Jaco Beach
Jaco Beach

Living in one of the most beautiful countries in the world means that you don’t have to travel very far to enjoy paradise. November mark the transition between Rainy and Dry season and December is when many Ticos travel domestically. Not only is the mood festive, because it’s the holiday season, it’s also a time when the tourist market rebounds.

Many Ticos are Catholic, and Christmas is an important day. Families will attend special church services in the morning, then go have an afternoon feast with their friends and family. Pork tamales are a favorite. My mom wraps her tamales in plantain leaves, not corn husks. Costa Rican tamales tend to be much softer and wetter than those served in Mexico. My family loves to have Rompope (egg nog) with tamales on Christmas.

New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day is a huge party holiday. The best place to watch fireworks is on the beach. Every community has their own special way to celebrate. Here are some of the most beautiful spots in the country where locals vacation when they want to getaway.

La Fortuna Church & Arenal Volcano
La Fortuna Church & Arenal Volcano

1. La Fortuna de San Carlos

La Fortuna is about a 3-hour drive from San José. The town is most well-known for its spectacular views of the Arenal Volcano. The volcano is still active, but the chimney where the lava comes out is currently plugged up with volcanic matter. At night, sometimes you can see bright red rocks tumbling down the sides of the volcano. The town is home to some of the best spas in Costa Rica, which is why many Ticos come here to relax during the Costa Rica Summer.

If you’re looking for a great place to take picture, La Catarata de la Fortuna, a waterfall that is just a short trek, is one of the most romantic spots in the area. For peace and quiet, visit some of the many Hot Springs offered in the area. Known for their natural healing properties, this is the perfect place for rest and relaxation surrounded by lush tropical forests all the time. I like to go horseback riding or take one of the canopy tours in the area over my vacation when I visit La Fortuna.

Beach chairs at the Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort
Beach chairs at the Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort

2. Tamarindo, Guanacaste

I love to visit Tamarindo because the beaches are so accessible. The roads are tourist-friendly, and the area has been developed for visitors. The main draw are the beautiful Costa Rica beaches and the calm ocean water. You can enjoy a day of sun and sand, swimming and surfing, but there are many other water activities to keep you entertained.

Rent scuba gear to explore the bottom of the ocean and get up close with some amazing creatures. Kayaking, sailing and fishing are also key activities to fill up your day. Surfing is popular at Tamarindo because the waves are consistent but not too harsh. It’s where I learned to surf. Take surf lessons to really get a good start on the water. For more advanced surfers, you can sign up for a surfing trip that fits your experience.

Marino Las Baulas National Park is a protected area for the leatherback sea turtle population and it's very close to Tamarindo. Although nesting seasons is from February to July, it’s possible to see them in the wild feeding on jellyfish. The park is also home to 150 species of birds and many mammals that are endangered. Tamarindo also has an exciting nightlife with many bars and discos, some right on the water’s edge. Enjoy the spectacular view of the sun setting over the ocean while you get some great food, made with local ingredients.

Inviting beach chairs in Manuel Antonio
Inviting beach chairs in Manuel Antonio

3. Manuel Antonio, North Puntarenas

This ocean-side village is also located off the Pacific coast. It’s a great place for nature-lovers, eco-travelers and adventurists. I love to sit on the beach in the white sand and watch the water slap the short, but there are a lot of other things to do. Manuel Antonio has some of the top hotels in the country. The area is known for eco-tourism. Luxury resorts have stunning accommodations with beautiful views, but take advantage of solar heating and conservation efforts to minimize your carbon footprint. Also, remember that one of the most popular and most visited national park in Costa Rica is here too. I like to go to Manuel Antonio National Park to see the sloths and howler monkeys. Although this park is small, it is a rich, biodiverse habitat, home to 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds. The trails are well-marked, and you’ll probably see all types of reptiles, insects and flora when you’re out in the wilds.

There are some amazing beaches here as well. Playa Espadilla is a family-friendly beach where you can catch me playing soccer or hanging out. The water is generally calm, but the beach has lifeguards just in case you get caught in a riptide current. La Playita is not available during high tide, but it has a lot to offer when the tide is down. It used to be a nude beach, but isn’t any longer due to tourism in the area.

Beautiful Jaco coastline aerial view
Beautiful Jaco coastline aerial view

4. Jacó, North Puntarenas

Jacó is a top tourist attraction in Costa Rica. It’s the closest beach to San José and offers a lot for travelers. The city is known for its nightlife and party atmosphere, but it also has internet cafes, aquatic activities and international cuisine. It’s kind of like taking a vacation to another country without the plane trip. Carara National Park is just a few miles away. I’ve seen jaguars, crocodiles, monkey and scarlet macaws in this park. The park is another beautiful place with a high biodiverse population of many species of flora and fauna.

Playa Manzanillo
Playa Manzanillo

5. The Caribbean

It was here that Christopher Columbus discovered Costa Rica in 1502. It’s best to visit this part of the country from December to April, during the dry season. Still, bring your raincoat and umbrella. The rain doesn’t stop. It just eases up. You can only get to this region by boat, small plane and car. The Costa Rica beaches are nesting grounds for four different species of sea turtles. You’ll see many different animals and birds in the area, but be sure to make reservations in advance. Ticos just love to go and visit iconic places like Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Tortuguero or Manzanillo, my hometown.