Breath-taking landmarks in Costa Rica: 16 ideas for your travel bucketlist
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Love it or hate it, there’s one thing you can’t deny about Costa Rica – it’s packed to the brim with stuff to see. It’s not the kind of place you could ever get bored, and there are activities, hikes and tours everywhere you look. So to help you build your personal bucketlist for your Central American travels, I’ve pulled together this list of famous landmarks in Costa Rica that you should be considering a visit to.
After reading this post on all the famous landmarks in Costa Rica, don’t miss out on:
This curated list of landmarks in Costa Rica is a collab post, which means that alongside my own recommendations, I’ve asked fellow travel bloggers to tell me all about the famous landmarks in Costa Rica that they’ve visited, too. This way, I can get more info to you as a reader without having travelled the entire country 🙂 You’ll see the bloggers’ names next to the landmark they chose to write about.
I’ve loosely clustered these landmarks in Costa Rica by region to hopefully make it a little easier to digest; you’ll can follow me around the map from North-ish to South-ish. So, let’s get started, shall we?
16 of the most incredible landmarks in Costa Rica:
1. Río Celeste
Shared by Daria, The Discovery Nut
Among the long list of natural landmarks in Costa Rica, Río Celeste is famous for its incredible waterfall and a stunning blue color of its river. The intense blue color of the water in the river comes from a combination of calcium carbonate and sulfur, however, there are several legends about where this color originated.
Bijagua de Upala is the closest town to Río Celeste, however, many visitors come here either from La Fortuna or Liberia. The best way to get to Río Celeste is by renting a car in one of the major tourist destinations, such as San Jose or Liberia that have international airports.
A hike to Rio Celeste takes you along stunning lagoons, hot springs, and a cascading waterfall, one of the most popular stops along the way. Since only a limited number of people are allowed to go down to the platform in front of the waterfall, you might have to wait in line before you are able to get there. That’s why you should come here earlier rather than later.
The entrance fee to Río Celeste is $10 USD per person. The Tenorio Volcano National Park in which it sits is open daily from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. This most blue of landmarks in Costa Rica is high on the bucketlists of people who visit Costa Rica for a week or more.
Rincón de la Vieja is a majestic volcano in the Guanacaste region of Costa Rica. The best way to get to the region is by plane, arriving at the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport. From the airport, you can rent a car and drive to the Rincón de la Vieja National Park, home not only to the volcano but also to hot springs, waterfalls, and all sorts of beguiling flora and fauna.
Translating to “The Old Woman’s Corner,” the volcano is almost 2000 meters in elevation and last erupted in June of 2020. As it is the highest point in the park, you will enjoy getting to see this more lofty of landmarks in Costa Rica from many angles as you hike or explore around.
You should also absolutely take advantage of the mud pits at the volcanic Rio Negro Hot Springs while you’re here, which are fantastic for soaking and are said to have all sorts of healing qualities, as well as the varied options for hiking and swimming.
3. Catarata Llanos del Cortés
My favourite of the famous landmarks in Costa Rica! Catarata Llanos del Cortés is a stunner of a waterfall in Bagaces, Guanacaste, which is thankfully yet to be overrun with tourism.
There is 5-10 minute (depending on your fitness) hike down the hill on uneven paths to get down to the waterfall from the car park. Once there, you can plop yourself down into the refreshingly cool river, which is very shallow near the riverside but swimmable closer to the falls. I’d recommend taking a waterproof dry bag with you (or even a handbag!) so you can have all your valuables by your side as you swim.
Though closest to the city of Liberia, which feels little more than a dusty agricultural town, Catarata Llanos del Cortés is sort of in the middle of nowhere, with only a small village built up around it. The best way to get to the waterfall is therefore to go with a small group tour or to rent a car (but make sure you read all the small print on extra charges and national insurance first. We got maaaajorly stung and ended up losing our deposit and not getting a hire car since we didn’t want to pay an extra $1000 for the week).
4. Arenal Volcano
Shared by McKenna, One More Step Travels
Arenal Volcano is Costa Rica’s most active volcano and is quite the sight to behold! The large mountain can be seen from all over the surrounding area, including from the nearby tourist town of La Fortuna. In fact, the town was even named La Fortuna (or, The Fortune) because of the fertile lands produced by Arenal Volcano.
One of the best places to gaze upon the volcano is from the top of neighboring volcano, Cerro Chato. Hiking is not allowed on Arenal Volcano, but a hike up Cerro Chato will give you all you need to enjoy the most fiery of landmarks in Costa Rica (including a green rainforest and plenty of wildlife).
Another popular viewing location — besides pulling off on the side of the road and snapping a few quick pictures — is Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa. You do not have to be a guest at the lodge to walk to the back of the property and see the stunning volcano.
La Fortuna Waterfall one of the most famous landmarks in Costa Rica’s central region, in the Alajuela Province, 5.5 km outside of the town also named La Fortuna. It is 70-75 meters tall. It is beautiful and very powerful, you cannot swim under the water it is too strong. The water is very cold and fed from the Arenal River.
