Welcome to this blog post on “15 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica.” Costa Rica is a small Central American country located between Nicaragua and Panama, with a big reputation as a travel destination. Its diverse natural beauty and abundance of outdoor activities make it a paradise for nature lovers and adventure seekers.
The country's varied landscapes include rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, and mountains, providing a range of stunning natural settings to explore. Costa Rica is also home to a wide variety of wildlife, including monkeys, sloths, and a number of bird species, making it a great destination for wildlife viewing.
In addition to its natural attractions, Costa Rica is also a popular destination for adventure sports such as white water rafting and zip lining, making it an ideal destination for those looking for an active vacation. The country's stable democracy and high standard of living make it a safe and comfortable destination for travelers.
If you're planning a trip to Costa Rica, here are the best things to do in Costa Rica. Before we proceed, why not check out my previous post on 10 Private Beaches in Virginia. You'd find it interesting.
Read also: 16 Best Swimming Beaches In Costa Rica
Things to do in Costa Rica
Wondering what to do in Costa Rica, here's our list of the top 20 things to do in Costa Rica.
Visit National Parks
Costa Rica is home to several national parks that offer breathtaking views and diverse wildlife. Manuel Antonio National Park, located on the Pacific coast, is famous for its beautiful beaches and dense rainforest. It is also a great place to spot sloths, monkeys, and a variety of bird species.
Arenal Volcano National Park, located in the northern region of the country, is home to the Arenal Volcano, which last erupted in 1968. Visitors can hike to the crater for incredible views of the surrounding landscape.
Other notable national parks in Costa Rica include Tortuguero National Park, which is known for its turtle nesting sites, and Corcovado National Park, which is home to a wide variety of animals including jaguars and tapirs.
Costa Rica has over 800 miles of coastline, so it's no surprise that the country is home to some great beaches. Tamarindo Beach, located on the Pacific coast, is a popular spot for surfing.
Try White Water Rafting
If you're seeking an exciting way to experience the jungle and natural beauty of Costa Rica, white water rafting is an excellent option.
There are many rivers to choose from in the country, each offering a different level of intensity and suitable for various comfort levels. Some of the top picks for river rafting in Costa Rica include the Pacuare River on the Caribbean coast, the Río Naranjo on the Pacific coast, and the Tenorio River in the Guanacaste region.
Inland, the Arenal Volcano area offers several options such as the Toro River, the Balsa River, and the Sarapiquí River. Before setting out on your rafting adventure, be sure to inquire about the level of intensity of the rapids and choose a route that is within your comfort zone.
White water rafting is an exciting way to explore the jungle and appreciate the natural beauty of Costa Rica.
Snorkeling is another enjoyable aquatic activity in Costa Rica. When you're near the water, look for the greatest snorkeling sites to explore the unique aquatic animals of the Caribbean or Pacific Sea.
The southern Caribbean Sea has some of the greatest snorkeling in the country, and September and October are the ideal months to visit. Most of Costa Rica is experiencing heavy rains at this time of year, but the Caribbean coast remains calm and the seas are extraordinarily clean. To snorkel amid spectacular coral reefs, consider visiting Cahuita National Park and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.
The Osa Peninsula in the south of the Pacific is well-known for its outstanding snorkeling. Playa San Josecito in Drake Bay and Corcovado National Park are other great snorkeling spots, and the area is rich in species. Cao Island is particularly well-known for its pristine seas.
The calm waters of the Gulf of Papagayo in the north Pacific Guanacaste area are ideal for snorkeling. Wherever you travel in Costa Rica, you'll discover incredible snorkeling opportunities to experience the country's diverse aquatic life.
Zip Line Through the Forest
If any country in the world is perfect for ziplining, it is Costa Rica. The little nation is famed for its breathtaking vistas and long cables that cross the world's densest rainforest.
Monteverde, Guanacaste, and Fortuna are three amazing destinations for the world's most magnificent ziplining experience. It does not matter if you are a family traveler or a hardcore zip liner. There are several zip line tours available in Costa Rica.
