Where to Stay in Costa Rica First Time: 16 Best Areas

In this guide, I will help you to find Where to Stay in Costa Rica first time, without a car, the best areas to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers (with a map and video), best hotels in Costa Rica for all budgets (including the hotel where I stayed), safest places to stay in Costa Rica.

Costa Rica is one of the southernmost countries in Central America. Considered to offer the highest quality of life and greatest levels of development in the region, it is rapidly developing a reputation as a tourist destination. Costa Rica is one of the safest countries for travel and backpacking in Central America.

With beautiful beaches on both Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast, towering volcanoes, amzing wildlife, incredible national parks and nature reserves, as well as wonderful towns and cities, Costa Rica is a place that truly offers something for everyone. 

Costa Rica has two international airports, Juan Santamaria International Airport in San Jose and Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia. These airports serve as major entry points for international travelers from North America, Europe, and other parts of the world.

If you’re coming from neighboring countries, you can enter Costa Rica by land. Costa Rica shares borders with Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. There are border crossings with customs checkpoints where you’ll need to present your travel documents.

Costa Rica does have some crime, but most travelers return from their visit safe and sound. You should always use common sense, be aware of pickpocketing, scams and muggings. Stick to well-traveled and well-lit areas after dark, especially in remote regions.

If you are searching for the safest place to stay in Costa Rica, look into Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Drake Bay, Tamarindo, and Monteverde. These areas are great locations to explore Costa Rica, with plenty of things to do and see for visitors.

Where to stay in Costa Rica for first time?

The best areas to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers and tourists are San Jose, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Puerto Viejo, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Papagayo Gulf, Jaco. These are popular towns, offering plenty of things to do and see for visitors.

San Jose is the overall best area to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers due to its central location, offering easy access from the airport, beautiful volcanoes, cloud forest, and waterfalls. It is also a built-up area with an abundance of amenities, cultural attractions, and vibrant nightlife.

As the capital city, San Jose is the cultural and economic hub of Costa Rica. It offers a variety of museums, historical sites, and a vibrant urban atmosphere. Some travelers prefer to spend more time exploring the country’s natural beauty, so San Jose is often used as a transit point rather than a main destination.

But it is worth to stay couple of nights in San José when arriving to explore its amazing museums such as the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, visit the Central Market, enjoy some of the best nightlife in the country, taking day trips to nearby volcanoes and forests, such as Poas or Irazu.

Costa Rica has all types of accommodation options include all inclusive resorts, beachfront hotels, and eco-friendly accommodations. You’ll find the most exclusive resorts of Costa Rica in Guanacaste, best boutique Hotels in Manuel Antonio, luxury villas in South Pacific.

Where did I stay in Costa Rica?

When I first visited Costa Rica, I stayed for 1 night in San José at Sleep Inn Hotel Paseo Las Damas, 3 nights in La Fortuna at San Bosco Inn, 2 nights in Monteverde at Cabinas Eddy B&B, and 3 nights in Manuel Antonio at Shana by the Beach.

💖 Best Area for first timers:San José
💎 Best luxury hotel:Barceló San José
🏨 Best mid-range hotel:Auténtico Hotel
💰 Best budget hotel:Fleur de Lys

Overviews of best areas to stay in Costa Rica for first-time visitors

Here are an overviews of the best places to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers:

  • San Jose – capital city and central hub for for travelers arriving in the country and exploring other parts of the country and is close to cultural attractions and museums.
  • La Fortuna – famous for its proximity to Arenal Volcano National Park and its hot springs.
  • Monteverde – haven for eco-tourism, renowned for its cloud forests and unique wildlife.
  • Puerto Viejo – laid-back coastal town on the Caribbean side, known for its beautiful beaches, surfing spots, and vibrant local culture.
  • Manuel Antonio – famous for its national park, with diverse wildlife and stunning beaches.
  • Tamarindo Beach – lively and safe beach town, offering excellent surfing & vibrant nightlife.
  • Papagayo Gulf – in the Guanacaste province, known for its luxury resorts & pristine beaches.
  • Jaco – closest beach towns to San Jose, a popular weekend getaway spot, lively nightlife.

Map of best areas and neighborhoods in Costa Rica for visitors:

Map of Best Areas to stay in Costa Rica
Map of Best Areas to stay in Costa Rica

The Best areas to stay in Costa Rica First Time are:

1. San José

San José, capital city, where to stay in Costa Rica for shortstop

San José, is the capital city and is the best overall area to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers due to its prime location, located in the heart of the country and it offers excellent range of activities, historical attractions, bustling nightlife and shopping.

Located in the Central Valley, San José is named in honor of Joseph Of Nazareth. It is known to offer a high quality of life, incredible environmental performance, and is filled with recognized institutions and public services.

This makes San Jose equally ideal whether you want to stay in an eco-friendly hotel or one of the finest Costa Rica resorts available.

