Costa Rica is the safest and arguably the most exciting country to visit in Central America. This is a nation with no standing army, a country that’s been at peace for decades, and a destination that’s focusing on sustainable tourism to preserve its beautiful nature and wildlife for future generations.
In fact, there are very few reasons not to visit Costa Rica. This is a land of adventure, with white sand beaches, towering volcanoes and a laid-back culture that can be difficult to leave. From family-friendly outings to food and fiestas, here are 29 of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is a land of adventure, and its unique location in Central America ensures that this is also a land of seismic activity.
The country is known for its large number of volcanoes, and one of the most iconic is the Arenal Volcano. Located northwest of San Jose, this is a stratovolcano that reaches over 1,600 metres high and is considered the most active volcano in Costa Rica.
Set within a beautiful national park, there are endless hikes and spectacular views of the volcanic peak from the surrounding region.
The hiking doesn’t end at the Arenal Volcano though, because Costa Rica is renowned for its national parks and rainforest scenery.
This is the perfect place for a spot of hiking and you can tackle trails that lead to volcanoes or into the highlands, and walks that take you through dense jungle or along pristine beaches.
Don’t forget your boots, because hiking is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
But while hiking has long been a popular pursuit in Costa Rica, in more recent years the country has become a burgeoning surfing destination.
With a long coastline that stretches along both the Pacific and Caribbean, that should be no surprise really. There are plenty of superb surfing spots in Costa Rica.
The best time for surfing is usually considered to be the dry season, and the best surf spots are nearly always found along the Pacific coast.
4. Zip Lining
One of the most adventurous things to do in Costa Rica is zip lining.
At first glance, Costa Rica seems to have an almost absurd number of zip lines in the country, but when you see the scenery you’ll soon see why.
Zip lines are the best way to see the rainforest from above, as you glide over the canopies. There are zip lines in most major national parks, including Arenal and Manuel Antonio National Parks.
5. Corcovado National Park
For Costa Rican style outdoor adventures, take a trip to Corcovado National Park.
Located in the southwest, this is one of the most biodiverse national parks in the country, where the rainforest meets the Pacific Ocean.
Intrepid travellers will find a huge range of adrenaline-inducing pursuits to try in Costa Rica. One of the most exciting is canyoneering.
The ominously named Lost Canyon in Arenal National Park is considered to be the pioneering canyoneering destination to visit.
7. White Water Rafting
Adrenaline junkies won’t want to ignore the chance to white water raft while in Costa Rica, because the raging rivers offer the perfect rafting grounds.
Visit right after the rainy season ends for the most tumultuous white water, or opt for the dry season for a more relaxed version of rafting.
8. Scuba Diving
It’s not just the rainforests of Costa Rica that are brimming with biodiversity and wildlife, but the oceans too.
Costa Rica has some pristine scuba diving sites, and the Caribbean coast has the most diversity. The holy grail of dive sites is Cocos Island, which is often considered to be one of the best diving sites in the world.
If you’re not a qualified diver, don’t fear because the snorkelling in Costa Rica can be just as thrilling.
On the Caribbean side, head to Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge for some pristine snorkelling opportunities.
There are few better ways to experience the lengthy Costa Rican coastline than by sailing.
Join a sailing trip as you cruise along the coast and watch the sunset from the water, as you enjoy the serenity of Costa Rica.
Best Family things to do in Costa Rica
11. Aerial Tramways
Costa Rica isn’t just a travel destination for backpackers or adventure travellers; there are many activities that are great for a family outing, too.
One of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica for families is to take to the skies on an aerial tramway.
Found in the same national parks as the zip lines, such as Arenal, these aerial tramways take you high above the forest canopy, but at a gentler pace.
12. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
One of the best national parks for families to explore in Costa Rica is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve making it a hugely popular Costa Rica wildlife vacations destination.
This huge area of wildlife and rainforest is cross crossed by a network of hanging bridges that allow the whole family to gently stroll through the canopy and get closer to the flora and fauna of Costa Rica.
13. Jaco Ropes Adventure Park
For a more adventurous family outing when the kids are a little older, head to Jaco on the Pacific Coast.
Here you can find an exciting high ropes course at the Jaco Ropes Adventure Park, which takes you through wonderful jungle scenery.
14. Manuel Antonio National Park
Another family-friendly national park to visit in Costa Rica is the stunning Manuel Antonio National Park.
Found along the central Pacific coastline, this is actually the smallest national park in the country. Size doesn’t matter though, because this is one of the most accessible and beautiful places in Costa Rica, with beaches and forest to explore.
15. Whale and Dolphin Watching
The oceans that surround Costa Rica are home to a glorious array of marine life. One of the best activities for families is whale and dolphin watching.
Dolphins are found all through the year, and usually can be spotted sheltering in bays along the coast. An early morning boat ride will usually result in multiple sightings of these playful animals.
