With strikingly diverse landscapes, a handful of adrenaline pumping adventures and a laid back culture, Costa Rica is an excellent destination for a relaxing and exciting vacation. Though Costa Rica offers many unique activities, there are a few quintessential experiences that capture the true essence of the country.
So in addition to enjoying a margarita on the beach, make sure to add these activities to your list to have that classic Costa Rica trip. The ones that make everyone say, “I loved Costa Rica, it was amazing and I want to go back!”
Here are our top essential Costa Rica experiences.
See a sloth in the wild
Seeing these cute and fuzzy creatures in the wild is a special experience. People love sloths because of their funny face and slow lifestyle. And because they’re so darn adorable! With a silly grin plastered to their face, a miniature bear-like appearance and very sloooow movements, sloths are probably one of the animals people want to see in Costa Rica the most.
It’s best to do some research to find out the best places to see sloths. Most visitors assume they’re easy to spot and are everywhere, but that’s a huge misconception about Costa Rica and one of the things to know about Costa Rica. Sloths are good at blending in with the trees they call home and usually are on the tippy tops or deep into the jungle. You need a good eye to spot them on your own or hire a guide.
Read more information about sloths in Costa Rica and the best places to see them.
Watch the sunset on the beach
Sunsets in Costa Rica are spectacular. Though sunsets on the mountainside are equally as beautifully, I absolutely love sunsets on the beach. They’re always different and remarkably vibrant, not to mention the reflections of the color on the water and sand are incredible!
There’s nothing like ending the day watching nature say goodnight by painting the sky with brilliant golds, oranges, reds and pinks.
Fly over the forest on a canopy tour
If you’re looking for a fun adventure, go ziplining! Famous for their canopy tours, Costa Rica’s ziplining is a unique experience. You can zipline over rivers and waterfalls and through trees, but most people love the rain & cloud forest canopy tours.
The best places to soar over the forests are in Arenal and Monteverde, we love the Sky Adventures Park and the Selvatura Park zipline. Get unbeatable views that you wouldn’t otherwise! If there’s any one activity travelers should do in Costa Rica, it’s ziplining. Nothing shows you had the ultimate Costa Rica trip than strapping yourself to cables and flying 300 feet above the ground!
Jump off a waterfall
Waterfalls deep in the jungle, waterfalls near volcanoes, waterfalls on the river banks, there are waterfalls everywhere in Costa Rica! Many are a trek to get to, such as Nauyaca and La Cangreja but the reward is worth it after a hot hike under the sun.
Jump off the fall, swim in the pool or sit under the water. There is even a waterfall in Uvita that you can waterslide down on! A couple more favorites are the Rio Celeste waterfall, Catarata del Toro and Catarata Llanos de Cortes. And of course, there are many smaller waterfalls around.
Some places have waterfall exploring tours, like the picture above which was taken with Waterfall Tours in Jaco. We climbed up 7 small waterfalls, but there are other more exciting tours that let you jump off waterfalls up to 75 feet tall! Check Paddle 9 in Manuel Antonio for these heart pumping adventures.
When it comes to must-see natural attractions in Costa Rica, waterfalls are one of them. Check our post on the best waterfalls in Costa Rica!
Have a pipa fria on the beach (cold coconut)
Costa Rica’s intense heat can be a bit much so to cool down, get a nice cold pipa fria. There are always vendors on the beach selling these refreshing coconut treats for around 500 to 1000 colones. You can even ask them to make it a happy coconut 😉 (add rum).
After laying out and playing in the waves, quench your thirst with the cool water of a coconut plucked straight from the nearby trees.
Everything about a pipa fria is so Costa Rican from the vendors yelling Pipa! Pipa fria, to them pulling a coconut out from their cooler and using a huge machete to hack the top off with amazing precision.
Try Costa Rican coffee from a traditional coffee maker, the chorreador (100% Costa Rica experience)
If you’re a coffee fanatic, then you have to try Costa Rican coffee made the traditional way which is with a chorreador. It’s a contraption that has the basic structure of a standard coffee maker but it uses a couple unique items. Learn how it works from Yeison whose grandparents picked coffee as a living and grew up making it this way!