San Jose is located within 20 minutes drive from Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), SJO, the largest international airport in the country, as well as one of only two, the other being Liberia International airport in Costa Rica northwest corner.

San Jose is an ideal place to stay in Costa Rica near the airport, which is especially helpful for anyone worried about missing their flight, stopping on a layover, or just a short stop before heading to the coast and mountains.

Downtown San Jose is the most popular area of the city for visitors with great shopping and nightlife. Amenities like shops, bars, restaurants, and hotels are abundant. Meanwhile, the list of attractions present in the city is just as extensive.

For those who love live performance art, San Jose has a great collection of theatres and auditoriums, such as The Melico Salazar Theater and The National Theater Of Costa Rica. Both host world-class dramatic performances, while the latter is considered the most historic building in San Jose.

This cultural hub of the country also has a fabulous collection of museums on offer:

  • the Jade Museum, home to 7000 pieces of pre-Columbian jade artifacts.
  • the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, to learn about the history of money in Costa Rica. It is home to more than 1600 pre-Columbian pieces of art dating back to 500 AD.
  • The National Museum, built in 1917 inside the Bellavista Fortress, to learn the history of Costa Rica’s colonial, archeological, and geological.
  • The Museum Of Contemporary Art & Design.
  • The Museum Of Costa Rican Art.
  • The Children’s Museum, for families and children for a fun and educational day.

San Jose is home to the Simón Bolívar Zoo and Culture Square (Plaza de la Cultura), allow you to take a stroll and learn about the animals, history, and architecture of San Jose.

If you stroll around the pedestrian shopping street of Avenida Central, you will find Central Market, vendors, and street performers. It’s a great place to grab some traditional Costa Rican souvenirs.

If you want more high-end shopping, head to the Avenida Escazu, with plenty of upmarket stores, designer boutiques, chic cafés, fine dining restaurants, and Multiplaza Mall.

Meanwhile, there is a collection of parks that includes Central Park, La Sabana Metropolitan Park, Morazán Park, Peace Park, Okayama Park, and The National Park. This is perfect for those days when you want to roam about, relaxing without a care in the world.

San Jose has a vibrant nightlife scene, it has everything: Casinos, dance clubs, upscale roof-top bars, breweries. Barrio Escalante and Barrio California are popular spots for nightlife, be sure to order Chiliguaro (shot with lime juice, sugar-cane liquor, hot sauce).

You can also easily make day trips to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, and many nearby volcanos such as Poas, Irazu, Barva, and Turrialba Volcanos, all within one hour to two hours drive away!

Due to its central location with plenty of things to do and see, and easy access to other parts of Costa Rica, San Jose is one of the best areas to stay in Costa Rica without a car.

Among all Latin American cities, San José is overall safe city for tourist. Like any large city, it’s essential to exercise caution, avoid walking alone at night and avoid the neighborhoods of El Carmen, Los Guido, and Desamparados.

San Jose has a wide range of accommodation options that suits all budget, you can find many luxurious hotels with unique design and afforable backpacker hostels.

Stay In San Jose If you are on a layover or a short stop; you are a first-time tourist; you want to stay in Costa Rica’s capital city; you want to stay near San Jose International Airport;

Best places to stay in San Jose for first-time visitors:

luxury ($$$): Barceló San José This 5-star modern hotel is located in a quiet area of San José, offers an outdoor pool, tennis court, 3 restaurants, an on-site bar, a shuttle to and from the airport. It has air-conditioned rooms with views of the city or mountains.

mid-range ($$): Auténtico Hotel This 4-star hotel features elegant and simple rooms. Close to Costa Rican Art Museum, Metropolitan Cathedral, National Theater of Costa Rica, Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, and Juan Santamaría International Airport.

budget ($): Fleur de Lys This 3-star hotel has a terrace, gardens, buffet breakfast, a restaurant, and free wifi. The rooms are decorated with local artwork and a private bathroom.


See more: Safest Areas to stay in Costa Rica for tourists

2. Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio, pristine white sand beaches, incredible wildlife

Manuel Antonio is located on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, in the Puntarenas province. It is an incredibly popular resort destination that’s ideal for anyone who prioritizes the great outdoors while visiting Costa Rica.

Known as a beach town, some of the best Costa Rica resorts are surrounded by beautiful white sand beaches, such as Biesanz Beach, Espadilla Beach, and Playitas Beach. With soft golden sands meeting crystal clear waters, it is equally ideal for topping up your tan or having some fun in the Pacific Ocean.

Shopping malls, bars, restaurants, and some of the best Costa Rica hotels you’ll find only add to the relaxing nature of Manuel Antonio. There are even plenty of attractions in Manuel Antonio to both relax and entertain you as well.

