Where to Stay in Costa Rica: 15 Best Areas

Where to stay in Costa Rica

Here we are going to discuss 15 great spots where you can stay in Costa Rica; this is by no means an exhaustive list because this amazing country has a lot to offer, but you will not be disappointed by the choices below.

Over the last couple of decades, Costa Rica has been ranked as one of the hottest vacation spots in the Americas, and this has a lot to do with the considerable effort put forth by the national tourism industry to attract more visitors. 

Costa Rica is often described as the “Switzerland of the Americas” because of its mountainous geography and commitment to peace. 

This country is also famous for its rich biodiversity, pristine nature preserves, great coffee, enduring democracy, relaxed lifestyle, and having been able to thrive without the need for armed forces. 

Despite being a tiny country, Costa Rica offers about 100 beaches, dozens of national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, active volcanoes, pleasant microclimates, vibrant nightlife, arts, culture, and plenty of adventure. 

The tourism infrastructure is well developed; you can arrive at either of two international airports, two seaports, or cross the land borders with Nicaragua and Panama. For the most part, getting around on ground transportation is fairly easy

Driving a rental car can be a bit of an adventure, but you also have the option of boarding quick domestic flights. Some travelers who stay in Costa Rica on extended vacations take advantage of their proximity to San Andres, Panama, and Nicaragua in order to book quick flights and make the most out of their experiences.

Where to stay in Costa Rica: Best Areas

We are going to cover some of the best places you can choose to stay in Costa Rica, and we will also discuss your lodging options as well as the kind of activities you can enjoy. 

Each of the destinations described below offers certain unique charms; to a great extent, this diversity is what makes this Central American nation such a great vacation spot. 

One more thing we should mention before going into detail about your future stay in Costa Rica: The high tourist season starts in November and continues through early May, which happens to coincide with the North American winter. 

What this means for you when planning your trip is that higher prices can be expected in terms of accommodation, transportation, and other travel expenses; at the same time, booking may be a little tight, but you will enjoy the benefit of postcard weather with virtually no rain. 

During the rest of the year, lodging is far more affordable, and you will not have to worry about dealing with crowds at major attractions; moreover, strong rains will mostly last a few hours during the afternoon unless a tropical storm system blows in from the Caribbean.

1. Cahuita, where to stay in Costa Rica for true Caribbean flavor

Costa Rica is blessed with two coastlines: One faces the Pacific Ocean and the other is located along the Caribbean Sea. Cahuita is part of the latter, and it exudes true Caribbean flavor. 

Located in the province of Limon, Cahuita is home to a pristine coral reef park and nature preserve where you can appreciate everything from sloths to monkeys and from reef sharks to stingrays.

Cahuita is a premier destination for cruise ship passengers who disembark at the port terminal in nearby Limon. 

The distinct and relaxed Caribbean atmosphere makes this coastal town irresistible; the friendly locals speak Spanish and English along with the regional Mekatelyu variant of creole English. 

This is a place where you can enjoy delicious Afro-Caribbean cuisine, surfing, snorkeling, scuba diving, and nature.

Aside from the large national park, Cahuita counts with Playa Negra as one of its main attractions. This idyllic black-sand beach is perfect to visit during the dry season months, which unfold opposite to the green season elsewhere in the country. 

Some tourists take advantage of their visit to schedule a trip to Bocas del Toro, a Caribbean island right across the border in Panama, where there are even more beaches and nature preserves to explore.

When you choose Cahuita as your main spot to stay in Costa Rica, you will be able to visit the Tree of Life wildlife rehabilitation center and botanical gardens. Don’t miss the butterfly sanctuary or the guided tours into the tropical forest. 

Your hotel options include boutique country lodges and bungalows by the sea; thanks to the influx of tourism created by the cruise industry, some hoteliers have been able to upgrade their accommodations with perks such as gourmet meals, Wi-Fi, and even air conditioning in some cases. 

There are a couple of hostels for budget travelers, but they tend to be crowded and only cost marginally less than the beach bungalows, which are called “cabinas de playa.” 

Cahuita is not the kind of place where you will find all-inclusive resorts or international hotel chains; plus, the nightlife is limited to a couple of beach bars, but you can always head to nearby Limon or Puerto Viejo for this type of recreation.

