What is Costa Rica Known for? 20 Reasons to Visit

Located in the middle of Central America and known for being one of the happiest countries in the world is Costa Rica.

It’s a country of immensely diverse wildlife, stunning jungles and beaches, and rich culture. There’s a lot to explore in this country, and there’s no wondering why it’s such a popular place to visit.

Read on to learn what is Costa Rica known for, why you should visit, and some key facts about the tourism industry in Costa Rica.

Reasons to visit Costa Rica:

1. Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park

This national park is located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast and was officially established in 1991 to protect the endangered plants and animals that live in the area’s rich ecosystems. Meaning “turtle catcher” in Spanish, Tortuguero National Park is home to green sea, leatherback, and hawksbill turtles, which lay their eggs on the shores of the park. The eggs hatch several weeks later, and baby turtles make their way across the sand to the sea.

Although the park is remote and can only be accessed by plane or boat, it is Costa Rica’s third-most visited park. This is because of its undeniable natural beauty and the various animals and plants that live there. The park serves as a refuge for endangered species, supports tourism in the country, and is used as a location for environmental education.

2. Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve

Cloud forests are a special natural phenomenon that can only be found in a few places around the world. Costa Rica is one of these places, and it boasts several. Perhaps the most famous of Costa Rica’s cloud forests is the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, which served as a filming location for the film Avatar.

This reserve is home to an incredibly diverse plant and animal population and is a community-managed reserve rather than a governmental one.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is one of the most-visited cloud forests in the world. It was founded in 1972, contains more than 10,500 hectares of forest, and hosts around 70,000 visitors each year.

The landscape of this cloud forest and the biodiversity are two things that make this park so popular. It’s also possible to even spend the night in this reserve for visitors that would like to experience a cloud forest on another level.

3. Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park

Don’t let the size of Manuel Antonio National Park fool you. It may be the smallest national park in Costa Rica, but it was listed among the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world by Forbes.

The park is located in southern Costa Rica and gets about 150,000 visitors every year who want to see its picturesque beaches and hiking trails.

In addition to its beautiful landscape, this national park has 109 different species of mammals and 184 species of birds, making it the most biodiverse in Costa Rica.

The climate is another draw for many tourists, and construction is currently underway to be able to accommodate the number of annual visitors.

4. Poas Volcano

Poas Volcano
Poas Volcano

The Poas Volcano is in Costa Rica’s national park of the same name and contains two giant craters, one of which is among the largest active craters in the world.

This is an active volcano, and the most recent eruptive activity happened in 2019, closing the surrounding area to tourists. Limited access has reopened, but the volcano is under constant watch for new activity. 

In the bottom of the Poas Volcano’s craters are two lakes: Laguna Caliente is the larger of the two and is one of the most acidic lakes in the world. Lake Botos fills the smaller crater to the south and is surrounded by a cloud forest. There are spectacular views to be had of the craters at this volcano when it is safe and weather permits.

5. Hanging Bridges

Hanging Bridges
Hanging Bridges

Walking on a hanging bridge is one of the best ways to experience a forest canopy, and Costa Rica is known for having some very popular options.

Two of the best locations in the country to experience forests from a hanging bridge are in La Fortuna or in Monteverde. Both of these towns are about two-and-a-half hours from San Jose, the country’s capital.

In La Fortuna, there are two main parks that showcase exciting hanging bridge trails: Mistico Hanging Bridges Park and Arenal Park. When the weather is clear enough, you can get a fantastic view of the Arenal Volcano. Monteverde is another location with amazing hanging bridges, and the cloud forest atmosphere makes for an entirely different experience.

6. Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National Park

This is Costa Rica’s largest national park, covering 424 km2 of the Osa Peninsula; it was founded in 1975. It is one of the country’s most special parks for its flora and fauna, and was called:

the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity

by National Geographic

The Osa Peninsula contains 2.5% of the Earth’s biodiversity despite covering only .001% of the planet’s surface area.

The waters around the park are also full of life: humpback whales use the waters off the park shores as breeding grounds, and other whales and dolphins live in the area.

7. Ostional

Ostional
Ostional

Located on the west coast of Costa Rica is the Ostional Wildlife Reserve, an important nesting site for sea turtles. There is a specific one-mile stretch of black volcanic sand where olive ridley sea turtles sometimes lay thousands of eggs during the rainy season.