It costs $18 to enter, or you can enter as part of a tour, that will cover the entrance fee as part of the tour fee. As with many of the famous landmarks in Costa Rica, it does require a little walking to get there. The walk down is pretty quick; there is a stair case built into the hillside. However, the hike back up takes a bit more time – fair warning, the restrooms are at the top.
You can swim in the river, there is a lifeguard on the lookout. It is a great stop, worth the drive and the hike, and despite TLC’s advice you should always go chasing waterfalls.
Imagine taking in the beauty of a Costa Rican tropical rainforest while being suspended 75 feet in the air on a 300 foot long hanging bridge. What an amazing experience that will last a lifetime. Not only does Mistico Park offer six hanging bridges to explore, but it also provides a phenomenal view of the Arenal Volcano – if you haven’t already clocked, this is an area full of landmarks in Costa Rica.
There are three options to explore these suspended landmarks in Costa Rica: a self-guided tour for $26/adult or a guided tour for $40/adult or as part of a transport-included private/small group tour with a local operator. The guides are specialists in the numerous species that call Mistico Park home. Similarly, there are night tour options as well. The adventure does not stop there as they also offer hiking tours of the Arenal Volcano and the option to explore tropical wildlife while floating on the Penas Blancas River.
Mistico Park is located about thirty minutes from downtown La Fortuna. Hiring a taxi or using a local tour company are easy ways to get there.
7. Tortuguero National Park
Shared by Claudia, My Adventures Across The World
Tortuguero National Park is a truly special place, and one of the most famous landmarks in Costa Rica for wildlife spotting. As the name hints, the park is a favorite location for turtles to lay their eggs – which usually between July and October. Eggs hatch between November and January. The park is also home to jaguars – which are however much more difficult to spot; sloths, monkeys, crocodiles and various species of birds, frogs and also snakes.
The park is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, and admission is $15 USD per person. While you can explore independently, the best way to visit is actually on a guided tour as you need a trained eye to spot animals among the very thick vegetation. Either way, you must rent wellies in the village before getting in the park: these are necessary to protect you from the mud as well as from animal bites (especially snakes). You should also only walk on the paths!
Tortuguero National Park is accessed from Tortuguero village, a truly remote place that can be reached by boat from Cariari, which is well connected to San José by bus. You can also fly to Tortuguero from San José.
8. San José de la Montaña
Shared by Dan, Layer Culture
If in Costa Rica and wanting a change from the beaches and tropical parks, why not get a bus and transport yourself up to San José de la Montaña? Located within the Heredia province, which is a safe part of Costa Rica situated in the mountains, this is different from other famous landmarks in Costa Rica in that it is known for having a Swiss Alps-like appearance.
The surrounding area and landscape is unique for a country located so close to the equator. To accompany the evergreen forest, you’ll get to taste the crisp mountain air, explore expansive walking trails, and see the pristine rivers.
San José de la Montaña also gives you the perfect starting point to be able to get over to Barva Volcano, which is situated just 22km (14 miles) north of San José and makes up part of Braulio Carrillo National park.
9. Irazú Volcano
Shared by Michelle, The Wandering Queen
One of the best landmarks in Costa Rica to visit near San Jose is the voclano of Volcano Irazú National Park. This volcano is easy to get to, does not require any hiking, and the views are phenomenal. Plus, there is a good chance that you will be above the clouds as the elevation is around 11,260ft (3,400m).
Irazú volcano is located an hour and a half away from San José and does have an entry fee of $15 USD, and they accept cash only. Please note that the price might change, so bring extra money just in case.
There are three main sections in the park: The Main Crater, Diego De La Haya Crater, and the Highest Viewpoint. All areas are worth the visit, but the Main Crater is the star of the show.
The crater is filled with bright blue turquoise water that is fantastic to capture. You can view the crater from above; just make sure to stay behind the fence. Volcano Irazú is an easy morning activity to visit with outstanding views and is one of the famous landmarks in Costa Rica that should not be missed!
10. Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica
Shared by Charlotte, Char’s Footsteps
Established in 1897, the National Theatre in San Jose is a stunning piece of architecture, situated in the heart of the city. The best way to see this most grandiose of famous landmarks in Costa Rica is to take an interactive guided tour for $10USD, or go as part of an all-day city tour. You’ll be hosted by several actors dressed in typical 1890’s costumes, which makes for a fun and interesting learning experience.
The Teatro Nacional is also home to many performances and shows held throughout the year. However, if you’re short on time, it’s still worth visiting to see the theatre’s impressive entrance, beautiful grand rooms, marble floors and surrounding artwork.
Be sure to visit the popular Alma de Cafe before you go, for fantastic coffee and food – including their famous gateaux!
11. Bahía Ballena
Over on the Nicoya Peninsula, Ballena Bay makes this list of breath-taking landmarks in Costa Rica for its sheer expanse. Approximately 8km of the sands of Playa Tambor surround the calm, warm(ish) water of the bay. As the name might suggest, the area is known for whales, and has a backdrop of lush, green hills.
