The Best Cities To Visit In Costa Rica

I have tons and tons of information on Costa Rica (All Costa Rica posts here) but honestly this page is the best place to start. (Congrats if this is the first place you started – you win an imaginary prize!) Most of the time when booking a trip to a smaller country you think you can see the highlights in a couple of days. Costa Rica has a wide variety of amazing cities and destinations that it is quite impossible to see it all in one trip. But the good news is you can visit many places in Costa Rica fairly easily and get completely different experiences.

If you want a great 10 day itinerary for Costa Rica I have one here. 

I will try and give you a brief overview of the most popular cities in Costa Rica and the most popular destinations in Costa Rica. I’ll also try to tell you what each town is like and the best activities to plan in each town. If I have been to the destination I will make a note of it and if I haven’t I will try to direct you to other pages that give great Costa Rica advice.

One last thing, I have tried to organize this list with the most popular destination up top to smaller destinations below.

Here is a quick list of cities I talking about in this article, click the link to jump to the longer description: Dominical & Uvita | La Fortuna | Monteverde | Tamarindo | Quepos/Manuel Antonio National Park | Jaco | Montezuma | Drake Bay | Atenas 

Dominical & Uvita Area

Map of Dominical and Uvita in Costa Rica

Map of Dominical and Uvita in Costa Rica

Beautiful coastline and beaches of Dominical and Uvita Costa Rica

Beautiful coastline and beaches of Dominical and Uvita Costa Rica

Driving: Around 4 hours from San Jose

Why you should visit Dominical and Uvita: I spent the most time in the Uvita and Dominical area and I am so glad that I did. Not only is it absolutely gorgeous but it also has a wide variety of options for dining, accommodations and activities. The two towns neighbor each other with Uvita being further south. This is my top pick for the best place to visit in Costa Rica.

Things to do in Dominical and Uvita:

  • Many waterfalls including the amazing Nauyaca Falls
  • Beaches
  • Surfing (most popular in Dominical)
  • Hiking
  • Marino Ballena National Park (home to the Whales Tail)
  • Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary

Read more:
Best things to do in Dominical & Uvita area 
Must do in Costa Rica: Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary 
My stay at El Castillo (high-end)
My stay at La Cusinga (great for nature lovers)
My stay at Oxygen Jungle Villas (great for honeymooners and couples!)

La Fortuna – Gateway to Arenal Volcano

Map of La Fortuna and the Arenal Volcano area in Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna Costa Rica

Driving: Around 3 hours from San Jose

Why you should visit La Fortuna and the Arenal area: The most popular destination in Costa Rica is hands down La Fortuna. To start off it has an impressive waterfall and an active volcano. Then add in hot springs, a range of hotels from backpacker to luxury and you’ve got a great destination. This was one of my favorite destinations in Costa Rica for solo travelers. Keep in mind that you don’t have to stay in La Fortuna to visit all the attractions that it has to offer. There are many hotels around Lake Arenal to choose from as long as you rent a car.

Things to do in La Fortuna:

  • Hike around the Arenal Volcano
  • Hot Springs
  • Zip lining and other adventure tours
  • Waterfalls
  • Hanging Bridges
  • Whitewater Rafting

Read More:
Best things to do in La Fortuna and the Arenal area 
Best hike around the Arenal Volcano - 1968 Lava Trail
How to visit the La Fortuna Waterfall 
Which hot springs to visit in La Fortuna 
Best Waterfalls in Costa Rica - Viento Fresco Waterfalls
My stay at Mystica – a yogis dream!

Monteverde Cloud Forest

Map of Monteverde in Costa Rica

Mountains on the drive to Monteverde in Costa Rica

Mountains on the drive to Monteverde in Costa Rica

Driving: Around 3 hours from Costa Rica

Why you should visit Monteverde: Monteverde is one of the top destinations in Costa Rica and even though I spent a brief 24 hours here it was one of my favorites. It is high up in the mountains so driving here requires a great deal of attention and care down a long, windy, dirt road. Since it is more difficult to access don’t be like me, spend more than one night here. Monteverde is a great family destination with tons of activities for adventure lovers and little ones.

