Costa Rica is a beautiful country with so many natural wonders that choosing what to see on vacation will be difficult. I will help you by revealing the 30 best things to do in Costa Rica in this travel blog post. The list could go on for days, but I’ll stick to the most popular tourist attractions in Costa Rica.
Welcome to Costa Rica!
Many travelers consider Costa Rica to be paradise. This country’s scenery is diversified and absolutely gorgeous, with lush green jungles, beautiful waterfalls, and clean beaches.
Costa Rica is also a great travel destination to learn about Latin American culture. Nightclubs blast reggaeton, traditional cuisine is authentic and inexpensive in the right places, and the locals are friendly and inviting.
Costa Rica is also one of the best places to go if you haven’t traveled a lot before. Not only are there a lot of travelers and ex-pats, but many locals speak English, and there are lots of tour companies, hostels, and hotels to choose from. Furthermore, public transportation is easily accessible.
Whether you want to surf, sunbathe, hike, join a yoga retreat, learn about delicious coffee, or simply explore the jungle and connect with nature while traveling, Costa Rica is the place to go! So keep reading this article to stop wondering what to do in Costa Rica and start planning that trip of a lifetime you’ve been dreaming about!
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Where is Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a Central American country that connects North and South America. To the north, it has a border with Nicaragua, while to the south, it shares a border with Panama. Warm weather prevails due to its position, yet the nation is home to a diverse range of microclimates.
Although featuring an amazing Caribbean coast, Costa Rica is not considered part of the Caribbean, and it is always referred to as a Central American Country.
When to visit Costa Rica?
The best time to visit Costa Rica is from mid-December through April, during the dry season. The abundance of sunshine during the peak tourist season makes it the perfect time to explore the lush jungles and relax on the lovely beaches. The dry season, however, is also the busiest and most costly time to visit.
Things to do in Costa Rica in December and the best places to visit in Costa Rica in May may vary tremendously depending on where you choose to travel in the nation and how the green and dry seasons impact it. So keep this in mind when you’re figuring out where to go in Costa Rica on vacation.
When is it cheaper to visit Costa Rica?
It’s cheaper to visit Costa Rica from May to November, during the rainy season. It rains virtually every day throughout this period. Sometimes it just rains for a few minutes, while other times it pours all day. Just remember to carry suitable waterproof clothing throughout the wet season. Also, come up with a backup plan in case your beach days are too sad.
The benefits of visiting Costa Rica during the rainy season include fewer people and lower tourist attraction fees. During the rainy season, you may also get inexpensive flights to Costa Rica. As a result, visiting Costa Rica during this part of the year can be quite cost-effective. October is the wettest month, therefore if you truly want to escape the rain, don’t come in October.
Best things to do in Costa Rica
1. Visit a wildlife exhibit!
Animals, birds, insects, amphibians, and reptiles abound in Costa Rica, making it difficult to visit the country without seeing them. Go to a wildlife exhibit if there is a certain species you wish to see. And even if you want to be surprised by the flora and fauna of this beautiful country, don’t skip this, because it’s in the top three activities to do in Costa Rica!
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Central Valley, near Poasito and Vara Blanca
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park, located near San Jose, is a privately owned nature reserve and a must see in Costa Rica. This natural park in Costa Rika spans 70 acres and is home to over 100 species. It features:
- Jungle cat exhibit with jaguars, ocelots, and pumas
- Hummingbird garden
- Butterfly observatory
- Ranarium (frog exhibit)
- Petting zoo.
With cloud forests and rainforests, plus orchids and heliconia displays, the nature park’s main attraction remains the La Paz Waterfall. Rainwater from the cloud woods cascades 37 meters down a cliff and into a pool below.
One of the best things to do in Costa Rica San Jose, this is a fun attraction for the whole family and a great opportunity to see some of Costa Rica’s natural treasures in one convenient picturesque location.
Arenal Natura Ecological Park
Northern Zone, near La Fortuna
The Arenal Volcano, in Costa Rica’s north-central area, towers over Lake Arenal. With a height of 1,633 meters, it is one of the most active volcanos in Costa Rica, although it hasn’t erupted since 2010. The last significant eruption of the volcano occurred in 1968 when it covered Arenal’s old town in ash and smog. Since then, the Costa Rican government has inundated the area where Arenal once stood to construct Costa Rica’s largest lake, drowning this once-vibrant hamlet beneath hundreds of feet of water.
Coolest things to do in Costa Rica when visiting Arenal Natura Park:
- In the region, there are some fantastic canopy tours where you can spend the day zipping down a wire above the rainforest canopy below.
- Lake Arenal has some of the best rainbow bass fishing in the world, and there are plenty of local guides who can show you where to go.
- In addition to its world-class fishing, Lake Arenal is also a fantastic place to go swimming, kayaking, or windsurfing.
The Arenal region is a true slice of heaven, where you can take in the sights and sounds of an active volcano rising above a beautiful lake. This area also has some of the best places to stay in Costa Rica, from five-star establishments like the luxurious Tabacon Thermal Resort & Spa to tiny rooms for budget-conscious travelers.
Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge
The Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is another wonderful location on the Caribbean coast. There are also rainforests, beaches, mangroves, and wetlands here, as well as a diverse range of fauna including turtles, manatees, sloths, monkeys, dolphins, unusual birds, and more.
La Selva Biological Station and Reserve
Central Valley, near Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui
La Selva Biological Station and Reserve is located on a 3,700-acre (1,497-hectare) tract of land that is home to a diverse range of wildlife, particularly birds. Almost 300 visiting students and scientists live on the site. A trip here is a must do in Costa Rica since it is a learning and research center, a protected reserve, and an eco-tourism hotspot all in one. Nearly half of the 450 or so birds that call Costa Rica home, either permanently or temporarily, spend time in the La Selva Reserve. In such a tiny area, this is a fantastic spot to see some of Costa Rica’s distinctive vegetation and animals.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Central Valley, near San Jose
A 30-minute journey from San Jose, Braulio Carrillo National Park is home to rocky mountains, waterfalls, canyons, dormant volcanoes, and pristine rainforests. The park’s closeness to Costa Rica’s major entry point makes it a convenient place to observe some of the country’s distinctive vegetation and fauna.
