Why Costa Rica is a Must-Visit Destination
From lush rainforests to pristine beaches, Costa Rica is a paradise for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts. With a quarter of its land protected, it’s a playground for wildlife watching and eco-tours.
But there’s more! Blend in rich cultural experiences, thrilling adventure activities, and the chance to unwind in luxury, Costa Rica is a must-visit destination.
Let me show you the 17 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica.
Nature and Adventure Activities
1. Ziplining Adventure in the Jungles
Ready for an adrenaline-pumping adventure? Picture this: soaring high above the canopy, breezes flowing, and stunning forest vistas unfolding as you zip line from tree to tree.
Costa Rica is the birthplace of zipline canopy tours, and it offers you hundreds of opportunities to experience this thrilling activity. You’ll find zipline adventures across the country, but the most popular spot is the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
Whether you’re a seasoned thrill-seeker or battling slight acrophobia, there’s a zipline tour for every comfort level. Some tours even offer a Tarzan swing at the end, where you can swing through the treetops.
The zipline tours give you a unique perspective on the rainforest and its wildlife—though your whoops of joy might scare away some of the shyer creatures! Without a doubt, zipping through Costa Rica’s lush jungles is a must-try when you’re here.
And yes, it’s as fun as it sounds.
2. Surfing at Playa Manuel Antonio
If you’re eager to ride the waves, head down to Playa Manuel Antonio. The beach is inside the gorgeous Manuel Antonio National Park, where the jungle meets the sea.
Manuel Antonio offers surf for both beginners and experienced surfers, with a mix of forgiving breaks perfect for first-timers and larger swells for seasoned pros.
The warm water, consistent waves, and beautiful surroundings make for an ideal surfing spot. Lesson boards and experienced instructors are readily available.
After a day of hitting the waves, lay back, sip some fresh coconut water, and enjoy an incredible orange sunset to end your day.
And don’t forget to look out for curious capuchin or squirrel monkeys in the nearby trees.
Believe me, surfing at Playa Manuel Antonio is more than just a surf session—it’s an unforgettable experience with nature.
3. Guided Walks in Manuel Antonio National Park
Looking for an immersion in nature? Then a guided walk through Manuel Antonio National Park is for you. Although it’s Costa Rica’s smallest park, it’s home to an impressive diversity of wildlife in its rainforest, lagoons, beach, and offshore islands.
Take a leisurely stroll along the park’s trails and watch wildlife in their natural habitat. Spot two and three-fingered sloths, squirrel monkeys, or white-faced capuchin monkeys. A professional guide can point out flora and fauna you may not otherwise notice.
Feel the sensation of stepping on a pristine beach after trekking through the lush forest terrain. You’ll be amazed at the amount of wildlife and stunning landscapes concentrated in such a small area. Not forgetting the fantastic ocean views from hilltop lookouts.
Pro tip: Don’t forget to snag pictures of the dramatic sunsets on your guided walk. The golden hues of the sky combined with the soothing sound of waves will be a moment to remember.
4. Exploring Arenal Volcano National Park
Hallmarked by its majestic, perfectly conical volcano, Arenal Volcano National Park is one of Costa Rica’s top visitor destinations. With its extensive range of outdoor activities, you’re guaranteed a rewarding excursion.
Hike the trails through lush forests and over old lava flows. Be on the lookout for exotic birds, capuchin monkeys, and colorful frogs. And with some luck and clear skies, you can see the crown jewel stratovolcano standing at 5,357 feet towards the heavens.
Add more thrill by horseback riding, zip lining, or river rafting in the park. When it’s time to relax, soak in one of the many nearby hot springs.
Remember to take lots of photos of the impressive volcano for your Instagram feed. The pristine landscapes and diverse wildlife here make for incredible picture-perfect moments.
Trust me, there’s something for everybody in Arenal Volcano National Park.
5. Whitewater Rafting in the Pacuare River
Drawn to high-stakes adventure? Get your thrill riding the roiling rapids of the Pacuare River. It’s not just one of the best whitewater rafting destinations in Costa Rica but also among the top in the world.