2. Monteverde, best place to stay in Costa Rica for ecotourism

There is a good chance you have seen images or scenes depicting the cloud forest of Monteverde on films, video games, and tourism websites. 

The elevated hanging rope bridges of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, which is recognized by National Geographic as one of the best ecotourism destinations in the world, have become an iconic attraction of Costa Rica.

Most travelers who stay in Costa Rica specifically for ecotourism are known to include Monteverde in their itineraries, and this is because the cloud forest is a wonderful sight to behold. 

You do not want to miss this experience; getting here is relatively easy because Monteverde is in the province of Puntarenas, not far from the beaches along the Pacific Ocean and relatively close to the capital city.

Nearly all the activities you can get into in Monteverde have to do with adventure and ecotourism. The canopy tours of the cloud forest should not be missed; even if your stay in Costa Rica is short, you should take time to schedule a visit, especially if you enjoy bird watching. 

Even though the town of Monteverde itself is small, the diversity of accommodations is impressive. 

You can stay at a budget hostel in the town or at affordable cabins in the mountains; nonetheless, there are a few luxury resorts where the pricing is more than reasonable when you take into account everything they offer. 

Staying at bed and breakfast properties in Monteverde is highly recommended if your stay in Costa Rica is scheduled for a few days.

3. Puerto Jimenez, hikes, fishing, whale and dolphin watching and archeological spots

Located on the southern Pacific coast, Puerto Jimenez is an expat enclave and a somewhat hidden tourism destination with a lot to offer. 

Puerto Jimenez is a small coastal town adjacent to Corcovado National Park, a massive rainforest that illustrates why Costa Rica is such an amazing destination for ecotourism. 

Whereas the climate close to the beach is dry and crisp, Corcovado is extremely humid, and you should keep this in mind when booking accommodations.

In many tourism guidebooks, Puerto Jimenez is listed as an attraction that visitors should save for last; the basis of this recommendation is that it takes about seven hours to get here from San Jose, but you can also fly into the small regional airport on a short flight that takes less than an hour from just about anywhere in the country. 

Renting a car in Puerto Jimenez used to be pretty adventurous, but now it is highly recommended because the roads around town are freshly paved.

If you make Puerto Jimenez your sole place to stay in Costa Rica, you will not be disappointed. 

The hikes around Corcovado are amazing, but keep in mind that this is the rainforest, which means that you should not venture down unmarked paths unless you do so with local guides, who in turn do not go into the jungle without GPS, maps, trackers, communications devices, and emergency gear. 

Along the coast, you can take advantage of sport fishing, whale and dolphin watching tours, day trips to archeological spots, horse riding, seafood restaurants, and beach relaxation.

In addition to beach cottages and bungalows, Puerto Jimenez offers a couple of hostels, numerous country lodges, and a few boutique hotels, many of which provide luxurious amenities. 

You can expect to pay a bit more for beachfront locations and rooms with panoramic views of Corcovado.

4. Puerto Viejo, where to stay in Costa Rica for a bohemian vibe and laid back nightlife

There are two vacation destinations named Puerto Viejo in Costa Rica.; one is a rural tourism enclave located in the province of Heredia, and the other is a Caribbean beach town located in Limon. 

We will discuss the latter Puerto Viejo, which is considered to be one of the most bohemian towns of Costa Rica, but you should also try to arrange a visit to the former if you have the time.

Puerto Viejo is very close to the aforementioned Cahuita, but it is a party town with a more laid-back atmosphere. If your plans to stay in Costa Rica include crossing the border into Panama, this is an ideal spot because you will be right along the border. 

Puerto Viejo is the kind of place where North American and European expats intermingle with indigenous people of Talamanca and Rastafarian bars. The local beach is small, but it connects with others such as Playa Cocles and Punta Uva

Snorkeling, surfing, and visits to nature preserves as well as indigenous villages are among the various daytime amenities of Puerto Viejo; at night, numerous beach bars come alive with live music, predominantly reggae, calypso, and Caribbean-infused rock.

You should not let the bohemian vibe of Puerto Viejo dissuade you from traveling here with your family. 

