There are many things Costa Rica is famous for – some of them are pretty remarkable. This post will set aside everything else and explore the famous landmarks. Costa Rica is a beautiful country with extraordinary natural landscapes, including lakes, waterfalls, beaches, National Parks, Volcanoes, and much more.
Though Costa Rica has a long history and played an essential role during Spanish colonization, you will notice that many of the most famous landmarks in Costa Rica are Natural landmarks. The biodiversity in Costa Rica is astonishing for such a small country, which attracts people to the country.
Despite having traveled considerably in Costa Rica, we invited a few other bloggers to pitch in their favorite landmarks in Costa Rica and make this post as comprehensive as possible. Let’s explore the 15 most famous Costa Rican landmarks without further ado!
Famous Landmarks in Costa Rica
By Bailey and Dan from Costa Rica Travel Life
Poas Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s most popular volcanos. This active volcano sits around 1 hour north of the capital city of San Jose in Poas Volcano National Park. Visiting is a bucket list experience that has you staring into the giant crater filled with sulphuric acid water. It’s a breathtaking place to visit!
Since 1828 the volcano has erupted 39 times, which makes safety a top priority for park officials. This means visits to Poas involve a safety briefing, and the park can be closed without notice if seismic activity is detected.
Visiting Poas Volcano can be done on your own or on a tour from San Jose. Tours from San Jose, such as this one, include all your entrance fees, a professional guide, and transport to and from the volcano. These are super convenient for those without a rental car.
If you do have a rental car, visiting Poas Volcano is a great day trip from San Jose to enjoy on the cheap. With that said, there are some things you need to know. First off, tickets to Poas Volcano MUST be purchased online in advance, and you need to select the time you want to visit. Second, early morning is best because the late morning/ afternoon cloud cover can completely ruin your view, so you book in advance!
The entrance fee to Poas Volcano is $15 USD for foreigners, and the park is open from 8:30 am to 3 pm every day!
Las Catalinas Islands
By Pamela Drager from The Directionally Challenged Traveler
If you’re looking to escape the hustle and bustle of life in Costa Rica, you may want to consider visiting the Las Catalinas Islands. Located just a few short miles off the coast of Costa Rica, these islands are a beautiful natural landmark that is definitely worth seeing.
The islands are actually archipelago that includes several islands ranging from 2 to 15 kilometers off the coast. There are boats leaving Tamarindo to visit the islands every day, making it easy to get to! The real beauty of the islands lies beneath the surface.
One of the best things to do in Tamarindo is to take a scuba diving or snorkeling tour of the Catalina Islands. The islands are home to hundreds of species, white-tip reef sharks and Pacific Giant Mantas. You may be able to see sea turtles peacefully gliding through the water. Make sure to bring an underwater camera, so you don’t miss out on these beautiful animals.
On the way out to the islands, you may spot devil rays jumping and flipping several feet into the air!
There are scuba diving and snorkeling tours every day leaving from Tamaríndo. Snorkel tours cost around $60, and scuba diving costs around $90, excluding any necessary gear rental.
Be sure to visit the Catalinas Islands during the dry season, January to March, for the best water visibility. From November to May, manta rays are pretty common, while the best time to see whales Is between September and March.
By Veronika Primm from travelgeekery
Cahuita belongs to Costa Rica’s many amazing national parks. You can find it on the Caribbean coast, running along in a stretched-out shape. It’s located in Limón Province, in a small town called Cahuita.
As Costa Rica doesn’t have ZOOs and instead prefers to keep their animals in their natural habitat, here in Cahuita NP, you can come across abundant wildlife. The protected area encompasses not just the land but also the marine area, with some coral reefs and vibrant fish populations.
If you’re lucky and keep your eyes peeled, you can even spot the elusive sloth! Other, more common, species you’re likely to run into include the cheeky capuchin monkeys and raccoons. Watch your food, they do like to steal.
You can hike through well-maintained paths leading you through the forest and the beach. Many times you have even more options. The whole path measures 8.3 km (5 miles), and you’ll need to return the same way.
It’s possible to take a swim on the wonderfully empty beaches dotted with palm trees. If you bring your snorkel set, you can even take a peek at the marine life. Boat tours are available too.
By Daria from The Discovery Nut
Irazu Volcano is a hidden gem that is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica off the beaten track.