The area is protected to look after the reproduction of the endangered animal.

8. Playa Espadilla

Playa Espadilla
Playa Espadilla

MIn addition to its impressive jungles, Costa Rica is also known for its exceptional beaches. Playa Espadilla is a beach that is located right next to the entrance to Manuel Antonio National Park and boasts long, sandy beaches.

Related: Maps of Cost Rica

Dark sands and thick jungle that extends to the beach are two features that make this beach special and a favorite among tourists.

The beach is a favorite for those looking to simply relax under an umbrella, as well as those interested in exploring the bordering jungle and taking a quick swim. This beach has some shelter from open water, which makes for smaller waves and a good location for learning how to surf.

9. Hot Springs

Hotsprings
Hotsprings

Why visit Costa Rica? For many, the hot springs are the answer.

The waters are naturally warmed from the Arenal Volcano and are rich in mineral salts and ions which benefit the skin, improve circulation, promote better sleep, and have a relaxing effect.

There are many hotels and facilities offering luxurious hot spring experiences in Costa Rica, but it’s also possible to simply visit the natural hot springs independently and enjoy being in nature without paying money.

10. Playa Manzanillo

Playa Manzanillo
Playa Manzanillo

Playa Manzanillo is another of Costa Rica’s gorgeous beaches, although there are actually two beaches that share the name.

The beach of this name on the Pacific Coast of the country is on the Nicoya Peninsula and is known for being secluded and peaceful. There isn’t much development around the beach, which makes it an ideal place to connect to nature. There is also excellent snorkeling here.

The Playa Manzanillo on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is also known for its beauty. It’s located within the Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife and Marine Refuge and is the furthest-south town on the Caribbean coast before reaching Panama. It’s just a 20-minute drive from popular surf destination Puerto Viejo and is relatively quiet compared to other Costa Rican beaches.

11. Sloths

What is Costa Rica Known for? 20 Reasons to Visit 1
Sloths

The sloth may be an unlikely superstar, but it’s a major attraction for many tourists in Costa Rica. Two of the six sloth species in the world can be found here, though you may have better luck spotting one with a guide!

The country’s two-toed variety is nocturnal, and both types can sleep for up to 20 hours per day — they’ve got the slowest digestive system of any mammal on the planet.

While sloths can be found in most regions of the country, there are also sloth sanctuaries where visitors can go to volunteer and interact with the animals.

12. Happy People

What is Costa Rica Known for? 20 Reasons to Visit 2
Happy People

This is something Costa Ricans can certainly be proud of: it holds the number one spot on the Happiness Planet Index (HPI).

The HPI is a metric that measures the happiness of a country’s people relates to the sustainability of life in that country. One of the reasons Costa Rica rates so high on this list is that more than 99% of its electricity comes from renewable resources.

People also lead fulfilling lives in Costa Rica. All citizens have access to health care and education, and most people have an abundance of interpersonal relationships. The average life expectancy in Costa Rica is 78.5 years, six years higher than the global average.

13. Pura Vida

What is Costa Rica Known for? 20 Reasons to Visit 3
¡Pura Vida!

There are few cultures in the world that can be summed up in a single phrase, but that’s exactly what you’ll find in Costa Rica. In English the phrase means “pure life” or “simple life,” but it can be used in a variety of ways in Costa Rica. You might hear it used as a greeting or farewell, it can be used to let someone know how you are feeling, and it functions as a way to give thanks, among other uses.

Essentially, the phrase encapsulates a feeling of appreciation for the good things in life as well as an acceptance of whatever life brings one’s way. The phrase has also been used by several brands and is sometimes used in marketing endeavors.

14. Surfing

surfing
Surfing

Costa Rica has been one of the world’s most famous surfing destinations for many years. The excellent weather in combination with the quality, variety, and frequency of waves make it a prime location for world-class surfing.

Some of the most popular surf spots in the country are Witch’s Rock, Playa grande, Santa Teresa, and Playa Tamarindo, but there are many more. There are also beaches with less intense waves where beginners can take their time learning to surf.

