butterfly garden here.

To continue your historical tour of San José, it’s well worth your time to visit the Jade Museum. This museum boasts five floors of handcrafted pre-Columbian pieces made of jade, gold, stone, shells, and even bone. With five floors to explore, this museum will certainly hold your interest for at least a few hours.

One of the top tourist spots in the entire city is the Teatro National Costa Rica. Even if you don’t want to take in a show here, it’s well worth your time to visit this magnificent architectural achievement. Guided tours of the theater are available to help visitors understand the history behind this grand performing arts center.

Since there’s so much to do and see in this capital city, it’s generally advised to hire a tour guide to take you to all the hot spots. Be sure this tour includes stops at a few local Costa Rican restaurants. The best place to get the most authentic local cuisine is to visit the Mercado Central, which is the oldest food market in the city.

3. Cartago

cartago, costa rica

Cartago is another city in central Costa Rica. Only about 30 miles away from San José, Cartago served as the capital of Costa Rica between 1574-1824 and is home to some of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

The top tourist destination in Cartago is the beautiful Our Lady of the Angels Basilica. This massive church was built on the spot where a girl found a figurine of the Virgin Mary in 1635. Every time the girl brought the figurine home with her, it would magically re-appear where she originally found it. When she told a priest what was going on, he decided to build this church on the spot where the girl first found the sacred figurine. Visitors can still see the well-preserved figurine on the left-hand side of the church. As you walk through the basilica, you’ll probably see a bunch of locals filling up jugs with free Holy Water.

There are numerous ruins with interesting stories attached to them dotted throughout this city. For example, Costa Rican folklore tells us the Santiago Apóstol Parish Ruins arose out of a fight between a priest and his brother who were smitten by one woman. When the woman chose the priest’s brother to be her husband, the priest violently stabbed his brother and killed him on the spot. Seeking forgiveness from the Almighty, the brother tried to build this parish in honor of Saint James. From 1500s onwards, however, every time someone tried to build a parish here an earthquake destroyed it.

In addition to the ruins and churches, Cartago is full of museums, high-class restaurants, parks, and gardens. All of these attractions make Cartago one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

4. Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park

Located on the northern Caribbean side of the nation, Tortuguero is home to one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica. This area is the largest sanctuary in the world for sea turtles. People from around the world come to observe these sea turtles lay their eggs on the 20 miles of coastline. In addition to sea turtles, this area is filled with a wide variety of birds, alligators, tropical plants, trees, and fungi. The only way to get here is via boat since there are no cars or roads in the whole of Tortugero Village.

In addition to watching the turtles, there are various other activities and attractions in this national park. You can take a canal tour, a tour of the jungle, a hike up Tortuguero Hill, or a tour of the village.

5. Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park

waterfall at the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park

Located in the northwestern portion of the nation, this 35,000-acre park has plenty to offer the adventurous tourist. The entire park is centered around a volcano called Rincón de la Vieja. Thankfully for tourists, this volcano hasn’t been active since the 1990s. People walking around this national park instantly discover the numerous sulfur springs, mud springs, and steam vents.

The park is split into two main sections: the Pailas sector and the Santa Maria sector. The Pailas sector is full of mud pots left from the previous volcanic eruption, whereas the Santa Maria sector has been used for centuries as a ranching area. As you’re walking through this well-preserved park, you’ll come across around 300 different species of bird and three species of monkey.

There are numerous other spots to explore in this tropical paradise, but these are a few of the best places to visit in Costa Rica. No matter where you go or what you do, you’ll be certain to have the experience of a lifetime visiting this dynamic Latin American nation. The culture, cuisine, and climate here make this tiny nation one of the most obvious destinations for your bucket list.

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