Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide

Costa Rica Destinations Travel Guide

On this website, we give tons of detailed information on Costa Rica’s different destinations and attractions. Reading everything takes a lot of time, however. That’s the reason for this destinations summary guide. Below, we provide a broad overview of the major destinations in Costa Rica. We describe what each town is like, who it might appeal to, what it offers for activities, and where it is located. When you find a place that you’re interested in, click on our full article to read all the details to plan your visit. Keep in mind that we will be constantly updating this post with new destinations as we come out with more articles.

Atenas

Location: Central Valley

Just west of San Jose and set in the rolling countryside is Atenas. This small town has a distinct local feel with a bustling downtown set on a central park. Touted as having one of the best climates in the world, Atenas has gained popularity with foreigners over the years and grown a sizable expat population. Atenas is also a good stop for those looking to go west from the airport on their way to the Pacific coast or Monteverde.

La Casita del Café near Atenas Costa Rica

Popular activities in Atenas include:

  • Organic coffee farm tour
  • Botanical Orchid Gardens
  • Las Minas Waterfall and swimming spot
  • A weekly farmers market
  • Zoo Ave Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

Read our post Atenas: A Glimpse of Authentic Costa Rica for more information.

Bijagua

Location: Northern Zone

Bijagua is a small town to the north of La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano that is quickly gaining in popularity. Not only does this rural town give visitors a chance to experience real life in Costa Rica, but it also offers the amazing Rio Celeste. This bright blue river and waterfall is just a short drive away and is one of our favorites in Costa Rica. In addition, because of the area’s dense rainforest, Bijagua is also a great place to see birds and wildlife.

Bijagua, Costa Rica - A Gateway to the Rio Celeste Waterfall

Activities in Bijagua include:

  • Hiking at Tenorio Volcano National Park to see the Rio Celeste Waterfall
  • River tubing
  • Horseback riding
  • Hiking and hanging bridges at Heliconias Lodge and Reserve
  • Farm tour at Finca Verde
  • Frog tours

For more information, check out our detailed article Bijagua: A Gateway to the Rio Celeste Waterfall.

Cahuita

Location: Southern Caribbean Coast

Cahuita is a super laid-back village on Costa Rica’s southern Caribbean coast. The small downtown abuts Cahuita National Park, which is full of tropical jungle and wildlife. Sloths are particularly easy to see here, but monkeys, snakes, and many kinds of birds also can be observed. This region of the country has almost an island feel, with a vibrant Afro-Caribbean culture and reggae beats filling the air. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is about 15 minutes south of Cahuita and offers a larger selection of accommodations, restaurants, and things to do.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Cahuita

Popular activities in Cahuita include:

  • Cahuita National Park
  • Beaches
  • Snorkeling
  • Tree of Life Wildlife Center
  • Cultural Tours

Read our post Cahuita: Culture and Calm on the Caribbean for more information.

Drake Bay

Location: Osa Peninsula/Southern Pacific Coast

Drake Bay is a remote village set in the thick jungle of the Osa Peninsula. It appeals to nature and wildlife lovers due to its abundant animals and birds. Although the town is very small, it has a wide array of accommodations. Both luxury travelers looking for a relaxing escape and backpackers alike will enjoy Drake Bay. Drake Bay might not be the best destination for those who want all the conveniences or who are afraid of bugs and other creepy crawlies that live in the jungle. It is also more difficult to get to so plan to spend at least a few nights there.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Drake Bay

Popular activities in Drake Bay include:

  • Hiking in the nearby Corcovado National Park
  • Wildlife watching
  • Beaches
  • Bird watching
  • Snorkeling and diving at Cano Island
  • Dolphin and whale watching
  • Rainforest night walks

Read our post Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged for more information.

Dominical/Uvita

Location: Southern Pacific Coast

Dominical and Uvita are two neighboring towns on Costa Rica’s southern Pacific coast. They are surrounded by jungle and are less developed, although they offer a good selection of hotels, restaurants, and things to do. Dominical is best known for surfing. Uvita is a popular town among expats and is also home to Marino Ballena National Park (the National Whale Marine Park). The stretch of coastline that makes up the Costa Ballena hosts several beautiful, and all but deserted, beaches.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Dominical and Uvita

Popular activities in the Dominical-Uvita area include:

  • Beaches
  • Surfing
  • Waterfalls, including the stunning Nauyaca Waterfalls
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife watching
  • Whale and dolphin watching
  • Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Horseback riding
  • ATV tours
  • Kayaking/SUP
  • Yoga

Read our post The Costa Ballena: Uvita, Dominical, and Ojochal for more information.

Esterillos Oeste

Location: Central Pacific Coast

Esterillos Oeste is a quiet beach town located on the central Pacific coast, about 1.5 hours from San Jose. While lesser known, it’s still a great place to meet locals and experience a different side of Costa Rica. The main beach, Playa Esterillos Oeste, is the focal point of the community. Since the waves are larger, you’ll likely find some surfers riding the high tide. But you can still wade in the water along the shallows and explore the calm tidepools. Even though this is a beach town, you’ll still experience the beauty and sounds of the surrounding forests and farmlands.

Costa Rica Destination Summary Guide - Esterillos Oeste

Popular activities in the Esterillos Oeste area include:

  • Beaches
  • Exploring the tidepools
  • Surfing
  • Horseback riding
  • ATV tours
  • Wildlife watching
  • Zip lining
  • Kayaking/SUP
  • Crocodile river tours
  • Catamaran tours

Read our post Esterillos Oeste: Surfing, Serenity, and La Sirena for more information.

Jaco

Location: Central Pacific Coast

Jaco is one of Costa Rica’s most developed beach towns. Along the main strip fronting the beach are a myriad of shops, restaurants, bars, and tour operators. Some of the best restaurants in Costa Rica can be found in Jaco. The town has a big party scene if you’re looking for nightlife, but is also family-friendly. Jaco is conveniently located on the central Pacific coast, about 1.5 hours from San Jose international airport. Playa Jaco itself isn’t the most beautiful beach in Costa Rica, but there are other nice ones nearby.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Jaco

Jaco has tons of activities. Some of the most popular include:

  • Crocodile river tour
  • Sport fishing
  • Hiking and birdwatching at Carara National Park
  • Surfing
  • Beaches
  • Horseback riding
  • Adventure activities like zip lining, canyoning (waterfall rappelling), and ATV tours
  • Waterfalls

Read our post Jaco: Costa Rica’s Booming Beach Town for more info.

La Fortuna

Location: Northern Zone

La Fortuna is located in the northern lowlands (inland but not quite in the mountains). It is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations. The main draws are Arenal Volcano and the natural hot springs. La Fortuna has a huge range of hotels, from backpacker hostels to five-star hot springs resorts. This makes it a great destination for solo travelers, couples, and also families. It is best explored with a rental car because the area is spread out. Those looking for a more off-the-beaten-path experience might find La Fortuna a bit touristy.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - La Fortuna

The most popular activities in La Fortuna are:

  • Arenal Volcano
  • Hot springs
  • Hiking
  • Waterfalls
  • Proyecto Asis Wildlife Center
  • Zip lining
  • Hanging bridges
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Lake Arenal
  • Horseback riding
  • Night tours

Read our post La Fortuna: What to Expect from Costa Rica’s Most Popular Destination for more details.

Mal Pais/Santa Teresa

Location: Southern Nicoya Peninsula/Pacific Coast

Mal Pais and neighboring Santa Teresa are surfer towns on the very southern Nicoya Peninsula. This is a remote destination and accessing it is an adventure along rough and dusty dirt roads. Once you arrive, though, you’ll find modern conveniences, including luxury accommodations and international cuisine. There are also plenty of places to stay and things to do for the budget-minded traveler. Although surfing is the main draw, people also visit for the beautiful sunsets, tranquil feel, and hidden-gem quality.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Mal Pais and Santa Teresa

Things to do in Mal Pais and Santa Teresa include:

  • Surfing
  • Beaches
  • Yoga
  • Stand-up paddleboard (SUP)
  • Zip lining
  • Hiking at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
  • Horseback riding
  • ATV tours

Read our post Road Trip to Mal Pais for more info.