The park’s height fluctuates from the peak of the Barva Volcano (2,906 meters) to less than 50 meters in the Caribbean lowlands, resulting in a variety of ecosystems. The park is home to animals like jaguars, pumas, tapirs, sloths, and monkeys, but numerous kinds of birds, including the Quetzal (Costa Rica’s national bird), toucans, and eagles, are easier to see and hear.
Other Costa Rica wildlife refuges that you can visit:
- Club Rio Outdoor Center Wildlife Preserve in the Northern Zone, near Monterrey
- Proyecto Asis in the Northern Zone, near Javillos
- Selvatura in the Northern Zone, near Monteverde
- Diamante Eco Adventure Park in Guanacaste, near Matapalo and Coco Beach
- Jaguar Rescue Center on the Caribbean coast, near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
- Greentique Wildlife Refuge on the Central Pacific Coast, near Manuel Antonio and Quepos
- Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls on the Pacific Coast, near Jaco
- Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center in the Central Valley, near La Garita.
2. See a breath-taking waterfall
The lush environment of Costa Rica is brimming with waterfalls. They’re everywhere, so no matter where you stay, you’ll be able to locate some fantastic ones. Some of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica are to marvel at the La Fortuna, Bajos del Toro, and La Paz Waterfalls in the Cloud Forests, but there are many other lesser-known waterfalls along the coastlines.
Any of these waterfalls would be a fantastic day trip destination, especially on a hot day when you can swim and cool down in the cool, clear water. It’s no wonder waterfall trips are in the top 10 things to do in Costa Rica.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Northern Zone, near La Fortuna town
With a height of 230 feet (70 meters), La Fortuna Waterfall is one of Costa Rica’s most popular waterfalls. The hiking path leading to it may be done in a variety of ways, one of which is on horseback. Then, you go down 500 stairs to the waterfall’s basin.
After your hike, you can swim in the rough pool beneath the waterfall, which is a wonderful experience in itself. While you relax, keep an eye out for toucans, butterflies, monkeys, and sloths in the nearby jungle.
La Fortuna town is one of the destinations with the most touristy Costa Rica experiences, with a charming little church, a central park, and plenty of food and lodging options. The mighty La Fortuna Waterfall is a popular day excursion from there.
Celeste River Waterfall
Northern Zone, Bijagua
According to local mythology, God used the Rio Celeste to wipe his paintbrush before painting the sky, which is why this river is such a stunning and strange hue of blue. Catarata Rio Celeste is a magnificent turquoise blue waterfall nestled in the thick jungle of Tenorio Volcano National Park. Unfortunately, swimming is not allowed.
Non touristy things to do in Costa Rica. The trek to Rio Celeste Waterfall might be a little hazardous owing to the mud, especially during the wet season, but it’s one of the greatest things to do in Northern Costa Rica, as well as an off-the-beaten-path site that is sometimes overlooked by international tourists. Locals, on the other hand, love it, because it’s not very touristy and it offers some of the best things to see in Costa Rica.
Central Pacific Coast, near Dominical and San Isidro de General
Between the surfing resort of Playa Dominical on the Central Pacific coast and the lively tiny city of San Isidro de General sits this beautiful collection of waterfalls. The falls are divided into two tiers, with the higher falls rising over 500 feet (152 meters) and the lower falls consisting of a wide cascade of over 100 feet (30.5 meters) that cascades into a tranquil 30-foot (9-meter) deep pool.
You can climb to the lower Nauyaca falls for a once-in-a-lifetime leap of faith into the cool pool below.
You can reach this enchanted setting with forests filled with monkeys and macaws on foot, on horseback, or by car. Just make sure you plan your trip early in the day to avoid tourist crowds and enjoy the experience.
Del Toro Waterfall
Central Valley, in the Poas Volcano National Park
Costa Rica’s largest and most magnificent waterfall is the Del Toro. This waterfall, which bursts from the dense jungle, will take your breath away with its sheer magnitude and ferocity. Beautiful walkways and observation areas around the waterfall. The Del Toro Waterfall is an excellent way to spend a day in the great outdoors. This is also an excellent opportunity to see a wide variety of animals.
If you only have time on your vacation to visit one waterfall, make it this one!
Other Costa Rica waterfalls you should see:
- La Paz Waterfall in the La Paz Waterfall Gardens from Central Valley — mentioned above 😉
- Blue Morpho Waterfall in the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park from the Northern Zone, near La Fortuna
- El Encanto Waterfall in the Arenal Sky Adventures Park from the Northern Zone, near El Castillo
- La Escondida Waterfall in the Arenal Sky Adventures Park from the Northern Zone, near La Fortuna and Arenal
- El Rio Waterfall in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve from the Northern Zone, near Monteverde
- Bijagual Waterfall on the Northern Pacific Coast, near Jaco
- Tocori Waterfalls on the Central Pacific Coast
- Montezuma Waterfalls on Nicoya Peninsula, near Montezuma (obviously!)
- Llanos del Cortez Waterfall in Guanacaste, near Liberia and Bagaces
- Pacuare River Waterfalls on the Caribbean Coast, near Siquirres.
Before visiting a waterfall, pack some water and buy some food at the local market, as Costa Rican waterfalls are typically very isolated.
3. Go hiking through the Costa Rican rainforests and dry forests
The rainforest and dry forest are two of Costa Rica’s most popular habitats. The two forest types make great settings for nature walks since they are lush and similar-looking during the rainy, green season and strikingly different from mid-December through April when the dry forest appears brown and brittle).
Manuel Antonio National Park
Central Pacific Coast, near Manuel Antonio and Quepos
Manuel Antonio is the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s national parks and a must-see for anybody visiting the country. Located just south of Quepos on the central Pacific coast, it’s only a few hours from San Jose, therefore relatively accessible.
