Where to Stay in Costa Rica: The Best Places, Cities & Areas (with Local Insights)

The thing about little Costa Rica is that it has a giant list of options for you to choose from when deciding where to stay. It will all depend on what you want to discover and enjoy, but be assured that Costa Rica has something for you, no matter what interests you.

From adventures like white water rafting, canopy, hiking or surfing, luxurious lodges such as Peace Lodge and Pacuare Lodge, relaxing lodges such as Cala Lodge and Trapp Family Hotel to all-inclusive resorts such as Los Sueños Marriott and JW Marriott, you can find it all in Costa Rica, maybe the one thing you won’t see here is snow, but let’s be honest, that might be the one thing you are actually running away from!

where to stay in costa rica (relax / hammock)
Deciding where to stay in Costa Rica can be relaxing with the right advice.

It’s not a secret that when it comes to tourism, Costa Rica is a very well developed country, but don’t think that that only means big hotels and giant pools, it actually means great quality lodging and attractions, top of the line service and unforgettable experiences.

The only problem with this is that you might find it overwhelming to find that perfect place for you. We suggest a series of areas to consider and provide more detail about each one of those destinations so that you can find more in-depth information.

Know that expert advice makes life easier during the planning process, and we invite you to contact us if you decide that having a trip itinerary provider help you plan a smooth trip, filled with adventures, is best for you.

Video: Guidance on Where to Stay in Costa Rica

What is the Best Area to Stay in Costa Rica?

It all depends on what your preferences are. If you are into hiking in the Cloud Forest, consider Monteverde, where not only you can enjoy an incredible amount of trails in different reserves and private protected areas, but you can also see the Cloud Forest from above on a canopy tour, visit butterfly gardens or enjoy amazing cheese at the Monteverde Cheese Factory.

Monteverde Cloud Forest
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is a magical place

Now, if you’re looking for a warmer forest, you have to hike in the rainforest, and we suggest you visit Sarapiquí, a more rural area, and slightly-off-the-beaten-path but still has terrific accommodations for you to choose from and many activities. 

Another famous attraction in Costa Rica are the volcanoes, and to enjoy one in all of its appearances you have to visit Arenal. This is one of Costa Rica’s most developed tourist areas, especially La Fortuna. Iit has volcano-view ecolodges such as Arenal Observatory Lodge and activities that will fit all kinds of budgets and interests.  

Best Place to Stay in Costa Rica for Couples?

When it comes to planning a Costa Rica honeymoon with your loved one you want privacy, romance and just the perfect amount of adventure. If you look at the itineraries we have specially designed at Costa Rica Escapes for couples, you will see that we use areas that we have suggested several times in this article like Arenal and Manuel Antonio, but the secret is to find the perfect lodging for couples.

Another great area for couples is Drake Bay and one of its secluded and private luxury lodges such as the couples-only Tranquilo Lodge and all-inclusive La Paloma Lodge that will make your trip feel even more like an adventure without sacrificing comfort.

Where to Stay in Costa Rica with Family?

At Costa Rica Escapes, we pride ourselves on knowing the best places for your family to stay during their visit, we have already put together a series of itineraries to show you what we are talking about, but what we love to do most is customize the experience to your families needs and desires.

Two of our favorite places are Arenal and Manuel Antonio because they offer something for every member of your family, including a great selection of accommodations for all tastes and budgets. Learn more about our ideas for places to stay in Costa Rica with your family, review our family vacation itineraries and get insider tips on planning a family adventure vacation. We even have kids travel advice, and yep…even tips on traveling to Costa Rica with toddlers.

Best Cities to Stay in Costa Rica?

Costa Rica’s central valley, surrounded by mountains and volcanoes, is where you will find the main cities that comprise the Greater Metropolitan Area known as the GAM (Gran Area Metropolitana). Although Costa Rica’s most treasured attractions are found in nature, there is plenty to do and see in the capital city, San José. For those seeking nightlife, staying in San José allows easy access to trendy restaurants in San José’s Barrio Escalante and live music and dancing in neighborhoods such as Barrio California or San Pedro de Montes de Oca, near the University of Costa Rica. While staying in San José you can take a tour of the famous National Theater or even catch an evening or matinee show. For those into history, check out the Gold Museum and National Museum downtown, as well as many other smaller museums and galleries. San Jose will surprise visitors with cultural and culinary delights. 

