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THE TOP 15 THINGS TO DO IN COSTA RICA

Costa Rica incredible biodiversity in such a small country makes a travel itinerary hard to prioritize but with this list of top attractions you will certainly have a trip of a lifetime in Costa Rica

Costa Rica occupies less than 0,05% of Earth’s surface but contains an incredible 5% of the total biodiversity in the World, so you will be challenged between choosing to be hiking around active volcanoes, spend time on paradise beaches, dive into beautiful waterfalls or explore rain forests and cloud forest searching for unique wildlife. Add to that surfing , rafting, zip lining and parasailing available in most of Costa Rica main points of interest, then you will have enough to do for a few months.

Reality is that most people won’t have that time available to visit Costa Rica, so this list with the top 15 things to do in Costa Rica will bring you some light on where you should go , even if you shouldn’t hesitate to go beyond:

  1. Monteverde Cloud Forest day & night tour
  2. Poás Volcano
  3. Manuel Antonio park & beach
  4. La Fortuna Hot Springs
  5. Arenal Volcano & Hanging Bridges
  6. Tortuguero canals
  7. Cahuita National Park
  8. Corcovado Park & Drake Bay
  9. Bajos del Toro waterfall & Blue Falls
  10. Rio Celeste
  11. Llanos de Cortés waterfall
  12. La Paz waterfall & gardens
  13. Marino Ballena Park & Uvita beach
  14. Nauyaca waterfalls
  15. Punta Uva & Cocles beach

Up next a short description and visuals about each one of these top attractions in Costa Rica.

MONTEVERDE CLOUD FOREST

No place deserves a better name than Monteverde with its evergreen forest all year long literally high in the clouds. Its a steep and narrow road with many turns but the destination fully justifies the journey. Located about 3 hours from San José or 2 hours 30 minutes from Liberia , the Monteverde area can be visited all year long even if the best time to go to Costa Rica is usually during the dry season from November to April. It will still rain but more ocasionally with temperatures going down at night to 10 degrees and being usually windy after sunset.

The main highlight from Monteverde is its cloud forest national park. You should start early so that you can avoid the tourist crowds and also allow you to see more animals activity. As the animals, namely birds are not that easy, I suggest that you use a guide, My B&B hostel organized it for 25 US $ + entry fee 25 US$ with pick up from the hostel at circa 7h30. The guided tour takes around 2 hours and then you are free to hike around the cloud forest. You would then need to take the public bus or a taxi back to town as the guide will go away after the tour has ended . Here a map of the various trails in the Monteverde cloud forest

The main focus of the tour is to spot as much wildlife as possible but you won’t have a better spot to find the most beautiful bird in Costa Rica – the Quetzal, a colourful species with very long feathers and a beautiful song. We started the tour before 8am after going through the ticket office and getting a card to access the park. We spotted a tarantula and a couple of lovely birds, but then we saw the majestic Quetzal high on the tree not too deep into the forest. With the guide’s telescope we were able to see it in detail as well as taking zoomed pictures. It was just amazing! Then the tour takes through other parts of the cloud forest where we spotted other birds and some animals as well as getting great explanations about the local flora. It was extremely worth the tour!!

After we were dropped back at the entrance, there’s a nice coffee nearby called the Hummingbird where you will really see many of them as there are water fountains were they come to have a drink. Also some toucans will most likely be around, so its a great break before going on a further hike. That’s what I did, beforing entering the park again and hiking to to Mirador la Ventana (“Window”) on the westernmost part of the park. The trail is beautiful through the cloud forest, with the last part being quite steep but all in all taking around 1 hour in a relatively humid weather but on this day quite sunny and barely any clouds. You have two viewpoints, one to the valley on the North known as God’s valley and on the main viewpoint you can see the Continental divide (where South and North America divide) and Lake Arenal . The views over the cloud forest are just stunning here. On the way back I took the wider trail with lovely forest all around. There is an old bridge nearby but due to heavy rains is now being rebuilt.

After the hike back, I took the public bus back to Monteverde city center. They depart every 30 minutes and you buy the ticket directly on the bus for 700 colones or 1$

But Monteverde is more than just the cloud forest, so I can recommend staying here at least 2 nights and do the beautiful hike of El Tigre waterfalls with lots of hanging bridges and 4 waterfalls where you can swim plus a nature pool, do one of the several zip lining tours, from more family friendly (so they say) to more radical ones including Superman, Tarzan swing and even bungee jumping. Lastly the night tour is extremely good, I saw many different species of animals and the guide was great. The tour is at Kinkajou and you will go in a small group, sometimes crossing with others. It takes circa 2 hours, starting at around 8pm (you will have a transfer picking you up from your property) and costs 30 US$ per person. You should bring a torch and long pants plus hiking shoes.

