As the eco- and adventure-tourism capital of Central America, Costa Rica has a worthy place in the cubicle daydreams of travelers around the world. With world-class infrastructure, visionary sustainability initiatives and no standing army, the country is a green, peaceful jewel of the region. Taking into account that more than a third of the land enjoys some form of environmental protection and there’s greater biodiversity here than in the USA and Europe combined, it’s a place that earns the superlatives. To help you book a perfect stay we’ve put together this short guide through the best areas to stay in Costa Rica.
First impressions of La Fortuna may be somewhat lacking, what with all the tourists and uninspired cinder-block architecture. But, with time, this town’s charms are revealed. Horses graze in unimproved lots, spiny iguanas scramble through brush, sloth eyes peer from the riverside canopy and eternal spring mornings carry just a kiss of humidity on their breath. And always, there’s that massive volcano lurking behind the clouds or sparkling in the sun.
For most of its history La Fortuna has been a sleepy agricultural town, 6km from the base of Cerro Arenal (Arenal Hill). On the morning of July 29, 1968, Arenal erupted violently after nearly 400 years of dormancy, and buried the small villages of Pueblo Nuevo, San Luís and Tabacón. Soon, like moths to a flame, tourists from around the world started descending on La Fortuna in search of fiery night skies and the inevitable blurry photo of creeping lava. Since then, La Fortuna has served as the principal gateway for visiting Volcán Arenal. It’s still one of the top destinations for travelers in Costa Rica, even though the great mountain stopped spewing its molten discharge in 2010.
Nosara is a cocktail of international surf culture, stunning back-road topography, jungled microclimates, moneyed expat mayhem and yoga bliss. It effortlessly recalls Malibu, Oʻahu’s North Shore and Byron Bay, Australia, while remaining completely its own – only in Costa Rica – incarnation. Here, three stunning beaches are stitched
together by a network of swerving, rutted earth roads that meander over coastal hills and kiss the coast just west of the small Tico village of Nosara.
Get ready for tasty waves, and creative kitchens , because the southwestern corner of Península de Nicoya has all that and more. Which is why it’s become one of Costa Rica’s most life-affirming destinations. Here, the sea is alive with wildlife and is almost perfect when it comes to shape, color and temperature. The hills are dotted with stylish boutique sleeps and sneaky good kitchens run by the occasional runaway, top-shelf chef. Sure, there is a growing ribbon of mostly expat development on the coastline, but the hills are lush and that road is still rutted earth
(even if it is intermittently sealed with aromatic vats of molasses). The entire area unfurls along one coastal road that rambles from Santa Teresa in the north through Playa el Carmen, the area’s commercial heartbeat, then terminating in the fishing hamlet of Mal País. The whole region is collectively known as Mal País.
Dominical hits a real sweet spot with the travelers who wander up and down its rough dirt road with a surfboard under an arm, balancing the day’s activities between surfing and hammock hang time. And although some may decry the large population of expats and gringos who have hunkered down here, proud residents are quick to point out that Dominical recalls the mythical ‘old Costa Rica’ – the days before the roads were all paved, and when the coast was dotted with lazy little towns that drew a motley crew of surfers, backpackers and affable do-nothings alike. Dominical has no significant cultural sights, no paved roads and no chain restaurants, and if you’re not here to learn to surf or to swing in a hammock it might not be the place for you.