Use the links below to browse Costa Rica attractions by region.
Museo Nacional De Costa Rica (San José)
Housed in a former army barracks that saw its share of action during the 1948 civil war, Costa Rica's most important museum highlights the country's history from pre-Columbian times to present day. The courtyard also offers a wonderful view of the city.
Museo del Oro Pre-Columbino, or Gold Museum (San José)
Home to over 1600 gold objects, this museum hosts the largest pre-Columbian gold collection in Central America. The museum, located underneath the Plaza de la Cultura, explains the origin, meaning and fabrication of these gold pieces.
Teatro Nacional, or National Theater (San José)
Considered one of San José's most impressive buildings, the National Theater boasts a neo-classical structure and the walls depict 19th century Costa Rican life. The National Symphony still plays here weekly but visitors can also see the theater during the day by visiting its café.
Museo de Arte Costarricense, or Costa Rican Art Museum (San José)
This small museum and sculpture garden houses a collection of contemporary Costa Rican art, with pieces by some of the country's most famous artists. The bas-relief on the second floor is of special note, as it depicts the history of the country from pre-Columbian times.
Museo de los Niños, or Children's Museum (San José)
Housed in a former prison, this museum has interactive exhibits for kids of all ages. The adults in the group can also enjoy the old prison cells that depict prison life or the gallery of fine art by Costa Rican artists.
Mercado Central, or Central Market (San José)
This block-long maze of alleys and stalls is primarily a place for Ticans to do their shopping, though it lacks the pigs and chickens that normally populate a typical Central American market. There are a few souvenir stands but the market is more of a place to see a slice of traditional San José life.
Museo del Jade, or Jade Museum (San José)
This popular museum is home to the largest collection of American jade in the world. Most are pendants of animal and human figures and there's a fantastic display explaining how pre-Columbian people carved this very hard stone.
Parque Nacional (San José)
This large, leafy park offers shade and a place to rest during a busy day in the capital. The centerpiece of the park is a monument depicting the 1856 battle against the American invader, William Walker.
Las Ruinas, or The Ruins (Cartago City)
When Spanish settlers moved inland in the 16th century to escape the heat and pirates of the coast, they settled in Cartago and built a church on this site. After losing their battles with earthquakes for 400 years, they finally stopped rebuilding the church at Las Ruinas after the massive earthquake of 1910. Las Ruinas is the remnant of that unfinished church.
Lankester Botanical Gardens (Paraiso, Cartago)
Home to 600 of the over 1,400 orchid species in Costa Rica, these gardens are a perfect day trip from San Jose. Considered to be one of the world's foremost orchid collections, the gardens are divided into different micro-habitats to show a variety of flora. Come between January and April during the blooming season for the best show.
Climb up to the five craters of this volcano early in the morning and you could be rewarded with a view of both oceans. If it's too cloudy for that, the beautiful lunar landscape and the green lake in the main crater are spectacular.
Guayabo National Monument (Turrialba)
At the base of Turrialba Volcano are the ruins of a town that was abandoned around 1400 AD. The site is quite small compared to other archaeological digs in Central America, but it is the most significant in Costa Rica. A guide will take you through the site where you can still see well-paved walkways and aqueducts.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
As you travel northeast from San José to the Caribbean Coast, you'll pass through this important park, created to protect the area once the highway was built. It's home to over 6,500 species and has beautiful hiking trails where you can view beautiful rivers and waterfalls in a cloud forest.
La Selva Biological Station (Heredia)
This working biological research site is run by a consortium of international interests but it also lets tourists visit their workspace. You have to sign up for tours here, but the naturalist guides are so good that you'll probably spot more wildlife here than any other place. Large groups can even sign up to tag along with a scientist for a few hours.
Dr. María Eugenia Bozzoli Museum of Indigenous Cultures (Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui, Heredia)
The influence of the indigenous people is felt less in Costa Rica than in other Central America countries. But you can still learn about the history of these people at this museum which showcases artifacts from all tribes and the neighboring garden grows the medicinal herbs traditionally used by these tribes.
Barva de Heredia (Heredia)
Considered to be a national monument, this village retains the feeling of Spanish colonial times. An old white stucco church is in the central park and the streets are lined with adobe shops with Spanish-tile roofs.
La Paz Waterfall Gardens (Heredia)
There are five spectacular waterfalls in this garden which also house a large butterfly farm and hundreds of hummingbirds. The cloud forest surrounding the garden gives it a mystical feel as you walk down metal stairways into a gorge to view the falls.
Café Britt Farm (Heredia)
Home of one of the most famous coffee brands in the country, this farm offers tours presented by professional actors, adding a little Disney to your coffee. While a visit to the actual plantation is a separate tour, a visit to the farm shows you the main processing plant and how to distinguish a good cup of coffee from bad.
Before heading out to the many national parks and wildlife refuges, stop at this educational center and nature park to learn about what you will see in the wilderness. This park, run by the National Biodiversity Institute explains the country's special biology and natural wonders.
