Costa Rica is a simply amazing country that leaves an everlasting impact on people. There’s something magical about this place that makes people fall in love with it at first instance.
Whether you’re coming to Costa Rica to vacation or live, there’s no doubt that everyday will be a new adventure with so much to explore. In a one week vacation you can soar over the cloud forest, hold a boa constrictor and swim with turtles.
The allure of Costa Rica is that there is something incredible for everyone to experience.
With jungles and forests as lush and thick as Costa Rica’s and hidden beaches up and down the coast, travelers can an unforgettable vacation discovering and experiencing nature like they never have before. They can immerse themselves in pura vida and learn exactly why so many people love visiting this beautiful little country.
For the first time vacationer, here are our top fifty things to do in Costa Rica. You can find a good mix of adventure, cultural, touristic and local activities on this list.
Still not convinced Costa Rica lives up to the hype?
Watch this video of our favorite activities we’ve done so far!
1. Go horseback riding
Horseback riding is a common activity in Costa Rica which you can do at the beach or the mountains. It’s a fun way to see the Costa Rican landscapes and scenery and is a great group activity.
2. Zipline (canopy) over the cloud forest
Ziplining is another popular activity you can do throughout the country. If you’re scared of heights, don’t worry. Not all ziplines are incredibly high and long. There are small and short canopy tours and for the thrill seeker, they can try their hand at the kilometer long cables in Selvatura Park, Monteverde.
3. Go on a Sunset Cruise in Guanacaste
There’s no better way to relax under a beautiful sunset sky than going on a sunset cruise. Nearly every beach town on the Pacific Coast like Playas del Coco and Playa Tamarindo offers sunset cruises that normally includes snorkeling, drinks and snacks.
4. Snorkel or Scuba Dive
There are some fabulous snorkeling and scuba diving spots in Costa Rica such as Catalina Islands, Cano Island and the Gulf of Papagayo. You can see tropical fish, big game fish like snapper and jack, manta rays, turtles and sharks. If you’re lucky you might even jump in the same time as some dolphins are passing by or run into a whale shark like I did!
5. Go boating
The coasts of Costa Rica have many opportunities for going boating and enjoying the Costa Rican waters. You can see marine life, go fishing, beach hop or snorkel. Boating is the best way to see some islands and hidden beaches and it’s our favorite thing to do when we have friends or family in town.
Costa Rica has certainly stepped up in its golfing game and you can find internationally recognized courses across the country. Some golf courses are located on some pretty awesome places so you can be hitting birdies on a cliff, overlooking the Pacific ocean.
7. Surf at Playa Jaco or Hermosa
Surfing is a must do activity for anyone and there are waves for first time beginners to pros. Some of the best beaches are Playa Jaco, Playa Hermosa, Santa Teresa and Playa Tamarindo but this is just a small sampling of the huge number of great surfing beaches here.
There are plenty of surf camps and surf vacations if you want to dedicate more than one day to learn or you can sign up for lessons. After I stood up twice at Playa Hermosa where they hold national competitions, I was pretty proud of myself and would love to go again!
8. Rappel down a waterfall (canyoning)
This is an activity perfect for the thrill seeker – rappelling down waterfalls up to 200 feet! It might be a bit too much for the ones with acrophobia but the surge of adrenaline flowing through your body takes over and all sense of fear is lost.
Not only is it an adventure of a lifetime but you get to jump down right into the heart of a beautiful Costa Rican forest. It’s more exciting than ziplining in my opinion!
Whether you’re a hard core biker or not, going for a bike ride around town is another way to connect with locals and enjoy the Costa Rican lifestyle. If you enjoy the more intense rides, there are some fabulous spots around the country for mountain biking or road cycling.
10. Beach Hop in Guanacaste
The coasts of Costa Rica are just full of gorgeous beaches and the reason why Guanacaste is nicknamed the “golden coast.” You can find beaches of all characteristics: white sand, dark sand, turquoise waters, clear waters, etc.
The best part is that no beach is ever so full that you can’t find a spot to lay down and if you explore a bit, you may even have a beach all to yourself! It’s easy to beach hop as many are all right next to each other.
Find out what the best beaches in Guanacaste are!
