A country that has given up having an army by constitution, which has the happiest citizens in the world. A nation that produces more than 99% of energy from renewable sources and that has 5% of the world’s biodiversity. Welcome to Costa Rica, pearl of Central America. If that's not enough, there are huge parks, lagoons, heavenly beaches, but also cities full of history and folklore.

Adventure seekers trek to volcanoes and zip-line descents, while those who want to spend some time on themselves can count on yoga retreats and spas. Slogan "pura vida" here is not just a saying, it's a way of life. In Costa Rica, the opportunities to immerse yourself in nature are endless: just choose from forest, beach or mountain, and you'll be rewarded with sightings of wild animals, flowering plants and spectacular views. Costa Rica was discovered by Columbus in 1502 during his fourth voyage, but the first penetration inland took place only in 1563 when J. Visquez de Coronado conquered the country and founded the city of Cartago, the country's capital until 1823.

There is another very interesting point in its history: in 1986, Escar Arias Sanchez, was elected President of Costa Rica, who launched a Central American peace plan. He would then receive the Nobel Prize for peace for this.History, sun, sea, nature, ecotourism, culture: all these are essential elements of Costa Rica: find out with us what are the 25 must-see stages.

  • San José
  • Cartago
  • Lankester Botanical Garden
  • Irazù Volcano
  • Turrialba
  • Guayabo National Monument
  • La Paz Nature Park
  • Manuel Antonio National Park
  • Puerto Viejo
  • Tortuguero
  • Ballena Marine National Park
  • Talamanca
  • Cerro Chirripò
  • Poas Volcano
  • Monteverde
  • Arenal Volcano
  • Isla del Coco
  • Corcovado
  • La Fortuna
  • Arenal Observatory Lodge
  • Venado Caves
  • Cahuita National Park
  • Montezuma
  • Santa Teresa
  • Quepos

San José

Before diving into the green, it's worth making a short stop in San José. In the capital, an agricultural centre that became prosperous in the 1950s through with the coffee trade, you can find small jewels, starting with the National Theatre (1891). Located on the fertile plateau of the Central Valley, at about 1100 metres above sea level, San José is located in the geographical centre of the country and plays the role of political and commercial heart of the state, after a long past that had seen it in the background compared to the coastal cities. One way to understand the city is to visit the local markets most important, the Mercado Central and Mercado Artisanal, where you can get in touch with the most authentic side of the town and its inhabitants. Mercado Central is the most important shopping square in the city, where you can find all the typical Costa Rican products in a real explosion of colours and scents and where you can taste the delicious fried plantains, part of the local culinary tradition. The Artisanal Market is a centre where artisans from all over the country gather to sell their works made with patience and experience.
To learn about history and traditions, the best choice is to visit the most important museums in the city, where you can admire the testimonies of millennial civilisations who have lived in this country. The tour must start with the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, which houses an immense amount of gold artefacts made by pre-Columbian civilisations and a very rich coin collection salvaged from Spanish galleons sunk off the coasts. Among other high spots, the Museo Nacional de Historia, housed in the old Spanish Fortress Bellavista.

Cartago

Also known as the "Old Metropolis” Cartago was the capital of Costa Rica until 1823, when it was decided to move the capital to San José. This is the most important region of the country in the field of colonial art: perhaps the best example is the Temple of Orosi (1743), a historical jewel which bears witness to the birth of a nation. Cartago has a humid tropical climate, its mountain system includes two cordilleras, the Central one being where the Irazù and Turrialba volcanoes are located and the Talamanca Cordillera which is the other great mountain formation in the province. this one includes the imposing Cerro Chirripò mountain, the highest point in Costa Rica, located at 3,600 metres above sea level. Cartago is a land of tradition and religion. The pilgrimage to the Basilica of Our Lady of Angels, in the centre of the city, is the most important religious activity. It is celebrated on August 2nd and attracts millions of people from all over the country.

