Where to stay in Costa Rica for first time: 6 Safe areas

Hi guys, on my website, I already wrote an article about staying in Costa Rica without a car (I will put the link to it at the end of this article). In today’s article, I will help you to find safe places to stay in Costa Rica for first-time visitors.

I will share with you what I believe are the best and safest areas to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers and tourists, along with a helpful map and areas to avoid. I’ll also share where I stayed in Costa Rica and recommend some of the best hotels for various budgets.

Costa Rica is a popular destination for eco-tourism, attracting visitors with its natural beauty, diverse ecosystems, and outdoor activities such as hiking, bird-watching, and surfing.

It is located in Central America, bordered by  Panama, Nicaragua, Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. San José is the capital and largest city in the country. The official language is Spanish.

Costa Rica is renowned for its rich biodiversity and is home to numerous national parks and protected areas. The country has a commitment to conservation, and a large percentage of its land is designated as protected areas.

Is Costa Rica safe to visit?

Costa Rica is generally considered a safe destination for tourists. It has a stable political environment and a relatively low crime rate compared to some other countries in the region. But, like any destination, it’s essential to take common-sense precautions to ensure your safety.

It’s advisable to be cautious in urban areas, especially in the capital, San Jose. Keep an eye on your belongings, avoid displaying valuable items openly, and be aware of your surroundings. Avoid walking alone at night, use well-known taxi services or arrange transportation through your accommodation.

You should also follow safety guidelines, stick to marked trails, and be aware of local wildlife when exploring national parks. Additionally, take precautions against mosquito-borne illnesses, such as dengue and Zika, by using insect repellent and wearing long sleeves and pants, especially in tropical areas.

Also monitor weather forecasts for severe weather such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions. The hurricane season is typically from June to November.

Where to stay in Costa Rica for the first time?

The best and safe areas to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers and tourists are San José, La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo, and Manuel Antonio. Remember that safety can vary, and it’s important to exercise standard safety precautions, regardless of where you choose to stay.

Costa Rica is a relatively small country, so it’s common for visitors to stay in multiple areas during their visit. San José is a good base for first-timer visitors who want a central location, easy access to the airport, explore cultural attractions and enjoy the vibrant nightlife. 

La Fortuna/Arenal is known for the iconic Arenal Volcano, hot springs, and outdoor adventures like zip-lining, and hiking. Monteverde is famous for its cloud forests, biodiversity and canopy tours. 

Tamarindo is a popular beach destination with a vibrant nightlife and surfing opportunities. Manuel Antonio is known for its national park, which combines beautiful beaches with diverse wildlife. 

Puerto Viejo, on the Caribbean coast, is known for its Afro-Caribbean influence, reggae music, and beautiful beaches. It’s a more relaxed setting compared to the Pacific coast.

While major tourist areas are generally safe for visit, some of the areas to avoid in Costa Rica include los Cuadros de Goicoechea, El Infiernillo, and la Cieneguita in Limon.

During my trip to Costa Rica, I stayed in several places. I had 3 nights at Hotel Casa 69 in San José, 2 nights at the Selina La Fortuna near Arenal Volcano, 2 nights at the Los Pinos Cabins & Reserve in Monteverde, and 3 nights at the Lanna Ban Hotel in Puerto Viejo.

Below is a map of the popular areas in Costa Rica for first-time travelers. You can scroll down to view the live map.

Map of the safe areas to stay in Costa Rica first time
Map of the safe areas to stay in Costa Rica first time

Let’s get into the details of the recommended areas to stay in Costa Rica, especially for first-time visitors. I’ll provide you with some suggestions for the best places to stay in each area, catering to every budget. 

All hotels in Costa Rica have been carefully selected by me from well-known and secure booking sites such as booking.com, with guest review scores of at least 8.0 or higher at the time I chose them. 

If you don’t like my suggestions (perhaps they don’t suit your budget or preferences), you can click the “MORE HOTEL DEALS” button where you can choose your own hotel.

6 Safe areas to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers and tourists:

1. San José

San José is the capital city of Costa Rica, and is a good base for first-timers to explore cultural attractions, museums, and a bustling urban atmosphere. Located in the middle of the country, San José also serves as a convenient starting point for exploring other parts of the country.

San José is easily accessible from the Juan Santamaria International airport, and is a good base for day trips to nearby attractions such as Poas Volcano, La Paz Waterfall, Arenal Volcano and Irazu Volcano National Park.

Popular points of interest in San Jose include the National Museum, the Jade Museum, Gold Museum, Teatro Nacional, Central Market (Mercado Central), and La Sabana Metropolitan Park.

San José is generally safe during the day, it is best to avoid walking in poorly lit areas/beaches/public parks after dark, try to travel in groups. Also beware of pickpocketing and petty theft, take care of your belongings.