Manuel Antonio

Location: Central Pacific Coast

Manuel Antonio is a popular beach town nestled in the rainforest on Costa Rica’s central Pacific coast. Its main attractions are the national park and gorgeous beaches. In the park and throughout town, it is easy to spot monkeys, iguanas, and other wildlife. Manuel Antonio is a wonderful destination for first-time travelers to Costa Rica. There are family-friendly resorts, romantic villas for couples, and even gay-friendly hotels. Manuel Antonio is more touristy and can get busy during the high season (December to April).

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio has hundreds of different tours. Some of the most popular include:

  • Beaches
  • Wildlife watching
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Zip lining
  • Whitewater rafting
  • Sport fishing
  • Catamaran and sailing tours
  • Canyoning (waterfall rappelling)
  • SUP
  • Kayak mangrove tours
  • Parasailing
  • Horseback riding

Read our post Manuel Antonio Trip Planning for more information.

Miravalles Volcano

Location: Guanacaste Province

The Miravalles Volcano area is made up of two sleepy towns, Guayabal and Fortuna. Although this area sits between two popular destinations (La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano and Rincon de la Vieja), it has remained quiet and peaceful. In addition to hosting a volcano, Miravalles has natural hot springs and volcanic features like mud baths and steaming fumeroles.

The Untapped Miravalles Volcano: Hot Springs, Nature, and Zero Crowds

Things to do in the Miravalles Volcano area include:

  • Thermal hot springs (several facilities, including a children’s activity center)
  • Las Hornillas Volcanic Activity Center
  • Hiking
  • Llanos de Cortez Waterfall

Learn more about this authentic destination with our post, the Untapped Miravalles Volcano: Hot Springs, Nature, and Zero Crowds.

Monteverde

Location: Northern Zone

Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s most sought-after destinations. Its intriguing cloud forest and abundant wildlife draw thousands of visitors each year. Though this former Quaker town feels rural and pastoral, it has been built up for tourism over the years. Hotels are available for all budgets and are mostly lodge-style. Monteverde is in the mountains and more difficult to access so spending at least a couple of nights there is best. It is an especially good destination for families because of all the kid-friendly things to do.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Monteverde

Monteverde offers a number of activities including:

  • Zip lining
  • Hanging bridges
  • Hiking
  • Night walks
  • Coffee tours
  • Birdwatching
  • Aerial trams
  • Wildlife exhibits (butterfly or hummingbird gardens, serpentariums, etc.)
  • Horseback riding

Read our post Monteverde: A Forest in the Clouds for more info. Also check out our Monteverde Hotel Guide for tips on where to stay.

Montezuma

Location: Southern Nicoya Peninsula/Pacific Coast

Located more remotely on the southern Nicoya Peninsula, Montezuma is a laid back beach town that draws mostly backpackers and young families. A lot of people come to Montezuma to just relax on the beach, but there’s also a lot to do. The biggest attraction is the Montezuma Waterfalls. Though the town is quite small, it is a good destination for foodies. Locally made craft beer and eclectic international cuisine fill restaurant menus. Hotels are mostly budget and mid-range, but there is a resort nearby and vacation rentals in the hills.

Montezuma, Costa Rica Destination Guide

Things to do in Montezuma include:

  • Beaches
  • Waterfalls
  • Hiking at Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
  • Wildlife watching
  • Zip lining
  • Surfing
  • Yoga
  • Snorkeling at Tortuga Island

Read our post Montezuma: A Bohemian Beach Town for more info.

Nosara

Location: Central Nicoya Peninsula/Pacific Coast

Nosara has recently garnered the attention of influential media outlets and is an on-the-rise destination. In this community, you’ll find a mix of surfers, luxury travelers, families, expats, and yoga lovers. The town’s dirt roads connect different neighborhoods, each with their own beaches and distinct feel. Because Nosara is spread out, it is best explored with a rental car. Nosara is one of Costa Rica’s more expensive destinations.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Nosara

Some of the most popular activities in Nosara include:

  • Surfing
  • Beaches
  • Yoga
  • Horseback riding
  • Kayaking/SUP
  • Zip lining
  • ATV and off-road vehicle tours
  • Turtle watching (seasonal)
  • Wildlife watching and wildlife rehabilitation tours

Read our post Nosara Trip Planning Essentials for more information.

Playa Brasilito

Location: Guanacaste Province/Northern Pacific Coast

Playa Brasilito is a small beach-side village that sits right between some larger tourist towns in Guanacaste, yet maintains a very local feel. The town is centered around a soccer field that fronts the beach. Although Playa Brasilito is a more off-the-beaten-path destination, it has a decent number of hotels, restaurants, and things to do. Playa Brasilito is a good option for budget travelers, as it less expensive than many of the popular beach towns in Guanacaste. One of the main draws of Playa Brasilito is that it is within walking distance to one of the country’s most beautiful beaches, Playa Conchal. 

Playa Brasilito: An Authentic Beach Town in Guanacaste

Visiting the area’s beaches is the main attraction in Playa Brasilito, but there are also other things to do nearby:

  • Horseback riding
  • ATV tours
  • SUP
  • Surfing
  • Jet skiing
  • Catamaran tours 
  • Sport fishing
  • Zip lining

Read our post Playa Brasilito: An Authentic Beach Town in Guanacaste for more information.

Playa Conchal

Location: Guanacaste Province/Northern Pacific Coast

Many consider Playa Conchal, in northern Guanacaste Province, to be Costa Rica’s most beautiful beach. The water is a stunning shade of turquoise and the sand is made of tiny crushed shells. Although Playa Conchal is a beach without much else around, it feels more like a destination because of a popular all-inclusive resort.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Playa Conchal

Things to do at Playa Conchal include:

  • Beach – swimming, SUP, kayaking, snorkeling, jet skiing
  • Catamaran tours
  • Golf
  • Spa
  • Sport fishing
  • Horseback riding
  • ATV tours

Read our post Playa Conchal: The Allure of Shell Beach for more information.

Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste)

Location: Guanacaste/Northern Pacific Coast

Playa Hermosa is a quiet beach community in northern Guanacaste Province. It draws visitors looking for a relaxing escape. The beautiful main beach is popular for swimming and is known for its stunning sunsets. Although the town is smaller, it has a large selection of vacation rentals and condos. Playa Hermosa is a good destination for families due to the calm ocean waters.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste)

Things to do in Playa Hermosa include:

  • Beach – swimming, SUP, kayaking, jet skiing, banana boat rides
  • Diving and snorkeling
  • Catamaran tours
  • Sport fishing
  • Horseback riding
  • ATV tours
  • Zip lining

Read our post Playa Hermosa (Guanacaste): Costa Rica’s Northern Beauty for more info.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Location: Southern Caribbean Coast

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is on the rainforest-rich southern Caribbean coast. This area of the country has several features that make it unique. Culturally, many of the locals are of Afro-Caribbean or indigenous descent. The weather is also different, with the best times to visit (September and October) coinciding with the rainy season on the Pacific coast. One of Puerto Viejo’s best attributes is its many stunning beaches.

Puerto Viejo Beaches

Puerto Viejo has many options for things to do. Some of the highlights are:

  • Beaches
  • Wildlife rehabilitation tours, including Jaguar Rescue Center
  • Chocolate tours
  • Hiking
  • Snorkeling/diving
  • Surfing
  • Indigenous culture tours
  • Horseback riding
  • Night hikes

Read our post Puerto Viejo: Caribbean Cool in Costa Rica for more information.

Puerto Jimenez

Location: Osa Peninsula/Southern Pacific Coast

Puerto Jimenez is one of two major towns on the Osa Peninsula (the other is Drake Bay, see above). It sits on a picturesque bay with some of the calmest water in the country. Although the town has a local feel, it has a decent selection of hotels and restaurants that cater to tourists. One of the biggest reasons travelers visit Puerto Jimenez is to explore Corcovado National Park. Tours and activities out of Puerto Jimenez tend to be more expensive as many take place by boat.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Puerto Jimenez

Popular activities out of Puerto Jimenez include:

  • Day trips or overnight stays in Corcovado National Park
  • Kayaking
  • Dolphin and whale watching
  • Snorkeling
  • Sport fishing
  • Beaches
  • Osa Wildlife Sanctuary
  • Horseback riding
  • Chocolate tours

To learn more, read our post Puerto Jimenez: An Outpost to the Osa.

