SD › Best Places to Stay in Costa Rica
Updated: January 2, 2023
Our Favorite Costa Rica Hotels
• 5-Star Hotel: Four Seasons at Peninsula Papagayo
• Boutique Hotel: Belmar
• Cheap Hotel: Playa Negra Guesthouse
• Family Hotel: Finca Luna Nueva
• Adults-Only: Nayara Springs
• All-Inclusive: Westin Reserva Conchal
• Best Pool: JW Marriott Guanacaste
• With Private Pool: Nayara Gardens
• Near Airport: Courtyard Alajuela
The Best Areas to Stay in Costa Rica
Hemmed in between Nicaragua and Panamaon the Central American isthmus, Costa Rica is the most visitor-friendly country in the region; democratic, prosperous, and stable, with incredibly rich and biodiverse rainforests, soaring volcanoes, and pristine beaches (on the Atlantic and Pacific) that are well protected but easily accessible and offer a relatively sophisticated tourist infrastructure. It’s justly regarded as a prime ecotourism destination, with a staggering array of wildlife; everything from jaguars and spider monkeys to colorful frogs, rare quetzals, scarlet macaws, toucans, and lovable sloths – plus a quarter of the world’s known butterflies.
Your first decision will be deciding where to go; to base yourself at one of Costa Rica’s many resort towns (maybe taking a few tours of the surrounding area), or to rent a car and travel around the country, sampling as many of the national parks and beaches as you can. We outline all the main options here.
You are unlikely to want to be based in the capital, San José, which is Costa Rica’s only big city and located at the heart of the country. Having said that, San José does contain the country’s finest museums and its best nightlife, arts, and culinary scenes – it’s also a great place to shop for crafts and souvenirs. As you are likely to be flying through at least once, is worth a couple of days at least. Everywhere else in the country is a short flight or a maximum day’s drive from San José. The country’s most impressive volcanoes, Volcán Poás and Volcán Irazú, are relatively close, while Volcán Arenal looms over tourist town La Fortuna – the Arenal Region is an outdoor adventure and ecotourism hub well worth considering as a base.
To the south, the other major inland tourist hub is Monteverde, a wonderfully rustic region of mountains and cloud forest preserves. Otherwise, you are likely to be spending most of your time on the coast. The beaches of Guanacaste (closer to the international airport at Liberia than San José) are some of the best and most developed, with a series of resorts stretching from Potrero to Tamarindo, and to Sámara and Nosara on the Nicoya Peninsula. Further south along the Pacific coast, the quieter villages of Montezuma and Santa Teresa/Mal País retain more of an “off-the-beaten path” feel. For a real adventure, head to the Osa Peninsula in the far south, where Parque Nacional Corcovado encompasses tropical wet forest teeming with wildlife. On the Caribbean Coast there are a couple of major hubs. South of Puerto Limón lie the laid-back beach resort villages of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, while to the north, near the Nicaragua border, the more remote Parque Nacional Tortuguero is known for its marine turtles and untouched jungles.
Costa Rica Travel Tips
- The Costa Rican currency is the colon (₡), divided into one hundred céntimos. However, US dollars are widely accepted at major resorts, and by taxi drivers across the country (though you’ll likely get change in colone). You’ll need some colones for food and drinks, and you’ll always get a better exchange rate using them; locals tend to round the exchange rate down to the nearest hundred colones to the dollar. Credit cards are widely accepted.
- Most international flights to Costa Rica arrive at Juan Santamaría International Airport, 11 miles (17km) northwest of San José. Heading into the city, just take a taxi. Many North American flights now also serve Liberia International Airport in Guanacaste Province, more convenient for the north and Pacific beaches.
- You’ll need to rent a car to tour the country – driving (during the day) is relatively straightforward, safe, and efficient. If you’d rather spend time in one place, there’s no need to rent a car; getting around locally is easy by bike, taxi, or on foot, and you’ll be able to arrange transport to and from airports. Once here, there are numerous tour operators that can take you to the hot spots if you feel like a day trip.
- Although Costa Rica is a tropical country, local micro-climates prevail and temperatures can vary wildly between the coast and the cloud forested highlands – be prepared for cold and wind on the top of volcanoes (where it can drop below freezing) and in the forests. The dry season runs roughly between November and April and corresponds to the peak tourist season; the rainy season runs May to mid-November (September and October tend to be the wettest months), which is usually less busy, though July and August always sees an increase in summer vacation visitors. In general, April, May and November are the best times to visit Costa Rica if you’re aiming to avoid the biggest crowds while still benefiting from good weather.
We’ve covered our favorite places to visit and stay in Costa Rica in more detail below, but with more time the following districts are also worth checking out:
- Volcán Poás and Volcán Irazú: These two active volcanoes are easily accessible on day-trips from San José, with Poás known for its bubbling, sulfuric lake, fumaroles and pools, and Irazú for its more tranquil crater lake and stunning views of both the Pacific and Caribbean from the top (you can hike around the crater rim at both places, volcanic activity allowing). Our favorite hotels near Volcán Poás are Altura Hotel and Poás Lodge & Glamping; For Volcán Irazú, Grandpas Hotel is a good choice.