Some bad neighborhoods to avoid in San Jose include Los Guido, León XIII, El Infiernillo, Desamparados, Pavas, La Carpio, and El Carmen. You can ask for your accommodations if you are unsure about the latest safety situation of the area you plan to visit.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in San José for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Park Inn San Jose by Radisson, 5-star hotel, in central San José, within walking distance from La Sabana Park and La Sabana Shopping Mall. 15 mins taxi ride from Tobías Bolaños International Airport. It has an outdoor pool, fitness center, free parking, and tour desk to help you arrange trips through all Costa Rica.

Mid-range ($$): Gran Hotel Costa Rica, Curio Collection By Hilton, 4-star hotel situated in the heart of San José, good base for sightseeing. Within walking distance to the major attractions, museums, plazas and walking boulevards. San José Cathedral and the National Theater are only 5 mins walk away. They have a nice breakfast with a huge variety of fresh choices.

Budget ($): Sleep Inn Hotel Paseo Las Damas, 3-star hotel located in a good area, within walking distance to main sights, close to  España Park, Modern Art Museum, National Museum and Atlántico Train Station. The hotel has free parking, paid airport transfers, and good breakfast.


2. La Fortuna/Arenal

La Fortuna and Arenal are popular places to stay in Costa Rica, known for their iconic Arenal Volcano, hot springs, adventure activities, and a stunning natural setting.

The Arenal Volcano is a major attraction. The volcano, though currently dormant, provides a beautiful backdrop to the region. There are several trails and viewpoints for those interested in hiking and photography.

The area is famous for its natural hot springs, which are a perfect way to relax after a day of exploring. Many hotels and resorts in the region have their own hot spring facilities.

La Fortuna offers a wide range of adventure activities, including zip-lining, horseback riding, white-water rafting, and hiking. The landscape provides an ideal setting for those seeking outdoor adventures.

The Arenal region is home to Lake Arenal, a large freshwater lake where you can enjoy activities like boat tours, fishing, and windsurfing.

The lush surroundings of Arenal are home to diverse flora and fauna. Nature enthusiasts can explore the various trails and parks to spot wildlife.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in La Fortuna/Arenal for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, beautiful 5-star hotel located 15-20 mins drive from the Arenal Volcano National Park and La Fortuna main square. It has a free valet parking, on-site hot springs, 5 swimming pools, wonderful breakfast, and airport transfer. They can help arrange volcano tours, rappel, hiking through suspension bridges and rafting.

Mid-range ($$): Hotel Lomas del Volcan, 4-star hotel in the middle of the jungle, slightly outside of La Fortuna, easy to get taxis everywhere. It has beautiful bungalows, a wonderful view of the volcano and lovely gardens. Pool and jacuzzi are great places to relax. The hotel can help organize canopy tours, zip lining and tours to thermal pools.

Budget ($): San Bosco Inn, 3-star good value for money accommodation in a prime location in Fortuna Town, easy stroll from various local restaurants and shops. 5 mins drive to The La Fortuna Waterfall. The hotel has an outdoor pool, complimentary access to hot springs, free parking, delicious breakfast, and airport shuttle services. 


3. Monteverde

Monteverde is a fantastic location for nature lovers and those seeking a unique and immersive experience in Costa Rica’s lush cloud forests.

Monteverde is famous for its cloud forests, offering a mystical and otherworldly experience. The cloud forest is home to a diverse array of plant and animal species, including rare orchids, mammals, and numerous bird species.

The region is a paradise for birdwatchers. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and other reserves in the area provide excellent opportunities to spot unique and colorful bird species, including the resplendent quetzal.

Monteverde offers a range of adventure activities, such as canopy tours (zip-lining), hanging bridges, and hiking trails. There are educational centers and reserves that offer guided tours, providing insights into the region’s flora, fauna, and conservation efforts.

Many accommodations and activities are eco-friendly, providing visitors with an opportunity to experience nature responsibly.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Monteverde for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Hotel Belmar, 4-star beautiful hotel in Monteverde, featuring an organic garden, a restaurant with on-site brewery, a wellness center with a yoga studio, and airport transfer. The hotel can help booking excursions to Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and farm tours with horseback riding. 

Mid-range ($$): Calathea Lodge Monteverde, great sustainable bed and breakfast located  just outside St Elena, within a short distance from Sky Adventures Monteverde and Selvatura Adventure Park. 5 mins by car from la Fortuna and a reasonable taxi ride to the center of Monteverde. They have nice rooms with comfortable beds and basic self catering facilities.

Budget ($): La Guayaba Monteverde, good value for money accommodation in a quiet area, a short walk to the city center where you can find many shops and restaurants, and a bus to Monteverde national park. 10 mins walk to the Ecological Sanctuary. It has an amazing view of Monteverde rain forest.


4. Tamarindo

Tamarindo is a fantastic base for those seeking a mix of beach activities, watersports, and lively entertainment. It is a vibrant beach town on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, known for its beautiful beaches, surf culture, and vibrant nightlife scene.

