Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and ecologically diverse countries on the planet, with absolutely no shortage of things to see and do. But with so many fabulous options on offer, it can feel overwhelming and leave one unsure where to start or fear missing something. Firstly, accept that unless you are planning to spend months here, you cannot possibly see everything in one visit. There is too much, too many wonderful sights and attractions to every possibly get through in a single vacation. But if one vacation is all you have for now, here is a list of the top eight things to do for your first visit.
- Arenal Volcano
If you journey around 90 kilometers northwest of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, you’ll find the Arenal Volcano. Over 1,600 metres high and boasting stunning scenery at any time of day, but particularly sunrise and sunset, it’s hard not to be impressed by this beauty. It’s been the most active volcano in Costa Rica until the past few years, with scientists believing it is now entering its resting phase. Close by, and you’ll find several lookouts for those perfect photo opportunities and the Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa, ideal for relaxing amidst the glorious scenery after your adventurous day.
- La Fortuna Waterfall
Nearby Arenal Volcano, you’ll find its dormant neighbor, Chato Volcano, and at its base, the majestic La Fortuna Waterfall. Fed by the Arenal River, these falls stretch 70 metres high and are not to be missed. Journey a little further up the river, and you’ll find the area also boasts jungle tours and an eco-zoo, the Arenal Hanging Bridges, Los Lagos Hot Springs, and of course, Arenal Lake, the largest lake in Costa Rica. For the more adventurous, be sure to try out white water rafting here too.
- Palo Verde National Park
Located within the Tempisque Conservation Area, the park is not only important for ecological study and protecting wildlife, but it is also a fascinating place to visit. Here you can see a dry tropical forest, beautiful limestone ridges, marshes, floodplains, and seasonal pools. Learn all about the park’s ongoing mission to preserve these precious natural treasures and keep the balance of the ecosystem safe from the intrusion of civilisation. While you’re here, do not miss the nearby Barra Honda National Park and the magnificent limestone caves you can wander through and be marveled by.
- Rincón de la Vieja Volcano National Park
Do not miss this one. Nestled between two active and one dormant volcano in Costa Rica’s Guancaste Province, this scenery has to be seen to be believed. The lush jungle and high stretching jagged peaks punctuated by crystal blue waters and crashing white waterfalls is nothing short of amazing.
- Corcovado National Park
For those of you now saying, “another national park on this list,” trust me. Yes, Costa Rica has many national parks. But with very good reason. And Corcovado is its biggest and best. If you’re a fan of wildlife, this is the place to see it. Biodiversity at its very best, and even National Geographic, was stunned by the array of species living in incredible harmony in this place.
- National Theatre of Costa Rica
For those who enjoy a culturally fabulous evening out, do yourself a favor and check out the historic National Theatre, located in the heart of San Jose. First opened in 1897, it has been host to countless epic performances over the years, and the building itself is brimming with architectural beauty.
- Monteverde Cloud Forest
Take a walk in the clouds by heading to the Cordillera de Tilarán in the provinces of Puntarenas and Alajuela. Nowhere else on earth can you experience anything quite like this. Six different ecological zones and 90% virgin forest all in one breathtaking place. The plant and wildlife varieties found here are so incredible, it isn’t just tourists that flock to this attraction, but also thousands of scientists every year.
- Mercado Central (Central Market)
No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a visit to the largest market in San Jose. Be amazed by the variety of food and items on display and become intoxicated by the delicious aromas of spices and local cuisine. Stroll through in relaxation and wonder, assured that unlike most markets worldwide, the vendors here would not harass you into buying things you don’t want or need. Even local Costa Ricans come here for their regular shopping. It’s a fun, festive, and chilled atmosphere and is not to be missed.