Paddle through Class III and IV rapids as you navigate through the stunning canyons and thick rainforest. You’ll be exhilarated by the rapids and awed by the otherworldly landscape of towering cliffs and cascading waterfalls.
And if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of monkeys, sloths, toucans, or the elusive jaguar along the banks. But hold tight! Prepare for heart-stopping drops and challenging waves.
Oh, and if you’re not into adrenaline highs, don’t fret! There are calmer sections of the Pacuare River, perfect for enjoying the adventure at a gentler pace.
Either way, don’t miss out on the excitement, beauty, and wildlife of this tour. It seems impossible in the moment, but do try to soak it all in!
6. Experience Llanos de Cortes Waterfall
Looking for a cooling, enchanting getaway? Experience the charm of the Catarata Llanos de Cortes (waterfall).
Just 20 minutes from Liberia City, this captivating waterfall is an ideal spot to cool off on a hot day. It’s a short 5-minute walk from the parking lot, making it easily accessible for everyone.
Take a dip in the pools beneath, arrange a delightful picnic, or capture breathtaking photos to remember your visit by.
The peaceful ambiance, coupled with the gentle lap of the waterfall, is the perfect setting for you to unwind.
As the water cascades over the cliff into the welcoming pool beneath, you might find it hard to resist a swim.
Perhaps that’s what makes Llanos de Cortes Waterfall an irresistible way to round out your day of adventure.
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Wildlife Watching Attractions
7. Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center
If you’re eager to witness Costa Rica’s diverse fauna, visiting the Jaguar Rescue Center is in order. Located in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, this non-profit operates as a temporary or permanent home for ill, injured, and orphaned animals.
Their goal? Rehabilitating different species and returning them to the wild.
Here, you have the opportunity to admire various animals like jaguars, monkeys, sloths, and more. By participating in their guided tours, you can delve deeper into their conservation efforts.
Worthy of mention, the Jaguar Rescue Center is not a zoo, but a humane care facility. They strive to provide a livable environment for their residents until they can return to the wild.
Trust me, visiting the Jaguar Rescue Center is not only an opportunity to learn about Costa Rica’s wildlife.
It is also a chance to support an organization dedicated to conservation and animal well-being. It’s a win-win!
8. Bird Watching in the Rich Biodiversity
Bird watchers are in for a treat in Costa Rica. Hosting over 900 resident and migratory bird species, including the vibrant scarlet macaw and elusive resplendent quetzal, the country is a birding paradise.
Grab your binoculars and enjoy the chorus of tropical bird calls as you wander the trails. Trust me, spotting some of these feathered beauties is a rewarding experience.
And if you’re lucky, you might even spot the national bird, the humble clay-colored thrush, right from your hotel window.
Several lodges across the country cater specifically to bird enthusiasts. The La Selva Biological Station in Northern Costa Rica even offers a Bird Watching 101 course for beginners.
No matter your birding level, this activity allows you to bask in Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity. It’s another set of beautiful memories to take home with you.
9. Turtle Spotting at Tortuguero National Park
Ready for a magical wildlife experience? Turtle spotting at Tortuguero National Park is it! Nestled along Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, the park is a prime sea turtle nesting ground. It’s one of the most popular spots for turtle viewing in the world.
The green sea turtles lay their eggs here from July to October. A night tour during these months gives you the best opportunity to observe this stunning natural phenomenon – always with an experienced guide, of course.
Remember, the welfare of the turtles comes first. Always comply with the guide’s instructions and avoid flash photography to help protect these endearing creatures.
But there’s more to Tortuguero than the turtles. Canoe or kayaking tours through the interconnected canals reveal monkeys, caimans, and a variety of birds, making this spot a must for wildlife watchers.
Wrap up your adventure with the trail hikes for splendid perspectives of the verdant rainforest.
Trust me, visiting Tortuguero National Park not only offers unforgettable wildlife sights but also supports essential sea turtle conservation work.
It’s a not-to-be-missed experience in Costa Rica.
Cultural Experiences and Tours
10. Discover the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum
Seeking a dash of history and culture in your trip? Discover Costa Rica’s rich heritage at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum.
