Exquisite beauty, renowned biodiversity, picturesque volcanoes and tranquil waters — Costa Rica is a tropical paradise. The pure life — pura vida — isn’t just the national motto; it’s a way of life.
The laid-back pace of life in Costa Rica's cities would enchant any traveler, but the country's true charm lies beyond the city streets. In the mighty forests, keep your eyes peeled as monkeys swing through the trees and sloths slink along the branches. Search for the awe-inspiring Resplendent Quetzal flying through the cloud forest canopy. Under the cover of moonlight, feel the soft sand beneath your toes as turtle hatchlings scamper across the beach. A small country with a big personality, Costa Rica is the natural adventure you’ve been waiting for.
Whether exploring coffee plantations as a group, watching your grandkids feed hummingbirds out of their hands or traveling solo as you learn the secrets to Costa Rican longevity, this is the natural paradise of your imagination.
With more than 800 miles of coastline, it is no wonder why Costa Rica translates to “Rich Coast.” However, black and white sand beaches lining the Caribbean and Pacific coasts only begin to scratch the surface. As you journey inland, the gentle slope of the beaches gives way to the dense tropical rainforest, highland cloud forests and towering volcanic peaks.
Costa Rica’s diverse geography owes its origin to five mountain ranges. Within a width of 200 miles from coast to coast, elevation ranges from sea level to a maximum of 12,530 feet above sea level at Mount Chirripo. More than one-third of the Costa Rica’s population lives in its capital, San Jose, in the Central Valley. Roughly 50% of the landscape untouched by human infrastructure and 25% federally protected.
Costa Rica is a haven for biodiversity — home to an estimated 5% of the world’s species within 12 key ecological zones.
Encompassing 0.03% of the world’s landmass, Costa Rica’s biodiversity is unprecedented. With more than 500,000 species, there is a record 615 species per 10,000 square kilometers. Approximately 25% of Costa Rica’s land is protected within three UNESCO World Heritage Sites and 27 national parks.
“We saw so many more turtles, plants, animals and birds than I would have expected. Our leader was excellent and knowledgeable. It rained but it didn't bother us. We had a great time.”
— Eleanor from Wexford, Pennsylvania —
Journey to the sandy beaches and dense rainforests of Costa Rica to revitalize your mind and body. Take in the scenery on nature walks, bathe in natural springs and relax your mind to the sounds of monkeys rustling in the trees overhead.
From Motmots to Quetzals, Tanagers to Toucans, approximately 900 avian species live in this small country approximately the same size as Lake Michigan. From mountain cloud forests to coastal mangrove, the sheer number of tropical birds is magical.
Costa Rica has something for everyone. Raft world-class rivers; search for sloths, monkeys and macaws in the forest canopy; paddle an outrigger canoe, one of the oldest forms of sea travel; walk through the clouds on a suspension bridge; hike among ancient volcanoes.
We’ve compiled our list of the best of Costa Rica, starting with the most popular and well known and ending with some more off-the-beaten-path spots you may not know much about.
The beating heart of Costa Rica, San José is the country’s social, cultural and economic hub. Named the capital in 1823, San José is home to extravagant displays of 19th-century wealth and classical architecture. Located in the Central Valley, it is a primary launching point to explore Costa Rica’s biodiversity and natural beauty.
Costa Rica’s most active volcano until 2010 stands at 5,437 feet, shaping the geography of the surrounding area. Arenal Volcano National Park protects the rainforest, rivers, canyons and hot springs as well as Costa Rica’s largest body of fresh water — Lake Arenal. Arenal is known for canopy adventures, geothermal springs and wildlife including armadillos, tree frogs and butterflies.
The dense fog that hangs to the rainforest canopy of Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve creates one of the world’s unique ecosystems and boasts a large number of endemic species. Coffee plantations prosper from the local environment, skywalks navigate the canopy where 90% of all cloud forest organisms live featuring monkeys, sloths and 400 species of birds — including the famed Resplendent Quetzal.
Translating to “Lots of Turtles,” Tortuguero National Park rests on Costa Rica’s northeastern Caribbean coast. Green sea turtles, leatherback and hawksbill can be seen nesting on beaches created from volcanic sediment. An extensive network of rivers and lagoons is home to river turtles, spectacled caiman and southern river otters as spider, howler and capuchin monkeys swing through the trees overhead with birds and sloths.
In the northwest, Guanacaste Province’s capital, Liberia, is a transportation hub and the access point to some of Costa Rica’s most astounding beaches, volcanic hotspots and waterfalls. Liberia boasts colonial architecture with Wild West vibe from the surrounding ranches and in-town rodeos. On the Pacific coast, Guanacaste is one of the driest regions of Costa Rica and home to exceptional biodiversity. Rincon de la Vieja National Park encompasses nine volcanic craters and diverse ecosystems and Santa Rosa National Park was the country’s first, protecting the scene of the Battle of Santa Rosa and 10 unique natural habitats.
“What a great adventure! I was amazed and awestruck at the variety of flora and fauna the group saw. I was overwhelmed daily with a sense of gratitude at being able to discover and experience this beautiful part of the world.”
— Elizabeth from Redding, California —
“This was a wonderful experience that exceeded my expectations in every way. The degree of organization was so high that everything went very smoothly. Our leader was an educator, friend, advisor and companion. Discovering the wonders of Costa Rica was exciting and elevating — both literally and figuratively.”
— Robin from Bethesda, Maryland —