POAS VOLCANO / VOLCAN POÁS

There are over 61 extinct or dormant volcanoes in Costa Rica and 6 active volcanoes. One of them is Volcan Poás, that has the most beautiful crater lake in the whole country and among the most impressive in the World. The Poás Volcano National Park is located in the Costa Rica Central Highlands being 2,708 meters high and one of Costa Rica’s largest volcanoes. The crater is 1.6 km wide and the blue milky colors come from a combination of minerals, rain and sulfuric gases.

The most important is that you book your ticket in advance at the website of SINAC parks of Costa Rica website here, where you will be asked to reserve a time slot. There are no tickets available at the park itself. Each group has 40 minutes to perform the visit but from what I saw nothing impedes you of staying a little longer. My suggestion is that you arrive after 11am as its when it gets a little warmer and the chances of seeing the crater become higher as usually the top of the volcano is cloudy, even if its sunny all around the volcano just before the top. In nature its really a matter of luck.

The best way to come to Poás volcano is by car from either San José (1h 30 minutes drive) or with a tour from La Fortuna or even San José itself. The drive from San José is extremely scenic and you even go past a Starbucks coffee plantation called Alsacia that you can visit – you can check tours here.

After the parking lot, its a short walk to the entrance where you need to put on a helmet for head protection (I guess that if the volcano does erupt, it won’t make a big difference but at least it does offer a little cover). From the entrance to the crater its a 15 minutes walk easy walk on a paved road. I entered with the 11am group and I can tell you that most of the way was cloudy and at the top it wasn’t better. You have different platforms and perspectives but when the clouds are there you won’t see more than a white landscape.

Then at 12.20pm, I started seeing a little of the crater including a very blurred view of the lake itself. Until it vanished again in a kind of fog. But I decided that I would wait a little longer… after 10 minutes, it started to become slightly clearer and clearer… then the crater lake showed itself in its full glory with dancing clouds illustrating what could be a painting. It was such a stunning moment, that glimpse of beauty when all seemed hard to improve , that really made this experience priceless and shows why the Poás Volcano is a top must see attraction in Costa Rica.

MANUEL ANTONIO PARK & BEACH

Probably the most famous park on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is definitely a must see due to its beautiful setting of rainforest, pristine beaches and great opportunities to spot wildife along its trails.

The most important is that you reserve your ticket online in advance as no tickets are sold at the park itself and the earlier time slots might be sold out. You can get the tickets for Manuel António national park at the SINAC Costa Rica official website here . The Manuel Antonio national park entry ticket costs 16 US$ per person. My recommendation is that you book the time slot at 7- 7.40am as it will be relatively empty and you will have most trails and beaches all by yourself plus the chances to see animals are hiher. After 9am its all crowded, believe me!

You can decide to take a tour at the entrance, there are several operators offering them as from 25 US$ per person, but in my opinion is better to do the tour on your own. Most animals will be on the marked trails, you just need to have a good eye and patience to find them. You should also ask other travellers if they saw anything on the way and of course you can “follow” some groups. Expect to see monkeys (capuchino and whíte faced ones, howler monkeys are harder to see despite being noisy), sloths and toucans plus other birds. The hike of the whole Manuel National park takes around 2 hours 30 minutes, being moderate even if it will be very warm and humid, so you will sweat a lot. Take good hiking shoes and plenty of water as well as insect repellent. Trails are well indicated and follow a logical number sequence.

The most effective way to get to Manuel António national park is by taking the bus down to the last station or then park your car at one of the local parking lots for 5 US$. If you aren’t too far up the hill above the park, then walking is a good option but the way back is steep uphill. After the hike you can enjoy a nice dip in the Pacific ocean at the idyllic Manuel Antonio beach, that is outside the par so its for free, no ticket needed. I personally liked the beach more than the park because the park after 9am was so full that you couldn’t really enjoy it that much.

I went here for dinner (and also breakfast) at El Avión, great location to see the sunset, even if the best spot was higher up the road, next to the local taxi stop with beautiful unobstructed views of the Pacific Ocean. As for accomodation I can recommend Selina Manuel Antonio, nicely located on the way to the beach and national park (5 minute by car), with several pools and different accomodation types.

LA FORTUNA HOT SPRINGS

La Fortuna is one of the main touristic hubs in Costa Rica that together with the Arenal Volcano and the lake form an incredible triumvirate of many attractions between rain forest, hot springs, wildlife photography , waterfalls and of course the volcano. On this ranking I want to highlight the La Fortuna hot springs as they are truly unique.

