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If your idea of a dream vacation is exploring ancient history, getting a tan at the beach, or stalking sloths and monkeys on hikes through the jungle, then Costa Rica is the place for you.
And to help you get the most out of your trip, I have shared some of the best places to stay in Costa Rica (check out best Costa Rica activities here) so you can pick the one that most suits your needs. Be warned, though; no matter which one you choose, there’s a chance you’ll never want to leave!
Related post: 7 Days in Costa Rica – The perfect itinerary!
The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose, is one of the best places to stay for anyone looking to experience the rich history of the Ticos. With outstanding museums and art galleries, stunning architecture, well-maintained parks, and friendly locals, you will not only be able to enjoy the Costa Rican culture but also an array of activities that will truly make your visit memorable.
There’s a lot to do in downtown San Jose– you don’t want to miss include the National Theater, Jade Museum, Central Park, Spanish Park, and Democracy Plaza. Plan a day or two to visit these – it’s a chance to not only catch up on your history lessons but also to mingle with the welcoming locals.
But don’t miss the nightlife either. Under the moonlight, the city shines bright with clubs, bars, and restaurants, offering a fantastic opportunity for anyone who loves to party.
Perhaps one of the things you’ll love about San Jose is convenience. The city is only 30 minutes from Juan Santa Maria International Airport and there is an extensive range of accommodation options in and around it to fit every budget. We love the Adventure Inn for our first or last night in-country! You can get 10% off your stay by clicking here.
And because of its central location, it makes an excellent base for day trips to waterfalls, volcanoes, and cloud forests.
Famed for its beautiful Pacific coast beaches, majestic volcanoes, and picturesque mountain ranges, Guanacaste is a true paradise for nature lovers. Tourists flock here to enjoy the long summer days, diverse wildlife, and the active culture of the locals. Some of the best beaches are in Guanacaste.
Also, this part of Costa Rica doesn’t rain much, which makes it the perfect place to participate in activities like horseback riding, ziplining, water sports, and other thrills that may require a sunny day.
You’ll get to Guanacaste from Liberia International Airport, located just outside of Liberia, the delightful capital of Guanacaste. As soon as you land, you’ll see luxury vehicles waiting to pick up arrivals and transport them off to the most luxurious hotels and all-inclusive resorts in the country.
The Gulf of Papagayo is perhaps where the majority will be headed, and it’s where you want to go too if you want to experience the finest accommodation in the region. We adore staying at the all-inclusive Planet Hollywood and discovering the hidden beaches of Nacazcolo and Cabuyal.
In the Gulf of Papagayo, you’ll find all manner of lodging options from high-end five-star and boutique hotels to family and adults-only hideaways, that cater to every budget. But don’t spend all your vacation here. There’s still a lot more to explore in other parts of Guanacaste away from the Pacific Ocean. Start with Palo Verde National Park.
If you want a quiet vacation away from the real world, Nicoya Peninsula is a great place. The off-the-beaten-path escape exudes a low-key, hippie vibe that draws people who want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city.
However, because it’s too secluded, not many people come here. But perhaps that’s a good thing because you will have all those beautiful mountainous landscapes and jaw-dropping beaches all to yourself!
Watersports are huge here, thanks to the magnificent beaches in the area including Malpais, Montezuma, and Santa Teresa. You will particularly see surfers, as this is one of the best surf spots in Central America, but there is also no shortage of swimmers, scuba divers, and other watersports junkies. You’ll find plenty of yogis and wellness enthusiasts too; don’t leave without squeezing in a class of yoga!
If you would rather watch some wildlife, make arrangements for a day hike through Cabo Blanco and see all kinds of animals including sloths, white-tailed coatis, coyotes, and howler monkeys. After you’re done adventuring, there is an abundance of places to eat and sleep. You can find accommodation at hotels near the beach or in one of the charming surf towns around.
I can’t wait to discover the turtle nesting in July at Ostional- I plan to head there this summer to check it out!
Located in Cartago province, in the verdant Central Valley, Turrialba is a beautiful little town that gives its residents some picturesque views of Costa Rica’s countryside and direct access to the Turrialba volcano. From the summit, Poas, Irazu, and Barva volcanoes can also be seen in the distance when the sky is clear.
If you thrive on adrenaline-rushing adventures, staying in this town will serve you exactly that. With thundering rivers, extensive wildlife, pristine tropical forests, and lush mountainous landscapes, Turrialba is one of the best areas for nature lovers and adrenaline junkies to spend a vacation in Costa Rica.