Surrounded by magnificent emerald-green mountains that plummet into the deep blue Pacific, Manuel Antonio has exquisite powder sand beaches, often regarded as Costa Rica’s most beautiful ones! Hiking routes lead through lush foliage and out to white-sand beaches on 1,680 acres (680 hectares) of rainforest.
Manuel Antonio is a small park in comparison to the other of the country’s parks, yet it attracts lots of tourists. Because it’s one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica, the park director was forced to limit the number of visitors permitted into the park. People line up to get into this incredible site because it is home to three different types of monkeys, sloths, marmosets, ocelots, river otters, pacas, and specked caimans, as well as 200 different species of birds.
Ponce de Leon discovered Manuel Antonio in 1519 while searching for the Fountain of Youth, and while he may not have found that particular fountain, he appears to have stumbled onto the Garden of Eden. This location will leave you breathless and with memorable recollections of Costa Rica’s natural splendor. One of the best Costa Rica things to see during your visit to Paradise
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
Guanacaste, near Rincon de la Vieja
This park’s major attraction is the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano. A trek to the peak is one of the most popular activities in Costa Rica. This almost 6-mile (9.6-kilometer) path begins in Las Pailas and rises to the summit via a variety of habitats. The vistas are breathtaking. On a clear day, you can see directly into Nicaragua!
Other, less difficult paths go to lovely hot springs and waterfalls. The park is also home to a diverse range of species, including tapirs, sloths, monkeys, and huge cats like the jaguar, puma, and ocelot.
Corcovado National Park
Osa Peninsula, near Drake Bay and Carate
The Corcovado National Park was established in 1975, and to this day it preserves what is considered to be Central America’s greatest remaining length of Pacific coastal rainforest. The varied species of the park attract visitors to its 160-square-mile (257-square-kilometer) foggy jungle. As you travel through this lush jungle, you can see buzzing insects and chirping birds. Macaws, tapirs, jaguars, spiders, and howler monkeys are also common sightings along the foggy pathways.
You should try to arrive early in the day (7 to 9 a.m.) to improve wildlife observations. But even if you’re not an early bird, you’ll get your chance to get some sightings here.
Allow two or three days to thoroughly appreciate everything of Corcovado’s sights and noises. If you want to take a break from hiking, travel to one of the 23 miles (37 kilometers) of beaches, but be aware that the sand is extremely hot!
Other popular hiking destinations in Costa Rica:
- Arenal Volcano National Park in the Northern Zone, near El Castillo — mentioned above 😉
- Tenorio Volcano National Park in the Northern Zone, near Bijagua
- Santa Rosa National Park in Guanacaste, near Liberia
- Carara National Park on the Central Pacific Coast, near Jaco and Tarcoles
4. Explore the volcanoes of Costa Rica
If volcanoes pique your curiosity, you’ll be delighted to find that Costa Rica offers a variety of volcano-related activities. You may look into the craters of some of the active volcanoes here, which are boiling, steaming, or pit-like. Others allow you to hike among volcanic rocks that previously fell down mountain slopes beside boiling lava. Definitely in the top 10 Costa Rica!
Northern Zone, near El Castillo
Unfortunately, you can’t access the crater of Arenal Volcano, but you can climb over lava rocks inside the Arenal Volcano National Park. You can also discover the area by hiking on the Arenal 1968 Trail, outside the park.
Central Valley, near Poasito and Vara Blanca
The Poás Volcano National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most popular volcanic parks, and with good reason: it’s home to the largest volcano in the country. At 8,885 feet (2,708 meters) tall, its main crater is a beautiful blue-green lake called Laguna Botas. Many diverse habitats surround the volcanic region, including cloud forests and rainforests, which are home to many different kinds of birds and small animals.
The Poas Volcano National Park also has well-kept and well-marked hiking paths.
When visiting the Poás Volcano make sure you go on a clear day. The lagoon’s brightness is diminished during the wet season by cloud cover.
Central Valley, near Cartago
At 10,965 feet (3,342 meters) tall, the Irazu Volcano is Costa Rica’s tallest active volcano. The volcano’s top has a lunar-like landscape with craters.
The Principal Crater of Irazu Volcano is 3,444 feet (1,050 meters) in diameter and 984 feet (300 meters) deep, while the Diego de la Haya Crater is much smaller and has a tiny lime-green lake that appears crimson at times.
These and two other smaller craters, one of which has a lake, are accessible through marked routes. A pyroclastic cone, which was produced from fractured volcanic rock, can also be admired here.
On clear days, views of the Pacific and Caribbean may be seen from the peak.
Another climb can be to a mini crater of the Rincon de la Vieja Volcano in the Rincon de la Vieja National Park, mentioned above.
5. Go canyoning
Rappelling down waterfalls and rock faces is a relatively new adventure activity. It’s an adrenaline-pumping Costa Rica tourist experience that won’t let you down. Monteverde, Arenal, and Manuel Antonio are the best places in Costa Rica for canyoning.
Only do this with a highly rated, experienced tour company that understands what they’re doing because it’s a high-risk activity. Always be careful until you are an expert yourself.
6. Explore caves
Do you like caves? If so, sign up for a guided tour of one of the country’s few subterranean caves. If you prefer to stay above ground, don’t miss Costa Rica’s beach caves, which are open to the public. Plus, visiting these caves is one of the free things to do in Costa Rica.
Those who are claustrophobic should avoid visiting. However, if confined confines don’t bother you and you wish to explore these ancient tunnels below sea level, Costa Rica’s caves are a must-see.
Northern Region, near Venado
The Venado Caves were found by chance in 1945 by a farmer who practically fell into them. They feature a maze of limestone rock formations and tunnels that are close to 20 million years old.
Located deep under the earth’s surface, Venado Caves have eight beautiful rooms. The stalagmites and stalactites that fill the chambers were sculpted over millions of years by subterranean rivers and the changing plates of the Earth near the Arenal Volcano.
