Overlooked Travel Destinations
Whether it’s your first Costa Rica vacation, or you simply want to get off the tourist trail and explore new places, these oft overlooked destinations deliver on all fronts: adventure, natural beauty, and heaps of local charm. Try and include at least one of these gems in your itinerary for an especially unique travel experience.
Also known as San Carlos by its residents, this quiet agricultural hamlet often falls into the shadow of its more famous neighbor, Arenal. Located just over an hours drive north of San Jose, Ciudad Quesada’s cool climate and rolling hills dotted with dairy cattle conjure up images of English countryside. The town features great shopping for leather goods and handcrafted saddles, which sell for incredibly low prices.
- Why Go: To experience small-town, rural Costa Rica at its best. Zero tourist crowds, a quaint Central Park and friendly locals only add to its appeal.
- Must See: Nearby Termales del Bosque offers day passes to its natural hot springs and has nice hiking trails through gardens, comfortable cabins, a restaurant and day spa.
Santa Maria de Dota
Climb up into the mist on the Cerro de la Muerte, before descending into the picturesque valley of Santa Maria de Dota, where Spring-like temperatures are the norm 365 days a year. Birding, hiking and exceptional trout fishing are all on offer in this quaint town. But what sets it apart is its rich, volcanic soil that yields the country’s award-winning Tarrazu coffee.
- Why Go: Nature lovers and avid birders will adore the area’s avian fauna and local attractions. The adjacent Los Quetzales National Park is a haven for resplendent quetzals, with peak season from December through May.
- Must See: Coopedota, the world's first carbon-neutral coffee producer, has fun tours on the history and production of coffee in Costa Rica. Taste testing is required!
A community of lovely, uncrowded beaches on the Costa Ballena, Ojochal is roughly 30 minutes from Dominical on the south Pacific coast. Much of the rugged coastline is protected by Ballena National Marine Park, which shelters migrating humpback whales and a diverse marine ecosystem. Spend your days lounging on golden sands, or go full-throttle on any number of adventure tours, such as canopy zip-lines, ATV trips, or horseback excursions.
- Why Go: To unwind on the beach without the masses. Take your pick of Playa Ventanas, Pinuela, Ballena or Uvita for quiet stretches of sublime coastline, and some excellent tide pool hopping.
- Must See: The 600-acre La Cusinga Rainforest Eco Lodge and Reserve offers the best of both worlds: a bit of green luxury along with a commitment to sustainable living. Onsite trails meander through primary rainforest; go with a guide for even better wildlife watching.
Coconut palms sway in the warm ocean breezes on this little-known treasure in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste province. A short jaunt south of Tamarindo, Junquillal has escaped the mass development prevalent in all its neighboring beach towns. This low-key beach has ample space to play on the sand at low tide and some killer waves if you like to surf. Nearly always deserted, Junquillal is perfect for a romantic getaway, with a handful of beachfront accommodations spread along its shore.
- Why Go: If you’re seeking a relaxing beach vacation away from stress and city life, and don’t crave nightlife.
- Must See: The area's nesting Olive Ridley and leatherback sea turtles. Take an evening tour to observe massive females lumbering up the shore to lay their eggs – it’s a magical experience you won’t soon forget.