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An expert guide to the most popular natural and man-made landmarks in the country of Costa Rica.
When I think of landmarks, I don’t always think of nature. that’s because I live in a city, and our landmarks tend to be churches, parks, and statues.
But since Costa Rica is so full of nature and eco-focused, it’s not hard to see how so many natural landmarks on this list consist of beaches, national parks and more.
I could argue this list also makes up some of the “must see” places on Costa Rica, but you’ll have to peruse through all of them to see if you agree.
To help you decide which places you want to visit and which ones you’d prefer to skip, I’ve compiled a list of the top landmarks in Costa Rica. Let’s take you through them all, one by one.
Manuel Antonio National Park
On the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica right next to the town of Quepos, you will find the Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s known for its pristine beaches, gorgeous tropical rain forest and an array of wildlife you can see along the trails.
Once you enter the park you can see three different beaches along your hike. We have gone and stayed until the park closes picnicking at the beach and relaxing in the water. I most remember all of the spider monkeys chattering around us and the huge iguanas that followed my mom everywhere- much to her chagrin!
The park is easily accessible by car and there are lots of great hotels nearby. It’s known as one of the most famous landmarks, however, because of the sheer number of visitors that arrive every year (Costa Ricans and non). I recommend getting to the park early on the day you decide to go.
Guayabo National Monument
Located north of the town of Turrialba, this monument is a mystery that dates back thousands of years. It’s waiting for you to discover and explore!
Guayaba National Monument is one of the most important landmarks in the archeological history of Costa Rica — and for good reason. It’s said to be a residence of over 10,000 people more than 3,000 years ago.
No one knows what happened to the population of these archaeological sites. Some believe a plague killed them, while others believe a war took them all.
When you go to this landmark, I highly suggest taking a guide. It doesn’t look like much when you hike through, but a guide can tell you, especially about all of the breakthrough discoveries the native people made in irrigation techniques to capitalize on the rainwater to help build an incredible sustainable crop flow. This is one of the most important historical landmarks in Central America.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park is home to some of the most pristine tropical rainforest areas in the world. In fact, I would say this area can rival Monteverde with the sheer number of species of both flora and fauna and animals and insects you can see. Located in the Osa Peninsula area, Corcovado National Park is in the Southern zone of the country and contains 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity.
You can enter the park through the Drank Bay area on the northern side, or through Puerto Jimenez on the southern side. I lived and worked in the Drake Bay area for several years and can tell you that the best way to see this park is with a guide on a multi-day hike. You can see tapirs, scarlet macaws, whales, dolphins and even some of the big cats of Costa Rica- all in the wild. This is one of the tropical forests that is not for the faint of heart.
Depending on which season you visit, you’re going to have a completely different experience. So, choose your visit based on what kind of experience you want, and get going!
Arenal Volcano National Park
Ode to one of my absolute favorite places to visit in all of Costa Rica! The Arenal Volcano National Park is home to the majestic Arenal Volcano, and is located near La Fortuna, Costa Rica. It’s one of the collect natural wonders in Costa Rica as it is the epitome of the iconic cone-shaped volcano rising out of the rainforest. It’s so lovely to see day, night, or anytime in between.
I also love this area because you can visit the hot springs, ride the zip lines, horseback ride, the La Fortuna Waterfall, see a sloth sanctuary, and more- all just a couple of hours’ drive north of San Jose. If I could tell visitors to only go to one place in all of Costa Rica it would be this area.
Related post: A Foodie’s Restaurant Guide To La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Construction began on this gorgeous historical landmark in 1891, known in Spanish as the Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica. Today Costa Ricans flock to the theater in the evenings to see plays, ballet and orchestral concerts. During the day, this is a top tourist attraction for visitors from around the world.
In the heart of San Jose, this theater is open to the public for self-guided tours. there is a lovely cafe in the atrium where you can sip a coffee in the historic surroundings. Don’t miss going into the actual theater to see the recreating of a 5 colon note. This was the first currency to feature women and is a point of pride for all Costa Ricans to this day.
Related post: The Best Day Trips From San Jose
The Jade Museum is located just steps from the National Theater and is a lovely stop if you are touring San Jose with the family. Holding the largest number of pre-Columbian artifacts in the world, you can wander the museum for hours.