Alajuela Cathedral (Alajuela City)
Mass is held daily for the country's massive Catholic population at this interesting cathedral. It is a neoclassical structure with a white marble base and a huge red, metal dome, the church is decorated with local agricultural motifs.
World of Snakes Serpentarium (Grecia, Alajuela)
This is your chance to see a bushmaster snake...on your terms. Over 50 species of snake from around the world are here and easily viewed in terrariums.
Cathedral de Mercedes (Grecia, Alajuela)
This red metal church was built from imported Belgium pieces in the 1890's and stands today as an example of Gothic church architecture.
This artisan town is best known for the ornate oxcarts that are handcrafted here and sold throughout the country. A highly visible symbol of Costa Rica's history, the vibrantly painted crafts are made in various sizes for souvenir shopping.
Doka Estate (Alajuela)
Spend some time at a working coffee plantation learning how Costa Rica produces one of its greatest exports. Doka Estate has been producing coffee for over 70 years and offers tours from the field to the roaster, and even lets you sample some of its brew.
This volcano has one of the largest active craters in the world; a one mile wide pit of steaming fumaroles and bubbling lakes. There is no vegetation up here but the slopes host cloud and elfin forests along its slopes. You can also visit Laguna Botos, a turquoise lake in an extinct crater.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
This is one of the most important wildlife sanctuaries in the world, with thousands of different plant and animal species making this cloud forest its home. Hiking, horseback riding and canopy tours are just some of the ways to explore this surreal environment.
Ranario de Monteverde, or Frog Pond of Monteverde
Instead of going to a nightclub, spend your evening at the Frog Pond where you can view (and hear) over 25 frog and toad species. A bilingual biologist/tour guide explains the history of each species as you walk through the terrariums.
Santa Elena Reserve (Monteverde)
Both Santa Elena and Monteverde share a similar environment and actually border on each other, so there are very similar plant and wildlife species here. The big difference is that the community-run Santa Elena Reserve is much less crowded.
This volcano is constantly erupting, throwing glowing boulders, ash and steam from its cone on a daily basis. While clouds obscure the view of the summit for hours at a time, the patient visitor will be rewarded with an amazing show of nature's power.
Tabacón Hot Springs (Arenal)
One of the fringe benefits of volcanoes is the existence of natural thermal springs. Tabacón Hot Springs is a luxurious spa built on one of these springs with a variety of pools, waterfalls and a perfect view of the volcano.
La Catarata de la Fortuna (Arenal)
This 70 meter waterfall is a popular attraction near La Fortuna. A hiking trail takes you to the top of the falls where you can watch the water tumble through the forested canyon. You can also take a trail down to the swimming hole at the bottom of the falls.
Formed when a hydroelectric dam was built to supply water and electricity to Guanacaste, Lake Arenal is popular for its sailing, windsurfing and sportfishing. Warm winds and a temperate climate with views of the volcano make this a very relaxing place to visit.
Stalagmites, stalactites and limestone, oh my! If you like tight spaces and a moist environment, a visit to these caves are worth it. Undiscovered until the 1960s, the caverns are home to bats, cave fish and stunning formations.
Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
This park is well off the beaten path but worth the effort. It's a huge, protected wetlands that also serves as an important migratory route for birds and wildlife.
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Rincón de la Vieja National Park
There are two craters to this volcano and the smaller one is the main attraction. Walk through scrublands filled with geysers and fumaroles up the crater side to get a view of the entire Nicoya peninsula. Or climb to the top to see the lake in the middle of the crater.
Santa Rosa National Park
Part of an UNESCO World Heritage Site, Santa Rosa is home to ten distinct habitats that are home to birds, animals, turtles and more. This park also is one of the few remaining tropical dry forests in Central America whose sparse foliage make it easier to spot wildlife.
Marino las Baulos National Park
A recent addition to the national park system, Marino las Baulos de Guanacaste/Tamarindo provides protection for leatherback sea turtles who have come ashore to lay their eggs. The four beaches within the park are also great for surfing, swimming and other water sports.
This former fishing village has now become one of the most-developed tourist areas in the country. The weather is perfect, the beaches are pristine and the water is crystal blue. The town has something for everyone and the fishing and golfing opportunities are also a big attraction.
Ostional National Wildlife Refuge
Just north of surfing Playa Nosara, this refuge is an important breeding ground for Olive Ridley turtles. The best time to view the arribadas (mass nesting) at this refuge is between July and December.
Barra Honda National Park
This cave system wasn't discovered until the late 1960's and even today most of the 42 caves remain unexplored. Visitors are able to see the limestone formations in the one cave open to the public, but only with a guide, ropes and climbing gear.
This village is the center of traditional Costa Rican pottery. Many of the artisans use traditional methods to make these distinctive red and black pots and they welcome visitors to their houses/studios.
Palo Verde National Park
This park at the top of the Gulf of Nicoya is a birdwatchers' paradise. Bordered by a river that is home to migrating birds every year, the terrain is relatively flat and the trees are sparse, allowing better spotting opportunities.
