Costa Rica Destination Guide

Costa Rica is a small country – its total area is 19,730 sq mi (51,100 sq km), a size that’s slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia. Still, its variety of destinations is impressive. There are white sand beaches, misty mountain towns, and culturally cool cities to explore. Indeed, for first time visitors the choices can be overwhelming. When deciding where to go, it’s important to consider a few things.

First off, your entry and exit airports (SJO or LIR). These are an important factor for maximizing vacation time and minimizing travel. The roads in Costa Rica are rough, and even short distances can take hours by ground transportation.

Second, it’s important to consider what destination features are most important to you. Do you want to access to nightlife activities? Do you prefer having the convenience of nearby banks, internet cafes and restaurants? Or are you an avid hiker, hoping to explore the raw and untouched natural environment? Keep these things in mind while deciding where to spend your time in Costa Rica.

Below you’ll find descriptions on a variety of Costa Rican destinations. Follow the destination link for additional photos and information about a specific area. If you want to know more and would like to speak with one of our travel advisors, please contact us toll free at 1-888-256-3212.

Major Beach Destinations in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is one of Costa Rica's most famous destinations, offering world-class beaches, a fantastic national park and amazing views of the Pacific Ocean. There are dozens of local and international dining options and a wide range of accommodations – everything from 5-star luxury suites to simple budget hotels. Visitors to Manuel Antonio will find a combination of nature, nightlife, and adventure. More information about Manuel Antonio Costa Rica.

Manuel Antonio Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 192 km, 3.5 hours: LIR: 280 km, 5 hours; Arenal: 270 km, 5 hours.

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes

Manuel Antonio Costa Rica Hotels

Tamarindo

Home to steady surfing waves, perfect Pacific sunsets, a diversity of dining options and a healthy nightlife, Tamarindo is an ideal destination for relaxing and enjoying the beach. Over the last 5 years, the area has experienced major expansion through the construction of condos, homes, and hotels. While it still remains a fantastic beach, Tamarindo exemplifies the environmental challenges and growth pressures that come with quick development. Fearful of loosing its charming characteristics, Tamarindo has taken steps to slow its growth and re-focus on environmental and biological preservation. These efforts have improved water quality and beach cleanliness dramatically over the last year. More information about Tamarindo Costa Rica.

Tamarindo Beach Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 266 km, 5.5 hours; LIR: 80 km, 1.5 hours; Arenal: 260 km, 5 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes

Tamarindo Costa Rica Hotels

Jacó

Jacó is Costa Rica's largest and most populated beach destination. It has high-rise condos, deluxe restaurants, and a vibrant nightlife. The town is set amidst beautiful hills and it maintains a healthy population of Scarlet Macaws. It is a short driving distance from many less developed and pristine beaches, including Hermosa, Herradura and Esterillos. Once threatened by pollution, the Jacó beach has become considerably cleaner as the city has adopted stricter environmental regulations. It has moved forward with zoning and water treatment standards to attract more visitors and is maintaining a sustainable balance with the surrounding biodiversity. More information about Playa Jaco Costa Rica.

Jaco Beach Surfing

Distances from: SJO: 102 km, 2 hours; LIR: 220 km, 4 hours; Arenal: 175 km, 6.5 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes

Jacó Costa Rica Hotels

Puerto Viejo de Limón

Costa Rica's southern Caribbean coast offers a climate and culture that is distinctly different from the rest of the country. The eccentric village of Puerto Viejo is an eclectic mix of Tico, Afro-Caribbean, European, and American businesses. Visitors will find that the stretch of coast, which runs from Puerto Viejo's black sand bay to Manzanillo's pristine white sand beach, includes many premier and unspoiled beaches. Punta Uva, a beach set some 3 miles (5 km) to the south, is considered to be among the most beautiful. It is an outstanding spot for snorkeling, sun bathing, and enjoying the mild Caribbean breeze. More information about Puerto Viejo de Limon Costa Rica.

Punta Uva beach near to Puerto Viejo de Limon

Distances from: SJO: 240 km, 5.5 hours; LIR: 420 km, 8 hours; Arenal: 292 km, 5.5 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: No

Puerto Viejo de Limón Costa Rica Hotels

Playa Potrero

At the heart of Costa Rica’s Gold Coast, Potrero is a large, half-moon bay set astride a sleepy fishing village.  It is surrounded by some of Costa Rica's most picturesque beaches, including Conchal, Flamingo, Penca, Preita, and Sugar Beach.  Development seems destined to change these pristine beaches, but the citizens and municipalities have pledged to avoid the mistakes of similar villages, which underwent rapid transition without prudent regulations.  Activities around Potrero include sport fishing, snorkeling, and kayaking. More information about Playa Potrero Costa Rica.