La Fortuna's EcoGlide, located adjacent to the Arenal Volcano, is a fantastic zipline tour for families who wish to zip through the rainforest while experiencing incredible views of the volcano and surrounding hills.
The Tarzan Swing is a terrific highlight of our tour that sends you flying through the forest! If you want a stronger adrenaline rush, the 100% Aventura is your best option.
This amazing tour in Monteverde has substantially quicker and longer cables. If you don't have the courage to continue, the zipline tour is separated into sections that allow you to step down and walk back to the center.
The final two areas are the most fun, allowing you to fly through the air like Superman!
The Diamante is the longest zip line cable with an ocean view, and it's worth checking out. It is important to note that in Costa Rica, ziplining is known as Canopy Tours.
Tour Coffee Plantations
Costa Rica is known for producing some of the finest coffee in the world due to its rich soil, consistent rainfall, and favorable climates. If you're a coffee lover, you can indulge in delicious coffee while taking a tour of a plantation to learn more about the brewing process.
The Central Highlands, just outside of San José, is a popular region for coffee production and offers tours such as Hacienda Espíritu Santo.
Additionally, the Monteverde Rainforest, Pacific Coast and Caribbean Coast also have coffee tours available such as Don Juan's Coffee Farm, Café de Monteverde, Café Cedral Tour, Santa Maria de Dota Coffee Plantation, Caribbeans Coffee and Chocolate that also include a lesson on chocolate making and a tasting experience. Costa Rican chocolate is also renowned for its rich flavor.
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Private Boat Tour in the Gulf of Papagayo
The Gulf of Papagayo on Costa Rica's north Pacific coast is one of the most beautiful areas in the country. Comprised of numerous small bays, the Gulf of Papagayo boasts a variety of boat-access-only white sand beaches and excellent snorkeling spots.
The best way to fully experience the Gulf of Papagayo is by taking a private boat tour. This allows you to explore the region at your own pace and visit the most secluded and beautiful beaches and snorkeling spots.
Add a dose of adrenaline to your vacation with an ATV tour! These tours allow you to drive through forests and jungles to reach stunning viewpoints. They're even more fun in the rainy season when you can get a bit muddy!
You can find exciting ATV tours in a variety of locations throughout Costa Rica, including La Fortuna, Tamarindo, Monteverde, La Cruz, Flamingo, Samara, Herradura, Jaco, Santa Teresa, Uvita, and Manuel Antonio.
Many ATV tours take you up mountains to beautiful viewpoints or waterfalls, offering a unique way to explore the country's natural beauty.
Experience the thrill of canyoning, or rappelling down waterfalls, in Costa Rica. This heart-pumping adventure activity takes place in the midst of breathtaking rainforests, making it a personal favorite for many travelers.
One of the best canyoning tours in Costa Rica is located in La Fortuna. The first waterfall you'll visit is an impressive 200 feet tall!
Other excellent places for canyoning in the country include Gravity Falls with Desafio in La Fortuna, Explonatura in Turrialba, and Finca Modelo in Monteverde. Canyoning is a unique and exhilarating way to explore the natural beauty of Costa Rica.
Read also: 10 Best Resorts in Costa Rica for Couples
Explore the Capital City of San Jose
Costa Rica's capital city, San Jose, is a hub of culture and history. The city is home to several museums, including the National Theatre, which is known for its ornate architecture, and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, which houses a collection of gold artifacts from the indigenous people of Costa Rica.
There are also several markets and street fairs in San Jose where visitors can shop for souvenirs and try traditional Costa Rican food.
Go Paddle Boarding
Stand-up paddle boarding is a fun and easy activity to try when the water is relatively calm. Though Costa Rica is known for its surfing, you can still enjoy the beaches without waves by stand-up paddle boarding.
Some great places for stand-up paddle boarding in Costa Rica include Sámara Beach and the Peninsula Papagayo on the Guanacaste region of the northern Pacific coast. These areas offer protected shores with calm waters that are perfect for paddle boarding.
