Explore the highlights of Costa Rica, from laid-back seaside towns to wonderful wildlife hidden high in the cloud forests. Read more below about our favourite places and things to discover during a trip to this diverse Central-American country. When you're ready to plan your own adventure, you can choose from our suggested itineraries and combine with our responsible experiences for a memorable holiday with a positive impact to boot.
Lying in the northern highlands of Costa Rica, the spectacular Arenal volcano is only a few hours' drive from San José and a short boat ride across Lake Arenal from the Monteverde cloudforest. Many people think of Arenal as just a volcano, however the National Park offers a variety of beautiful trails through the rainforest and the chance to up close to the local flora and fauna. The park is also a great place for thrill-seekers with a famous canopy walkway, zip line and some truly beautiful white water rafting.
Perhaps one of the most recognisable volcanoes in the world with its perfectly conical shape, Arenal was dormant until 1968 when it erupted in massive lava flows. It has remained active ever since although the degree of activity varies from week to week. The volcano also provides the heat for the area's other major attraction, hot springs with mineral pools and waterfalls for you to soak in after a day spent exploring.
Whilst Tortugero is the explorers' paradise on the Caribbean coast, the Osa Peninsula is the place to go on the Pacific side. Located at the south end of the coast, the peninsula includes the primary rainforest area of Corcovado National Park, which is home to the greatest variety of plants and animals of any national park in Costa Rica - and that is saying something! In true Costa Rican style you will find a range of lodges for you to stay at, from guest houses to luxury jungle hideaways, all developed with nature and sustainability in mind.
This area is one of the most impressive parts of the country for its vast areas of wilderness and untouched forests. Although time spent on the peninsula can reward visitors with glimpses of sloths, monkeys or even tapirs, it's also a great location to get closer to some of the communities that live there and the unique experiences they offer. The waters of the coast are awash with small islands, offering great chances to see tropical fish, dolphins and manta rays. If you have even one adventurous bone in your body, then Osa is definitely worth a visit.
Manuel Antonio National Park epitomises the popular view of Central America’s remote Pacific coast. Lush green forest creeping up to the beautiful white sands and warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. For this reason Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica’s most popular and scenic national parks, offering a well-marked trail system and prolific wildlife such as toucans and several species of monkeys. What makes it that extra bit special is that whilst it is easily reachable by road from San Jose, thanks to its National Park status it remains an unspoilt paradise. However, because of its beauty and accessibility Manuel Antonio National Park is a very popular weekend destination, so we advise that you try and fit it in during the week.
Lying on Costa Rica’s stunningly beautiful Caribbean coast and facing the Atlantic Ocean, the Cahuita National Park is one of the most amazing national parks in the country. Created in 1970 to protect Costa Rica’s biggest coral reef, the park is located in Limon province, 42km south of Puerto Limon.
While it encompasses a land area of just 1,067 hectares, the national park protects over 22,400 hectares of ocean and marine life and is one of the most picturesque regions in the entire country. The main attraction of the park is its underwater world, which is home to a fantastic array of marine life and the largest coral reef in Costa Rica. Tourists from all over the world flock here to sample the fantastic snorkeling and scuba diving opportunities, as well as the park’s white sand, palm tree-lined beaches and crystal clear blue waters. The park also boasts a unique co-management system with the local community where in place of entrance fees, the community collects donations at the entrance in the town.
Tortuguero National Park is one of the most important nesting sites in the world for the green sea turtle, which finds its way onto the brown sand beaches every year. It is a remote and stunning part of Costa Rica and whist there are no luxury accommodation options, it is definitely a must-see for serious nature lovers.
The park consists of deep forest criss-crossed by canals and lagoons and the only form of transport is boat or plane. One of the reasons that there is no luxury accommodation is that the National Park has managed to keep infrastructure to a minimum, helping you to immerse yourself in one of the most remote destinations in the Americas. All of the lodges in the park have their own boats, which is the best way to see the alligators, iguanas, howler monkeys, boa constrictors and the myriad bird life, quietly exploring the waterways and canals that run inland from the coast.
From July to October, Tortugero is one of the best places in the world to see the giant green turtles coming ashore at night to lay their eggs. The hatchlings emerge from the nest by November at the latest. Leatherback turtles can also be seen here from March to June.