The best places to visit in Costa Rica
January 1, 1970
by Amber Jade
Costa Rica; where the sand is white and the jungle is thick.
A tourist favourite when visiting Central America!
One of the newest land developments on Earth, aging just over 3 million years old.
The energy here is young, full of enjoyment, and truly sticks to its slogan “Pura Vida,” literally translating to “ Life is Pure.”
Throughout the entire country you will find plenty of smiling faces. The traditional food is great too. You can always count on fresh fruit, as well as beautiful beaches and a hot, tropical sun. Mountains to hike, clean, lush rivers to swim, and a full vibrant jungle to enjoy. Even short visitors will see exotic wildlife; amazing colourful birds, small creatures, and maybe even some crocodiles or whales!
Visiting San José
When flying into Costa Rica, you will visit the only international airport just outside of the capital city San José.
There are many things to do in and around the city, ranging from great food to amazing volcano hiking trails.
Hiking in San José
San José is enclosed by 3 volcanoes; Volcan Poás, Volcan Barva, and Volcan Irazu. The three of which stand tall around the valley, sometimes even blowing off some smoke. They create great hiking trails, through the thick jungle, past beautiful waterfalls, finally reaching volcanic lake craters with amazing views.
Volcan Poás is one of my favourites. It is one of the world’s largest active volcanoes; with 2 crater lakes. The northern lake known as Laguna Caliente, or “Hot Lagoon”, is one of the world’s most acidic lakes. And the views of it from the hiking trail are amazing.
Cuisine in San José
Inside the city you will be tempted with local cuisine, one of my favourite local restaurants being ‘La Parrillita de Pepe’. Having only 3 restaurants inside San José and surrounding area, this restaurant boasts local cuisine with a twist. A highlight being their decadent tropical fruit juices made fresh and to order. I highly recommend trying Costa Rican grown fruit such as mango, papaya, pineapple, or my personal favourite guanabana (aka soursop).
I don’t prefer to stay in cities long. Although the lights and activities are tempting, I am always pulled to the countryside – in this case, the beach!
Costa Rica has some great beaches, with most of the country a coastline; either to the Pacific Ocean, or the Caribbean Sea.
I recommend visiting both, because each coast boasts of its own unique flavour.
Discovering Costa Rica’s West Coast
The West Coast of Costa Rica lines the Pacific Ocean.
With a wild and lush coastline, there is so much to see! Beautiful white & black sand beaches, amazing jungle, and so many different varieties of trees and animals.
The pacific ocean is big and vast, and the best place to watch the sunset.
One of Costa Rica’s top beach towns, Jaco is a fun and busy place. With lots of nightlife, expansive beaches with great surf, and is home to a well-known music festival ‘ENVISION’. This brings a large amount of tourism to the area each spring, from all over the world.
Another great place to visit is Tamarindo. Known as a surfing destination, Tamarindo has grown into a popular little town. It was great to watch the surfers, and swim in the Ocean. It is beautiful, and so warm!
Personally, I can’t last in party towns for long. I prefer the quiet of smaller towns, tranquillity, and nature. So I tend to seek quieter places and less-populated beaches.
The quieter places
Approximately 1 hour south of Tamarindo, is one of my favourite beach towns in the country, Playa Junquillal. Very small indeed, you will want to bring groceries with you when you visit. Because once you see the almost private, long stretches of white-sand beaches you will want to stay. My friends and I stayed in a small hostel dedicated to helping the leatherback turtles. So each night on the beach you would see volunteers combing the beaches for turtle tracks, or releasing tiny little turtles into the ocean under the moonlight.
On the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, is a little gem of a town called Montezuma. This town boasts of its beautiful coast and views, as well as adorable shops and street artists. Spending a day is easy here, tranquil vibes, great food options, and so much beach to check out – time passes easily. It’s a great place to surf, as well as in Santa Teresa, which is only 20 km away. Also, within 20 km, is the best pizza I have eaten in Central America! A small, Italian family-owned handcraft pizza parlour, called Tierra y Fuego, is a must visit. Full of flavour, decadent pizza is a sweet surprise hidden in the hills of Western Costa Rica.
Each part of the country is so different and unique. I love visiting my favourite spots to eat a variety of really good food!
Visiting Costa Rica’s East Coast
Costa Rica’s beautiful East Coast lines the Caribbean Sea. With an influence from the Caribbean Islands, a Rasta vibe is found. This creates a delicious twist on traditional Costa Rican dishes, and so much more.
A very well-known surf town is Puerto Viejo, full of bustling nightlife and great black & white sand beaches. Famous for the Salsa Brava surf break, surfers visit from all over the world to ride the famed waves. Turquoise-blue waters, ocean view bars, and great spots for tropical vegetarian food. Close by, the Jaguar Rescue Center helps wild cats and animals, and is a great place to spend the day and see some amazing animals.
Yet again, I vied for the smaller town just North of Puerto Viejo to find some rest.
20 minutes North is a great little town called Cahuita. Surrounded by the Animal & Nature Reserve, there is miles of hiking trails where howler monkeys and sloths line the pathways. Options for white or black sand beaches, horseback riding at sunset, or experiencing a very large protected coral reef with diving spots and great snorkeling. You will be sure to enjoy the quaint vibe of this small, yet beautiful, town.
Wherever you visit, remember to bring lots of sunscreen (enviro-friendly of course), and maybe cancel any plans you have of leaving for awhile.
You are sure to enjoy Costa Rica’s many beautiful places!