Costa Rica Top Attractions

Arenal Volcano

Costa Rica has five active volcanoes, with Arenal being its most visited. The behemoth has settled into a less active phase these days—likely temporary—but its sinister, majestic, perfectly shaped cone never fails to impress, if the clouds part long enough for you to get a view.

Tortuguero

Even the most curmudgeonly visitor marvels at the sight of recently hatched sea turtles scurrying from their nests to the ocean, and Tortuguero is Costa Rica’s premier site to witness this age-old spectacle. This roadless region epitomizes the old adage that “Getting there is half the fun”—boat and plane are your only options—and the lodges up here can fix you up.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Some of the country's most thrilling views can be seen from the trails through Manuel Antonio National Park. As you emerge from the rain forest, don't be surprised to find yourself alone on a palm-shaded beach. Make sure to look up—sloths and three types of monkey make their home in the canopy, and on a good day you might see them all.

Corcovado National Park

Bird-watchers come to this vast and pristine rain forest with hopes of catching a glimpse of the endangered harpy eagle. It's notoriously difficult to see, but other feathered friends—like the scarlet macaw, the orange-bellied trogon, and the golden-hooded tanager—practically pose for pictures. No need to head off into the rain forest with your binoculars; dozens of hummingbirds are likely to dart around you as you relax by the pool.

Playa Carrillo

This long, picturesque beach, backed by a line of swaying palms and protective cliffs, is certainly one of the most beautiful stretches of sand in the country. Perfect for swimming, snorkeling, or just walking, the beach isn't marred by a single building. Visit on a weekday and it's possible that you may have the entire shore to yourself.

Nicoya Peninsula

Popular with the sun-and-fun crowd, the peninsula still has a yet-to-be-discovered feel. Maybe that's because its sandy shores are never covered with a checkerboard of beach blankets. Drive a few miles in any direction and you can find a spot all to yourself. But civilization isn't far away—some of the country's best restaurants are within reach.

Turrialba

Heavy rainfall, steep mountains, and rocky terrain make this region a magnet for white-water rafters, and there's a river to match everyone's level of expertise. Not far from San José, the Central Valley has outfitters who offer everything from easy day trips to challenging multiday excursions. Many of these companies congregate around Turrialba, the country's white-water capital and close to the Río Pacuare and Río Reventazón.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

The roads leading here are terrible, but you won't mind once you see the mist-covered reserve. Because of the constant moisture, this private park is unbelievably lush. It's gorgeous during the day, but many prefer night hikes, when you can see colorful birds asleep in the branches, hairy tarantulas in search of prey, and nocturnal mammals like the wide-eyed kinkajou.

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