Costa Rica used to be a haven for retirees because of the cheap cost of living, verdant jungle, and serene beaches. Now, the secret is out of the bag.
Tourists worldwide are beginning to see Costa Rica for its true potential, hence the steady growth of tourist activity. The country is a fantastic destination for a holiday primarily because of the safety levels and diverse ecosystem.
Costa Rica is indeed one of the most developed nations in Latin America. Also, many Costa Ricans speak English, making it easy to get around the country.
But even better? There are plenty of things to do once you get there. We’re travel nuts with a soft spot for the Caribbean, and we’ve rounded up the 15 best things to do in Costa Rica. Read on to see our top picks.
15 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica in 2023
Costa Rica is an excellent place to start for those seeking initiation into Latin American culture.
There are many incredible things to do in this country, and without beating about the bush, these are the 15 best things to do in Costa Rica.
1. Go Zip Lining
If there’s any country in the world designed for zip lining, it’s Costa Rica. The tiny nation is renowned for its spectacular views and extended cables that go over the lushest rainforest you’ll ever see.
Monteverde, Guanacaste, and Fortuna are three excellent locations for the most incredible ziplining experience. It doesn’t matter if you’re an extreme zip liner or traveling with family. Costa Rica has many zip line tours for everyone.
La Fortuna’s EcoGlide, close to the Arenal Volcano, is an excellent zipline tour for families who’d like to zip through the rainforest while enjoying scenic views of the volcano and hillside.
A fantastic feature of this tour is the Tarzan Swing that sends you flying through the forest! If you need a more decisive adrenaline kick, look no further than the 100% Aventura.
This insane tour at Monteverde has significantly faster cables and is more prolonged. The zipline tour is divided into sections if you don’t have the heart to continue, allowing you to step down and take a stroll back to the center.
The last two areas offer the most fun, allowing you to zip through the sky superman style!
Meanwhile, the most extended zip line cable with an ocean view is the Diamante, and worth checking out. It’s worth mentioning ziplining in Costa Rica is known as Canopy Tours.
2. Take a Sunset Cruise
The best way to plan a holiday by the beach is to go for a sunset cruise. It’s one of the most romantic activities in Costa Rica and ideal for couples.
However, Costa Rica offers unique cruises for families, allowing you to watch the stars as you sail with the evening sky above you. You can also swim, snorkel, or relax to bask in the freshest ocean air.
In the same vein, you can shift your cruise to the morning, which provides a better snorkeling experience. The Marlin del Rey offers some of the most fantastic sunset cruise packages in Guanacaste as you leisurely explore the Gold Coast.
If you’re lucky, the cruise features snorkeling activities and wildlife sightings like flying fish, turtles, dolphins, and a breaching whale. Other recommended tours for your sunset cruise include the Lazy Lizard, Playa del Coco’s Sea Bird, and Samara Sea Tours.
3. Go Scuba Diving and Snorkeling
Costa Rica is blessed with the Caribbean seas and the Pacific, making it one of the best scuba diving and snorkeling locations. If you want to be one with the ocean, the best way to do it is by scuba diving or snorkeling in Costa Rica.
However, you can decide to snorkel on your cruise because of the opportunities with sunset cruises. Scuba diving in Costa Rica is more diverse, with fantastic dive sites all over the country.
Some of the best locations for scuba diving include:
- Las Catalina Islands
- Gulf of Papayago
- Cahuita National Park
- Cano Island
- Bat Islands
Also, certain scuba dive centers offer “discovery tours” for visitors without a diving certification.
It’s no surprise surfing is on this list because Costa Rica has the best waves in Central America. Tourists worldwide – including professionals – throng the hottest surfing spots like Jaco, Playa Cocles, Dominical, Playa Matapalo, and Playa Grande.
Costa Rica is indeed a world-famous destination for newbies and advanced pros. You will find excellent surfing on the two coasts with year-round waves and warm sun-kissed water.