Beautiful hot springs allow you to spend a day pampering yourself, truly unwinding. While there aren’t any natural hot springs in the area, these man-made hot springs do the job just as well and you wouldn’t know the difference.

Meanwhile, ATV tours, water sports, and ziplining are all available for those who prefer to get their blood pumping during their stay in Costa Rica, just make sure you’ve got your travel insurance premiums paid up.

Manuel Antonio isn’t all about tourist attractions and lazing on the beach though. Anyone who has rented their own car during their stay in Costa Rica will find a wonderful choice of national parks surrounding the town.

Bordering the town is Manuel Antonio National Park, part of the central Pacific coast conservation area. Covering just over 7 square miles, you will find lush rainforest, stunning beaches, and towering mountains, that makeup what is ranked among the 12 most beautiful national parks on earth.

It is home to almost 300 species of birds and animals, including sloths, monkeys, iguanas, basilisks, coatis, snakes, bats, and, occasionally, whales. This makes Manuel Antonio National Park the perfect stop for nature lovers of all kinds.

Meanwhile, about an hour south down the Pacific coast you also have Marino Ballena National Park. A protected marine wildlife area, dense greenery hides pristine beaches, where you can spend a romantic getaway watching whales and dolphins play in the Pacific Ocean.

Stay In Manuel Antonio If you love outdoor and wildlife; you want to spend time relaxing on beautiful beaches or in hot springs; you like a choice of both tourist and secluded beaches;

Best places to stay in Manuel Antonio for first-timers:

luxury ($$$): Parador Nature Resort and Spa, 5-star eco-luxury resort set on the Punta Quepos promontory, surrounded by 12 acres of wildlife-rich tropical rainforest with panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean and Manuel Antonio. The hotel has a free shuttle to the beaches around Manuel Antonio Park. Hikers will love hiking trails in the jungle near the hotel.

mid-range ($$): Shana by the Beach Manuel Antonio, 4-star stylish boutique hotel on the hills of Quepos Point, easy walk from Biesanz Beach and Manuel Antonio National Park Beach. You can enjoy hiking, cycling and fishing in its surrounding areas. The hotel offers car rental service and free private parking.

budget ($$): Hotel Plaza Yara, great accommodation offering spacious suites that have a kitchenette and jungle views. You can watch sloths, toucans, monkeys and iguanas from your rooms. How amazing is that!


3. Jaco

Jaco, one of the best places to stay in Costa Rica for nightlife

Located close to the capital San José and the San José International Airport, Jaco is a small town in western Costa Rica, in the Puntarenas province.

Its rocky, black sand beaches are a huge hit with surfers, as they are quiet and feature tall, powerful waves. Meanwhile, its vibrant nightlife scene provides options, no matter how you like to spend your evenings.

Perhaps the most popular reason people stay in Jaco though is that it is considered a gateway to the area’s National Parks and Wildlife Preserves.

Manuel Antonio National Park to the south is considered one of the most beautiful in the world, while Carara National park to the north is full of birds and crocodiles to marvel at.

There’s even a path through the rainforest to the Bijagual Waterfall, providing you a picturesque adventure like a scene straight out of a movie.

Jaco is also close to Carara Biological Reserve and Carara National Park with a wide variety of wildlife species, and pre-Columbian archeological sites dating back to 2,000 years ago.

Jaco has a great nightlife scene with plenty of bars, clubs, restaurants, casinos making it a destination for a weekend getaway weekend and bachelor party for many people.

Stay In Jaco If You are a fan of national parks; You like surfing or relaxing on quiet beaches; Nightlife is a priority.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Jaco for first-timers:

  • luxury ($$$): Hotel Villa Caletas, 5-star luxurious oceanfront boutique Hotel has a private beach and stunning views of Nicoya Gulf and Jacó´s crescent beaches. In addition, the hotel offers paid airport shutle service and free car parking.
  • mid-range ($$): Hotel Club del Mar Oceanfront, 4-star hotel is by tropical gardens and is located between the rainforest and the Pacific Ocean, on the south end of Jaco Beach. You can aks them for tours of rainforest treks, Carara and Manuel Antonio National Parks.
  • budget ($): Boutique Hotel IBIZA, 3-star family-friendly hotel, in Jaco, which is a popular for horse riding and snorkelling. It has family rooms and kid-friendly restaurants.

4. Monteverde

Monteverde, best ecotourism area in Costa Rica

Located in the Puntarenas, 3 hours from San Jose, Monteverde is fast becoming one of the most popular ecotourism destinations in Costa Rica. Deemed one of the “seven natural wonders of Costa Rica”, it is the area’s tourist hub.

The primary reason for this is that Monteverde is home to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Covering 26,000 acres, National Geographic has labeled it the “jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves”.

Split into 6 separate zones, 90% of which are made up of virgin forest, the area contains more than 2,500 species of plants, 400 species of birds, 100 species of mammals, 120 species of reptiles and amphibians, and thousands of different types of insects.

