Where You Should Visit in Costa Rica, According to a Costa Rican

Where You Should Visit in Costa Rica, According to a Costa Rican

Daniela, a native Costa Rican living in the Heredia province, shares her recommendations on how to best enjoy a vacation in her country:

Costa Rica is a small country located in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the North, Panama to the South and surrounded by both the Pacific and the Caribbean Ocean. It is home to a rich variety of plants and animals. Approximately 25% of the country´s land area is contained in national parks, having the largest percentage of protected areas in the world.

Your vacation could be a mixture of spectacular rainforest, magical beaches and luxury and pleasure all of this surrounded by the happiest people in the world.

It is officially pacifist, since the abolishment of the army in 1948.

What to Do In Costa Rica

If there were one word I would use to describe Costa Rica, my home, it would be “varied”. The country offers a wide range of options no matter if you are at the beach chilling and partying in Tamarindo or in the middle of the rainforest in Monteverde seeking the habitat wildlife. Because the country is small, it is easy to get around and change environment in just a matter of hours. And, adventure is always one drive away! The country is full of rivers and waterfalls to do canyoning or water rafting and forest waiting for you to fly over them in a zip line. This is possible to do while staying in a luxury hotel at the side of the beach or some cozy cabins surrounded by forest just 15 minutes from the closest town.

Adventure and Wildlife

If you are looking to get lost in the green forest of Costa Rica, Monteverde should definitely be your first choice. The Monteverde cloud forest has an astounding variety of flora and fauna such as pumas, monkeys, jaguars, snakes and colorful frogs. It is a cloud forest, which means it’s surrounded by a constant mist and a humid, cold weather, perfect for couples looking for some quality time in the cozy hotels of the area. Getting a little bit tranquil? The Monteverde area offers zip line tours, forest trails, and the best hanging bridges in the world.

A bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest. By Haakon S. Krohn [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

A bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest. By Haakon S. Krohn [CC BY-SA 3.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons

Another magnificent town at the hills of the Arenal Volcano is La Fortuna. The Arenal area features a great diversity of activities to enjoy. Attractions in La Fortuna include gigantic waterfalls in which you can shower; bird watching tours; water skiing at the lake of the Arenal Volcano; the majestic volcano itself which used to be the most active volcano in Costa Rica; and, the footprint of eruptions in 2010 and 2011 can still be seen. Thanks to the volcano, La Fortuna has several options in the area to enjoy the thermo-mineral waters coming from the veins of Arenal Volcano.

Arenal Volcano. By Leonora (Ellie) Enking [CC BY-SA 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Arenal Volcano. By Leonora (Ellie) Enking [CC BY-SA 2.0  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

If you have a more adventurous spirit, consider hiking Cerro Chirripó, the country’s highest peak at 3.820 meters high which is accessible only by foot. This is one of Costa Rica’s wilder national parks and much of the rugged terrain has been protected from development and exploitation by its inaccessibility. Besides the challenge of climbing Costa Rica’s highest peak, there are miles of trails that wind through more ecological zones than you will find in most entire countries. You need to make a reservation in advance, at least 3-6 months before visiting the area, so take this in mind if you are rushing to hike Costa Rica´s highest peak. 

The peak of  Cerro Chirripó,  the highest point in Costa Rica. By Peter Andersen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons

The peak of Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in Costa Rica. By Peter Andersen [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5  (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons

Relaxing and Chilling on The Beach

Costa Rica is very well known for its hundreds of beautiful beaches that surround both the Pacific and the Caribbean Coast. Both coasts are amazingly beautiful, with white sand beaches that appear right below the forest, some of them with high waves that attract surfers all over the world, and others where the sea is more tranquil, perfect for snorkeling, kayaking or just catching the Central American sun. It is hard to choose a favorite beach in Costa Rica, but there are three locations which you can choose to visit and get a glimpse of Costa Rican perfect beaches.

  1. The Pacific Coast
  2. The Caribbean Coast
  3. Peninsula of Guanacaste

The Pacific coast is washed by the big and strong waves of the Pacific, attracting surfers from around the world. National parks dot the coastline, with impressive white sand beaches backed by rainforest full of monkeys and parrots. Bahia Ballena National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park are two perfect examples; follow the many hiking trails to spot white-faced capuchin monkeys, tiny squirrel monkeys, sloths, colorful frogs, and parrots. Just offshore it’s possible to observe migrating humpback whales from these two destinations.

The north Pacific Coast of Costa Rica offers sunny days, awesome surf and stunning beaches. These beaches have similarities with the Pacific Coast but are a little bit more active, parties and tourism abound in the area of Tamarindo and Playas del Coco. Surrounded by tropical dry forest, this area is known for its abundance of marine wildlife. Accommodations vary from luxury resorts to other still small villages and family hotels. Entirely encompassed by Guanacaste province, this part of the country is the most visited area. Towns like Tamarindo are becoming increasingly popular. The Gulf of Papagayo has vast and always sunny beaches, with endless shorelines just a short walk away from one another. Besides, two amazing volcanoes with thermo-mineral waters and impressive hiking trials are just a ride away.

Starting in the north-east of the country, Tortuguero National Park is well worth a visit for wildlife-lovers. Throughout the year, four species of turtles arrive at the dark sand beaches to lay their eggs.  Right down on the south-east coast, you will find several charming beach towns. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has a distinct surfer vibe, with boutique hotels, beach bars, and international restaurants creating an active nightlife. Further south, Cahuita is a tiny beach town with a Caribbean vibe. On the Caribbean coast, you will hear another language besides Spanish. Creole, known as criollo limonense is the native language from the Caribbean town, also spoken alongside Spanish. There is a distinct Afro-Caribbean influence here worth experiencing in its food and the warmth of its people. The last town you will hit is Manzanillo and the protected Refugio Nacional Gandoca-Manzanillo. This is a perfect scenario if you like the quiet life and want to get away from everything and everyone at the beachside. Because there is a coral reef just off the coast, the Caribbean provides some of the best snorkel and scuba diving in Costa Rica.

When To Visit

Costa Rica has two main seasons, rainy season (also known euphemistically as green season) and dry season, with the driest period between December and April. For the rest of the year, the landscapes look more green and resplendent, with often sunny mornings followed by tropical showers in the afternoon that last all night long. Although it is a year-round destination, the country’s topography means you will experience a whole variety of microclimates as you travel across so it’s better to double check the climate as you are traveling to your next destination.

Culture and Its People

Costa Rican culture is vibrant, full of colors and smells in its food, with a dash of Jamaican, Chinese, and other immigrant cultures lending into the atmosphere. Ticos are, by reputation, warm, happy and welcoming, and while the official language is Spanish, there is a large portion of the population that speaks English as well.  Costa Rica is well known for being a nation proud to be without an army, a nation with a tradition of social stability and investment in education and healthcare, with universal availability.  It is a nation proud to share its cultural riches and treasures.


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