- Refugio Nacional de Vida Silvestre Caño Negro: Wildlife enthusiasts might want to visit this wetlands reserve near the border with Nicaragua, home to an incredible range of migratory birdlife as well as monkeys, ocelots, peccaries, and more. Our favorite hotels near here are the Natural Lodge Caño Negro, and the budget Posada Rural Oasis.
- Reserva Rara Avis: This is another remote, wildlife-rich preserve of dense rainforest in the Sarapiquí region. Our favorite hotels here are Ara Ambigua Lodge, Tico Rainforest B&B, and Yatama EcoLodge.
- Parque Nacional Rincón de la Vieja: This national park is anchored by another volcano, the Volcán Rincón de la Vieja in Guanacaste Province. Hiking, horseback riding, and hot springs bathing are the primary activities on offer, but there’s also plenty of wildlife (notably monkeys, sloths, tapirs, and the odd jaguar). Our favorite hotels near here are Pochote Lodge, Hotel Rincón de la Vieja Lodge, and Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin.
- Dominical: This relaxed surfing town on the southern Pacific coast makes for a sleepier alternative to some of the resorts described below, with almost 3 miles of undeveloped beach backed by rainforest. It’s also close to the Hacienda Barú National Wildlife Refuge and Nauyaca Waterfalls. Top options here include the Danyasa Yoga Retreat, MAVI Surf Hotel, Punta Gabriela, and Tribe Boutique Hotel.
The Best Places to Stay in Costa Rica
- Best Luxury Hotels in Costa Rica
Los Altos Resort • Arenal Kioro • Arenas Del Mar • Aves • Marriott Hacienda Belen • Finca Luna Nueva • Four Seasons at Peninsula Papagayo • Gran Hotel Costa Rica • Grano de Oro • Senda Monteverde • Hilton La Sabana • InterContinental at Multiplaza Mall • Nayara Gardens • Nayara Springs • Tabacón Thermal Resort
- Best Boutique Hotels in Costa Rica
AC San José Escazú • Belmar • Burbi Lake Lodge • Danyasa Yoga Retreat • GAIA Hotel & Reserve • The Gilded Iguana • La Kukula Lodge • Mint Santa Teresa • Ocotea • Rio Perdido • Tribe • Vista del Alma
- Best B&Bs in Costa Rica
Black Bamboo • Casa Batsú • Casa Donna Rosa • Casa Lima • Lucky Bug • Rancho de Lelo Ecolodge • Tico Rainforest • Tierra Mágica • Tierra Magnifica
- Best Cheap & Mid-range Hotels in Costa Rica
Casa 69 • Chalets Silencio del Bosque • Cabañas del Rio • Eddy’s Place • Finca Escalante • MAVI Surf Hotel • Playa Negra Guesthouse • Pochote Lodge • Posada El Quijote • Posada Rural Oasis • Regina
- Best Hostels in Costa Rica
Cool Vibes • Hotel del Paseo • Lost In San José • NATIVUS Art Hostel • Nice Place • Santa Fe • Stray Cat • Trip On Open House
Where to Stay in Costa Rica for…
- Best Places for Wildlife: Monteverde and Parque Nacional Tortuguero
One of the main reasons Costa Rica is so popular is its incredible and well-conserved biodiversity. National parks across the country harbor a huge variety of flora and fauna, but the Monteverde region is one of the most pristine. The precious tracts of cloud forest up here are preserved within the Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde and nearby Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena. In addition to an incredible array of plant and tree life (including wild orchids), there are some 100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, and 120 reptilian and amphibian species. You might see agoutis, tapirs, brightly colored frogs, porcupines, ocelots, monkeys, and a huge array of tropical bird life that include the iconic quetzal.
Over on the Caribbean coast, Parque Nacional Tortuguero protects beaches where hundreds of sea turtles lay eggs (March–May & July–Oct); sensitively conducted tours allow you to see the process up close. The creeks and lagoons behind the beaches are home to river turtles, caiman, otters, monkeys and numerous bird species. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio is one of the busiest parks, but also one of the easiest places to see wildlife in Costa Rica: monkeys, sloths, and coatis often hang out close to the main trails.
- Best Place for Beaches: Guanacaste Coast and Nicoya Peninsula
Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Province is blessed with some of the best beaches in the country. Tamarindo is perfect for surfing, while tranquil Playa Conchal is ideal for snorkeling and swimming, as is nearby Playa Flamingo (which gets its name from its pinkish-white sand). Over on the exclusive Papagayo Peninsula, Playa Nacascolo is a lesser-visited gem, while to the south, Sámarais a great destination for families. The beaches of Nosara are also great for surf, and are backed by a selection of hip boutique hotels. Further south along the Nicoya Peninsula, Montezumais a laid-back bohemian resort village with a series of unspoiled beaches and coves, while Santa Teresa and Mal País features a 5-mile (8km) continuous stretch of wide, soft sands, also popular with surfers.