They offer their respectful tribute to the Patron saint of the country and place their requests on an 8-inch figurine of black stone of the Virgin, which is affectionately called La Negrita. Many pilgrims make only the 14-kilometre journey from the capital San José to Cartago, but others also come from the borders of Costa Rica and from neighbouring countries.

Lankester Botanical Garden

The Lankester Botanical Garden is actually a set of gardens, and in origin was an area of secondary forest which grew in an abandoned area on the outskirts of Cartago. In 1973 it was purchased by the North American company for the study of orchids and by the British Smith Foundation to be donated to the University of Costa Rica. The garden is famous for its collection of epiphyte plants, and amongst them, above all orchids (there are 1400 species) but in the 10 hectares of parkland Bromeliaceae, heliconias, cacti, ferns and numerous other types also grow, and a hundred different species of birds also find refuge.

The garden continues to engage in promotion for conservation, the enjoyment and sustainable use of Costa Rica's endemic species through scientific research, horticulture and the training of environmental experts. The area covers 11 hectares and is made up of 3000 species of plants, such as the national flower, the Guaira Moradaand the Guaira Turrialba, one of the natural species that is at risk of extinction.

Irazù Volcano

The Irazù Volcano National Park is located in the canton of Oreamuno, 32 km northeast of the city of Cartago. A National Park established in 1955 by the Costa Rican Institute of Tourism, it is now one of the most loved and visited places in Costa Rica. Here you will find the highest active volcano in the country, the Irazù Volcano, which with its 3432 metres of altitude dominates the whole region.

The name comes from an indigenous village built in 1569 on its slopes, the name of which means "the peak of thunder and earthquake." The volcano covers a territory of more than 500 square kilometres and has at least 10 volcanic cones on the southern side. But the park's big attraction is the climb to the Deigo Haya Crater which over the years has turned into an apple-green lake. On clear days from the summit you can see both the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean.

Turrialba

A small town located on the slopes of the volcano of the same name, it is home to two universities. It is famous especially amongst rafting enthusiasts, who appreciate the canyons and waterfalls of the Pacuare. The river was ranked by National Geographic as one of the top 10 for rafting in the world. During the descent, you can spot numerous birds and monkeys along the way. In the area, a soft cream cheese is made using raw milk with artisanal methods, for more than 100 years. The Turrialba volcano, the second highest in the country, at 3,340 metres, erupted again in 2016 after a century of inactivity.

Guayabo National Monument

The 218-hectare National Guayabo Monument is located 84 km from San José. It is the largest and most interesting archaeological area in Costa Rica. Discovered by explorer Anastasio Alfaro at the end of the last century, the archaeological city was partially unearthed (only 10%) in the sixties. In 1973, it was declared a national monument. The people who built this city with wide cobbled streets, ceremonial centres and aqueducts lived here between 1000 BC and 1400 A.D.

The most important structures in the city were built between 300 and 700 A.D., when about 10,000 people lived in this area. The rocks used for the buildings were brought here, over a few miles, from Rio Reventazon. It is believed that this city was governed by a "Cacique", a term by which the leaders of some tribal communities in Latin America were traditionally defined, and held both political and religious power, while no explanation was found as to why it was abandoned a century and a half before the arrival of the Spaniards.

The roads are made up of a series of stone paths, transit routes and also part of the drainage system. The archaeological city is nestled in a lush and now rare rainforest. The fauna of the area consists mainly of squirrels, armadillos, tucans and jays.

La Paz Nature Park

Within a nature park, along the slopes of the Poàs Volcano about 30 kilometres north of Alajuela, there is a striking waterfall, known to locals as Catarata de La Paz. The waterfall is thirty-seven metres high and is formed by the River La Paz that keeps its flow constant. Numerous paved paths surrounding the area, one of which leads to a striking vantage point. Nearby there are gardens where you can admire frogs and snakes.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Every year hundreds of thousands of tourists come here to visit what is, for all intents and purposes, a real paradise. In Quepos, in the Puntarenas province, the park is home to more than 350 species of birds109 mammals and 346 plants. Its trails are an ode to fauna and flora and lead to magnificent beaches that are located right inside the park and that are accessible only to those who visit it.

