Best Sightseeing in Costa Rica

Between Two Coasts: Sightseeing Knows No Bounds in Costa Rica

 Yes, it's greener and happier than most anywhere else on earth, and Costa Rica is bursting with many natural sights to see. Between two coasts that boast world-class beaches like Manzanillo and legendary surf spots such as Salsa Brava, the country is home to six active volcanos, including the majestic lagoon filled crater of Parque Nacional Volcán Irazú- and 26 national parks- among which Corcovado stands out as the country's crown jewel. A good place to start is InBio Park, a family-friendly theme park not far from the capital city of San José where there's a magnificent mushroom exhibit and an insect collection that numbers in the millions. Wend your way to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and birdwatch in the wee hours, then take a nocturnal stroll for an eerie thrill. At the Jaguar Rescue Center, you can see and play with the injured or abandoned sloths and monkeys that live here before they're re-released into the nearby jungle. While many of Costa Rica's waterfalls are hidden deep in the mountains, La Paz Waterfall is easily accessible and offers even more than the exciting experience of seeing five waterfalls up close, there's also a serpentarium and a butterfly observatory.


The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles is a Roman Catholic church in classic Byzantine style, located in the heart of Cartago, Costa Rica. Built in 1639, this basilica is officially sanctified to the Virgin of Nuestra Senora de los --ngeles, a small statue of the Virgin Mary holding the baby Jesus. Soon after it was built, the basilica was partially destroyed by an earthquake, and a series of earthquakes that followed kept it crumbling and incomplete. In 1912, The Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Los Angeles was restored by architect Lluis Llach Llagostera, a project that lasted 12 years and was completed in 1924. Each August, over 2 million pilgrims make a 22 kilometer spiritual journey to the basilica, many of them on their knees, originating from various points throughout Costa Rica.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: This beautiful church is an architectural highlight of Costa Rica.

Sophia's expert tip: If you have a health problem, bring a silver medallion in the shape of the body part to leave in front of "La Negrita"- legend has it she can cure it.

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La Paz Waterfall and gardens is a delightful eco-excursion just outside the city of San Jose, and with a half or full day trip, you'll be treated to not only five rushing waterfalls, but lush tropical rain forest, exotic birds, butterflies, monkeys, sloths, and snakes in the serpentarium. Marked paths allow self-guided tours of the grounds, and are designed to give visitors a well-rounded rainforest experience. The Butterfly Observatory and a Hummingbird Garden are added bonuses, enchanting places where creatures can feed out of your hand. You can allot as little as two hours, but a whole day could easily be spent exploring.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: There is so much more to see beyond the five waterfalls.

Sophia's expert tip: Follow a visit with a buffet lunch at Colibries, or feast a la carte at the Big Trout Bar or Tortillas restaurants, all three are good restaurants located on the premises.

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White sand beaches and clear waters flanked by lush vegetation are hallmarks of Manzanillo, a quintessential Caribbean fishing village where not too much has changed in the past fifty years or so. Small houses are built on stilts and colorful fishing boats dot the shoreline, and the water is usually ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The vibe is as low-key and laid-back as it gets, and the most action happens at Maxi's Place, a Rasta-styled restaurant reknowned for its fresh seafood and ocean breezes. The best way to reach Manzanillo is by bike, but if you're not up for a scenic ride, buses run to and from a few times a day from Puerto Viejo.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: The coral reef at this beach attracts colorful creatures and makes for photogenic scenes above and below sea level.

Sophia's expert tip: Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins just off the coast- three species inhabit the waters around Manzanillo.

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Iraz� Volcano National Park encompasses the area around the Iraz� Volcano in Cartago Province. The volcano is not far from the capital city and makes for an excellent day trip attraction from San Jose. Iraz� Volcano National Park is a National Park in the Central Volcanic Conservation Area of Costa Rica, and the volcano is Costa Rica's highest at 3432 meters. Still considered active, Volcan Iraz�'s last major eruptions were in the 1960s, but occasionally minor eruptions cause some small lava flows. There is a visitor's center and a scenic overlook at the volcano area, which also has a small coffee shop and tables, and is open from 8:00am to 4:00pm.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Views from the crater and of the crater are nothing short of majestic.

Sophia's expert tip: On a clear day, the Pacific and Caribbean are visible from the smaller crater, Diego de la Haya, where you can witness its mineral-rich lake amazingly transform its color from emerald-green to crimson-red.

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Once upon a time, El Museo de Arte Costarricense (MAC) was Costa Rica's main airport terminal. Now it is home to a diverse collection of works by some of the country's most revered artists and serves as a celebration of national talent. Upstairs, a bas-relief on the walls of a conference room tells the story of Costa Rica, and an outdoor sculpture garden is a delightful addition to the permanent collection of painting and prints within. Though it's small, one can spend hours exploring. Rotating exhibition and special shows by visiting artists keep things fresh year-round. Find it next to the Sabana Metropolitan Park, a lovely place for a stroll.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Discover emerging Costa Rican artists and learn about the country's history through its art.

