Go off the beaten path with these 5 Costa Rican villages that are quite under the radar. If you’re traveling to Costa Rica, chances are you’ve probably heard of towns such as Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo or Arenal. These beach and mountain destinations are home to Costa Rica’s finest resorts, restaurants and adventure attractions, but there is much more of the country that is still out there to discover. Ask your travel agent to build in a day trip (or a longer stay!) to one of these 5 charming villages.
The quaint beach town of Montezuma is definitely one of Costa Rica’s most underrated spots. It’s the perfect place for eco-tourists who also love their fair share of the ocean, as the village is nestled in between a beautiful jungle and a white-sand beach. There is plenty to do here: take a hike of Montezuma Falls and go for a refreshing swim afterwards; visit the Mariposario Butterfly Gardens featuring an average of of 10 different butterfly species on any given trip or take a yoga class at the popular Montezuma Yoga. Located only a short 5-minute walk from the village center, visitors can drop in for a yoga class at only $14 per session. There is also horseback riding, fishing, surfing and snorkeling along Montezuma’s sandy shores. There are plenty of delicious restaurants in the village-- head to Cafe Organico for some of the best vegetarian food in Costa Rica, but be sure to go on a Monday night, when the restaurant hosts its open mic night.
Rainforest meets marbled black and white-sand beaches in this charming little Caribbean beach town, located about 2 miles south of the buzzing Puerto Viejo. For those wanting a quieter, more peaceful stay in Costa Rica, Playa Cocles may just be the perfect spot. You will still have access to the abundance of restaurants, bars, surf shops and boutiques located in Puerto Viejo, but without all of the traffic and noise of the lively town. The best way to get around Playa Cocles is to rent a bike or scooter so you can easily get from the gorgeous beaches back to the charming village center. Playa Cocles is known for its amazing surf, but also for its Caribbean influences, most easily seen in the incredible cuisine. Head to the Bikini Restaurant & Bar in Puerto Viejo for a delicious meal of pretty much anything-- the restaurant serves amazing fresh sushi and curries, as well as pasta and pizzas. It’s a fun environment for expats, tourists and Ticos alike!
San Isidro de Heredia
This tiny, quaint village is located within the larger district of Heredia in the Central Valley region of Costa Rica. The downtown area has a charming, rural feel despite the fact that San Isidro is built inside the foothills of Braulio Carrillo, a stunning national park with plenty of activities to satisfy even the most adventurous nature-lover. The region itself dates back to pre-Columbian times when it was occupied by an indigenous group. This group left behind pottery and a stone idol, which is still standing in the town. The local church also houses an important archaeological discovery: a stone ceremonial table which was most likely used in agricultural celebrations. You can also drink 2013’s best cup of coffee in San Isidro. Head to Café Brumas del Zurqui for an authentic Costa Rican coffee and delicious pastry. The café sells bags of coffee coming from the famed Terrrazú region, so be sure to pick one up to bring back home.
It’s likely you’ve never heard of this small, tranquil village along the Pacific Ocean in the Guanacaste region, but you’ve probably heard of its neighbor to the north-- Mal Pais connects to Playa El Carmen, which borders the booming surfer town of Santa Teresa. The village’s undisturbed landscape is the perfect for spotting wildlife, and it’s incredibly close to Cabo Blanco, Costa Rica’s oldest nature reserve which is home to many aquatic species such as dolphins, sea turtles and even whales. There is a stand-up paddleboard shop in town which is the perfect way to explore the clear Pacific waters. Mal Pais also boasts a couple of great restaurants, including Mary’s, a charming farm-to-table establishment set in the village’s rugged jungle atmosphere. The restaurant features meat, vegetables, salad and herbs from their own farm (which includes a hydroponic greenhouse) and fish straight from the ocean.
Las Catalinas/Playa Danta
Playa Danta, a gorgeous black-sand beach 15 minutes south of the popular Playa Flamingo, is home to the brand-new resort town Las Catalinas. While some may find Las Catalinas entirely too commercial, you shouldn’t rule out this Costa Rican village just yet. Because of its newness, Las Catalinas had the advantage of being built with infrastructure and its inhabitants as top priorities. The result is a booming beach town that is incredibly safe for families and has all of the modern amenities of a resort, while still maintaining Costa Rica’s old-world charm through its overall design. The waters are very calm for Costa Rica, making it ideal for children to play at ease in the water. Snorkeling, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding and sailing are the perfect beach activities in Playa Danta. Those looking for more adventure can make the short drive to Playa Flamingo to find catamaran and ATV tours, as well as fishing and scuba diving. While there are plenty of great restaurants in Las Catalinas, head to Surf Box in Playa Flamingo to experience a truly tropical meal. From French Toast to an acai bowl topped with fresh fruit and granola, Surf Box is the perfect spot after a long day at the beach. However, if you are planning on checking out Playa Flamingo, you better plan ahead-- Las Catalinas does not allow any motorized vehicles onto its streets.
Written by Rob Harper
Read more posts by Rob Harper