Samara

Location: Central Nicoya Peninsula/Pacific Coast

Many of the beach towns in Guanacaste Province are quite developed, but not Samara. It has more of a small-town feel. Along the few criss-crossing streets that make up the downtown, you’ll find one- or two-story hotels, restaurants, and shops. There are no high-rise condos or fancy resorts. Instead, the vibe is casual and laid back. Samara draws visitors of all ages and is a favorite among families because of its relatively calm water for swimming.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Samara

The main activities in Samara are:

  • Beaches
  • Hiking
  • Surfing
  • Kayaking and SUP
  • Zip lining
  • Diving
  • Horseback riding
  • ATV tours
  • Waterfalls

Read our post Samara: Guanacaste’s Most Overlooked Beach Town for more tips and info.

San Gerardo de Dota

Location: Southern Zone

San Gerardo de Dota is a tiny village in the high-altitude mountains south of San Jose. With cloud forest nearby, San Gerardo offers a less busy alternative to Monteverde. Package tourists often visit San Gerardo in search of an elusive bird called the Resplendent Quetzal, but it is also a good destination for those wanting to go off-the-beaten path. Most lodges are more rustic and cabin-style, which fits in nicely with the quiet surrounds. San Gerardo is best for those seeking a peaceful escape.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - San Gerardo de Dota

San Gerardo de Dota offers a few things to do including:

  • Bird watching
  • Hiking
  • Waterfalls
  • Zip lining
  • Horseback riding
  • Fishing for trout

For more information, read our post San Gerardo de Dota: A Hideaway in the Cloud Forest.

San Isidro de El General

Location: Southern Zone

San Isidro de El General is located in the mountains of the Southern Zone. This small, but vibrant, city doesn’t draw very many tourists, but is quickly growing in popularity among expats. Here, you’ll find busy city streets filled with small local restaurants, clothing stores, and all the basics like hospitals, pharmacies, and grocery stores. San Isidro is a wonderful place to explore the culture and a good stopover for a night or two.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - San Isidro

Some activities around San Isidro de El General that may appeal to visitors include:

  • Hiking
  • Waterfalls
  • Farmers market
  • Bird watching

Read our post San Isidro de El General for more information.

San Jose

Location: Central Valley

Many people visiting Costa Rica get in and out of its capital city almost right away. Although San Jose isn’t really considered a tourist destination, this sprawling metropolis actually has a lot to offer. It is a great place to observe the local culture as it is where the majority of locals live. And with a vibrant art scene, fantastic dining options, and several cultural sites, you can easily spend a couple of nights.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - San Jose

Popular activities in San Jose include:

  • National Theater
  • Museums – National Museum (pictured above), Gold Museum, Jade Museum, Children’s Museum
  • Central Market
  • La Sabana Park
  • National Artisans Market
  • Art galleries

Read our post How to Spend 1 or 2 Days in San Jose for more information.

Tamarindo

Location: Guanacaste Province/Northern Pacific Coast

Tamarindo is the most developed beach town in Guanacaste. Here, you will find trendy boutique hotels, beachfront B&Bs, hostels, and a few condos and bigger developments. Tamarindo is a popular destination for surfing, but draws all types of travelers. Food lovers will enjoy the many awesome restaurants. Tamarindo has a vibrant nightlife and offers all the conveniences. Those interested in exploring the local culture may prefer another destination.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Tamarindo

Keep in mind that many of the recommended activities for Tamarindo are located several hours away. Popular choices in the immediate area include:

  • Beaches
  • Surfing
  • Zip lining
  • Sport fishing
  • Catamaran and sailing tours
  • Estuary boat tours
  • Diving and SNUBA (snorkeling with an airline hose)
  • SUP
  • ATV tours
  • Turtle watching (seasonal)
  • Spa
  • Shopping

Read our post Tamarindo: Where Paradise Meets Convenience for more information.

Tortuguero

Location: Northern Caribbean Coast

Tortuguero is one of the best places in Costa Rica to see wildlife. Many people plan their trip around turtle season, where you can see green and other sea turtles come to shore to lay their eggs. Boat tours along the canals are also popular and can reveal wildlife like monkeys, crocodiles, and many types of water birds. Tortuguero is a remote destination on the northern Caribbean coast. It can be reached by boat or small plane. Higher end travelers can stay at one of the all-inclusive lodges. Shoestring travelers will prefer one of the small, family-owned hotels closer to town.

Costa Rica Destinations Summary Guide - Tortuguero

Activities in Tortuguero include:

  • Turtle watching (seasonal)
  • Wildlife watching
  • Bird watching
  • Boat and kayak canal tours
  • Night tours
  • Hiking

Read our post Tortuguero Off the Resort for more details.

As you can see, Costa Rica has destinations that will suit just about any type of traveler. The best thing about this relatively small country is that in a single vacation, you can explore several locations and get a completely unique experience in each one.

If you need help putting together an itinerary for your trip, check out our Itineraries page for some samples. We also have a book, Top 10 Costa Rica Itineraries, which can help you make sense of how these destinations can be paired. And, if you need more help, we would be happy to create a customized trip based on your interests. Read our Itinerary Help page for more information.

Last Updated: September 2, 2019

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98 Comments

    1. Hi Jurga, Absolutely. We love Manuel Antonio and actually go there quite a bit because we live nearby. Yes, it is touristy but not overly so. It has beautiful beaches, a big selection of restaurants, a fun vibe, and we like that Quepos is next door for the local feel and conveniences. There are times of the year that we avoid it like over Christmas and Easter week when it’s just too busy, but otherwise, it’s one of our favorite places when we want to get out of the house. It’s definitely not for everyone and we’ve heard the same mixed opinions you have, but I would recommend to the right type of person.

      1. Hey guys,
        I Found your amazing blog and articles online and found it incredibly helpful.
        I am planning a trip for a family of 7′ this month. Do you recommend tamarindo and lake arenal then fly out of san jose or manuel antonio and lake Arenal then SJO.
        Please Advise,

        Thank you,
        Soghaat

        1. Hi Soghaat, Either Tamarindo or Manuel Antonio would be good beach options this time of year. Manuel Antonio has more of a lush jungle feel, although Tamarindo will be nice and green due to rain too. Manuel Antonio has more wildlife so it’s good for kids. It also has a ton of activities to do not far away. Tamarindo is great for restaurants and has some activities, but many are farther away and better done as day trips. Hope that helps!

          1. Hi Jenna and Matt!!!
            you guys are awesome!
            I Definitely narrowed it down and doing Manuel Antonio and La Fortuna.
            Which do you think is better
            I originally decided 2 days in Manuel and 3 in La Fortuna
            But now someone making me double guess myself they said do 3 in Manuel-2 in Fortuna
            What do you recommend?

  1. Your site is amazing! I’m very grateful for all the information it has provided. We’re planning a two week trip to CR in a month. I’ve learned so much and saved time, both thanks to your site. The layout, pictures, and the feel, well, I just love it all. Thank you!

  2. We are two young 60+ travelers. First time visiting Costa Rica for a month in January. Your website has been very helpful with planning an itinerary. We are not planning to rent a car, so finding transportation options is a little challenging. Probably will being taking shuttles versus the public bus. Looking forward to learning more from your experiences!

    1. Hi May, How wonderful to be spending a month here. You’ll leave with a good sense of what the country is all about. Shuttles connect all the major destinations and are a good way to get around too. Best of luck with the planning!

  3. Great blog! We are planning a short trip to Costa Rica in January. There are six of us, and we are looking for a villa. We found some gorgeous villas via VRBO in Hatillo, Savegre. Would love to know your thoughts on this area, and if you think we will be spending on getting to and from?