Both scientists and tourists can freely roam the reserve, studying and enjoying the wonders on display. A bus service runs 5 times per day from Monteverde town, so those without access to a car need not worry about missing out.

The trails running through the reserve are well maintained, with many featuring suspension bridges and ziplines, allowing you to get a different perspective on what you’re seeing. Horseback rides are also possible, although these will need to be booked well in advance.

The Monteverde Nature Centre features an information center, Serpentariums, frog pond, bat jungle, and lush gardens filled with butterflies for you to enjoy. Meanwhile, a lodge containing a restaurant and gift shop is present for you to refuel and purchase mementos of the day. 

In addition to the Monteverde Biological Reserve, a number of other wildlife activities are also present in the area, such as the Curi-Cancha Reserve. 

As a result, Monteverde itself has an ever-increasing number of hotels, shops, bars, and restaurants, to deal with the growing demand. This means you should always be able to find what you are looking for, no matter your budget or taste.

Stay In Monteverde If you are interested in ecotourism; you want to visit the cloud forest; you want a safe area to travel to;

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Monteverde:

Luxury ($$$): Senda Monteverde Hotel, 5-star hotel, set in Monteverde, within a short drive by car from Sky Adventures Monteverde and Selvatura Adventure Park. It is a great base in Costa Rica to explore Monteverde Ecological Sanctuary, Monteverde Orchid Garden, and Monteverde Butterfly Gardens.

Mid-range ($$): Hotel Ficus – Monteverde, 4-star hotel, offering car rental services, and help arrange tours to Selvatura Park, Santa Elena Cloud Forest, bird watching and canopy.

Budget ($): Hakuna Matata Guest House, great guest house in Monteverde, within a short ride from the Santa Elena town and Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.


5. La Fortuna

La Fortuna, best place to stay in Costa Rica for all traveler

Located in the north-central section of Costa Rica, in the Alajuela province, La Fortuna is one of the most regularly visited tourist destinations in Costa Rica. As a result, all-inclusive resort hotels have begun to spring up, catering to the vast influx of visitors.

There are plenty of things to do in and around La Fortuna for adventure travelers from swimming natural hot springs, rappeling down waterfalls, going white water rafting, and hiking through lava fields.

Bars and restaurants, both local and those designed to cater to tourists, are abundant, providing plenty of choices when it comes to where to eat or drink. Meanwhile, shops selling groceries, local goods, and essentials cater to your every need throughout your stay.

A collection of attractions like a chocolate museum, sloth watching trail, and tour of a coffee plantation also provides the option to see and learn a little more about the culture of the area.

The number one reason many people stay here is that La Fortuna is unquestionably where to stay in Costa Rica for those visiting Arenal National Park. Covering almost 47 square miles, it is the home of the famous Arenal Volcano.

The Arenal Volcano stands at least 5,358 feet high and is the most active in all of Costa Rica. In addition to the Arenal Volcano, you also have the Chato Volcano as well, an inactive volcano that features a lagoon in its crater.

At the base of the Chato Volcano, there is a number of hot springs visitors can relax in, while the La Catarata De La Fortuna and the Arenal River flow here as well. 

Activities such as horseback riding, white-water rafting, kayaking, paddle-boarding, ziplining, mountain biking, dirt biking, and ATV-ing will keep thrill-seekers occupied while hanging bridges and a sky tram allow those looking for a slower pace to take in the beauty as well.

The park is also known for its incredible collection of more than 850 different species of birds, as well as other animals such as deer, snakes, jaguars, monkeys, and coatis. 

When you combine this with the variety of plant life on offer as well, it makes Arenal National Park a must-visit attraction for anyone who loves nature and beautiful landscapes.

Stay In La Fortuna If you want to visit Arenal Volcano National Park or see the Arenal Volcano; you are a fan of nature; you want to stay in an all-inclusive resort; you want both local and modern attractions and amenities.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in La Fortuna for first-timers:

luxury ($$$): Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa, 5-star hotel that has hot spring baths, sauna, massages services, luxury spa treatments. it is located within a short drive from the Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna main square, and Venado Caves.

luxury ($$$): Hotel Arenal Springs Resort & Spa, 5-star hotel, located in Fortuna, 20 minutes’ drive from Arenal Volcano site. You can choose to stay in rooms with the views of Arenal Volcano.

mid-range ($): Hotel Lomas del Volcan, 4- star hotel that has a private nature trail on site. They can help you to arrange canopy tours, zip lining and visits to nearby thermal pools.


6. Papagayo Gulf

Papagayo Gulf, luxury holiday

The Gulf Of Papagayo is a large expanse of water along the north-eastern shore of Costa Rica. The region as a whole has been developed into a tourist hotspot by the Costa Rican government, with resorts and amenities lining the shores for miles.