When booking hotels here, read the description and contact the staff to check if it is family-friendly; you will get honest answers because the good people of southern Limon, who tend to be bilingual, are actually conservative, but they do not mind the development of Puerto Viejo as a nightlife district. 

As can be expected, beach hostels cost a bit more than what you would pay elsewhere, but the rest of the accommodations tend to be reasonably priced.

5. San Jose, where to stay in Costa Rica for culture, sightseeing and nightlife

The capital city is a good place to stay in Costa Rica if you intend to visit various spots around the country. Even though San Jose is small, it is a bustling city where one million people transit on a daily basis.

Some districts of San Jose feature a slightly European flavor while others are traditional middle-class neighborhoods. The outskirts of the city are where you can see spectacular hillside mansions within ritzy neighborhoods. 

Like other Latin American capitals, San Jose can be noisy and feel chaotic during the daytime, but it is also fun, generally safe, and interesting.

It should be noted that SJO, the main international airport, is actually located in Alajuela, but it takes about minutes to drive to the downtown districts.

If culture and nightlife is what you want to experience when you stay in Costa Rica, San Jose is a great choice because you can arrange anything from coffee farm tours, which are highly recommended, to visits to live volcanoes and even trips to the Pacific beaches. 

Don´t miss the Costa Rica National Theater, el Museo del Oro Precolombino (Precolumbian Gold Museum), the Jade Museum, and the National Museum.

San Jose is an excellent base of operations during your stay in Costa Rica, and you can find plenty of major international chain hotels, hostels, ultra-low budget hotels, boutique inns, and business hotels. 

The weather in San Jose always feels great, but you should pack an umbrella from July to November. Try not to stay too close to the city center unless you are a sound sleeper who is not bothered by noise.

Read also: Where to stay in Panama City, where to stay in The Dominican Republic, where to stay in Mexico City, where to stay in The Bahamas

6. La Fortuna, nice place to stay in Costa Rica for families and adventure seekers

Quite a few travelers who arrive at SJO are whisked away by ground transportation to La Fortuna de San Carlos, an emblematic tourism destination in the Americas.

Even if your stay in Costa Rica will only last a few days, you will not go wrong with choosing La Fortuna, a resort town that lies at the foot of the active Arenal volcano, which looks like a miniature version of Mount Fuji in Japan, but which often comes alive at night with an impressive display of small incandescent eruptions.

La Fortuna is extremely family-friendly; this is the kind of destination where all-inclusive resorts and luxurious international hotel chains abound, but you can also find country lodges, bed and breakfast inns, hostels, and mountain cabins. 

The hospitality standards are pretty high in this part of Costa Rica, and the cuisine is of the highest quality. When you stay in La Fortuna, you simply must relax in the natural warm springs, and some of the most upscale hotels have them within their properties.

7. Tamarindo, where to stay in Costa Rica on the beach

The prettiest beaches of Costa Rica are located in the Guanacaste province, and this is where you can find Tamarindo, a coastal town blessed with a scenic beach that combines an estuary, a rocky section with a surf break, and a very long strip of golden sand.

Tamarindo is one of the most developed beach towns of Costa Rica; some people label it as being too Americanized, but that would actually be Jaco Beach in Puntarenas, which we will describe below. 

There is a high concentration of American and Canadian expats living in Tamarindo; as a result, this beach town has quite a few conveniences and suburban comforts that are not normally found in more remote coastal towns. 

All in all, Tamarindo is a very convenient place to stay in Costa Rica even if you find it to be a bit expensive. It should be noted that proximity to the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport is a major advantage.

As for accommodations, beachfront hotels dominated the landscape, but if you do not mind staying a few blocks away from the beach, luxurious resorts tend to be more reasonably priced. 

If you stay here, you can also travel to nearby beach towns such as Playas del Coco, which are larger and more laid-back. Boat trips and catamaran tours are highly recommended.

8. Manuel Antonio, white sandy beaches and a national park with abundant wildlife

Often voted as being one of the most accessible national parks of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio is an interesting vacation spot where residential and resort districts are practically within the main nature preserve. 

