Costa Rica is the most popular destination in Central America attracting approximately two million annual visitors. Some come to explore rainforests and embrace nature. Others indulge in one of the luxury getaways to Costa Rica. If you’re looking to have a more in-depth experience away from the crowds, check out these fabulous off-the-beaten track places to visit in Costa Rica…
The capital city San Jose receives enormous numbers of visitors through the international airport. But only a handful stick around to experience the metropolitan city that oozes with Spanish colonial heritage. Mountains and plateaus surround the attractive capital. Museums and galleries including the National Museum and Casa Amarilla are in the city centre. Throw in world-class restaurants, lots of parks and green public spaces and the romance. So rather than follow the other tourists, why not stick around for a night or two and see what this city has to offer?
Santa Rosa National Park
Santa Rosa National Park sits in northwest Costa Rica. The protected area consists of thick jungle spanning for miles over the verdant landscape. Jungle trails lead in all directions to isolated beaches. Monkeys watch curiously from the branches above. Keep your eyes open for the hundreds of colourful tropical birds singing in the canopy. We recommend getting a guide. Guides are experts in the jungle and can give you a much deeper experience than visiting alone.
Samara lies on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast just a few hours from Liberia. The calm waters provide the perfect marine environment for coral to thrive. Book yourself a vacation rental next to the beach, and head out in the cool morning air and go snorkelling. Unlike some of the other nearby beaches, Samara is practically deserted. And you’ll feel like you have the place to yourself. We recommend Samara if you want a slice of luxury and privacy next to the beach.
Liberia is the gateway to the Nicoya Peninsula and a short distance from the Nicaragua border. Acting as a popular stopover for travellers, the historical town has developed a robust tourist infrastructure. Stroll through the cobblestone streets in the historic quarter and enjoy the elegance of the colonial buildings. Or embrace the other side of Liberia’s past: Its cowboy culture. Liberia was the cowboy capital of Costa Rica and offers a glimpse into this often romanticised part of history. Several museums in the centre are dedicated to cowboy culture and memorabilia. You can even take day trips to nearby ranches. Or head to the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano.
The small coastal town sits on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast towards the southern border with Panama. Long stretches of pristine coastline curve around the gentle crystal clear water. Only a handful of tourists head to this off-the-radar beach. You can wake up and have the sand to yourself in the morning. Then later take advantage of the water sports including sea fishing, kayaking and snorkelling. Puerto Viejo is also a favourite spot for honeymooners who want to soak up a slice of luxury without the hordes of tourists. Pro tip: Some parts of Puerto Viejo are transforming into a backpacker hotspot. As such, more bars and late night restaurants are opening giving the potential for noise. Double check the location of your vacation rental or resort before booking if you want privacy and seclusion.
Dominical is a laid-back beach town on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. The vibe here is chilling out on the beach, relaxing in the bar with a cold beer and relaxing. Even more appealing are the enormous waves rolling in from the Pacific. But the region gets fewer surfers than other more popular places along the coast. This gives you more chance to soak up the environment and have a private getaway while hitting the waves. Tourists can also take a day trip to Hacienda Baru Wildlife Refuge and go hiking in the rainforest. Both sloths and monkeys live inside the protected environment. Whale watching tours are also available at certain times of the year.
If you’re a surfer, you’ll know Nosara. If you’re not a surfer, you’ve probably never heard of the place. The small beach town has some of the best waves in Central America and a thriving backpacker scene. But step away from the surfing areas, and you’ll find an off-the-radar destination catering towards health and wellness. Few people know about Nosara’s reputation as a yoga hotspot in Costa Rica. You can find several retreats to recuperate in the most serene environments. Just imagine waking up to singing tropical birds surrounded by lush jungle every morning. The region also has both turtle nesting sites and horseback tours.
Iraza Volcano is Costa Rica’s most active volcano near San Jose in Cartago. The ruins of older settlements destroyed in an eruption remain in the area. Almost all tourists visit Cartago on a day trip from the capital and only spend a few hours here. Instead, book yourself a night or two. Wake up early and explore the historic centre and ruins before the tour buses arrive. Or for a more off-the-beaten-path experience, head out to the neighbouring coffee plantations and catch some of the local wildlife too!
Where to visit in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a popular destination and can feel crowded. Instead check out the places recommended here for secluded beaches, yoga retreats and exploring volcanic ruins. It’s difficult to find entirely tourist-free destinations. But with a bit of planning, you can easily feel like you have the place to yourself! Enjoy your under-the-radar trip to Costa Rica!
Written by guest blogger Carlo Cretaro.