Situated underground beneath the Plaza de la Cultura in San Jose, the museum dazzles visitors with its impressive collection of gold artifacts.
The nearly 700 pre-Columbian gold pieces date back to 500 AD, offering a glimpse into the creativity and craftsmanship of early Costa Ricans.
Marvel at intricate gold figurines, ceremonial items, and jewelry that reflect Costa Rica’s historical complexity before Spanish colonization. Let each masterpiece trigger your imagination about what life might have been like then.
A visit to the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum is a journey back in time. It’s the perfect activity for history buffs and stone lovers alike.
After all, few things are as captivating as golden antiquities that tell intriguing stories of a long-forgotten past.
11. Take a Cooking Class for Ambrosial Local Delicacies
Craving a deeper dive into Costa Rican culture? Take a cooking class for a delicious insight into local tastes and culinary traditions.
Whether it’s preparing a traditional ‘casado’—a hearty dish of rice, black beans, salad, plantain, and a choice of protein, or crafting sweet ‘tres leches’—a sponge cake soaked in three kinds of milk, you’ll get hands-on experience in crafting these ambrosial local delicacies.
Cooking classes are available throughout the country, showcasing regional variations of Costa Rican cuisine. For a wholesome experience, pick a ‘farm-to-table’ class where you’ll source fresh produce straight from local farms.
It’s a joyous experience, believe me. You not only learn recipes you can recreate back home, but you’ll also make memories, new friends, and most importantly, great food!
And who knows? You might stumble upon a new favorite dish during your class.
12. Explore the City Life of San José
If you’re craving an urban vibe, take a day or two to explore San José, Costa Rica’s capital. With over one million residents, this bustling city offers a slice of daily Costa Rican life.
Start by strolling around Barrio Escalante, famous for its hipster cafes and bars. Take pleasure in the city’s fine architecture in Barrio Amon.
And for spirited weekend outings, the lively nightlife of Barrio La California is the place to be.
For cultural immersion, spend time in the city’s museums. You already know the Gold Museum. Don’t miss the Jade Museum and the National Museum of Costa Rica. Oh, and the Galeria Talentum showcases the work of emerging Costa Rican artists.
End your day people-watching in the Plaza de la Democracia while enjoying city life at its finest. Cultural, vibrant, and full of surprises—San José lets you see a different side of Costa Rica.
Unwind and Relax
13. Soak in Hot Springs in La Fortuna
Ever experienced nature’s hot tub? If not, get ready to unravel one of Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets: hot springs in La Fortuna.
Framed by the rumbling Arenal Volcano, these naturally heated pools provide a therapeutic experience you wouldn’t want to miss.
The springs, heated by the geothermal activity of the nearby volcano, are believed to have healing properties. Immerse yourself in the warm mineral-laden waters and feel your muscles unwind. It’s one of the best ways to relax after a long day exploring.
From luxurious springs attached to resorts like Tabacon and Baldi to free access points by the river, you’ll find a variety of options that fit your budget.
Give yourself the special treat of soaking in these warm, inviting waters. Nothing beats a serene, steaming bath amidst the Costa Rican wilderness.
14. Beach Hopping and Lounging
When it comes to beaches, Costa Rica is hard to beat. With two coastlines on the Caribbean and Pacific, you’re spoiled for choices. Whether you’re a surfer, a beach bum, or just love the ocean, Costa Rica’s got the beach for you.
- Stroll along the pristine sands of Playa Manuel Antonio.
- Or revel in the serenity of Playa Chiquita, known for its quiet, untouched beaches and the excellent snorkeling off its reefs.
- Santa Teresa, by contrast, is a must-visit spot for surfers.
- Or maybe you want to catch a glimpse of dolphins and whales while sunbathing? Playa Linda near the Kalon Surf Resort is the place for that picturesque day.
But the beach experience isn’t limited to frolicking in the waves. Unwind at Hotel Aguas Claras, sipping a piña colada at their beach bar, lounging poolside or even in a bungalow with its own plunge pool.
Trust me, Costa Rica’s Caribbean and Pacific coastlines are filled with stunning beaches to explore and treasure.
The only question is, which one will you visit first?
