Costa Rica Top Travel Destinations

In terms of biodiversity, Costa Rica is one of the wealthiest countries in the world. Although the country is very small, occupying only 0.25 percent of world’s landmass, it contains nearly 5 percent of earth’s biodiversity with the largest percentage of world’s protected areas. Costa Rica has a diverse collection of travel destinations and for the first-timers; it can be a really difficult job to choose which destinations to visit.

From stunning white sandy beaches to majestic volcanoes, pristine lakes to green mountains, dense jungles to culturally cool cities, Costa Rica has something for almost every kind of travelers. If you have a very tight schedule and want to explore only the top destinations in Costa Rica, consider the following five destinations listed below.

Arenal Volcano

Rick LeBlanc

Arenal Volcano is the most active volcano in Central America and on a global scale, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. This is the perfect travel destination for adrenaline and nature lovers as its surroundings boast of stunning waterfalls, striking lakes, marvelous caves, beautiful forests, and traditional towns like rambling La Fortuna, shown above with the volcano looking down. The central park is to the right side of me in the image.

Formed about 7,000 years back from the adjacent Chato Volcano (now extinct), Arenal’s latest eruption began in 1968 with a massive explosion which left some 87 people dead and three small villages buried. The eruption continued until July 2010 and since then, seismic activity has decreased significantly, however, scientists say it’s still active and just sleeping. Although tourists are unable to see lava flow down its sides (not sure if that is a positive or a negative), there are many things to do and see around the volcano including horseback, whitewater rafting, and rainforest hikes.  We concentrated on the rainforest and volcano hikes.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Rick LeBlanc

About 132 km from San Jose, Manuel Antonio National Park features some beautiful and expansive white sandy beaches and an evergreen rainforest which contains some 184 species of birds and 109 species of mammals.  And did I mention the thieving raccoons? Be sure to watch your lunch on the beach!

The forest is home for the adorable and rare squirrel monkeys, iguanas, sloths, and millions of colorful little crabs. Manuel Antonio National Park includes 12 little islands just off the coast; which are very often visited by dolphins and, every now and then, migrating whales can be observed as well.  All these attributes make it one of the most visited travel destinations in Costa Rica.

San Jose

National Theatre of Costa Rica. Rick LeBlanc

San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, boasts of a number of popular tourist attractions and things to do. When you are done with visiting the beautiful sandy beaches, majestic volcanoes and rain forests around the country, the city of San Jose will give you the flavor of Costa Rica’s culture, food, history and much more. We only stayed one night in the capital, but we greatly enjoyed our guided tour of the National Theatre of Costa Rica, which harkened back to grand, more prosperous times in the country's past.


Rick LeBlanc

My favorite spot in Costa Rica is tiny Cahuita, perched on the often overlooked Caribbean coast of Costa Rica. With its proximity to the Caribbean and influx of Jamaican fisherman and banana plantation workers over 100 years or more, it retains a rich Creole culture, still highly visible in the ambiance of the town and its cuisine. Cahuita is renowned for its variations of grilled chicken, dessert crepes and sandy beaches. The town also rests on the doorstep to Cahuita National Park which is just a short stroll south. Admission is by donation.

The park includes a 600 acre (242 ha) protected reef off the coast and home to some 35 species of coral which in turn go on with a selection of marine species, including: crustaceans, octopi, urchins, barracudas, more than 125 species of fishes and diverse types of sharks. A pleasant trail follows the shoreline, where it is possible to observe a variety of wildlife, from cute but light fingered Capuchin monkeys to deadly Yellow Vipers. (We would never have spotted the vipers on the trunk of a tree without the assistance of our guide. The monkeys are much more extroverted!)