This exclusive gated community is less than one hour drive from Liberia International Airport and home to many of Costa Rica’s all-inclusive exclusive resorts, private residences, a beach club, golf course, and marina.

Some of the most popular include areas such as Playa Del Coco, Playa Hermosa, and Playa Panama. These all feature an abundance of high-end resorts, restaurants, bars, shops, and activities, to keep all manner of tourists happy.

It is also the best place to stay in Costa Rica for anyone seeking an adults-only hotel for a romantic getaway, as it features a number of the best that the country has to offer.

Don’t worry if you want something a little calmer though. The area was chosen for the project as the waters are home to all manner of marine life, including a number of orcas. This makes it just as fitting for anyone hoping to catch a glimpse of the wildlife in its natural habitat.

Stay In Papagayo Gulf If you want to have in a luxury holiday; you want a specifically designed tourist area; you are interested in marine wildlife.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Papagayo Gulf:

  • luxury ($$$): Planet Hollywood Costa Rica, An Autograph Collection All-Inclusive Resort, 5-star hotel located in Guanacaste, offering stunning views of Papagayo Gulf. It has private beach, family-friendly rooms, and private parking for those travel with a car.
  • mid-range ($$): Papagayo Golden Palms Beachfront Hotel, 4-star beachfront resort that offers spacious guest rooms and stunning ocean views.
  • budget ($): Villa del Sueño, 3-star hotel, is located in quiet Playa Hermosa beach in Papagayo Gulf. Its location offers easy access to Playa Hermosa Beach and Playa del Coco Beach. You can take organised tours for sailing and snorkelling, horseback riding or canopy.

7. Playa Conchal

Playa Conchal, calm, white sand beach for relaxing holiday

Located just a short way north of Tamarindo, Conchal Beach is a calm, beautiful, white sand and shell beach. Stretching for 4 kilometers, it is located in a beautiful, curved harbor, with crystal clear waters perfect for snorkeling in.

With no major towns nearby, Conchal Beach remains a little less busy than some of the other options along the coast. This makes it the perfect place to treat yourself to an idyllic getaway. 

Stay in the best hotel money can buy, relax at a beach club, eat the best food, drink the finest wine, do whatever it takes to truly unwind.

There are even a number of sites commonly used as photo opportunities, such as Thirsty Rock and Punta Sabana. This is where amateur photographers can test their skills and everyday tourists can get a shot to remind them of their trip for years to come.

Stay In Playa Conchal If you want to spend days relaxing on Conchal Beach; you love beautiful, coastal scenery; you don’t want to be located near a major town.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Playa Conchal :

luxury ($$$): W Costa Rica Resort, 5-star hotel that has two outdoor swimming pools, fitness center, and a 24-hour front desk, as well as seafood restaurants and conditioning rooms.

luxury ($$$): The Westin Reserva Conchal, 5-star luxury all-inclusive resort and spa located on Playa Conchal Beach in Costa Rica’s North-Pacific Riviera, short drive by car from Tamarindo Beach. It is located beside Conchal Golf Course, and the area is popular for snorkelling or kayaking.

budget ($): Conchal Hotel, 3-star hotel, located within walking distance from Brasilito Beach, and is a short drive by car from Conchal Beach, Tamarindo and Flamingo Beach.


8. Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo, where to stay in Costa Rica for surfing and beaches

Puerto Viejo can refer to one of two places in Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo De Sarapiqui in the northeast, and Puerto Viejo De Talamanca, in the very south-eastern corner of Costa Rica. It is the latter of the two we are going to be looking at. Puerto Viejo De Talamanca is a safe area on the Caribbean coast with beautiful beach, great surfing, and laidback vibe.

A popular tourist town, its numerous beaches provide the perfect destination for those looking for a relaxing beach destination. Surrounded by amenities like bars, shops, and restaurants, a laid-back nightlife with Caribbean and Pura Vida vibes, you will never be too far from civilization, but the sheer quantity means they never get too overcrowded.

The beaches are particularly popular with surfers, as they are recognized as the location of the biggest, most powerful waves in Costa Rica, known as the Salsa Brava. This allows the most skilled riders to come and test themselves against the powers of the ocean from December to April, and around June and July.

For those who aren’t as skilled on a board but still want to stay active, perhaps learning how to kayak will be the best way to brighten up your trip. There is also a Jaguar Rescue Centre close by if you would prefer a more nature-based experience.

Locals have pushed back against many re-development plans, keeping the town relatively traditional, despite its growing reputation. That said, you will still be able to find a modern hotel or two if that’s what you are looking for.

There are also many beaches nearby like Punta Uva Beach and Manzanillo Beach for snorkeling, Playa Cocles, and a 320-acre nature preserve and rescue center Sloth Sanctuary.