The white sandy beaches of Manuel Antonio are legendary, and the pristine national park is lovingly maintained for the benefit of visitors of all ages.

One thing that should be mentioned about Manuel Antonio is that it is highly recommended for wheelchair tourists whose idea of a nice stay in Costa Rica is to be able to experience nature. 

The national park is a jewel of tourism, and it constantly attracts local families because its abundant wildlife can be appreciated during easy hikes.

With regard to accommodations, they range from beach cabins to low-rise beach hotels and country lodges. It is not too difficult to find rooms with a view of the Pacific Ocean, and they tend to be reasonably priced.

9. Santa Teresa, where to stay in Costa Rica in a gorgeous beach town

A few years ago, this gorgeous beach town on the Nicoya Peninsula was mostly known to locals who did not visit often because it was not easy to reach. 

Things have changed significantly for Santa Teresa since Hollywood celebrities started moving in and building hidden mansions in the forested hills overlooking the sea. 

Once The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times started publishing articles about the burgeoning market for luxury real estate, the town opened up to tourists.

Santa Teresa is a collection of beaches where the mangrove and tropical dry forest run all the way to the shore. 

Depending on the length of your stay in Costa Rica, you may be able to visit Playa Carmen, Playa Hermosa, and Santa Teresa over a few days, but you will want to make time for attractions such as a boat trip to Tortuga Island and snorkeling in the tide pools. 

Here you can visit the Montezuma waterfall, the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve and the Curu Wildlife Reserve. 

You can find hostels and budget inns closer to Playa Carmen, but hidden luxury resorts with private access to the beach are on the northern end of town; these are extremely trendy and upscale hotels complete with concierge service.

10. Nosara, paradisiacal beach area great for yoga and learn surf

Here is another paradisiacal hidden beach in the Nicoya Peninsula; if you look at the map, it appears to be close to Santa Teresa, but traversing between the two would require horseback riding or even a helicopter. 

You can fly into a local airport from San Jose on a sightseeing aircraft operated by Nature Air or Sansa, and this would make your stay in Costa Rica more memorable.

Nosara is a large beach town, but it is fairly spread out. The ideal vacations here are resort-intensive; you have specialty hotels that offer yoga, spa, and detoxification packages. There are only a few budget accommodations. 

This place is excellent for anyone who wants to learn surfing or stand-up paddle boarding, and it is also ideal for family adventures.

11. Jaco, where to stay in Costa Rica for nightlife

As one of the closest beaches to the capital city, Jaco is also the most developed and Americanized. If you are familiar with Southern California beach towns, this is what Jaco Beach feels like; in fact, some expats call it “Long Beach.”

The best and most challenging surf breaks in Central America can be found in Jaco. This is a very large beach where it is almost impossible to find a day where chest-high swells are not rolling. 

Surfers from around the world know about the long rights that form in Jaco Beach, but they also know that the currents can be treacherous. There are lifeguards on the beach here, but please be careful in the water.

The Jaco nightlife is legendary enough to have been featured on the Travel Channel numerous times. This is one of the few towns in Costa Rica where you will find high-rise beach resorts and condos complete with casinos and nightclubs. 

The area offers a wide range of outdoor activities from kayaking to hiking to fishing to horseback riding to surfing.

Jaco is also a great gateway to national parks, such as the Carrara National Park or the Pura Vida Park.

The all-inclusive resorts are the best bet for families, and there are a couple of hostels, but they are not as affordable as elsewhere along the Pacific coast.

12. Montezuma, bohemian surf town

Often referred to as the Puerto Viejo of the Pacific Coast, Montezuma is a bohemian surf town perfect for tourists who think Jaco and Tamarindo are too developed. 

A small nightlife district in front of a pristine beach is the main draw of Montezuma, and this is where a few hostels, beach cottages, and budget hotels can be found. 

Backpackers and surfers are more likely to enjoy Montezuma than families, but this beach town is a more affordable alternative to nearby Santa Teresa.

Many visual artists will tell you that Montezuma is their favorite place to stay in Costa Rica, and this is made evident when you visit the small town center, which is nicely decorated by local artisans. 

A few art galleries, studios, and workshops have opened here over the last few years, and this has also attracted international chefs to Montezuma. 