Things to do in Monteverde:

  • Zip lining and other adventure tours
  • Hanging Bridges
  • Climb an old Ficus Tree
  • Night walks
  • Coffee Tours

Read More:
Trip Planning for Monteverde Costa Rica
Selvatura vs Sky Adventures – which adventure park is better
Best Waterfalls in Costa Rica - Viento Fresco Waterfalls
What to expect when driving to Monteverde
My stay at Miramontes Monteverde (budget hotel)

Tamarindo

Map of Tamarindo in Costa Rica

Coast and beach of Tamarindo in Costa Rica Source

Coast and beach of Tamarindo in Costa Rica
Source

Driving: Around 4.5 hours from San Jose

Why you should visit Tamarindo: Tamarindo is the best beach town in the Guanacaste province in Costa Rica. It is most popular for surfing but all types of families visit. Tamarindo is a popular family destination. Tamarindo has an excellent nightlife but not a great local culture. I was not able to visit but hope to on my next trip.

Things to do in Tamarindo:

  • Surfing
  • Sports Fishing
  • Catamaran and Sailing

Read More:
Tamarindo: Paradise meets convenience

Quepos - Manuel Antonio National Park

Map of Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica Source

Manuel Antonio Park in Costa Rica
Source

Driving: About 3 hours from San Jose

Why you should visit Manuel Antonio National Park: Manuel Antonio is one of the most popular national parks in Costa Rica because of its diverse wildlife. For this reason the town of Quepos and the surrounding areas are quite packed with tourists especially during high season. If you want a great family friendly vacation in Costa Rica I wouldn’t miss this park.

Things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park:

  • There are tons of tours offered from fishing to birdwatching and Ziplining to whitewater rafting

Read More:
Trip planning for Manuel Antonio National Park

Jaco

Map of Jaco in Costa Rica

Jaco Beach Costa Rica Source

Jaco Beach Costa Rica
Source

Driving: Around 2 hours from San Jose

Why you should visit Jaco: If you are looking for the best partying in Costa Rica then you should head to Jaco. The backpacker scene is huge here and the beachfront is full of bars and partiers. Jaco is also surprisingly family friendly. It is one of Costa Ricas most developed beach towns so expect tons of shopping, dining and lodging options.

Things to do in Jaco:

  • Jaco has tour companies for every type of tour imaginable – Crocodile, sport fishing, hiking, bird watching, horseback riding, atv, ziplining, canyoning and more.
  • It is also very popular for surfing

Montezuma

Map of Montezuma in in Costa Rica

Tortuga Island Montezuma Costa Rica Source

Tortuga Island Montezuma Costa Rica
Source

Driving: Around 5 hours from San Jose (includes a ferry)

Why you should visit Montezuma: The more remote town of Montezuma is on the Nicoya Peninsula. It is a small beach town that generally sees many backpackers and younger families. The best attraction is the Montezuma Waterfalls. Although I did not have a chance to visit almost every traveler I met raved about Montezuma and I am sad that I missed it.

Things to do in Montezuma:

  • Beaches
  • Waterfalls including the amazing Montezuma Falls
  • Hiking
  • Wildlife
  • Surfing
  • Snorkeling

Read More:
Montezuma: A Bohemian Beach Town

Drake Bay

Map of Drake Bay in Costa Rica

Drake Bay Costa Rica Source

Drake Bay Costa Rica
Source

Driving: Over 6 hours from San Jose

Why you should visit Drake Bay: I wish I had been able to dive this far down the coast. I have heard amazing things about Drake Bay, especially if you are a nature lover. The town is small but has many accommodations. It is pretty difficult to get here and very far into the jungle…beware of bugs.

Things to do in Drake Bay:

  • Hike Corcovado National Park
  • Wildlife Watching
  • Rainforest Night walks
  • Snorkeling and Diving

Read more:
Drake Bay Costa Rica

Atenas

Map of Atenas in Costa Rica

Atenas Costa Rica

Atenas Costa Rica

Driving: About an hour from San Jose

Why you should visit Atenas: I briefly drove through this gorgeous rolling countryside. It has a very small town feel. The climate is touted as one of the best. There are many expats in Atenas.

Things to do in Atenas:

  • Las Minas Waterfall
  • Central Park (pictured above)
  • Coffee Farm
  • Zoo Ave Wildlife Rehabilitation Center

Read more:
Atenas in Costa Rica

Of course there are many many more places to visit in Costa Rica but these are a great place to start on a first trip.

I would like to give a big thanks to the blog Two Weeks in Costa Rica. While I was planning my 10 day trip in Costa Rica they were an invaluable resource and even though they don’t know it I can't thank them enough. If you want more info on Costa Rica I highly suggest checking them out!

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