Dramatic Volcanoes, Misty Cloud Forests, and that Pura Vida Life!
Costa Rica Travel Guide
Known For: Pura Vida, beaches, volcanoes, wildlife, jungles, and adventure
Just a short flight from Houston lies a country filled with beautiful beaches, lush rainforests, exotic wildlife, and plenty of activities – Costa Rica!
Families will have a blast trekking through the jungle in search of sloth before taking to the treetops on a zip line adventure. For those in search of romance, head to the beach for a little R & R, or make your way to the Arenal region and relax at one of the many natural hot springs. With it’s unique mix of beachside relaxation and jungle adventures, Costa Rica is a perfect choice for travelers looking for the best of both worlds on their next vacation!
Airports: LIR; SJO
Best Time to Visit: The country is made up of many microclimates, and it has no true winter season due to its location close to the equator. High Seasons – The beach regions are driest November – April while the Arenal mountain region has its high season May – November. Green Season: May – November for the beach areas offers the best surfing while November – April in the mountainous regions offers better whitewater rafting and lusher rainforests.
Who it’s great for:
The varied landscapes of Costa Rica are an adventure lovers dream! Spend some time both above and under the waves by wind surfing, surfing and scuba diving while visiting Peninsula Papagayo. Or take to the treetops in the Arenal region and make your way across suspended bridges in the canopy before ziplining back to ground level. Our top pick is a stay at Pacuare Lodge, where the adventure starts before you even arrive with a white water rafting trip into the remote jungle (check out below for more details!).
The same ocean waters and jungle canopies that make Costa Rica a have for adventure seekers offer delicious ingredients for those that are more inclined to follow their stomach rather than a trail through the rainforest. The capital city San Jose offers great dining options and a growing food scene that attracts food lovers from across the globe, but the real gem is the Central Highlands. Make the trek outside the city to explore the farms producing the country’s most important crop: arabica coffee beans!
Art and Design Lovers
Art lovers will definitely want to make a stop in the capital city of San Jose. While it may not be the most beautiful capital in Central America, the city offers plenty of visual delight with Spanish colonial architecture, museums offering ancient art and artifacts and street art adding pops of color across the cityscape.
Nature lovers will have a blast strolling the pristine beaches or hiking through the mountainous jungles. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled for local wildlife such as sloth, anteaters, monkeys, and the elusive quetzal. Make sure to check out the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio for stunning views of the sea and the chance to see local wildlife.
Costa Rica is packed full of activities for travelers of all types! Spend your time at one of the barefoot-luxe beach destinations relaxing on the sand, surfing the break or scuba diving and snorkeling beneath the sparkling waters. For those headed inland, take some time to hike the slopes of Arenal volcano and explore the jungles surrounding the mountain.
Simply translated, it means “simple life” or “pure life”, but in Costa Rica, it is more than just a saying— it’s an emotion, it’s an attitude, it’s happiness and it is a way of life. For Costa Ricans pura vida means no worries, no stress, it’s all good. They live life by this philosophy and are thankful for what they have not upset about what they don’t!
Ready to dive in? Check out our in depth destination guides below for recommendations on activities, hotels, and more in some of Costa Rica’s most popular areas.
The northwestern part of Costa Rica is home to the country’s sunniest and most popular beaches (our favorites are on the Papagayo Peninsula!). Fun beach towns and beautiful resorts dot this long string of coastline, the most popular being Playa del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Playa Conchal, Tamarindo, and the Papagayo Peninsula.
Arenal is known as the adventure capital of Costa Rica – think ziplining, whitewater rafting, hiking, swimming in waterfalls, and more! The Arenal Volcano serves as the picturesque backdrop and is surrounded by a large national park filled with hiking trails and opportunities to spot wildlife. Our River Oaks Travel team recommends this region as a must-visit for any Costa Rica trip.
Described by National Geographic as “the jewel in the crown of cloud forests,” the Monteverde Cloud Forest is a green oasis that is home to wildlife like jaguars, ocelots, quetzal, tapir, and more. Constant cloud cover hangs over the canopy, adding an air of mystery as you hike or zipline along wooded paths and rushing waterfalls.
Costa Rica’s capital city is typically used as a stopover before heading to other areas, but is growing in popularity for travelers! Explore museums displaying indigenous jade and pre-Columbian gold, try one of the countless restaurants, or shop for souvenirs to take back home. Plus, San Jose is a great base for excursions into the surrounding mountains and coffee country.