Here is a complete list of all the Best Beaches in Costa Rica.
15. Marvelous Views from Luxurious Jungle Villas
Want to swap your daily routine for a slice of luxury? Experience the unparalleled beauty of Costa Rica from a luxurious jungle villa.
Check out the spectacular Oxygen Jungle Villas. Perched on a hillside, each glass villa offers you stunning vistas of the ocean from your private terrace.
Surrounded by lush jungle, you’re treated to intimate encounters with nature while luxuriating in ultimate comfort. It’s the perfect blend of luxury and wilderness.
Can’t get enough of water? This property also features a dreamy infinity pool to relax in. And yes, there’s a private waterfall within the property.
Trust me, it’s not just about the marvelous views or the opulence. It’s the immersive experience—the sights, the sounds, the tranquillity—that make a stay in a jungle villa in Costa Rica akin to a slice of heaven.
Indulge yourself. You deserve it!
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16. Contribute as a Volunteer with Worldpackers
Ever fancied a volunteering experience? Embrace the chance to truly connect with the Costa Rican community via a transformative experience with Worldpackers.
As a Worldpackers member, you can apply to various volunteer positions all over Costa Rica. Teach English, do organic farming, help in a hostel—the choice is yours.
The volunteering experience is an excellent way to grasp the country’s reality and make a positive impact.
Not only will you travel authentically and responsibly, but you’ll also save lots of money while traveling, learn new skills, and create a deeper connection with the locals.
Besides, the prospective hosts give you the best insider tips on what to do and where to go.
Trust me, volunteering in Costa Rica goes beyond typical travel. It’s a journey of personal growth, curious learning, and impactful connections that last a lifetime.
Explore the possibility—you won’t regret it.
17. Learning About Sustainable Living Off-grid
Curious about a sustainable lifestyle? Costa Rica’s booming eco-nightlife paves the way for you.
Here, you can learn to reel in your carbon footprint and live sustainably as several organizations offer workshops and apprenticeships for such practices.
Take a workshop in permaculture design, learn to sustainably build with natural materials, or even learn to brew herbal medicines. Get engrossed in renewable energy projects or participate in community-based discussions to foster intercultural understanding.
Rest assured, an off-grid living experience is not about retreating completely from modernity. Rather, it’s about simplifying your lifestyle to promote ecological sustainability and personal well-being.
Whether you’re after an alternative getaway or looking to implement greener practices into your home, Costa Rica is the place to do it.
Trust me, spending time off-grid in the beautiful landscapes of Costa Rica isn’t just an escape—it’s a life-changer. It’s a great opportunity to reflect, reconnect, and return to the roots of being.
Dive in, you might surprise yourself!
Planning Your Trip
Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
Wondering when to explore the “Switzerland of Central America”? Costa Rica is a year-round destination, thanks to its stable tropical climate. Still, the best time to visit depends on what you want to do and where you want to go.
- For hiking and exploring volcanoes, January through March is considered best.
- The Pacific coast is spectacular from July and December through May.
- The southern Caribbean coast, on the other hand, sparkles in September and October, and it’s perfect for snorkeling and swimming.
- But don’t overlook the rainy season from May to November (the locals fondly call it “green season”). The country is incredibly lush at this time when afternoon rains bring vibrancy to Costa Rica’s already spellbinding landscape. And the best part? Fewer tourists and more affordable prices.
In other words, there’s no bad time to visit Costa Rica! Decide based on what activities pique your interests the most.
Then, tailor your travel accordingly. Costa Rica’s beauty awaits you year-round. Just pack accordingly and embrace “Pura Vida!”
To help you on your next trip, here is a Complete Costa Rica Packing List.
Budgeting for your Costa Rican Journey
Planning a trip to Costa Rica but concerned about expenses? Don’t fret! With careful planning, everyone can enjoy what this beautiful country offers without uselessly splurging.
- In terms of accommodation, budget travelers can find hostels for around $10-15 per night, while mid-range hotels can range from $50-100 per night, depending on the location.
- For meals, eat like a local. Costa Rica’s traditional meals are delicious and affordable. And for inter-city travel, public buses are the cheapest option.