Other caves in Costa Rica that you should explore:
- Ventanas Beach Cave on the Central Pacific Coast, near Ojachal
- Terciopelo Cave in the Barra Honda National Park on the Nicoya Peninsula
7. Explore the cloud forests of Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s magical cloud forests are found high in the country’s mountain ranges. While wandering amid puffs of cloud, this cold habitat type enables you to explore high-altitude bird, animal, and plant species.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
Northern Zone, near Monteverde and Santa Elena
The Monteverde Rainforest is not just Costa Rica’s most well-known cloud forest – this place is regarded as the origin of Costa Rica’s eco-tourism movement. Although some visitors complain about the high number of tourists and the difficult journey to the Reserve, the majority of visitors hail the forest as a must-see example of Costa Rica’s diverse fauna. After all, Monteverde’s lush 25,700-acre (10,400-hectare) reserve is home to more than 100 animals, 400 bird species, and 2,500 plant species.
Visiting this region of Costa Rica is undoubtedly one of the greatest things to do in the country. Hiking, zip-lining, and walking on long suspension bridges with breathtaking views of the rainforest are just a few of the activities available. There are also several little communities in the region that provide eco-lodges, Costa Rica top attractions, and restaurants to visitors.
Bajos Del Toro Cloud Forest
Central Valley, near Torro Amarillo
Bajos del Toro is a private cloud forest reserve located in Costa Rica’s central highlands. On the reserve, you’ll find the El Silencio Resort & Spa eco-lodge. Enjoy all of the comforts of a genuine yet magnificent eco-lodge while exploring the foggy and pristine cloud forest. Guests will be guided by a personal Eco-Concierge along magnificent hiking paths, into the forest, and to the hummingbird garden and medicinal plants. Every guest will depart with dreamlike recollections of joyful days thanks to the emphasis on wellness and remaining in touch with nature.
Los Angeles Cloud Forest
Los Angeles Cloud Forest of Costa Rica is a less congested and more accessible cloud forest. The Northern Plains air currents converge with Pacific and Atlantic air currents over the region, resulting in unusual climatic conditions typically found at far higher elevations. The 2,000-acre (810-hectare) private reserve, which is approximately an hour and a half from San Jose, preserves more than 347 kinds of birds, life-saving plants, and a diversity of animals and amphibians.
The reserve has hiking routes where you may observe a variety of flora and wildlife with the help of experienced guides. Horseback riding, birding, and seeing quetzals are just a few of the activities available.
Easy day trips include the Arenal Volcano and the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. You may also visit the adjacent hamlet of San Ramon, which is home to three past presidents and is a historic intellectual and cultural hub of Costa Rica.
Other cloud rainforests for your hikes in Costa Rica:
- Bajo Del Tigre in the Northern Zone, near Monteverde and Santa Elena
- Santa Elena Cloud Forest Biological Reserve in the Northern Zone, near Monteverde and Santa Elena
- La Paz Waterfall Gardens, in Central Valley, near Poasito and Vara Blanca
- Los Quetzales National Park in the Southern Inlands, near Cerro de la Muerte
- Chirripo National Park in the Southern Inlands, near San Gerardo de Rivas
8. Get a view from the top on the hanging bridges of Costa Rica
Do you want to be surrounded by nature? If that’s the case, and you don’t mind heights, consider taking a tour of a series of hanging bridges while in Costa Rica. This exploration of the rainforest canopy allows you to discover the homes of a variety of bird and mammal species.
Although this activity is available at a few sites around the country, it’s one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica’s Northern Region.
Rainmaker Aerial Walkway
In Quepos, walk across six suspension bridges that span about 800 feet (245 meters) and are 25 stories high above the beautiful and vibrant rainforest. The view from the top is unparalleled, and the sensation of being so far up in the trees, where the majority of the rainforest’s residents reside, is absolutely unforgettable. Wildlife abounds in this area, including birds, amphibians, reptiles, and small mammals such as monkeys.
You’ll come across a lovely waterfall and natural swimming pool just before the first bridge, where you may cool off and have a dip.
Other hanging bridges to tour in Costa Rica:
- Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park in the Northern Zone, near Lago Arenal
- Sky Walk Hanging Bridges of Arenal Sky Adventures Park in the Northen Zone, near El Castillo
- Monteverde Sky Adventure Park’s Sky Walk Hanging Bridges in the Northen Zone, near Monteverde
- Treetop Walkways Hanging Bridges of Selvatura Park in the Northen Zone, near Monteverde.
9. Go zip-lining in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a great place for zip lining because of its lush vegetation and varied heights. Imagine flying through the jungle, safely strapped in, and feeling as though you can fly.
In Costa Rica, there are several fantastic zip line spots, and most of them are located inland near the Cloud Forests. Zip-lining allows you to see Costa Rica from a different perspective, floating over treetops high above the forest floor, with views of the rainforest, cloud forest, gulf, ocean, or volcano in the background.
Although zip-lining is a thrilling activity in Costa Rica, some canopy ziplining experiences are more gentle and ideal for adventurous children, too. Bet you didn’t consider adding this to your list of things to do in Costa Rica with kids!
Monteverde National Park
Northern Zone, near Monteverde and Santa Elena
Monteverde is arguably the finest spot to zip line in Costa Rica. Monteverde Sky Adventures features Latin America’s longest zip line, allowing you to experience the cloud forest and Monteverde’s rich biodiversity in a thrilling way!
Try the Tarzan swing, a free-fall adventure not for the faint of heart.
Here are some of the best places to go in Costa Rica for zip-lining:
- Arenal Sky Adventures Park in the Northern Zone, near El Castillo
- Selvatura Park in the Northern Zone, near Monteverde and Santa Elena
- Jacó Canopy Zip Line Tour on the Central Pacific Coast, near Jaco
- Manuel Antonio Canopy Safari Zip Line Tour on the Central Pacific Coast, near Manuel Antonio Beach
- Montezuma Waterfalls on Nicoya Peninsula, near Montezuma
- Diamante Eco Adventure Park in Guanacaste, near Playa del Coco
- Witch’s Rock in Guanacaste, near Papagayo
- Congo Trail in Guanacaste, near Matapalo and Potrero.