Here you can also enjoy a sea where snorkelling lovers will have so much fun. Of all the beaches, the most beautiful is Playa Manuel Antonio. A wild beach, almost one kilometre long and outlined by palm trees, where you can come across sloths and howler monkeys, with lush vegetation on one side and a romantic bay on the other. 

130 km from Costa Rica's capital San José, the Park is world famous not only for its white beaches, but for the rich forest where you can admire lovely corners and paths immersed in tropical vegetation and for the many native animals that populate it. Look up to see the cute sloths clinging to the branches of the towering trees. Sharpen your vision to spot tucans, chameleons, tree frogs, Atelopus frogs and the famous red-eyed frogs. The park also includes 12 islets and, often, swimming in the waters, you can pet dolphins or admire whales from afar.

Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is now a fixed point on the itinerary of a trip to Costa Rica, beaches, palm trees, good surfing and an atmosphere to say the least, that attracts thousands of travellers every year. Located on the Caribbean coast, about an hour south of Limon, it's a great base for exploring the nearby Cahuita National Park and break the journey north if you are coming from Panama.

Tortuguero

In the National Park of Tortuguero, in the Northeast, thousands of sea turtles build nests and lay their eggs on black sand beaches. In the same park, over 400 species of birds, 60 species of frogs, 30 fish and 3 monkeys live. A "little Amazon" to visit along the rivers that cross it. The banks narrow little by little and the boat is shrouded in increasingly dense vegetation. A natural cathedral where visitors remain silent and surprised.

Ballena Marine National Park

This marine park was established for coral conservation and for the coral reefs surrounding several islands off the coast. Its name comes not only from the humpback whales that come here to breed, but also from the "Whale's Tail" of Punta Uvita, a characteristic sandy strip that extends within a rock barrier that, at low tide, looks like the tail of a whale.

The "Parque Nacional Marino Ballena", located just 16 km south of Dominical and 180 km southwest of San José, protects more than 13,000 hectares of sea and 9 miles of coastline. Despite its limited size, the reserve is of great importance, especially as it protects whales transiting the migratory routes, but also because of the colonies of dolphins and the sea turtles who come here to nest, as well as the seabird colonies and different species of reptiles. There are four beaches in the park.

Talamanca

It is a canton, part of the Limon province. The area is a natural paradise, formed by a combination of closed jungles, impressive mountains and heavenly beaches. Liman has the highest percentage of protected lands in Costa Rica and has an extensive variety of flora and fauna. The vegetation is lush, as well as the cultures that converge throughout the province.

Cerro Chirripò

Cerro Chirripo is the highest mountain in Costa Rica with a height of 3,820 metres. From the summit on clear days you can see the whole continent, from the Pacific Ocean to the Caribbean Sea. Chirripo National Park is one of the wildest areas and has always been protected to promote its development. In 1982 the park was declared a Biosphere Reserve and in 1983 a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Cerro is home to an extraordinary number of habitats due to the differences in altitude, soil and climate. Here you can find over 260 species of amphibians and reptiles, 400 species of birds, jaguars, monkeys and the largest population of tapirs in the country. It is located 83 km southeast of the capital San José and about 30 km northeast of the city of San Isidro del General, in the heart of the Talamanca mountain range. It is the ideal destination for hikers and for those who want to have direct and exciting contact with Costa Rican nature.

Poas Volcano

The Poas Volcano is another of Costa Rica's active craters: it is located about thirty kilometres from the capital. The central volcanic cordillera, part of the national park of the same name, is famous for the warm lagoon of its crater, characterised by sulphur and acids, with a diameter of 350 metres that often emits clearly visible fumes. Its crater is one of the largest in the world and is over 2 km in diameter.

