This objective list of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica is compiled from ICT, SINAC and MINAE statistics, talking to people in the travel industry, and looking around while we’re there. These aren’t necessarily the best places in Costa Rica, just the most popular.
San José—More people are taking advantage of the international airport in Liberia, and the hotels and B&Bs in smaller Central Valley towns like Alajuela each year, but San José still gets more visitors than any other place in Costa Rica.
Manuel Antonio is the single most popular National Park beach in Costa Rica.
Playas Tamarindo and Jacó are a tossup for the most popular surfing beach, but Tamarindo is coming on strong, and Jacó is trying to keep up.
Playa Montezuma/Mal País is the most popular “undiscovered” beach destination in Costa Rica.
When voting with dollars the beach resorts of the Nicoya Peninsula command the vast majority of international tourist traffic and income and are continuing to grow.
Most people familiar with Costa Rica would immediately think of Arenal’s lava flows if asked for the most popular volcanic destination, but it’s third on the list. Irazú and Poás are both the most visited volcanoes and the most popular National Parks in the country.
Corcovado and Chirripó draw most of the trekkers in Costa Rica. You don’t necessarily even need a tent. Corcovado has some limited bunk space at the back country ranger stations, and Chirripó has a refugio system that includes 60 bunks near the summit.
Monteverde—This private reserve provides the easiest access to the cloud forests, and an infrastructure of guides and resources to help you make the most of your visit. Like Manuel Antonio, it has gained tremendously in popularity, but has much less chance of being loved to death. Monteverde is much larger, the cool, wet, windy weather means shorter visits, and as a private reserve it has better funding than most of the National Parks. Despite the growth in tourism in the surrounding community, a few hundred yards off the main loop (el triangulo) you’re unlikely to see anyone else on the trail.
Tabacón resort is the most developed and popular hot spring in Costa Rica.
Tortuguero National Park is the premier destination to observe sea turtle nesting. The canals and estuaries are also prime locations for nature cruises, canoeing, and kayaking.
The canals of Tortuguero, wetlands of Caño Negro, and mangroves of the Damas estuary adjacent to Manuel Antonio are the most popular places to sit back relax and let the boatman be your guide to bird and wildlife spotting.
Owing to its splendor, and location next to the highway from Barva to San Miguel, the waterfall popularity champion is La Paz.