Playa Manuel Antonio With mischievous monkeys, perfect sand and turquoise water, this beach is worth the park fee.
Playa Grande This seemingly endless beach is good for strolling and frequented by leatherback turtles and surfers.
Playa Guiones Backed by lush vegetation, these gentle waves are ideal for swimming, surfing or just frolicking.
Playa Negra Cahuita’s wild black-sand beach doesn’t draw many surfers, making it great for swimming.
Parque Nacional Marino Ballena The long, rugged, coconut-strewn beaches of Ballena feel like an isolated desert island.
Playa Rajada Rajada's white-sand beaches and languid, Jacuzzi-esque waves embrace you at the southern end of Bahia Salinas.
White-Water Rafting & Kayaking
Río Pacuare Take on runs of Class II to IV rapids on the country’s best white water.
Río Sarapiquí This less-frequented river is a great place to raft or learn how to kayak.
Golfo Dulce Lucky kayakers can paddle out with dolphins and explore sea caves.
Canales de Tortuguero Excellent for kayaking through canals to get close to birds and wildlife.
Río Savegre Gentle rapids that pick up in the rainy season; trips depart from Quepos.
Salsa Brava This Caribbean break has the country’s biggest surf – in December waves get up to 7m.
Pavones One of the longest left-hand breaks on Earth draws the goofy-footed from near and far.
Dominical Countless foreigners show up here to surf – and can’t bring themselves to leave.
Playa Guiones The best beach break in the Central Peninsula, especially when there’s an offshore wind.
Playa Grande Costa Rica’s most reliable break draws hordes – luckily, it’s so big it never seems crowded.
Playa Hermosa Several beautiful beach breaks for pros, a stone’s throw from Jacó’s beginner breaks.
Playa Sámara One of the best places to learn, with mellow instructors and gentler waves.
Rancho Naturalista More than 250 species of bird have been seen from the balcony of this avian-crazy lodge.
Wilson Botanical Garden This private reserve attracts many specialty birds of southern Costa Rica, including rare high-altitude species.
Península de Osa Although they’re rare in the country, scarlet macaws frequent the skies around Parque Nacional Corcovado.
Parque Nacional Los Quetzales Named for its banner attraction, the flamboyantly colored ceremonial bird of the Maya.
Monteverde & Santa Elena Keep your eyes peeled for keel-billed toucans, three-wattled bellbirds and motmots.
Parque Nacional Tortuguero Herons, kites, ospreys, kingfishers, macaws: the bird list is a mile long at this wildlife-rich park.
Caño Negro The steamy Nicaraguan borderlands host waterfowl like nesting anhingas, purple gallinules and Amazon kingfishers.
Boca Tapada If you're lucky, both scarlet and great green macaws – symbol of conservationists' success – can be seen here.
Parque Nacional Chirripó Up and up: the trail to the top of Costa Rica is a thrilling (chilly) adventure.
Parque Nacional Corcovado These challenging trails provide a supreme look at the wonders of the rainforest.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Utterly fantastic for day hikes, with walks through cloud-forest gorges among plant and animal life.
Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio The trails circumnavigate volcanoes and misty waterfalls, with frequent blue-morpho-butterfly sightings.
Volcán Barva A little tough to get to, but what a reward: crater lakes and quiet cloud forest.
Diamante Falls Sleep behind waterfalls in a cave outside of Dominical.
Luxury Spas & Resorts
El Silencio Hanging at the edge of a canyon, this is a slice of Zen in the cloud forest.
La Paloma Lodge A posh delight in Costa Rica’s wildest corner, this jungle lodge is far off the grid.
Hotel Villa Caletas Guests enjoy seclusion, personalized service and breathtaking sunsets atop a Pacific cliff just north of Playa Herradura.
Peace Lodge Surrounded by trails near the Volcán Poás, this storybook resort and rescue center enchants.
Eco Termales These exclusive, sand-bottomed, varying-temperature baths of Fortuna swallow you up after a rough day's hiking or biking.
Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge Osa’s first top-certified ecolodge is removed from civilization, near the wilds of Corcovado.
Villa Blanca Cloud Forest Hotel & Nature Reserve With the highest sustainability rating, Villa Blanca offers plush ecological digs.
Pacuare Lodge This posh, riverfront lodge transcends the need for electricity with high style and adventure.
Arenas del Mar The best ecolodge near Manuel Antonio, this architectural stunner has private Jacuzzis overlooking the coast.
Ecolodge San Luis One of the highest-rated ecolodges of the region, with Monteverde just outside the door.
Maquenque This sustainability-minded gem in the riverine lowland, borderland paradise is a birding hot spot.
Diving & Snorkeling
Isla del Coco The only world-class dive spot in Costa Rica, in a hammerhead-filled sea.
Isla del Caño Reliable visibility, sea turtles, barracudas and, if you’re lucky, humpback whales.
Isla Murciélago Manta rays, bull sharks and even humpback whales migrate through these waters.
Playa Manzanillo In September and October this Caribbean beach has the best snorkeling in the country.
Golfo Dulce Boats from little Puerto Jiménez and Golfito often return with fish that challenge world records.
Caño Negro Abundant tarpon, snook and gar, and no-frills fishing ventures make this a low-key Northern Lowlands option.
Quepos Plenty of captains lead fishing ventures into the waters off Quepos, which offer a shot at marlin and sailfish.
San Gerardo de Dota Excellent trout-fishing in the clear upper regions of the Río Savegre.
Playa Grande Epic surf casting brings in big fish from rocks that get thrashed with waves.
Laguna de Arenal Troll in the shadow of the big volcano at this lake full of rainbow bass and machacas.