- Most Romantic Destinations: Caribbean Coast, Nosara, and Parque Nacional Corcovado
With so many beautiful beaches, rainforest lodges, and jungle hideaways to enjoy, Costa Rica is a popular destination for couples, but there are a few places that stand out. The Caribbean Coast, especially around the untouched beaches of Playa Cocles and Playa Chiquita, is loaded with rustic charm, enhanced by cool bakeries like Panadería Francés, stylish restaurants like La Pecora Nera, and some of the country’s best boutique hotels: Le Cameleon, Lanna Ban, La Kukula Lodge, and Tree House Lodge among them. On the Pacific coast, the gorgeous beaches of Nosara are popular with surfers but the area is principally known for its chic boutique hotels and yoga retreats, nestled in the surrounding hills to guarantee privacy. Some of the best are Tierra Magnifica, Green Sanctuary Hotel, Olas Verdes, and The Gilded Iguana. For couples who are more interested in the country’s rich biodiversity and ecotourism opportunities, consider staying in one of the cozy boutiques near the Parque Nacional Corcovado, where the main activities are strolling through rainforest or dozing in hammocks listening to the sounds of the jungle. Luna Lodge, La Leona, Bosque del Cabo, and Ojo del Mar Ecolodge are exclusive and incredibly atmospheric places to stay.
- Best Places for Nightlife: San José, Guanacaste Coast
When it comes to bars and clubs, it’s hard to beat Costa Rica’s capital city of San José for variety and sheer energy – you’ll also be partying with locals and students rather than foreign tourists. Hot spots include Jazz Café over in Escazú and the student bars in San Pedro (on Calle de la Amargura, like Bar Einstein) and neighboring Los Yoses. San José is also one of the best places in Central America for LGBTQ+ nightlife. Most of Costa Rica’s beach resorts feature lively nightlife, especially in the peak season of December to March, including Jacó on the Pacific Coast (which is otherwise not one of our favorite beaches). The resorts of the Guanacaste Coast are better; Tamarindo is home to local beer maker Volcano Brewing Company, Sharky’s Sports Bar, and El Garito nightclub, while Playas del Coco features the Coconutz Brewhouse, the Tortuga Baron the beach, and the popular Garden Bar. If you are staying on the Caribbean coast, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca also features a fairly raucous nightlife scene in season, with popular spots including Hot Rocks, Johnny’s Place, Salsa Brava Rasta Bar, and Lazy Mon.
- Best Place for Shopping: San José
You’ll find the usual souvenir shops as well as local arts and crafts at most Costa Rican tourist hubs and resorts, but downtown San José is the best place to shop overall. A good place to start is the Museo y Mercado Chietón Morén, a museum but also well curated craft store highlighting genuine arts and handicrafts made in Costa Rica. You might also find some bargains at the Mercado Municipal de Artesanías, an indoor market chock-full with souvenir stalls, though much of this is hit or miss. Popular gifts include copies of pre-Columbian gold jewelry, Costa Rican liqueurs (like Café Rica), Costa Rican coffee (though it’s cheaper to buy this in local supermarkets), woodwork and leather rocking chairs from the village of Sarchí northwest of the capital, walking sticks, hammocks, and a vast range of woodcarvings. Other targets include Galería Namú, which specializes in indigenous crafts and folk art, especially Wounaan baskets and Brunka masks; and the Mercado Central, the central market, where you can buy coffee beans from source, as well as handmade crafts and cheap clothing. In terms of malls, Lincoln Plaza north of downtown is the best, while San Pedro Mall is also popular.
- Unsafe Areas of Costa Rica
Costa Rica is generally quite safe, especially when compared to neighboring countries. Parts of San José have a reputation for pick-pockets and muggings: the streets around La Coca-Cola market; Barrio México, northwest of the center (where most of the bus stations are located); and the red-light district, southwest of the center. Petty theft can be a problem at any of the major tourist resorts in Costa Rica (especially in La Fortuna). Never leave anything unattended, especially in a car or on the beach, and take the usual precautions at night (it’s best to avoid driving long distance at night altogether).
The 9 Best Places in Costa Rica for Tourists
1. San José
Costa Rica’s capital city is definitely not what most visitors have come to see, but it would be a shame to skip San José – the best museums in the country are here, as well as some of the best restaurants, nightlife, and shopping. Though you probably wouldn’t want to be based here for your entire vacation, it’s worth staying a couple of nights, or least visiting on a day trip.
The main sights are all in walkable central San José, anchored by pedestrianized Avenida Central and Parque Central, the main square. Here stands the massive Catedral Metropolitana, dating from the 1870s. Nearby, the huge central market (Mercado Central) is worth a peek, a warren of food stalls and coffee sellers. Avenida Central runs east to Plaza de la Cultura, dominated by the elegant Teatro Nacional, which you can tour (or just have a coffee in the on-site Alma de Café). Below the plaza lies the spectacular art collections of the Banco Central de Costa Rica: the highlight of the complex is the underground Museo de Oro Precolombino, with displays of goldwork created by the Diquis, an ancient people of Costa Rica. Other highlights in central San José include the Centro Nacional de la Cultura (CENAC), an arts complex that includes the contemporary art museum, Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporáneo; the Museo del Jade (Jade Museum), home to the world’s largest collection of American jade objects; and the vast Museo Nacional, which chronicles the history of Costa Rica. On the far western edge of the city center, the Museo de Arte Costarricense displays mainly 20th-century Costa Rican paintings. Coffee aficionados should head out to the posh suburb of Escazúto enjoy gourmet blends at Café Hacienda Real.
