DISCOVER THE PERFECT COSTA RICA REGION FOR YOU
For a small country of only about 20,000 square miles (or 51,000 square kilometers), the different regions of Costa Rica have something for just about everyone. Whether you’re looking for history, the big city, mountains, jungle or beaches, you’re sure to have plenty of options in this tiny but mighty territory.
The easiest way to divide Costa Rica is by its seven provinces: Limon, Alajuela, San Jose, Heredia, Cartago, Puntarenas and Guanacaste. Each one has its own style and terrain to keep things interesting whether you’re here for a week or for a lifetime.
If you like the vibrant flair of the Caribbean, then Limón is the place for you. Encompassing Costa Rica’s east coast, the province of Limón has a strong Caribbean influence in parts which can be felt from the people, the food and the general laid back vibe. This coastline also sports the lighter sand beaches and blue seas that are associated with the islands. Another bonus of this area – especially for those a little shy about their Spanish – is that English is commonly spoken here.
Major cities in Limón: Puerto Limón, Puerto Viejo, Guápiles, plus lots of other little sleepy beach towns.
As you move towards the center of the country you’ll find yourself in the lush mountainous province of Cartago. This beautiful area is also home to the Irazu Volcano and Turrialba Volcano, both of which are active and accessible within the many national parks if you want to have your own Dante’s Peak reenactment. The area around the Turrialba Volcano is known for it’s rolling farmland and vibrantly green pastures featuring some of the happiest milk cows you’ve ever seen that produce Cartago’s famous fresh white cheeses. You can also find some of Costa Rica’s oldest buildings in this region since it was a hub of activity in precolonial times. These days Cartago (the capital) is a historic and peaceful city settled at around 4,700 feet above sea level amid the rich highlands.
Major cities in Cartago: Cartago, San Francisco (Aguacaliente), Paraíso, Turrialba, San Rafael, San Nicolás, Tejar, San Diego, Carmen.
If you continue to travel just 25 kilometers north west from Cartago you’ll hit Costa Rica’s capital and largest city, San José. It’s truly the epicenter of Costa Rica in more ways than one. Here you’ll find a thriving cultural center, including museums, live music, shopping and a glorious variety of cuisine that is hard to find in many other parts of the country. Like most of the provinces of the Central Valley of Costa Rica, the weather here is quite agreeable and comfortable all year long giving you a chance to explore both the city and the surrounding mountains at your leisure.
Major cities in San José: San José, Cinco Esquinas, Desamparados, San Vicente, Curridabat, San Isidro de El General, Purral, San Pedro, Ipís, San Miguel, San Juan de Tibás, Guadalupe, Aserrí, San Rafael Abajo, San Felipe, Patarrá, Calle Blancos, San Rafael, Concepción, Patalillo, San Antonio, Mata de Plátano, Gravilias, Tirrases, San Juan de Dios, Alajuelita.
Bordering San José, Cartago and Limón to the north, Heredia is another Central Valley haven of abundant mountains and coffee fields that is known for its breathtaking natural landscapes, including waterfalls and dense cloud forests with lots of wildlife to take in. The capital city Heredia offers many of the amenities of San José in a smaller, less crowded and what many consider to be a safer city.
Major cities in Heredia: Heredia, San Francisco, Ulloa (Barrial), San Pablo.
Rounding out the Central Valley to the east of Heredia you’ll find Alajuela, which is snuggled between two volcanoes – Arenal and Poas – and the border of San Jose. This mountainous province has a slower, small town charm while still being incredibly modern and convenient. It’s here that you’ll also find the Juan Santamaria International Airport, which named after Costa Rica’s national hero (but that’s another story). Once outside the city, which isn’t hard to do, you can enjoy all the luscious national parks and misty mountaintops that Alajuela is known for.
Major cities in Alajuela: Alajuela, San José de Alajuela, Quesada, San Rafael.
For those looking for white sand, lots of sun and stunning sunsets, Guanacaste is the place for you. Covering the upper Pacific coast of Costa Rica, Guanacaste is a popular travel destination and expat region. Most of the small but main cities hug the coast and offer an array of nightlife, hotels and accommodations right on the beach. Guanacaste is flatter and a little dryer than much of the country, but inland you’ll still have access to national parks and the Miravalles volcano. Costa Rica’s other major airport, Liberia International, is also located in this province.
Major cities in Guanacaste: Liberia, Cañas, Tamarindo, Nicoya, Playas del Coco.
Puntarenas makes up the rest of Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast to the south of Guanacaste. This province has miles upon miles of darker sand beaches that are mostly protected as national parks, making them virtually untouched and teeming with wildlife. This area tends to be more mountainous than its province to the north, so you get both the mountains and the beach to enjoy. While most of the Costa Rica coastlines are surfable, Puntarenas is a hot spot for surfers and beach lovers. Puntarenas and Jaco excluded, this province typically has small towns dotted all along the main highway, making it an easy going pace of life compared to other areas.
Major cities in Puntarenas: Jaco, Puntarenas, Dominical, Uvita, Ojochal, Puerto Jimenez, Golfito.