Costa Rica is a beautiful country located in Central America. It is full of stunning beaches, abundant wildlife, lush jungles, and active volcanos. Pretty much anything that you would want from vacation is located in Costa Rica.
So… Are you ready for the Ultimate Costa Rica Bucket List?
I have put together a list of the best places to visit on your Costa Rican vacation and what to do in those locations?
After living in Costa Rica for 6 years, I know this country better like the back of my hand.
Costa Rica is full of so many amazing places to visit. Not just beaches.
It is abundant with beautiful mountains, cloud forests, national parks, rainforests, and of course beautiful beaches. It would be a shame to come to Costa Rica and just sit around on the beach all day. There is so much more to this beautiful country than the best beach towns.
There is an adventure to be away from the beach.
So put your adventure hat on and get ready for the best of the best that this Pura Vida pumping country has to offer.
Quick List of Bucket List Items in Costa Rica
- Arenal Hot Springs – You can’t come to Arenal without visiting the Hot Springs 🌋
- Surf Lessons – Costa Rica is World Famous for its surfing. Be sure to take a lesson 🏄♀️
- Manuel Antonio National Park – You can’t come to Costa Rica without embracing Manuel Antonio National Park 🐒
These are my top 3 bucket list items to do while you are in Costa Rica. If you are limited on time, but plan on moving around the country stick to these three activities.
🚗 Renting a car in Costa Rica will help you see more of the country. The roads are easy to drive on, although as you get more in the countryside they might not be paved.
Sometimes you might even have to drive through small rivers to get where you are going, but HEY that is part of the adventure.
The Ultimate Costa Rica Bucket List
This used to be Costa Rica’s most active volcano. If you were lucky enough you could see lava gently flow down the side of it almost every night.
However, in recent years it has been less active and you are not as likely to see the lava flow, but that doesn’t mean you should take it off your list. Arenal national park is a beautiful relaxing spot that you should visit.
The Arenal area or also known as La Fortuna is full of relaxing hot springs, cooler climate, and fresh mountain air.
Arenal is an amazing spot to visit when visiting Costa Rica, and you can’t come here without hitting up the hot springs.
There is also plenty of fun activities to do in Arenal if you don’t want to spend your whole day sitting in the thermal baths including horseback riding, hiking and zip-lining.
This is a Must for any Costa Rican vacation. Looking for the best time of year to visit Arenal?
Where To Stay
|$$$$||The Springs if you are looking for a romantic weekend away. This is where you will want to stay when you are in Arenal. They take first-class service to the next level and their views of the volcano from here are unreal.|
|$$$||Baldi Hot springs is my favorite place to stay when I am in Arenal. Their hot springs are on another level and you get high-quality service for next to nothing. It is an all-inclusive resort, which I normally don’t like but for a few days, it is just perfect.|
|$$||Doña Cabinas– For those travelers traveling on a budget, but don’t want to sacrifice comfort you will find Doñas Cabinas nice, clean and comfortable and still close to all the hot springs|
Tamarindo is the most friendly place to learn to surf. Mainly due to its easy waves and warm water.
This is also where I called home for 6 years while I was living in Costa Rica. It is hard not to fall in love with this town. Full of great restaurants, friendly ex-pats, and some amazing sunsets.
It is a great place to come with family, friends or travel solo.
There is always something going on here. It is also a great place to come if you are not wanting to rent a car on your trip to Costa Rica.
Everything is walkable and close by. Be sure to check out my post on Things To Do In Tamarindo for more ideas on what to do while you are here.
Where To Stay
|$$$$||Cala Luna Ok this is a little outside of Tamarindo, but it is well worth it. The hotel is stunning, beautiful, relaxing and just a hop skip and jump away from the beach. The rooms are next level and the restaurants are some of the best in town. I highly recommend this place if you can afford it|
|$$$||Diria this is Tamarindo’s oldest hotel and you couldn’t have a more prime location. It is located right on the beach and right in the center of town. The town was pretty much built around this hotel, but it doesn’t lack class and their breakfast spread is unreal|
|$$||Tamarindo Backpackers if you are on a budget you want to check out this place. It is perfect for solo travelers looking to meet new people. They always have social events going on and their owners are always going above and beyond to make your stay better.|
Nosara is the perfect town to escape to if you are looking to enjoy some surf or some yoga. It is a quiet little hippie town, full of people wanting a healthy vacation.
You are able to find good healthy food and plenty of good activities to keep you fit while you are traveling.
The beach is nice and long which helps to make the waves not crowded as you get with other surf towns in Costa Rica.
It is also a little more advanced, so if you are just starting to learn to surf or planning on coming to Costa Rica to learn, you might want to head to an easier wave-like in Tamarindo.
