20 Towns in Costa Rica That Are Totally Worth Visiting

Costa Rica is a marvel of a country, offering striking Atlantic and Pacific coasts, and vast stretches of tropical rainforest.

It is also known for its surprisingly high quality of life and a laidback culture that has become internationally recognized through its motto, Pura Vida.

Despite its small size, the little nation of Costa Rica keeps attracting tons of tourists, nomads, expats, and immigrants from other countries with each year. But where do they tend to go, exactly? Which towns and cities in Costa Rica are worth a day, and which a lifetime?

That is exactly what this guide is going to be about. Join me, and let’s learn something together about this fascinating little country!

1. San José

Second Avenue of San Jose, capital of Costa Rica
Editorial credit: Luis Alvarado Alvarado / Shutterstock.com

There is no way to do a list of the best towns to stay in Costa Rica without mentioning (or even better, starting with) San José, the nation’s capital.

Sure, it’s just about the only place in the whole country that is large enough to warrant the term “city” rather than “town”.

However, compared to North American and Asian metropolises, San José still feels relatively small, flat, and sparse except for a few blocks downtown that have some of that “inner city” feel to them.

San José is where Costa Ricans go when they need…just about anything. It’s got every kind of store and convenience you’d expect from a major First World city, it’s got nearly all the country’s well-paying jobs, and it’s got all the nightlife, fine dining, and entertainment you could ask for, too.

2. Heredia

Church of San Rafael Heredia Costa Rica

A popular choice to settle down both for Costa Ricans and foreigners alike, Heredia is not far from San José by car. They are both located in the same Central Valley, a landlocked region in the middle of the country that has its own unique climate, though Heredia sits higher above sea level.

The Valley is generally considered the most developed and wealthiest part of Costa Rica, and also im terms of climate by far the mildest.

Of all the towns in the Valley, Heredia is the one with the highest cachet – you can spot a lot of fancy hilltop villas here, and the public utilities and services are top-notch. Closer to the center, there is a lot of incredibly well-preserved colonial architecture.

Nicknamed “the City of Flowers”, Heredia is also known for its gorgeous mountain views and colorful flora.

3. Puerto Viejo

New viewing platform at National Park Manzanillo in Costa Rica at the Caribbean close to Puerto Viejo

How about something more adventurous? Puerto Viejo de Talamanca (not to be confused with a similarly-named village in the North) is a town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast known for its diverse wildlife and beautiful climate.

For decades, Puerto Viejo, which originally started out as a fishing settlement, has been one of Costa Rica’s most coveted surf towns and attracts thousands each year to catch the one-of-a-kind waves here.

But even if you are not up to that challenge, simply sitting by the shore, sipping some cool tamarind juice, watching the palm trees and the blazing sun, listening to howler monkeys going off in the distance – that stuff is enough to transport you to a different world.

4. Tamarindo

Surfers silhouetted against a brillinatly colored sunset on Playa Tamarindo, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Oh, did I mention the tamarind juice? Well, nowhere else are you going to enjoy that sweet taste more authentically than in the town named after Costa Rica’s national tree: Tamarindo!

This charming little place is known as one of the best beach towns in Costa Rica, sitting on the Pacific Coast in the wealthy Guanacaste province (which happens to be hugely popular with expats).

Unlike some other places in the same region, Tamarindo is not chock-full of fancy hotels and resorts. Rather, expect rocky white sand beaches that stretch on for what seems like infinity, with some patches of jungle and sporadic residential zones sprinkled in.

5. Manuel Antonio

coconut on the beach of Manuel Antonio park, Costa Rica

If there’s an even bigger place for eco-tourism in Costa Rica than the beaches of Tamarindo, it’s Manuel Antonio.

Located not too far South of the Central Valley on the Pacific coast, this is one of the best and most desirable places to spend a Costa Rican vacation.

The reason? The safe, quaint beach town of Manuel Antonio is a hop and a skip away from the national park of the same name, which hosts some of the most beautiful and unique scenery and wildlife you will ever see first-hand.

6. Nosara

view of the beach at the north side of Playa Pelada near Nosara in Costa Rica taken in the early morning

One of the most coveted travel destinations in Costa Rica is Nosara.

Part of the Nicoya peninsula at the tip of Guanacaste, this is the epitome of Costa Rica’s beach towns: safe, calm, and beautiful, with pristine waves and a huge expat community.

Nearly nowhere else in the country do you get more sunshine hours per year – and when you spend some time in Costa Rica, you’ll realize that’s saying something!

7. Santa Teresa

Tourists sitting in the sand and enjoying the beautiful view of Santa Teresa beach, and some surfers check out the conditions to surf
Editorial credit: Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com

Likewise a small coastal town on the Nicoya peninsula, Santa Teresa is an expat favorite thanks to its excellent weather, plenty of amenities, supportive local and immigrant community, and surprisingly low (by Western standards) cost of living.