11. Eat a Copo (or a churchill in Puntarenas)
A copo is a Costa Rican shaved ice treat that you can get on nearly every beach. It’s shaved ice with kola syrup, powdered milk and condensed milk. Some versions called the churchill are more intense with ice cream and fruit added on top. Puntarenas is famous for churchills so the best place to get one is there. Yummy!
12. Enjoy a Costa Rican holiday and watch the bull riding
There are 9 national holidays in Costa Rica with several more observances, anniversaries and celebrations. Costa Ricans do love a good party and they know how to party hard! They make their holiday weekend well worth it.
The most popular festivities are the Palmares Fiestas, Zapote Fiestas and Puntarenas Carnaval. Millions of people come to these celebrations from all over Central America every year. Some are religious holidays, some are just a reason to have a good time. Bull riding is incredibly famous in Costa Rica and they do it all year long with special events during Christmas.
13. Go for a drive through the Central Valley
The landscapes in Costa Rica are simply breathtaking and you can see views just like this driving through the Central Valley. Go off the map and explore the outskirts of big cities and beach towns to experience something authentic and natural.
14. Do a combination tour at Rincon de la Vieja National Park
If you’re short on time or want the best bang for your buck, there are several mega combo tours you can do in Costa Rica. We love the Guachipelin one at Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Guanacaste which consists of ziplining, horseback riding, lunch, river tubing, hot springs and mud baths. There are different variations but for an action packed day, a combo tour will fill your need for adventure!
15. Tarzan Swing
Tarzan swings are usually at the end of a canopy tour (not all) and they’re incredibly fun. Most are optional but I highly recommend finishing off your ziplining adventure with one. Wheeee!
16. Kayak Fish
If you love fishing and being in the ocean, then kayak fishing is for you. You can catch ones like the one Yeison is holding and bigger! With so many big fish out there in the ocean, you can have the time of your life reeling in big jacks, snappers and wahoo.
17. SUP (Stand up paddle boarding)
Stand up paddle boarding is becoming more popular in Costa Rica and if you’re not much of a surfer but still want to get out in the water, SUP is one way to go. It’s a good workout for your whole body and a fun way to enjoy the Costa Rican waters.
18. Visit Catarata Llanos de Cortes
This is one of the best waterfalls in Guanacaste, the Catarata Llanos de Cortes. It’s only an hour or so drive from Playas del Coco and 30 minutes from Liberia. This small but powerful waterfall has lots to enjoy besides the water. You can climb up the rocks and sit under the water when it’s dry season or you can hike to the very top.
19. Go to a concert
Costa Ricans love more than just salsa music. There are several popular Costa Rican bands and being such a small country, you’ll have a good chance to enjoy one if you happen to be near a city. Enjoy a concert with locals and even if you don’t know Spanish, it’s a fun way to make new friends and listen to some great music!
20. See the Olive Ridley sea turtles at Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Costa Rica is famous for their huge masses of sea turtles coming to lay their eggs (arribadas) and for their conservation work with turtles. On both coasts you can see mother turtles and baby turtles hatch and make their way to the ocean.
Ostional Wildlife Refuge is famous for the mass arrival of Olive Ridley sea turtles with hundreds of thousands of them coming to shore every year. There are many volunteer programs available if you want to do some charity work and help Costa Rica protect their beloved turtles. It’s an experience that will make you appreciate nature even more.
21. Explore the jungle
Much of Costa Rica’s jungles have yet to be explored and there’s no guessing what you may run into if you venture off the path. We’ve discovered stunning little waterfalls, beaches, rivers and seen amazing wildlife. Just be careful, don’t run into the jungle without being prepared!
22. Go Sport Fishing
Costa Rica is one of the best countries for sport fishing with healthy waters and knowledgeable locals. You can catch mahi mahi, roosterfish, sailfish or even the mysterious marlins.
23. Walk through San Jose
San Jose really isn’t as terrible as people make it out to be. As the capital city, there’s actually a good handful of historical landmarks to visit and it’s a good way to get a glimpse of the Costa Rican city life.
24. Play with puppies at the beach
There are a lot of stray dogs who live at the beach and love nothing more than a pat on the head and someone to play with. They’re adorable, friendly and just want to have a good time at the beach just like us humans!