    1. Hi Maura, We actually know Hatillo very well. We had our first house sit there in 2013 and spent several months over a couple of years when the homeowners had us back. Hatillo is a cute Tico town where a lot of locals live and there are some nice homes and vacation rentals in the hills. It is very close to Dominical and Uvita and not far from Manuel Antonio so there is quite a bit to do and good places to eat. The beaches in this area of the country are secluded and gorgeous. We currently live not far from there and have been making the drive to and from San Jose quite regularly. It’s about 3.5 hours from the airport so as long as you have at least 5 days, I’d say it’s worth it. If you end up renting something here and want help figuring out tours and activities for the group, let us know. We know the different options really well since we live here. You can reply to this comment or email us at bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(dot)con. Good luck finding a house!

      1. Thanks so much for your feedback. I have since zeroed in on Manuel Antonio since travel time is less. Unfortunately, we have only 4 days and 5 nights in CR. I am wondering if we should spend our final night in SJ so we don’t stress trying to get back to the airport.

        1. Hi Maura, It depends on what time your flight is. A lot of people leave Manuel Antonio for the airport same day. It’s about a 2.5 hr drive and the airlines recommend arriving 2 hrs before your flight. If you think you should stay overnight, we have some recommendations for good hotels near the airport in this post.

  4. Hi Guys, you are doing great job – very constructive and informative, great pleasure to read.
    We already planed our trip, but then I found your site and now I have mixed feelings.
    We are going to Costa Rica over Christmas and New Year. Land in Liberia on 24th of December and depart from San Jose on 2nd of January.
    We will rent a car (4×4) and plan to visit as many places as we can (that’s what we usually do): Rincon de la Vieja, Tenorio Park, Arenal, Catarata del Toro, Quetzales, Marino Ballena and Manuel Antonio (31 dec – 1 jan).
    Which places would you suggest to avoid due to that fact that they will be overcrowded during holidays? We always choose remote places, not touristic, secluded.
    We really don’t want to be in the epicentre of crowd.
    Please help, which places to cross out from the list, and in which to stay longer and enjoy nature, wildlife and views?
    Thank you 😉

    1. Hi Julia, Rincon, Tenorio, Catarata del Toro, and Los Quetzales/Dota usually aren’t too crowded over the holidays. These areas are more rural and don’t have a ton of options for lodging so they can only get so busy even when they’re full. La Fortuna/Arenal will be busy but you could stay outside town or somewhere on the lake like Nuevo Arenal for a much different experience. All the beach towns get busy but the Costa Ballena/Marino Ballena won’t be bad. Look for a place to stay there in the hills where it is nice and quiet and there’s more wildlife. Definitely skip Manuel Antonio, which will be at capacity. Hope that helps- you are on the right track!

    2. Hi Jenn and Matt, Would be interested in your recommendations for a good place to stay by the San Jose Airport. We were considering going to a Holiday Inn in San Jose which was used by a friend but read a comment that it wasn’t in the best district at night. We need a night or two to recoup from the long travel we will be doing to get to Costa Rica. Then considering a shuttle to Manuel Antonio. We are still trying to get organized and plan our quick trip. I saw your website earlier and just found it again! So glad!

      1. Hi Tammy, We have a lot of good options for hotels near the airport in our SJO Hotels post. Some of them are in scenic locations so would be a good place to recoup for a couple of nights. We also have a promo code to save on one of the more popular options. If you are looking for something in downtown San Jose, we also really love Hotel Aranjuez. It is in a quiet area of the city but is still within walking distance to the sights (museums, central market, etc.). If you need help with the shuttle to Manuel Antonio, let us know. We work with one of the major companies here and can help you arrange either a private or more economical shared shuttle.

        1. Thanks Jenn and Matt, We have decided to try out Santa Teresa. We see that we can take a shuttle there from San Jose. We have looked at the sites of Grey line, Costa Rica Shuttle and Easy Ride. If you have a recommendation that would be great. We thought about renting a car if needed in Santa Teresa. Would you think it is better to stay by the airport or in San Jose? We are 50+ age travels and want some comfort, clean and safe. If you have recommendations on rentals in the Santa Teresa area that would be good. Appreciate your time and advise! We leave soon, next Friday and only have two weeks in country just like you on your first trip! Been daunting trying to find places to stay. Been looking on VRBO and Air B&B. Love the information we have seen on your site. Thanks again for any advise you could throw our way.

          1. Hi Tammy, Alajuela (where the airport is) is closer to the highway you will take to Santa Teresa so we would recommend staying there instead of San Jose. Not sure how big your group is, if you have 4 or more, it makes the most sense to get a private shuttle. We work with a smaller company that is very reliable and can get you in touch with them if you like. The cost is around $230 total, which includes the ferry tickets (you take a one hour ferry ride for part of the trip) and 1 hr’s worth of stops along the way to eat, sightsee, etc. If you wanted to do a shared shuttle, we work with Interbus ($64 pp). We can email you ASAP if you’re interested in either as your trip is coming up soon. Be careful with Easy Ride as we have heard that they sometimes do not show up.

            Not sure of any good vacation rentals off the top of my head, but you could read our Mal Pais post for more info about the area.

        2. We will need the shuttle from the airport Courtyard/Marriott to Santa Teresa on Monday morning of 27th. We plan to get a cheap phone while we rest up by the airport. If you have a good idea were to do that please let us know. Thanks for all the help!

          1. I just sent you an email with all the details for the shuttle, Tammy. For the phone, the cheapest option is to buy it in the States as electronics in Costa Rica are more expensive. You will need an unlocked quad band phone- here’s a thread from our forum, which links to a related thread with a recommendation for a cheap phone.

  5. Thanks for all this great information as it has been quite helpful, although I think it might have changed my itinerary.
    I’m planning my trip for the beginning of February and it will be my first traveling by myself and I am wondering if this made much sense, If not what would you suggest changing?
    I’m flying in to San Jose on the 3rd and on the 4th I was going to bus it to Samara until the 6th. On the 6th I planned to bus it to La Fortuna and stay there until the 8th. The 8th i was going to travel to Monte Verde and stay there until the 11th which I would then travel back to San Jose that day and depart on the next, the 12th?
    Is it too much to do in too little of time?
    Thanks again for your blog! Cheers

    1. Hi Craig, That’s not a bad itinerary but it is probably too much if you’re planning to take the bus. Travel time between some of those destinations is significant because there is no direct route (you will have to change buses sometimes multiple times). If you took shuttles, it would be fast paced but doable. If you want to stick with buses, we would say to plan more time in each town or choose destinations that connect easier by bus. Hope that gives you some direction!

    2. Yes, we have read your post and that is what made us interested in Santa Teresa and Playa Hermosa. We had booked by the airport in San Jose so did that correct and have found 2 places we are staying, one in Santa Teresa on the beach and the other in Hermosa, where we need a vehicle and are considering renting a Quad. We have heard you can’t ride on the beach but can on the roads and was told a Quad would less expensive to rent. Could you send us information on both shuttles,the private and shared (do you recommend renting ahead of time)? We might take the private shuttle one way and the shared the other. There are only 2 of us traveling from Alaska. You have been so helpful. Can’t wait to see your Costa Rica!

      1. A quad is a great way to get around in Santa Teresa.

        Yes, you should definitely reserve at least your shuttle from the airport in advance so that they are there waiting for you when you arrive. If you wait and have to take a cab, it will be very expensive. I wouldn’t wait too long to book your shuttle back since they can fill up. We’ll check availability for a private shuttle for Friday and then send you an email with that and the shared option later this morning.

  6. Hello Jenn and Matt,

    Thank you so much for all of the information. My husband and I will be traveling to CR with our one year old in May for about a week. This blog has been extremely helpful in planning that trip. We have five days to travel and site see. I was thinking Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcano National Park and Monteverde. Do you recommend these places for that amount of time? Should I skip one and save it for a later trip? I don’t want to rush, but I also don’t want to miss something just because of a bit of a drive. Our plan is to rent a car. Thank you for your help!

    1. Hi Justina, With 5-7 days, picking two destinations would be better due to drive times. Even though Monteverde looks close to Arenal, it is actually several hours away due to rough, slow roads. I would say to do Manuel Antonio for your beach time and then either Arenal or Monteverde for your second destination. That will be a much more reasonable pace for you trip, especially since you have a little one. Hope that helps you figure out your plans! If you haven’t already, make sure to read our traveling with a baby post before you come and don’t forget to look st our rental car discount as you’re shopping around. Cheers!