10. Go on an aerial tram ride
Normally, the best things to do in Costa Rica need physical activity. Aerial tram trips, on the other hand, do not. Aerial tram rides are great for children, seniors, and anyone with restricted mobility since they allow you to see Costa Rica’s rainforest and cloud forest ecosystems from the comfort of your seat.
Here are some aerial trams you should try:
- Atlantic Rainforest Aerial Tram in Central Valley and the Caribbean Coast
- Pacific Rainforest Aerial Tram on the Central Pacific Coast
- Aerial Tram from the Sky Adventures Arenal Park in the Northern Region
- Aerial Tram from the Sky Adventures Monteverde Park in the Northern Region.
11. Lounge at the beach
It would be a pity not to spend at least a few days at the beach when visiting a nation with so much coastline. Hanging out on the beach is one of the finest things to do in Costa Rica.
There are several picture-perfect beaches where you may engage in water sports and activities or simply relax on the sand and enjoy the sun. In any case, a trip to Costa Rica isn’t complete without a visit to the beach. Whether you visit one beach or all of them, the tropical splendor you’ll find when the sand meets the sea will leave you speechless.
The Nicoya Peninsula, between Playa Ostional and Boca Nosara
Playa Nosara is one of the most popular beach communities in the Guanacaste area, along the western tip of the Nicoya Peninsula. East of the rugged shoreline, you’ll find fishing and cattle-ranching towns. An explosion of restaurants and some of the best hotels in Costa Rica has drawn travelers to the peninsula’s sandy coast, following a considerable increase in tourism that began in the 1970s.
If you’re looking for a peaceful place to visit in Costa Rica, Nosara is a fantastic option. However, travelers are also attracted to Nosara Beach by its beautiful sunsets, colorful fish, and blue waters. This place also offers excellent fishing, surfing, and animal sanctuaries nearby.
Sunset beach walks are strongly recommended. Be aware that there is little shade (and it gets hot!) and the undertow can be treacherous earlier in the day.
Guanacaste, near Tamarindo
Playa Tamarindo (or Tamarindo Beach) is the ideal place for surfing, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned pro. It also has a vibrant nightlife, as well as a diverse range of restaurants, activities, and day excursions.
It’s no surprise that Tamarindo is one of Costa Rica’s most popular tourist destinations!
Other beautiful Costa Rica beaches:
- Caribbean Coast:
- Manzanillo Beach
- Puerto Viejo Beach
- Punta Uva Beach
- Cocles Beach
- White Beach
- Pacific Coast:
- Dominical Beach
- Herradura Beach
- Jaco Beach
- Linda Beach
- Mantas Beach
- Manuel Antonio Beach
- Matapolo Beach
- South Espadilla Beach
- Uvita Beach
- White Beach (Playa Blanca)
- Nicoya Peninsula:
- Guiones Beach
- Montezuma Beach
- Samara Beach
- San Juanillo Beach
- Santa Teresa Beach
- Carillo Beach
- Coco Beach
- Conchal Beach
- Flamingo Beach.
12. Cool off in a natural pool
Looking for unique things to do in Costa Rica? This is for you! Swimming holes and beaches with tidal pools are two of the best places to cool off in the hot Costa Rican summers. Find a swimming hole to relax in a cold river or lake while admiring the nature surrounding you. Or look for your own little spot on the beach around low tide, when the seawater forms small pools suitable for wading in. Both options are absolute bliss.
Here’s where you should go to find your natural pool:
- El Salto Swimming Holes in the Northern Region, near La Fortuna and Arenal
- Los Suecos Beach for tide pools on Nicoya Peninsula, near Mal Pais
- Pelada Beach for tide pools on Nicoya Peninsula, near Nosara.
13. Soak in hot springs
The volcanoes in central Costa Rica have resulted in a plethora of natural hot springs that have become some of the greatest Costa Rica tourist attractions.
The majority of the hot springs are in central Costa Rica, which is where most of the volcanic activity occurs. If you’re staying near the Arenal Volcano or in the La Fortuna area, you’ll find lots of natural hot springs to choose from.
Tabacón Hot Springs
Northern Zone, near La Fortuna and Arenal
While you’re near Arenal Volcano, make sure you take time Tabacón Hot Springs is Costa Rica’s largest and most accessible network of natural hot springs, made of 97% rainfall and 3% magma. The pools with mineralized naturally heated water are part of the Tabacón Thermal Resort and are nestled within a private rainforest reserve.
It’s no surprise that it’s expensive to stay at the Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa, with its tranquil running waterfalls, tropical vegetation, and mineral-rich natural springs. In addition to excellent amenities, the Tabacón Grand Spa offers volcanic mud wraps, coconut and coffee exfoliations, and meditation paths.
You don’t have to stay at the Tabacón Thermal Resort to enjoy the hot springs – a day permit is available. Make sure to bring water shoes to protect your feet as you go from one pool to the next.
Other places to soak in hot springs in Costa Rica:
- In the Northern Zone, near La Fortuna and Arenal:
- Baldi Hot Springs
- EcoTermales Hot Springs
- Los Lagos Hot Springs
- Paradise Hot Springs
- Rio Agua Caliente
- Springs Resort Hot Springs
- Titoku Hot Springs
- Guanacaste Region:
- Rio Negro Hot Springs
- Vandara Hot Springs.
At Rio Negro Hot Springs, you can also enjoy a mud bath! A brief visit to a mud bath is arguably the most restorative of the many things to do in Costa Rica. For smooth skin, you can use volcanic clay to paint yourself from head to toe (over your swimming suit) and letting the mud dry before washing it off. The mineral-rich clay treatment is also claimed to provide a variety of health advantages.
14. Go horseback riding
Horseback riding on the beach or in the rainforest is a fantastic opportunity to get up and personal with Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Many Costa Rica destinations offer half-day, full-day, or multi-day excursions, so it all depends on where you are and how much time you have.
You can ride a horse on the beaches of Guanacaste (Tamarindo, Avellanas, and Nosara) or enjoy a horseback ride into the highlands near Arenal Volcano, but nothing beats horseback riding at sunset!