Our Favorite Hotels in Costa Rica
Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo
Great For: Families of All Ages, Couples
Find your perfect version of “Pura Vida” at this Peninsula Papagayo retreat where indulgent relaxation and adventurous activity meet! The Four Seasons Peninsula Papagayo is perched on a hillside overlooking the Pacific Ocean and offers guests everything from zip lining and surfing to luxurious spa treatments and world class dining. With tons of on-site activities, an amazing explorers club for kids aged 4-12 and a “too cool” teen club house every member of the family can create their own perfect holiday. For a more romantic trip, choose a Canopy Plunge Pool Suite and indulge yourself in plenty of space as well as a private pool so that you never have to leave your room!
Andaz Peninsula Papagayo
Great For: Couples, Families, Spa Lovers
With spaces packed with rich indigenous woods, local art, and handwoven textiles the Andaz Costa Rica brings the outside in and showcases the pura vida lifestyle that Costa Rica is known for. Nestled in a stunning location with the Gulf of Papagayo laid at it’s feet and the lush mountains at it’s back, the resort offers a natural playground of 1,400 acres for guests to explore through curated experiences like mountain biking, cruises through the mangrove forest and kayaking along one of the 3 beaches. For a more relaxing trip take time to lounge by the pool and visit the amazing Onda Spa.
Nayara Gardens & Nayara Springs
Great For: Spa Lovers, Couples, Families, Romance
This five-star boutique property with its private villas, world class dining and relaxing spa facilities is the definition of barefoot luxury! The family friendly Naryara Gardens offers plenty of activity to keep the kids busy (did we mention that you can spot capuchin monkeys straight from your room!) while the adults only Nayara Springs gives guests a sense of secluded luxury. For a truly special experience we recommend checking out their tented camp tucked into the canopy of the surrounding jungle!
Tabacon Thermal Spa & Resort
Great For: Families, Couples, Romance, Spa Lovers
Nestled in a mystical setting at the base of the Arenal Volcano and in the heart of the Costa Rican rainforest is the luxe Tabacon Thermal Resort. With more than 900 acres of lush tropical jungle surrounding the property and stunning thermal springs running through the resort, guests truly feel transported to another world. This is taken a step further at the adults only Shangri-La Gardens area of the resort where guests 18 and older will find the perfect place to unwind and relax after an active day exploring all the adventure that the area has to offer.
Great For: Adrenalin Junkies, Families with older children, Couples
The most unique property on our list (and possibly one of the most unique in the Americas!) is Pacuare Lodge. Located on the banks of the Pacuare River in central Costa Rica, this 20 suite eco lodge gives guests the chance to fully disconnect with the outside world and tune in to nature in all her glory. The adventure begins before you arrive, as you raft the Pacuare River’s white-water rapids to the lodge’s shores. Through the rest of your stay take time to explore the verdant jungles surrounding the lodge with experiences like canyoning, canopy adventures, hikes to hidden waterfalls, animal and bird watching and hikes to visit the Cabécar indigenous people.
Papagayo Luxury Villas
Great For: Families, Small Groups, Privacy
Papagayo Luxury offers guests handpicked properties in spectacular settings. With luxe rentals offering 3 or more bedrooms, a personal concierge and even private chefs available a private villa is a great option for small groups of guests wanting to travel together. Each villa is different and inclusions are fully customizable, so your River Oaks Travel advisor will help you to find the perfect match!
Looking for more to inspire your next Mexican getaway? Check out our blog posts for details on our favorite hotels, experiences and more to be found South of the Border!
As you may guess from the name, the biggest draw of Tabacon is their thermal spa and hot springs. The resort sits on the largest network of thermal mineral springs in Costa Rica, fed by the Tabacon river and heated by the Arenal volcano. The thermal waters flows into dozens of cascading waterfalls and warm pools, offering plenty of spots to relax and soak away the day! While day use passes are available, all Tabacon Resort guests receive unlimited access to the hot springs.
Pacuare Lodge is a luxury ecolodge located on 25,000 acres of pristine Costa Rican rainforest. Adventure is the name of the game here, starting even before you arrive! You’ll start your journey by car from the capital city of San Jose, until you reach the Pacuare River. There, you’ll gear up for a whitewater rafting adventure that takes you another hour deeper into the jungle to the lodge itself. (Don’t worry – your luggage will take the longer journey by road and will meet you in your room a few hours later!)
Looking for the perfect luxury retreat in Costa Rica? Look no further than the beautiful Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo. The resort is located on the northwest Pacific Coast and is just 30 minutes from the international airport, making it a great option for families that need a quick getaway. But once you arrive, we promise you may never want to leave!
Ready to Plan YOUR Costa Rican Adventure?!
Whether you’re traveling to Costa Rica for the first time or you’ve already discovered your perfect version of Pura Vida, our River Oaks Travel Concierge team is here to make your experience amazing! Reach out to our team to get started planning your getaway today!