Costa Rica Vacations: Where and When to Go
Edited by Kathy McGraw, Maria Quinney
Located in Central America, Costa Rica is a beautiful tropical country with a rich history, culturally, ecologically, and geologically. With its six active volcanoes, Costa Rica draws scientists from all over the world to study them, as well as biologists who are interested in the number of species contained in such a small area of the planet. While you won't find a Jurassic Park among the islands off its Pacific coast, you will find plenty of the descendants of Velociraptor and Tyrannosaurus Rex among the numerous bird species that make their home there.
When is the Best Time to Visit?
Costa Rica has a tropical climate, and as such, doesn't have seasons like we are accustomed to them in North America. Instead, it has a dry season, which lasts from December to April and a wet season that lasts from May to November. Since it rains a lot during the wet season, as you might expect, the best time to plan a trip to Costa Rica is during the dry season (December through April).
13 Popular Costa Rican Destinations
While there are plenty of lovely places in Costa Rica to visit, we've picked out some of the most beautiful and unique spots in that country that are well-worth a trip. Whether you enjoy active pursuits, such as zip-lining through the forest or scuba diving in the ocean, or prefer to work on your tan while lying peacefully on a sun-drenched beach, Costa Rica has just the spot for you.
- 1San Jose. Housing the University of Costa Rica in addition to being its capital city, San Jose is a lively metropolis of lovely Spanish Colonial architecture, lush parks, and bazaars of handcrafted merchandise. With the theater, the arts, and music well-represented by the National Theatre of Costa Rica, The Costa Rican Art Museum, and the Temple of Music Pavillion, San Jose is cosmopolitan in character. Near the university, you will find a hopping nightclub scene at the many bars and hotspots of activity.Advertisement
- 2Monteverde. Lying in the mountains in the northwestern region of Costa Rica is this small town. It is the home of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve which preserves a forest biome filled with many different species of animals, such the sleek and beautiful ocelot, the black and mysterious jaguar, and the colorful quetzal bird. Don't miss the hummingbird, orchid, and butterfly gardens, and enjoy horseback riding along the forest trails, zip-lining through the canopy, or if you're really daring, rappelling down a waterfall. If relaxing is more your style, then be sure to sign up for Monteverde's yoga classes and have a massage.Advertisement
- 3Manuel Antonio National Park. Along Costa Rica's Pacific coast lies the Manuel Antonio National Park. Featuring white sand beaches, a gorgeous rainforest, and coral reefs off the coast, it is a haven for snorkelers, hikers, and tourists looking for a relaxing getaway. Like most regions in Costa Rica, it hosts a diverse collection of animals, plants, and insects, including white-faced capuchin monkeys and too many birds to name. You may even see a three-toed sloth or two hanging from the trees.
- 4Tortuguero, Costa Rica. Best known as a nesting ground for sea turtles, including the green turtle, which is an endangered species, this beautiful preserve on the north Caribbean coast also the home of caimans, river turtles, monkeys, and many types of bird. Navigate its freshwater streams and lagoons by boat or walk along the beach while you inhale the salty sea air and bask in the warm tropical sun.
- 5Arenal Volcano National Park. Volcanologists love Arenal National Park because it features Costa Rica's most active volcano, Arenal, as well as the lake filled crater of the dormant Cerro Chato Volcano. Jaguars roam the forest here as well as tree frogs. You can hike along Las Coladas Trail to a field of cooled lava or fish for Rainbow bass in the waters of Lake Arenal.
- 6Liberia. Liberia is the place you want to be if you are interested in Costa Rica's culture and history. The Museo de Guanacaste features exhibitions about both, and the Museo Del Sabanero is all about the cowboys of the past. There is also the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano, which is still active as well as the Miravalles Volcano, which is not.
- 7Cocos Island. Offlimits except for park rangers is the Cocos Island, a national park and wildlife preserve that lies off Costa Rica's Pacific shore. The deep Pacific waters that surround the island are known for an impressive variety of marine wildlife, including hammerhead sharks, dolphins, and rays. It's a great location if you enjoy scuba diving and want the chance to see large marine creatures in close quarters.
- 8Puntarenas. On the Gulf of Nicoya on the Pacific side of Costa Rica lies the port city of Puntarenas. It is a tourist mecca of shops, art galleries, and cafes as well as a thriving aquarium with an attached rescue center for marine animals such as turtles, crocodiles, and seahorses. Surfers will enjoy Playa Dona Ana, where the surf is good.
- 9Montezuma. The main attractions at Montezuma are its white-sand beach and its beautiful cascading waterfall that descends into a series of sparkling pools. If you follow a trail through the jungle, you'll reach the Playa Grande Beach, known for its surf, and behind it is the Romelia Wildlife Reserve, a protected area for turtles.