• Street crime can be an issue at night in San José; do not walk alone after dark – women especially.
• Downtown’s best hotel is the Gran Hotel Costa Rica, but otherwise the choices here tend to be of lower quality. You’ll find better hotels in nearby districts such as Paseo Colón (Grano de Oro), Amón, and Otoya. To the west, the upscale suburb of Escazú contains several B&Bs and modern hotel chains.
• If you need to be close to Juan Santamaría International Airport, there are some great options up here, though they are not convenient for exploring the city; Courtyard Alajuela, Hampton Inn & Suites, and Holiday Inn Express.
- The Best Hotels in San José
Crowne Plaza Corobici • Hotel phone: +506 2543 6000
Gran Hotel Costa Rica • Hotel phone: +506 2103 9000
Barceló • Hotel phone: +506 2220 2034
Grano de Oro • Hotel phone: +506 2255 3322
Hilton La Sabana • Hotel phone: +506 2220 9000
Marriott Hacienda Belen • Hotel phone: +506 2298 0000
Park Inn by Radisson • Hotel phone: +506 4110 1100
Radisson San José • Hotel phone: +506 2010 6000
Selina San José • Hotel phone: +506 4020 5510
- Best B&Bs
Casa Lima • Hotel phone: +506 8601 3400
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Casa 69 • Hotel phone: +506 2256 8879
Finca Escalante • Hotel phone: +506 2100 5560
Parque del Lago • Hotel phone: +506 2547 2000
La Sabana • Hotel phone: +506 2220 2422
- Best Hostels
Hotel del Paseo • Hotel phone: +506 4020 1212
In The Wind • Hotel phone: +506 4034 0070
Lost In San José • Hotel phone: +506 8909 3333
NATIVUS Art Hostel • Hotel phone: +506 2222 3135
Stray Cat • Hotel phone: +506 7119 1070
Trip On Open House • Hotel phone: +506 2100 3844
- Best Hotels in Escazú
AC San José Escazú • Hotel phone: +506 2588 4500
InterContinental at Multiplaza Mall • Hotel phone: +506 2208 2100
Posada El Quijote • Hotel phone: +506 2289 8401
Residence Inn • Hotel phone: +506 2588 4300
Sheraton • Hotel phone: +506 4055 0505
- Best B&Bs
Tierra Mágica • Hotel phone: +506 8915 6506
The Monteverde region is one of Costa Rica’s top destinations for good reason: the Reserva Biológica Bosque Nuboso Monteverde (the Monteverde Cloudforest Biological Reserve) and nearby Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena harbor some of the last remaining cloud forest in the Americas, incredibly rich in flora and fauna. There are no beaches of course, but anyone interested in ecotourism should spend time here.
The reserves are served by the communities of Santa Elena, Cerro Plano, and Monteverde village itself, where you’ll find most of the accommodation as well as a bewildering number of activities and attractions from ziplines and bat preserves to frog ponds and coffee shops. Highlights include over 460 species of orchid at the Jardín de Orquídeas; around 28 species of colorful frogs at the Ranario (Frog Pond), which are otherwise very hard to spot in the wild; the butterfly gardens at Jardín de Mariposas; and the Bat Jungle, an indoor preserve for local Monteverde bats. In addition to hiking in the two major reserves, there’s the Selvatura Adventure Park, the Original Canopy Tour, Coffee’N Jungle Night Tour, and many other activities and tours to fill at a week or longer.
• Note that it’s hard to spot rare birds, wild orchids, and tiny frogs in the cloud forest without a guide – tours are easy to arrange at the reserves or at your hotel.
• The dry season here runs December to March. You can expect rain throughout the rest of the year, with an average temperature a mild 16–18°C (61–64°F).
• Santa Elena has the area’s lowest-priced accommodation. In contrast, hotels in and around the neighboring Cerro Plano community are larger resort-like places offering a lot more comfort (and higher prices).
• In terms of food, Santa Elena is home to several inexpensive soda-style Costa Rican restaurants, plus more expensive American and European-influenced spots.