Located about one hour from San Jose, Irazu is the highest and the largest active volcano in Costa Rica, 11,260 feet tall.
Irazu makes a great escape from the country’s capital and provides an opportunity for hiking and relaxing, and the hikes around the volcano are primarily flat.
If you make your way here, bring a jacket or put on some layers because temperatures at Irazu tend to be lower because of the high elevation.
The last time Irazu erupted was in 1994, and the volcano has been dormant ever since. However, it could become active again at any time. Still, Irazu is perfectly safe to visit and is a great getaway from the hustle and bustle of San Jose.
Irazu is located near the town of Cartago, the former capital of Costa Rica, and combining these two places makes for a perfect day trip from San Jose.
The easiest way to get to Irazu is by renting a car, but you can also take one of the guided tours from San Jose, which typically takes most of the day.
Rio Celeste waterfall
By Mel from BRB Travel Blog
Rio Celeste is one of the most beautiful and well-known landmarks of Costa Rica, with its light blue river and the impressive 90 meters (295 ft) waterfall.
The waterfall and river are located in Tenorio Volcano National Park, which is located in the Alajuela province bordering the Guanacaste province. The best way to arrive at the park is by car or by joining a tour. The entrance to the park is $12 for adults and $5 for children under twelve.
The park has 2 types of forest, the upper area is dominated by primary cloud forest, while the lower region is a rain forest. The hike to the waterfall can be a little challenging, especially for those with health problems (it has more than 200 steps), but the breathtaking scenery rewards the difficulty.
The full hike is almost 6km (3.7 miles) round trip and brings you to the CATARATA (waterfall), LAGUNA AZUL (blue lagoon), BORBOLLONES (Thermal springs and small geysers), TENIDEROS (where the water takes this new light blue color).
The National park is also home to the Tenorio Volcano and offers multiple other hikes to explore the forest. The National park is part of the Arenal Tempisque Conservation Area.
By Rachel Cunningham from Everything French Alps
Manuel Antonio national park is located on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, a few hours’ drive south of San Jose. It is an eco-tourist paradise, and while it might be the smallest national park in Costa Rica, it is one of the most-visited parts of the country, with many guidebooks listing it as a top 3 destination!
Its stunning location right by the sea on its own peninsula creates a unique atmosphere for the animals that live there. There are protected coral reefs off the beaches and lush rainforests to explore.
You can hire a guide for the day from the park’s entrance or stroll the marked paths yourself, spotting white-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, iguanas, white-nosed Coatis, and more. Keep your eyes on the canopy for the infamous sloths, also called Manuel Antonio home.
The national park was established officially in 1972, and since then, the park has worked hard to create over 10 km of walking trails.
Getting there is easy, drive down from San Jose and stay a few days in one of the guesthouses or hotels located just outside the park’s entrance. Or you can also take the tours to Manuel Antonio National Park.
By Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
The Arenal Volcano was once the most active volcano in Costa Rica. Although in a dormant or sleeping phase since 2010, the volcano is still one of the most recognizable landmarks in Costa Rica.
Located in the heart of Arenal Volcano National Park just outside the town of La Fortuna, the 5,437-foot stratovolcano looms high above the surrounding area, which includes a dense rainforest, Lake Arenal, and a valley filled with hot springs and lots of activities for adventure travelers or even those visiting Costa Rica with kids.
The volcano is often shrouded in clouds, particularly during Costa Rica’s rainy summer months. But on a clear day, the majestic, magma-filled mountain is a beautiful sight to behold. The area surrounding the Arenal Volcano is a flourishing ecosystem containing some of the world’s most incredible flora and fauna. The 504-thousand-acre rainforest at the volcano’s base is a popular place for tourism. Whether you’re seeking adventure hikes, hanging bridge tours, or zip-lining excursions, the national park named after its main attraction is a premier adventure destination in Costa Rica.
For those interested in learning about the history of the Arenal Volcano and its largest eruption in 1968, which covered several miles of the rainforest in magma and volcanic ash, you can even take a guided historical walking tour through former lava fields around the volcano.
By Lori Sorrentino from Travlinmad
Costa Rica has an amazing diversity in both wildlife and landscape, and one of the places in Costa Rica to see both is at the famous Rio Tarcoles on the country’s mid-Pacific coast.
