Costa Rica: the best places to visit in the country of “pura vida”

Costa Rica: the best places to visit in the country of “pura vida”

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24 January

When the essence of a country is encapsulated in an expression of two simple words like “pura vida”, then you can rest assured that you will live life to the fullest there. Here a list of the best places to visit in Costa Rica!

Costa Rica is a country of relaxation and slow life, where you can breathe a welcoming and relaxed atmosphere. This is thanks to the local people, always smiling and accommodating, and an extraordinary nature, which will leave you speechless. Here you can view the ocean, with about 1,200 kilometres of paradisiacal beaches, but also the woods, jungle, volcanoes and waterfalls. There are numerous things to do in Costa Rica and all the activities have a unique and authentic flavour.

When I talk about travelling, I admit one of my favourite things, is to provide some data. I try to exercise self-control, but in some cases, it is impossible, certain things need to be said. For instance, did you know that Costa Rica has 5% of the world’s biodiversity? It’s unbelievable, in such a small country, don’t you think? Should we mention the fact that it produces almost 99% of its energy for the electricity grid from renewable sources? I’ve already fallen in love. What about you?

A trip to Costa Rica will let you discover the wildest and most unspoiled nature. Prepare to muddy your boots exploring a volcano, swim in thermal pools and struggle to stay clinging to a dinghy, rafting along river rapids. Sea, mountains, relaxation and adventure, in short, the tour of Costa Rica will never be boring.

San José

Once you arrive in Costa Rica, rest assured that your first stop will be its capital, San José. Whether you leave on your own with your backpack, or on an organised trip, this city must be on your schedule.

San Josè is the most populous province in the country and the homonymous city is located in the Central Valley, surrounded by beautiful volcanoes and breathtaking green hills. It was born as an agricultural territory and thanks to the coffee trade it soon became one of the most important cities in Costa Rica, for the economy and politics. Its architecture is mainly of European inspiration, having been a colony, but in some places, such as the Mercado Central or the Mercado Artisanal, you can capture the true Costa Rican spirit. Fruit, food and local specialities, such as fried bananas, but also handmade works: here you can surely pick up a nice souvenir to apologise to mom for skipping the typical Sunday family lunch.

Among the many things to visit in San José, do not miss the wonderful Teatro Nacional, where you can see folkloric shows and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Here you can admire unique gold artefacts, dating back to pre-Columbian civilisations and works of art, as well as a collection of coins recovered from Spanish galleons.

Teatro Nacional in the capital San José
The capital city of San José


It is finally time to enter Costa Rica’s nature, and what better destination to choose if not than the Monteverde forest? From its name, wouldn’t it seem obvious to say that it is a green mountain? Well, sometimes stating the obvious is rewarding.

Well, it is what it says on the tin: a protected reserve of 100 square kilometres and 13 kilometres of trails. So get armed with a k-way and excellent hiking shoes. The nickname “cloud forest” is due to the area’s climate, being truly humid, often generating low clouds, giving an even more suggestive scenario. So forget an idyllic destination and get ready to have an “experienced” theme throughout the trip.

The reserve is the perfect place to spectate colourful mammals and birds and spend a few hours in a unique and uncontaminated context. From the various possible routes, enjoy a stop at Mirador la Ventana, a panoramic point, where with weather conditions permitting, you can enjoy a magnificent view of the sea. One of the most iconic places of the Monteverde reserve is the Wilford Guindon suspension bridge; walk 100 metres in suspension over the forest and you will feel like you are standing inside candy floss!

People on the suspension bridge in Monteverde forest
The suspension bridge in Monteverde Forest

La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano

What are the best places to visit in Costa Rica? If like me, you are one of those people full of negative karma, I would definitely recommend La Fortuna. Okay, maybe one trip isn’t enough to remove a jinx, but it certainly helps lift the mood.

So go on and discover one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica. La Fortuna was a small agricultural village at the base of the Arenal Volcano, which after almost 400 years of tranquillity in 1968, erupted violently, destroying many nearby villages. And you’re thinking, “Where’s the luck here, then?” We’re getting there, bear with me. Right at that moment many tourists rushed to La Fortuna, unscathed by the volcanic eruption, to observe the spectacle of the fiery sky and lava flows. The small town has become one of the main tourist destinations in Costa Rica! La Fortuna, lucky, isn’t it?

