Adventure is one of the main reasons why people visit Costa Rica. With over 20 different micro climates and an abundance of natural attractions, it’s easy to prepare an action packed itinerary. Not to mention that Costa Rica is a fairly small country so you can be soaring over the cloud forest one day and scuba diving with sharks the next.
It’s hard to narrow down the activities but there are some that every visitor must try. Break out of your shell, conquer your fear of heights and let Costa Rica bring out the adventure junkie in you!
So here are the top ten best adventure activities in Costa Rica. They all offer an unforgettable experience and leaves you wanting more and more!
Ten Awesome Adventure Activities in Costa Rica
Ziplining is the top must-do activity in Costa Rica because it’s known as the birthplace of the first zipline. You can find canopy tours all throughout the country but the best one is in Monteverde and Arenal because of the cloud/rain forest views. There is no feeling quite like gliding over the jungle for one whole kilometer!
On some ziplines you can go in pairs, superman, upside down and other fun tricks. We’ve even ziplined in the dark! Every canopy tour is different and it’s always a day to remember. If you’re not quite sure about strapping yourself to a cable and zipping through the trees, read why every visitor has to go ziplining in Costa Rica first.
Canyoning (Rappel down waterfalls)
This is an activity that requires a bit of courage. The most popular place to do it is La Fortuna/Arenal where you jump down waterfalls up to 200 feet tall in the middle of the unspoiled Costa Rican forest.
It’s more exciting than ziplining in the sense that it requires a bit of strength and the guides like to enthusiastically swing you under the waterfalls.
One of my friends said that canyoning “changed her life” and after doing it, I understand what she meant. The best thing about the adventure activities in Costa Rica is that they break down barriers and make you feel free, almost invincible!
Some other places that offer canyoning tours are Monteverde, Jaco and Turrialba but the one in Arenal is the most popular for good reason as it has the tallest waterfalls!
White Water Rafting
White water rafting is an excellent way to experience the beauty of Costa Rica as you paddle down roaring rivers surrounded by luscious flora and fauna.
There are many rivers for rafting Class I to Class V rapids so depending on how much you want to paddle that day, you can opt for a leisurely or action packed rafting day. Prepare to twist, turn and get wet but most of all, have one of the most exciting days of your trip!
Some popular rivers are Rio Pacuare, considered one of the best for white water rafting in the world, Rio Balsa and Rio Savegre.
We’ve gone on several white water rafting trips in Costa Rica but our favorite will always be Rio Pacuare. The landscape is absolutely incredible and you raft up to Class IV!
We have a partnership with Rios Tropicales so you can save money on your white water rafting.
For those visiting the coast, boating is a must do. There are many fabulous spots on the Pacific and Caribbean side to beach hop, snorkel or just sit back for the ride. You can also see marine wildlife such as humpback whales, dolphins and fish.
It’s one of the things we always do with friends and family and we always have a fun day boating and visiting the many hidden beaches in Guanacaste. You can see in this video a short clip of what boating in the Gulf of Papagayo is like!
There’s no better way to experience the ocean by going on a boat tour! If you are visiting the Gulf of Papagayo, we highly recommend a private boat tour for the best experience. Our friend in Playas del Coco operates Mystic Rides for private snorkeling, beach hopping, fishing and surfing tours. Read more about Mystic Rides in this post.
There are hundreds of waterfalls in Costa Rica and visiting one is always a highlight of any trip. There are waterfalls of all kinds, from ones you can swim in, jump off of or simply look at.
One of the best waterfalls to do so is the Nauyaca waterfalls in the South Pacific but you can find beautiful waterfalls in every corner of the country. Catarata Llanos de Cortes is another one of our favorites in Guanacaste.
Most of the waterfalls you can visit on your own if you rented a car but there are some specific waterfall tours like the one in Jaco. These tours are awesome since they take you to waterfalls you normally can’t visit on your own since they’re either on private property or require a 4×4.