Las Pumas Rescue Shelter
This is one of the few places that you can see a jaguar, ocelot or other cat species up close. This shelter, located in Palo Verde National Park, takes care of animals that have been injured or rescued from poachers.
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Manuel Antonio National Park
This park is what postcards are made of; lush greenery tumbling onto white sand beaches and clear blue water. This is also a great place to spot all species of monkeys living in the tropical lowland rainforest lining the beautiful beaches.
This fun-loving tourist town has gained the reputation of being a 'hippie' paradise, where budget travelers come to relax and take in the sights. At night, the bars and discos along the beach come alive with younger tourists looking for a good time.
Rainmaker Aerial Walkway
On your way between Jacó and Manuel Antonio, stop at this private reserve for an unusual canopy walk. There are a number of suspension bridges strung between giant tropical trees, making wildlife watching that much easier.
Carara Biological Reserve
On the road between Puntarenas City and Jacó, this reserve is a great place to go for a hike. This is a transition zone between the drier forests of the northwest and the humid southwest, and subsequently home to a number of different species, including different monkeys.
Manantial de Agua Viva Waterfall
Located near the Carara Biological Reserve, this 650-foot waterfall is accessible by horseback or by foot. The waterfall doesn't just fall in one straight line; it jumps over the rocks into different swimming pools, a refreshing respite after a long hike.
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Parque Reptilandia (Dominical)
With over 150 snake and reptile species in open air displays, this is one of the best places to see some animals you don't necessarily encounter in the forest. The park is also home to Central America's only Komodo dragon named Langka.
Nauyaca Waterfalls (Dominical)
Also named Santo Cristo Waterfalls, this huge two-tiered cascade has an inviting swimming pool at its base. It's accessible by hiking or horseback but it is on private land so booking tours is a must.
Marino Ballena National Park
This marine park protects several beaches and a recovering coral reef, making it an amazing place to swim and snorkel. It's named for the whales that can be seen from shore as they pass by with their young.
Caño Island Biological Reserve (Drake Bay)
Just a few miles offshore from Drake Bay, Caño Island is the ancient home of a pre-Columbian society, about which very little is known. There are some items of archaeological interest here but the real attraction is off the island. Clear waters teeming with coral reefs and marine life make this island a premier diving destination.
Corcovado National Park (Osa Peninsula)
Taking up over a third of the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado is home to more than ten ecosystems and hundreds of different species. Because of its distance from San José, the park remains less crowded than a similar park, Manuel Antonio.
Wilson Botanical Garden (San Vito)
Originally started as a garden, this is now a 365-acre research center with one of the largest palm tree collections in the world. Expert botanists and biologists double as guides to the hundreds of endangered flowers and the birds they attract.
Los Cusingos Neotropical Bird Sanctuary (San Isidro)
This bird sanctuary is the home of Central America's most-famous naturalist, the late Dr. Alexander Skutch. His home and the surrounding estate is run by the Tropical Sciences Center. Birdwatchers can catch a glimpse of hundreds of different species that reside here.
Chirripó National Park
It is more difficult to get to this park than it is to climb its main attraction, Cerro Chirripó, the tallest peak in the country. This isolation has kept the park undeveloped and only the most determined make the trip.
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Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
Stretching north from the Panamanian border, this refuge protects important nesting areas for turtles, manatees and crocodiles and caimans. Accessible only by water or dirt road, the best way to see this park is to walk along the beach.
Cahuita National Park
Named after the mahogany forests found here, the park also protects several other ecological zones and hundreds of species. The main attraction is the largest coral reef in the country, just meters off the main beaches.
Mariposario de Cahuites, or Cahuita Butterfly Garden
For a break from the beaches, snorkeling and mahogany forests, visit this gorgeous butterfly garden. Unlike many other butterfly farms, this one has a roof so you don't get wet during the rainy season.
Aviarios del Caribe Sloth Sanctuary (Cahuita)
This small lodge and nature center adopts and rehabilitates two- and three-toed sloths so they're able to live in the wild. There are about 20 sloths at the center at any time, including the resident star sloth, Buttercup.
Isla Uvita (Puerto Límon)
Best known for being Christopher Columbus' landing spot on his last trip to the New World, Isla Uvita is also an excellent diving and snorkeling site. Just a quick boat trip from Puerto Límon, this island also attracts surfers with its powerful left break.
Tortoguero National Park
This park's purpose is protect the beaches that are key nesting area for leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead sea turtles. Night time tours to witness the nesting or arribadas are only allowed with an official guide, to further protect the turtles from poachers. The park also encompasses a wide area of canals, lagoons and marshes that are home to a wide variety of wildlife.
Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge
Ecologically similar to Tortoguero, this isolated wildlife refuge is home to acres of rainforest and wetlands, and the animals that live and migrate through here. It's also a popular sportfishing destination, with mackerel, snapper and tarpon thriving in the lagoons, creeks and rivers.
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