Tamarindo boasts a long and picturesque beach with golden sands and great waves, making it a popular destination for surfers and beach lovers.

Tamarindo has a lively nightlife scene with numerous bars, restaurants, and clubs. It’s a great place for socializing, enjoying live music, and experiencing Costa Rica’s nightlife.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Tamarindo for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Jardin del Eden Boutique Hotel, great adults-only boutique hotel located in a quiet area  2 2 mins walk to the busy Main Street of Tamarin. It has a private beach area on Tamarindo beach, free parking, exceptional breakfast, and an outdoor swimming pool. You can enjoy popular activities nearby which include snorkeling, diving, horseback riding and fishing.

Mid-range ($$): Wyndham Tamarindo, 4-star hotel located in Tamarindo in the Guanacaste Region, featuring an outdoor pool and sun terrace, and a private beach area. The hotel is located on the hill, and it has a shuttle service running to the town center.

Budget ($): Ten North Tamarindo Beach Hotel, nice accommodation located only a few minutes walk from Tamarindo beach. Lots of local and international restaurants and shops can be found nearby. The staff can help organize scuba diving, boat trips, surfing, volcano tours, and zip lining.


5. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, often referred to simply as Puerto Viejo, is a laid-back coastal town on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. It’s known for its relaxed atmosphere, beautiful beaches, and diverse cultural influences. 

Puerto Viejo has a distinct Caribbean atmosphere with a mix of Afro-Caribbean and indigenous cultures. The town’s colorful buildings, reggae music, and local cuisine contribute to its unique charm.

The area is home to stunning beaches with warm Caribbean waters. Playa Cocles, Playa Chiquita, and Punta Uva are just a few of the beautiful beaches in the vicinity. It is a popular destination for surfers, with consistent waves suitable for various skill levels. 

The surrounding rainforest is teeming with biodiversity. You may encounter a variety of wildlife, including howler monkeys, sloths, colorful birds, and frogs. Cahuita National Park, a short drive away, is known for its coastal beauty and snorkeling opportunities.

The town’s multicultural atmosphere is reflected in its cuisine, music, and art. You’ll find a variety of restaurants serving Caribbean and international dishes.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Puerto Viejo for first-timers:

Luxury ($$$): Le Cameleon Boutique Hotel, 5-star beachfront hotel with private beach located  in Puerto Viejo within walking distance from Cocles beach. It has a beach club, an outdoor pool, free parking, and paid airport shuttle services. Good base to explore Cahuita National Park, Kekoldi Indigenous Reserve and Veragua Rainforest.

Mid-range ($$): aWà Beach Hotel, 4-star seafront hotel in a great location, 10 mins walk from famous Punta UVA, a short drive to Chiquita Beach, Jaguar Rescue Center, and Parque Nacional Cahuita. It has a beautiful beach bar, free parking, and a wonderful breakfast.

Budget ($): Terrazas del Caribe Aparthotel, 4-star hotel, in Puerto Viejo, near to the Jaguar park and  5 mins walk/short rickshaw ride to Playa Cocles. It features accommodations with a well-fitted kitchen. 


6. Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is a popular coastal destination in Costa Rica, renowned for its stunning beaches, diverse wildlife, and the beautiful Manuel Antonio National Park. 

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most famous and offers a combination of lush rainforest, pristine beaches, and abundant wildlife like monkeys, sloths, and colorful birds.

The area is known for its beautiful beaches, including Playa Espadilla and Playa Manuel Antonio. The beaches are great for swimming, sunbathing, and enjoying the natural surroundings.

Manuel Antonio offers a variety of adventure activities, including zip-lining, canopy tours, and sea kayaking. The nearby Damas Island is known for its mangrove tours.

Best places to stay in Costa Rica in Manuel Antonio for tourists:


In conclusion, San José, La Fortuna/Arenal, Monteverde, Tamarindo, Puerto Viejo, and Manuel Antonio are the best places to stay in Costa Rica for first-timers and tourists. While these areas are generally safe, it’s important to exercise common sense no matter where you choose to stay.

You can continue reading about Costa Rica in these articles:

There you have it, my recommendations for the most popular and safest neighborhoods that you can stay during your first trip to Costa Rica. I hope you enjoyed my article and find it both informative and helpful.

If you have any questions or would like to share your thoughts, please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below. Your feedback is invaluable and helps me continue to create more quality content.

About Author: Ocean Cameron

I'm Ocean, founder and main editor of travelhotelexpert.com. I’m a passionate traveler who specializes in uncovering the best hotels and locations in every city, especially for first-timers, all without the need for a car.

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links. This means that, at absolutely no additional cost to you, I'll earn a small commission if you click through and purchase something I've recommended. I only recommend products that I use myself or firmly believe in. Thank you!

Leave a Comment