Costa Rica is no doubt on the map as an ecotourism destination, with millions of visitors each year. While many people head straight to the country’s most famous sites and attractions, there are some lesser known spots worth a visit. If you’re looking for a little more seclusion, or perhaps a socially distanced vacation, this is the post for you. We’ll let you know about nine off-the-beaten-path destinations in Costa Rica. Many are located remotely and require some effort to get to, but several are easily accessible.
Off-the-Beaten-Path Destinations in Costa Rica
Below are five off-the-beaten-path beach destinations in Costa Rica and four inland areas.
Montezuma and Santa Teresa – Southern Nicoya Peninsula
Isolated by jungle-covered hills and rough dirt roads are the towns of Montezuma and Santa Teresa. While these destinations are more remotely located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, they still have plenty of amenities.
Montezuma is super laid back, with a small main area along the beach. It has a charming, bohemian feel. Accommodations are modest in size and located mostly in and around town. A small resort, perfect for getting away from it all, lies on the secluded northern end.
Santa Teresa and the neighboring Mal Pais are more spread out. ATVs are a popular way to get between the two beach communities.
The main draw of Santa Teresa are its surfing beaches. It also has some amazing sunsets.
While remote, Santa Teresa has a metropolitan feel, with upscale accommodations and good restaurants.
Playa Avellanas Area – Northern Pacific Coast
Although the Playa Avellanas area is only about 1.5 hours from Liberia International Airport, it feels a world away. Unlike many beach towns along the developed Guanacaste coastline, Playa Avellanas still has dirt roads, virgin jungle, secluded beaches, and a remote feel.
The area may not be on the typical tourist trail but is well known for surfing. Two top surfing beaches are Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra.
Even if you aren’t a surfer, this area is a nice retreat with enough amenities to make for a comfortable vacation.
Read our post, The Playa Avellanas Area: Going Off-the-Beaten Path in Guanacaste for more information.
Esterillos Area – Central Pacific Coast
Although it is close to popular destinations, the Playa Esterillos area is off-the-beaten path and quiet. Sandwiched between Jaco and the famous Manuel Antonio, this area has its own beaches, that while lesser known, are gorgeous.
The towns of Esterillos (Esterillos Oeste, Esterillos Centro, and Esterillos Este) have beautiful gray sand beaches. They’re all different, some with elaborate tide pools, others with almost black, volcanic sand.
You’ll find a handful of restaurants in this area, and lots more choices in nearby Jaco and Playa Hermosa. Vacation rentals are plentiful, with ocean or rainforest views.
For more information about the area, read our post Esterillos Oeste: Surfing, Serenity, and La Sirena.
Drake Bay – Southern Pacific Coast
For the ultimate off-the-beaten-path experience, there’s Drake Bay. Accessible by boat or small plane, this village on the remote Osa Peninsula is immersed in thick, lush rainforest.
Wildlife viewing is incredible here. A popular thing to do is to take a boat ride to visit Corcovado National Park for the day. Corcovado is one of the most biodiverse parks in Costa Rica. You can see many types of birds and animals, including the rare Baird’s tapir, collared peccaries, four types of monkeys, and Scarlet Macaw parrots.
Drake Bay has a small town center, but many ecolodges are set off on their own in the rainforest outside town. Lodging ranges from cheap hostels to luxury ecolodges.
For more information, read our post Drake Bay: Costa Rica Unplugged.
Pavones – Southern Pacific Coast
On the far southern Pacific coast, almost at the border with Panama, is Pavones. Pavones is best known for having one of the longest left-hand breaks for surfing in the world. But it’s also a nice place to just recharge in a beautiful natural setting.
The palm-tree-lined beaches in Pavones feel very wild, with rocky outcroppings and untamed vegetation. Following the coast south, you’ll find even more remote beaches, like Punta Banco.
Pavones is a long drive from San Jose, at about seven hours, but luckily small plane flights are available into nearby Golfito.
For more information, check out our post, Pavones: Surfing and Seclusion on the Southern Pacific.
Bijagua – Northern Mountains
If you’re looking to experience nature in a tranquil setting, look no further than Bijagua. This small town is only about an hour from the famous La Fortuna/Arenal Volcano area, but couldn’t feel more different. In Bijagua, you’ll find a charming community with a handful of small lodges and locally owned restaurants.
Although Bijagua isn’t a large destination, it has a big attraction, the Rio Celeste Waterfall. This bright blue river and waterfall is an amazing site to see. Its sky-blue water looks almost artificial, but occurs naturally, due to volcanic minerals.
Bijagua is a wonderful place for wildlife and birding. It has a mix of ecosystems, including lush rainforest and cloud forest. There are many opportunities for hikes where you may be the only one on the trail.
For more information, read our post, Bijagua: A Gateway to the Rio Celeste.
San Gerardo de Dota – Southern Mountains
In the high-altitude mountains south of San Jose is the tiny village of San Gerardo de Dota. This rural town is coveted by birders who come in search of the Resplendent Quetzal. This is an elusive green and red bird with extraordinarily long tail feathers.
Although the rustic lodges get busy during certain times of year, the limited number of accommodations keeps the town quiet and serene.
For more information, read our post, San Gerardo de Dota: A Hideaway in the Cloud Forest.
Santa Maria de Dota – Southern Mountains
Not far from San Gerardo de Dota is Santa Maria de Dota. This quaint mountain town set in a valley offers a glimpse into small-town life in Costa Rica. Few tourists visit this area so it’s a great place to watch the comings and goings of locals. The town has a vibrant town center, with a central park, restaurants, and shops.
Many crops are grown in the Santa Maria de Dota area due to the fertile soil and cooler climate. The most famous is coffee. Small producers in this region have won acclaim worldwide for their shade-grown Tarrazu beans. Tours of Coopedota are available right in town.
Due to its high-altitude location, Santa Maria de Dota is excellent for bird watching.
Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui – Caribbean Lowlands
Our last recommendation for an off-the-beaten-path destination in Costa Rica is Puerto Viejo de Sarapaqui. Not to be confused with the bustling tourist town Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean coast, Sarapiqui is a lesser known agricultural town frequented mostly by locals.
The rainforests of Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui do draw some visitors, especially birders and biologists. The area has a few protected areas with nice hiking trails that cut through the steamy rainforest.
Whitewater rafting along the thrilling Sarapiqui River is another fun activity nearby.
A small number of simple ecolodges can be found in the Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui area. Read our post, Tirimbina: An Eco-treat in Sarapiqui, for one good option.
Although places like Arenal Volcano, Tamarindo, and Manuel Antonio get most of the hype, Costa Rica has plenty of lesser known areas that are worth a visit. Whether you want a socially distanced vacation or are just looking to get away from it all, we hope this list of off-the-beath-path destinations in Costa Rica gets you excited for your next trip.
Have a question about visiting an off-the-beaten-path destination in Costa Rica? Ask us below.
Looking for more information to plan your trip? Check out these posts:
Traveling to Costa Rica During Covid-19: Learn about entry requirements during Covid, safety protocols at hotels and restaurants, and get a feel for what it is like to travel to Costa Rica right now.
Rental Car Discount – For these more remote areas, we highly recommend a rental car to get around. Check out our discount to save 10% or more and get extras like a free second driver, surf racks, and car seats.
Packing for Costa Rica: The Essentials – Since most remote destinations don’t have a lot of amenities, bringing what you need can be critical. Read our packing post for a detailed list.