World class surfing can be found all over in Costa Rica. Warm waters, friendly locals and empty beaches make it a more enjoyable environment for beginners. People from all over the world come to Costa Rica with one goal in mind: to catch as many waves as possible.
The best beaches are Playa Jaco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Tamarindo and Playa Grande but there are tons of under the radar beaches if you don’t want to be fighting the crowds to catch a wave. Playa Avellana is known as “little Hawaii” to the locals, Playa Esterillos Oeste is another great beach as well as Playa Espadilla Norte in Manuel Antonio for the pros.
In general, hiking in Costa Rica is fairly laid back and is mostly done at the national parks since they have trails. It’s also common to run into wildlife along the way. But there are a few hikes that are quite an adventure due to the scenery and conditions, like the Rio Celeste hike.
One of our favorite hikes is Cerro Chato which goes to a dormant volcano crater next to Arenal volcano. We weren’t able to see anything but on a sunny day, hikers are rewarded with a gorgeous view and a swim in the lake. We also loved hiking the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserves, Manuel Antonio National Park and Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
For the ambitious hiker, check out Mount Chirripo, the tallest peak in Costa Rica. That one is on our bucket list!
This may not appeal to everybody but fishing in Costa Rica is world class. Costa Rica’s oceans are very healthy and it is common to see locals fishing from shore with a line and a reel.
You can also go sportfishing. This is quite an adventure since you can catch huge fish like dorado, sailfish, marlin, snapper, tuna, roosterfish and wahoo.
When we had a kayak, Yeison used to go kayak fishing pretty frequently. He’d get up at the crack of dawn, paddle to the islands and be out there all day. Fishing lovers have to put this on their to do list!
No visit to the beaches of Costa Rica is complete without snorkeling, especially up in North Guanacaste.
You’ll see lots of colorful tropical fish but if you go out further, you can see some pretty big ones. I’ve seen trumpet fish up to 2 feet long and you may even run into a whale shark like I did!
You can also go scuba diving if you have your certification. Costa Rica has excellent diving and you can swim with hammerhead sharks, turtles and the many other animals that live deep down in the ocean. The best spots for snorkeling are Cano Island, Gulf of Papagayo and Cahuita National Park. Great spots for scuba diving are Cocos Island, Cano Island, Bat Islands and Catalinas.
The wildlife in Costa Rica is incredibly abundant as the country carries 5% of the biodiversity in the world. Many people want to see some animals and they never leave disappointed. It’s common to hear monkeys howling, see macaws fly by and spot an iguana crossing the road.
In Corcovado National Park, you can see tapirs, pumas, toucans, monkeys and much more. It’s one of the most biologically diverse places on earth! If you’ve ever wanted to see a sloth, you’ve come to the right country. We highly recommend taking a tour and hiring a guide to see wildlife as they have trained eyes and know how to spot them.
The feeling of spotting a rare bird, tapir or sloth in the wild is like no other!
Tips for Going on Adventures in Costa Rica
- Bring the appropriate clothing, especially in rainy season. Check out our rainy season packing list for more tips.
- You can wear hiking sandals (open or closed toe) for activities like ziplining, certain hikes like Monteverde and white water rafting. Closed toed shoes are highly recommended for hikes such as Cerro Chato, Chirripo and Corcovado National Park.
- If you’re visiting in rainy season, you can still do all these adventures but if it is raining very hard or lightning/thundering, tour companies may not operate the tours. Make sure to check with the company.
- Some activities have an age or height limit such as the Rio Pacuare white water rafting where you need to be at least 12 in dry season and 14 in rainy season.
- Most of the adventure activities in Costa Rica require a guide or booking with a tour company. Some you can do on your own like hiking the national parks (except Corcovado where it is required to have a guide). But if you rented a car, you don’t need to book with a tour company.
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If you’re looking for more ideas of what to do, here is our list of 50 things to do in Costa Rica!