The best way to come to La Fortuna is by car, a mere 2 hours drive from San José or 2 hours 30 minutes from LIberia airport. Some people come from Monteverde that you can also do by car in 3 hours 30 minutes or by bus – boat – bus in 4 hours. There are no direct roads connecting Monteverde to La Fortuna despite its proximity. You can also get a group shuttle from San José or from Liberia for circa 50US$, that will take almost the same trip duration by car. Public us also serve the area , being obviously the cheapest option for 5 US$.

La Fortuna hot springs area is located some 10 minutes away from La Fortuna town when going in the direction of the Arenal volcano. You will have several hotels/ resorts on the way where you can stay overnight. I decided to stay at Termales del Arenal because I really liked the bungalows, the several thermal pools and the nice views from the Arenal volcano from there. Breakfast was good and location was great to visit the main attractions.

Just 5 minutes further down the road there are two very unique hot springs experiences in La Fortuna, so close but yet so different. The first of them is the Tabacon resort, a luxurious property with stunning gardens, bridges and facilities built around a thermal river that is naturally warmed by the volcano. Its one of the most amazing places I have ever been and rightfully deserves its fame of being the prime destination for a top hot springs experience in La Fortuna. The overnight stay costs more than 500 US$ but you can get one of the day passes including lunch starting from 75 US$ , that was what I did, or one of the evening passes including dinner. However you should book it in advance online at their website as Tabacon hot springs are often booked out. Check availability here

La Fortuna region has also 3 other key highlights that I absolutely recommend to do: La Fortuna waterfall & gardens to have a nice swim in a stunning waterfall, the Bogarin trail that is excellent to spot sloths, frogs and birds and finally the Hanging bridges Mistico Park that I am covering next on the list.

ARENAL VOLCANO AND HANGING BRIDGES

Even if you can see the enormous Arenal volcano from anywhere around La Fortuna, the best way is to experience it up close and make some great hikes in incredible rain forests nearby. Being just 20 minutes away from La Fortuna, the trip to the Arenal volcano is unforgettable

There are namely 3 experiences in the Volcán Arenal area that are simply wonderful: One is the El Silencio hike for its beautiful rainforest, lava trails and volcano views, the second one is the Mistico Park hanging bridges for the wildlife and the bridges hike. The last is the interesting Arenal 1968 trail but if you have done El Silencio you can opt out in case you are short on time.

I tried all of them and for me the hanging bridges from Mistico park in the middle of a rain forest were really incredible. i went in a early tour at 7.30am that allows you to spot some wildlife whilst walking 16 bridges in total, some of them really long and high! So I recommend you to go in the morning when there are not so many crowds and the chances to see wildlife are better . How to get to the Mistico park from La Fortuna is either by car or then using their shuttle, that it’s a 25 minutes drive from La Fortuna. Only the last part of road is with gravel and a little steep. Mistico hanging bridges park ticket costs 26 US$ with tours costing an additional 40 US$ or more depending on the tour you select. The tour duration is 2.5 hours. I took the Natural Guide tour where you have a good explanation of the local flora and fauna whilst walking through the park hanging bridges. We spotted some birds, frogs and snakes. And in a clear day you will have at the end of the tour some great views of the Arenal volcano!

Then you should head to the El Silencio hike or Arenal 1968 trails as they are both 5 -10 minutes by car from the Mistico Park. El Silencio is for me better as it has a beautiful rainforest with many old-grown trees as well as some wildlife and plus some really excellent views of the Arenal volcano, Arenal lake and and the lava fields. The El Silencio hike takes around 2 hours with some stops and is a moderate one. The entrance ticket cost to El Silencio hike is 8 US$ per person.

So after you finish it you can head straight to the hot springs (the free ones) to relax after those hikes or grab lunch in La Fortuna before you start your afternoon exploration. That can be the Bogarin trail, that you should book in advance with them as there are limited time slots, with plenty of chances of seeing different types of sloths , frogs, birds and even some snakes. It was one of the best animal trails in Costa Rica for me, the tour guides are all part of the family that owns this trail. The entrance fee for Bogarin trail is 10 US$ and the guided tour is 35 US and its really worth every cent!

TORTUGUERO CANALS

Tortuguero national park is one of the best destinations in the World for turtle watching in the high season from July to October but other than that its lovely canals across the mangrove forest offer a great chance to see wildlife in a quite special setting of canals. The other place in Costa Rica where you can experience this is in the Corcovado National park on the Pacific coast.