Another ideal spot is Lake Arenal, which doesn't have waves because it is a lake. Stand-up paddle boarding is relatively easy because the boards are heavy, long, and sturdy, making it a family-friendly activity suitable for people of all fitness levels.
Whether you're on the coast or inland, stand-up paddle boarding is a great way to enjoy the water in Costa Rica.
Sunset Sailing Cruise
Booking a sailing cruise is a must for any beach vacation in Costa Rica. Sunset cruises are especially popular among families, friends, and couples because they offer the chance to sail beneath a beautiful sky and watch the sun go down while enjoying the fresh ocean air.
On a sunset cruise, you can eat, snorkel, swim, and relax. Alternatively, you can opt for a morning cruise, which offers better snorkeling opportunities and is a great half-day trip to see the stunning tropical coastlines.
Sunset sailing cruises are available in many tourist beach towns on the Pacific coast, such as Playas del Coco, Flamingo, Potrero, Tamarindo, Samara, and Manuel Antonio. Prices for sunset cruises range from around $70-95 USD per person and usually include snorkel equipment, fruit, water, drinks, and snacks or lunch.
Try Adventure Sports
Costa Rica is a great destination for adventure sports enthusiasts. The country offers a wide range of activities such as white water rafting, zip lining, and rock climbing. For the best experience, it is recommended to book a tour with a reputable operator.
Soak in Some Hot Springs
Costa Rica's central region, home to active volcanoes, is known for its many natural hot springs, which have become popular tourist attractions.
Many of these hot springs are located near Arenal Volcano or in the La Fortuna area, some of the most famous are Tabacon Hot Springs, near the Arenal volcano and La Fortuna Waterfall. This same area offers also other hot springs like Eco Termales, Titoku Hot Springs and Rio Agua Caliente.
If you are in the north of the country, you can visit Vandara Hot Springs located in Rincon de La Vieja National Park, which also offer the benefit of nutrient-rich clay and mud for natural skin treatment.
Visit off-the-beaten-path destinations
While Costa Rica is a popular travel destination, there are still many off-the-beaten-path places to discover. The Nicoya Peninsula and the Osa Peninsula are less crowded alternatives to more popular areas, but they are no less beautiful.
The Ostional Wildlife Refuge on the Nicoya Peninsula is a great place to see sea turtles, and the Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula is home to a wide variety of animals including jaguars and tapirs.
In conclusion, Costa Rica has something for everyone. From national parks to beaches and surfing, coffee plantations to adventure sports, and off-the-beaten-path destinations, there is no shortage of things to do in this small but mighty country. If you haven't already, be sure to add Costa Rica to your travel bucket list.
Things to do in Costa Rica With Kids
Costa Rica is a great destination for families, with a wide range of activities that cater to all ages and interests. This charming Central American country offers a perfect mix of beach and outdoor activities, and many of the popular sights are easily accessible by car.
Visitors can enjoy luxury accommodation while also immersing themselves in the local culture. From adventure sports to visiting landmarks like La Fortuna Waterfall and Arenal Volcano, there is something for everyone. Animal lovers will also be amazed by the wide range of wildlife, including sloths, turtles, and rare birds.
The country is divided into seven regions, called administrative provinces, Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limón, Puntarenas, and San Jose. We've created a list of 15 things to do in Costa Rica with Kids to help you plan your trip and make the most of your time in Costa Rica.
Stroll through La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Experience the beauty of nature at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a combination of a nature park and animal sanctuary. This family-friendly attraction, located in Costa Rica's Alajuela province near the San Jose Airport, offers a chance to explore lush gardens and breathtaking waterfalls.
Beginner-friendly hiking trails make it easy for children to explore, and educational information throughout the park provides insights into Costa Rican culture.
Book a tour to learn about a variety of local wildlife, including jungle cats, sloths, monkeys and frogs. There's also a butterfly garden for children to discover. End your visit with a satisfying lunch at Trout Lake by including a meal with your entrance ticket.
Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall
The La Fortuna Waterfall, located just outside of La Fortuna, is one of Costa Rica's most breathtaking natural wonders. It's a must-visit destination for visitors of all ages who come from far and wide to swim, picnic, and take pictures in the crystal-clear waters. Flowing from about 250 feet, the waterfall is situated at the base of the inactive volcano, Chato.