Located near the Panamanian border, Puerto Viejo is also a great choice for those looking at where to stay in Costa Rica to allow them to visit both countries, as the border towns provide little to no accommodation options. Make sure to check the fine print on your travel insurance if you do decide to cross the border though, to make sure it covers you for more than one country.

Stay In Puerto Viejo If you are an experienced surfer; you are looking for where to stay in Costa Rica to be able to visit Panama as well; you want a selection of incredible beaches.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Puerto Viejo:

luxury ($$$): Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel, 5-star hotel, located within a walking distance from Cocles beach in Puerto Viejo. They can help you organise tours to Cahuita National Park, Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve and Veragua Rainforest. There ar eaksi excursions to cocoa plantations & sloth sanctuaries, rainforest canopy tours, dolphin and turtle watching trips.

mid-range ($$): Terrazas del Caribe Aparthotel, 4-star hotel, located in Puerto Viejo, close to Cocles Beach. Featuring rooms with a seating area, a flat-screen TV with satellite channels, and a kitchen.

budget ($): Congo Bongo EcoVillage Costa Rica, 3-star hotel, great base in Puerto Viejo in the Limon region, within easy distance from Manzanillo Beach.


9. Puerto Jimenez

Puerto Jimenez, for hiking in the rainforest, and dolphin watching

Located close to Golfo Dulce, and Corcovado National Park, Puerto Jimenez is the largest town on the Osa peninsula in the Puntarenas province. It’s a great place to hike in the rainforest, and dolphin watching on the sweet gulf.

It has developed a reputation as an incredibly popular tourist town, due to a range of amenities that caters to people with all manner of interests and budgets.

Accommodation options range from hostels to fabulous Costa Rica hotels of varying prices. Surrounding them, a wide selection of stores offers wares and foods, both traditional and modern.

A supermarket and bakery are two of the best places to get your culinary needs taken care of, while stores selling clothes, shoes and various other products surround attractions like art galleries, where you can take in some of the local style and culture.

Puerto Jimenez is also known for its amazing nightlife scene. Bars, restaurants, and clubs are plentiful in the town, giving you choices whether you want a more civilized evening of fine wine and dining, or if you prefer to drink, dance, and party the nights away until the early hours.

Perhaps the most popular reason people come to Puerto Jimenez during their stay in Costa Rica though is actually located just outside the town. The location I am referring to is Corcovado National Park.

Covering 164 square miles of land and sea, it is the largest park of any kind in Costa Rica and covers roughly a third of the Osa peninsula. National Geographic has even referred to it as “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity”.

Featuring the largest old-growth forest on the American Pacific coastline, as well as one of the largest lowland tropical forests in the world, the scenery is unlike almost anything else you will witness, no matter where you travel.

Home to an incredible collection of wildlife, fans of nature could spend days wandering through the trees, seeing new and exciting species of animals, and treating themselves to a Costa Rica vacation they will never forget.

Apart from Corcovado National Park, you can also have Golfo Dulce, home to 149,500 Golfo Dulce Forest Reserve, where you can hiking, birdwatching, and swim.

From December to April and July to November, you will have a chance to see Humpbacks and a variety of whales and dolphins.

Stay In Puerto Jiminez If You want to visit the largest, most biologically diverse national park in Costa Rica; Nightlife is important to you; you want to do hiking and whale watching;

Best places to stay in Puerto Jimenez for first-time visitors:


10. Drake Bay

Drake Bay, small, traditional village on the southern Pacific coast

Also known as Bahia Drake, Drake Bay is located just a short way from Puerto Jimenez, in the Corcovado National Park on the southern Pacific coast.

Historically, it is believed to have been used as a hideaway for legendary sailor Sir Francis Drake, who discovered it in 1579. Until very recently it was inaccessible by land. Even now, it is tough to reach the bay, although those who do are certainly in for a treat.

Beautiful, secluded beaches are surrounded by dense tropical greenery. Whales, dolphins, and manatees use the shoreline for breeding periodically throughout the year, making it perfect for both relaxing in peace and quiet or taking in the incredible wildlife.

The town itself is quaint and features small grocery stores and gift shops, as well as a collection of local bars and restaurants. This provides the opportunity to truly immerse yourself in the traditional way of life, shopping, and dining amongst the residents.

You won’t find any large chain hotels or resorts here, but a private guest house is an option for those who want to spend the entirety of their stay in Costa Rica in this fabulous location.

Stay In Drake Bay If you want to stay in a small, traditional village, in a secluded area; you want to be surrounded by beautiful beaches and landscapes; you want the chance to see the breeding habits of marine life.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Drake Bay:


11. Santa Teresa

Santa Teresa, traditional tourist resort with stunning beaches

Santa Teresa is a small beach village on the Nicoya Peninsula. Traditionally a fishing village, it has evolved over the past few decades to accommodate the tourists who have come to relax on its stunning selection of beaches.

