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Costa Rica is one of the top travel destinations in Central America, but unfortunately, most tourist here are visiting the same few places over and over again, cultivating an overcrowded, hyper-Westernized experience.

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Yes, Arenal Volcano, Manuel Antonio National Park, and the beach town of Tamarindo are wonderful destinations with lots of tourist facilities, hotels, and tour companies that can help you organize any type of adventure. But…

…there is so much more to see in Costa Rica than these popular destinations!

Having spent many months in Costa Rica, we’ve been lucky enough to get off the beaten path and to explore parts of Costa Rica that are much lesser known. The following list features some of our favourite places to ditch the crowds and embrace the true spirit of Costa Rica:

1. Playa Negra and Playa Avellanas, Guanacaste

These two fantastic surfer beaches are located just 30 minutes south of Tamarindo – one of the most popular tourist towns on the Pacific Coast, but they offer a much quieter and relaxing setting to enjoy the beach and the waves. If you can get past the bumpy dirt roads and don’t mind sharing the backyard with some howler monkeys, you’ll be in for a nice surprise.

Playa Avellanas and Playa Negra may be known for great waves, but they offer a lot more than that. Located in a quiet local community away from the tourist crowds, this part of Guanacaste offers visitors a taste of real Costa Rica. A quiet beach, a few great restaurants, a yoga retreat center, and a spot where you are guaranteed to see some of the most amazing sunsets in the country.

Sunset at Playa Negra, Guanacaste
Sunset at Playa Negra, Guanacaste

2. Santa Teresa, Nicoya Peninsula

Tucked away in the south of Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa is another lesser known surf haven that draws in those looking to get off the beaten path. This region is known for different breaks a constant swell all year around, but if you’re not keen on surfing there is lots more to do.

Surf lesson on the beach in Santa Teresa. Costa Rica
Surf lesson on the beach in Santa Teresa

You’ll find everything from yoga and cooking classes to horseback riding and ATV tours. The town has an abundance of activity options, plus, Santa Teresa also happens to have a few pretty great restaurants.

Sunset drinks in Santa Teresa
Sunset drinks in Santa Teresa

3. Playa San Juanillo, Guanacaste

If you think that there would be no beaches left in Costa Rica that you can go to and feel totally isolated and unbothered – think again!

Located in the Guanacaste region, this beach is the perfect place for beach bums not looking to catch a wave. If you like sunbathing or taking a dip in the Pacific, spend a day at San Juanillo. It’s a local gem, and only accessible via a 20-mile-long dirt road.

4. Playa Dominical, Puntarenas

All of the previously mentioned beaches are great if you’re looking for a specific beach experience, but Playa Dominical is the perfect beach to head to if you don’t really know what you want out of your day!

Playa Dominical from above
Playa Dominical from above

Feeling like relaxing in a hammock? Check. Horseback riding? Check. Chasing some waterfalls? Check. The list goes on and on. Dominical also has a bunch of great beachside restaurants with a range of different cuisines to choose from. You can arrive in the morning and stay all day – the possibilities are endless!

Nuayaca Waterfall, Dominical Costa Rica
Nuayaca Waterfall, Dominical, Costa Rica

5. Puerto Jimenez, Osa Peninsula

Located on the southwestern edge of Costa Rica, on the Osa Peninsula, the small town of Puerto Jimenez is one of the best destinations for nature lovers in the country.

Playa at sunset, Puerto Jimenez. Osa Peninsula
Playa Platanares at sunset, Puerto Jimenez. Osa Peninsula

Puerto Jimenez is a getaway to Corcovado National Park, easily one of our favorite places in Costa Rica. You visit the park with a local guide, who will help you to navigate the beautiful, protected primary rainforest and spot wildlife with ease.

In Corcovado National Park, one of the most bio-diverse place in the world
In Corcovado National Park, one of the most bio-diverse places in the world

And this is just one of the nature experiences you can have in this area. There are nature walks, kayaking opportunities, bird watching, rural farm visits and much more.  This area is also home to some beautiful beaches!

6. Miravalles Volcano

Also located in the Guanacaste region, Miravalles Volcano is another untapped destination in Costa Rica. The volcano is considered dormant, but still produces an excess of thermal energy – making for some awesome hot spring and volcanic bath experience!

Whether you’re interested in a simple volcanic mud bath or a more upscale hot spring experience, there are a number of resorts where you can experience both. The best part? Admission to many of these hot springs is a fraction of what you would pay at Arenal Volcano!

7. Rio Celeste

Rio Celeste, located within the Tenorio Volcano National Park, is most famous for its ridiculously blue waterfall, the product of the convergence of two rivers and a few different minerals refracting sunlight.

Rio Celeste Waterfall, Tenorio Volcano National Park
Rio Celeste Waterfall, Tenorio Volcano National Park
Rainy day in Tenorio National Park
Rainy day in Tenorio National Park

While the waterfall itself is wonderful, the entire trail inside Tenorio National Park is worth the hike. It is an extremely muddy trail (even in the dry season), so make sure to pack waterproof hiking boots, but the miradors and low bridges are worth every ounce of mud. Have a look at our guide to the best time to visit Costa Rica, and try aim for slightly less wet!

8. Tortuguero National Park

Unlike many national parks where hiking is the primary mode of transportation, this park is best seen from the water. It’s best known for being a green turtle nesting haven (due to its sandy river banks), but it is chock-full of biodiversity.

The best time to visit the beaches for turtle watching is at night – and this will require a local guide. But if you’re visiting during the daytime, there’s still plenty to see and do! You can rent kayaks and canoes and explore this vast national park at your own pace.

9. Sarapiqui

Located in the Heredia region, Sarapiqui region has a little something for everyone. The region is home to a number of nature reserves and national parks including the Braulio Carrillo National Park and is a major wildlife and hiking destination. The Sarapiqui river also offers an array of adventure opportunities including great whitewater rafting. 

Rafting on Sarapiqui river. Photo by m.prinke via Flickr CC
Rafting on Sarapiqui river. Photo by m.prinke via Flickr CC

There are several nice eco-lodges in the area which make it easy to spend a few nights exploring this adventurous part of the country.

10. Ricon de La Vieja National Park

Ricon de la Vieja National Park is another lesser known adventure park in Costa Rica. The park is located in Guanacaste province and encompasses Rincón de la Vieja, Santa María, as well as the dormant Cerro Von Seebach volcanoes and is a wonderful destination for outdoor enthusiasts. The park is full of trails and paths leading out to waterfalls, volcanic craters, mud pools, and hot springs.

At the base of the volcanoes, travelers can take part in a variety of adventure activities ranging from horseback riding to zip lining and tubing.

No matter where your interests lie and what you are hoping to get out of your trip to Costa Rica, there are ways to get the most of your trip without visiting the most touristy and overcrowded places in the country.

Which of these destinations would you want to add to your Costa Rica itinerary?

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