Known colloquially as the “City of Flowers”, Heredia is home to some picturesque hotels with botanical gardens outside of the city center, coffee tours, and many universities, both private and public. It is close to the capital San José, with frequent public transportation via bus or train, but it maintains a slower pace, forested mountains, patches of coffee fields, and a smaller population. Its historic downtown is home to the Iglesia de la Inmaculada Concepción de Cubujuquí, the city’s oldest Catholic church, the Casa de la Cultura, (House of Culture) a cultural center that conserves a colonial home, and the central park where green parrots make their home in tall royal palm trees. The area of Heredia known as Barva is home to old colonial buildings and is known for conserving the tradition of large paper maché masks known as mascaradas and the lively musical bands known as cimarrona.   

Cartago, Costa Rica’s first capital, is home to the impressive Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles (Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels), the place where Costa Rica’s patron saint the Black Madonna known as La Negrita is said to have appeared to an Indigenous girl in 1635. To this day thousands of pilgrims walk to this site every 2nd of August. Cartago is home to the ruins of the Santiago Apóstol Parish, which is now a green garden open to the public. The city, which has a slightly cooler climate than San José due to its altitude, is close to the active Turrialba Volcano and the Guayabo National Monument, an impressive pre-Columbian Indigenous archeological site.  

Visitors sometimes stay in the “City of Mangoes”, Alajuela, on their way in or out of the country due to its proximity to the Juan Santamaria Airport.  In addition to being a convenient location near attractions such as coffee tours and a wildlife rescue center, it is home to the Juan Santamaria Museum, dedicated to one of Costa Rica’s national heroes.   

Best Towns to Stay in Costa Rica?

You can get away from the bustle of the city and enjoy the local culture and agricultural traditions in the charming small towns of Costa Rica. Atenas is known for its warm, agreeable climate and is a great place to stay along the scenic “old road” from the central valley to the beaches of the central pacific. It has a row of local restaurants and bars serving chicharrones (fried pork rind) and the Costa Rican bar staple known as chifrijo, which combines rice, red beans, the above mentioned chicharrones, pico de gallo, avocado and chips.  For yoga, healthy food, massage and high end accomodations check out The Retreat wellness resort and spa. 

Visitors who prefer the mountains and a cooler climate will enjoy the smaller towns of Poasito and Fraijanes along the road towards Poás Volcano National Park. Along either side of the main road are mom and pop restaurants serving milkshakes made from locally grown strawberries and locally produced milk. There are small souvenir shops, a dairy farm tour, and restaurants with small ponds stocked with trout and tilapia so you can catch your fish and have the restaurant cook it for you for lunch or dinner.   

The area of Los Santos is a charming coffee region with very small agricultural towns. Although it is only just beginning to develop community-based agro-tourism such as Tamí Lodge, it put itself on the map with world-famous, award-winning coffee. This is a place for those who love the caffeinated beverage, enjoy a cloud forest climate and a very small town feel. 

What Part of Costa Rica has the Best Beaches?

Now, when it comes to beach destinations, the options are also varied.

If you’re interested in surfing, then you have a tough decision to make, there are excellent surfing beaches in all of the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and also on the south Caribbean Coast. Some of the all-time favorites are Pavones, Dominical, Hermosa, Santa Teresa, Nosara, Tamarindo, and Playa Grande, and Cocles in the Caribbean. Therefore, you should match your choice with other interests.

 playa-pelada-beach-nosara-costa-rica
Blue Skies, water & sandy beaches Playa Pelada Beach in Nosara, Costa Rica

Dominical, in the South Pacific, has fantastic white sand beaches to enjoy plus a great variety of activities and a good selection of restaurants.

Another well-known destination in Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio, where you can also find something for everybody and every budget, but that makes it a bit crowded at certain times of the year.

Malpaís and Santa Teresa are very well known destinations in the south end of the Nicoya Peninsula. This was once a small fishing village, but today you can find shopping centers, restaurants, boutique hotels and private villas, which has made this destination a multicultural one.

Now, if you change the ocean, on the Caribbean Coast you should consider visiting Puerto Viejo and all the beaches around it. This is a very laid-back area, where colors, flavors, and rhythms will make your visit extra special. If you like an even more laid back pace, check out smaller beach towns 

What is the Most Beautiful Place in Costa Rica?

You can find beauty anywhere in Costa Rica. If you are doing your research, you might have read already about amazing places like Arenal, beaches in the North Pacific, Manuel Antonio, Dominical and Uvita, and Cahuita and Puerto Viejo, some of which have already been mentioned.

Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano is a sight to behold

However, we would like to call your attention to several incredible destinations in Costa Rica that are often overlooked even though they also offer top of the line accommodations and activities.