Whales can also be seen for much of the year, with humpbacks arriving along the Pacific Coast from January and staying for up to nine months in the region, as they search for warm waters.
16. Sea Turtles
As well as whales and dolphins, you can often spot sea turtles along the coast, especially in areas with rich coral for them to feed off.
At certain times of the year, you can even see the sea turtles laying eggs on the beaches, or you can watch the eggs hatching and the turtles making a mad dash for the ocean.
At Tortuguero, four different species of sea turtle nest and hatch at various points throughout the year.
17. Irazu Volcano
While many of Costa Rica’s volcanoes are remote and perilous places, there’s one that’s decidedly more family friendly.
The Irazu Volcano is the tallest peak in Costa Rica, rising to well over 3,000 metres high, but there’s a good road leading to the summit, making this the most accessible volcano in the country.
Best Relaxing things to do in Costa Rica
18. Costa Rican Sunsets
One of the most relaxing and enjoyable things to do in Costa Rica is to simply enjoy the glorious sunsets.
The perfect place for sunset is the Pacific Coast, because of course the sun sets in the west. Find a beach or book a sea-facing room with a balcony, and just sit back and enjoy the fiery colours in the sky as the sun slowly drops over the horizon.
With both Pacific and Caribbean coastlines, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches in Costa Rica. You’re never too far from a stretch of white sand, and there are plenty of gorgeous spots to explore.
The most relaxing are found on the Caribbean side, at destinations such as Puerto Viejo and the nearby Gandoca Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge.
20. Natural Hot Springs
With a large number of volcanoes, there’s a lot of seismic activity going on below the surface of Costa Rica.
One of the benefits of all that volcanism is the abundance of natural hot springs across the country, which are heated by geothermal forces or fed by sulphuric springs.
Head to Arenal National Park for one of the most accessible and iconic hot spring experiences in Costa Rica.
21. Massages and Spas
For the ultimate relaxation experience while visiting Costa Rica, why not book a massage session or call into the spa?
With a rising focus on luxury travel, there are more and more spas opportunities to be found across the country, and most hotels in tourist areas will be able to provide a soothing massage service after a hard day’s exploring.
Best Cuisine and Culture experiences in Costa Rica
22. Eat Gallo Pinto
Visiting Costa Rica isn’t just about the nature or the outdoor activities though. You’ll want to delve into the local culture and cuisine too, while you’re travelling through the country.
The national dish of Costa Rica is considered to be Gallo Pinto, and you’ll be eating a lot of this during your stay!
Gallo Pinto is a simple dish, consisting of rice and beans, but deliciously flavoured with local spices, vegetables, fruits or eggs and meat. It can be eaten for breakfast or dinner, or for both meals.
23. Sample Some Ceviche
If you’re looking for a healthy dish while you’re in Costa Rica, then a local favourite is always ceviche.
This Latin American speciality consists of raw seafood dressed with lime and salad.
24. Drink a Guaro Sour
The local spirit of choice when it comes to drinking is guaro, and it’s often consumed as a guaro sour cocktail.
Very similar to the more famous pisco sours of Peru, you take a hefty serving of guaro and mix it with lime, sugar syrup and a dash of soda water.
When it’s hot, there’s nothing that could be more refreshing, and because it’s permanently hot in Costa Rica, you’ll find guaro sours for sale almost anywhere.
25. Try an Imperial Beer
If cocktails aren’t your drink of choice, then don’t worry, because there are plenty more beverages to try in Costa Rica.
While you can find all manner of regional and international brands in Costa Rica, the beer of choice remains Imperial Beer, a local brew that’s considered the nation’s favourite.
You’ll find Imperial Beer for sale across the country, but just make sure you drink the cold ones!
26. Enjoy the Coffee Culture
Costa Rica has more than just beer and guaro. The climate provides excellent conditions for growing coffee.
Head to the highlands where you’ll find the fertile volcanic soil and cooler temperatures lead to the production of delicious local beans through sustainable farming practices.
27. Party at a Fiesta
Like all of Latin America, Costa Rica is no stranger to parties, and all through the year there are fiestas across the country.
The biggest events are carnivals, which are often held before or after the Holy Week celebrating Easter. Expect lots of food, drink, and music.
28. Guanacaste Culture
Before the Spanish arrived, the predominant people of Costa Rica were known as the Guanacaste.
Today, their unique culture is still strong, and in some areas, such as the northwest, you can learn more about their history and traditions by visiting Guanacaste communities.
29. Learn the Language
The main language of Costa Rica is Spanish, but you might find that the slang, dialects, and accents make the local variant difficult to understand in comparison to the Spanish of neighbouring countries.
But take the time to learn the language or, better yet, go to Spanish school or stay with local families. The most important phrase to learn is pura vida, which literally translates as ‘pure life’, but which is used in almost any circumstances as a greeting!
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