Playa Potrero Beach Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 254 km, 5.5 hours; LIR: 85 km, 1.5 hours; Arenal: 295 km, 5.5 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes (Tamarindo 15 km)

Playa Potrero Costa Rica Hotels

Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste

Hermosa Beach is a quiet beachside community that is safe for swimming and a favorite among Costa Ricans. Near Hermosa are dozens of other beaches, including Ocotal, Coco, and Panama. Culebra Bay and the Papagayo Gulf lie just a few miles to the north. Costa Ricans are not alone in flocking to Hermosa; the surrounding hillside is home to some of the largest real estate developments in all of Costa Rica. Playa de Coco is about 4 miles (7 km) from Hermosa, a place that has the area's largest selection of restaurants and nighttime activities. Adventure activities in the area include scuba diving, boat tours, and kayaking. More information about Playa Hermosa Costa Rica.

Playa Hermosa de Guanacaste Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 255 km, 5.5 hours; LIR: 35 km, 30 minutes; Arenal: 190 km, 4 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: No

Playa Hermosa, Guanacaste Costa Rica Hotels

Malpais - Santa Teresa

Malpais-Santa Teresa is one of Costa Rica's most dynamic surfing destinations, a spot that is great for both beginning and advanced surfers. In addition to its surfing, Malpais and Santa Teresa offer international restaurants, yoga sessions, a variety of accommodation options, and miles of gorgeous beach. More information about Malpais and Santa Teresa Costa Rica.

Sunset at Malpais Costa Rica

Distances from:
- SJO: 164 km 6 hours Year round Car Ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera and Paquera to Malpais.
- LIR: Dry season (Dec-Apr) coastal route 230 km 5 hrs (May-August intermittently passable). Rainy Season May-Nov 180 km 7 hours via Puntarenas ferry.
- Arenal: 165 km 5 ½ hours Year round car Ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera. Drive Paquera to Malpais.

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes (Tambor 30 km)

Malpais-Santa Teresa Costa Rica Hotels

Beaches Off the Beaten Path

Montezuma

Montezuma is one of Costa Rica's most laid back destinations. Full of natural beauty (there are dozens of large and small beaches within walking distance and a set of nearby waterfalls that are ideal for cooling off), it’s easy to take off and enjoy the outdoors for a day. There are limited luxury accommodations, but travelers will find a variety of comfortable options. For its small size, Montezuma has a high number of quality restaurants. More information about Montezuma Costa Rica.

Montezuma Beach Costa Rica

Distances from:
- SJO: 148 km 5:30 hours. Year round car ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera and Paquera to Montezuma.
- LIR: Dry season (Dec-Apr) coastal route 250 km 5 hours (May-August intermittently passable). Rainy Season (May-Nov) 160 km 7 hours Puntarenas Ferr
- Arenal: 182 km 6 hours. Year round car ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera. Drive Paquera to Montezuma.

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes (Tambor 15 km)

Montezuma Costa Rica Hotels

Playa Grande

Playa Grande is a long stretch of beach that is popular among surfers for its consistent waves. Both Playa Grande and its waters are contained in the Marino Las Baulas National Park, a marine sanctuary created to protect the nesting sites of giant Leatherback Turtles, which can weigh between 550 and 1,545 lbs. Due to the sensitive habitat that surrounds Playa Grande, there are few nighttime options, but Tamarindo (which is just up the road) offers dozens of options. More information about Playa Grande Costa Rica.

Playa Grande Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 269 km, 5.5 hours; LIR: 66 km, 1.5 hours; Arenal: 206 km, 4 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes (Tamarindo)

Montezuma Costa Rica Hotels

Samara

Samara’s beach town provides a charming balance of a typical Costa Rican atmosphere with a low-key gringo presence. From one end to the other, its enormous beach stretches some 3 miles (5 km), and a number of lesser-known beaches are found nearby. To the north lies the gorgeous Playa Barigones and to the south sits Carillo and Punta Islita. There are plenty of activities for visitors to enjoy, including horseback riding, bike rentals, kayaking, snorkeling, and fishing tours. More information about Playa Samara Costa Rica.