The trail to the waterfall winds through a forest and pasture, providing an opportunity for children to spot toucans, parrots, and other wildlife along the way. It's one of the best things to do in Costa Rica with kids.
Once you arrive, the area's natural beauty will amaze you. Remember to bring your bathing suits, and if the waterfall is too crowded, there are nearby pools that offer similar experiences.
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Visit the Butterfly Conservatory
A visit to the Butterfly Conservatory is an enjoyable and informative experience for families, especially animal lovers! Located in the small town of El Castillo, it's a short drive away from La Fortuna and an easy addition to your itinerary. The conservatory focuses on preserving butterflies and other tropical rainforest species of the Arenal region.
You and your children can take a tour of the property and learn more about these fascinating creatures. Book a kid-friendly Metamorphosis Tour and you'll explore diverse exhibits of frogs, butterflies, and other insects, and learn how wildlife thrives in Costa Rica's natural environment.
Kids can also take the Rainforest River Walk along the creek running through the property, where they'll have the chance to spot sloths, monkeys, toucans, and parrots. The visit ends with a relaxing moment at the gazebo, surrounded by peaceful hummingbirds and a view of Arenal Lake.
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Experience the Beauty of Arenal volcano.
Explore the Arenal Volcano during your family vacation to Costa Rica. Known as the most famous volcano in Costa Rica, the Arenal Volcano towers over the nearby town of La Fortuna, though it has not been active since 2010, making it safe for families to tour its grounds and learn about its history.
The volcano is located within Arenal Volcano National Park, where visitors can take a guided tour with a park ranger to learn about the area.
Take a walk through the forests, lava fields and admire the view of Lake Arenal. Although you cannot hike directly to the volcano, you and your family can explore the various ecosystems in the park.
There are also opportunities for whitewater rafting in the three main rivers near Arenal, rock rappelling, and canopy tours for older children and adventurous families. End your visit with a stop at the nature sanctuary near the Nicaraguan border!
Ascend to the Observation Tower at Arenal Observatory Lodge & Spa.
The Arenal Observatory Lodge and Spa is the perfect destination for families visiting the Arenal Volcano. As the only hotel located within Arenal Volcano Park, the hotel offers unparalleled views of the natural wonderland, including creeks, rivers, and waterfalls.
The hotel's 92-foot-tall observation tower in the middle of the rainforest provides the best vantage point for 360-degree panoramic views of Lake Arenal, Cerro Chato, and the Arenal Volcano, making it a must-see during your visit.
Additionally, guests at the hotel can take a free guided tour of the property and learn about the local flora and fauna, as well as watch hummingbirds at the bird feeder outside the restaurant. Children will also enjoy spotting unique wildlife such as toucans, wild turkeys, red-eyed tree frogs, and spider monkeys.
The hotel also features a museum on-site that details the history of the Arenal Volcano.
Take in the beautiful views at Mistico Hanging Bridges Park.
A family adventure of a lifetime awaits you at Mistico Hanging Bridges Park! This park in La Fortuna brings together different ecosystems such as lowland, forest, and highland to create stunning biodiversity. Be sure to capture a photo of the iconic hanging bridge that offers panoramic views of the lake and surrounding area.
The park offers a variety of activities perfect for kids, including bird-watching tours and guided hikes through the forest with a wildlife expert. Adventurous children may even enjoy a guided hike towards the Arenal volcano, one of the most famous landmarks in Costa Rica.
A guide is recommended, but it's also possible to explore the area on your own if you prefer to save money. Remember to make the most of your time and enjoy the park with your family!
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Experience the thrill of a treetop adventure at Arenal Ecoglide Park.
Discover Costa Rica from a new perspective at Arenal Ecoglide Park! This family-friendly destination in San Carlos is perfect for adventurous kids. It offers activities for children of all ages, including younger kids, tweens, and teens, and features a double cable system for zip-lining and some free-fall experiences.