  7. Although I have saved all of your blogs for year and a half, I cannot find the article you published about driving to Nicaragua. Can you furnish the date of that blog?

  8. Hi there! Lots of great info here. We are trying to plan a last minute trip in mid-late February, probably 8 nights, traveling with 3 children, ages 14, 11, 8. Our original plan was something similar to your 7 day itinerary, but airfare to Liberia is substantially less than to San Jose for our dates, so we may need to skip Manuel Antonio and visit beaches farther north. However, we really want to see wildlife and enjoy some adventurous activities with our kids. Any suggestions on a combination of La Fortuna, Moneverde, Samara? What should we add or remove?

    1. Hi Liz, With 8 days, we would recommend picking two destinations due to drive times. I would say Monteverde or La Fortuna combined with Samara so that you get some time inland and at the beach. La Fortuna and Monteverde both have a lot of wildlife and adventure activities, but it can be harder to spot wildlife in Monteverde due to the cloud cover and because many animals hide high in the trees. If you get a guide, it is a lot easier. Both are great options for kids and have a ton to do. Maybe read our destination guides (linked above) to the two towns to see which seems like a better fit for your family. Good luck with the rest of your planning!

  9. Just found your blog and loving it ! Planning our 25th anniversary/future retirement scouting trip in November 17-26th 2017. Had first looked at Jaco. We are taking our older children 21 and 17. However, now thinking it might be too touristy. We are from Orlando originally and have had enough of that! Still want a cute town to walk around and things to do though. Based on that time of year and info above what are your recommendations? We would like both a great beach and fun town options. Just spent time in DR in Puerta Plata and really were disappointed. We were not able to enjoy anything because we were bombarded by locals trying to sell everything under the sun! Not the scene we are wanting for this trip. Would appreciate your feedback! Thanks 🙂

    1. Hi Tammy, Jaco is touristy so it probably isn’t what you’re looking for. You might like Samara, a beach town on the northern Pacific coast. It’s small but nicely set up, with a lot of restaurants and shops in a central area along the beach. It has some nightlife too for your adult children. The Tamarindo area is another option. Tamarindo itself is busier and touristy but you could stay outside town or in neighboring Playa Langosta or Playa Grande.

  10. Hello – this is very helpful!

    We (myself, husband and 14 year old) have just booked a last minute trip to the Westin for April 9- 14, and while we got a very good deal, I now recognize everything is going to be very crowded! My question to you is what is a MUST do if we only have 2/3 days for excursions? We were looking at Monteverde and Manuel Antonio, but don’t want to be in hordes of tourists….. Do you have a favorite tour company in that area? We will not be driving.

    Thanks for any suggestions

    1. Hi Karenna, Yes, that is Semana Santa, so it will be busy. We don’t recommend Monteverde or Manuel Antonio on day trips from Playa Conchal – the hotels there like to make it seem like these places are nearby, but they are really several hours away (4+) so you would be spending much of the day in the car with only a few hours to explore.

      There are a lot of choices for tours closer to the Westin. Catamaran cruises are popular and some have a snorkeling componenet. There’s the Llanos de Cortes Waterfall and hiking at Rincon de la Vieja National Park. One place that will likely be less crowded is the Miravalles Volcano area. It’s a little farther, but not too bad. This area has hot springs, mud baths, hiking at hanging bridges, etc. We do know of a good operator that does some of these tours – if you would like help with the booking, let us know which tours you are interested in and we can send you an email with more info.

  11. we’re heading there for spring break march 22-30th with teenagers …thinking manuel antonio and tamarindo , maybe 4 nights each : are they too similar and are we missing great experiences without guanacaste ? we’re not surfers , but need a good 3-4 dead-head beach days …. what’s the most we should pay for american quality hotels * not motels ? thanks and we really appreciate your authentic site

    1. Hi Kevin, Tamarindo and Manuel Antonio are similar in that they’re both developed beach towns but they have a very different feel. They’re in completely different parts of the country (Tamarindo in Northern Guanacaste and MA on the Central Pacific Coast). They both have a lot to do, but not necessarily the same things. The climates and environment are different too – Tamarindo is tropical dry forest and will be quite dry and dusty in late March and MA is tropical rainforest so will feel more lush. It’s also easier to see wildlife in MA.

      A decent midrange hotel for 4 people is around $100-200/night during high season. You can read more about what to budget in our Cost of Travel article.

  12. Dear Jen & Matt,

    Thanks in advance for your input. We plan to explore the south, Matapalo and Pavonnes. What would be the best airport to fly to from San Jose (Golfito or Jimenez or other?) to avoid the long drive south? And do you know if one can rent cars down there?

    Many Thanks,
    DAvid

    1. Hi David, Assuming you mean Cabo Matapalo on the Osa Peninsula and not Playa Matapalo near Quepos, it would be easiest to fly into Puerto Jimenez to access Cabo Matapalo and then out of Golfito after your time in Pavones. I’m not sure what rental car companies are in Puerto Jimenez, but there is at least one there. The company we work with and get a discount through, Adobe Rent a Car, can also deliver the car to either Puerto Jimenez or Golfito for a fee. There’s more info about our discount on our Rental Car page.

  13. We are planning a trip October 12 – 16 and staying at Villas Sol. We will only have 5 days an 4 nights and wonder if you can make any suggestions. We will be flying in to Liberia airport. Will we need a 4 wheel drive auto to rent? Is it likely to be rainy the whole time? We only speak English. Will that be a problem?

    We are both in our early 80s so we will not be doing much hiking, etc.

    Thank you for any help you can offer.

    1. Hi Patricia, There is more than one Villas Sol in Costa Rica so not sure which one you’re staying at. You should ask your hotel if you will need 4×4 to reach it; they will be able to give good advice.

      October is one of the rainier months of the year so you could see a fair amount of rain. Just be flexible with your plans and aim to do things in the morning when rain is less likely.

      Many people speak English here, especially those who work in tourism so not speaking Spanish won’t be a problem. It’s always a good idea, though, to know some basic phrases. You could bring a Spanish phrasebook or print out our Simple Spanish for Traveling to Costa Rica.

  14. I LOVE THIS BLOG!!! Thank you for all of your tips!!

    We are 4 ladies in our mid 30’s wanting to do 6 days in Costa Rica at the beginning of August… We live in Florida, so while we like to spend a little time on the beach, it doesn’t need to take over too much of our trip (plus one of us is a ginger..lol). We’re thinking wildlife, ziplining, waterfalls, rafting, local food… and somewhat on a budget!

    I had no idea Costa Rica was so spread out. Where would you recommend we stay? Any and all tips would be GREATLY appreciated!! I’ve planned so many vacations (Caribbean cruises, Iceland, Amsterdam, Vegas) but I don’t even know where to start on this one! HELP PLEASE!! 🙂

    1. Hi Jessica, With 6 days, you should do no more than two destinations. Our one-week itinerary might work for you. Both La Fortuna and Manuel Antonio are usually decent weather-wise in August and have all the things on your list. If you wanted to stay closer to the airport (SJO), you could swap out MA for Jaco and maybe do 2 days there and 4 days in La Fortuna if the beach isn’t as much of a priority. Jaco is a little more budget-friendly than Manuel Antonio and still has what it sounds like you’re looking for. Hope you guys have a great trip!

  15. Wow – your resources on Costa Rica are incredible! We’ve learned so much about travelling in the country. My daughter and her fiance (Emily and Carlos) are planning on honeymooning in Costa Rica for 6 or 7 days in mid-July. They are currently both involved in the operation of a humanitarian aid work in Guatemala so are aiming for a great but economical trip. Emily is hoping for some time on beaches and in rain forests, and Carlos loves the mountains, and they’re both hoping for some white water rafting (preferably the one-day trip down the Pacuare). While they are busy with wedding plans in Guatemala I told them I’d do some research on travel in Costa Rica and pass it on so they can then put together their travel itinerary. They will be flying into San Jose and planning on renting a car (thinking that driving will be similar to Guatemala). Carlos is over the minimum age requirement to rent a vehicle but Emily is 22, which may narrow their rental car options if they want to add her as a second driver. It sounds like a few days in Manuel Antonio might be a great spot for beaches and rain forests (and so many other things) … would you have any suggestions for good stops (that are doable in a 6-7 day vacation) to add some mountains into the mix during the week? Also, if they were going from Manuel Antonio to the Pacuare what would the distance and the driving be like (or are there suggested places to stay closer to the river or suggested places to access the transfer service provided by river guide companies)? Are there any specific river tour guides that you would recommend? Any suggestions you can make would be greatly appreciated! Thanks again for all the work you put into this site.