If you want to surf the best Costa Rica waves, the destinations below are the most popular:
- Guanacaste Tamarindo Beach
- Central Pacific Coast Jaco Beach
- Manuel Antonio Espadilla Beach
- Central Pacific Coast Hermosa Beach
- South Pacific Coast Dominical Beach
You can also find fantastic surf breaks at the Osa Peninsula and destinations like Cabo Matapalo provide suitable waves for newbies.
Also called canyoneering, this activity entails traveling down a fast-flowing water body at extreme speeds. This activity is common among tourists in Costa Rica and is an exciting, adrenaline-filled adventure.
You can go on a canyoning tour at La Fortuna’s Pure Trek, which has a jaw-dropping waterfall of 200 feet! Besides, there are other excellent locations for this new adventure activity like The Park at Jaco or Turrialba’s Explornatura.
Canyoneering is excellent in Costa Rica because of the numerous mountains in the country. Small rivers and streams have carved a path through the hills for thousands of years, resulting in hundreds of waterfalls and canyons.
The South Pacific, Monteverde, and the Arenal Volcano have been exceptional destinations for this budding sport. Advanced canyoneering tours like the Finca Modelo Ecologica aren’t for the fainthearted.
The waterfalls are rapid and require some of the largest rappels. Xtreme Adventures in Manuel Antonio features a rainforest hike, allowing you to experience the diverse flora and fauna.
6. Taste a Copo!
You can never truly know you’re in Costa until you have a taste of Copo, a Costa Rican beverage found in most regions and cities.
The treat consists of condensed milk, powdered milk, kola syrup, and shaved ice. An even better version of this delicious drink is the Churchill, which contains fruit and whipped cream. This refreshing sugary delight is most enjoyed in Puntarenas.
Many locals know it by many names, including raspados, granizados, and piraguas. It doesn’t matter the name you call it. This delicious sugary delight is sinfully good, and you can switch it up with some vanilla ice cream.
The trademark flavoring is the bright red Kola syrup. However, you can try grape, cherry, bubble gum, and lemon, which are fantastic options. You can enjoy a serving of Copo with your favorite marshmallows or maraschino cherries.
7. ATV Tour
Consider the ATV tour if you ever need to feel the wind against your face. Firstly, ATVs are mini offroad vehicles that allow you to navigate rough terrains.
Costa Rica has some of the best tours with high-quality offroaders and standard safety equipment to keep you safe. Most ATV tours kick off with a crash course on safety before proceeding on your offroad adventure.
You can choose from various ATV tours but keep in mind the company you hire needs to have the correct licenses with MOPT and ICT and must have adequate insurance.
Costa Rica has many unregistered ATV tour companies and opting for the wrong one can pose a huge risk for you. Ensure you come with a valid driver’s license and are above 16 years old.
Many tours allow kids above 12 years old to double team with their guardian, parent, or guide. This activity isn’t the safest in Costa Rica, so ensure you double-check all policies and read the fine print before making a reservation.
8. Fly Fishing
Anglers worldwide need to try fly fishing in Costa Rica at least once in a lifetime. The Gulf of Papagayo on the Pacific Coast provides one of the most fulfilling fly fishing experiences, with numerous small bays to find the famous tarpon and legendary roosterfish.
Costa Rica is a premier fly fishing destination because of its innumerable waters, including the Pacific and Caribbean seas. You won’t find many locations where you can catch trophy-sized specimens regularly like in this country.
Costa Rica is also a suitable destination for North American anglers because of the easy access compared to many other destinations.
There aren’t many locations that stack up to Costa Rica for the fly fishing enthusiast. You’ll need the best gear to catch the largest fish but most importantly, come with sunscreen because it gets so hot!
Some of the best fishes for fly fishing in these waters include:
- Jack Crevalle
- Cubera Snapper
- Mahi Mahi
- Rainbow Trout
9. Participate in a Fiesta
Costa Ricans enjoy a good party, and if you’re holidaying during a festival, your luck just came through. These parties, known as fiestas civicas, include fun activities like food, bull riding, games, and rides.
Tourists looking to blend in with the locals can do so at these festivals. Fiestas in Costa Rica happen all through the year, and you can tell when it’s about “to go down” with the numerous signs around town.