- The Best Hotels in Monteverde
Arco Iris Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2645 5067
Burbi Lake Lodge •Hotel phone:+506 8521 3766
Belmar • Hotel phone: +506 2645 5201
Poco a Poco • Hotel phone: +506 2645 6000
Senda Monteverde • Hotel phone: +1 866 380 4032
Hotel Trópico • Hotel phone: +506 2645 7700
Monteverde Lodge & Gardens • Hotel phone: +1 800 963 1195
Ocotea • Hotel phone: +506 8705 0974
Los Pinos • Hotel phone: +506 2645 5252
Valle Escondido Nature Reserve • Hotel phone: +506 2645 5156
- Best B&Bs
Camino Verde • Hotel phone: +506 2645 6849
Casa Batsú • Hotel phone: +506 2645 7004
Casa Jungle • Hotel phone: +506 4700 3421
Rancho de Lelo Ecolodge • Hotel phone: +506 8568 8155
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Cabañas Valle Campanas • Hotel phone: +506 2645 5631
Eddy’s Place • Hotel phone: +506 4701 0556
Greemount • Hotel phone: +506 2645 6400
Pension Santa Elena • Hotel phone: +506 2645 5051
- Best Hostel
Sloth Backpackers • Hotel phone: +506 2645 5793
3. Parque Nacional Tortuguero
Adventurous travelers, especially those interested in Caribbean turtles, should arrange to spend time in the Parque Nacional Tortuguero, near the Nicaraguan border. It can be hard to reach – it’s 158 miles (254km) from San José by road and boat, though small-aircraft flights are available – but it’s one of Costa Rica’s most biodiverse national parks. It’s especially known for green, leatherback, and hawksbill turtles, who lay their eggs here in large numbers.
The park itself encompasses not only the Caribbean beaches where the turtles nest and hatch, but also the surrounding rainforest, mangrove swamps, and waterways. Visits are coordinated out of the tiny village of Tortuguero (and San Francisco, 10 minutes further along the river), which lie along a narrow spit of land between the Caribbean and the Tortuguero Canal. Here you’ll find all the accommodation options, ranging from budget hostels to fairly luxurious lodges, a handful of shops and canteens, and a small Natural History Museum run by the Sea Turtle Conservancy. Tours can be arranged in advance or with your hotel – most people visit during the egg-laying seasons of March to May & July to Oct, but you can also travel by boat or on foot deep into the jungle to experience the park’s rich flora and fauna.
• There is no land transport to Tortuguero: instead, small speedboats (4hr) traverse the coastal Tortuguero Canal from Puerto Limón. You can also take a boat from the dock at La Pavona, which is much closer to the park and can be accessed by car; from here it’s just 35 minutes by boat through dense jungle to San Francisco and 45 minutes to Tortuguero village.
• The quickest and most expensive way to get here is to fly from San José to the air strip across the canal from Tortuga Lodge.
• Note that camping on the beach is not allowed, but you are permitted to camp near the park ranger station at the southern end of Tortuguero village for a small charge (there’s drinking water and toilets here).
- The Best Hotels in Parque Nacional Tortuguero
Aninga Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2256 8080
Casa Pelican • Hotel phone: +506 8543 7988
Evergreen Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 8376 7370
Manatus Hotel • Hotel phone: +506 2709 8197
Mawamba Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2293 8181
Tortuga Lodge & Gardens • Hotel phone: +1 800 963 1195
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Cabinas Tortuguero • Hotel phone: +506 2767 0621
Casa Marbella • Hotel phone: +506 2709 8011
Don Quichotte • Hotel phone: +506 2767 0403
- Best Hostel
Aracari Garden • Hotel phone: +506 2767 2246
4. The Arenal Region
Another major adventure and ecotourism hub, the small town of La Fortuna is the gateway to Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal and the tempting waters and activities of nearby Laguna de Arenal, Costa Rica’s largest lake. Like in Monteverde, there’s a mind-blowing array of sports, activities, and tours on offer here, though the focus is the volcano itself, the associated hot springs, lava fields, waterfalls, and white water rafting. It’s a fun place to be based for a week or so, with plenty to do and some decent places to stay and eat.
Highlights include soaking in the regional hot springs, some of which are contained in resorts but open to the public for a fee: posh Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa and cheaper Baldi Hot Springs are two of the best. You can also hike the trails around the volcano itself in Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal or the similar Arenal 1968 Mirador y Senderos; take a gentle raft trip along the Peñas Blancas River or whitewater raft the Toro River (try outfits like Aventuras Arenal); check out the pretty 246-foot (75-meter) La Fortuna waterfall; or spend time fishing, windsurfing, or sailing on the Laguna de Arenal. There’s also numerous opportunities to go horseback riding, mountain biking, and ziplining with Arenal Canopy Adventures, Canoa Aventura, and many others.
• Budget travelers should aim to stay in or around La Fortuna itself; if you have your own transport and bit more cash you’ll be able to stay in one of the posher lodges closer to the lake or the volcano. Some of Costa Rica’s best boutique hotels are here.