Sophia's expert tip: Students and seniors always get in free.

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The Corcovado National Park is widely recognized as Costa Rica's "crown jewel" of natural preserves; the National Geographic cals it "the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity." Located in Costa Rica's southwestern-most corner, the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado may be visited on a day trip, or with a little advance planning, overnight camping inside may be arranged. The most popular route is a long coastal path that may be accessed from Puerto Jimenez. Encompassing thirteen vegetation types including montane and cloud forests and palm and mangrove swamps, Corcovado is home to more than 500 tree species, and an astonishing host of wildlife, such as: two and three toed sloths, the endangered squirrel monkey, white faced capuchin and mantled howler monkeys, and several jungle felines, including jaguar and puma. The greatest number of Scarlet Macaws also live in Corcovado, their bright feathers are often spotted flying overhead.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: With 500 different species of trees, there are lots of monkeys and sloths to spot among the branches.

Sophia's expert tip: To decrease the chance of introducing non-native seeds to the park that could detrimentally affect the habitat, visitors should carefully clean all hiking and camping gear, especially the soles of shoes and boots, before entering.

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The Monteverde Cloud forest is a lush preserve that remains largely intact despite a recent boom in tourism. Most of the wildlife is rare and much of it is nocturnal, which is why a night hike of the preserve makes for such a stimulating attraction. Hire a guide after you pay your entrance fee, or wander around alone by day and splurge for the guided nocturnal stroll. The reserve is open daily from 7am to 4pm, and the entrance fee is $17, discounts available for children and students. Since there is a limit to how many people are allowed into the reserve at any one time, there is a chance you'll have to wait in line, but it's well worth it.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: See lots of wildlife by day and after after dark on a nocturnal stroll.

Sophia's expert tip: Your entrance fee is valid all day, so bird watchers should make the most of an early morning stroll through Sendero El R�o, where they'll have a chance of spotting the elusive Quetzal.

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The Lankester Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico Lankester) was created in 1973 as a center for the exhibition, conservation and research of tropical air plants, with an empahsis on orchids. Recognized worldwide for its stunning collections of bromeliads, orchids, and other air plants, the Lankester Botanical Garden takes up 11 hectares , hosting more than 3,000 species of plants. On the walking trail, look for sloths eating in the trees above the extra large leaves of the Cecropia tree. Hours: 9:00 a.m. with last entry at 3:30 p.m. every day except for the Easter holiday week, Christmas and New Years day. Entrance fee is approximately $3, with discounts for students.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Orchid enthusiasts aren't the only ones who'll appreciate the exotic flower collections on display here.

Sophia's expert tip: Bring a hat or an umbrella for walking the garden trails during green season.

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INBio Park
Photo courtesy of Dave McCracken

InBio Park is Costa Rica's national institute for biodiversity and conservation, and it includes a theme park for all ages to introduce Costa Rica and all its natural wonders to the public. It collaborates with government agencies, universities, and other public and private entities inside and outside of the country to provide the most cutting edge technologies and advanced science, and the result is a comprehensive park that leaves few, if any, stones unturned. A collection of more than three million insects, an expansive mushroom exhibit, a Climate Change expose, and a Sustainable Trail are only some of the attractions in store at InBio Park.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: Nature meets technology at this educational and kid-friendly spot to check out a collection of insects that numbers more than 3 million.

Sophia's expert tip: This park is open Friday, Saturday and Sunday only, and the last admission is at 3pm, unless you book a night tour in advance. Reservations for InBio Park guided tours can be made from most major hotels in San Jose, and include transportation.

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At the Jaguar Rescue Center in Playa Chiquita, a few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica a primatologist and her herpatologist husband are a couple of passionate animal lovers who created the Jaguar Rescue Center in response to the community need for a place for the rescue of orphaned or injured animals, who are cared for and raised with a goal of releasing the animals back into the wild once rehabilitated. The Jaguar Rescue Center accepts visitors every day except Sunday at 9:30 am or 11:30 am for 1.5 hour tours. There is a $15 suggested donation.

Recommended for Sightseeing because: At this hands-on sanctuary you'll get to look at and touch the friendly animals that lives here.

Sophia's expert tip: Rain or shine, this is one place you will always have fun when you visit- bring your camera, but hold on tight to it.

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Meet Sophia LaMonica

On Sophia's first trip to Costa Rica, she came face to face with white-faced monkeys, gasped at the sight of giant purple crabs, and rode horseback through plunging waterfalls. Costa Rica...  More About Sophia