Try river rafting along the Reventazon and Pacuare rivers; it’s one of the most popular activities in the area and will certainly give you an unforgettable vacation.
Other thrills you can venture into include canyoning, ziplining, animal spotting, and canopy tours. For history lovers, Guayabo National Monument would be an amazing place to explore.
The Pacuare Lodge is a favorite place to stay for rafters and adventure seekers. You have to get there via raft or 4×4- and the accommodations are luxe. Once you get there, make sure to try the food- it’s divine. Oh, and the birdwatching is unparalleled.
A laid-back Caribbean vibe, idyllic beaches, thriving forests, abundant wildlife, and cheap accommodations are what welcome you to Puerto Viejo.
You will likely not find a lot of things to do here as you would in the town’s northern neighbor, Tortuguero, or in areas along the Pacific Coast, but that’s the beauty of it all. You want to relax, escape from the real world, and experience the true Caribbean atmosphere. That’s what this destination does for you.
But don’t get me wrong. Staying here doesn’t mean your vacation will be boring. Absolutely not! There are so many places to go and things to see that will truly make your stay enjoyable.
The Jaguar Rescue Center is one of them – go see sloths, howler monkeys, and other animals that call this place home.
You could also visit Finca La Isla botanical garden, go on a chocolate tour, or bike around the city and socialize with the locals. And the beach is a no-brainer; don’t leave without riding the waves!
Cahuita National Park is a neighbor to Puerto Viejo. There you’ll find an abundance of sea turtles and ample snorkeling opportunities. You can also visit Playa Manzanillo just south of Puerto Viejo- it’s one of the most picturesque beaches on Costa Rica’s Caribbean side.
Stay at the Banana Azul. Each room has gorgeous photography of Costa Rica, it’s right next to the beach, and the pool is the perfect temperature. One of the biggest advantages of the rooms here is that several include kitchens, so you can cook yourself to save some money.
The coastal village of Manuel Antonio is one of the most visited places in Costa Rica and for a good reason – it has magnificent natural beauty, extensive wildlife, gorgeous beaches, and excellent cuisine.
People flock here to spot monkeys, sloths, snakes, frogs, and other wildlife in the phenomenal Manuel Antonio National Park.
You will definitely love the park too but there are other fantastic attractions you want to explore during your stay. You can do a canopy zip line tour, visit waterfalls, go whitewater rafting, or just chill at the beach. After lots of wildlife and beach activities, sit back, relax, and take in the breathtaking views of the sunset on a sunset sailing tour.
Accommodation options are in abundance. There is no shortage of resorts, hotels, hostels, and apartments in Manuel Antonio. If you are planning a luxury vacation, you will have plenty of exquisite ocean-view resorts and other 5-star lodging options to choose from. Similarly, you will find many pocket-friendly and mid-range options.
We love to stay at the Karahe Beach Resort. It’s close to the beach and a full Costa Rican breakfast is included. Plus, you can walk right to the entrance of Manuel Antonio National Park.
Don’t forget that Manuel Antonio is the gateway to many other places in the south- namely the sleepy ex-pat town of Dominical, and the majestic whale watching available in Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita, Costa Rica. The Nauyaca waterfalls are close too.
Corcovado National Park
If Manuel Antonio doesn’t do it for you, Corcovado definitely will. While Costa Rica is home to so many national parks Corcovado just might be the crown jewel. It houses over 50 percent of all animal and plant species in Costa Rica.
Here, you will find not only a cloud forest, mangrove swamp, and palm forest among other flora but also jaguars, coatis, pumas, ocelots, and other feline animal species. It’s no wonder this park once held the title of being one of the most biodiverse places in the world!
While you could spend your day birdwatching, hiking through the park, or basically just exploring the wildlife, there is a plethora of other activities that could make your stay fun too including beach hopping, kayaking, fishing, horseback riding, gold mining tour, or scuba diving at the Cano Island.
There’s a lodge inside the park where you can spend the night after a day of exploration. You will find a few structures here with netted bunk beds and other offerings like bathrooms and showers, internet, and electricity for your overnight stay.
We love to stay at Poor Man’s Paradise. The food is included, and the trip through the mangroves on the boat to arrive- well, there’s nothing like it. You’ll be able to book all kinds of tours with experienced guides here, and the sunsets are amazing.
The small town of Tortuguero is located on the Caribbean coast, and houses one of the most popular turtle nesting sites on the planet. In fact, that’s where the town and the famous Tortuguero National Park got their name.