Suppose you happen to vacation close to the Tamarindo or Brasilito area. In that case, you can attend the various fiestas happening around March.
The most popular fiestas in the country are the Puntarenas Carnaval, Palmares Fiestas, and Zapote Fiestas. These fiestas are known for their dancing, thrilling live music, and most of all: bull riding. Interestingly, bullfighting isn’t a Costa Rican tradition.
Rather than fight the bull, the locals prefer to ride it. Once the bull bucks off the rider and is tired of chasing the people, they put the animal back into the corral instead of ending its life.
10. Enjoy a Cooking Class
Costa Rican cuisine places a lot of emphasis on vegetables and fruits. These foods can be your gateway to a healthier lifestyle. Additionally, the country’s diet has a lot of beans, pejibaye, yams, squash, bananas, and papayas.
These healthy, nutritious foods are why Costa Ricans live longer, healthier lives. You can sign up with La Senda to learn a variety of Costa Rican cuisine with an international twist. Besides, the cooking class uses locally sourced ingredients, including foodstuffs grown at the center.
A cooking class in Costa Rica is a fantastic experience best shared with your significant other. If you’re close to Playa Samara, consider dropping by the Tropical Gardens Cooking School.
The school offers two types of cooking lessons – cultural and nutritional. Both classes are tailored to teach you the fundamentals of Costa Rican traditional cuisines. These dishes emphasize fresh vegetables, smoothies, juices, Casados, corn tortillas, and guacamole.
11. Go Paddleboarding
Standup paddleboarding is a viral Costa Rica activity, especially among tourists with a surfing experience. This recent sport helps you go further into the sea to catch better waves while ensuring you get an excellent view of incoming waves to choose the ones to ride.
The number one destination for paddleboarding in Costa Rica is the Gulf of Papagayo because the Peninsula Papagayo provides adequate protection from the untamed oceans. The water is calmer than most, and the inlets are suitable for newbies.
Another location worth visiting is the Golfo Dulce which also gets its protection from the Osa Peninsula. Tourists can also enjoy a less extreme version of this sport by trying it out on a lake.
12. Visit a Waterfall
One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is to visit the Llanos de Cortez Waterfall in Liberia, Costa Rica. The waterfall is in Guanacaste and only twenty minutes from downtown.
The entrance to this fall is fewer than ten dollars, and you can swim and relax with friends. The Del Toro Waterfall is another stunning fall with a fantastic 270-foot drop. You’ll find this hidden gem within the Central Valley.
To get there, you’ll have to go through the village of Bajos del Toro, a few hours away from San Jose. You can go for a break on your journey to Las Fortunas from San Jose, but you’ll be mistaken not to stop over a few nights.
Bajos del Toro is one small town without a lot of tourist activity. The area is suitable for those who’d like to spend quality time in nature devoid of crowds.
13. Observe Jaguars at the Jaguar Rescue Center
The Jaguar Rescue Center is the foremost destination to learn about Costa Rican wildlife. This wildlife conservation is in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
The center aims to treat injured animals and provide rehabilitation before letting the animals back into the wild.
A rescue center is an excellent option for a family day trip. You can go on a guided tour to interact with the various animals on-site, including sloths, monkeys, anteaters, birds, and jaguars.
It’s fantastic work they do to conserve the animals and educate the tourists on the behaviors of the various species in the wild.
14. Go Kayaking
Kayaking is another water-based activity that’s a must-do in Costa Rica. Look no further than the Tortuguero National Park if you love any type of water activities. The “Amazon of Costa Rica” is a unique place you can’t find anywhere else across the country.
Tortuguero National Park is renowned worldwide for its rainforest canals and turtle nesting areas. More interestingly, you can only access this park by boat, making getting there quite the adventure!
As soon as you arrive in Tortuguero, you’ll be spoiled with the numerous boating options. However, you can also kayak your way through the park to enjoy a richer experience.
The advantage of kayaking ensures you see breathtaking locations that aren’t accessible by motorboat.