25. Explore Arenal Volcano National Park
Arenal Volcano National Park is one of the top three most visited national parks in Costa Rica. Outdoor lovers will simply delight in everything Arenal has to offer: fresh weather, great hiking, hot springs, wildlife watching, ziplining, canyoning, boating, waterfalls and more.
26. Waterslide in the middle of the jungle
Ever wanted to experience the jungle a different way? Waterslide through it at Buena Vista Combo Tour in Rincon de la Vieja National Park in Guanacaste! This slide is fast as you zip 400 meters through the jungle. I only went twice instead of three times because it was too intense for me!
The waterslide is part of a combination tour which also includes horseback riding, ziplining, mud baths and hot springs.
27. White water raft at Rio Pacuare
For a whole day of pure fun and adventure, white water rafting at the Rio Pacuare packs all that and more. Raft through class 3 and 4 rapids in the canyons of Costa Rica, bathe in the cool fresh waters and experience a trip of a lifetime. This was my absolute favorite tour I’ve ever done in Costa Rica.
28. Jump off waterfalls in Jaco
Costa Rica has spectacular waterfalls and you can’t fully experience it without jumping off one. We did a waterfall tour in Jaco which was simply amazing. We climbed through the virgin Costa Rican forest up 7 waterfalls, jumping off a few and standing under more. It’s a powerful experience.
29. See monkeys and sloths at Manuel Antonio National Park
White face monkeys are always seen at Manuel Antonio National Park along with sloths, iguanas, other monkeys and toucans. Those little guys are fairly brave and are used to humans so keep an eye on your electronics and hide any food you may have.
Also keep your eye out for other wildlife like squirrel monkeys, lots of different birds such as macaws and parrots, butterflies and snakes.
30. Visit Poas Volcano on a clear day
Poas Volcano is a spectacular crater volcano but it is a bit tricky to see it in full form like the picture above. Most of the time it is covered in clouds or is very foggy. Although it’s impossible to predict the weather, try to go on a clear day so you can get a good view instead of seeing just clouds.
31. Explore Caves at Barra Honda National Park
Experience the limestone caves of Costa Rica at Barra Honda National Park, some up to 250 meters deep. Interesting rock formations and stalagmites can be found with columns that look like various shapes in everyday life. It’s not your typical ziplining or hiking adventure but it may give you a new perspective of our world.
32. Watch the boiling mud pots at Rincon de la Vieja National Park
It may not seem like the most exciting thing to do but it sure is interesting. There are several boiling mud pots in Rincon de la Vieja National Park where you can see the bubbling mud volcanoes, formed due to the lack of water in a high geothermic area. It’s an easy walk to the mud pots where you also might run into some wildlife.
33. Go on a wildlife watching boat cruise at Palo Verde National Park
Palo Verde National Park is one of the most important parks in Costa Rica as it contains tropical dry forest, an extremely endangered ecosystem. You can see herons, cranes, crocodiles, monkeys, basilisks, iguanas and more animals at Palo Verde. Thousands of migratory birds flock here every year making this area a sanctuary for many creatures.
34. Find out why Costa Rican coffee is so darn good
Costa Rica grows some of the best coffee in the world and if you’re a coffee lover, you’ll want to take a tour of a plantation. It’s an incredibly educational and enlightening experience as you learn how a cherry gets from the plant into your cup. Plus you get to sample delicious coffee at the end!
35. See the crocodiles at Rio Tarcoles
The Rio Tarcoles is famous for one main reason: their crocodiles. As you walk across the bridge and look down, you can see up to 10 or 15 giant crocodiles laying around just a few meters below you. They’ve become a famous tourist attractions and you can even take a boat tour to see these animals up close and personal.
Me? I’d rather stay on the bridge thanks! They’re amazing creatures but better to see from far away.
36. Watch a sunset on the beach
I don’t think I need to say too much as to why you should watch a sunset on the beach. I’ll let the picture explain for me.
37. Hike Cerro Chato
When we hiked Cerro Chato, we made it to the top where the volcano and lake are but being in the middle of a thunderstorm, we saw nothing. It’s a tough but rewarding hike with an ever increasing steep incline and no clear path.
You’ll be trekking through the jungles of Arenal and hopefully you’ll have better luck than us and actually see the volcano and swim in the lake!