There’s more or less nothing around Bahía Ballena, but that’s what’s nice about it. Take a moped or an ATV down from a nearby tourist hotspot such as Montezuma and bask in the tranquility that this bay brings. For the most part, the only thing you’ll have to share this bay with is a few birds.
12. Punta Cahuita
Punta Cahuita is a protected jut of beachy land that creates a beautiful bay leading to the town of Cahuita. While the beach of the point itself might not have much to write home about other than a couple of benches and the occasional sloth, the reason travellers actually come here is to explore what’s under the water. All around Punta Cahuita, you’ll find stretches of coral reefs and a drop-off wall of corals that almost gave me a heart-attack (ample warning for my fellow travellers with a phobia of open water).
Punta Cahuita is best accessed by small boat tour so that you can explore the reefs, but there is also the option to hike through the dense forest around it. The closest town is Cahuita, which is where you’ll need to go to pay $5 for your access to the Cahuita National Park. You cannot stay overnight in the park, but you can find plenty of accommodation in both Cahuita and nearby Puerto Viejo, which is very popular with backpackers.
13. Punta Uva
Just South of Puerto Viejo, not far from another of the famous landmarks in Costa Rica, Punta Cahuita, lie the stunning sands of Punta Uva. This is considered one of the best beaches in the area, and is a fantastic place to surf (though the waves can get a little too rough for beginners and the reef breaks are about 100m out from the shore).
The beach itself is beautiful, and a hit with locals. Expect to hear reggae being played out of speakers at the small food and surf rental stalls, and to be greeted eagerly as you arrive. Right at the end of the beach, there’s a small cave to explore.
The best way to get to the last of my list of landmarks in Costa Rica is either to take a tour or to rent your own moped/bicycle and take the main road South. This beach is a great day-trip tie-in with the Jaguar Rescue Center. Here, you can take an extremely informative tour to learn all about the rescue and research activity of the centre with sloths, monkeys, exotic birds, crocodiles and more.
14. Ballena Marine National Park
Shared by Lora, Explore with Lora
There are countless famous landmarks in Costa Rica to visit, but for ocean lovers one you don’t want to miss is Ballena Marine National Park. It’s a protected marine reserve with over 13,000 acres of ocean and 9 miles of coastline.
Ballena Marine National Park is in the charming town of Uvita. The best way to visit is to spend a couple of nights in Uvita so you have the full day to enjoy the park, but you can also visit as a day-trip from other parts of Costa Rica. From Manuel Antonio, it is just over an hour’s drive and there are regular shuttles. It costs $6 USD to enter the park and the pass is only valid for that day.
The marine park is most famous for its whale watching, as thousands of humpback whales migrate through here every year. It’s also a fantastic place to go diving and snorkeling, with an abundance of marine life including sharks, turtles, and stingrays. Lastly, the park is a popular place to go surfing with steady waves all day. All the tour operators in the area are passionate about conservation and protecting the area for future generations, which is what makes this place so special.
15. Punta Catedral
Shared by Anna, Would Be Traveller
Punta Catedral translates to Cathedral Point in English, and is a fitting name for the majestic craggy outcrop set within Manuel Antonio National Park. It’s easy to reach from the nearby town of Quepos, Puntarenas, either via public transport or by hiring your own car. After paying the $16 entrance fee for the park, you’ll find Punta Catedral once you follow the signs through the park and beyond Manuel Antonio Beach.
The circular hiking loop that winds around Punta Catedral is just over 1 mile long, and takes in spectacular viewpoints, steep hills and boardwalk trails through the rainforest. If you’re lucky, you may spot sloths in the trees, white-faced capuchin monkeys balancing on branches and plenty of other wildlife besides. Make sure you bring a camera as there will be plenty to see along the way!
Costa Rica as a country of great biodiversity and many green initiatives shouldn’t be represented without its largest national park Corcovado, 424 square kilometers of primal tropical forest.
The best way to visit this park would be from Uvita, or even closer from Sierpe. You will be approaching the national park on the water, so this is a great opportunity to enjoy marine life with many whales (humpback, killer, pilot, sei and beaked) and dolphins (bottlenose, spinner, rough tooth, rhino and spotted).
Once in the park, I suggest staying at least 2 days so you can experience nocturnal animals during the night. You will be accompanied by a guide in a group; a daily permit is $15. With good hiking boots, you are ready to meet some animals like crocodiles, Jesus lizards, bats, ara parrots, monkeys, etc.
And that’s the end of this collection of famous landmarks in Costa Rica! I imagine this has given you plenty of ideas for planning a bucketlist trip to the country that seems to have a bit of everything.
If you’re ready to get over there and start ticking off these landmarks in Costa Rica (COVID-allowing), check out how much flights would cost from your part of the world with JetRadar:
After reading this post on all the famous landmarks in Costa Rica, don’t miss out on: