Costa Rica

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Top 10 Costa Rica stops for first-timers  

15 Must-Visit Costa Rica Destinations

...Arenal Volcano and Manuel Antonio National Park...For the mountain/volcano the Arenal area is popular.
And for beaches - Manuel AntonioPuerto ViejoTamarindoSamaraMontezumaMal Pais...... The list goes on

a few days at Samara Beach - Samara,  is a laid-back, small beach town for relaxing and enjoying
and then a few days at Heliconias Lodge and Rainforest - . Heliconias Lodge is near the Tenorio National Park and has tours to the Rio Celeste . .  -- the three most popular places in Costa Rica are Manuel AntonioArenal (La Fortuna) and Monteverde.

CARAVAN TOURS of Costa Rica a Caravan tour of Costa Rica . Very reasonably priced as well. You spend 2 nights in 4 places and see and experience different things. You see 2 volcanos, a beautiful beach, do a 2 miles hike in the rain forest that has 6 hanging suspension bridges, go to the hot springs in Arenal, the gold museum, and spend 2 nights in Tortugueuro National Park which is accessible by boat only. There you stay in eco lodging so no AC but we did a night tour and  the time to see Turtles laying their eggs on the beach.
 Costa Rica does a good job of conservation and show great care and concern for the turtles. You have to go with a guide at night on the beach and we saw 4 turtles up close in the egg laying process and the turtles are very large.
Caravan made it easy and we met some friends as well. There were about 8 younger people on our trip - ages 14 to 25. Some of the roads in Costa Rica are not great and addresses and mapquest directions do not exist in Costa Rica so if you are staying on the main roads, you would be fine, but some of the places we went were miles on some back roads - through banana plantations, etc. One of the best things on the trip was the guide who was a Costa Rican local but spoke very good english. He told you what you were seeing and it was educational to learn about the places, the people and the culture/history.

The peace lodge is in the jungle, high-end and overall very nice place to stay.
Arenal springs hotel has amazing suites and lots of fun activities to do and the
Flamingo Resort is a relaxed hotel on the beach with beautiful sunsets and all inclusive food/drink!
I've heard good things about Peace Lodge and Arenal Springs.
I can heartily recommend
Lapa Rios Eco Lodge in Puerto Jimenez (fairly luxurious eco lodge near a beach, with whale watching!) and
La Quinta de Sarapiqui (in Sarapiqui) for a more down-home experience - fabulous nature!).
Monte verde is a beautiful town adjacent to rain forests.
Slow Family Travel Blog:

Lake arenal, Monteverde .  West coast all the way.  East coast is murky full of sharks.  Maybe from Jaco down, rent a car.
Quepos is dodgey but I love it.

Just rent the best 4 wheel you can justify and drive down the west coast starting from
Monte Verde. Allocate time for Manual San Antonio.

There is a
Bougie resort run by Belgiumís in Arenal. 

Ripjack Inn is in Playa Grande (West Coast side, not far from Tamarindo) & owned by a Marin native & his wife. Off the beaten path next to an undeveloped beach. Beautiful! 
Leatherback Turtle tour, zip canopy tour, estuary tour and sunset snorkel and sailing trip. There are also several different ways to explore Rincon de la Vieja, the closest volcano to the hotel.

Bosque Del Cabo Rainforest Lodge Is a truly Amazing place.

Villas Playa Samara is a beautiful resort on the west coast of Guancaste peninsula.

Amor de Mar in Montezuma  Make sure you do the hammock tour daily!!

If you love to dance to reggae music right on the beach go to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean coast at the tip of Costa Rica. Great live music every night. Also this town is a center for traditional indigenous herbal healing and has a world-renowned school of shamanic studies and herbal healing.

Tabacon hot springs. Mandatory.

I stayed at the Chachagua rainforest hotel, glorious. 30 minutes to Arenal and the falls and hit springs and an easy drive from San Jose.

recommend staying on the Pacific side. Better food, scenery, views and sights. Safer too.

Osa Peninsula (where Bosque del Cabo and other 5/5-rated rainforest resorts are located) is the most magical place in Costa Rica according to many reviewers. The huge exotic vibrantly colored birds soaring in pairs, monkey troups, big bullfrogs, sloths, capybaras, etc. For us, it was a small surreal private plane through the clouds and a long bumpy Indiana Jones jeep ride to get there, but we cherish our unforgettable memories of the tropical rainforest. (Yes, Harrison Ford actually took that jeep ride, too.) Bring bug repellant!!! Also, make sure there are no hammerhead sharks or jellyfish if you jump in deep water.

There are many varied places to visit with very different microclimates. A boat ride through National Verde Park was pretty amazing (but a local 12yo boy had been eaten by a crocodile as we got there; our guide spoke great English and told us that the riverside residents understand the dangers and that the country really belongs to the animals). By chance, we
zip-lined. On the all-day WAY-HIGH (far above the rainforest canopy) tours, you are REALLY signing off on liability . . . not for the faint-hearted, especially in windy rain.

 Roads are ROUGH, so it takes a while getting from one place to another.
Beware that Spanish-speaking third-world airport security may not negotiate the rules the way English-speaking developed countries might: they threw away a lot of our toiletries that they didn't feel passed the test (but they passed by American standards), and they said our family of five couldn't take five carry-ons (contrary to Delta regulations), so we missed our connecting flight waiting for our checked-in carry-ons to deplane . . . very messy. Nevertheless, Costa Rica ranks high on the "HAPPY" country scale.

Manual Antonio natl park is one of the most beautiful places on earth !

white water rafting on the river they filmed part of Congo. Also, the hummingbird sanctuary on Monte Verde.

I would stay away from the Caribbean coast. Otherwise, start at San Jose or fly into Liberia.
Playa Granda as mentioned above is beautiful. Also,
Tamarindo is great,  There is a really good all inclusive resort outside of Tamarindo . .. ok, think its a Barcelo. Lovely location and really good food. nice little peaceful beach. Also, another great place up the coast . . . I would have to look it up. We spent a month in Costa Rica many years ago and had a great time.

 Manual Antonio natl park is indeed beautiful and there is a resort on the way called Si Como No that is absolutely fabulous if it is still there.

Tres leches pie

Also they have excellent dental specialist and some good plastic surgeons in Escazu. I stayed in an adorable house owned by a woman who lived in Marin.
Escazu has an amazing shopping mall. This is the best city in Costa Rica.
 I would not recommend anyone driving in this city. One example, they have horses on the freeways, etc. The Pacific side has less crime.

If you are on FB there is a group called Ladies who love to travel where they give lots of recommendations