Costa Rica is historically one of the most visited countries in Central America. A country rich in flora and fauna, beautiful beaches, volcanoes and truly hospitable people that boasts one of the oldest democracies in the world, in contrast to other countries in the region.
In short, with all the things do to in Costa Rica, it is undoubtedly a destination on the radar of mass tourism for years, a country where travel is extremely easy and the tourist infrastructure is well developed. The other side of the coin, however, is the cost, in fact for those who travel with a small budget Costa Rica is notoriously the most expensive country in Central America but this certainly does not make it less impressive.
In this detailed guide you’ll find a lot of useful tips to organize your trip and you will discover all the things to do in Costa Rica
Things to do in Costa Rica
Learn how many shades of blue there are
It’s not every day you see the colours of the water change. But if you visit the Tenorio Volcano National Park, straddling the provinces of Guanacaste and Alajuela in northern Costa Rica, you can do just that.
There are plenty of things to do in Costa Rica to keep you busy in the park. Like walking through emerald forests and birdwatching, but whatever you do, we recommend you take a look at the Río Celeste. Its waters run through the entire park and form two unforgettable features not to be missed. The first one you’ll come to is the waterfall, but you should definitely continue on the trail to Los Teñideros. It’s here that you’ll see two clear rivers merge, their colors merging into a single, dazzling sky-blue stream that gives the river its name, which translates into “celestial blue”.
Eat in a soda stand
Forget the luxury restaurants that cater to tourists. Skip your favorite travel magazine with things to do in Costa Rica you read online. Just go to a soda stand. No, we’re not talking about sodas – the sodas are in local restaurants run by ticos (natives of Costa Rica) but cozy for everyone.
Sometimes buffet-style, sometimes depending on the menu, a typical kiosk meal will have entradas (appetizers), platos tradicionales (traditional dishes), pasta, arroz (rice) and platos fuertes (heavy dishes with various meats). Two of the most popular dishes are casadosand gallo pinto. Casados are simple dishes of white rice, meat, beans, and fried bananas, while gallo pinto is a dish of rice and beans that is more or less the nation’s signature meal.
In search of wild animals – in the wildest place on Earth
All of the things to do in Costa Rica is teeming with wildlife, but the Corcovado National Park – on the Osa Peninsula – is one of the most biodiverse places in the world.
Founded in 1975, it covers an area of 164 square miles and serves as home to over 450 species of birds, 140 mammals and hundreds and hundreds of plant types. Common animals you’ll see include scarlet ares, white-faced capuchin monkeys, tapirs and tamanduke anteaters. Jungle cats also roam the area: jaguars, pumas and ocelots. The elusive felines meet more rarely, but you’re likely to spot the tracks they leave behind.
Glide through a canopy of rainforest clouds on a zipline
Sitting on Costa Rica’s continental coast, the Monteverde Bridal Forest Reserve is located about 4,662 meters above sea level and is referred to by the ticos as a “cloud canopy. The fog banks entangle on the branches of the taller trees and the humidity flows downwards, which gives the area a nebulous appearance and supports its varied and fertile ecosystem. As you venture through the terrain, you will find yourself walking at different heights, feeling varying temperatures and watching the scenery change.
Read also: Which is the best Travel Magazine?
The best way to experience Monteverde is to fly through its treetops on a zipline – bookmark it on your must things to do in Costa Rica. There are several adventure parks within the forest reserve that offer zipline packages, but you may want to opt for the longest possible route – which would be 3,280 feet.
Things to do in Costa Rica – Ride the waves
The trip is just a learning experience, right? So why not try something that will probably be very difficult at first, but so rewarding when you finally understand it? Costa Rica literally translates to “rich coast,” so you can’t visit without being yourself in the water, preferably on a surfboard.