Interestingly, the similarities to Puerto Viejo extend to residential architecture styles because many properties feature Caribbean design.

If you stay here, be sure to visit the Romelia Wildlife Reserve and the local waterfall, which attracts many couples on their honeymoon visits. During the two weeks before Easter Sunday, Montezuma gets overrun by local tourists and party-seekers; be sure to keep this in mind when you book your stay.

13. Drake Bay, small and adventurous vacation spot on the southern Pacific coast

Located to the north of Puerto Jimenez, Drake Bay is a small and adventurous vacation spot on the southern Pacific coast. If you want to stay in Costa Rica for the purpose of experiencing what the locals refer to as Pura Vida, Drake Bay is a smart choice.

Drake Bay is even more remote than Puerto Jimenez; you will need to board a ferry to get here unless you want to spend hours driving around confusing roads. 

Drake Bay is meant to be enjoyed on foot or on the water; the lodging options are not as elaborate as Puerto Jimenez, but staying in a cabin by the beach or in a country lodge at the edge of the rainforest is totally worth it. 

This place is one of the best areas to stay in Costa Rica for nature lovers. This area hosts more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity.

Aside from hiking, fishing, surfing, swimming, and enjoying fresh seafood, there is not much else to do here, but your experience is bound to be unforgettable.

14. Playa Conchal, where to stay in Costa Rica for scuba diving

Be sure to pack thick-soled beach sandals and a bucket if Playa Conchal is where you choose to stay in Cista Rica. In a country filled with amazing beaches, Conchal takes the cake because it is blessed with a long stretch of sand completely covered with seashells. 

Marine biologists often come here to study the gentle ocean current that has been depositing seashells here over millions of years, and one explanation is that the waters that surround this small bay are teeming with life.

 If you are into scuba diving, Conchal is where you should stay in Costa Rica.

Conchal is very remote, but it is strategically located in the Gulf of Nicoya and not far from the Liberia airport. 

The only lodging options in Conchal are a couple of luxury all-inclusive beach resorts, and they are worth every penny because they provide the kind of pampering we should all be able to experience at least once in our lives.

15. Papagayo Gulf, where to stay in Costa Rica for luxury vacation

We left this destination for the end not because it is the most ritzy in Costa Rica; it is simply the best vacation spot in the Guanacaste province, and you should strongly consider making it your reason to stay in Costa Rica. 

The Gulf of Papagayo is also a peninsula, and it is home to spectacular beaches that lie at the edge of a very large tropical dry forest and nature preserve. 

It is in this pretty land where the most exclusive resorts in Costa Rica have been developed, and they are the kind of hotels where everything is taken care of for guests.

Without a doubt, the Gulf of Papagayo is the most attractive tourism destination in the Guanacaste province; to a certain extent, the great concentration of luxury resorts in this part of the country is what motivated the construction of the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, which can be described as a boutique air terminal. 

When you land here, you will likely see limousines and luxury SUVs waiting to pick up air travelers and whisk them off to the finest all-inclusive resorts in Central America.

Papagayo is the region with the most five-star resorts per square kilometer in Costa Rica. Your lodging choices start with adults-only hideaways to all-inclusive beach resorts for the entire family. 

You can also book golf villas at exclusive country clubs where the fairways are on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean. 

While you can find boutique beach cottages, bed and breakfast inns, and small condominiums for long-term vacation rentals, you should not expect to find hostels or budget hotels in the Gulf of Papagayo.

When you choose Papagayo as the place where you will stay in Costa Rica, there is a strong possibility that you may not want to leave; in fact, quite a few wealthy foreigners and celebrities have secured real estate here over the last few years. 

Some people say that Papagayo reminds them of high-end resort towns in Hawaii, but prettier and more laid-back. 

This is the kind of place where hotel concierge staff will arrange for you to be taken to nearby wildlife preserves in Mercedes-Benz SUV, and where your snorkeling excursion starts aboard a luxury charter boat complete with a champagne toast and gourmet hors d’oeuvres. 

As for dining and nightlife, you will be able to enjoy venues within easy walking distance of your hotel room if you stay at the right resort.

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