Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s smallest, oldest and most popular. Here you’ll see monkeys swinging languidly through the trees, watch sloths climbing up trunks in slow motion, and spot scarlet macaws flittering through branches, all from well-maintained trails through the jungle which anyone can access. There are beautiful beaches too and, while the whole area is undoubtedly touristy, choose carefully and you’ll find tranquillity in your chic hotel.
Nearby, the town of Quepos has some local charm, while Jacó is condominium hell. Head instead to the unspoilt stretch of pristine beach at Playa Esterillos, where you can surf superb waves and wander for hours in utter seclusion.
There are over 100 species of mammal and 200+ types of bird within this park's 16 sq.km; watch sloths clamber languidly up trees, capuchin and howler monkeys swing through branches and lizards scurry along the forest floor. The mangrove-lined estuaries on Isla de Damas offer some interesting wildlife too - monkeys, crocodiles, caimans, boas and birds, seen by boat or by kayak on organised tours from Quepos and Manuel Antonio.
Forget Manuel Antonio, Espadrilla Sur, Teldoro and Playita; we love Playa Esterillos off highway 34. Gorgeous for sunbathing, and a great place to go horse riding along the sands.
The crashing waves along this stretch of coast are great for surfing - various places offer lessons. Diving is also popular; the reef and rock formations are home to turtles and schools of rainbow-coloured fish. For white-water rafting choose either the Naranjo or Savegre river in the Quepos area and spend a day floating downstream through stunning rapids and rainforest.
The most beautiful waterfalls on the Central Pacific Coast, these 2 sets of falls are a combined 61m tall, hidden deep in the rainforest, with a large natural pool for swimming at the base. You can either hike or horseride your way there, and the brave will jump from the top of the fall into the pool.