The bridge on Route 34 spanning the Rio Tarcoles has become a very popular Costa Rican landmark, as tourists travel south to Jaco, Manuel Antonio, or the Osa Peninsulaclamor to get a glimpse (high above the riverbed) of its most famous resident — the Rio Tarcoles crocodiles.
The bridge is the best place to observe the American Crocodiles that inhabit the Rio Tarcoles.
Many of the crocs can be elusive and hard to see, but others don’t seem to mind humans staring at them. They are massive and dangerous creatures that spend most of their day sunning on the river banks waiting for prey to come along.
It is estimated that the crocodile population is around 2,000 animals. some reaching as long as 6 meters (almost 20 feet) in length. On either side of the two-lane bridge is a pedestrian walkway from where you can observe and take photos. Under no circumstances should you walk down to the river to get a closer look.
If you’re with a driver, they’ll almost always stop for you to get out and take a quick look. If you’re driving, look for a place along the road to the park. Vendors are selling small items, and several small restaurants near the bridge where you can grab lunch.
Catarata del Toro
By Jessica Schmit from Uprooted Traveler
Catarata del Toro is one of the tallest waterfalls in Costa Rica, soaring 90 meters (300 feet) overhead- and is also one of its best-hidden gems. This stunning waterfall is nestled in a lush rainforest in the Central Valley in the country’s northwest corner, approximately 71 km north of San Jose or 73 km east of La Fortuna.
The waterfall is incredibly unusual-looking – the water spills out of a dormant volcanic crater and down a cliffside that’s dripping with ferns and striated with vibrant colors, thanks to its volcanic origins. To reach the waterfall’s base, you’ll need to hike a trail that winds 1.7 km through a rainforest full of tropical flowers and chirping birds and descend a series of stairs (389, to be exact!) to the jungle floor below.
While the trek back up the stairs is definitely a thigh-burner, the view from the base of the waterfall is totally worth it- you’ll be standing in an enormous bowl sunk into the jungle floor, with craggy walls festooned with impossibly luscious moss and greenery and the beautiful Catarata del Toro towering overhead. It feels like something straight out of Jurassic Park!
And better yet, you’ll likely have this incredible sight to yourself – because you can only reach Catarata del Toro via car. With its remote location near the tiny town of Bajos del Toro, the waterfall rarely experiences any crowds.
La Fortuna Waterfall
By Bailey from Destinationless Travel
La Fortuna Waterfall is easily one of the most beautiful natural landmarks in all of Costa Rica. This 70-meter tall waterfall drops powerfully into a large pool surrounded by luscious vegetation – it’s beautiful!
La Fortuna Waterfall is conveniently located in the town of La Fortuna, where there are plenty of fun things to do. You can easily get there by taxi or drive yourself, there is a large parking lot too. Alternatively, there are plenty of guided tours that leave from both La Fortuna and San Jose.
It costs $18 USD to visit La Fortuna Waterfall. This fee is paid on arrival. Once you’ve paid the entrance fee, you can begin your walk to the falls. You’ll visit a viewing platform from above before starting your descent down 500 stairs to the base of the falls. It is a quick walk down, but definitely give yourself more time for the walk back up – it’s quite the workout!
Once at the falls, you can swim and take in the views. I must warn you, though, that the falls are super powerful, and swimming can be a little challenging in the pool below. Luckily, just next to the falls is another calmer pool/section of the river that’s better for swimming.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
By Sarah Carter from ASocialNomad
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is one of Central America’s largest and most significant ecosystems. The name “cloud forest” comes from the literal meaning of that word. Low-hanging clouds, which often appear as fog, linger about the forest’s high canopy before condensing on tree leaves and pouring onto the plants beneath.
The Montverde Cloud Forest is excellent for hiking – there are 13km of marked trails, where you’ll pass by scenic waterfalls, reach the high point of the Cloud Forest for some excellent views and also see some of the birdlife here in the forest.
You are unlikely to see the famous Quetzal, but keep looking up, and there’s lots of other avian life – more than 400 species are recorded here. Capuchin monkeys also abound here. Walk to the Mirador La Ventana at 1550m, and you’ll head to a wooden platform overlooking the Continental Divide. The trails here can be muddy, even in the dry season – this is a cloud forest, after all, so be prepared!