15. Go on a scenic boat or canoe tour
Several rivers, swamps, canals, marshes, and mangroves wind their way through Costa Rica’s lowlands and they can be best explored by boat. Boat trips and safari float tours (in a canoe, kayak, or raft), offer an immersive nature experience and the chance to see birds and other species that live in wetlands.
The Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, located on the country’s northeast and southwest edges, offer open-water exploration. Several boat trips, including sailing and catamaran cruises, offer you the chance to witness active marine life, enjoy a magnificent sunset, and take in views of gorgeous sections of the coast.
Here are some Costa Rica water trips to consider:
- Boating on the Cold River in the Northern Region, near Los Chiles
- Canoeing, rafting or kayaking on Penas Blancas River in the Northern Region, near La Fortuna and Arenal
- Slow boating on Tortuguero Canals in the Tortuguero National Park from the Caribbean Coast
- Kayaking or slow boating on Damas Island on the Central Pacific Coast, near Manuel Antonio
- Sailing on Tempisque River by the Palo Verde National Park in Guanacaste, near Bagaces
- Slow rafting on Corobici River in Guanacaste, near Canas
- Kayaking in Drake Bay, on Osa Peninsula.
16. Go on a ferry ride to Nicoya Peninsula
To make a necessary trip more enjoyable and relaxing, consider taking the ferry in Costa Rica. Hop on one of the ferries that connect the Nicoya Peninsula to Costa Rica’s mainland if you want to go between the two locations. You’ll not only save some time traveling by car, but you’ll also get to enjoy a one-hour trip through the gorgeous Nicoya Gulf. Look out for dolphins and whales in the sea, take photographs of the islands you pass by, and let the sun and saline wind warm and chill your skin.
There are two ferries connecting Nicoya Peninsula to the Central Pacific Coast:
- Naviera Tambor operating between Puntarenas and Paquera and Paquera
- Coonatramar running between Puntarenas and Playa Naranjo.
17. Paddleboarding in Costa Rica
When the water is reasonably calm, stand up paddle boarding is a great pastime to attempt. Even though Costa Rica is known for its surfing, stand-up paddleboarding allows you to enjoy the beaches without the waves.
Because the boards are heavy, long, and robust, stand up paddle boarding is very simple. As a result, this is one of the fun things to do in Costa Rica with the whole family and ideal for people of all fitness levels.
Because stand up paddleboarding on the open ocean can be challenging at times, I recommend paddling on calmer river estuaries and lakes. Arenal Lake is a great spot to practice your balance, especially if you’re a beginner. In addition, during your SUPing session, you can admire the scenery of the Arenal Volcano region.
Sámara Beach and the Peninsula Papagayo, both in the Guanacaste section of the northern Pacific coast, are great spots for stand up paddleboarding in Costa Rica. The coastlines are a little more sheltered here, so the waves aren’t as large, and the water is quiet and ideal for paddleboarding.
18. Go white-water rafting in Costa Rica
With so much vegetation and humidity, there are plenty of rivers for white water rafting in Costa Rica. This is an exciting way to see the rainforest; just make sure you ask ahead about the rapids’ level of difficulty and remain inside your comfort zone.
In La Fortuna, near Arenal National Park, there are a variety of companies offering various sorts of whitewater rafting adventures. You can choose anything to fit your spirit of adventure and budget, from three-hour tubing to eight-hour rafting experiences!
Best rivers for Costa Rica white-water rafting:
- Balsa River in the Northern Zone, with departures from San Jose and La Fortuna
- Sarapiqui River in the Northern Zone and Caribbean Coast, with departures from San Jose, La Fortuna, and Sarapiqui
- Pacuare River on the Caribbean Coast, with departures from San Jose, Cahuita, La Fortuna, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Sarapiqui, Siquirres, and Tortuguero
- Savegre River on the Central Pacific Coast, with departures from Manuel Antonio and Quepos
- Naranjo River on the Central Pacific Coast, with departures from Manuel Antonio and Quepos
- Tenorio River in Guanacaste, with departures from Brasilito, Canas, La Fortuna, Liberia, Monteverde, Nosara, Papagayo, Playa del Coco, Playa Flamingo, Playa Hermosa, Samara, and Tamarindo.
19. Surfing in Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a thriving and extensive surf culture. You won’t be far from a sociable surf town where surf shops line the main strip. Travelers can rent a board of every size or shape, and surfers line up in the ocean to ride waves from dawn to dark, no matter where you are on the Pacific or Caribbean coast. Remote and less-visited surf villages may be found along both coastlines if you want to surf alone.
Regardless of your ability level, surfing is undoubtedly one of the best activities to do in Costa Rica!
Guanacaste, near Tamarindo
Playa Tamarindo in Guanacaste is an excellent spot to learn if you’re a beginner. The waves are modest, the beach is large and wide, and there are several surf schools to choose from. One of the top things to do in Tamarindo, Costa Rica is to take surf lessons or join a surf camp.
Guanacaste, near Avellanas
Go off the main path and visit the tiny beach hamlet of Playa Avellanas for a more genuine experience. Known as “Little Hawaii”, it’s one of the best surfing areas in Costa Rica. With a fantastic beach, excellent surf, and a plethora of local activities, it has all the natural beauty of the Guanacaste region without the crowds.
Santa Teresa is one of the Costa Rica best places to visit you can’t miss if you’re looking for a typical beach town experience with some fantastic surf.
Santa Teresa, Costa Rica’s best surf spot, is nestled away on the Nicoya Peninsula’s western edge. This is the beach for you, particularly if you want bigger, faster waves. Travelers love Playa Santa Teresa for its laid-back vibes, and more experienced surfers love it for its various beach breaks, especially during a large wave.
The Pacific Coast
Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is regarded as one of the greatest year-round surf locations in the world. Great waves may also be seen at Esterillos Beach on the Central Pacific Coast and Dominical Beach on the South Pacific Coast. Playa Hermosa on the central Pacific Coast is one of Costa Rica’s greatest surfing places (but don’t mix it with the other Playa Hermosa on the north Pacific Coast!)
