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.
For more information on the southern Nicoya Peninsula, read our posts, Road Trip to Mal Pais and Montezuma: A Bohemian Beach Town.
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.
Hikes through the cloud forest at Los Quetzales National Park or to a local waterfall are popular things to do in San Gerardo de Dota.
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.
You missed Cabo Matapolo & San Vito! Definitely hidden gems worth a stay. 🌞
Hi Judi, Yes! Those are great spots too. It’s hard to include everything since there are so many wonderful places in Costa Rica. Thanks for commenting.
Thanks for the info! Many great places out there. We will be on the Caribbean side and south of Nosara in March. Greetings from N.H.
Hi Bob, You’re welcome!
That sounds like a great trip you have planned. Will be a nice break from winter in NH! Thanks for reading.
Lots of great info! Thank you!! I am looking to plan a trip for my daughters and myself. They just graduated college and we want to celebrate! Having a hard time figuring out where to go. We love to hike, also love the beach. Prefer smaller laid back towns. Any favorites of yours that you would recommend. We have 2 weeks to explore. Thank you!!!
Hi Jessica, Maybe the Playa Avellanas area for laid back beach and the Uvita/Dominical (https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/the-costa-ballena-uvita-dominical-and-ojochal/) for hiking and more beach time. That would show you two very different areas then you could stop somewhere in between on the way. Hope that helps!
Hi. I’m looking at a travel zoo deal for the Azura Beach Hotel in Samura. Is this a good area to visit ? Do you have any feedback on the hotel ? This deal includes airport shuttles so we didn’t plan on a car. Are there any day trips or tours from this location. We are 73 & 80so are not into daring adventures
Hi Donna, We haven’t heard of that particular hotel, but yes, Samara is a nice place to visit. It’s low key and smaller so sounds like it may be a good fit for you. Here is a link to our Samara article with lots of information about what the town is like and area activities: https://www.twoweeksincostarica.com/samara/. It is a good option without a rental car but that particular hotel looks like it’s a little far from town so keep that in mind.
We spent a year in Tamarindo and are coming back to visit friends but also to explore more of Costa Rica. If you were to drive from Tamarindo to the Oso Peninsula, what would be your destination stops along the way?
Hi Linda, It’s a really long drive to go from Tamarindo to the Osa so make sure you have a decent amount of time so that the trip will be worth it. Some good stops on the way are Manuel Antonio and the Uvita area. If you’d like to explore some inland areas, Bijagua/the Rio Celeste isn’t too far off the highway.
Hello there. Your website is immensely helpful. We are looking for an off the beaten path Costa Rican beach town to bring our family of 5 (kids are 14, 12, and 9) for a week next summer. We are looking for an authentic, not overly touristy town where we can stay in a small villa within walking distance to town for local coffee and food, and to the beach to play. We are also excited to experience the wild, especially animals and trees. And we want to work in a bit of adventure as well. Instead of touring the country, we want to really get to know a specific place. But we are having trouble knowing which place. Through your articles, we have be drawn to Montezuma and Cahuita. Is there a place that you think might feel like the right fit for us? Thanks so much for the help!
Hi Keely, You have a lot of choices! Montezuma is a good option for a week. It’s off the beaten path and remote, but has enough to do to keep you busy, with the waterfall, beaches, Tortuga Island, and Santa Teresa nearby. You could also take a look at Esterillos Oeste. This is an authentic beach town but it’s close to Jaco, which has more to do. Esterillos has quite a bit of wildlife too (scarlet macaws, monkeys, sloths etc.). Cahuita is cute too but a little quieter.
Hello Jenn and Matt,
I and a female friend are thinking about a winter break in Costa Rica. I’ve never been there, but am a tropical plant lover. But also colorful or exotic birds and animals. We are in our 70’s but pretty spry, so hiking is an interest, going to the beach, maybe kayaking, but nothing crazy, seeing local craft/art/costumes or festivals. Not especially interested in hanging out with other Americans, but waterfalls are something else. Not luxury, but comfort and cleanliness important. Authentic cuisine definitely!
Perhaps what you wrote to Keely Taylor might apply to us as well.
I don’t even know if a first-timer should try to wing a trip there, or go on a small-group tour. But which one?: there’s so many operators.
Any suggestions would be appreciated
Hi Steve, The Costa Ballena (Uvita/Dominical) area may be a good fit. This is on the southern Pacific coast, which is more rural and spread out. But there’s still a good amount of things to do. It has gorgeous, mostly quiet beaches, thick rainforest, lots of tropical vegetation, and tons of wildlife. There is good hiking around, kayaking, and many waterfalls. Here’s a link to our Costa Ballena article with more information.
We don’t think you need to do a group tour. If you’re comfortable, just rent a car. If not, you could take private shuttles between destinations. Hotels can help you book tours or we have a tour booking service as well. Costa Rica is very tourist friendly so it’s doable on your own. Good luck with your planning!
Hi, I am spending a week and a half in Costa Rica solo (before meeting up with family). I am looking for a charming town to stay in, ideally walkable to shops and restaurants. I will be working half-time while there, so hoping for a place with attractions close by that could be visited in my half days off (not planning to rent a car, so walk/bike/bus/taxi). I love nature, waterfalls, farms, crafts, local culture. But I care more about the general vibe and getting to know a place than site-seeing. Bonus for a place that isn’t as hot/humid, ie. highlands.
So far my plan has been to spend half the time in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (for the Caribbean culture) and half the time in Orosi. But I keep wondering if there is a better mountain town that would be good for 5-10 days. I hadn’t heard of Santa Maria de Dota before this article, but it got me thinking about where I might have missed. Any recommendations would be much appreciated!
Hi Amy, You could look at Atenas in the Central Valley. It’s a little city with a lot of locals. It has good internet and a cute downtown that is easily walkable. If you stayed outside the main area of town, there are lots of buses to get around easily. They have a good farmers market. Hikes, waterfalls, and coffee tours are a day trip away by bus or taxi. Hope that helps! Here’s a link to our Atenas article.
Hello! I’m considering an airbnb for a month that is about 20 min from the beach and closer to town/looks like it is in the jungle/mountains. I would rent a car so I don’t think trasportation to the beach would be an issue, but the airbnb does not have AC and a large portion of it is open air. What is the climate like? Do you think no AC would be an issue?
Hi Debbie, It depends on where it is. Can you let us know the town you’re looking at? Some areas are fine without A/C if the house has good ventilation.
Costa Rica is a country I really really need to explore!
I love visiting the less touristic locations when I’m travelling, so this will really help with my future planning!
They all sound and look amazing, so thank you once again!