Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse places in the world when it comes to nature. Tropical forests descending into the sea and ocean are filled with countless species of flora and fauna. Beaches, islands, jungle, volcanoes, waterfalls – there is so much. I traveled the length and breadth of Costa Rica, I visited both popular places and those that not many people know about, sometimes not even the locals. I have prepared for you a crème de la crème list of the most beautiful natural places in Costa Rica that you must visit to feel and understand how diverse and fascinating the country is in terms of nature.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is a protected natural area located on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in the Quepos canton of the Puntarenas province. You can easily get here by bus from the capital of Costa Rica – San José (approx. 147 km) and from the nearby town of Quepos (approx. 7 km). This national park consists of land and sea. In 2011, Forbes recognized Manuel Antonio National Park as one of the 12 most beautiful parks in the world. Its biggest attractions are the beaches surrounded by tropical jungle, which makes it an attractive go-to place for surfers, sunbathers, ecotourists, and birdwatchers. In the very town of Manuel Antonio, which is part of the city of Quepos, there is a well-developed tourist base – both when it comes to accommodation and dining.
The park is known for its land and sea biodiversity with wonderful coral reefs. Several hiking trails lead through the park, the most important points on them are: Punta Catedral, Cascada, Mirador, Espadilla Beach, Manuel Antonio Beach, Congos, Twin Beaches, Puerto Escondido and Manglar. The park protects, among others: plant communities of primary forests, secondary forests, 14-hectare mangroves, beach vegetation, marine environment, islands, and a 14-hectare lagoon.
The park is home to about 352 species of birds, 109 species of mammals, and many representatives of marine fauna. Mammals include, among others: two species of raccoons – a common raccoon and crab-eating raccoon, white-tailed mule deer, white-nosed coati, Central American agouti, two species of sloths: two-toed and three-toed sloths and three species of monkeys: black and white capuchin, squirrel monkey – endemic subspecies of the park unfortunately threatened with extinction due to the destruction of its habitat and use as a pet, – and the howler. Bird species such as toucan, pelican, giggling trumpeter, crab hawk, and green kingfisher are often seen in the area. You can also see here iguanas, caimans, crocodiles, snakes, and countless insects.
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park is located on the Osa Peninsula in the central part of the Costa Rican Pacific coast and you can get here following route 245. According to National Geographic, it is the most biologically diverse place on our planet. The park owes its biodiversity to the varied altitude, which ranges from 0 to 745 m above sea level. This, in turn, translates into plant and animal diversity. The park is also distinguished by one of the largest untouched tropical forests in Central America. In the central part of the park, there is Corcovado Lake. The La Sirena river flows through the park. Park also has wild beaches.
On the territory of the park, there is the largest primeval jungle north of the Amazon, while the Osa peninsula contains 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. It has at least 8 ecosystems, including about 4,000-5,000 species of vascular plants and about 500 species of trees.
Corcovado National Park is also about the diversity of the animal world. It is inhabited by about 140 species of mammals, over 400 species of birds, 71 species of reptiles, 46 species of amphibians, 10 species of freshwater fish, and over 8000 species of insects.
nature, you will be delighted. Corcovado can be explored in several ways, but due to the difficult conditions, most often these are multi-day trips (the park cannot be entered without a guide). I chose another option, which was to drive around the Corcovado coast on my own. I was on the border of beautiful beaches and jungles. Although it did not go as smoothly as planned, because my car got stuck in the river for a few hours (with a few other cars) and it took us few hours to get it out – it was still worth it. It was the most adventurous time in Costa Rica, plus I was able to see colorful parrots in nature, which was my photographic dream.
The Nauyaca Falls are located in the southern part of Costa Rica, near the coast of the Pacific Ocean. They are situated in a canyon which is about 80 m wide. One of them has a free fall with a height of 45 m, and the other one, cascade waterfall about 20 m creating at its foot a pool of about 1000 m2 and a depth of about 6 m. There are also other, smaller natural pools that you can swim in. Nauyaca Falls are beautiful and majestic. In my opinion, they are among the most beautiful in Costa Rica. You can walk, swim, climb, jump into the water, ride a horse and observe the beauty of the tropical rainforest.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located in Costa Rican mainland, northwest of San José, close to Road 606. It is easily accessible by car or bus, for example, from Santa Elena. The reserve is located at an altitude of about 1460 m above sea level. There are about 2500 species of plants, including about 420 orchids and about 800 species of epiphytes. The reserve is a paradise for everyone who loves bird watching. It is inhabited or visited by about 434 species of birds, including an unusual resplendent quetzal. It is also home to many species of mammals, about 1200 species of reptiles and amphibians, as well as about 5000 species of moths. What many people don’t realize is that Monteverde has three misty forest reserves, with the most popular being the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. However, I decided to visit Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, which, even though that it is less popular, in my opinion, offers more intimate moments with nature, far from the crowds of tourists.