- For adventure activities like rafting, zip-lining, and guided park tours, prices tend to range between $50-$125.
- If it’s wildlife spotting you’re after, Tortuguero and Corcovado National Park tours can start from $60.
- Don’t forget the mandatory travel insurance, which can cost around $12 per day based on coverage and provider.
In summary, a daily budget of $30-50 will cover basic backpacking needs. For more comfortable trips, prepare $100-150 per day.
Costa Rica might not be the cheapest destination, but it’s worth every penny for its rich biodiversity and warm culture.
Plan wisely, and prioritize places and activities.
Do I need a Visa for Costa Rica?
Wondering if you need a visa for your Costa Rican adventure? Good news! Most nationalities, including the US, Canada, the UK, and EU countries, can visit Costa Rica visa-free for a period of up to 90 days.
However, you need a passport valid for at least six months from your date of entry. Don’t forget to have a return flight ticket, which might be checked when you enter.
As the visa requirements can frequently change, I recommend checking the latest information with the Costa Rican embassy in your home country before your trip.
You can find out more in my Costa Rica Travel Tips article.
How safe is Costa Rica for tourists?
Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Latin America for tourists. Violent crimes toward tourists are a rarity.
However, theft focusing on purses, wallets, and other valuables does occur, so do be vigilant, especially in popular tourist areas, and never leave your belongings unattended.
Here are a few tips for you:
- Try not to wander off alone, especially during the night, and always lock your hotel room.
- When driving, remember to keep your passport or a photo of it along with your entry stamp on your phone, as you may get stopped for a random inspection.
Remember, using common sense goes a long way in ensuring your safety. While no place is 100% safe, Costa Rica is considered fairly safe, and the people are known to be friendly and helpful.
Just take the usual precautions and have a great respectful time!
What are the Languages spoken in Costa Rica?
Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. Although locals known as “Ticos,” are quite friendly and meet you halfway when you’re trying to communicate, it’s always a good thing to know some useful phrases in Spanish.
In touristy areas, English is quite common. Plus, many locals in the hospitality sector speak English, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble getting around.
For more enriching interactions with the locals or if you’re venturing off the beaten path, a quick brush up on your Spanish is indeed beneficial.
Or perhaps you can consider taking one of the Conversational Spanish courses available in major cities.
Trust me, your effort to communicate in Spanish, however halting, is greatly appreciated by the locals.
It’s also fun and definitely a part of the overall travel experience!
What is Costa Rica mainly known for?
Costa Rica is mainly known for its rich biodiversity and commitment to environmental sustainability. With about 5% of the world’s total species across only 0.03% of the Earth’s surface, it’s a global powerhouse of wildlife.
Costa Rica is revered for its abundant rainforests, stunning coastlines, and volcanic views. Plus, it’s a vital habitat for endangered species like the green sea turtle.
The country’s adventurous spirit can’t be overlooked. Remember the exhilarating zip-line rides and surge-filled rapids of the Pacuare River?
On top of that, the “Pura Vida” way of life defines the friendly and laid-back culture of Costa Rica. Throw in the local caffeinated delight—Costa Rican coffee, and you’ve summed up why this Central American delight is loved by so many.
One might say, that Costa Rica is known for gifting every visitor an unforgettable lifetime experience.
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Conclusion: Things to Do in Costa Rica
So there you have it – 17 of the best things to do in Costa Rica. From adrenaline rushes ziplining through the rainforest and whitewater rafting, to learning about the country’s rich history, culture, and culinary traditions, this list covers many experiences that are quintessentially Costa Rican.
No matter how you choose to embark on your Costa Rican journey, remember to slow down, and soak up the forgiving tropical warmth.
So, are you ready to create memorable experiences and stories that you’ll cherish for a lifetime?
Costa Rica awaits to welcome you to its virgin beaches, lush rainforests, vibrant cityscapes, and of course, its warm-hearted people. Go on, make those travel dreams come true!
Let’s close on a sweet, inviting note: As they say in Costa Rica, “Pura Vida!” , pure life indeed!
I hope you enjoyed my list of the Best Things to Do in Costa Rica. And if I missed anything, let me know in the comments below.