Parents can have peace of mind knowing their children are in safe hands. Please keep in mind that most activities here are available for kids over the age of 5.
We recommend booking a package to experience a variety of activities. The canopy tour allows you to conquer 14 platforms and 12 canopy cables located throughout the trees, and it concludes with a thrilling ride on the Tarzan swing. Safety precautions will be explained before the tour at the “cable school.”
At the end of the tour, you can enjoy a complimentary drink and take a look at the professional photos taken during your visit.
Spend an Afternoon at the Sloth Sanctuary
The Sloth Sanctuary is a must-visit destination for animal lovers of all ages. Located near Cahuita, Costa Rica, this family-friendly attraction is the world’s only center dedicated to preserving sloths.
Visitors can take the standard Buttercup Tour to learn about the unique characteristics of sloths and the effects of human activity on their habitats. The tour also includes a visit to the on-site learning center where children over 5 can meet the sloths and test their knowledge.
The tour concludes with a canoe ride through the sloths' natural habitat. For an even more exclusive experience, visitors can book the Insider Tour, which grants access to a special nursery.
Book a Rainforest Adventure Tour
Experience the thrill of Costa Rica with a Rainforest Adventure Tour. With two locations to choose from, you can easily plan an exciting excursion for the whole family. Options include Braulio Carillo, an hour from San Jose, or Jaco Beach, a private reserve in the forest.
Both locations offer a variety of activities, such as zip-lining, waterfall climbing, and aerial trams. Braulio Carillo is better suited for younger children, while Jaco Beach is more suitable for older children seeking an adrenaline rush. Keep in mind that all children participating in the tour must be at least 5 years old.
Take Surf Lessons
Guanacaste Province offers a wide range of water activities for families, including surfing. Children who are good swimmers and enjoy being active will love the chance to try surfing. Our families highly recommend Iguana Surf in Tamarindo for young surfers.
With Tamarindo Beach as the backdrop, kids can learn and improve their skills with professional instruction, both group and private lessons are available. All lessons include 2 hours of instruction, use of a soft-top surfboard, and a bilingual surf instructor, among other amenities.
While the kids are busy surfing, parents can relax on Tamarindo Beach or take a walk along the beach for some alone time. Keep in mind that swimming may be difficult due to the perfect waves for surfing.
Explore Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is a breathtaking display of Costa Rica's natural beauty, located in Quepos along the Pacific coast. The park offers a diverse range of landscapes, from rugged rainforest to white-sand beaches and coral reefs.
Families have the option to explore the park with a guide or use a self-guided map, depending on their preference. A guided tour is recommended for those who want to learn more about the park's wildlife, as the guide will have a better chance of spotting monkeys, lizards, snakes, or sloths in their natural habitat.
For those who prefer to explore at their own pace and relax on the beach, there are three beaches within the park where you can spend the afternoon sunbathing and enjoying snacks from the on-site cafe, as outside food is not allowed in the park.
Spot Sea Turtles at Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park, located in the Limon province along Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast, is a popular destination for families and wildlife enthusiasts. The park is known for its abundance of Green Sea, Leatherback, and Hawksbill Turtles, which can be observed along a marked trail on the beach.
Due to their endangered status, the park is a great place to see these turtles without damaging their natural habitat. Visitors can choose from a variety of activities, such as ranger-led walking tours and kayaking, to experience the park.
Overall, Tortuguero National Park is an ideal destination for families seeking a unique wildlife experience.
Frequently Asked Questions On Things To Do In Costa Rica
1. Are there any good eco-tourism options in Costa Rica?
Yes, there are many great eco-tourism options in Costa Rica. The country is known for its diverse biodiversity, and there are many national parks and protected areas that offer visitors the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of the country.
Some popular eco-tourism activities include hiking in the rainforests, bird watching, visiting wildlife refuges and reserves, snorkeling and scuba diving in the marine reserves, and visiting the cloud forests. Additionally, there are many responsible eco-lodges that offer sustainable tourism options.