- Best Hotels in Arenal Region
Arenal Kioro • Hotel phone: +506 2479 1700
Arenal Observatory Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2290 7011
Arenal Springs • Hotel phone: +506 2479 1212
Baldi Hot Springs • Hotel phone: +506 2479 2190
Finca Luna Nueva • Hotel phone: +506 8808 2110
Lost Iguana • Hotel phone: +506 2479 1557
Nayara Gardens • Hotel phone: +1 844 865 2002
Nayara Springs • Hotel phone: +1 888 332 2961
Rio Perdido • Hotel phone: +506 2673 3600
The Royal Corin • Hotel phone: +506 2479 2201
Sangregado Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 4600 0102
Tabacón Thermal Resort< • Hotel phone: +1 877 277 8291
- Best B&Bs
Casa Donna Rosa • Hotel phone:
Lucky Bug • Hotel phone: +506 2694 4515
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Aunty Arenal Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2479 9910
Chalets Silencio del Bosque • Hotel phone: +506 8643 6059
Cabañas del Rio • Hotel phone: +506 2479 0011
Cabañas Sueños del Arenal • Hotel phone: +506 8559 7530
Hotel Alicia • Hotel phone: +506 2479 9517
Rancho Cerro Azul • Hotel phone: +506 2479 7360
Regina • Hotel phone: +506 2479 7373
Sierra Arenal • Hotel phone: +506 2479 9751
- Best Hostels
Arenal Backpackers Resort • Hotel phone: +506 2479 7000
Nice Place • Hotel phone: +506 8745 6289
Santa Fe • Hotel phone: +506 6353 0125
5. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
Costa Rica abounds with pristine national parks, but Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio, some 60 miles (96km) south of San José on the Pacific coast, is one of the best. It’s not big, so you probably wouldn’t base your entire vacation here, but there are plenty of hotel options nearby to allow for several days exploration.
The park is easy to explore thanks to well-maintained trails through tropical forests rich with wildlife; monkeys, sloths, and coatis are easy to see. The coastline is dotted with gorgeous white-gray sandy beaches and features the striking Punta Catedral formation.
Most of the hotels and (surprisingly good) restaurants and bars line the busy main road for 4.5 miles (7km) southeast of the small town of Queposto the park entrance. As long as you have a car, anywhere along here is handy for the park, though the most exclusive – and expensive – hotels tend to be hidden away in the surrounding hills.
• Reserve hotels here well in advance if visiting in high tourism season of December and January.
- Best Hotels near Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
Los Altos Resort • Hotel phone: +1 888 803 1332
Arenas Del Mar • Hotel phone: +1 888 385 9218
GAIA Hotel & Reserve • Hotel phone: +506 2777 9797
The Falls at Manuel Antonio • Hotel phone: +506 2777 1332
Issimo Suites • Hotel phone: +506 2777 4410
Makanda by The Sea • Hotel phone: +506 2777 0442
Parador Resort • Hotel phone: +506 2777 1414
Sí Cómo No • Hotel phone: +1 888 742 6667
Tulemar Resort • Hotel phone: +1 800 518 0831
La Vela Boutique Hotel • Hotel phone: +506 2777 0413
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Selina • Hotel phone: +506 4000 1338
Shana By The Beach • Hotel phone: +506 2777 7373
Sunrise House • Hotel phone: +506 6059 3553
Teva • Hotel phone: +506 2101 0506
- Best Hostels
Art Hostel Costa Linda • Hotel phone: +506 277 70304
Hostel Plinio • Hotel phone: +506 2777 6123
Planet B • Hotel phone: +506 6431 0687
Vista Serena • Hotel phone: +506 2777 5162
Wide Mouth Frog • Hotel phone: +506 2777 2798
6. Caribbean Coast
Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast south of the workaday port of Puerto Limón, stretching to the Panama border, is known for its laidback resort villages, beautiful beaches, and excellent Afro-Caribbean food. It’s possible to base yourself here without transport (you can rent bikes to zip between the beaches), but with a rental car you’ll be able to explore more of the coast. You can fly in to Puerto Limón and rent there, or drive across from San José (110 miles/160km) in around 4 hours. The main draw is the beach, beginning at the low-key village of Cahuita, 28 miles (45km) south of Puerto Limón. The Parque Nacional Cahuita, protects the offshore reef (you can snorkel and take glass-bottom-boat rides), as well as the pristine beach here. Another 11 miles (18km) south lies the main hub of the region, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, known for its abundance of cheap accommodation, party atmosphere, and surf beaches (as well as the usual health food purveyors, yoga, and New Age outfits). Puerto Viejo is also the home of the celebrated 20-foot wave known as “La Salsa Brava”, which usually appears between December and March and from June to July. Staying in Puerto Viejo puts you at the heart of the action. For something quieter, look for accommodation near the beaches that run along the coast south of here; Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita and sleepy Manzanillo at the end of the road. Other attractions along the highway include the Jaguar Rescue Center, a rehab center primarily for howler monkeys, sloths, snakes, and caimans; and Ara Manzanillo, dedicated to saving the endangered great green macaw.
• Most budget hotels in Puerto Viejo are simple affairs (some without hot water), while more upscale places line the coast south of the village towards Playa Cocles. You can camp on all the beaches here.
• Exploradores Outdoors runs kayaking and hiking tours in the area.