Like so many of the best towns to stay in Costa Rica, this one, too, transformed from a lowly fishing village to a major surfing destination to a thriving, tightly-knit community that’s definitely worth a visit.

8. Quepos

Photo of dancers performing a traditional dance in traditional clothing at the Independence Day parade
Editorial credit: Cara Koch / Shutterstock.com

Most people heading for the Manuel Antonio National Park decide to stay in the small town of the same name, but nearby Quepos has just as much to offer!

A bustling tourist destination and major traveling hotspot, this is where the nightlife and culture of the Manuel Antonio area are concentrated for the most part.

Due to its lower name recognition among foreigners, you get a sweet discount on some of the high-quality accommodation while being able to enjoy exactly the same sights, sounds, and experiences that make Manuel Antonio so special to begin with.

Sure, it might be louder and messier – but for some, that’s a feature, not a bug!

9. Limón

Port Limon - seaport in Costa Rica. Sea and blue sky

The capital of the province of the same name bordering the Atlantic Ocean, Limón is a fascinating city with a rich history and culture to explore.

Considered the heart of Afro-Costa Rican culture, Limón represents a totally different side to the country that many foreigners and even locals remain unaware of.

As part of a legal decree, Afro-Costa Ricans were barred from living anywhere in the country except in Limón and its province until well after the end of World War Two.

Because of this, visiting the city and its beautiful Caribbean surroundings offer a glimpse at a culture that has been nearly forgotten and left behind.

On top of that, it doesn’t hurt that Limón is a truly gorgeous city, with colorful preserved architecture in a distinct Caribbean-colonial style, multiple national parks nearby, as well as an Atlantic seafront and a perpetually sunny climate that just beg to be admired.

10. Dominical

Beautiful aerial view of the Dominical Beach and Town in Costa Rica

One of Costa Rica’s top surfing spots, Dominical is located in the South Pacific region of the country, in the province of Puntarenas.

Despite the healthy stream of tourists flowing in throughout the whole year and the fairly well-developed downtown area, Dominical remains one of the best quiet towns to visit in Costa Rica.

It effortlessly retains the character of a peaceful coastal village, with the surf crashing against the rocks (and the people trying to ride it now and then) your only source of hubbub on an average day.

11. Liberia

Outdoor view of people resting inside of a building in the middle of the park in Liberia Guanacaste Costa Rica
Editorial credit: Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com

If you’ve been paying attention, you might have noticed that a bunch of the places I named among the best towns to stay in Costa Rica thus far have been in the Guanacaste province.

It’s easy to see why. Take a romantic Pacific coastline coupled with some of the highest human development in the country, add fairly manageable living costs for most and a low population density, and what you get is many a Western expat’s dream.

Liberia is an excellent home base to explore the rest of Guanacaste from. As the province’s capital, it is the only major urbanized town in the area.

Still, it’s worth remembering that Costa Rica as a country takes the meaning of “urban” pretty lightly. You’re still likely to see more palm trees, sloths, toucans, and lizards on your average walk downtown than strip malls, banks, or high-rise office buildings (of which there are exactly zero).

Another bonus: Liberia has its own international airport, which basically serves the entire Pacific portion of the country!

12. Cartago

Beautiful aerial night view of the Basilica of Cartago in Costa Rica

Before San José, there was Cartago. For centuries, this city served as Costa Rica’s capital, giving it vast cultural and economic prestige.

Relatively close to its younger brother lying in the same Central Valley, Cartago is favored for its lush local rainforest and its proximity to national parks including two volcanoes and mountain ranges.

Cartago also harbors some of the most impressive colonial pieces of architecture in Costa Rica, including the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Angeles, which attracts many visitors from all over the world.

13. Montezuma

people swimming and enjoying the beautiful blue water of the beach in Playa Montezuma
Editorial credit: Fotos593 / Shutterstock.com

Back to Guanacaste’s Nicoya peninsula, Montezuma is among the best towns in Costa Rica if your main criteria are sun, sand, terrific waves, and lots of tropical flora and fauna.

A small and sparsely-populated community by any stretch, Montezuma is nonetheless one of the most popular vacation destinations in the country today.

If spending a day or two in loud, smokey San José hasn’t taught you enough of what Pura Vida is all about, pay a visit to Montezuma. You’ll get it in no time.

14. La Fortuna

Main street with cars, shops and pedestrians in La Fortuna, Costa Rica. In the background the active Volcano Arenal in the Arenal Volcano National Park.
Editorial credit: riekephotos / Shutterstock.com

Located on the mainland, in the North-Central region of Alajuela, La Fortuna at first glance seems like any other small Costa Rican town.