15. Butterflies

Butterflies
Butterflies

The butterfly action in Costa Rica is some of the best in the world. There are over 1,200 different kinds of butterfly that can be seen flying around the country, and 18% of the world’s species can be found here. They are so abundant that they can be found in just about any region of the country and are not at all difficult to spot. The most notorious butterfly in Costa Rica is probably the blue morpho, which is one of the largest in the world and takes on a bright blue color.

For those interested, there are also some conservatories and gardens where visitors can get up close and personal with these colorful animals.

16. No Army

no army

Costa Rica is one of a handful of countries that does not have a military. The decision to abolish the military was made after the country’s civil war in 1948 and has had a number of positive effects on the country since.

Without a military to spend money on, the government has allocated more money to the education and health care of its people as well as environmental conservatism.

Costa Rica spends about 8% of its GDP on education, which is significantly higher than the global average of 4.8%. The economic efforts it makes in preserving the natural resources of the country have also increased tourism and enabled the production of sustainable energy.

17. Guaro

Guaro
Guaro

This sugcane-based alcohol is the national liquor of Costa Rica. It’s a potent drink that is somewhat similar to vodka in taste and can be enjoyed in a wide variety of ways.

There is a long history of guaro production in Costa Rica, and it was produced illegally in peoples’ homes before it was legalized. Since legalization, the drink has increased in popularity and is widely available throughout the country under the brand name Cacique.

18. Waterfalls

Waterfalls
Waterfalls

Among Costa Rica’s many stunning natural beauties are some of the regions most spectacular waterfalls. Part of what makes the waterfalls in this country stand out is the jungle environment in which many of them exist. There’s something special about finding a waterfall in the middle of a thick jungle.

La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most popular in the country, and is a destination of several tours that happen near the Arenal volcano. This waterfall is massive and falls 70 m (230 ft) before landing in the basin below.

Another of the country’s most famous waterfalls is the Rio Celeste Waterfall. Rather than being renowned for its height, this waterfall has a reputation for its schockingly blue color. There’s even a tale about God rinsing his paint brushes in the river after painting the sky.

19. Brirbi People

There are eight different indigenous peoples in Costa Rica, one of which is the Bribri people. They are a matrilineal society that lives in relatively isolated parts of the Talamanca canton and speak the Bribri language in addition to Spanish.

Related: Spanish Speaking Countries Around the World

There is a tourism program that allows visitors to come and learn about the Bribri culture and way of life, including learning about medicinal plants. This initiative grants some economic stability to the Bribri people and aids in preserving important elements of the culture.

20. Hummingbirds

Hummingbirds
Hummingbirds

Yet another wonderful animal that can be found in abundance in Costa Rica is the hummingbird. There are 50 different species of hummingbird in the country, two of which are not found in any other part of the world.

These birds are truly incredible — they are the world’s smallest birds, but they often cover thousands of miles while migrating. Their superfast heart rates and unique flying patterns also make them the only bird that can hover and fly backward with unmatched accuracy.

FAQs About Tourism in Costa Rica

Is it safe to visit Costa Rica?

It’s a good idea to check the U.S. Department of State for up-to-date travel advisories. Costa Rica is currently listed as “Level 4: Do Not Travel” due to high levels of COVID-19 in the country. There is also a risk of petty crime for tourists in the country, though this is a reality in many countries.
Costa Rica is a popular location for tourists, meaning there is plenty of infrastructure to support visitors, and there are additional security resources in areas with high numbers of tourists.

How many tourists will visit Costa Rica in 2022?

While tourism has been steadily growing in Costa Rica since the 1990s and is a major contributor to the country’s economy, the pandemic did have a negative impact on the number of tourists visiting the country since in 2020.
There have been many fewer tourists in the country since the beginning of the pandemic, but there is an upward trend, and numbers are expected to increase significantly in 2022.

What is the currency of Costa Rica?

The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colón, which is worth roughly $.0015 USD. The bills used in Costa Rica are colorful and contain images of animals that are native to the area.

When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?

The most popular time for tourists to visit Costa Rica is between December and April, when the weather is the driest and sunniest it is all year. That said, it can also be great to visit in May or June during the country’s green season, when there are also fewer tourists.

Which countries border Costa Rica?

The two countries that border Costa Rica are Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. It is also bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east.

What is San Jose, Costa Rica known for?

San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica and the most populous city in the country. It’s known for being a modern city with an urban center and for its cultural museums.