    1. Hi Brenda, They have a few options. If they want to see both beach and mountains, they could raft the Pacuare out of Turrialba (in the mountains) and spend an extra night there before heading to Manuel Antonio. These towns are about 5 hrs apart so this would be a lot of driving (road conditions are good, though, probably similar to Guatemala). Another option is to do the Pacuare as a day trip from San José (after overnighting there) and spend the rest of the time in MA. And finally, a third option, is to do the Pacuare as an overnight from SJ, then split MA with the Monteverde cloud forest. Monteverde is a beautiful town in the high altitude mountains, right at the Continental Divide. This would be a fast paced trip and best with at least 7 days. You could also use our Itineraries book for more ideas- we cover all of these destinations in there.

      When they get to the point of reserving the rafting trip, send them our way for help finding a good company. Our email for tour bookings is bookings(at)twoweeksincostarica(do)com.

  16. Hi Jenn and Matt. I LOVE your blog. I have been printing and studying for several weeks. My son and I are traveling to CR the end of the month. We have 10 whole days. I’m planning on staying first night in San Juan to orient. Then we head to Monteverde, La Fortuna. Not sure how long to stay. We want to wind around to Limon to the Sloth Sanctuary, then down to Puerto Viejo for a couple of days on the beach. I have a few questions: 1) If LaFortuna touristy, is there somewhere else you recommend; 2) We are not interested in “activities” so much, but rather outdoors. I might take a few tours of coffee or chocolate, and zipline, but do you have to tour to hike and see the national parks? Any advice regarding off-the-beaten-path must-see locations would be appreciated.

    1. Hi Sharon, La Fortuna is touristy, but if you stay outside the main area of town, you don’t notice it as much. Somewhere like Heliconias Nature Lodge (very authentic) or one of the lodges in El Castillo or on the other side of Lake Arenal near Nuevo Arenal are good options. They will have you outside the busy areas but within driving to LF’s great activities.

      You do not need a guide to hike almost all of the national parks (exceptions are Corcovado and various turtle-watching beaches).

      One awesome off-the-beaten-path area we recently discovered is the Miravalles Volcano area. It has a lot to offer like hot springs, a volcano, hiking, but isn’t touristy at all.

      Hope you and your son have a great trip!

  17. Hi there — Thank you for all the amazing information! Your website has been a tremendous resource. I was wondering if I could ask your opinion on what destination would be best for a four families traveling together with a children, ages 6 – 13. We’re struggling to decide between the Northern areas such as Tamarindo/Playa Concha and Manuel Antonio. Since there will be a total of 20 of us, we’re looking to rent a house and take a shuttle from either Liberia or San Jose. We’d prefer not to rent cars, so being able to walk to beaches would be a huge plus. It seems like the north west region offers easier access to beaches, but the wildlife in Manuel Antonio seems like it would be amazing for the kids. I’d greatly appreciate any insight! Thank you!

    1. Hi Erica, Your comments are right on. Both are really good options for families. They are not too far from the airport so you wouldn’t have to be in the car too long with the kids and both have a lot of choices for vacation rentals. The northern area like Tamarindo do have easier access to beaches, but the wildlife is much better in Manuel Antonio. If you really want to do Manuel Antonio, you could look at places on the road where Hotel Mariposa is (ends at Parador Resort). This has some options for a 15-25 min. walk down to the beach (it is down a steep hill, though). There are some hotels down by the national park that are much close to the beach, but I don’t know of any vacation rentals in that area. If beach if your priority, Tamarindo/Langosta might be a better option.

  18. Hi Jenn and Matt,

    I am doing a vacation research to Costa Rica and find your blog is very help. We will appreciate if you can give us some ideas. We see a good round trip flight tickets to San Jose from 4/15/18 – 4/22/18. We are really tempted to buy them before that deal go away. We will travel with 3 or 4 adults and 2 kids (5 & 12 years old). Ideally, we would like to stay at a decent resort/hotels that has a nice big pools with ocean view rooms. Walking distance to beach and restaurants/shops from the hotel would be a plus. We would also like to do 1 to 2 days day trips to explore the island outside of the hotel. Do you think it is doable from San Jose airport? Do you have any suggestions of where to stay that will meet our above wish list?

    Any suggestions/ideas will be appreciated and thanks a lot in advance

  19. Hi! I am planning a trip with 3 girl friends to CR in February, flying in and out of San Jose. We have 10 days and would like to split our trip between jungle/waterfall adventure and beach relaxation. Any recommendations? We’re pretty open regarding where we explore the jungle and find waterfalls, but are a little torn between our beach destination, choosing between Samara and Puerto Viejo. If you had to choose, which would you prefer? We’re looking for a laid back vibe with beautiful beaches and water and plan on renting a car.

    1. Hi Kelsey, Puerto Viejo and Samara are both great choices for a group of girls traveling together. Personally, if I (Jenn) were traveling with my friends, I would probably pick Puerto Viejo because the beaches there are just gorgeous and it has a very laid back vibe, great food, etc. If you haven’t seen it yet, be sure to read our destination guide to PV, which we recently updated. It is very comprehensive. If you went with PV, you could easily do La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano or Bijagua/Rio Celeste as your jungle/waterfalls destination. Hope that helps!

  20. Hi Jenn and Matt:

    My family and I (wife plus two teen boys) are headed to Playa Avellana in March, staying at the renowned surf bungalows Cabinas Los Olas. Surfing is definitely the main activity for us, but we want to explore other things, wildlife, trails etc. Can you recommend any specific outings or restaurant? And should we rent our own car from the airport? Any other thoughts for us first timers? Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

    1. Playa Avellanas will be a great spot for your family for the surfing, but there isn’t much else in the immediate vicinity so we would recommend renting a car. Then you will be able to explore and do hikes and other excursions in the area. Diria National Park is a good option for hiking in the area. A lot of times you can see monkeys there and always birds. A little farther (about 2 hours away) is Rincon de la Vieja National Park (volcanic vents, mud baths, etc.), Llanos de Cortes Waterfall and Las Pumas Rescue Center. A lot of different tours can be done out of Tamarindo just to the north, and Tamarindo has a ton of good restaurants too. You can use the Map on our website to see what else you might be interested in near Avellanas. Be sure to check out our rental car discount if you decide to get a car. Hope your family has a great trip!

  21. Jenn and Matt, great blog. We are group of 4 adults and 4 kids, travelling from March 29 thru April 6. Thinking of heading straight from SJO to Arenal area, at Heliconias Nature Lodge, San Isidro de Penas Blancas. Then plan to head over to Monte Verde on 1st and staying there from 1st to 3rd (Faro B&B, any better suggestions). Post that we are lost at to what our options are? Any suggestion as our flight is out from SJO on April 6th 4 pm or so. Thank Maa Lee

    1. Hi Maa, You’re off to a good start. Heliconias Nature Lodge is a great family-run hotel – we loved our stay there. 3 nights in that area is a good amount of time before going to Monteverde for a couple of nights. We don’t know much about Faro B&B but you could get some more options for places to stay in our Monteverde Hotel Guide. If you wanted to see the beach, you could head to Jaco or Manuel Antonio from Monteverde. Both are not too far from San Jose so you could leave for your international flight same day. Otherwise, you could check out Bijagua and the Rio Celeste Waterfall in between La Fortuna and Monteverde as an idea.

  22. Hi!
    I’m writing from Switzerland! My family and I are thinking of going to Costa Rica for three weeks to a month in 2018 and I have just found your wonderful blog, which has already given me plenty of ideas, thank you!
    I had a quick question which I was wondering if you might answer. Our holiday is in July and I know it’s the rainy season, are there regions that are less prone to rain than others, maybe the North? Any tips would be greatly appreciated!
    Thanks again for your blog!