La Paz Waterfall
La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is a private ecological park, the main attraction of which is the La Paz Falls – a complex of five picturesque water cascades. Walking and educational trails lead through the park. A zoo garden was also established here with various species of animals living in Costa Rica, including jaguars, pumas, sloths, capuchin monkeys, hummingbirds, snakes, frogs, toucans, scarlet macaws, and other species of birds, as well as butterflies and other insects. La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park is located next to Road 126, approximately 40 km north of San José. It is easily accessible by car or bus from the Costa Rican capital. It can be a good place to start exploring Costa Rica when you arrive in San José – it gives you a taste of the nature that will surround you and the waterfalls themselves are impressive.
Tabacón Hot Springs
The Tabacón hot springs are located in the northwest of Costa Rica – in its mainland – on the slopes of Arenal Volcano and near Lake Arenal. You can get here by car or by bus following Road 142. It is the most important SPA resort in all of Costa Rica. The Tabacón hot springs are made up of five springs with different temperatures. Two rivers flow here: thermal and cold. The first one is warmed by the active volcano Arenal, whereas the second one is cooled by the spring waters. It is thanks to this cooperation of hot and cold waters that different temperatures of local springs are possible. I visited several natural pools, popular among locals, which are accessible for free. You can also choose the lux version, that is, visiting Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa (you can buy a half or full-day ticket). The Tabacón Spa offers an excellent combination of both the spa design and nature. Spa treatments are performed outdoors in bungalows hidden among trees. The scent of the rainforest is an integral part of the wellness experience that blends in perfectly with the ubiquitous sounds of wildlife and the relaxing sounds of hot springs.
The Blue Falls
The Blue Falls are located in the central part of Costa Rica, north of San José. You get here from San José by bus or car following Road 708. The Blue Falls are located in the immediate vicinity of Juan Castro Blanco National Park, near Catarata Del Toro in Bajos Del Toro. The Blue Falls is a true wonder of nature – its beauty in the purest form. It consists of an incredibly blue river the course of which is diversified by seven blue waterfalls, rapids, and pools, all surrounded by breathtaking views. There are tourist routes that run here, among others through the jungle, the canyon with blue water, the blue Las Gemelas waterfalls, the Tepezquintle waterfall. A visit here is an amazing experience and in my opinion, one of the must-see in Costa Rica, especially since it is not much of a tourist place.
Make sure to read more about The Blue Falls and trekking to seven waterfalls in the jungle: The Blue Falls Waterfalls and Catarata del Toro Waterfall in Costa Rica – trekking through the jungle to seven waterfalls
Arenal Volcano Arenal
Arenal Volcano is located in the northwest of Costa Rica, in the Cordillera de Guanacaste mountain range. The Volcano Arenal National Park was established in the immediate vicinity of Arenal Lake. This is one of the most popular tourist attractions of Costa Rica. You can get there by car or bus from San José following Road 142. Arenal Volcano is an active stratovolcano, although in 2010 it stopped the continuous eruptions that have occurred regularly since 1968. However, keep in mind that erupt at any time. It is 1633 m above sea level. You can climb to the top of the Arenal Volcano. By doing so, you will be able to admire beautiful views of the surrounding tropical forests, mountains, and lakes.
The Poás Volcano is located in the very heart of Costa Rica, about 40 km northwest of the capital city of San José. Poás is a good starting point on the way here. It is easily accessible by either bus or car – following Road 107. Poás Volcano is a stratovolcano, one of the most active not only in Costa Rica but in all of Central America. It is 2708 m above sea level. It has three craters, two of which are filled with crater lakes. Inside the main crater is a blue-green lake that emits bubbles and smoke. The oldest recorded eruption in historic times was in 1828, and the last eruption took place in 1996. In the meantime, there have been 39 eruptions. There is a beautiful view from the volcano. The Volcán Poás National Park was established here.
