What to See in Costa Rica: The 8 Regions of the “Rich Coast”

All of What You Want to See in Costa Rica are within Its 8 Regions

Visiting 7 Regions of Costa Rica
There are 7 regions of Costa Rica.

What to see in Costa Rica depends. Of course, it depends on what you like to look on vacation!

Sometimes, the most beautiful places to visit in Costa Rica are not destinations with the best activities. Likewise, some of the places with the best recreation activities are not the most beautiful.

That means, what to do in Costa Rica is often different from what to see!

In Costa Rica, you have two options with respect to visual beauty. You can view wildlife and fauna. Or, you can go in search of beautiful sights.

The 7 Regions of Costa Rica Are:

  1. Nicoya Peninsula (Northwest’s Guanacaste Province) is a semi-arid desert.
  2. Pacific Coast (Puntarenas) is savanna and lowland & mountain jungle.
  3. Osa Peninsula (Puntarenas) mountain and lowland jungle.
  4. Caribbean Coast (Limon) is a lowland jungle.
  5. Continental Divide (Guanacaste Heredia, Cartago, Limon, & Puntarenas) is a corridor of volcanos.
  6. La Amistad International Park (Cartago, San Jose, Limon, & Puntarenas) is mountain and lowland jungle.
  7. North and Northeastern Mainland (Provinces of Alajuela, Heredia, & Limon) are savannas, wetlands, and swamp.

Plants and Animals to See in Costa Rica

The ecology in Costa Rica is some of the most biodiverse in the world.

Costa Rica has 830 species of avifauna, for example. “Costa Rica may be the only country in the world to have so many bird species and habitats accessible in such a small area.” That, explains F. Gary Stiles and Alexander F. Skutch, authors of, A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica. 830 bird species is more than all of North America and Mexico combined!

And, birds are only one example of the extraordinary biodiversity found in Costa Rica. Unmatched in quantity and diversity as well are the flora endemic to Costa Rica. And, it too is a result of Costa Rica’s geodiversity.

What you want to see in Costa Rica is the geography. The geodiversity of Costa Rica makes the country divisible into seven (7) distinct areas.

A Geographic View of Costa Rica

Forest View in Costa Rica
There are 6 types of forest in Costa Rica and 12 “life zones.”

It is so small, five Costa Ricas could fit into Colorado!

Costa Rica is one of the smallest countries in the Americas. Yet, the geography in Costa Rica is extraordinarily diverse.

Costa Rica separates the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans (technically, the Caribbean Sea) by a mere 80 miles. And, Savage mountains divide Costa Rica.

Costa Rica’s highest peak is 2,000 feet more prominent than Mt. Shasta, the second most prominent peak in the Continental United States. The only mountain in the lower 48 more prominent than Costa Rica’s Cerro Chirripo is Mt. Whitney in Washington.

The relief from the valley floors to the peaks of the mountains in Costa Rica is so great that there are six (6) different types of forest in Costa Rica.

But, Costa Rica is more than just beaches and mountains. Costa Rica has a semi-arid desert in the northwest. Furthermore, there are huge tracts of savanna east of the desert. And, Costa Rica has swamps and wetlands and countless estuaries as well.

According to the late world-renowned tropical botanist, Dr. L.R. Holdridge, there are 12 “life zones” in Costa Rica. And, the 12 life zones in Costa Rica Holdridge classified did not include marine ecological systems.

Maybe most impressive of all, 25% of Costa Rica is a national park, international park, reserve, or preservation are.

To find what you are looking for, you have to know in what region to find it. There are seven regions in Costa Rica.

One word of caution. Costa Rica has seasons. It is important to know what the best time of year to visit an area is.

1) Nicoya Peninsula (Northwest’s Guanacaste Province), Semi-Arid Desert

Nicoya Beach Overlook
The Nicoya Peninsula is isolated and its inhabitants are affluent.

Though there is plenty to do there, most people go to the Nicoya Peninsula for the views. But, what they find is not always what they expect.

The Nicoya Peninsula’s climate varies greatly depending on where you are. There is primarily savanna in the north, though there are jungles, wetlands, and marsh on the inland areas of the Nicoya peninsula. The southern half of the Nicoya Peninsula is wetter than the northern half. The farther south you travel on the Nicoya, the wetter it gets.

Isolation and affluence are the two things most notable features of the Nicoya Peninsula. Unlike the Pacific Coast on the mainland of Costa Rica, there are very few medium-to-large-sized towns on the Nicoya Peninsula. Most of the towns on the Nicoya Peninsula are small resort towns. And those small towns have a heavy foreign influence and a great deal of money.