There are, however, peak seasons with more regular swells on the Pacific Coast. The swell season in the South Pacific lasts from June to September, and it brings huge waves to the west coast. From November to April, the North Pacific swell season offers even better waves than the South Pacific season.
In Costa Rica, everyone from beginners to expert surfers will find a beach break that is perfect for them!
More places to go surfing in Costa Rica:
- Cocles Beach on the Caribbean Coast, near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
- Puerto Viejo Beach on the Caribbean Coast, near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
- Dominical Beach on the Central Pacific Coast, near Pavones
- Jaco Beach on the Central Pacific Coast, near Jaco
- Pavones Beach on the Southern Pacific Coast, near Pavones
- Black Beach in Guanacaste, near Avellanas
- Grande Beach in Guanacaste, near Playa Grande
- Langosta Beach in Guanacaste, near Tamarindo
- The marine sector of Santa Rosa National Park in Guanacaste, near Liberia
- Guiones Beach on Nicoya Peninsula, near Nosara
- Mal Pais on Nicoya Peninsula, near Santa Teresa
20. Go snorkeling and/or diving in Costa Rica
Snorkeling is another option to spend quality time with the water in Costa Rica. When you’re near the water, look for the finest snorkeling areas so you can view some of the marine life.
Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts provide diving possibilities. The Caribbean Coast, however, has more colorful reefs, warmer seas, and simpler dives that are better suited to novices. The southern Caribbean Sea offers some of Costa Rica’s greatest snorkeling, and September and October are the ideal months to explore this area. Despite the fact that much of the country is experiencing its wettest season, the Caribbean shore stays calm and the waters are crystal clear. While you’re here, make sure you go swimming in some spectacular coral reefs at Cahuita National Park and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
The Pacific Coast still offers plenty of marine life, but it frequently comes with powerful currents that are better suited to experienced divers. On the Pacific side, the finest snorkeling is found in the southern part of the Osa Peninsula. Playa San Josecito in Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park are both excellent snorkeling spots, and the area is home to a number of tiny islands with abundant fauna. The best, however, is Cano Island!
Caño Island Biological Reserve
The Caño Island Biological Reserve is a fantastic spot to go snorkeling and spend the day. It’s only 10 miles (16 kilometers) off the coast of the Osa Peninsula, and the water is warm, transparent, and filled with marine life. A large variety of tropical fish, rays, and turtles may be found on the coral reefs here. Bottlenose dolphins and humpback whales frequent the reserve, which is located close to the reef. Definitely one of the best places to see in Costa Rica, even if you don’t go snorkeling or diving.
After you’ve finished snorkeling, head to Violines Island, which is part of the reserve. It’s a lovely island with white sand and palm trees where you can kick back and relax.
The Catalina Islands are easily accessible from Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo, Conchal, and Papagayo and provide some of Costa Rica’s greatest scuba diving sites.
The islands are known for their abundance and variety of rays, as well as tropical fish, sharks, sea turtles, and even whale sharks and pilot whales on rare occasions. All year long, the diving is fantastic.
Best snorkeling spots and dive sites in Costa Rica:
- Coco Island on the Central Pacific Coast
- Marino Ballena National Park from the Central Pacific Coast
- Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean Coast
- Bat Islands from the Santa Rosa National Park in Guanacaste
- Gulf of Papagayo in Guanacaste
- Isla Tortuga on the Nicoya Peninsula.
21. See sea turtles nesting and hatching
Seeing turtles nesting and hatching on Costa Rican beaches is without a doubt one of the top things to do in Costa Rica.
An arribada (mass arrival) of sea turtles on a turtle nesting beach is one of the most amazing sights to see in Costa Rica. These encounters can be tough to experience, and they frequently demand a lot of patience, but they are worth the wait.
The majority of turtle nesting excursions take place on beaches within protected land areas and require a tour guide who has been licensed by the government.
Caribbean Coast, near Tortuguero
Tortuguero National Park, located on the Caribbean coast’s northeastern tip, is one of the country’s more isolated tourist destinations, accessible only by boat or small plane. It is, nevertheless, well worth the journey!
This secluded park, connected to Costa Rica’s mainland via rivers and canals, is one of the greatest tourist sites in Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast to marvel at the natural beauty and witness unusual animals. Tortuguero Beach is probably the best place to visit in Costa Rica to spot sea turtles (green, leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead), nesting here between February and October.
While walking through beaches, jungles, and mangroves, you may see a variety of animal species. Jaguars, toucans, white-faced monkeys, red-eyed frogs, colorful lizards, and blue morpho butterflies can also be found in the park. It’s no wonder it attracts nature lovers searching for a lonely slice of a rainforest paradise.
Visit between early March and mid-October if you want to see turtles breeding. A professional guide may arrange for turtle nesting hikes.
Other popular turtle beaches in Costa Rica:
- Ostional Beach in the Ostional Wildlife Refuge on Nicoya Peninsula, near Ostional
- Grande Beach in the Marino Las Baulas National Park of Guanacaste, near Playa Grande
22. Go bird-watching in Costa Rica
Costa Rica’s woods are home to approximately 890 different bird species. That’s more than the combined population of birds in the United States and Canada! So it’s no surprise that bird watching is one of the most popular Costa Rica activities.
With binoculars in hand, you may walk the trails on your own, but you’ll have a far greater chance of seeing rare and unique species with a guide.
Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
Northern Zone, near Los Chiles
Thousands of aquatic birds, including jabiru storks, cormorants, ducks, and roseate spoonbills, call this marshy nature refuge home. The Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge’s friendly staff knows a lot about where to look for uncommon bird species and animals in this region.
As you wander around the Caño Lake and Fro River in this haven, you’ll also have the chance to observe an abundance of sea creatures. Large crocodiles may be found creeping through muddy marshes, while jaguars, turtles, and sloths can be found roaming the wetlands.
If you visit Costa Rica between January and April, avoid visiting Caño Negro since the lagoon dries up and the indigenous sea animals migrate to other areas.