There are only two ways to get to Tortuguero: by boat or by plane. From San José the road will take to a water taxi location from where you will be taken all the way to the Tortuguero peninsula in a ride that will take circa 1 hour. You can either catch a shuttle or a public bus to get there or then that you park your car there in as a surveilled parking lot. The other option is flying from San José to the regional airport of Tortuguero village with Sansa Costa Rica.

if you don’t go during the turtle season of July to October, the best is to take a ride through the mangrove canals or then do a kayak ride. Its really wonderful to go past the mangroves like you are in the Amazonian rainforest with some wildlife that you can spot on the way. Usually there is a ticket fee to enter the Tortuguero national park but this can be arranged via your accomodation or the tour company.

As for the beach its really wonderful to walk around it but unfortunately no swimming is allowed due to strong rip currents and true danger of crocodiles

CAHUITA NATIONAL PARK

If there is a paradise in Costa Rica, then Cahuita National park on the Caribbean coast is the gateway to it with its stunning beaches, great rainforest and beautiful reefs.

The entrance fee is actually a donation, so you are the one deciding how much that would be. Most people would give something around 10 US $ to help for the park preservation that is much needed to protect the local reefs and rangers work. The park itself has 3 parts you should visit: The rainforest path with some great wildlife like monkeys, racoons, sloths and birds, The Punta Cahuita area at the tip of the park with its stunning reefs that you should snorkel with a guide (its not allowed without a guide to snorkel here) and the long stretch of Playa Blanca (White beach). And there is an extra spot called Playa Negra (Black beach) that is officially part of the park but that you don’t need to pay an entrance fee.

My recommendation is that you start as early as possible to do the 2 hours trail in Cahuita park to see some animals on your way to Punta Cahuita, then make a snorkeling tour with one of the authorized guides for 35 US$ whose departure harbour is on the northern part of the park. Your hotel can book it for you, but do it at least one day in advance to guarantee that you have a spot. The snorkeling trip in Cahuita park takes around 2 hours. ou will see nice colorful corals, schools of fish, turtles, lobsters , reef sharks and tiger fish usually even if in nature nothing is guaranteed. At the end you will be dropped at the stunning Punta Cahuita beach.

At the amazing Punta Cahuita beach, its a great point that you should use to relax in the azure waters white sand and lovely lined coconut trees. It was for me on the best beaches in whole Costa Rica, absolutely what you expect from the Caribbean.

From here, you should then hike back via Playa Blanca (white beach) trail to the entrance park or using the tree covered path that will allow you to spot some animals and get also some shade. This should take 30-40 minutes. From the entrance of the park, its then another easy 15 minutes walk to Playa Negra (black beach) on the other side of Cahuita town. This black sand beach is also part of the Cahuita national park even though here you don’t need to pay any entrance fee. I really enjoyed Playa Negra beach contrasts with the trees, sand and ocean colors. It was also much quieter on this area, somehow very appealing to enjoy here some beach time despite getting a lot of sand gluing to your fingers!

Plus I saw some howler monkeys on a tree on the way to the beach, it was a huge family, very loud as usual, that was so amazing as usually they hide in the forest.

Also at Playa negra I found some nice bars like a Reggae one and some restaurants right with ocean view by the beach that I can recommend highly! Had a great fish dish there, a typical casado !

CORCOVADO PARK AND DRAKE BAY

Probably the last wild frontier in Costa Rica, where you can still have a feeling of what Costa Rica was a couple of centuries ago, Corcovado national park is truly the most beautiful area i was in Costa Rica – less tourists. more deserted beaches and rain forests plus unique sunsets. Add toi that the incredible Isla del Cano snorkeling / diving and the mangrove canals and you have the feeling you are in a different country when staying at Corcovado. Drake bay the most developed part of Corcovado park west coast , where most people arrive , but still it felt a million miles away from the tourist crowds at Manuel Antonio for example.

How to get to Drake Bay and the Corcovado park is already an epic trip. My recommended way of getting there is that you go from Sierpe to Drake bay by boat. Sierpe is a quiet village that has a small harbour with boats serving Drake bay via mangrove canals and the Pacific ocean. Its an amazing boat ride that takes 40 minutes only and feels almost like a tour! The boats depart Sierpe to Drake Bay at 11.30am and 2.30pm. The return trip from Drake bay to Sierpe is at 7.15am and 1.30pm. It costs 15 US$ per person in the morning and 20 US$ per person in the afternoon. The drive from Uvita to Sierpe is around 45 minutes, from Manuel Antonio/ Quepos will be circa 1h 30 minutes in well paved roads. You can leave your rental car parked near the boat termInal, as its surveilled and safe, but don’t leave high value belongings there. It will cost 10 US$ per parking day. There are also regular public buses going to Sierpe from most Pacific road cities like Uvita, Quepos, Dominical or even Jaco. Or you can take a private shuttle that you can organize with your hotel/ hostel

The other alternative is a long 3 hours drive, possible in the dry season from November to April usually on a 4×4 vehicĺe, Some people prefer it to some flexibility but at the end you won’t save much time and you don’t really use the car in Drake Bay as all is reachable on foot and you will be doing tours into Corcovado park.