Where To Stay
|$$$$||Gilded Iguana – Is the perfect luxury hotel that is just a quick walk to the beach and right in the center of town|
|$$$||Villa Mango Bed and Breakfast this cute B & B is perfect for anyone wanting to unwind and has the most amazing pool|
|$$||Selina Hostels– Probably one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed at. Selina is a chain hostel in Costa Rica and they are making you think differently about hostels|
Another thing you will want to add to your Costa Rica Bucket List, is a jungle tour in Manual Antonio.
It is the perfect place to come and enjoy the wonders of nature that Costa Rica is so famous for, while not sacrificing your beach time.
They are known for their amazing national park where you can see up to 3 different types of monkeys, and sloths and is perfect for all of you bird lovers. There is so much to do in Manuel Antonio.
It is located in the south of Costa Rica, but worth the trip. The climate tends to be a little bit rainier and cooler than other parts of Costa Rica which most people tend to enjoy.
If you love wildlife you will love Manual Antonio
Where To Stay
|$$$$||Arenas del Mar Beach Front Hotel is perfect for a romantic couple getaway. It offers an amazing infinity pool and great high-end service|
|$$$||Hotel Plaza Yara is tucked away off the beachfront and feels like you are running away to the jungle and playing Tarzan, of course with all the modern world luxuries.|
|$$||Hotel Serenity is offering up some nice rooms for a super cheap price, so why not skip the hostel this time and stay in a nice hotel for around the same price|
Uvita is a great mix of cold refreshing waterfalls, hot salty beaches and of course whale watching. It is the perfect place to come when you are exploring Costa Rica
Uvita is great is you are looking for a quieter town that is a little more rustic and don’t just want to surf all-day.
You will also find refreshing cold waterfalls here as well as beautiful national parks.
They are great for when the sun is too hot. They are also great fun for jumping off of.
Uvita is located in the south and is often overlooked by tourists. It is a smaller town which makes it great for relaxing or not having to share your waves with too many people.
It is also a great location to add to your list is you are looking for some scuba diving or snorkeling.
Even though the town is small there are still plenty of things to do here and besides whale watching Uvita is home to the Envision festival, which was started by the same guy who started Burning Man.
It is a Burning Man in the jungle on the beach in Costa Rica.
Where To Stay
|$$$$||Manoas. It is a great glamping option, but by no means will you feel like you are camping. This is glamping on another level. Straight up luxury.|
|$$$||Vista Celestial offers up beautiful rooms and luxury service. They also have a swim-up bar and are close to the waters|
|$$||Flutterby Hostel is one of my favorite hostels in Costa Rica because of its uniquely themed rooms. Stay in a shared dorm in a treehouse or book a private cabana. They are truly unique and worth checking out even if you don’t stay there.|
Monteverde is defiantly a place that should be added to your list when visiting Costa Rica. While you are there, you are going to want to go zip-lining. It has some of the longest and best zip lines in all of Costa Rica.
It is also known for its cloud forest and suspension bridges. The perfect spot to go zip-lining.
Go ahead and get lost in Costa Rica’s cloud forest.
If you are an adrenaline junkie and ziplining doesn’t sound that exciting, why not try bungee jumping?
With all of the cloud forests, it is like jumping out into the unknown. You feel as if you are flying with the birds, but you can’t see them.
Be sure not to miss this place. It is the perfect bucket list Costa Rica adventure.
Where To Stay
|$$$$||Rainbow Valley- Want to feel like you are living in the clouds than you have to stay here. Be sure to book early as they tend to sell out|
|$$$||Los Pinos – If you truly want to enjoy the cloud forests and all the nature Costa Rica has to offer. You have to stay here. This place was made for nature lovers that also enjoy the comfort|
|$$||Selina – Again I can’t recommend this chain of hostels enough. You feel like you are in a hotel while getting to meet fellow solo travelers|
Santa Teresa is a place that you will want to add to your Costa Rica bucket list, and no better way to see it than on an ATV tour.
Located on the Nicoya Penisula it is a paradise hippie beach town, and great for exploring on an ATV.
There are waterfalls and secluded beaches to be seen.
The beach itself is popular with the ex-pat community it is not overrun with tourists since it is a little harder to get to.
The town is pretty spread out so it makes walking around a bit harder. I highly recommend having a car or renting a bike while you are here.
There are loads of good restaurants to check out and the beach stretches for quite a bit so it is easy to stroll the beach and find a nice quiet spot if you are looking to escape.
By sunset, the beach fills up with all the locals and everyone comes out to enjoy happy hour with live music while the sun goes down.
Santa Teresa is the perfect spot to visit, it is great for a girl’s trip or even one of the best spots in Costa Rica for a honeymoon.
Where To Stay
|$$$$||Hotel Natipa For those of you who are looking for a romantic vacation or just want to completely unwind this is your place. If you are not worried about a budget, it is worth it to stay here. Their rooms are absolutely stunning.|
|$$$||Banana Beach Bungalows This is a great spot for anyone looking to relax and wants to listen to the waves crash as they fall asleep. It is far enough from the center of town where you feel like you are escaping but close enough that you can still walk.|
|$$||Beach Break Hostel This is the perfect spot for any pack backer or surfer on a budget. It is a clean and friendly hostel, close to the surf break and the center of town. Great place for any solo travelers looking to meet up with others along the way|
8. Snorkel in Cahuita
Cahuita is my favorite place to visit on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. It is a beautiful small town that isn’t overrun with tourists.
