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The eco-tourism hub of Central America, Costa Rica’s sunny climate creates the perfect atmosphere for some of the planet's best gifts – forest fringed beaches, whimsical volcano springs, and conservation areas that preserve a nice percentage of the earth's biodiversity. The green-covered geography offers opportunities for a wild adventure, whether it is trekking high-altitude routes or experiencing the white-water rapids. And for those who want a more laidback getaway, the stunning landscape and the colorful Costa Rican culture is exciting enough just to experience.
Here’s our curated list of things to do in Costa Rica; pick a few or do them all — it’s your chance to revel in the country’s offerings in different degrees of pleasure.
Looking for adrenaline pumping activites in Costa Rica? Check out our list of "must do" adventure activities in Costa Rica.
At over 1,670 metres high, the Arenal Volcano is one of the more fantastic places to visit on a Costa Rica tour. While climbing the volcano is not allowed, travelers can access viewing areas within Arenal Volcano National Park by hiking the numerous trails. Outdoor adventurists are enthralled with the surrounding area of Arenal Volcano that is loaded with activities from ziplining, walking on hanging bridges and horseback riding to swimming in natural pools at the bottom of tumbling waterfalls. The numerous geothermal hot springs nearby are perfect to relax in after an energetic day.
- Location: 90 km northwest of San Jose near the town of La Fortuna
- Best time to visit: February to April during this area’s dry season in Costa Rica
- Top tips: The cone-shaped summit of Arenal Volcano is infamous for being covered with clouds in the afternoon, head out early for the best views.
Rio Celeste is one of the only places on the planet you can relish magical, turquoise waters. It is created by a natural chemical reaction when waters from two rivers, Rio Buena Vista and Rio Quebrada Agria, filled with sulphur and carbonate collide together at Tenidores. The short 6 km hike starting from the entrance to the national park, all the way to Tenidores is ideal for viewing these pristine blue hued waters as you hike through the lush tropical scenery and native wildlife. Hike a little further and you reach the Blue Lagoon where you can really admire the water’s blue hues.
- Location: Tenorio Volcano National Park in Northwest Costa Rica
- Best time to visit: December to April during the Costa Rican dry season
- Top tips: Be prepared to show up early, as access to the park is limited to 1000 visitors per day with only 500 people allowed on the trail at one time. You will have to wait until the first people leave to get into the park.
Thanks to the miles of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, travelers do not need to wonder what to do in Costa Rica. Beach lovers will be enthralled with the beautiful white and black sand beaches. Beaches in the Guanacaste region in the Pacific Coast such as Tamarindo are idyllic spots of white sands, palm trees and plenty of surf. Other fabulous spots include the Nicoya Peninsula where you will find Santa Teresa and Tortuga Island.
The Caribbean Coast boasts beautiful golden sand, wildlife and plenty of reefs to explore. Favourite beaches here include Manzanillo with a two mile stretch of soft sand. While Playa Blanca and Playa Vargas within Cahuita National Park are enchanting places to soak in the sun.
- Location: Guanacaste, Nicoya Peninsula, southeast Limon
- Best time to visit: December to April during dry season
- Top tips: To get the best of both worlds, opt for a Costa Rica tour with a coast to coast itinerary.
Eating Costa Rican food is a great way to learn more about the culture and history of the country. Staples at meal time include black beans and rice known as gallo pinto, a favourite for breakfast. Dinner brings delectables like sopa negra (black bean soup) and casado which highlights rice with an array of side dish like fried plantains, vegetables, fish, beef or chicken. For dessert, try the Costa Rican rice pudding known as arroz con leche and quench your thirst with a traditional shot of guaro which is a liquor made of sugar cane.
- Location: Barrio Escalante in San Jose is the street to go to discover the hippest restaurants, bars and cafes in town.
- Best time to visit: Enjoy a hearty Costa Rican meal any day!
- Top tips: Off-the-beaten-path sodas that are small, family run restaurants often serve the most authentic meals and can be found in any region of Costa Rica.
Trek into this lush, 25,000 acres of misty oasis hidden by tall trees. Thriving inside this cloud forest are 100 species of mammals, 400 types of birds and thousands of flora families that create the bright green landscape. Zipline or walk through the hanging bridges to see the reserve from above.
- Location: Santa Elena, located within Puntarenas and Alajuela Province
- Best time to visit: December to August
- Top tips: Supermarkets and banking facilities are available in Santa Elena, just in case you want to replenish your essentials in the mountains
Seemingly a world apart from the mountainous topography of Costa Rica, this wildlife conserve is nestled away from the public, sandwiched in between volcanic beaches and a tepid lagoon. One of the best places to visit in Costa Rica for its remote wildlife and vegetation, this remote location can only be reached by boat or a domestic flight. Reach this wonderland through Río la Suerte and watch endangered turtles lay their eggs. This national park is home to four endangered sea turtles, the Green sea turtle, Hawksbill turtle, Giant Leatherback and Loggerhead.
- Location: Tortuguero National Park, Limón Province
- Best time to visit: July to October to witness Green Sea Turtle nesting season, December to February for Leatherback nesting season, April and November for Hawksbill nesting season and May to mid-August for Loggerhead nesting season
- Top tips:
- Put on your bug spray and make sure to wear dark, non-reflective clothing. Unfortunately, photography in this area is restricted.
- Banks and ATMs are limited in Tortuguero so make sure to carry cash.