Other places to go bird-watching in Costa Rica:
- Carara National Park on the Central Pacific Coast, near Jaco and Tarcoles
- Palo Verde National Park in Guanacaste, near Bagaces
- Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve in the Northern Zone – mentioned above
- Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast, near Tortuguero.
23. Tour a coffee plantation in Costa Rica
Costa Rica produces some of the greatest coffee in the world. Because of the rich soil, constant rainfall, and suitable temperatures, the coffee beans here are of the highest quality. If you’re a coffee connoisseur, Costa Rica has plenty of delicious options. You may also take a tour of a plantation to learn more about this unique beverage.
Costa Rica produces all arabica coffee beans, with the majority of production concentrated in the Central Highlands, where the terrain is mountainous and the soil is rich due to volcanic activity. Take in the beautiful environment, learn about the harvesting and roasting procedures, and possibly even select coffee beans yourself.
Hacienda Espíritu Santo
Central Valley, near San Jose
Visit the tiny hamlet of Naranjo, just outside of San José, and enjoy a tour of the Hacienda Espiritu Santo. You may tour their 600-acre farm and learn about the coffee bean picking and roasting process.
Where to look for coffee tours in Costa Rica:
- Don Juan’s Coffee Farm in the Northern Region, near Monteverde and Santa Elena
- Café de Monteverde in the Northern Region, near Monteverde
- Santa Maria de Dota Coffee Plantation on the Central Pacific Coast, near San Jose
- DOKA Estate Costa Rica Coffee Tour & Plantation in Central Valley, near Alajuela
24. Tour a cocoa farm in Costa Rica
A visit to one of Costa Rica’s many cocoa plantations is one of the tastiest Costa Rica tours. They’re most common in the country’s highlands. On a typical cocoa plantation trip, you’ll learn about cocoa’s origins and historical significance, witness how chocolate is made, and taste freshly prepared bars or candy.
25. Visit an archaeological site or ancient ruins
If you’re a history lover, the very rare artifacts kept within Costa Rica’s most treasured archaeological sites are a must-see. There are remnants, uncovered communities, petroglyphs, spheres, and other pre-Columbian Indigenous tribes’ evidence to be found.
Informative panels that explain the archaeological finds and give a picture of what the country was like many years ago are also available to complement your Costa Rica sightseeing.
Costa Rica sites and ruins to visit:
- Cartago Ruins in Central Valley, Cartago
- Guayabo National Monument in Central Valley, Turrialba
- Ujarras Ruins in Central Valleay, Ujarras
- Finca 6 on Osa Peninsula, Sierpe.
26. Visit a museum
Here’s one of the best things to do in San Jose Costa Rica: step into one of the amazing museums to satisfy your cultural desires. The majority of them are centered around San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital, but they all guarantee a portion of humble pie. On a tour around one of Costa Rica’s famous museums, learn about Costa Rican customs and traditions, stories and Indigenous tribes, valuable metals, stones, and pottery, historical battles, the local economy, and much more.
Here are the best museums to visit in Costa Rica:
- Gold Muzeum in Central Valley, San Jose
- Jade Museum in Central Valley, San Jose
- National Museum in Central Valley, San Jose
- La Casona in the Santa Rosa National Park in Guanacaste – try one of the best things to do in Liberia Costa Rica.
27. Visit a church
Check out one or more of Costa Rica’s architectural works of art if you enjoy being outside. Churches will wow you with their intricate designs, exquisite finishes, and fascinating history. Some have even been rumored to be haunted! This is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica on a budget because it’s free!
Here are the two best churches you should visit in Costa Rica:
- Basilica de Nuestra Senora los Angeles or Cartago Basilica in Central Valley, Cartago
- Metropolitan Church in Central Valley, San Jose – one of the free things to do in San Jose Costa Rica.
28. Wander through parks and gardens
The best place to go in Costa Rica for a low-key investigation of the local flora is one of the country’s well-kept gardens. From small Costa Rican orchids to towering, exotic bamboo shoots, and everything in between, there’s something for everyone. Most gardens are simple to stroll about, if not wheelchair accessible, making this an excellent pastime for senior or mobility-impaired travelers, as well as botanists and nature enthusiasts.
Lankester Botanical Gardens
Central Valey, near Cartago
The Lankester Botanical Gardens has 15,000 orchids and 3,000 different varieties of plants. This stunning botanical garden is a Costa Rica must see for plant and orchid aficionados, as well as anybody who just enjoys being surrounded by flowers. These gardens have been flourishing since the 1940s, attracting tourists from all over the country and the world. In addition, because of the abundance of flowering plants, there is a vast population of butterflies and birds who call this place home.
Another garden for your must sees in Costa Rica is Monteverde Orchid Gardens in the Northern Region, near Monteverde and Santa Elena.
29. Dicover Costa Rican cuisine
Eating is one of the finest ways to learn about a culture.
Take a cooking class
For the ultimate cultural experience and insight into traditional Tico food, enroll in a Costa Rican cooking class with a local chef. Cooking lessons may be found all across the country, although food does differ from area to region.
Eat at a soda restaurant
Sodas are Costa Rican family-style restaurants that provide traditional Costa Rican food in an informal, low-cost setting. They’re a great hit with tourists, and eating at one should be as much a part of your Costa Rica experience as exploring nature, seeking adventure, and viewing local animals.
Because sodas are available in big cities, small villages, and even along roads and highways, it’s one of the most convenient stuff to do in Costa Rica. Grab a seat at a soda and enjoy a fantastic, authentic Costa Rican meal!
30. Try yoga in a new setting
In the coastal communities along the Guanacaste coast, you’ll typically find wonderful yoga studios for drop-in courses. And if you’re searching for a yoga retreat, Costa Rica has something for everyone. In Costa Rica, there are singles, couples, and women-only activities that include surfing, adventure, or simply relaxing yoga.
Now you know all the must do things in Costa Rica! I hope you added some new things to your itinerary.
Don’t forget to share this article with other travelers to help them go visit Costa Rica! 😉
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