But as much as this area is about marine turtles, there is more to see here. The surrounding canals, jungle, and mangroves offer a dwelling place for diverse other wildlife including howler monkeys, toucans, jaguars, and up to 300 species of birds.
Most people visit the town mainly to go to the national park and experience the vibrant local culture and will probably be here just for a day or two.
But for those who choose to stick around for a couple more days, there are lots of fun and unique activities to be enjoyed including going on a cocoa tour, eating from a floating restaurant, hiking up Tortuguero Volcano, and relaxing at the beach.
And of course, there are plenty of amazing places to stay – whether you’re a budget, medium, or luxury traveler.
Make sure to stay at the Mawamba Lodge. It’s the only one that has access both to the beach and the river- making it easy to walk right out your cabin door and see the sea turtles nesting.
Don’t miss eating the Caribbean “rice and beans” or the Caribbean chicken at Miss Miriam’s. She cooks right in her own home, and the food is divine. Make sure to make a reservation beforehand- her table fills up quickly!
I am totally biased about San Ramon since our family is from here, but hear me out. I love the small-town charm of San Ramon- there is a gorgeous church in the center of town surrounded by everything you could need store-wise.
We love to visit the nature areas of La Paz- especially the Trapiche. There’s Las Musas waterpark not far from the city center, and Finca Libertad Pura gives some of the best horseback riding through the coffee fields that you will ever find. The weekly farmer’s market provides entertainment and the freshest Costa Rican fruit you can find.
Finally, San Ramon has a thriving ex-pat population, which means many of the people in town speak English. You can get around easily on foot, or if you choose to rent a car you can explore the greater area.
We love to stay at the Airbnb Casa Las Golondrinas- the apartment is fully equipped and sleeps 4 comfortably. The views of the ocean and the city center can’t be beaten- don’t miss the sunsets especially!
The majestic Arenal Volcano is the iconic photo everyone wants from Costa Rica. But that’s not the only reason to visit La Fortuna. (Again, I’m biased- it’s my favorite place in Costa Rica!)
La Fortuna retains its small-town charm while offering big excitement with some of the best activities. From waterfall chasing to zip lining (Eco Glide is the best for families), night tours to rafting and rappelling- you will have a ton of fun.
And let’s not forget the best part of La Fortuna- soaking in endless hot springs. Whether you love something like Kalambu Water Park for the kids, the majestic man-made springs of Baldi, or the natural beauty of Tabacon and Eco Termales, there is a hot spring for everyone.
Given the proximity to the center of agriculture in Costa Rica, you’ll find some of the best restaurants in the country right in La Fortuna. Don’t miss eating at a small soda like La Hormiga, or try some fancy traditional Costa Rican food at Don Rufino.
We love to stay at Volcano Lodge and Springs because the food is great, there’s a playground right by the bar/restaurant, and you can get your own personal hot spring right on the patio to your room! If that’s not your style, there are lots of other accommodations in La Fortuna as well.
While it can have the connotation of a party town, we actually really love to stay in Jaco with kids.
On the north end of the beach, there’s a big estuary where kids can play in the salt water without having to worry about the big waves. The south end of the beach brings baby waves perfect for playing with littles, or for beginner surfers wanting to go out and try their hand at surfing.
There is tons of international food to eat in Jaco, and the weekly farmer’s market is a ton of fun to walk through. If you want to cook at home, there are great grocery stores here too. Want a cheap meal? Soda Las Olas can’t be beaten.
Don’t miss a horseback ride or a hike out to the lookout over the beach- you can find horse rentals right on the south end of the beach.
Finally, we love to stay at The Palms- the apartments are pristine and the location is excellent. There are lots of hotels in Jaco too if The Palms isn’t your style.
I definitely saved the best for last. Internationally known for it’s lush jungle rainforests, pristine cloudforest, and some of the best insect and bird watching in the world, Monteverde has to be one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica.
Made up of two villages- Monteverde and Santa Elena, the path between the two of them are littered with great restaurants and tons of hotels. When you add the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in there- well there’s endless hiking and bird watching to be had.
The longest zip line in Costa Rica is fro Sky Adventures, and the Cafe Monteverde Tour will teach you everything you need to know about Costa Rican coffee.
We love to stay at Burbi Lake Lodge- it’s quiet and calm and just off the beaten track of the main road. If you aren’t liking Burbi then there are plenty of Monteverde hotels to choose from.
Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by