Who the Nicoya Peninsula Attracts

The farther south you get on the Nicoya Peninsula, the smaller the resort towns become. In the same breath, the farther south you get, the more the uber-rich dominate the towns.

The Nicoya Peninsula is where foreign dignitaries have vacation homes, Manitoba Canada’s premier Brian Pallister for example. Shaq, Brittany Spears, Harrison Ford, Andre Agassi, and the more-significant-other of Tom Brady — Gisele Bundchen — all have homes on the Nicoya Peninsula.

Why the Nicoya is Such a Big Attraction

Nicoya Overlook
The ecology on the Nicoya Peninsula is, still, intact.

What makes the Nicoya Peninsula such an attractive destination for sightseers is the ecology and geology.

It is a natural paradise.

Unlike some of the regions in Costa Rica, the ecology of the Nicoya Peninsula is relatively intact.

However, the Nicoya Peninsula also has all the modern amenities you would expect in the finest North American and European resort towns.

Nicoya Peninsula Facts and Figures

While the Nicoya Peninsula is very remote, there is an airport within an hour and a half of the most remote locations on the Nicoya.

Both petty and violent crime are lower on the Nicoya Peninsula than anywhere else in Costa Rica. That means the Nicoya Peninsula is the most peaceful region in the most peaceful country in Central America. According to the Global Peace Index, Costa Rica is “the most peaceful country in Central America and the second in Latin America (it is only behind an island off the coast of Ecuador.)

If you are looking to relax while on your Costa Rica family vacation — as opposed to seeking adrenaline-pumping adventure, — and you have the money, the Nicoya Peninsula is the what to see in Costa Rica.

2) Pacific Coast (Puntarenas), Savanna and Lowland & Mountain Jungle

Scenery Puntarenas
The most popular vacation region in Costa Rica is the Pacific Coast between the Nicoya and Osa Peninsulas.

The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica — from the Nicoya Peninsula to the Osa Peninsula — is the most popular vacation destination in Costa Rica. The stretch between Nicoya and Osa include the country’s most visited beach town: Puntarenas, Jaco, Quepos, and Dominical. Very few travelers who visit Costa Rica do not visit one of those four beach towns.

Puntarenas and Jaco are probably not what most people expect of Costa Rica. Jungle surrounds neither. The backdrop for both, instead, is savanna.

Farther south, however, the jungle becomes prominent.

In Quepos, the Manuel Antonio National Park serves as the backdrop to this thriving beach town. And, south of Quepos is Dominical. Dominical also has high mountain jungles surround it.

Who the Pacific Coast Attracts

Again, the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica between the Nicoya Peninsula and the Osa Peninsula is typically a destination for everyone who visits the country. Almost everyone that travels to Costa Rica visits the Pacific Coast at one point or another.

Why the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is Such a Big Attraction

Puntarenas, Jaco, and Quepos were the first towns in Costa Rica to realize the potential of the tourism industry. Tourism has been the economic staple on the Pacific Coast for almost 50 years. There are hostels for backpackers and Europeans. There are mid-range hotels for middle-class tourists. And, there are four and five-star resorts scattered up and down the coast.

If you want to visit Costa Rica, the Pacific Coast has accommodations and activities for you!

Pacific Coast Facts and Figures

Quepos/Manuel Antonio get more visitors per year than any place in Costa Rica. Primarily, that is because the Manuel Antonio National Park is the most visited park in Costa Rica with 360,000 per year.

3) Osa Peninsula (Puntarenas), Mountain and Lowland Jungle

The Osa Peninsula is the least populated region on the entire Pacific Coast of Costa Rica. No coincidence, it also has the only lowland virgin jungle left on the Pacific Coast. In fact, the lowland jungle on the Osa Peninsula is, “The largest remaining tract of lowland rainforest in Pacific Mesoamerica.” It is estimated that 3 percent of the flora on the Osa Peninsula is found nowhere else on the world. And, there are, “More than 700 species of trees, which is more than all the Northern temperate regions combined.”

The last place in Costa Rica inhabited by Europeans, the Osa Peninsula is still sparsely populated. However, several of the most exceptional resorts in the country are on the Osa.

Who the Osa Peninsula Attracts

Osa Peninsula Wave Watching
The Osa Peninsula is Costa Rica as it was 200 years ago, save the luxury resorts!