Additionally, the noiseless kayaks mean you don’t disrupt the wildlife, allowing you to experience the animals’ most authentic nature. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and one of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
15. Hike the Arenal
The Arenal Volcano National Park is an excellent destination for visitors looking to see their first volcano. The volcano last erupted in 1968, and even though it’s quiet now, you can still see the smoldering top from a distance.
The cool lava beds are ideal for hiking as you cut your way through the verdant forests. Walking through this national park is an excellent choice for beginners because the trails aren’t the longest or the toughest.
You’ll need to hire a guide to elevate your experience and get a deeper insight into the lush flora and exciting fauna. You can catch a glimpse of a monkey or two if you’re lucky, and your guide can point out the names of the different birds, flowers, and plants along the trail.
Things to Consider
Although the web is awash with information for traveling to Costa Rica, there’s a lot of misinformation that can affect your trip. To have a stress-free vacation and get the best value for your experience, check out these considerations below.
Costa Rica Is Not Cheap!
Yep, you heard that right. Costa Rica isn’t as cheap as most people would like to think. Of course, the country is more affordable than many European destinations.
While the country is in Central America, its location doesn’t equate to cheap travel. Nicaragua is its neighbor and dirt cheap, but it’s worth pointing out that the country ranks as one of the poorest in the entire Americas, which allows you to stretch your funds further.
Many vacationers get a nasty surprise when they find tours costing around $100, with food and beverage on par with Canada and Europe prices.
Keep in mind that transportation is quite expensive, with gas prices nearly double the cost in the US. If you don’t plan your budget extra carefully, be prepared to blow through thousands of dollars quicker than you might think.
Tap Is Safe
The tap water is safe to drink, especially in the mountains and cities. Hotels often indicate whether you can drink the water, and tour guides will show you which tap to fetch water.
The mountain water in Montverde is incredibly delicious! While the water may be safe to drink, you can decide to err on the side of caution by bringing along a water filter.
Rural areas like Santa Teresa, Tortuguero, and Sarapiqui don’t have safe tap water. Still, you can get bottled drinkable water in these regions.
Fear Dengue, Not Malaria
Costa Rica, like Africa, is home to many mosquitoes. However, visitors to the country need not concern themselves with Malaria. Dengue fever is a mosquito-borne disease and is far more common than Zika or Malaria.
Mosquitoes are present all year, but the menace is worse during the rainy season. You’ll do well to buy some mosquito nets and insect repellants if you plan to go outdoors.
Frequently Asked Questions
If you still need more clarification on the best things to do in Costa Rica, here are some answers to frequently asked questions:
What should I not miss in Costa Rica?
You should never miss a fiesta in Costa Rica. Fiestas are an excellent way to blend into the culture and enjoy the party life of the Costa Rican people.
What is Costa Rica best known for?
Costa Rica is best known for its exceptional national parks, incredible mountains, and scenic volcanoes. The entire country has a diverse landscape and ecosystem with unique wildlife and rich flora.
What is the best month to visit Costa Rica?
The best month to vacation in Costa Rica is from December to April to enjoy the brightest sunshine. You can also travel during the green season, from May to June.
Are 7 days enough in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a relatively small country, but it certainly takes a long time to get from Point A to B. The traffic congestion is caused by the bad roads with many routes that feature a single lane.
How much time do I need in Costa Rica?
Most tour guides recommend spending ten days enjoying the country’s best offerings. This window lets you explore the country’s significant places of interest while ensuring adequate time to move from one city to another.
Best Things to Do in Costa Rica: Final Thoughts
Costa Rica is one of the most fantastic travel destinations in Latin America. The country punches far above its weight because of its serene beaches and verdant rainforests.
Travelers worldwide come to Costa Rica to enjoy family-friendly activities, delicious cuisine, luxurious hotels, and an adrenaline-inspired adventure.
The biodiversity of its wildlife, mountains, valley, restaurants, and resorts make it the go-to destination for any outdoor activity. By picking any of the must-do activities on our list, your trip to Costa Rica will be unforgettable.