Chepe, as San José is fondly known, is the cradle of art in Costa Rica. The largest city in the country offers a neoclassical appeal in form of historic architectures aficionados will revel in. San Jose is also home to Costa Rica's best craft beer, cafes and restaurants available at, Barrio Escalante. Visiting one of its many museums is a must when considering what to do in San Jose? Alternately, take a jaunt into colonial mansions, now converted into fine art galleries and boutique hotels.
Among your best stops: the pre-Colombian Gold Museum, Teatro Nacional and Barrio Amón.
- Location: San José
- Best time to visit: December to April
- Top tips: Be prepared to walk; it's quicker to get through the area's narrow streets this way over taking a bus. Wet season is from April to December, so make sure to pack an umbrella.
Costa Rica has a long-existing love affair with chocolate; it has been used as drinks, dessert and even currency! There's no surprise that chocolate farm tours are among the best Costa Rican activities to experience. Have yourself a piece — or more, if you wish — as you go wander into a garden of Cacao Trees. You may even get a chance to make chocolate with your own hands.
- Location: San Isidro in San José Province, Sarapiqui in Heredia Province
- Best time to visit: All year round
- Top tips: Carry a light rain jacket as you are most likely to walk through forested areas with occasional precipitation. Most tours last within 2-3 hours, with a quick trip into the farms. Wear mosquito repellent before going.
Rising to an elevation of 2,194 meters, one of the top things to do in Costa Rica is to take a trip to the Talamanca Mountains. The journey is worth it, especially as you step into a paradise filled with the lyrical humming of more than 170 bird species. Spot a quetzal, or take snapshots of other remarkable birds as you wander into a cloud forest blessed with the crisp mountain air.
- Location: Savegre River, Talamanca Mountains in South West Costa Rica
- Best time to visit: January to March
- Top tips: With steep roads ahead of your journey, the best way to get here is via a 4WD.
See smoke rising around Miravalles Volcano, a rainforest-covered landscape that lets you to safely walk around its craters. Warm up to the sensation of the mud pots, whose temperatures range from 40° to 100° C.
- Location: Miravalles Volcano National Park and Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Guanacaste province
- Best time to visit: November to August
- Top tips: Wait for 15–20 minutes for the clay to cool you down and enjoy its natural benefits to your skin. Bring swimming suits, hiking shoes, sun block and a good pair of binoculars.
Grottoes, chambers and amazing rock formations welcome you in this dark tour, where bat colonies thrive from the hanging rocks. Feel like a true archaeologist as you discover prehistoric marine fossils and ancient sea beds with your exploration equipment.
- Location: Arenal Volcano National Park, La Fortuna, Alajuela Province
- Best time to visit: February to April
- Top tips: Make sure to carry a towel and a new change of clothes. Do not wear flip-flops.
Suggested tour: Venado Caves: Underground Experience
Take a stop inbetween Monteverde and Arenal and see the spectacular water arcs dropping from tens of meters above. Viento Fresco covers 1.3 kilometers of well-maintained area where you bask in the untouched beauty of nature – which is truly among the best things to do in Costa Rica.
- Location: Tilarán, Guanacaste Province
- Best time to visit: May to mid-November during the dry season
- Top tips: Add a horseback riding tour to fully enjoy the scenery.
Boating is an activity that will provide relaxation or thrills depending on your preference, introduce you to the aquatic ecosystems, land you in hidden coves perfect for off-beat exploration, or get you to some of Costa Rica’s most wonderful, yet remote ecotourism destinations.
- Location: Playas del Coco in Guanacaste, Lake Arenal in La Fortuna
- Best time to visit: December through April
- Top tips: Boating can be accompanied by other fun activities such as snorkeling, diving in Playa del Coco and water sports at Lake Arenal.
Commonly referred to as the most biologically diverse place on Earth, Corcovado National Park is the largest stretch of virgin Pacific Coast forest in the world. With species such as the Northern Tamandua, Baird’s Tapir and the countries smallest cat species called Margay, it is home to more than 370 species of birds, 10,000 insects and 140 different mammals. Other famous residents include Spider Monkeys, Howler Monkeys, White-Faced Capuchin Monkeys and the endangered Squirrel Monkey. Reptiles to be wary of include American Crocodile and Boa Constrictors while Bull Sharks as well as several species of sea turtles roam the waters off-shore. Corcovado National Park is a wonder land of wildlife watching.
- Location: Osa Peninsula in Southwest coast of Costa Rica
- Best time to visit: December to April during dry season
- Top tips: There are no roads within the park so make sure to get good hiking shoes to go explore the region.
Created between 300 BC and 1500 AD, these historical mounds from the Diquís civilization offers significant artifacts in the Costa Rican history. The spheres ranges 20–30 meters in diameter and the site also contains other pre-colombian artifacts such as artificial mounds, paved areas and burial sites.
- Location: Palmar Norte, Sierpe, Puntarenas Province
- Best time to visit: February to April
- Top tips: Make sure to see the banana pulley system that takes you back to the olden days of Costa Rica at the on-site museum. The museum is closed on Mondays. Entrance is free for senior citizens.
There are plenty of things to do in Costa Rica, and it is not just limited to taking scenic strolls or relaxing at beaches. Any activity in Costa Rica will fill your senses and offer an exciting adventure. Revel in the country’s splendid landscape and culture, and take home a pleasant memory of newfound friends and experiences.
Editor’s note: This travel article was originally published on 30 August, 2018, but has since been updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.