- 10Palo Verde National Park. Covering over 45,492 acres in the Guanacaste Province of Costa Rica is the Palo Verde National Park. Flowing through the region is the beautiful Tempisque River, which is surrounded by brackish marshes and a wide floodplain. Hike through the tropical forests and capture the dramatic vistas of ridges of limestone and wander through the many seasonal pools that dot the area.
- 11Uvita de Osa. This small town along the southern coast of Costa Rica is a popular tourist destination. Known for its musical events, the Best Fest, and Envision Festival that occur every year as well as whale watching tours. There are some hotels to stay at there, including the boutique hotel Vista Celestial, but there are also hostels, such as Tucan Hotel and Flutterby House for the bohemian traveler. Things to do, aside from whale watching, include surfing lessons, ATV tours, and snorkeling parties.
- 12Gulf of Papagayo. Home to the Allegro Papagayo Resort, the Gulf of Papagayo is known for its many sparkling beaches, including Ocotal Beach and Playa Panama. The ocean is a major draw, with watersports being the most popular activity there as well as snorkeling. Of course, lazily sunning yourself on one of the beautiful beaches is encouraged, as well.
- 13Chirripo National Park. Home to the highest mountain in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo, which rises to 3,820 meters, this national park contains plenty of hiking trails and high vistas from which to survey the valleys below. If you enjoy hiking through rocky terrain and mountain climbing, you won't want to miss this beautiful location which rests on a portion of three Costa Rican provinces: Limon, Cartago, and San Jose.
Popular Vacation Resorts
If you're interested in a resort vacation rather than a particular Costa Rican spot, don't worry, Costa Rica has got you covered. Whether you're traveling with kids in tow or off for your honeymoon, there is a resort that fits your needs.
Families have different needs when it comes to resorts than adults unaccompanied by children do. Whether you are looking for a resort with a lot of activities children enjoy or one that has a mix of activities and a relaxing atmosphere, here are a couple of good family resorts to consider:
- 1JW Marriot Guanacaste Resort and Spa. The JW Marriot Guanacaste Resort and Spa is a great destination for families looking for a Costa Rican getaway because it features fun activities for people of all ages, from a kids area with toys, video games, and foosball to the largest freeform swimming pool in Central America. There are babysitting services available so that the adults can get a relaxing massage at the spa or trip the light fantastic all night long.
For Couples/Adults Only
If you are on your honeymoon, you want a resort that allows you to spend time with your new spouse without the noise and interruptions having children running around can cause. It is the same for couples who just want to spend a relaxing time with each other. Here are two Costa Rican resorts that meet those needs:
- 1Nayara Springs in Arenal La Fortuna. For maximum privacy and relaxation, the Nayara Springs boutique hotel in La Fortuna cannot be beaten. With its 35 luxury villas set off from each other, each with its own terrace, private plunge pool, and gorgeous views of the Arenal Volcano, it offers the ultimate Costa Rican experience in luxury. When you arrive, a personal host will greet you, help you in getting settled, and be there to answer any questions you may have and assist you during your stay.
- 2Occidental Papagayo. In the popular Gulf of Papagayo lies this gem of a resort for discerning adults. Choose a room with either a terrace or balcony and enjoy views of the cliffs. Share a glass of champagne with your honey while you watch the sun dip behind them and paint the sky with color. For activities, there is tennis and archery, as well as other sports, and diving lessons, too. Be sure to take advantage of the spa and get a relaxing massage or rest in the sauna and Turkish bath. Manicures, pedicures, and facials are also available.
11 Interesting Facts About Costa Rica
- Most Costa Ricans are of European or mixed ancestry (94 percent). Just 1 percent of them are indigenous.
- Costa Rica has six active volcanoes and 61 dormant ones, with Arenal being the most active.
- There are 800 miles of beautiful coastline in Costa Rica
- Costa Rica is the hummingbird capital of the world with 52 species of hummingbirds that live or regularly migrate there.
- Costa Rica is bordered by the Caribbean Sea to the east, the Pacific to the west, Nicaragua to the north and, Panama to the south
- Costa Rica makes up 5 percent of the Earth's biodiversity
- Costa Rica's marine region is 10 times larger than its land region. (580,000 square kilometers to 52,000 square kilometers)
- National parks and other protected zones take up a quarter of Costa Rican land.
- Costa Rica has only two seasons: a wet season that runs from May through November and a dry season that lasts from December to April.
- Monkeys and bats are the most common mammals in Costa Rica.
- 750,000 different species of insects live in Costa Rica, and 20,000 of them are spiders.