The placards and signage are bilingual English/Spanish, so you can get to know the history of Costa Rica on a deeper level. You’ll enter the museum on the ground floor, but the unique outer shape resembles a large block of slate coming up from the city center.
After you visit here, there is an adorable artisanal market in the next plaza over which I highly recommend you visit.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
Located in Guanacaste Volcanic Mountain Range, this dense-in-forestation national park is home to the famous Rio Celeste Waterfall- also known as the Blue River waterfall.
Most of the area in this park was vastly undiscovered since 2018. Since then, the government has made the waterfall and many other parts of the park extremely accessible to visitors, and it’s a beautiful place to visit with first-time and inexperienced hikers. The sweeping natural landscapes include one of the best places to see poison dart frogs- in the giant Ceiba tree just outside the entrance.
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
The Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve located in the Monteverde National Park is arguably one of the most iconic rainforest experiences in the world. First famed for its discovery of the now extinct golden frog, today you can find everything from Quetzal birds to sloths to howler monkeys to toucans meandering through the forest.
Visit with an excellent guide and this becomes a great place (if not the best in the world) for birding.
Related post: Costa Rica’s National Parks Guide
Poas Volcano National Park
Poas Volcano National Park is located a 90-minute-drive away from San Jose, near the quaint town of Grecia (one of my favorite places in all of Costa Rica). After driving up to almost 5,000 feet above sea level, through picturesque small towns, you’ll arrive at the Poas Volcano. It’s recently become quite active and you can’t always visit.
However, if you do successfully make a reservation at the National Park, and the day is clear, you’ll climb through the cloud forest and see the majestic crater filled with blue-green water. This is a great day trip from San Jose, and a gorgeous area to explore in a rental car.
Located close to the city of Cartago in the Cordillera Central, Irazu Volcano is another active volcano you don’t want to miss.
It’s crowned as the highest mountain in the region, having an elevation of more than 3,400 meters. What is super cool about this volcano is that when you arrive, it looks like you are on another planet. When I first went, it seemed like aliens were going to pop out any minute. It’s surreal and so so so cool.
Buyers beware- you can end up driving all the way to the top of the volcano only to have it completely shrouded in clouds. If this happens, just stop a friendly strawberry stand on the way down and enjoy the idiosyncrasies of such a small country.
Born from water flowing through the mineral deposits of the Barva and Tenorio volcanos, the Rio Celeste waterfall is one of the most famous waterfalls of any Central American country.
For some reason, the minerals of both these volcanoes form to make some of the most gorgeous blue water in the world- and photos of the waterfall gushing into the cerulean-colored water has been memorialized by tourists all over the world. There are also natural (and free) hot springs flowing through this area, and the largest tree in all of Costa Rica stands nearby.
This area is also home to a fantastic hidden hanging bridge, and our two favorite accommodations in all of the land- Casitas Tenorio and La Carolina Lodge. It’s also located only about 90 minutes from La Fortuna, making it a great day trip from the area.
Related post: Best Costa Rica Waterfalls
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Head east from San Jose on the Guápiles Highway, and you’ll find yourself at the doorstep of Braulio Carrillo National Park. This is the perfect stop on your way to see the coral reefs of the Caribbean coast.
I decided I wanted to visit Costa Rica after seeing a photo of Braulio Carillo national park- there is a sky tram that goes above the forest. There are also zip lines, but there is something really cool about going through the forest slowly and enjoying the trees.
This is one of the largest rainforests in Costa Rica, and most of it is a completely virgin forest. Many a tourist has gotten lost inside, so apart from the zip line and sky tram, it is highly recommended that you explore here with a highly trained guide.
Most famous for being the location where Jurassic Park was filmed, this remote island takes over a day to get to on a boat. It’s known for its world-class scuba diving, but getting here isn’t cheap. You’.l need to take a guided tour and plan to be gone for at least 4 days.
Once you arrive though (I’ve never been but a good friend of mine did tours here for years) you will see lush rainforest surrounded by white sand beaches, crystal clear water, and more species of marine life than you can ever imagine. This area is a national park and protected as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Welcome! I’m Christa, a Spanish teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. We’ve spent over 25 years living in and traveling to Costa Rica with our daughters, and this website is my love letter to all things Costa Rica- and to bilingual parenting too. You can read my full story here. Thanks for stopping by!