Costa Rica has become a popular tourist destination over the last 20 years. While it is still nothing like Las Vegas, Cancun, or most cruise destinations it has some areas of the country that are 100% dependent on the influx of tourism. These areas of the country were pioneered by early visitors due to their natural beauty and wildlife. The four places of Costa Rica we consider prime tourist destinations are Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, Arenal, and Guanacaste.
Manuel Antonio - This is a beach town that is on the Central Pacific coast about three hours from San Jose. Great area to rent a beach house for the week and enjoy the many local activities. The National Park is the attraction but it has gotten very crowded in the last couple of years. The entire area is surrounded by the town of Quepos which is a fishing port. This area is a little too crowded for our taste but if you have the money it is a great spot to visit if you can afford to stay in one of the higher end hotels which are more secluded.
Monteverde - Discovered by Quakers and later made popular by biologists, Monteverde is a remote cloudforest in the northern highlands of Costa Rica. It has become famous for the many different species of frogs, birds, and insects and the influx of tropical biologists from all over the world. The clouds make for a mystical experience where you are one minute above, then below, and seconds later in the the clouds. The Monteverde Reserve is the attraction in the area and the most common species you will see happen to be homo sapiens. Beautiful area but crowded, developed, and more known for the name than what it has to offer.
Arenal - Well this is the cream of the crop when it comes to tourism in Costa Rica. Not only a highlight in Costa Rica but the volcano and its perfect shape has received global attention. The fun started when the volcano drizzled lava down its side for a number of years being an evening spectacle from the thousand of hotel rooms that surround the volcano base. Well low and behold, the volcano gods forgot to pay the electric bill. The famous Arenal Volcano has been dormant for nine years. Lucky for the area the infrastructure of shops, restaurants, tour companies, hotsprings, and fancy hotels was already in place. From the local town of La Fortuna to the back side of the Volcano you will find everything you need from fancy to backpacker budgets making it the closest thing to a full on tourist trap in Costa Rica.
With that said it is still home to some natural beauties and the dormant volcano is pretty awesome itself. Here you will find some of the best ziplines, great rappeling adventures, and an endless list of nature tours to see wildlife.
Guanacaste – This is the Northern Pacific province. It would be unfair to say the entire peninsula is touristy. It is simply too big and hilly to find tourists eveywhere but some of the beaches that line its coast have become crowded centers that while beautiful can get pretty congested. Guanacaste is such a hot attraction they even gave it their own internatinal airport in Liberia. Arriving to Liberia on direct flights from the US will have you on the sand in 40 minutes from the time you leave the airport.
Here you will find resorts like the Four Seasons and many famous celebrities calling this area their second home. Some of the beaches are Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo, Playas del Coco, Papagayo Peninsula and the list goes on.
Where can I see sloth and monkeys in Costa Rica?
Everybody wants to see sloths and monkeys. We have reached a point where I think people are more excited about seeing a sloth than an actual monkey. Maybe in our technology age of being more sedentary viewing our screens, we can relate more with the sloth.
Actually seeing these two animals in Costa Rica should not be that hard. It does depend on where you travel and who you travel with. The areas outside of the metropolitan valleys are more common to have wildlife which goes without saying.
There are two different species of sloths and only one comes out during the day. There are four different species of monkeys and they are all in different parts of the country. If you are around indigenous reservations chances are you might not see as much wildlife because when living in the jungle protein is protein.
The best places to see monkeys are in the different protected areas of the country while the best place to see a sloth is on the side of the road in their beloved Cecropia trees.
To spot these animals when driving, it really helps to have the right driver or guide. If you are a first time traveler to the tropics chances are you will not spot wildlife on your own. You might see a sloth or monkey but you likely saw somebody else taking pictures of it first. Local driver and guides have their sights attuned to spotting these animals because it becomes habit, not too mention the sloth can stay in the same tree for weeks which often helps.
When you arrive tell your guide and driver exactly what you want to see and 9 times out of 10 they can make it happen.