Playa Coyote is located in the northern part of Costa Rica on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. The town of San Francisco de Coyote is close by, and Road 162 leads to it. You can get there by car or bus. Another name for this beach is Puerto Coyote. The mouth of the Rio Jabillo mangrove river divides this beach into two parts: Punta Coyote and Playa Costa de Oro. The first is a shallow, horseshoe-shaped sandy beach. The second one, however, is long and overgrown with palms. To the north, there are other beaches, that is, Playa San Miguel and Playa Bejuco. They are eagerly visited by those who enjoy surfing and other water sports. I lived here for almost two weeks and it was definitely one of the most beautiful beaches I have seen in Costa Rica. Wide, huge, no tourists. It is the perfect place if you want to live in Costa Rica and experience the best of it – wonderful, wild, and electrifying nature.
Playa Hermosa and Playa Uvita
On the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, in its southern part, there is Playa Hermosa and Playa Uvita. Road 34 leads to the town of Uvita. You can get there from Quepos, or from San José by car or bus. Playa Hermosa in Spanish means Beautiful Beach – and it is in fact one of the most beautiful beaches on the southern Costa Rican Pacific coast – Costa Bellena. In its vicinity, there is Playa Uvita. The two beaches are separated by a small whale-tail-shaped peninsula. There is the Marino Ballena National Park, where whales can be seen on a regular basis. It is a great place for whale watching during the mating season. The beaches are also popular destinations for surfers. Playa Hermosa is another place where I lived for over a month. And I totally fell in love with it. If you want to stay somewhere longer, work and get a taste of Costa Rican life I highly recommend this town. The infrastructure is excellent – large, well-stocked stores, restaurants, and cafes. Lots of great lodges with fast internet to hide in the jungle. It also offers great surfing conditions and the most beautiful sunsets in Costa Rica. My top!
Playa Dominical is another beautiful beach in the area of Costa Bellena – the southern part of the Pacific coast. The town of Dominical is easily accessible by car or bus – the roads 34 and 243 lead here. Dominical offers everything you would expect from a beach resort – bars, accommodation, surf schools, and so on. This makes Playa Dominical a popular destination not only for those who love water sports such as surfing but also for those who just want to relax in silence. Playa Dominical consists of two parts separated by the mouth of the Rio Baru River: the northern part – rockier and the southern part- sandy.
Isla del Coco
Isla del Coco – Cocos Island is an uninhabited island in the Pacific Ocean that for many is the most beautiful island in Costa Rica. It is located about 500 km from the coast. It can be reached by boat from Puntarenas which takes approximately 36 hours. The Isla del Coco National Park was established on the island. The island is eagerly visited by divers from all over the world. The most interesting things to do on the island include the possibility of diving and seeing, among others white-nosed sharks and hammerheads. While diving on Isla del Coco, you also have the opportunity to visit local caves and see rock carvings.
Isla Tortuga – Turtle Island is another uninhabited island in the Costa Rican waters of the Pacific. However, it is located much closer to the shoreline – right by the Osa Peninsula. You can get here by ferry from Puntarenas. It is also possible to rent a private charter flight – but it is quite expensive. Isla Tortuga is a great place for snorkeling, ziplining, and diving. True to its name, the island is home to turtles. Isla Tortuga is also a place for hiking or relaxing on the beach away from the crowds.
Rio Celeste – The Turquoise River flows through the Tenorio Volcano National Park. It is located in the northern part of Costa Rica between Lake Arenal and the border with Nicaragua. You can take Road 6 to get to the area of the Tenorio Volcano National Park, but you have to make a turn a bit off the road to get to the park. From here, you will still have an hour-long hike to the Rio Celeste. The waters of the river have a turquoise color – and that’s where the name comes from. The source of the river’s characteristic turquoise color is not chemical compounds, but a physical phenomenon called Mie scattering – a type of light scattering. There is a large waterfall on the Rio Celeste. There are several hot springs in the area.
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica – in its northern part. There are only two ways to get to Tortuguero: by boat or by plane. By road, you can reach a distance of 32 km from Tortuguero, and from there you need to take a boat through the jungle which takes about an hour. Another option is to take a plane from San José to a paved runway north of the village of Tortuguero. The Tortuguero National Park has a mangrove forest and a nesting site for green turtles. The breeding takes place at night on the beach. You