If you visit a finca (farm), traditional coffee shop or an old-school soda (typical Costa Rican restaurant), they will make coffee this way. Ask any local how to make coffee using this method, and they’ll tell you about their days using a chorreador as a kid with their grandparents.
If you want to dive into the coffee culture even more, take a coffee tour to learn how the country processes their coffee and why it’s so good. You’ll also be able to buy the best quality coffee right from the plantation.
That way, when you are back home you can begin each day remembering your time in Costa Rica with the smell of delicious coffee wafting from your cup.
Have a beach all to yourself
Whether you’re in the Pacific or Caribbean, there are beautiful beaches up and down both coasts. Many beaches are publicly known and developed, but there are just as many and more that aren’t. Rent a 4×4, check our blog about beaches in Costa Rica and find a beautiful hidden beach all to yourself!
Yeison and I have found many secret beaches simply by hopping in our car and driving down roads we thought were dead ends. Instead, they led us to some of the most incredible spots we’ve ever visited in Costa Rica.
This is one of the reasons why we recommend to rent a car in Costa Rica if you want to explore. It’s truly the best way to discover the country.
Try Gallo Pinto with Salsa Lizano: A MUST Costa Rica experience!
There is no experience more Costa Rican than this one – eating their traditional breakfast, gallo pinto (rice and beans), with Costa Rica’s hallmark sauce, Salsa Lizano.
Costa Ricans eat this dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner (Yeison can eat it all day every day!). Pair that with a cup of Costa Rican coffee and you got yourself a typical Costa Rican breakfast. You can’t get more Tico than that when it comes to food! (Tico is the nickname for Costa Rican men, Tica for women).
Their signature sauce, Salsa Lizano has a dark color with a tangy flavor. Ticos like to put it in rices, beans and meat since much of their food is actually not very flavorful but this sauce gives the flavor. Many of the times I eat at a Tico household, all they put to season their meat is Salsa Lizano! If you want to go extra Costa Rican, put a bit of the chilera (spicy pickled vegetables) on top! You’ll find these pickled vegetables at nearly all typical restaurants (sodas).
Have a beer with Ticos
Ticos are some of the most laid back and funniest people I’ve ever met, especially the ones that live at the beach. I enjoy hanging out with Yeison’s friends since they know how to have a good time, and the ultimate thing to do for those who want to have a classic Tico experience is to have a beer with them.
Costa Ricans love beer, that is a known fact. If you’re driving in the country side, a tiny rural town may not have a medical clinic or a supermarket, but they damn well sure will have a bar or three. When you go to a Tico’s house, they’ll most definitely offer you juice or beer. Make sure to try their local beers such as Imperial or Pilsen, Costa Ricans love to share their favorite drinks and can talk about it for hours!
You can make instant friends with a Tico by offering them a beer, that small gesture opens up the door to a fun night getting to know their culture, the people and lifestyle.
Interesting fact: When you visit a Costa Rican household, they will always offer you juice, soda or beer first. Not water.
Explore the rain forest and the beach in one trip
This is a must for any true Costa Rica experience. Costa Rica’s small size makes it relatively easy to travel from one destination to another so visitors can enjoy many contrasting landscapes and climates in one trip. The best way to experience and enjoy Costa Rica as much as possible is to visit several different places and you can do it within a couple hours of driving!
If you’re not sure where to go, check our article about the best places in Costa Rica for first timers. You’ll get a little bit of everything with these suggested places! Additionally, we have written many Costa Rica itineraries that take you through a variety of landscapes from cloud forest, volcanoes, waterfalls, beaches and more!
Staying in one destination in Costa Rica? Take day trips! You can take a day trip to see the rainforest from San Jose, Guanacaste and Jaco.
Runner up Costa Rica experiences:
- Do yoga on the beach at sunrise
- Catch a wave (take a surf lesson)
- Soak in the natural spas and hot springs
These experiences will make any trip to Costa Rica unforgettable, leaving cherished memories for a lifetime. You’ll experience the essence of Costa Rica when you try gallo pinto, fly over the rain forest and lay on a beautiful beach with no one around. All bucket list worthy items to tick off.
For more ideas of things to do in Costa Rica, check out our favorite 50 activities in Costa Rica.