About Drake Bay, its a lovely beach and small village, almost always deserted except for the incoming/ outgoing at some time in the day, where you can have a great swim to relax in the warm ocean. And there are nice accommodation alternatives and a few good restaurants but don’t expect too much luxury. And thats the beauty of this place! I recommend the bungalows with views over Drake Bay like the Vista Drake bay or the cabins Murillo , well located only 5 minutes from the restaurants and the beach. If you are more budget oriented , then the hostel Martina’s place in Drake bay is excellent, I was actually going there to meet some friends I met on the tours and they all really liked the place. The restaurants in Drake bay all with goof́ local food choice or international one, but be ready to wait a long trime for your dishes, service can be really slow. Delicias Drake Bay was a nice one as well as Mar y Bosque and La Choza. But the most fine food experience is at the Sol y Luna restaurant at the tip of Drake bay beach, often booked out for dinner, so book in advance. Its pricey but a unique experience if you fancy splurging a little.

The top things to do in Corcovado park that I can highly recommend are Isla del Cano snorkeling / diving, the day tour in Corcovado park and to overnight in the park itself. The most important thing to know is that you should book it in advance as the Corcovado park and the Isla del Cano have a limited number of visitors per day and can only be done with an authorized guide. This can be booked online, ideally direly with the company via Whatsapp or in their website. I can recommend you Sukia travel, very competent and great guides. Here is their link to check the offers they have.

Isla del Cano is the best destination in Costa Rica for snorkeling and diving with incredible schools of fish, manta rays, reef sharks, white fin sharks, octopus and many turtles. Coral is also beautiful but not as colorful as in the Caribbean coast. The tour starts early in the morning with the rendezvous at 7am at the beach of Drake Bay. Then you will be taken to the first snorkeling or diving near the Cano island after a 45 minutes boat ride. From there you will be having a short snack at the beach provided by the tour guide. The beach is lovely and you have a viewpoint accessible 10 minutes on an easy trail. After that you will be going for the 2nd snorkeling or diving reef that will take circa 40 minutes. After that you will be taken to a lovely beach near Drake bay where you can have a drink and lunch or then you will have lunch directly at Drake Bay. At this beach you can have a swim or try to find some parrots or toucans. You will be back to Drake bay itself at 1.30 – 2 pm.

Then the tour of teh stations at Corcovado Park is the highlight that you must do here. You will usually go to Sirena and San Pedrillo stations, with the chance to overnight in one of them or then near the station in the North called Los Planes. All in the jungle near the wildlife so its a unique experience! The biggest aim is to spot as many animals as possible, namely crocodiles, spider monkeys and the very rare tapir, a species of ant eater mixed with an hippo. Usually they sleep during the day, so its rare to see them active, but most important you will find them ẃith your guide. Corcovado is also the best place to find the pumas in the wild but its really hard as they are actually quite in the hiding, so no luck for me this time. In terms of schedule, you will start even eralier at 6am at the beach and from there its a one hour boat ride to Sirena station. After a couple hours hike there, you will take the boat again to San Pedrillo where you will also do a couple hours hike until you get to a waterfall. From the waterfall you will either return back to Drake bay or overnight at San Pedrillo or Los Planes station.

On the 2nd day, depending on where you are , you will do a wonderful rainforest hike to the stunning Capi Capi waterfalls or then do a rainforest walk near the station to spot some wildlife. I did the waterfall variant and it was just unforgettable as most trails were empty, the waterfall was scenic paradise and you can enjoy the nature at its best. The lodge near Los Planes is also extremely beautiful with lovely grounds. All meals are included in the tour as there are no restaurants on the park.

Very important is that you travel as light as possible for theses hikes , taking only clothing essentials, toiletries, insect repellent, water shoes (you will cross several rivers), dry bag, a torch light and good water proof hiking shoes plus a rain jacket. I hope you love Corcovado park and Drake Bay as much as I did!

BAJOS DEL TORO WATERFALL AND BLUE FALLS

Two of the most incredible hidden gems in Costa Rica are located in a remote road between San José and la Fortuna in the quaint village of Bajos del Toro – the majestic Catarata del Toro and the nearby Blue Falls.

Catarata del Toro is one of the highest waterfalls in Costa Rica at almost 100 meters high. Its located in an ancient volcano crater that gives the waterfall area a beautiful rounded shape and colorful stones. Its accessible by road from either San José or la Fortuna in around 1h30 minutes across scenic roads with volcano views, valleys and rainforest with a last part in a winding road with some potholes and many turns, what makes driving here a great adventure!

The entrance to Catarata del Toro is very well marked by the road with a large parking place. The entrance fee to Catarata del Toro is 12 US$ and the value shows itself just after a few meters into the trail as you will have a splendid view of the waterfall and the crater. After that its a moderate hike of 45 minutes down mostly in the rainforest with even some stone steps in between with great views along the path. Once you are at the waterfall you can get really close but you shouldn’t swim as the water does have some volcano properties and the current to the river can be strong. The hike back is more tough as its almost always up but after such a great experience perfectly enjoyable!

The Blue Falls are literally next door to Catarata del Toro and are a absolute wonder you can’t miss in Costa Rica. The name itself alraedy reveals why the Blue Falls are such a magical place – the water is really of a celestial blue and even when it rains it has a stunning bright green color. Its entrance is only a 5 minutes walk from the Catarata del Toro, but before you need to buy the ticket at the Catarata del Toro office. Its a mere 10 US$ for a great hike. After you pass a waterduct there is a trail taking you to a crossroad where you will the walt to the 3 top highlights : Catatara Celestial (Celestial falls), Pozo Azul (Blue Pool) and Catarata Las Gemelas (Twins Falls). All are freachable within 30 minutes from this crossroad point in an easy hike but beware of the descent to the Blue Pool (Pozo Azul) as its more steep. Whilst you can swim at all of these spots, the Pozo Azul are is the most perfect place. Definitely one of the most unforgettable experiences for me despite some train the morning when I did this hike, but well its a rainforest!

A last reference to the accomodation where I decided to stay: a lovely samll house next to catarata del Toro for 50 US$ – very cozy , beautiful wooden interior and close to the waterfalls. For a meal at night, I strongly recommend that you go to Bajos del Toro village and try the soda restaurant Alma Libre. They have excellent typical food! Here I had one of the best meals in Costa Rica!

RIO CELESTE

A trip to Costa Rica’s Rio Celeste needs to include the incredible azure blue or green waters of this river on the west side of Lake Arenal. Its is very well located close to the road connection between La fortuna / Arenal going to southern or western Costa Rica and is totally worth the small detour.

Its blue and green waters come from the mineral deposited by the Tenorio volcano in the area , making the visual effect quite extraordinary just like at the Blue Falls I mentioned earlier near Cataratas del Toro / Poás Volcano. Unfortunately its no longer a hidden secret in Costa Rica, so Rio Celeste will feel much more crowded that the Blue Falls. And you can not swim here. But you can do it further down the river and the experience is truly unique to visit the waterfall and pool here even without swimming.

Entrance fee to Rio Celeste costs 12 US$ per person and 5 US $ to park nearby on one of the several parking spots. You will not need a guide for the hike as it a fairly straightforward trail with well marked paths. Plan at least 2 hours 30 minutes for the full park hike that will be moderate difficulty. The first part of the hike takes you through the rainforest and some bridges to a cross road after almost 45 minutes, with some steep parts. from there its a 40 minutes return hike to the Los Tenideros and bubbles pool and a mere 20 minutes return hike to the waterfall of Rio Celeste. Its feels like a million stairs on the way up!

The waterfall is of course postcard perfect and it looks just amazing like in any touristic prospect but perhaps not as blue as some picture it. And because you are in a rain forest, it might be raining most of the day so the water will become slightly green instead of blue only. Anyway its still an incredible color! The best part to see the color difference of the “normal” river versus the one that contains the volcano minerals is at Los Tenideros, where both rivers join. Its just an incredible contrast!

Rio Celeste is of course a wonder of Costa Rica and deservedly a top thing to do in Costa Rica for any traveller looking to see the best of the country. How to get to Rio Celeste its by car from the area of La Fortuna / Arenal or Liberia/ Western coast of Costa Rica. If you don’t have a car then its better to take a tour with one of the many operators as bus connections to Rio Celeste will be tricky. Very important to know that the last entry to the Tenorio volcano park ist at 2pm, so arrive earlier. The Entry ticket can be bough directly at the park entry .