In the area there is a lake with waterfalls and gas-emitting cones. In addition, the 2,108-metre-high Poas has a second, older crater where the Botos Lagoon is located, which is of rain origin and therefore cold. For those heading to the lookout you can stop in the resort of Poasito to have breakfast with a strawberry smoothie, particularly sweet and renowned in the area. 

Monteverde

Located between the provinces of Alajuela and Puntarenas, and adjacent to the nearby town of Monteverde from which its takes its name, this reserve of more than 100 square kilometres allows you to immerse yourself in an almost magical atmosphere. The reserve, divided into six specific ecological zones, 90% of which are virgin forest, is visited by thousands of people every year.

The thick mists, which run through the whole area, create an evocative and truly unique environment. The visitor is catapulted into a habitat full of splendour. Through the paths that go into the greenery, it is possible to come into contact with a unique and primordial nature. The Monteverde Reserve can be visited over suspended bridges or even on a canopy tour: protected by helmets, gloves and harnesses, tourists launch themselves from platforms fixed on trees hanging from ropes, sliding in speed over woods, waterfalls and clearings. An alternative way to see a special place from above.

There is a huge biodiversity in the area. The reserve is home to more than 161 species of amphibians and reptiles and is known in the world for being the only habitat in the world of golden toads. There is another curiosity, this is where the Shining Quetzal lives, the bird symbol of the Mayans, recognisable thanks to its garish plumage with green reflections and the tuft of feathers on its head. 

Arenal Volcano

Nature lovers, here you will be on the safe side: Arenal volcano, 120 km northwest of San José, in the Cordillera de Tilaran, is one of the main attractions in the country and park of the same name. Attention, as nobody is permitted to wander along the slopes of the volcano: it is extremely dangerous. You can watch the hot lava descent, but also simple explosions of petrol and ash. A place of extraordinary biodiversity, it has half of the known bird species, mammals and reptiles of the country. 

Isla del Coco

Isla del Coco, located 532 km from the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, halfway between the American mainland and the Galapagos Islands, is one of the symbols of singular beauty in the country and was decreed a national park in 1978. Despite its area of about 24 km2, the small island, covered entirely by rainforest and thick tropical vegetation, is an important natural laboratory thanks to the many endemic species that live on it and its remarkable biodiversity, to the point that in 1997 it was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Its coast is very winding, with underwater caves and high cliffs that give life to lovely waterfalls. It is a paradise for divers and for nature lovers, nicknamed Shark Island, not surprisingly: here you can dive with hundreds of hammerhead sharks or silver fin sharks, swim with the majestic whale shark or meet whitetip sharks. But the nature and biodiversity of this island, the largest uninhabited island in the world, are not the only treasures.

Other riches seem to be hidden amongst the meanderies covered by lush vegetation and the island's many coves: the treasures of pirates. During the 17th and 18th centuries, buccaneers and pirates sailed in these waters and, according to legend, the famous treasure of Lima, a precious loot composed of gold, silver and a statue in gold and precious stones of the Virgin with Jesus in her arms, has never been found.

Corcovado

Corcovado National Park, located in the Osa Peninsula, is the largest in Costa Rica, with its 42,469 hectares of extension. The park is located in the western part of the country and is considered, biologically speaking, to be the most prosperous place on Earth: it includes a large number of different species living in eight different habitats. Corcovado is also the last extended stretch of remaining wet tropical forest in Central America.

This wonderful park is home to the largest colony of Ara Macau parrotsin Costa Rica. Here you can also meet jaguars, coati (a kind of raccoon), sloths, giant anteaters, monkeys, five species of endemic felines, spectacled owls, peccaries (wild boar-like mammals), tucans, frogs and crocodiles. In its lands, 6000 insects, 500 species of trees, 367 species of birds, 140 species of mammals, 117 species of amphibians and reptiles and 40 freshwater fish all co-exist. The park has many walking trails and tourist havens for camping. It is mandatory to enter with an authorised guide. The less adventurous tourist can also appreciate the park by travelling on boats, along its waters.