That is to say, lovely rainforest scenery all around, narrow, barely paved roads, and lots of charming low-roofed casitas and colorful markets.

This first impression remains until you turn your head northwards and notice the giant volcano filling out the horizon.

Arenal is the largest and most well-known of Costa Rica’s volcanoes, and fortunately for everyone, it’s currently dormant.

Even better, both the volcano and the little town of La Fortuna at its foot are right by the crystal-clear Lake Arenal, where you can go on kayak tours, try scuba diving, and more!

15. Playa Hermosa

Tropical trees by the beach in Central AMerica, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Want to know which of the hundreds of beaches in Costa Rica is the prettiest?

Well, I haven’t got an absolutely universal answer for you (after all, I have only been to less than one percent of them so far!), but maybe Playa Hermosa – literally “beautiful beach” – would be a good place to start.

While the nearly white shore and closeby tropical rainforest offer countless opportunities for exploration and there are countless activities to try out in the area, don’t expect big crowds.

Despite Playa Hermosa’s reputation befitting its name, it remains calm, peaceful, and relatively quiet for most of the year.

16. Jacó

Jaco Beach, sunset on the beach. Costa Rica, tourist paradise

Just to the southwest of San José lies the biggest coastal city Costa Rica has to offer besides the Caribbean adventure spot that is Limón.

Jacó, flanking the Pacific however, is an entirely different beast. The town is filled with luxury condos, hotels, and all sorts of amenities catering to the huge crowd of foreign tourists, expats, and – of course – the many surfers who come here for the waves.

The key to Jacó’s appeal is its proximity to the capital. This is why, despite the town’s officially small population of just about 10,000 people, you are still likely to find yourself in the middle of a rather large crowd tanning on its beaches.

Countless Costa Ricans and foreigners alike spend their vacations here due to the ideal and beautiful location of this coastal town.

17. Atenas

Summer day in Costa Rica, Atenas

Ever wanted to know where you can experience the best weather in the whole world? Well, I am not sure if everyone will agree, but this one little town in Costa Rica seems to think it has the answer.

Ever since National Geographic magazine put Atenas in the spotlight for its comfortable, year-round sunny climate, the town has been priding itself on that achievement.

Signs all over will remind you, just in case you forgot, that you are walking through “Atenas, la ciudad del mejor clima del mundo”.

You can’t deny they got something right. Sitting at the very edge of the Central Valley, Atenas is warm and full of sunshine, but never as hot as the Pacific coast nor as humid and rainy as the Caribbean rainforest.

Just outside of town, you can see breathtaking rolling hills and patches of forest unfold before you. And downtown, you get some of the nicest small-town Costa Rican scenery you could ask for, with lots of palm-lined boulevards, cute cafés, and vintage buses puttering about.

18. Escazú

Sunrise over Escazu, San Jose, Costa Rica

A suburb of San José, Escazú is probably the single most desirable and luxurious place to live within the heart of the Central Valley.

A completely different beast than downtown, Escazú’s skyline (if you can call it that) is mostly made up of posh modernist villas and gated bungalows rolling up the town’s trademark hills, from where you can get a truly awe-inspiring view.

Despite Escazú’s uniquely upscale feel, quiet atmosphere, and countless amenities, from shopping malls to high-class restaurants and country clubs, it’s not far from the big, bustling city at all – only 10 minutes or so by car!

Likewise, you can get to Heredia in a pinch. All in all, Escazú presents probably one of the best towns to stay in Costa Rica if you want to explore the Central Valley, the Puntarenas province, and maybe some of Alajuela.

19. Grecia

Simple Catholic church located in San Isidro de Grecia, Costa Rica

If Atenas was the town with the best climate, then it’s only natural that nearby Grecia would have some superlative to its name as well.

In this case, it’s the proud title of the cleanest city in all of Latin America.

And it shows! Walking through any of Grecia’s public parks, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a single corner that doesn’t look postcard-ready and polished to the letter.

Its comfortable Central Valley climate, proximity to many other best towns in Costa Rica on this list, and nearby waterfalls and sugar cane plantations make it a popular travel spot for many more reasons, too.

20. Playa Flamingo

Flamingo Beach, Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Named one of Guanacaste’s, if not one of the world’s best beaches for swimming and sport fishing, Playa Flamingo is a short way from Tamarindo and offers many of the same perks.

The sand is nearly pearl-white, with excellent weather all year and the rainforest invitingly close to the edge of town.

One of Costa Rica’s oldest and most developed resort towns, it also makes for an excellent home base to see the rest of Guanacaste’s beauty from thanks to the countless amenities and high quality of life.

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