Volcano means heat and heat means … hot springs! Yes, here you can find water between 35 and 38 degrees and you can relax after a day of sports. There are numerous activities to do along the Rio Fortuna, all not to be missed! You can go down the rapids rafting or fly through the river forest on a zip-line; in short, you cannot get bored here, that’s guaranteed. 30 minutes from the town of La Fortuna, you will find the Arenal Volcano National Park, where you can go hiking surrounded by greenery, until you reach the volcano’s peak, welcoming you with an almost lunar landscape, due to lava flows. No worries, the volcano hasn’t shown any signs of erupting since 2010!

La Fortuna Waterfall
La Fortuna Waterfall, in the Arenal Volcano National Park


This city is the perfect blend of colonial culture and Costa Rica’s religious traditions. Until 1823, Cartago was the capital and, despite being a medium-sized town, it has retained its unique character.

The temple of Orosi is a splendid testimony to the wealth of colonial art, while the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels represents Cartago’s religious importance. Every 2 August, to celebrate the Patron Saint of the Country, a pilgrimage takes place that draws millions of people to Cartago. Here we pray “La Negrita”, the nickname given to the Patroness, as she is depicted in a black statuette.

The city of Cartago’s surroundings offers numerous archaeological sites dating back to pre-Columbian times. One of the most famous attractions is Irazu; a gigantic active volcano, with five craters, 3,432 metres high. Another place to visit in Costa Rica!

The Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels
Cartago, the old metropolis

Surf in Costa Rica: Tamarindo Beach and Santa Teresa

Yes, I am talking to you, surf enthusiasts! Mark these beaches immediately, because they should certainly be listed among the places to visit in Costa Rica.

We’re in the south of the country, where the currents and winds can generate the perfect waves for surf enthusiasts, but also the right relaxation for anyone who loves enjoying the sun on the beach. In particular, Playa Tamarindo, highly renowned and frequented by tourists, is a long beach framed by palm trees, which in addition to surfing, offers numerous bars, shops, restaurants and hotels. Very close to the international airport, its location makes it ideal to start the tour of Costa Rica from here.

The atmosphere of Santa Teresa, on the other hand, is wilder. Don’t think it’s a secluded, unserved beach. Here there are several clubs and restaurants and over the years this place has become very eclectic and creative, albeit the roads are dirt tracks and forget sunbeds or umbrellas. In short, you go surfing in Santa Teresa. After a day riding the waves, all you need is a cocktail, a hammock and a guitar to enjoy the spectacle of the sunset over the sea.

People at Santa Teresa beach, a surfing paradise in Costa Rica
Santa Teresa beach, a surfing paradise in Costa Rica

Puerto Limón and Tortuguero National Park

Caribbean? Yes, baby! One of the most extraordinary aspects of Costa Rica is that it faces south on the Pacific Ocean and north on the Caribbean Sea! Something that gives goosebumps to anyone who loves the sea like me. In this regard, one of the most beautiful provinces is Puerto Limón. It is an area that defining as a natural paradise would be reductive. In addition to the sea and the wonderful Caribbean beaches, here there are jungles, mountains and an incredible variety of flora and fauna.

Puerto Limón is a small town that usually serves as a point of arrival for tourists. In reality, in addition to being the most important maritime access point in the country, it has become a symbol of the multiculturalism that this province has experienced throughout its history. A walk through its wide avenues and a visit to the open-air city market will immerse you in a truly unique scenario. Here, the traces of man are few and this makes Puerto Limón a small jewel inside nature.

One of the most appreciated things in this region is the Tortuguero National Park. Consider, it is called a “small Amazon” because of how much vegetation it contains. The Park consists of a series of rivers and lagoons, navigable by kayak or boat; a unique experience that will let you see numerous animals such as frogs, monkeys, birds and fish. The name Tortuguero derives from one of the Park’s most appreciated features: the presence of sea turtles. With a little luck, at some times of the year, you can witness the hatching of eggs, which are deposited on the beach. A truly unique show!

The Landscape of the Tortuguero National Park
The Landscape of the Tortuguero National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

Another enchanting park just waiting to be explored. We return to the south of Costa Rica to discover one of this country’s wonders. The park is located in Quepos a hundred kilometres from the capital San José. This place alone is worth the trip; an area of beaches with crystal clear water, where you can snorkel and dive, but also an oasis of nature.

Manuel Antonio Park is characterised by a dense forest, which is inhabited by numerous animals, such as monkeys, toucans and chameleons. One of the best things to visit in Costa Rica is the sloth! We do not mean the gentleman who sorts through his pockets for all the two-cent coins to buy a €1.80 stamp at the post office. We mean a real sloth, with hair and that carefree and super funny expression. At Manuel Antonio National Park you will have the opportunity to see them, also thanks to the guides, who know where to find these splendid specimens.

The park area can be traversed via numerous trails, some of which lead directly to the sea, taking you to magnificent beaches. Soft sand, vegetation and a flat sea: what could be better after exploring the forest?

A sloth, spotted at Manuel Antonio National Park
A sloth, spotted at Manuel Antonio National Park

The Rio Celeste waterfalls

Costa Rica offers truly unique views and offers a wide range of sports activities (and others) to every traveller. Among the various protected areas of the country, do not miss the Tenorio Volcano Park.

As you may have already understood, there are numerous volcanoes in Costa Rica and let’s just say, they stand out. This land is in continuous turmoil, as many volcanoes are currently active. However, the Tenorio volcano is among the quietest in Costa Rica and has been considered dormant for numerous years. The surrounding park is immersed in a rainforest, with a very humid environment and rich in plants such as ferns, orchids and palms. Among the animals that live here, luckily well hidden do not fear, there are pumas, tapirs, howler monkeys and songbirds.

After a guided tour through the forest, you will reach one of the most famous places in the country. Definitely one of the places to visit in Costa Rica: the Rio Celeste waterfalls. The water drops by 20 metres in a truly paradisiacal context; a waterfall in the rainforest, it creates a pool of celestial colour where you can dive. In short, a scenario that will leave you speechless.

Do you know where the name of the river comes from? The volcano’s sulphur emissions vary the water’s pH and make this place even more spectacular. The Rio Celeste will not disappoint you, put it immediately on the list of places to visit in Costa Rica!

The landscape of the Rio Celeste waterfall's celestial pool
The sky-blue pool of the Rio Celeste waterfall

Rafting along the Pacuare River

Adventure, fun and some diving in the water. If you think that there is nothing else to do in Costa Rica, then visit the Pacuare River.

Every year countless enthusiasts and professionals flock to Costa Rica to go rafting on this fantastic river. The context is wonderful (did you have any doubts?) and there is room for everyone, expert or not. The Rio Pacuare covers a very wide area and crosses tropical rainforests and plains, also generating waterfalls. For this reason, its path is divided into 16 sections, each with a different difficulty. Everyone can try their hand based on their own experience and the fun is guaranteed!

In short, the Pacuare River is one of the most beautiful destinations for adventure lovers: waves, rapids and waterfalls, which break between the surrounding vegetation. If the dinghy doesn’t toss you into the water, you’ll probably dive in anyway, being enchanted by so much beauty.

People rafting along the Pacuare River
Rafting along the Pacuare river

A trip to Costa Rica begins as a discovery of landscapes, nature and animals and then becomes a journey within itself. Here you have the opportunity to learn how to slow down and appreciate every single moment, just as the Costa Ricans do. Let go of stress and enjoy every moment of your vacation.

Be ready to receive smiles and hugs and take home the teaching of “pura vida”: a thank you, a greeting, a wish, but also a real lifestyle. There are countless places to visit in Costa Rica and I hope this has spurred you into visiting. The most beautiful places in Costa Rica are waiting for you! Check out the tour you could take with WeRoad here.

WeRoad Team
Written by WeRoad Team