    1. Hi Pascale, Yes, the northern Pacific coast is generally drier. Actually, in July, most of the country experiences a mini-summer for a couple of weeks where the rains lessen significantly. You can see what we mean if you take a look at the charts in our Weather post. The number of days with rainfall and amount of rainfall both drop in July. So that is a very good time to visit usually!

      1. Thanks for the info! I think that clenches the deal! We’ll be going to CR to enjoy the pura vida and keeping a close eye on your blog in the meantime, thanks again!

  23. Just rented a car via Adobe! Two other more practical questions. 1) how is the cell coverage and what do you recommend in that regard? and 2) do you recommend touring the hikes and excursions with a guide of some kind, or do you think it’s navigable and safe for first timers to do this on our own? Happy New Year to you! (It’s 9 degrees in brooklyn right now, so today is the perfect day to do some planning).

    1. Thanks for renting through our site! Cell coverage is fairly good but there are some dead zones in remote areas. If you want to use your phone in CR, you could see what your US carrier offers for international because prices have come down a lot. Otherwise you need an unlocked phone and can get a SIM card in CR for it (see this forum thread). If you mostly want internet for when you’re in the car to navigate, great option is the WiFi stick through Adobe. This connects to the local networks here and you can use it as a hotspot for your phone to use Maps apps, check email etc.

      No problems with safety when hiking on your own but a guide can be very valuable on some hikes to help you appreciate what you’re seeing (local flora and fauna; historical info especially for volcano hikes). You will also see more birds and animals with one, and in some places like Monteverde, it can be very hard to see any wildlife without one. Let us know if you’d like help booking any guides. We have some great ones in the Arenal area, in Monteverde, etc.

      1. Hi Jenn and Matt

        Was just wondering if you could tell us how to find out about a turtle sighting? I know it’s only certain times of year, and I don’t need to see the big egg laying landings at night. Is there a way to see them during day within driving distance of Avellanas?

        1. There is a turtle hatchery to the south of Avellanas in Playa Junquillal. We don’t know much about it, but last time we drove through (VERY small town), we talked to a guy who was involved in the project. You could check with them to see if they are expecting any nesters, or more likely this time of year, hatchlings. Leatherbacks also nest on Playa Grande but I think March is a little after end of season. You could check with the park rangers, though.

  24. Hi Jenn & Matt
    We are planning a visit to Costa Rica in Jan. 2018 . Staying at Four Seasons at Peninsula Papagayo , any recommendtion for restaurants and activities in that area , we are aware that the area is rather quiet .
    any advise will be greatly appreciated

    1. Hi Simon, For activities, you could look into catamaran cruises, scuba diving and snorkeling, and they also have all-day boat tours where you can do multiple activities like wake-boarding, kayaking, fishing, etc. Farther from the Four Seasons, there is Rincon de la Vieja National Park or the Miravalle Volcano area for volcanoes. Llanos de Cortes is a beautiful waterfall out that way as well. For food, you will be limited to the resort unless you have a rental car, but we have been told by clients that it is great there.

  25. Great site guys! Just wondering if you can provide feedback or what you think of this itinerary for March 2018?
    Manuel Antonio – 4 nights
    Dominical – 2 nights
    Drake Bay – 2 nights
    La Fortuna – 3 nights
    + 2 days to travel from and to SJO
    Do you think that is a good mix? We are a family of two adults + 1 child. Thank you for your input!

    1. Hi Jean, That itinerary works and will show you a good mix of what the country has to offer. One suggestion- we would recommend one more night in Drake since it is harder to get to. Also, unless you’re planning on flying from Drake to La Fortuna, we usually suggest the order of Fortuna to MA to Dominical to Drake.

      1. Hello Jenn and Matt,
        What is your experience with the safety of belongings while on the beaches of Dominical and Uvita as well as in the Marina Ballena National Park?

        1. Hi Sandy, Sometimes there is theft on the beaches in those towns. It’s best to avoid the really secluded beaches and stay where there are other people around. Also don’t bring much with you to avoid being a target. Just your towel, sunscreen, and the absolute essentials. Definitely not your passport (just have a copy) or wallet. We have never had any problems ourselves going to these beaches and we live in the area, but have heard of incidents so it’s best to be vigilant. Sunday is the best day to go to the beach by far because all the local families come out and it’s a really fun time!

  26. Hi Folks. We are a retired Canadian couple looking to spend 6 weeks in Costa Rica mid Feb to end of March. Read your blog overwhelming where to start. Did take your suggestion for the Heliconias Nature Lodge. All booked. We think we would like to break up 6 weeks into two weeks in a region. Appreciate your advice

    1. Hi Kathy, You have a lot of choices. If you’re aiming for 3 regions, you could divide it La Fortuna/northern highlands, Pacific coast, and Caribbean slope (coast plus inland areas like Sarapiqui). These are still large areas to narrow but it’s a start. The Northern Pacific coast has the driest, hottest climate, and the farther south you go, the more rainforest covered and wet it is. We’d try to fit in a visit to Drake Bay in the S Pacific because it’s amazing for wildlife. The Caribbean coast has a completely different feel and is worth seeing as well. Hope that gets you started. You could use our Map to get a sense of destinations that are close to each other.

  27. Hi guys! Brilliant blog, so much useful information – thanks!
    We will be spending 30 days or so in Costa Rica mid-april to mid-may (and we can’t wait!)
    We are planning to spend 5 nights in the Puerto Viejo Area at the beginning.
    The last 2 weeks or so will be spread between Uvita area and Manuel Antonio.
    It’s the middle part the gives me headaches. Potentially 7 to 10 nights. We were thinking: Poas region, Fortuna/Arenal/Rio Celeste, and Monteverde. Are they all worth it? How many nights in each? In what order? I guess we’ll be picking up and dropping off the car in San Jose.. Any additional suggestions will much appreciated!
    Thank you very much in advance for your reply!
    Amy

    1. Hi Amy, With your 7-10 free nights, we would recommend going to either Monteverde or Poas Volcano and not both. Poas is currently closed if that affects things for you, though there are other interesting things to do there like Catarata del Toro (waterfall). La Fortuna and Monteverde are both worth it and will round out your beach time. Rio Celeste can be done as a day trip from La Fortuna but it’s worth a night or two there (see our Bijagua post). We’d spend 3-4 days in Fortuna and the rest in Monteverde and Bijagua if you decide to make a separate stop. For order, we’d do Puerto Viejo to La Fortuna to Bijagua to Monteverde to Manuel Antonio to Uvita. That’s a nice loop.

      Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount for the car. And yes, it sounds like pick up and drop off in San Jose makes the most sense.

  28. Your website is fantastic so helpful, I hope you can help a little, I am planning a last minute trip to costa rica with my boyfriend. We will be there for 9 days, So far what I have is we are renting a car and we arrive to san jose at 5 am, from there we plan to drive to Puerto Viejo and stay 2 nights and drive to la fortuna (that’s where I don’t know how many days to stay) we want to go to rio celeste and go to waterfalls and arenal. we also want to go to cloud forest and manuel Antonio.
    Can you help me with how may days to stay somewhere and where?

    1. Hi Trish, With 9 days, we would recommend sticking with 3 destinations due to drive times. Then you could do 2 nights in Puerto Viejo, 4 in La Fortuna (there is a lot to do there so 4 is good, especially if you want to go to Rio Celeste, which will take one whole day), and 3 in Manuel Antonio. Monteverde is nice but you need at least 2 nights there due to drive time so it’s better not to try to cram it in.

  29. I’m planning a trip to Costa Rica this summer. We will be there 2 weeks, and would like to see as much as possible. Would you advice renting a car or public transportation? I’ve read mixed reviews on both and not sure. Thanks

    1. Hi Isabel, Renting a car will give you the most flexibility to explore and will allow you to see and do more. The public bus is fine and a great cultural experience but it does take a lot longer to get around. It sounds like you want to see a lot so we’d go with a car. Be sure to check out our Rental Car Discount to save at least 10% and get free extras.