You will find Playa Carmen for experienced surfers, Playa Santa Teresa, Playa Hermosa for beginner surfers, the Mal Pais tide pools, and nearby Tortuga Island for snorkels, kayaks, banana boats.

Facilities like surf clubs, high-end resorts, and various bars, shops, and restaurants now provide all the amenities you could need throughout your stay. There are even yoga retreats, where you can spend your days practicing poses or relaxing in a tranquil garden.

This makes Santa Teresa the perfect place to stay in Costa Rica for those who want a traditional tourist resort, but would rather it be just a little bit quieter.

It hasn’t abandoned its roots entirely though. Outside of tourism, fishing is still one of Santa Teresa’s main sources of revenue. This means the local restaurants serve some of the best, freshest seafood you will find anywhere in Costa Rica.

You can also hike in Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve, and make a day trip to the laid-back beach town of Montezuma.

Stay In Santa Teresa If you are a fan of fresh seafood; you want a tourist resort without so many people; you want a great choice of beaches.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Santa Teresa:


12. Montezuma

Montezuma, off the beaten path

Montezuma is located in the southeast of the Nicoya peninsula, in Puntarenas province. A remote fishing village, it has gained a level of notoriety among tourists for its secluded location and traditional feel.

Backpackers and travelers on a budget often like to stay among the locals here and make the most of the lower prices on offer. The village is surrounded by rivers, waterfalls, and beaches, it allows you to immerse yourself in this picturesque tropical paradise.

While there isn’t a lot of attractions in the area, besides the village itself, the one that does draw a large number of people is the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve.

Covering 7,560 acres of land and sea, more than 140 different species of trees have been identified, as have a range of animals including monkeys, coatis, deer, margays, coyotes, crabs, orcas, molluscs, and a huge range of birds and fish.

The San Miguel Biological Station located here contains libraries, laboratories, and classrooms, helping to educate people on the flora and fauna present in the reserve.

Stay In Montezuma If you want to stay in a remote, traditional village; you are backpacking or traveling on a budget; you like beaches, rivers, and waterfalls; you want to explore a fabulous nature reserve.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica Montezuma for first-timers:


13. Tamarindo

Tamarindo, beautiful spot for surfers on the Pacific coast

Tamarindo along with Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, and Monteverde, is one of the safest place to stay in Costa Rica. But as in any tourist city, you should exercise caution and be aware of pickpocketing.

Located one hour from the Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport in Liberia, Tamarindo is a busy surfer paradise. It’s a beach town located in the northwest of Costa Rica, in the Guanacaste province. You will also find many American and Canadian expats in Tamarindo.

A selection of fabulous beaches that includes Playa Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Playa Negra, Playa Avellana, and Playa Langosta, are ideal for those seeking a beach vacation in a slightly quieter destination.

While Playa Langosta is located just outside town, Tamarindo Beach is the heart and soul of the area. Known for its strong surf, Tamarindo Beach attracts people from all over who want to test their board skills against the waves.

Just a short way north, you will find the other most popular attraction in the area, Las Baulas National Park. A marine conservation area, it is particularly known as the nesting grounds of the endangered leatherback sea turtle.

Over half the park is underwater, with some spots perfect for activities such as scuba diving. Meanwhile, the sections on land contain fabulous white sand beaches and forests that are home to almost 200 species of different birds and mammals. This makes it an ideal destination for anyone who is interested in wildlife.

A more expensive part of Costa Rica, Tamarindo Beach is surrounded by luxury accommodations, such as private villas, so is better suited to those with money to spare than it is budget travelers.

Stay In Tamarindo If you want to relax or go surfing on Tamarindo Beach; you aren’t worried about money; you want to visit Las Baulas National Park; you are an experienced surfer.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Tamarindo:

  • luxury ($$$): JW Marriott Guanacaste Resort & Spa, 5-star luxury hacienda style resort in Guanacaste an is surrounded by the beauty of Costa Rican rich biodiversity.
  • mid-range($$): Ten North Tamarindo Beach Hotel, 4-star hotel, set a 3 minute walk from Tamarindo beach, local and international restaurants, and shops.
  • luxury ($$$): Les Voiles Blanches, Luxury Lodge set in Tamarindo, offering an outdoor swimming pool, garden and terrace.

14. Nosara

Nosara, best place to stay for yoga retreat

Nosara is located in the west of Costa Rica, in the Guanacaste province. With very few paved roads, this collection of small villages makes up one of the most rural, traditional areas in the country, where fishing and agriculture remain their primary source of income.

Beaches remain largely untouched or developed, as Ostional Wildlife Refuge covers much of the shore, protecting the breeding grounds of sea turtles. However, they are still popular with those seeking a relaxing vacation, as well as surfers looking to make the most of the powerful waves.

It is also incredibly popular with yoga practitioners too. A number of world-class yoga establishments have been set up in the area, making the most of the secluded destination, to bring a true sense of peace to their retreats.