Dominical, a seaside resort in the province of Puntarenas, in the Pacific, is one of the best places for water activities like surfing. It is world famous for its waves and surfers come from all over the world to experience them. Just walk around the city, and you’ll find a handful of shops offering surfing lessons with local instructors. Conditions can be tough, but there’s always Domnicalito (or “little Dominical”) right next door, where things stay quieter.
Rafting almost in white water
Rafting on the rapids is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. You can choose your difficulty level, according to your location and timing, according to how extreme you are trying to go, your rafting experience and the ages of your fellow travelers. Some of the best rivers for rafting are the Pacuare, Balsa, Turrialba and Toro.
Regardless of where you choose, rafting is a great group activity and you will grow to feel a sense of camaraderie with your team members, even if they started out as strangers. Oh, and upper body training? Yes, of course.
Jumping from a rope swing into a cascading pool
Near the Arenal Volcano National Park (in the province of Alajuela) is the 200 foot long La Fortuna waterfall. Once you’ve completed the 20 minute hike to the waterfalls, you’ll see the water flowing into the pool below. Only that would guarantee the effort.
But there’s more, because someone had a good idea in the past. The nearby ropes allow you to swing through space and jump into the water. Jump, fly, repeat. If this seems a little too much, there are also tours that allow you to rappel down the wall of the waterfall.
Go out on a perfect white sandy beach
There are few places in the world that give you such a variety of options when it comes to beaches. Choose between the Pacific coast and the Caribbean coast (or, you know, check them both), then choose from hundreds of miles of each. Wherever you are, the best beach spots are among the things to do in Costa Rica.
Here are some to get you started: Playa Conchal, Playa Avellanas and Playa Grande, three famous stretches of sand on the Pacific side. Beyond the Caribbean, discover Playa Bonita and Cahuita – just as famous as ‘bonita’.
Things to do in Costa Rica – Capture the view
At 10,761 feet high, Chirripó is the highest mountain in Costa Rica. Its name means “land of eternal waters,” referring to the abundance of lakes and streams around the mountain. You can climb it by obtaining a permit from the Chirripó National Park office in San Gerardo de Rivas. From the start of the official route, it is a 12.1-mile hike to the top.
Read also: Things to do in Sintra
Trekking requires over 5,000 feet of elevation gain, so expect a challenge (and to go through multiple ecosystems – the páramos, or treeless highlands, for example, are unique and can only be found at high altitudes in tropical regions). There are places to rest along the way, although you’ll notice that the last one is still a two-hour hike to the summit. The view? Absolutely worth it.
Get a taste of Costa Rican life at a fair
Grab a snack or something to take home to a fairground, an open-air market where you’ll find people selling exotic fruits and vegetables, cheese, baked goods and souvenirs. They are everywhere, although the one in Plaza Víquez in San José (Saturday) and Avenida Central and Calle 1 in Santa Ana (Sunday) are particularly generous. Sellers open the store from 6 a.m., and at 1 p.m. offers will be picked up.
All items available for purchase are locally sourced, so the money returns to the community one way or another. One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is that here you can tap into the local culture. Most of the people you will see looking at the goods are Ticos, who collect new supplies for their restaurants or family meals.
Stroll through the streets of San José
Do not be discouraged by tales of city chaos and pickpocketing, under its chaotic guise the capital of Costa Rica retains a charm to discover that will make your stay unforgettable.
Head north to the historic Amón district and take a stroll through the Victorian-style buildings that were once the property of the coffee tycoons, a strong signal of the colonial era that the country experienced. The National Theatre, neoclassical in style and much loved in these parts, was born thanks to a car tax imposed by the coffee tycoons themselves. The theatre houses a pretty bar where you can relax and sip a cup of the traditional “grano de oro”.
Read also: The best beaches in Spain
In the area there are also the Jade Museum (which has the largest collection of American jade in the world) and the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum (a brilliant display of the heritage of the natives of Central America).