2. How can I experience the wildlife in Costa Rica?
There are many ways to experience the wildlife in Costa Rica. Some of the best options include visiting national parks and protected areas, such as Manuel Antonio National Park, Corcovado National Park, Tortuguero National Park, and the Osa Peninsula.
These places offer visitors the opportunity to see a wide variety of animals, such as monkeys, sloths, toucans, parrots, and jaguars, among others. Additionally, you can also take a boat tour to see dolphins and whales, or take a guided tour through the rainforest to see nocturnal animals like bats, owls, and tarsiers.
If you want to experience marine life, you can also take a snorkeling or scuba diving tour to see different kinds of fish, turtles, and even sharks.
3. Are there any good surfing spots in Costa Rica?
Yes, Costa Rica is known for its great surfing spots. The Pacific coast of the country is particularly popular for surfers, with many of the best breaks located on the Nicoya Peninsula. Some of the most popular surf spots include Tamarindo, Jaco, Hermosa, and Playa Hermosa.
The north-western province of Guanacaste is also known for its great surf breaks, with Tamarindo and Playa Grande being some of the most famous. The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica also has good surf spots, but it's less known than the Pacific coast. Some of the spots to check out are Playa Cocles, Playa Negra, and Punta Uva.
Additionally, Costa Rica is also known for its consistent surf conditions, making it a popular destination for surfers of all levels.
4. What are three attractions in Costa Rica?
Arenal Volcano National Park: This national park is home to Arenal volcano, an active volcano that offers visitors the opportunity to hike and explore the surrounding rainforest. The park also has several hot springs, which are popular tourist attractions.
Manuel Antonio National Park: This park is located on the central Pacific coast of Costa Rica and is known for its beautiful beaches and diverse wildlife. Visitors can spot monkeys, sloths, and a variety of birds while exploring the park's hiking trails.
Tortuguero National Park: This national park is located on the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and is known for its sea turtle nesting site. Visitors can take boat tours to see the turtles nesting and also enjoy the park's diverse wildlife, including monkeys, crocodiles, and a variety of birds.
5. What currency is used in Costa Rica?
The currency used in Costa Rica is the Costa Rican Colón (CRC). It's important to note that US dollars are widely accepted in most tourist areas and some local businesses, but it's always good to have some local currency on hand for small purchases and for places that may not accept US dollars.
It's also a good idea to check the exchange rate before your trip to have an idea of the conversion.
6. Is Costa Rica cheap for tourists?
It depends on one's point of view. In comparison to other major tourist locations in North America and Europe, Costa Rica can be considered relatively affordable. The cost of living is lower in Costa Rica, which offers a variety of budget-friendly accommodation options, such as hostels, budget hotels, and camping sites.
Basic meals like those from street vendors and local restaurants can also be quite affordable. However, certain activities and tours, such as adventure sports, spa treatments, and luxury accommodations, can be quite expensive.
Additionally, some items, such as imported goods and electronics, tend to be more expensive in other countries. It is usually advisable to plan your vacation and budget properly, taking into account the activities you wish to partake in and the desired degree of comfort.
7. What are the taboos in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a relatively liberal and open-minded country, but there are still a few taboos and customs that visitors should be aware of.
- Disrespecting the flag or the national anthem: Costa Rica takes its national symbols very seriously, and showing disrespect to the flag or the national anthem is considered rude.
- Using the “V” sign with the palm facing forward: This is considered an offensive gesture in Costa Rica.
- Being loud and boisterous in public: Costa Ricans value peace and quiet, and it is considered impolite to be loud and boisterous in public.
- Not Tipping: Tipping is expected in many service-based businesses, like restaurants, hotels, and taxis.
- Dressing inappropriately: Costa Rica is a relatively conservative country, and it is considered disrespectful to dress too revealing in public places.
- Using drugs: Costa Rica has strict laws against drug use, possession, and trafficking, and it's illegal to consume or possess drugs.
- Showing disrespect to the indigenous culture: Costa Rica has a long history of indigenous cultures, and it is considered rude to disrespect their customs and traditions.
It's always a good idea to familiarize yourself with the customs and taboos of the country you're visiting, and to be mindful of your actions and behavior while traveling.
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