- Best Hotels in Cahuita
Cahuita Inn • Hotel phone: +506 2755 0179
Casa de las Flores • Hotel phone: +506 2755 0326
Kelly Creek Hotel • Hotel phone: +506 2755 0007
Passion Fruit Ecolodge • Hotel phone: +506 8939 9823
SuizoLoco Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2755 0349
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels in Cahuita
Cabinas Algebra • Hotel phone: +506 2755 0057
Cabinas Iguana • Hotel phone: +506 2755 0005
Cabinas Tito • Hotel phone: +506 2755 0286
Cahuita Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 8827 2815
Playa Negra Guesthouse • Hotel phone: +506 8556 2870
- Best Hotels in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Black Bamboo • Hotel phone: +506 8417 5543
Escape Caribeño • Hotel phone: +506 2750 0103
Hotel Banana Azul • Hotel phone: +506 2750 2035
Hotel Indalo • Hotel phone: +506 2750 0826
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotel in Puerto Viejode Talamanca
Selina Puerto Viejo • Hotel phone: +506 8872 7230
- Best Hostels in Puerto Viejode Talamanca
Kalunai Hostel • Hotel phone: +506 2750 3168
Pagalú Hostel • Hotel phone: +506 2750 1930
La Ruka Hostel • Hotel phone: +506 2750 0617
- Best Hotels in Playa Cocles/Playa Chiquita
Awa Beach Hotel • Hotel phone: +506 2759 9180
Caribe Town Bungalows • Hotel phone: +506 2750 2034
Le Cameleon • Hotel phone: +506 2750 0501
Geckoes Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2750 0908
Hotel Aguas Claras • Hotel phone: +1 844 828 4277
Lomas del Caribe • Hotel phone: +506 2750 3084
Satta Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 8308 5834
Terrazas del Caribe • Hotel phone: +506 2750 0949
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels in Playa Cocles/Playa Chiquita
Bambutel • Hotel phone: +506 7290 5459
Casa Moabi • Hotel phone: +506 8539 7578
- Best Hostels in Playa Cocles/Playa Chiquita
Madre Selva • Hotel phone: +506 2215 2573
Playa 506 • Hotel phone: +506 2750 3158
Tasty Dayz • Hotel phone: +506 2750 0128
- Best Hotels in Manzanillo
Almonds and Corals Lodge • Hotelphone: +506 2271 3000
Congo Bongo EcoVillage • Hotel phone: +506 2759 9016
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels in Manzanillo
Cabinas Yamann • Hotel phone: +506 2759 9121
Faith Glamping Dome • Hotel phone: +506 8723 0101
Hotel D’ Angelo • Hotel phone: +506 7291 2426
Pangea Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 8738 4860
7. Nicoya Beaches: Montezuma and Santa Teresa/Mal País
The southern Nicoya Peninsula on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast is home to another cluster of popular low-key beach resorts, as well as wildlife haven Reserva de Vida Silvestre Karen Mogensen. On the east side is Montezuma, a budget traveler hub arranged around a series of enticing coves, beaches, and waterfalls. It can get busy, but large-scale development has been kept to a minimum and it still feels a bit like a fishing village, despite the number of touristy restaurants and bars in the center. It’s a fun place to stay, with plenty of activities and tours available, and lots of entertainment at night (especially in high season, Dec to March).
On the west side of the Peninsula, the adjoining communities of Santa Teresa and Mal País are more spread out along a 5-mile (8km) stretch of sand, with hotels and restaurants straggling along the one main road. There’s a little more development here than in Montezuma, with a wider range of high-end boutique properties, though it retains a certain laidback charm. You’ll find several surf schools here, along with the usual array of adventure sport outfits and yoga studios.
• Camping is prohibited on the beaches here, but you can try Mal País Surf Camp.
- Best Hotels in Montezuma
Amor de Mar • Hotel phone: +506 2642 0262
Anamaya Resort • Hotel phone: +506 2642 1289
Aves • Hotel phone: +1 213 216 4550
Casitas Sollevante • Hotel phone: +506 2642 1025
Horizontes de Montezuma • Hotel phone: +506 2642 0625
Hotel Nya • Hotel phone: +506 8609 3999
Ylang Ylang Beach Resort • Hotel phone: +506 2642 0523
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels in Montezuma
Casa Susen • Hotel phone: +506 8899 4604
El Jardín • Hotel phone: +506 2642 0074
Jodokus Inn • Hotel phone: +506 8502 2622
- Best Hostel in Montezuma
Luz en el Cielo • Hotel phone: +506 2642 0030
- Best Hotels in Santa Teresa/Mal País
Believe Surf & Yoga • Hotel phone: +506 6387 7253
Casa Chameleon • Hotel phone: +1 860 333 6199
Casa MarBella • Hotel phone: +506 2640 0749
Trópico Latino • Hotel phone: +1 800 724 1235
Indigo Yoga Resort • Hotel phone: +506 2640 1007
Makanas Beach Bungalows • Hotel phone: +506 2640 0723
Mint Santa Teresa • Hotel phone: +506 8835 4243
Vista del Alma • Hotel phone: +506 8538 3883
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels in Santa Teresa/Mal País
Funky Monkey Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2640 0272
Pachamama • Hotel phone: +506 2640 0195
Zula Inn • Hotel phone: +506 2640 0940
- Best Hostels in Santa Teresa/Mal País
Akih Pods • Hotel phone: +506 7010 3909
Mal País Surf Camp • Hotel phone: +506 2640 0031
8. Guanacaste Coast
The beaches of Guanacaste Province are some of the best and most developed in Costa Rica. Aim to stay here if you are looking for a more comfortable stay with U.S.-style resorts and amenities. The picture-perfect scenery (and amazing sunsets) begins at the Papagayo Peninsula, where you’ll find some of the country’s top resorts (notably the Four Seasons). From here the coast is indented with a series of jungle-backed bays and coves: less-developed Playa Panama and Playa Hermosa, and the busy resort communities of Playas del Coco, Playa Ocotal, Las Catalinas, Potrero, Flamingo, Conchal, and Tamarindo, the biggest of all. Playas del Coco, Flamingo, and Tamarindo are all a little like Cancun, with plenty of nightlife and international restaurants and hotels, enhanced by fabulous sand, mesmerizing sunsets, and lots of tours and activities. Tamarindo is also an excellent place to learn to surf, with easy beach breaks and many instructors and rental outfits. For a change of pace, consider the two quieter resorts at the southern end of the province: Nosara features expensive and exclusive boutiques, while Sámara is much cheaper and better for those on a budget – both feature gorgeous beaches.