End the day among the “Lungs” of San José (so called by the Joséfinos, the inhabitants of San José) in the Sabana Park. What was the city’s main airport until 1955 is now a green oasis bordering the urban landscape, with a skating rink, rented pedal boats on the lake and traders selling slices of spicy green mango. If you want to explore all the things to do in Costa Rica, go during the weekend and join the morning outdoor aerobics sessions.
Things to do in Costa Rica – visit the volcano
Depending on the degree of interest in lava, it may be a relief or a disappointment to know that the Arenal volcano, one of the many present in Costa Rica and in the past the most active of all, has not recorded eruptions since 2010.
A young volcano by normal standards, this 7,500-year-old fracture in the Earth’s crust is probably getting some rest. A volcano set in a stunning 12,124 hectares of National Park scenery, it will provide a wonderful adventure for all hiking enthusiasts.
A trail similar to a circuit where 16 bridges (6 of which are suspended above the dense jungle) will allow you to cross the park. Look up… you’ll see 850 different species of birds flying above your head!
Read also: Best tourist destinations in Brasil
To experience high levels of adrenaline, you can try rafting in the rapids, abseiling on the waterfall or join the fun on the rope with the Canopy Tour.
You will be rewarded for your courage at the end of the day with one of the top things that you can do in Costa Rica. The natural thermal springs are the result of geothermal activity and come in different shapes and sizes, ranging from hot springs to cold springs illuminated at night, some have water slides and water bars.
Discover the underground caves
Not far from the Arenal there are the Caves of Venado, discovered by some hunters in 1942, able to give strong emotions to all caving enthusiasts who search what to do in Costa Rica!
Enter under the earth’s surface and stoop down through ancient caves that date back 5 million years, caves frequented by bats where you can closely observe the fossilized marine life and the shells protruding from the walls, left here by the sea that once covered these places. Once above sea level, a small stream will accompany you along the promenade; don’t count on staying dry.
Experienced cavers looking for challenges should head for the less elaborate but more difficult caves in the Barra Honda National Park in Guanacaste Province.
Navigate the Tortuguero Canals
If you enjoy sailing on calm waters and exploring places in tranquility with rainforest noises as a backdrop, you’ll be amazed at Tortuguero National Park along the Caribbean coast.
Accessible only by boat or plane, this protected reserve is home to 11 different habitats including lagoons, marshes, beaches and mangrove forests. Take a boat ride and let a guide to take you through the wildlife or kayaking along lush canals.
Relying on 5% of the planet’s total biodiversity with only 0.3% of the world’s continental mass, Costa Rica is also a world leader in ecotourism. Book a bungalow at an ecological residence to fully explore this distant forest.
For many, the main things to do in Costa Rica are the clumsy yet elegant creatures that give the park its name, the hundreds of sea turtles that make the beach their nest from July to October. If you’re passing through 60/80 days later, you might even be lucky enough to see the little ones running to the shores of the ocean!
Things to do in Costa Rica – Become a coffee expert
Coffee lovers and gourmets in general will be happy to find numerous farms throughout the country able to provide guided tours of their plantations.
Finca Rosa Blanca is committed to producing coffee grown in the shade, an organic, eco-sustainable coffee, and its farmers will be more than happy to show you their hard work live. A real coffee expert will take you on a tour of the fields, explaining everything about the process of planting and roasting the house before offering you a “catación” (a tasting in…cup).
For those less fond of caffeine, we recommend a visit to Villa Vanilla. Also founded on strongly organic principles, this farm is specialized in the cultivation of vanilla, cinnamon, cocoa, curcumin, black pepper and other tropical spices. The tour also includes a taste of really tasty delicacies (just think of vanilla cheesecake and cinnamon tea), prepared on the same farm with fresh homemade products.
What is the best time to go to Costa Rica?
Costa Rica’s climate is tropical: there is a dry season and a rainy season. It is preferable to take a trip to Costa Rica during the dry season, between December and April. There is a difference in temperature between the coast and the center of the country: the first is warm, with average temperatures around 30 degrees, while the second is temperate throughout the year, with average temperatures of about 17 degrees. You will discover an absolutely beautiful country made of mountains, forests and heavenly beaches, with an ideal climate. Can’t travel during the dry season? Then take advantage of September, October and November to discover the Caribbean part of the country.