LLANOS DE CORTÉS WATERFALL

One of the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica is Llanos de Cortés, as its a very wide waterfall and has a large waterfall pool where you can swim, making it very family friendly and a great place to enjoy in a protected area of the forest. Its location makes it also a eays to come here. The best way to get to Llanos de Cortés is by car, following a small gravel road next to the highway to Puntarenas coming from Liberia. From here its a 10 minute drive to the entrance. The entry cost is 7 US $ and its payable at the small booth. Then its a short drive to the parking lot . You can also come by bus as there is a stoop nearby but you would need to walk down the road. Final option is taking a tour to this very popular area. The hike is only 10 minutes from the parking lot to the waterfall.

The waterfall area is wonderful with a small sandy beach and the river on the left side. Then you can either just go for a swim or go the the viewpoint above the waterfall that is located 10 minutes above the waterfall via some wooden stairs and a small trail..

The other nice adventure option in Llanos de Cortés is to go the small nature pool on the left of the waterfall a small path that takes 5 minutes, to have a great jump into a quite large pool. Beware of some locals trying to offer you a tour of the area, as they just want go get some money for things that you can find for yourself. I had the best jump opportunity here, really loved the thrill as its a good 4-5 meters high but fairly safe.

What I really liked here most was that pool and the viewpoint scenic area of Lanos del Cortés as it was less crowded than the main waterfall pool. Very important to know that the last entry to the waterfall ist at 3.30pm, so arrive earlier to stay at least one hour. Definitely one of the highlights of my trip to Costa Rica.

LA PAZ WATERFALLS AND GARDENS

La Paz waterfall gardens nature park is just a place that could be taken out of paradise with its lush garden, animal sanctuary and amazing waterfalls in a great trail easy to follow. The location is convenient if you are visiting the nearby Poas Volcano and then on route to La Fortuna and Bajos del Toro. How to get to La Paz waterfall gardens ideally is by car but they also offer shuttle services or you can come on a tour. Its circa 1 hour 30 minutes from San José city center and only about one hour from the airport.

The entry cost is 44 US $ per person but well justified by the 5 cascades and the whole local animals that can be seen here. There is also a hotel here that is one of the most renowned hotels in Costa Rica called Peace Lodge. You should plan at least 2 hours to see most of the animal sanctuaries and then the 5 waterfalls

MARINO BALLENA PARK AND UVITA BEACH

Uvita Beach is the most incredible beach in the Pacific coast with its large beach, palm trees and ocean blue. But the special perspective here is from the sky as you can see a whale tail shaped beach and you can walk all the way down the tip of the “whale tail” on low tide that is part of the Marino Ballena national park.

How to get to Uvita beach is by car or bus from any other major Costa Rica Pacific coast town , ideally from Manuel Antonio or Dominical that are the closest ones. The ride from Manuel Antonio will be around 1 hour, whilst from Dominical it will be a mere 30 minutes. From the main road to Uvita, follow the sign with Marino Ballena park Uvita sector. After that its a mere 5 minutes drive until you reach a dead end road with a small parking lot right at the entrance that costs 3 US $.

The entrance cost to the Marino Ballena park is only 6 US $. Then its a good 10 minutes walk in a rain forest setting until you reach the beach on the southern side of the park. If you have a drone this is the perfect spot to make some footage and take some great aerial shots of the beach and the “whale tail”. Very important to know that the tides schedules do influence if you can see the whole beach or not. It will be usually between 10am to 2pm. In any other timing you can’t even cross to the reef part of the beach on foot .

The walk to that last part of the Uvita beach it’s an easy 30 minutes walk. The only cahllenge is that you need to do it without shade under a stromg sin, so make sure you take a hat/ cappie and put lots of sun protector! From the reef area you can take some nice shots of both sides of Uvita beach and again use the opportunity to use a drone. Drones are overall allowed in Costa Rica unless you are near airports and in some national parks like Manuel Antonio or Corcovado. Nevertheless you have plenty of places to use your drone across whole of Costa Rica.

On the return hike you can enjoy some shade and have a cooling swim before you leave the park. Good to know is that there are 2 major whale watching periods in this area- a smaller whale migration in January – February and a much larger whale groups in July / August. Several tours depart directly from the beach in the morning. Note that you need to book the tour before entering the park with one of the several operators right near the entrance. Dolphins can also usually be spotted here and they also offer snorkeling trips to Isla del Cano for snorkeling. One of my best experiences in Costa Rica by far!