Samara Beach Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 221 km, 4.5 hours; LIR: 140 km, 4 hours; Arenal: 250 km, 5 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes

Samara Costa Rica Hotels

Dominical

There are few locations along Costa Rica's southern Pacific coast that offer as many activities and accommodation options as Dominical.  The Dominical area is famous for its consistent surf and pristine beaches. The shores are often lined with locals showing off the day’s catch of fish, and although the area is changing, the southern Pacific has remained relatively unspoiled by major development. The town offers a range of dining and accommodation options for budget, middle, and high-end travelers. Most luxury hotels are a short drive from the town center. More info about Dominical Costa Rica

Sunset at Playa Dominical Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 170 km, 4 hours; LIR: 294 km, 6 hours; Arenal: 281 km, 7 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: No

Playa Dominical Costa Rica Hotels

Cahuita

Cahuita is of Costa Rica's most laidback and peaceful communities, a picturesque fishing village set on the edge of the Cahuita National Park and Beach. The community takes pride in maintaining one of the cleanest beaches and healthiest bays in all of the country. For traditional Caribbean food, fresh seafood, clear Caribbean waters and friendly locals, Cahuita is a wonderful option. More information about Cahuita Costa Rica.

Cahuita Beach Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 216 km, 5 hours; LIR: 395 km, 7 hours; Arenal: 280 km, 5.5 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes

Playa Cahuita Costa Rica Hotels

Nature Destinations

Monteverde

The misty cloud forests of Monteverde are some of the most accessible cloud forests in the entire world. With dense canopy foliage and hundreds of epiphytes and lichen, these forests offer visitors some of the country’s best hiking. Monteverde has action-packed activities, including zip line tours and horseback riding, as well as educational museums and species exhibits. Due to its varied elevations and diverse density of species, it is a major research site for international biologists. More information about Monteverde Costa Rica.

Monteverde Canopy Tour Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 140 km, 4 hours; LIR: 125 km, 3 hours; Arenal: 120 km, 4 hours
- Taxi boat taxi route: 60 km 3 hours.
- Horseback tour route: 40 km 5 hours.

Daily Domestic Flights: No

Monteverde Costa Rica Hotels

San Gerardo de Dota

A premier bird watching destination that’s unknown to many travelers, San Gerado de Dota is nestled into a mountainous river valley. Cloud forests line ridges along both sides of the valley and attract hundreds of species of birds. You won’t find much nightlife here, but for avid hikers and nature lovers, San Gerardo de Dota is a spectacular choice. More information about San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica.

San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 83 km, 3 hours; LIR: 278 km, 7 hours; Arenal: 191 km, 6 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: No

San Gerardo de Dota Costa Rica Hotels

Rincón de La Vieja

Rincón de La Vieja is one of Costa Rica's most dynamic destinations. Travelers will find a variety of waterfalls, an active volcano, amazing hiking trails, mud baths, and hot springs all within a picturesque mountainous environment. There isn’t much in the way of nightlife or dining options, but for an eco-adventure, this is the place. More information about Rincón de la Vieja Costa Rica.

Rincon de la Vieja Volcano Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 253 km, 4.5 hours; LIR: 60 km, 1 hour; Arenal: 190 km, 4 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes (Liberia 60 km)

Rincón de la Vieja Costa Rica Hotels

Tortuguero

Tortuguero is one of Costa Rica's premier ecotourism destinations. As its name suggests, it is a nesting ground for giant sea turtles, including Leatherback, Green, Hawksbill and Loggerhead sea turtles. Accessible only by boat or air, the Tortuguero canals offer a unique experience to travelers accustomed to travel by car. In fact, here are no cars in Tortuguero—transportation usually involves a boat ride along heavily forested canals or the glassy oceanic water. More information about Tortuguero Costa Rica.

Tortuguero Canals Costa Rica

Distances from:
- SJO: To Cano Blanco 164 km (4 hours) from Cano Blanco 35 km by boat 1.5 hours.
- LIR: To Cano Blanco 360 km (7 hours) from Cano Blanco 35 km by boat 1.5 hours.
- Arenal: 211 km to Caño Blanco 3.5 hours. Caño Blanco to Tortuguero by boat 35 km 1.5 hours.

Daily Domestic Flights: Yes

Tortuguero Costa Rica Hotels

Tenorio Volcano and Rio Celeste

The smooth cinder cone of the Tenorio Volcano rises high above the Guanacaste Mountain Range. Below it, a blanket of rain and cloud forests spread into the distance. These forests contain impressive geological highlights including hot springs, geysers, and the blue-tinted Río Celeste. Hiking trails wind through much of the national park and lead to the volcano’s summit. Accommodations can be found nearby in the small, pleasant town of Bijagua. More information about Tenorio Volcano and Rio Celeste Costa Rica.

Celeste River Waterfall Costa Rica

Distances from: SJO: 182 km, 5 hours; LIR: 94 km, 2 hour; Arenal: 95 km, 2 hours

Daily Domestic Flights: No

Tenorio Volcano and Rio Celeste Costa Rica Hotels