To limit the impact on the environment, there are limits on the number of visitors allowed into the reserve, so it’s best to go early (before 10 am). This is a stunning part of the country to visit.
Monteverde is in the Puntarenas region of Costa Rica, about 5.5 hours bus journey from San Jose. Getting to Monteverde is easy, you can take a rental car and drive or take the bus from San Jose. There are also organized and guided tours from San Jose to Monteverde.
Tortuguero National Park
By Elena from Passion for Hospitality
The Tortuguero National Park is one of the most important nesting sites of some of the rarest sea turtle species in Costa Rica. Located about 80 kilometers from Limon on the northeast Caribbean coast, the park spans an area of over 77,000 acres.
Tortuguero National Park is a remote area and can only be accessed with small boats via the river or by airplane that flies to Tortuguero Airport. The whole area is a spectacular natural habitat with thousands of plant and animal species. Visitors can either stay in one of the organized lodges that are located along the river banks or inside the Tortuguero Village.
One of the Park’s highlights is the Sea turtle conservatory, which allows visitors to learn about these important sea creatures and actively participate in the tagging program, which runs annually from July 10 to September 15.
The lodges offer daily boat tours allowing visitors to fully immerse in the surrounding nature and admire wildlife, the jungles, and the numerous canals. Here visitors will also have the opportunity to witness the remarkable bird species as the Tortuguero National Park is home to about half the bird species of Costa Rica. A stunning natural paradise awaits.
Those who prefer guided tours can make a day trip from San Jose, or a longer unforgettable 3-day tour to Tortuguero.
By Karen of Outdoor Adventure Sampler
Golfo Dulce is an outstanding landmark located in southern Costa Rica on the Pacific Ocean. Meaning ‘sweet gulf,’ Golfo Dulce is a destination for those who love natural beauty. The deepwater gulf separates the Osa Peninsula from the mainland. It is a rare tropical fjord, only one of four worldwide.
Golfo Dulce is surrounded by two national parks: Piedras Blancas National Park to the north and Corcovado National Park to the west on the Osa Peninsula. Both parks have trails to see wildlife, such as scarlet macaws, hummingbirds, four species of monkeys, sloths, and, if you are lucky, a jaguar or cougar.
Marine life is a highlight of Golfo Dulce. It’s possible to see humpback whales and orcas. On a boat trip in the gulf will usually see some of the four species of dolphins that inhabit the bay. Golfo Dulce is also a designed shark sanctuary, home to the rare scalloped hammerhead and more abundant whale sharks.
A kayak trip on the gulf is a great way to see the teeming marine life and tropical shores. There are several eco-lodges located around the bay to stay in. Watch the sunset over the water for a perfect ending on Golfo Dulce.
Stone Spheres at the Finca 6 Archaeological Site
By Bret Love & Mary Gabbett of Blue Ridge Mountains Travel Guide
The Stone Spheres of Costa Rica are a puzzling archaeological mystery, with nothing more than educated guesses about how they were made or how the country’s ancient peoples used them.
The Finca 6 Archaeological Site (in the town of Palmar Sur) is home to lots of these mysterious orbs, which researchers are studying to learn more about Costa Rica’s pre-Columbian history. There are at least 300 stone spheres that have been discovered in the country, more than 10% of which are on this 10-acre property. Known locally as Las Bolas, these ancient spheres range in size from a few centimeters to over 6 feet wide, can weigh up to 15 tons, and are almost perfectly round.
The perfectly round orbs were somehow carved from gabbro (rock formed by molten magma) and have been found buried with pottery dated back to 200 BC-600 AD and with sculptures dated to 1000-1500 AD. But the indigenous Diquís culture vanished after the Spanish conquest in 1502, and their stone spheres were lost to history for more than 400 years.
The Stone Spheres at the Finca 6 Archeological Site were discovered during the 1930s agricultural boom when the United Fruit Company cleared the jungle to plant banana plantations. Protected by the National Museum of Costa Rica since 1990, the site is worthy of UNESCO consideration. It has dozens of massive stones spread across 10 acres, plus two 30-meter-wide artificial mounds (built out of river stones), which were believed to have elevated the dwellings of elite members of the Diquís society.
It’s truly a must-see site if you visit Costa Rica’s Puntarenas province.
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