38. Visit La Paz waterfall
La Paz waterfall (catarata de la Paz) is a beautiful waterfall in the middle of the rainforests of Alajuela. There are a couple paths where you can walk around and see some wildlife.
39. Eat rice and beans
If you go to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica like Limon, you’ll be surprised to see that the culture, food and people are completely different than the rest of the country.
Instead of gallo pinto, they eat rice and beans which has coconut milk in it. Their culture is highly influenced by the nearby Caribbean islands so you’ll find plenty of jerk chicken and other yummy dishes.
40. Enjoy the hot springs in Arenal
Arenal has some of the best hot springs in the country with the Tabacon river supplying natural hot water to the springs. Tabacon, Baldi and Titoku are just a few of the luxurious places you can bathe in and enjoy the thermal waters.
41. Go whale watching
Whale watching is a great activity in Costa Rica because you get to be on a boat, go out into the water and there is a high possibility to see whales and some other marine life. Costa Rica has the longest humpback whale watching season in the world so your chances are pretty good to see these magnificent creatures.
42. Get a pipa fria
You’ll see signs for pipa fria at every beach town and you definitely want to try one. It’s coconut water but the whole experience is much more than that.
I love watching the vendors hack off the top with a huge machete (they do it with such precision), hand you the pipa and keep hacking other coconuts. You can ask them to open it up when you’re done to eat the meat too.
43. Go bird watching
With over 800 species of birds living in Costa Rica, any bird lover will be in paradise. Snap photos of hummingbirds, toucans, macaws, parrots and other gorgeous tropical birds all throughout the country. I’ve had a blast photographing hummingbirds which are commonly seen here.
44. Eat a giant Costa Rican taco
Costa Rican tacos are nothing like Mexican tacos so don’t get those confused. The best taco place is in Heredia, called Taqueria Fatima where you can eat a taco just like the one Yeison is holding. It’s at a not so normal length of about a foot and a half stuffed full with meat and cheese and topped with cabbage.
45. Visit the National Theater and Gold Museum in San Jose
The national theater and the gold museum are two cultural and historical attractions not to be missed when visiting San Jose. Learn about how the currency of Costa Rica came to be, how gold influenced the country and tour the magnificent theater.
46. Watch a futbol game at the national stadium in La Sabana
Futbol is a huge passion of all Costa Ricans and there are games held in the stadium year round. Cheer for the local teams and experience one of the country’s favorite past times. Also the Costa Rican national team goalie Keylor Navas just got signed by the Real Madrid so if you think Costa Rica doesn’t have good players, you’re definitely wrong on that part!
47. Have a Costa Rican Beer
Beer snobs may turn up their nose to Costa Rica’s beer but it’s much better than they may think. Costa Rica has a few locals beers of which Pilsen and Imperial are the most popular. Plus this is one of the fun parts of traveling – trying each country’s own beer!
48. Do Yoga
Yoga is an activity meant for relaxation, tranquility and peace. What better place to do it than Costa Rica? There are several yoga camps in the country and almost every beach town offers yoga sessions at the beach. For the advanced level yoga lovers, you can also do paddle board yoga. Yep that is doing yoga while on a paddle board in the ocean.
49. Walk the hanging bridges in Monteverde
Walking the hanging bridges in Monteverde gives you a great view of the cloud forest as each one goes up higher and higher. You can see lush green forest all around you and even some wildlife if you have a good eye. Don’t worry, these bridges are all very stable and secure and is one of the best ways to take in the beauty of Costa Rica.
50. Enjoy the pura vida life!
The most important thing to do while you’re in Costa Rica is to enjoy the pura vida life. Costa Rica is a country full of love and peace and their people know how to live and enjoy. They’ll teach you how to be grateful for what you have and you’ll take all those things with you when you go back to your home country. Hopefully your trip here will give you a new perspective on life and to appreciate what is given to you.
These are the things that Costa Rica has given me the past two years and as you can see, I had a lot of fun doing it! If you’re looking for a must-do list of activities that capture the essence of Costa Rica, check out these essential experiences.
Everyday I keep adding things to do to my Costa Rica bucket list and hopefully I’ll get to cross more of those off in the coming months to share with you. Until then, pura vida mae! Tuanis!
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