For being a relatively small country, Costa Rica has a LOT to see! Even the typical tourist trail is spread out and has many options.
If you’ve got 2 weeks or less in Costa Rica, which stops should you make? If you love eco adventures, it’s tough to go wrong anywhere in Costa Rica but these spots were my favorite! An equal mix of beach towns and cool adventures.
Perhaps most famous as the home of Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna itself is a pretty boring town but has a LOT to offer in the way of eco-adventures. With a huge proportion of primary forest, the Arenal Volcano National Park holds beautiful plants like wild orchids, interesting bromeliads, and many kinds of palm. The biodiversity isn’t just for plants, though, and the park has over 75% of the 850 different species of Costa Rican birds. Sloths, monkeys, coatis, deer, snakes and more animal species are seen almost every day.
For volcano lovers, you can only walk part way up Arenal Volcano, but you can hike all the way to the top of inactive sister volcano Cerro Chato in a grueling five hour long journey. Other than volcanoes, whitewater rafting, zip lining, hiking, caving, horseback riding to waterfalls, and more adventures await for adrenaline junkies.
If your tastes run a bit less adventurous, La Fortuna is also famous for its hot springs. The volcano’s geothermal activity provides naturally heated and nutrient-rich water for soaking and indulging. Tabacon and Baldi are two of the best known commercial hot springs, but there are many more in the area.
Another cool-weather eco-focused town like La Fortuna, Monteverde is known for its cloud forests and delicious food (especially the locally produced chocolate and cheeses).
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is perfect for wildlife lovers, with primary forests and centuries-old trees. The reserve hosts the fabulous and famous Resplendent Quetzal, and bird watchers from all over the world arrive to try and sneak a look.
Aside from touring the chocolate and cheese factories, zip lining canopy tours, and horseback riding are extremely popular. With the remarkable biodiversity of both the Monteverde Cloud Forest and the Santa Elena Cloud Forest, several wildlife galleries have been set up. The butterfly garden and the hummingbird garden are two of the most spectacular, with hundreds of each beautiful creature flitting about freely in their respective galleries, perfect for amazing photo opportunities. An impressive insect museum of preserved creepy crawlies is open at the Selvatura Park, as is a zoo-style reptile exhibit.
One of the most unique offerings of Monteverde is the Bat Jungle. Staffed by bat scientists and dedicated to educating the public about the much maligned nocturnal creature, the Bat Jungle features museum-like exhibits in addition to a real indoor bat cave, amazing for seeing the furry fliers up close and personal.
While Jaco tends to be characterized as an over commercialized mess, it is a perfect stopover on the way to Montezuma or Mal Pais, and has a huge selection of world class restaurants and hotels, in addition to beaches and a few adventures of its own.
Playa Jaco is the closest beach to San Jose Airport, making it an easy and convenient stop for sun-lovers on a short vacation. Playa Jaco is quite busy, but more tranquil beaches are nearby. Playa Herradura is just a bit north, and is quieter and calmer than busy Playa Jaco. Another option is Playa Hermosa, a standout for its black sand, and the best choice for surfers.
Jaco is also home to ATV-ing adventures, waterfall rappelling, canyoning, kayaking, and more for those looking to get a bit more adventurous than beach lounging. For wildlife spotting, the Tarcoles River (one of the best places in the world to see American crocodiles) Carara Biological Reserve, Punta Leona Wildlife Reserve, and Manuel Antonio National Park are all within an hour’s drive.
A little laid-back beach town known affectionately as Montefuma for the hippies it attracts, it’d be tough to find a more relaxing paradise. The long stretches of sand punctuated by rocky formations hiding tidal pools provide endless opportunities for chilled-out exploration. Surfing is also possible, usually on the beaches further outside the town.
If you want to stay close, Montezuma’s small, central town is outfitted with grocery stores and fabulous restaurants, serving self caterers and diners of all budgets and tastes. While accommodation is a bit pricier than many of the other Costa Rican towns, it is worth it. Still accessible for backpackers of all budgets, many of the mid range and higher end offerings are suitably stocks with hammocks to enjoy the sea breeze, and a hefty dose of relaxation.
An easy and free self-guided hike to the local waterfall is a great activity to break up a few days of blissful sunbathing. The cool pool is entirely refreshing, and the more daring can climb the first waterfall to follow the river up to a second, and even a third.