Since my wife and I have been living in Costa Rica for a couple of years now and have lots of friends and family visit, we’ve become pretty good at giving advice on Costa Rica travel recommendations. I even started a Cost Rica travel website with a lot more information. But in this article, I’ll sum up travel recommendations I usually give my friends as someone who lives here.
Mountains, Beaches or Both
Costa Rica has 2 primary vacation geographies, mountains (volcanos), and beaches. If you’re you’re traveling 5 days or more I recommend trying to hit both. Roads are slow, so it usually takes most of the day to go from one to the other. If you traveling for only a long weekend go to one or the other and settle in. Beaches offer lounging, cocktails, seafood, sailing cruises, and more relaxing activities. Mountains offer more wildlife viewing, waterfalls, zip lining, ATVing and are more active and tour based.
Favorite Beach Towns
We live here so I know this town the most. We chose to live here because it’s 1 hour from Liberia International Airport and it’s a thriving beach community. It has lots of tourism but you can still get a quite chair on its long stretch of beach where no one will bother you. There are dozens of quality restaurants, tour operators, and shopping to keep you busy if you like.
Favorite Tours in Tamarindo
- Antares Sailing Sunset Cruise – This is a good relaxing cruise for couples. You sit on large bean bags, get a 5 course meal served to you, open bar, live music, snorkeling and sunset on the water.
- Marlin del Rey Catamaran Sailing – This is a fun more social cruise with music and open bar and can be more of a booze cruise. It’s lots of fun, we do this all the time with our friends. The cruse comes with lunch and snorkeling. It’s a large catamaran so you can walk around the boat and meet other travelers.
- Borinquen Full Day Tour – Horseback ride up the volcano, see waterfalls, take long zip lines down the mountain, get a nice lunch then soak in the hot springs. It’s usually about $150 and includes 2-hour shuttle ride (each way). It takes all day but it’s an epic adventure and best way to experience the mountains in 1 day from Tamarindo. I recommend booking though Tamarindo Transfers and Tours.
- ATV Tour – This tour is a lot of fun and we take friends to do this all the time. It’s a half day ATV tour going through small towns along the coast several stops at different beaches. There are several tour operators that offer this but we use Santana Tours.
- Special Spa Experience – If you really treat yourself to a magical spa experience in the forest with a view of the ocean book a day at Los Altos de Eros.
Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular beach towns in the country. It’s known for its large national park on and beach. It’s a great destination to see nature while hiking through the park and relaxing on the beach. We took a guided hike through the park where the guide helped us spot many more animals that we would have on our own. I recommend a guided hike early in the morning because this park does get quite busy.
If you’re looking to get away from the touristy places and relax in a quiet beach town, Samara is the place to go. It’s just big enough to have several good restaurants and a few tour operators. But is still small enough to avoid the mobs of tourists you see in Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio.
Nosara is the yoga mecca of Costa Rica. It’s a small town with several yoga retreats and enough restaurants and shopping when walking around town. It’s another good quite getaway town with forest and beaches. To stay somewhere special check out The Harmony Hotel and Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort.
Favorite Mountian Towns
Traveling in the mountains you’ll be surrounded by rainforest and see more animals. It rains more and is a bit cooler. It’s also where you’ll find many of the Costa Rica famous zip lines, hanging bridges and waterfalls.
This is a very popular tourist destination because of its national park. It’s a special experience to hike through a cloud forest smell the vegetation surrounding you and spot a sloth or pack of monkies. I recommend a guided tour through the rainforest/cloud forest for a great eco experience. Keep in mind it does rain a lot, it is a rain forest after all, so go to the national park as early in the morning as you can.
There are several big zip line companies in Monteverde. They are safe, have great guides, and are a lot of fun. If ziplining is not your thing the hanging bridges hiking trails are great as well. There are many places to do this and one of the bigger and more popular ones is Sky Adventures.
Just as nice as Montervede, the Arenal volcano is also a great destination for eco-adventure. The Arenal volcano and town of La Fortuna have dozens of tour options including zip lining, horseback riding, ATVing, and rafting. It’s a mecca for adventure tours and adrenalin junkies.
Arenal is also known for its hot springs. There are many resorts with their own hot springs and tubs to sit in. I recommend getting a day pass at Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa. Or if you’re on a budget at least check out free hot springs in La Fortuna.
You also have to check out the La Fortuna Waterfall while in this area. It’s a 20 minute hike down to an epic waterfall you can swim under.
I have more detailed travel guides about each one of these destinations over on my website CostaRicaTripKit.com.