NAUYACA WATERFALLS

Nauyaca is clearly the crown jewel of all waterfalls in Costa Rica, with a tow tiered very wide waterfall dropping to a wide pool where you can swim. If you are in the Uvita or Manuel Antonio area its definitely an experience you can’t miss!

The journey to get there is already a great experience in itself. The best way to get to Nauyaca is by car in circa 1 hour 15 from Manuel Antonio but only 15 minutes from Dominical and 30 minutes from Uvita. The other option is to take the bus to San Isidro from any of the towns , meaning that depending on where you are located you will have different schedules, so check them at the local information center or at your hotel. The bus will drop you at the Nayuaca waterfalls ticket office by the main road, where you need to buy your ticket to the waterfalls before you go to the hiking trail. The ticket costs 10 US $ and the waterfalls are open from 7am to 3.30pm, with the last entry being at 2pm as the ticket office will close by then, so make sure you get there before. The ticket office is very easy to spot from the main road.

From the Nauyaca waterfalls ticket office to the parking lot its a 5 minutes drive by car and from there you can start the hike of the 4km trail, that is wide but at times steeps and rocky. Bring a large bottle of water to this hike as its taking only 1 hour 15 minutes but it will be quite hot. (note that you can also do this trail with their 4×4 jeep tour for an extra fee that leave every hour until 12pm and returning 2 hours 30 minutes later). The hike is quite nice and with good views along the way.

As the road continues upward, you will se the entrance to the waterfalls on your left side. From there you know its around 15 minutes until you get to the foot of the Nauyaca waterfalls. Before you get to the final steps, there is an area with showers and toilets that you can use. At the bottom of the steps you will have the first glimpse of the waterfalls and the “beach” on the rocks where you can lay down a towel.

You can also continue to the other side of the river and do a short hike to the 2nd tier of the waterfalls. The best experience for me at Nauyaca waterfalls is that you can swim to the bottom of the waterfalls and enjoy a nice spa massage under them. The hike back was actually quite relaxed and easier as its then mostly downhill, so doable in one hour.

PUNTA UVA AND COCLES BEACH

Probably one of the best beaches in Costa Rica, Playa Punta Uva beats off the charts in being a secluded bay, beautiful blue waters and that coconut tree that just makes any picture here as perfect as it gets. And the nearby Cocles beach stands out by its long white sand stretch, great vibes for surfing and beach sports.

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica has some of the top beaches in the whole country and Punta Uva deserves to be ranked as one of the best beaches – its perfect half bay shape, clear blue waters and those coconut trees right by the ocean. How to get to Punta Uva is usually by car or then using a bike to cycle there as its a mre 15 minutes from Puerto Viejo, Depending on where you are staying the fun factor will be higher as you pass by the roads lined up with tropical coconut trees, the colorful wooden houses and the several narrow bridges. I stayed in Manzanillo and absolutely loved the roads leading to Cocles and Punta Uva. In Punta Uva you also have several cafés / restaurants to relax, a swing on a tree and the most photogenic coconut tree in Costa Rica! Punta Uva also offers a nice snorkeling near shallow reefs but I prefer the Cahuita national park much more in this case.

From Punta Uva to Cocles its a mere 10 minutes by car or 5 minutes from Puerto Viejo. Despite being much larger and crowded than Punta Uva or Cahuita beach, I really liked the photogenic Cocles islet on one side of the beach and the Gandoca river that flows into the Pacific Ocean on the other side.

You can also do some good surfing here and I really liked playing some beach volleyball in the late afternoon. If you stay after sunset, you will see some bonfire at the beach with some locals and even foreigners alike juggling some fire torches. I think the great beach vibes at Cocles really made me like it as much as Punta Uva even if quite different!

Hope this travel list with the top things to do in Costa Rica travel guide gives you a very detailed information to make your journey to Costa Rica an unforgettable experience.

Check my other posts about Costa Rica for useful travel trips, logistics, itinerary suggestions and a travel guide to Costa Rica and even getting to the nearby paradise of Bocas del Toro in Panama. Enjoy!

FROM COSTA RICA TO BOCAS DEL TORO IN PANAMA AND TOP ATTRACTIONS

Know how to plan your trip from
Costa Rica to Panama’s Bocas del Toro including useful travel tips and top things to do in Bocas del Toro

theinsidetraveller View All

My name is Renato Azambujo. I live currently in Hamburg, but was born and raised in sunny capital of Portugal, Lisbon. I also lived in Switzerland for some years, before settling in Germany for the last years.

I am huge passionate about travel, photographer and a global explorer, always looking to the next destination.

I have so far visited over 70 countries across the 5 continents, because I really love knowing about new places, interact with different cultures and get to know myself better after each journey.

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