Where will your passion take you? Wildlife-watchers will be in heaven here, with an array of biospheres supporting a multitude of colorful species, including the resplendent quetzal, rainbow-hued frogs, the elusive jaguar and nesting sea turtles. Surfers need no intro to the plentiful and varied surf spots, and even rookies will find plenty of beginner breaks. If surfing's not your thing, you can take to the ocean, lakes or rivers in kayaks or white-water rafts. Hikers can traverse the thick, humid jungle of remote Corcovado, summit the country’s highest peak, Cerro Chirripó, or just meander through cloud forests, around the rims of steaming volcanoes and along beachside trails on day hikes.
Gritty, no-nonsense San José doesn’t offer much in the way of architectural beauty, but it’s the inside that counts. In all of Costa Rica, this is the only place with a dense concentration of museums, exhibiting everything from pre-Columbian gold frogs to the hottest multimedia installations by local contemporary artists.
As the cultural capital of Costa Rica, this is where you come to catch chamber music, international touring bands and up-and-coming local talent. The National Theater is a solid place to start.
Argentinian, vegetarian, Asian-fusion and classic French cuisine shine in superb San José venues, bringing welcome diversity to gallo pinto–weary palates.
Central Valley & Highlands
Volcanoes here range from the wild and moderately active (Turrialba) to the heavily trafficked (Poás, unfortunately for tourists, now active and temporarily closed), showing off ultramarine crater lakes and misty moonscapes. If you’re lucky, one may send up smoke during a visit.
World-class white water awaits on the Río Pacuare, which is well worth a run for its cascade of thrilling rapids through a stunningly beauteous jungle gorge.
The picturesque highlands of Costa Rica are often overlooked in favor of its beaches. But here cows nibble contentedly along twisting mountain roads, and villages boast organic farmers markets and parks with psychedelic topiaries – perfect for picnics with local produce.
Set apart geographically and culturally from the rest of Costa Rica, the Caribbean coast has a distinct Afro-Caribbean feel all of its own. Taste it in the coconut rice, hear it in the local patois and live it in superchill Cahuita.
The waterlogged coast along the Caribbean teems with sloths, three of Costa Rica’s four monkey species, crocodiles, caimans, poison-dart frogs, manatees, tucuxi dolphins and over 375 bird species.
On this wild coast, turtle nesting is serious business. In Parismina and Tortuguero, the leatherback, green and hawksbill turtles return to their natal beaches to nest – a breathtaking experience.
Northwestern Costa Rica
Places to Stay
Northwestern cloud forests – studded with cathedral trees, which sprout dozens of species and shelter valuable watersheds – birthed the ubiquitous canopy tour. You’ll be in awe of bosques on volcanic slopes, along the wild coast and leering over the continental divide.
The number of groovy, independent ecolodges means you can choose from cute B&Bs to spectacular working fincas (farms) or biological stations ensconced in natural forest, all far from the madding crowd.
Lose yourself in aquamarine rivers, ride perfect lefts that crash on wilderness beaches, or ride the wind on the most epic bay you’ve never heard of. And all of the water's walk-in (or fall-in) warm.
Arenal & Northern Lowlands
This is where you’ll discover real-life Costa Rica – face to face with cows and pigs on working finca homestays, on tours through rainforest preserves, and while paddling inky lagoons or mocha rivers with lifelong resident guides.
The humid swamps and lowland hills are thick with vegetation and teeming with hundreds of species of bird, from storks and egrets to toucans and macaws.
Watersports & Fishing
Whether you plan to paddle frothing white water shadowed by looming forest, wish to carve inland lakes by kayak, or just want to hop a motorboat to spot caimans or reel in tarpon, this is your Neverland.
Península de Nicoya
Surfing & Diving
It’s almost impossible to believe that there are so many waves on one spectacular, rugged peninsula, for novices and veterans alike. Below the surface, don’t expect Caribbean clarity, but the mantas, bull sharks and schools of pelagics will bend your brain.
The creative, international kitchens that dot this intrepid coast source ingredients from local fincas and fishers, and the savory dishes are prepared with savoir faire. Nicoya is one of the 'blue zones' of the world, with many residents living into their 90s and beyond thanks in part to the traditional staple diet. Dig in.
Nosara and Santa Elena are standout locations with multiple studios, many with hard-to-beat vistas.
Central Pacific Coast
From the pros-only Playa Hermosa to the beginner-friendly Dominical, the famous breaks of the Pacific coast bring blissful swells and tons of variety.
Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica’s smallest and most popular national park, is a kid-friendly, beach-lined delight. Sure, there are crowds of people, but at times they’re outnumbered by monkeys, coatis and tropical birds.
Parque Nacional Marino Ballena
It’s a bit of a hike to get to Parque Nacional Marino Ballena, but those lucky few who find themselves on its empty beaches can scan the sparkling horizon for migrating whales. There's even a whale and dolphin festival (www.festivaldeballenasydelfines.com) in September.
Southern Costa Rica & Península de Osa
Scaling ancient trails to the wind-swept peak of Chirripó is an adventure into a wholly different Costa Rica. The sunrise view from above the clouds is the brilliant highlight of this three-day excursion.
Jaguars, jungle trails and wild beaches: this is among the world’s most biologically intense patches of green, representing a whopping 2.5% of the planet’s biodiversity. Hiking Corcovado is a sublime trip into untamed tropical rainforest.
Indigenous Costa Rica
Traveling deep into the mountains or jungle of the Osa allows you to meet some of Costa Rica’s indigenous citizens, and see how they keep the country’s ancient traditions alive in places like the Térraba and China Kichá reserves.