It is located just north of the more popular town of Puerto Viejo.
It also hosts some of the best snorkeling in Costa Rica.
Cahuita is a small sleepy town. So don’t come here if you are wanting nightlife. There are still plebty of great things to do here.
The Caribbean coast is beautiful, laid back, and very different from the rest of the country.
If you didn’t feel the Pura Vida vibe elsewhere in Costa Rica, you will defiantly feel it here. You will not want to forget this place on your Costa Rica bucket list.
Where To Stay
|$$$$||Hotel Boutique La Casa de Flores offers a nice hotel in the center of town with a relaxing pool and is the nicest hotel in the town.|
|$$$||Cabinas Arrecife is located right on the beach and you can’t beat the price especially for the location|
|$$||Secret Garden offers up cheap dorm-style rooms and private rooms and is perfect for solo travelers on a budget|
9. Waterfall tour in Montezuma
Montezuma on the Southernmost coast of the Nicoya Penisula it is a small little surf town, probably the smallest surf town on this list.
If crowds are not your thing and you are looking for a more rustic experience on your travels than this is the place.
Besides great waves, Montezuma is known for its famous waterfalls and hikes that are easy to access from the town.
There are several different ones that you can hike to, so you can either make a full day of it or just a quick trip.
However, I do recommend hiking all the way to the top waterfall. Be sure to follow the trails so you don’t get lost. Also, no trip to Montezuma is complete without a stop at the famous Chico’s bar
Where To Stay
|$$$$||Kalapati Luxury Suites– This place is right on the water, has incredible rooms, staff, and even a waterslide. Perfect place to stay if budget is not an issue|
|$$$||Hotel Nya – Nice new contemporary rooms right in the heart of the town all with an affordable price|
|$$||Pura Vida Hostel Kickback and enjoy a nice hammock and meet fellow travelers. This is a great place to come if you are traveling solo|
Don’t have time to visit all these places and do all these activities on your vacation?
Why not fit them all into one with this combo adventure tour? You can white water raft, zip-line, hike, and go horseback riding all in one day. That sounds like a great idea.
Pretty much anything you want to do you can find it here, that is besides surfing because Rincón de Viaje is located in the mountains.
It is worth the trip though and you won’t be disappointed.
Fun for the whole family or anyone looking for adventure on their holiday. It is also conveniently located to Arenal and many of the other popular beaches in Costa Rica.
Be sure not to miss this spot. Especially if you are short on time and want to do all the outdoor activities that Costa Rica is famous for.
Rincon is pretty small, so there aren’t many options for places to stay here. It is almost better to stay in Tamarindo or Arenal and make a day trip to the Volcano for the day.
It is the perfect adventure for a day trip.
Honorable Mentions for Costa Rica Bucket List Things to Do
Even though Costa Rica is a relatively small country it is loaded with places to see and things to do while you are on vacation.
I tried to keep my list as small as possible, as most of you reading this don’t have unlimited time to spend in Costa Rica, and if you do, Congratulations 🎉
So here is a quick list of honorable mentions that didn’t make the list, but if you have some extra time to embrace the Costa Rican culture these items will not disappoint.
- Take a Riverboat tour in Tortuguero national park – Tortuguero National park is a hidden gem in Costa Rica that is always overlooked. If you are a nature lover and have the time to make it there. You should.
- Poas National Volcano Park – Located outside of the capital San Jose Poas National Volcano Park is a great outing if you enjoy hiking.
- Jaguar Rescue Center – Just near Puerto Viejo you will find the Jaguar Rescue Center, not only will you get to see these epic cats up close and personal, you can also get the chance to hold rescue sloths and monkeys.
- Scuba Dive in Corcovado National Park – This is an epic spot to scuba dive in Costa Rica. Corcovado National Park is the best location on the pacific coast to dive.
Important Items Not To Forget For Costa Rica
Before you head out for your epic vacation to Costa Rica, be sure not to forget these easy essential items that you can throw in your carry-on luggage.
- Bug Repellent Wipes – Don’t want to carry bug spray with you everywhere you go? These repellent wipes are a GREAT alternative to bug spray.
- Sunscreen Stick – Don’t want to deal with messy sunscreen? Protect your skin with these sunscreen sticks. Easy to throw in any day bag.
- Good Day Backpack – Hopefully you are coming to Costa Rica to explore the outdoors. Be sure you have a good day bag that will keep up with your active lifestyle.
Well, hopefully after reading this post on Costa Rica you will be ready to book your tours and pack your bags for your next vacation.
I hope you enjoyed this article on the best places to enjoy and to add to your Costa Rica bucket list. Before you plan a trip to Costa Rica be sure to check out these posts.