  30. Hi Jenn & Matt,
    Thanks for all the wonderful information! I’m visiting your site every day during this period of planning. We are a couple in our late-20s looking for a vacation that combines some relaxing times at the beach with some adventure. We have some friends who lived in Costa Rica and recommended several adventure tours but we can’t seem to decide on a beach town that fits our needs and is close to tours in Guanacaste. We do not want something overly touristy — we prefer a more low-key vibe, the potential for good eating, and a beautiful scenery. We have considered Sámara. We do plan to rent a car. Is there another beach you would recommend?

    1. Hi Kaylan, Samara sounds like it would be a good fit for you. It’s low key, has good food, and beautiful scenery. There isn’t a ton to do there, though, for adventure tours. See the activity list on our Samara post to get a better idea. Depending on the time of year you’re visiting, busier beach towns may work. For example, Manuel Antonio is a lot more chill in the low season (May-November, except July can be busy). MA has really nice beaches, good food, and tons to do. If you’re flying into Liberia, it’s the same with Tamarindo. Tamarindo is really popular but slows down a lot this time of year.

  31. I am so happy to have stumbled on your blog. We are going to CR in March of next year for 10 days. We are late 30s, so looking for areas that will have good food and a little nightlife/bars, but gone are the days of partying all night. Relaxation, beaches and rainforest excursions are definitely on the agenda. I initially was gearing for either Puerto Viejo or Jaco but now am thinking the trip will be a split between two locations. Cahuita, Playa Hermosa, Samara and Tamarindo were all also suggested as good picks for us as we are pretty laid back and want something less “touristy”, . But I am seeing much debate on Pacific vs Carribean coasts and am also worried about all the driving if we do both and am feeling overwhelmed now. Any help?

    1. Hi Alissa, With 10 days, you have enough time to see both coasts. If you’re worried about the drive, you could always break it up with an overnight on the way, somewhere like Atenas or Casa Rio Blanco B&B. Puerto Viejo or Cahuita sound perfect for you. Cahuita is fairly sleepy but PV is only 15 minutes away. For the Pacific coast destination, we’d avoid Jaco and Tamarindo in March because they will be more touristy. Samara sounds like the feel you’re looking for. It has a little nightlife but isn’t a party town. Hope that helps!

      1. Wonderful!!! Thank you. Now if you have any suggestions on lodging, that would be great. I see debate between hotel vs airbnb. We like privacy and authenticity – a large luxury hotel chain is not our scene. I will look up the B&B you mention above as well.

        1. Most hotels in Costa Rica are not big and there are lots of authentic places with charm. Not many chains at all. We have specific recommendations for where to stay in each of our destination guides that we previously linked to. If you go with an Airbnb especially somewhere like Puerto Viejo, make sure it has decent security (see our Safety Tips post and comments). That is one thing that vacation rentals are lacking – you’re more on your own so are more vulnerable to theft in some ways.

  32. Hi,
    I came across this blog when searching for stuff to do in CR. We are visiting CR next week for a week and staying at the Andaz Papagayo. Can you please give me some information on some day trips I can do. I am currently planning for below. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.

    Llanos de Cortés
    Palo Verde National Park
    Rincón de la Vieja National Park
    Hacienda El Viejo Wetlands
    Hacienda Guachipelin

    Arnold.

    1. Hi Arnold, We’d be happy to help you organize some day trips for your visit next week. We have some time right now to help. If you’re interested, please contact us as soon as you can through our Tour Booking Service page and we can get started. We should get things booked soon since your trip is coming up. Thanks!

  33. Hi Jenn and Matt,
    As everyone else has said, wow, what fabulous and informative info that you have. We are planning on coming in early Feb for two weeks. Originally, we were thinking of flying into San Jose and out of Liberia, and split our time between the Caribbean side and the Pacific….we tend to try and pack too much in, so were thinking it might be better just to go in/out of Liberia, had heard SJO a bit of a zoo, but we drive everywhere and i don’t see that as a problem.
    If we did a split between the two, were thinking Cahuita or Puerto Viejo, and then on the Pacific side…either Samara/Montezuma/Playa Hermosa….or we could just stay on the Pacific and toodle over on day trips to Miravalles volcano etc, and save the Caribbean side for another trip. I was told Caribbean side rainier, but seems would be okay in Feb.
    We were going to rent a 4*4….wasn’t sure if the roads were narrow, so best to do a mini suv, or okay to go with a regular suv?
    Any thoughts would be great. We do prefer the roads less travelled, local feel and great food, but looking forward to renting somewhere we can cook local too! Speaking of which….we were thinking airbnb or homeaway, which we have used alot in other areas, but any thoughts on best way to book more apartment or local housing opposed to resorts…or any smaller resorts that you would pick?

    1. Hi Laura, If you want to see the Caribbean side, you have plenty of time to fit it in. It is rainier in general but the weather is very different there and usually it isn’t a constant rain. It has always been nice when we’ve been. If you did that, we would fly into SJO and out of LIR (or vice versa), otherwise you will be very far from the Caribbean. SJO Airport really isn’t that bad, except during peak travel times like Christmas.

      We have some info on where you should get a 4×4 on our Rental Car Discount page. Small SUVs are fine unless you’re going to Monteverde or the Southern Nicoya Peninsula where higher ground clearance will make for a more comfortable ride.

      A lot of people do vacation rentals. Just make sure you understand the exact location before booking as sometimes it can be hard to tell and only consider options that have several reviews. Similar to anywhere else in the world in that regard… hope that helps!

  34. Hi there! I’m heading to costa rica for the first time on December 18. I will be staying for 19 days, christmas and new year included – the busiest times of the year I hear. I don’t drive and i will be on my own. I speak fluent spanish. I’m looking to spend time in 2-3 different places max that give me a good idea of costa rica. Ideally on swimmable beaches, packing great wildlife, and not very touristy. I’m looking for quiet places yet not totally remote and deserted (at least not all three destinations), so I would like at least one of the destinations to be near a cute village, not too busy, where I can find groceries and a few good restaurants. I don’t drive. If you were going to Costa Rica with these conditions in mind (no driving, quiet yet not totally isolated, wildlife and nature, swimmable beaches), which places would you definitely recommend? Thanks lots!

  35. Hi Jenn & Mat, I will be travelling as a single person on an organised tour. I have the opportunity to go to the hanging bridges in both Arenal and Monteverde, but just the thought of being suspended high up in the canopy makes me feel giddy, even sitting here in the uk. However, I feel I must brave up and do at least one of them. Which one is the less frightening (wobbly, high, etc.,) and where would I see more wildlife or are they totally different experiences. At present I don’t like the idea of either.

    1. Hi Valerie, Both Arenal and Monteverde have sturdy options for hanging bridges. The bridges at Mistico in La Fortuna and Selvatura in Santa Elena are both very secure feeling. Sky Adventures Arenal might be a good compromise for you since their tour only includes a few hanging bridges and the bulk of the time is spent hiking through the forest. Hope that helps! You are brave for wanting to tackle your fear!

  36. Hi Jenn and Matt!

    Greetings from Boston! I am a 22 year old female, recent college graduate, hoping to visit Costa Rica for the first time next June and July. I am healing Lyme disease and am looking to fully immerse myself in beautiful Gaia. I eat raw living foods, so following the fruit is very important to me. I am most interested in touching the earth, be it the ocean, mountains, or valleys, etc. I’m on the search for a detoxification center, and a holistic approach to mind, body, spirit, and energy healing would be an added bonus. I’m overall hoping for an escape. I already foresee myself not wanting to come back (pura vida over NE any day of the week!), so I’m primarily looking for a way to either pursue a volunteer or work trade opportunity. If that is not doable, I am wondering if air b and b is the best way to be cost effective regarding accommodation when being in CR for more than a month?

    Could you please point me in the right direction? Thanks for all you do here!

    1. Hi Katherine, We’d highly recommend an area called Tinamaste in the mountains just north of Dominical. There are a lot of people living there with the same interests (detoxification, natural living, etc.). We’d arrange something through Airbnb for a week or so before you arrive and then see what you can find on the ground when you get here that is more cost effective for the remaining 3 weeks. There’s a farmers market on Tuesday mornings in Tinamaste where you’ll be able to connect with a lot of people. Here’s a link to the farmers market’s Facebook page to get an idea.

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