One of our favorites is the Turrialba area, a place we call home. Here you can enjoy things from impressive pre-Columbian ruins to white water rafting at the amazing Pacuare river to incredible views of an active volcano, the Turrialba Volcano.

turrialba volcano active
Turrialba Volcano sits majestically above the beautiful town filled with eateries and local culture

Another of our favorite spots in Costa Rica is Drake Bay, a small fishing town in the Pacific Coast, right where the Osa Península takes roots. At Drake Bay, you can find some of the most beautiful and secluded luxury lodges in Costa Rica.

Tenorio National Park, in the northern part of Costa Rica, is an amazing National Park where turquoise waters give the name to its most renowned treasure, Río Celeste. To stay in this part of the country, you can choose from a series of small lodges such as the nearby Rio Celeste Hideaway that are proudly run by locals and which have top of the line touches.

What is the Best/Coolest Place in Costa Rica?

If you are looking for a place that is different, therefore very cool, here are a couple of suggestions.

In the Northern Caribbean Coast, you must visit Tortuguero, a town where there are no cars, people travel around by boat and foot and jaguars, and sea turtles speckle beaches while all kinds of other wildlife share the forest and the river canals.

Tortuguero river canal
River canal floating in Tortuguero is both relaxing and gorgeous

In the Northern Pacific Coast, another very cool stop is Nosara, a paradise for yoga and surf. In this part of Costa Rica, you can also find incredible top of the line lodges such as Olas Verdes and the Gilded Iguana or enjoy a yoga retreat at Harmony Hotel close to incredible uncrowded beaches, as well as delicious health food restaurants and cafés and alternative shopping stores.

Matapalo in the Osa Península is another fantastic destination where you can also enjoy or learn how to surf at the same time as you experience one of the most biodiverse places in the world.

The Southern pacific beach towns of Dominical and Uvita have drawn ecotourists and surfers for decades, yet in recent years the area has become a destination for travelers seeking festivals such as Envision, yoga retreats and teacher trainings at Danyasa Yoga. There are a number of local beaches in this area that are worth a visit such as Ventanas (windows) beach, known for its tide-carved caves. Also popular are boat trips for sport fishing and snorkel tours to Caño Island. Marino Ballena National Park is famous for its “whale tail”, a natural rock and sand formation that protrudes into the blue-green ocean. Remarkably, the area is known for seasonal whale-watching opportunities to spot humpback whales on their migration route twice a year.

And last but not least there is Cahuita, in the south Caribbean of Costa Rica, where you can enjoy the laid-back reggae life in a less crowded setting.

What are the Safest Places to Stay in Costa Rica?

Some of the safest places to stay in Costa Rica are the previously mentioned small towns and rainforest and mountain eco-lodges that are away from the larger cities and the beaches. As you would travel anywhere, practice situational awareness and take precautions to protect yourself and your valuables. For those seeking jungle immersion and hanging bridges in the rainforest Tirimbina Biological Reserve in the small town of Sarapiquí has nature activities, guided hikes, and tours for all ages.  For a total off-grid experience including yoga, rapelling, trekking, and tree climbing check out Chakra Retreat Center near the small mountain town of San Jerónimo on the slopes of Mount Chirripó.

How to Choose Between All-Inclusive vs Authentic Costa Rica Destinations?

If you are looking for an all-inclusive resort for your vacation in Costa Rica, the areas of the country with more options are the Central and Northern Pacific Coast. Consider looking into all-inclusive resorts in towns like Jaco, Herradura, and Puntarenas in the Central Pacific, and Tamarindo and Papagayo in the Northern Pacific. 

But before you settle on this idea, read our suggestions for families in our article, All-Inclusive Costa Rica Vacation Experiences: Authenticity vs Resorts. We encourage our travelers to seek out more authentic experiences.  While all-inclusive resorts provide the perks of easy, pre-packaged experiences that offer a reliable level of quality and the comfort of predictability, they lack the genuine cultural experience that can make all the difference in a trip. Resorts provide a contained location for relaxation and ease in a beautiful environment, but they bypass many aspects that make Costa Rica unique, such as its warm and friendly people, Spanish language, traditional foods, and way of life.   

Plan a Trip to Costa Rica!

By planning a trip with the Costa Rica Escapes travel planning team you can reap the benefits of quality-assured accommodations and activities with the memory-making characteristics of an authentic destination itinerary. Regardless of your choice, Costa Rica provides a natural backdrop of wildlife volcanos, beaches, and tropical forests. By going for an authentic destination itinerary with Costa Rica Escapes you can add depth, learning, and cultural understanding to your trip. 

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