Costa Rica in winter and spring, the best period
December to April
Winter and spring are definitely the best time to visit Costa Rica, thanks to the mild climate. In fact, during the dry season, from December to April, you can visit all regions. Avoid the rainy season, which runs from May to November.
San José and the central valley enjoy an “eternal spring”: here the average temperature is 20 degrees all year round, which makes visiting this region very pleasant. Avoid the rainy season and leave rather during the dry season to benefit from pleasant weather. You will love Costa Rica’s capital city, its museums and delicious restaurants. You will also discover the central valley, the economic heart of the country, made up of volcanoes and small villages, which is also home to the famous de la Paz Falls. The central Pacific coast will surprise you with its biodiversity and you won’t want to miss the majesty of the landscape.
In the north of Costa Rica you can visit banana, sugar cane and pineapple plantations. The environment is particularly well preserved in this region and ecotourism lovers will be delighted. You can watch parrots or kayak on the Rio Sarapiqui. Going down the Rio San Juan, you’ll admire the caimans and sloths on the banks and also the ruins of the Sarapiquis Neotropic Centre.
The Caribbean coast is humid all year round, so the dry season is preferable to visit it. Know that temperatures here are always very hot. You will walk through the jungle of the coast and discover the culture of this region with its wild nature. The sea of the Costa Rican Caribbean coast is rough and is one of the most popular places for surfers. It is less suitable for swimming: it is more exciting to go and watch the turtles and birds of a thousand colours when you leave for the Caribbean coast of the country.
The south is undoubtedly the best preserved part of Costa Rica. Here you can explore the beautiful Corcovado National Park, a recognized rainforest reserve. You’ll come across monkeys and even tapirs in this absolutely beautiful tropical region. The south of Costa Rica and the Osa Peninsula will make lovers of tranquility who want to get away from the most touristy places happy.
Costa Rica all year round, which regions to visit?
In addition to the regions mentioned above, other areas of Costa Rica can be visited throughout the year.
The Nicoya Peninsula is neither more nor less than a copy of paradise: beautiful jungle, tropical beaches, wild nature… You’ll love the beaches of Nicoya and you won’t be able to miss the spectacle of sea turtles laying their eggs on the beach. You can leave throughout the year for this part of Costa Rica. If you discover the region during the dry season, avoid the rain but know that it is the hottest region. It’s also the driest region, so you can leave during the rainy season, as there won’t be too much rain if you’re lucky. As for surfers, they’ll choose the rainy season: the freak wave makes for optimal surfing conditions.
The island of Coco is located in the middle of the Pacific and is protected by UNESCO as a sanctuary for land and submarine animals. The island is a real paradise for divers: here you will encounter different types of sharks, tuna, sea turtles, giant manta rays… You come here to dive for animals and not for corals, and only if you have a certain level of experience.
The best time to enjoy the beaches of Costa Rica
December to April
Costa Rica is one of the most famous destinations in terms of beaches. It is preferable to travel in summer (December-April) to enjoy the heat and avoid the rain. In Nicoya you’ll relax on a white sandy beach, while the famous Playa Manuel Antonio overlooks a magnificent stretch of blue water. Playa Grande and Playa Guiones will be perfect for surfers, while Playa Negra is one of the best beaches for swimming. If you want to get away from civilization, leave for the Ballena Marine National Park.
The best time in Costa Rica for surfers
May to November
If there is a trip for which you have to prioritize the rainy season, it is to go surfing in Costa Rica. Here the waves are simply perfect for surfing, especially during the rainy season. You will especially appreciate Dominical and Pavones. Playa Samara is ideal for those who want to discover the practice of surfing, while the regulars will measure themselves against the Salsa Brava.