The facilities in the towns are basic but should provide everything you need, from restaurants and bars to a market and pharmacy.

While cars aren’t used much here, bikes, golf carts, and ATV rentals are a cheap, popular way to get around. You can even hire a tuk-tuk taxi if you really want a unique adventure.

Stay In Nosara If you are attending a yoga retreat; you want to see nesting sea turtles; you don’t plan to rent a car; you want quiet, secluded beaches to surf or relax on.

Best places to stay in Nosara for first-time visitors:


🎬Check my virtual tour of the best places to stay in Costa Rica in this video:

15. Cahuita

located about 3-4 hours from the capital of San Jose on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Cahuita has a distinctly Afro-Caribbean feel to it that isn’t present elsewhere in the country. This is particularly obvious in its cuisine, which boasts traditional coconut rice, a range of grilled chicken, and dessert crepes filled with local fruit and chocolate.

Its collection of stunning beaches gives you a range of places to relax and have fun in your own tropical paradise. The cream of the crop is a picturesque black sand beach, known as Playa Negra. While it’s located just outside of town, it is more than worth the trip.

Many of the beaches are quite secluded, giving you plenty of peace and privacy. However, this is often because they aren’t accessible by road, so you will need to either walk or rent a 4×4 to reach them.

Other things in the area that regularly draw visitors are natural attractions, such as Cahuita National Park and the Jairo Mora Sandoval Gandoca-Manzanillo Mixed Wildlife Refuge.

Combined, they cover over 130 square miles, where you can walk, swim and snorkel, to see all manner of wildlife. Crocodiles, monkeys, tapirs, caimans, snakes, lobsters, butterflies, tamanduas, pacas, coatis, raccoons, sloths, agoutis, turtles, whales, and all manner of fish and birds are just some of the species you may stumble across.

If you visit Costa Rica in mid-October, you must see the annual Carnival in Limon to best experience the Afro-Caribbean culture. Tortuguero (turtle catcher) National Park is also not to miss place for wildlife enthusiasts!

Stay In Cahuita If you want an area with a distinct Afro-Caribbean vibe; you want to visit one of the wildlife parks in the area; you want a great choice of beaches, including those with black sand;

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Cahuita:


16. Poas

Poas, where to stay in costa rica near volcano

Poas is located a short way to the northwest of San Jose and is almost exclusively known for being the location of Poas Volcano National Park. Covering 25 square miles, the park is the home of the Poas Volcano.

Standing 8,885 feet tall, the Poas Volcano is still highly active. However, during periods of lower activity, visitors have the opportunity to walk right to the edge of the main crater, giving them a truly memorable experience.

Two crater lakes make for incredible viewing as well, located high up near the summit. Lake Botos, the lower of the two, is cold, clear, and surrounded by a cloud forest. Meanwhile, the higher of the two, Laguna Caliente, is one of the world’s most acidic lakes.

The area surrounding the volcano consists of a conservation area, containing some of the most beautiful flora and fauna in the country. Animals like coyotes, marmots, rabbits, and a wide range of bird species nestle amongst the greenery, taking you on a real-life tropical adventure.

There is little in the way of accommodation around Poas, so those wanting to explore the volcano or park while enjoying some traditional vacation luxuries may want to stay in San Jose. However, for the slightly more adventurous, camping in Costa Rica’s wilds is an opportunity not to be passed up.

Stay In Poas If you want to see an active volcano, with beautiful lakes in its craters; you want to explore a conservation area filled with stunning plants and animals; you are a fan of camping; you want Costa Rica’s largest city not too far away.


Where should I stay in Costa Rica for the first time?

San José is the best area to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers because it is the capital and cultural hub of the country, offering a wide range of tourist attractions and amenities. It also offers easy access to international airport, and nearby volcanoes and cloud forests.

Where is the safest place to stay in Costa Rica?

Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Drake Bay, and Monteverde are some of the safest place to stay in Costa Rica. But as you to travel to any city, you should use common sense and be aware of theft and pickpocketing.

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In conclusion, San Jose, La Fortuna, Monteverde, Puerto Viejo, Manuel Antonio, and Tamarindo Beach are some of the best places to stay in Costa Rica for tourists and first-time travelers. They offer a a wide range of accommodation for all budget travelers, both families and couples.

This article should have given you everything you need to decide where to stay in Costa Rica to ensure you have the vacation of a lifetime. All that’s left is to go and start getting everything booked. That way, you can look forward to jetting off on your own Central American adventure as soon as possible.

About Author: Linda Smith

I'm Linda Smith, the Hotel Expert, an experienced travel blogger who passionate about traveling. I'm here to share with you all my travel experiences and tips. I cover a wide range of travel topics, specializing in sharing information about the best areas, neighborhoods, and hotels in each city. I hope all these things will make your travel easier.

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