La Fortuna

La Fortuna is a small town located in the hills of northwest Costa Rica in the San Carlos region. In the last 30 years it has gone from being a quiet farming community to a dynamic tourist centre where you can find many villages, restaurants and spas. The city has developed around a beautiful park with flower gardens and a large church. A magnificent backdrop and and an attraction for many tourists, we also find the Arenal volcano.

Arenal Observatory Lodge

The Observatory of the Arenal volcano, born to study its activity, is an interesting point to discover the wonders and appreciate the tropical forest. From here you can reach the beautiful thermal baths where different varieties of tropical flowers and particular plants abound: sulphur water flows into numerous streams. There is also a museum.

Venado Caves

An hour from the town of La Fortuna you can visit Venado's Caves. A peer opportunity to live an exciting experience, following the  guide through the caves en route to stalactites and stalagmites, beyond the underground rivers and under bat habitats.

Cahuita National Park

Located on Costa Rica's beautiful south-Caribbean coast, Cahuita National Park is one of the most beautiful and important in the country and is made up of a 22,400-hectare marine area, and occupies a terrestrial surface 1,067 hectares. Created in 1970 to protect the largest coral reef,Cahuita Park is located in Limon Province, 42 km south of the city of Puerto Limon.

The sea, which has a unique biodiversity, is its greatest wealth. Its seabed is made extraordinary by a coral reef of incredible beauty, formed by 27 different coral species, spread over an area of over 600 hectares between the Perezoso River and Porto Vargas. The park's beaches are famous for their white, fine sand with towering coconut palms that sometimes reach almost as far as the transparent, quiet waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Snorkelling and diving here are almost a must to admire the rich underwater life. Sea urchins, octopus, parrot fish, angel fish, manta rays, barracudas, sharks, moray eels, qualms, shrimp, lobsters, sponges and turtles are the inhabitants of this magical world.

Montezuma

The town of Montezuma was a port then became a fishing village. Today it is also famous for three other details: its spectacular Falls, its "postcard" beaches. And its somewhat hippy vibe. The small town is in fact known to be a meeting place for lovers of natural therapies, organic nutrition, yoga, outdoor living, surfing, nature and art. Its alternative "tradition" has far-off roots, and Playa Montezuma has always been a meeting point between those who wanted to protect nature and street artists.

Santa Teresa

Playa Santa Teresa is a small village overlooking the beach, located in the southern part of the Nicoya Peninsula. It is located just north of the village of Mal Pais. But what this small village lacks in size, it certainly does not lack in terms of culture and individuality. What was once a small town exclusively dedicated to surfing is now an eclectic melting pot. Today, the small hamlet is still frequented by surfers and young people who have been joined by artists, and rich and famous people.

The effort of the journey is compensated on arrival when you meet the beauty and nature of this area. With constant wind throughout the year, the beautiful beach of Santa Teresa is one of Costa Rica's best in terms of waves. As a result, surfing is the most popular sport. Forbes magazine has certified it as one of the most beautiful beaches of the world.

Quepos

Quepos is a lively seaside resort, south of San José, in the province of Puntaneras, used as a base to explore the nearby Manuel Antonio National Park. The city takes its name from the local population of the Quepoas, belonging to the Borucas ethnic group, which had settled there in the 10th century. It is famous for surfing and fishing. On its beautiful beaches you can relax or snorkel. There are many places and restaurants where you can try the typical dishes of Costa Rican cuisine, including the pinto rooster, with rice and beans.

Visit Costa Rica with Costa Cruises

 

Unspoilt landscapes, beaches parks, biodiversity, nature, and culture. Costa Rica offers the opportunity of a full holiday, satisfying, relaxing or adventurous. A country that has the gift of a smile and beauty must be visited at least once in a lifetime. Also because it will be a varied holiday and suitable for every taste.

Depart with Costa Cruises