The Osa Peninsula is a long distance from any other attractions in Costa Rica. To the south is Panama. To the north, is a long highway up to Dominical and Quepos. East is of the Osa Peninsula is the largest International Park in Central America, La Amistad. So, the people who visit the Osa typically plan on staying for a week or more.

Again, the destination resorts on the Osa are extremely lavish. While worth the money, visiting the Osa Peninsula for more than a few days becomes expensive.

Osa Peninsula Facts and Figures

On the Osa, you will find 140 mammals, including 25 species of dolphins and whale as well as 4 species of sea turtles. The Osa Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse regions in Costa Rica, arguably the most biodiverse country in the world.

Oh, and the longest right surf wave in the world is off the coast of the Osa Peninsula.

4) Caribbean Coast (Limon), Lowland Jungle

Tortuguero Vista
The culture on the Caribbean Coast is completely different than that on the Pacific.

Unlike the Pacific Coast, on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, there are no prominent peninsulas. From Nicaragua to Panama, the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is unbroken. Also unlike the Pacific Coast, there are no dramatic changes in climate. The entire Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is lush and tropical.

Furthermore, in contrast to the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, the Caribbean Coast is sparsely populated. The port city of Limon is the exception. The majority of the population on the Caribbean Coast lives in small towns. And, the population north of Limon is extremely small. Tortuguero is the only town north of Limon with a thriving tourism industry. And, Tortuguero is only accessible by plane or boat.

Who the Caribbean Coast Attracts

One thing the Caribbean Coast has in common with the Pacific Coast is beach quality. By every standard, the beaches on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica are spectacular. People turned off by the crowds on the Pacific Coast may find what they like on the Caribbean.

And, the prices are more reasonable on the Caribbean Coast. That is not to say, however, that the hotels and resorts on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica are lower in quality. But, the fact is, the drive from the airport in Alajuela to the Caribbean is considerably longer than it is to the Pacific Coast. So, the majority of the people who visit Costa Rica go to the Pacific side.

Caribbean Coast Facts and Figures

While Ticos of African-America decent constitue only 3 percent of the total population, the Province of Limon is more than 25 percent black. As such, the culture that attracts people from around the world to places like Jamaica and the Bahamas exist on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica.

The food, the music, and even the language — English of the Jamaican dialect — are different on the Caribbean Coast than they are anywhere else in Costa Rica.

5) Continental Divide (Guanacaste Heredia, Cartago, Limon, & Puntarenas) Corridor of Volcanos


Poas Volcano Rim View
The views of and from atop Costa Rica’s volcanos are among the country’s best.

The the continental divide of Costa Rica traverses a corridor of volcanos. There are 112 volcanos in Costa Rica including active, inactive and extinct. Currently, there are five active volcanos in Costa Rica: Rincón de la Vieja, Arenal, Poás, Irazú, and Turrialba.


Why the Continental Divide of Costa Rica is Such a Big Attraction

The volcanos, even those that are inactive or extinct, attract people for recreation. For example, in addition to an active lava flow, the region around Arenal Volcano is chock full of activities. Zipline down the volcano or go spelunking under it. Ect, etc. Other examples include the Poas Volcano and Cerro Chirripo. They give the two best views in the country from a height.

The volcanos of Costa Rica are destinations in and of themselves.

6) La Amistad International Reserve (Cartago, San Jose, Limon, & Puntarenas), Mountain and Lowland Jungle

Sightseeing La Amistad International Reserve
The most natural Costa Rica is La Amistad.

La Amistad International Park is the largest park in Central America. It is twice the size of Rocky Mountain National Park. It spans from the center of Costa Rica south and crosses into Panama. And, it is protected from development. Containing all six types of forest found in Costa Rica and having all 12 life zones, it is the most biodiverse and geodiverse region in Costa Rica.

La Amistad International Park contains both the highest point in Costa Rica, Cerro Chirripo, and the coastal boundaries almost reach sea level. La Amistad is the most diverse region of its size in the Americas. That is to say, t is in the discussion for the most diverse region of its size in the world.

La Amistad is Costa Rica.

7) North and Northeastern Mainland (Provinces of Alajuela, Heredia, & Limon) Savannas, Wetlands, and Swamp

Visit Wetlands Costa Rica
The north and northwest’s swamps, wetlands, and savannas teem with life.

The only place in Costa Rica with fewer inhabitants than La Amistad are the savannas, wetlands, and swamp that span from the province of Guanacaste, through northern Alajuela and Heredia, into Limon. While sparsely inhabited, the area is not without visual grandeur.

For more information on Costa Rica, call Ccosta Rica Vacations and inquire!

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