• In Sámara, try Fenix Hotel, Hideaway, Macao Beach, Hostel Las Mariposas, Kiban’s Surf Hostel, and Villas Kalimba.
• In Nosara, we recommend Satori Bubbles, Lagarta Lodge, The Nomadic, The Gilded Iguana, Olas Verdes, Green Sanctuary Hotel, and Tierra Magnifica.
- Best Hotels in Guanacaste Coast
Bosque del Mar • Hotel phone: +506 2672 0046
Cala Luna • Hotel phone: +506 2653 0214
Capitán Suizo • Hotel phone: +506 2653 0075
Casa Chameleon Las Catalinas • Hotel phone: +506 2103 1200
Coast Beachfront Hotel • Hotel phone: +506 2653 0125
Four Seasons • Hotel phone: +506 2696 0000
JW Marriott Guanacaste • Hotel phone: +506 2681 2000
Mother Earth Vegan Hotel • Hotel phone: +506 8791 8402
Occidental Tamarindo • Hotel phone: +506 2653 0363
Pacific Kalokairi • Hotel phone: +506 8831 4531
Reserva Conchal • Hotel phone: +506 2654 3500
Riu Palace Costa Rica • Hotel phone: +506 2681 2300
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Casas del Toro Playa Flamingo • Hotel phone: +506 8435 8383
M&M Beach House • Hotel phone: +506 2670 1212
Hotel Ocotal • Hotel phone: +506 4034 9315
Ten North Tamarindo • Hotel phone: +506 2653 1110
- Best Hostels
Coral Reef Surf Hostel • Hotel phone: +506 2653 0291
Tamarindo Backpackers • Hotel phone: +506 4703 0823
9. Parque Nacional Corcovado
The big attraction in the far south of Costa Rica, the Parque Nacional Corcovado is another must-see for ecotourism and wildlife fans, with huge swathes of virtually empty beaches and pristine rainforest teeming with exotic flora and fauna; you’ll see scarlet macaws and toucans flapping around even in the villages down here. The park is remote and hard to access, but plenty of tour operators run guided trips into the jungle, or hikes along the beaches. It’s not really day-trip territory, visitors here tend to be serious hikers or naturalists, and it is also very wet. The dry season (December to April) is the peak travel season here. Most visitors to the park find accommodation in the nearby town of Puerto Jiménez, the de facto hub of the Osa Peninsula, though there are increasingly options lining the main road to the park from here (some 25 miles/40km away) – these tend to be more expensive and upmarket, and budget travelers usually stay in Jiménez. Jiménez itself is a relatively small, sleepy place with not much to see; its mostly unpaved streets are enhanced by a handful of shops and simple restaurants.
• All park visitors must be accompanied by a professional guide, even for one-day trips (see park website).
• It is permitted to camp within the park (at La Sirena campground) for up to four nights.
• The resort towns of Bahía Drake and Agujitas, to the north of the Osa Peninsula, make a good alternative base for Parque Nacional Corcovado, as the park’s San Pedrillo entrance is just a day’s hike away. The closest hotels to the entrance are Casa Corcovado Jungle Lodge, the budgetThe Jaguars Jungle, and Poor Man’s Paradise.
- Best Hotels for Parque Nacional Corcovado (south)
Bosque del Cabo • Hotel phone: +506 2735 5206
Lapa Rios Lodge • Hotel phone: +1 800 963 1195
La Leona • Hotel phone: +506 2735 5705
Luna Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 4070 0010
Ojo del Mar • Hotel phone: +506 8378 5246
El Remanso Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2735 5569
- Best Cheap/Midrange Hotels
Cabinas Jimenez • Hotel phone: +506 2735 5090
Osa Lodge • Hotel phone: +506 2735 5921
- Best Hostel
La Palapa Hut Hostel & Campground • Hotel phone: +506 2735 5002