There are so many things to do in Costa Rica, and so many of them have to do with its amazing culture and food, and with its gorgeous beaches and friendly people. However, there is little doubt among the top Costa Rica attractions is its natural beauty.
I could go on and on about how many things to do in Costa Rica there are and about the number of outdoor activities that should be added to the perfect itinerary when one is in this part of the world, but the following is a selection of my favorites things to do in Costa Rica.
27 Things To Do In Costa Rica That Can’t Be Missed
Scuba Dive, Snorkel and Whale Watching in and around Drake Bay
Many travelers who enjoy nature vacations have scuba-diving experiences at the top of their list. Among the coolest places to visit in Costa Rica there are lots of amazing spots to explore under the water. One of the top picks is Drake Bay. Located in the northern part of the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, one of the most remote regions of the country, Bahia Drake, as it’s called in Spanish, was named after Sir Francis Drake. He discovered it in the 16th century, during his voyage around the globe.
Drake Bay, and particularly the nearby Cano Island which sits around 13 miles off the coast, is a wonderland for nature lovers, explorers, and adventurers. Tucked away between beaches, rainforests, and rocky cliffs, the destination is perfect for those looking for a place to get away from the crowds. Going to Drake Bay is definitely what to do in Costa Rica when searching for a quieter place.
If diving is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica, then Drake Bay is one of the places to visit in Costa Rica. The area has some of the best diving in the country, because seasonal rains don’t affect visibility like they do in other locations, plus there is also a lack of development.
Cano Island is a protected marine park, with fishing prohibited for three miles around it. The harvesting of marine life and collection of shells is also against the law. As such, the waters are full of coral, fish, and other sea creatures such as reef sharks, sting rays, turtles, and eels, making it one of Costa Rica points of interest for marine life.
I wasn’t there at the right time unfortunately, but I highly recommend arranging a trip to Costa Rica to coincide with the migration seasons for humpback and pilot whales, so that there is a chance to see these creatures passing through (after all admiring wildlife is one of the things to do in Costa Rica). The good news is that the humpback whale watching season in Costa Rica is really long, so if you plan your trip carefully you’ll have great chances to see them – it’s one of the things to do in Costa Rica. Other than Drake Bay, the other places to see whales in Costa Rica are Uvita and the Gulf of Papagayo.
Another benefit of diving in the untouched Drake Bay area is that there are lots of spectacular archways and tunnels to swim through, and it is not necessary to go deep to see a plethora of memorable sights. Easy to see why this is one of Costa Rica attractions.
What makes this area one of the places to visit in Costa Rica is the fact that it is possible to get a good nature fix in other ways. The area is surrounded by numerous national parks (including the well-known Corcovado National Park) and dozens of hiking trails (hiking and visiting national parks are among the coolest things to do in Costa Rica).
There are also miles of quiet coastline and pristine beaches to explore (some of them are among the best beaches in Costa Rica), plus activities like mountain bike riding, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, and horseback riding. Birdwatchers can find much of interest in this part of the country too. Easy to see why this part of the country is among Costa Rica attractions.
Needless to say, there are many other places to visit in Costa Rica for diving and snorkeling. This is a selection of the best diving and snorkeling tours:
- Guanacaste: discover scuba dive in Papagayo
- Papagayo: two dives half day scuba dive tour
- Adventure dives in Tamarindo and Las Catalinas
- Free diving course in Tamarindo
- PADI open water dive course in Tamarindo
- 3 days PADI open water dive course in Las Catalinas
- San Juanillo beach snorkel marine wildlife tour at Nosara
- Ocean kayaking and snorkeling
- Playas del Coco boat tour to the caves with snorkeling
Surf, SUP and Beach Bumming
With its incredible coastline, it’s quite obvious that one of the ultimate things to do in Costa Rica is going to the beach, and moving from one beach to the other on the same day, either on foot or by boat. There are beaches for any taste and needs: my favorite are the ones with white sand and clear waters (much like the ones I am accustomed to, in Sardinia). The good news is that they never get really crowded, to it is easy to find one to relax and explore. Furthermore, all beaches are public which means there is no fees to access and this is very budget friendly!
Surfing is one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica – this country gets some of the best waves in the world! My friends that regularly go surfing in Sardinia told me that nothing beats the waves of Pavones, Playa Tamarindo, Playa Negra and Playa Hermosa. Those who are keen to learn have plenty of choice for surf camps. Some people even go as far as booking surf holidays. Those who just want to have a try can sign up for a group or individual lesson.
If surfing is not your thing, but you still like being in the water, try stand up paddle boarding. It’s quite the thing in Costa Rica lately. Many people sign up for classes, but if you are just in for the fun of it, you can just rent the board and go on your own. It’s a nice way to get a good work out (it’s much harder than it looks) and explore the coast, the rivers and the lakes of Costa Rica. Most hotels and beaches rent out boards. It’s also possible to rent boards or sign up for classes online.
These are the best surfing and sup tours that can be booked online:
- Group surfing lessons in Tamarindo
- Private surfing lessons in Tamarindo
- Private two hour surfing lesson in Santa Teresa
- Surf camp in Santa Teresa
- Garza beach SUP at Nosara
- Nosara river SUP and mangrove tour
- Lake Arenal SUP lesson and tour
Go on a Boat Tour
One of the most fun things to do in Costa Rica is going on a boat tour. This is the best way to admire the beaches and the islands of the Pacific Coast. I recommend opting for a private tour as opposed to a public boat, as these may only take you to specific places, whereas a private tour will follow your requests and stops wherever you like, for however long you want.
Among the things to do in Costa if looking for romance and when wanting to relax is going on a sunset boat or sailing cruise. You can do this in many places in the country. The most popular places for a sunset cruise are on the Pacific Coast, for obvious reasons: Playa Tamarindo, Playa Flamingo and Playas del Coco are all excellent places for that.
One of the nicest places for a cruise is La Tortuga island, in the Gulf of Nicoya. Going there is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. If you don’t have your own boat, you can join a guided tour departing from either San Jose or Jaco.
These are some of the best sailing and boat tours in Costa Rica:
- Playa Tamarindo: sunset sailing and snorkeling tour
- Playas del Coco: boat tour to the caves with snorkeling
- Playas del Coco sunset sailing and snorkeling tour
- Guanacaste full day offshore sport fishing
- Tortuga island cruise from San Jose
- Tortuga island cruise from Jaco
- Full day catamaran to Quepos Manuel Antonio
- Manuel Antonio cruise with snorkeling, food and drinks
Go on a Mangrove Tour
One of the nicest things to do in Costa Rica is going on mangrove tours. For this, make sure to head to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary, or check out the San Pedrillo or La Llorona Waterfalls. National Geographic sees the Osa peninsula as one of the most “biologically intense” places on Earth.
This is a selection of the best mangrove tours in Costa Rica:
- Nosara river SUP and mangrove tour
- Damas island mangrove boat tour
- Mangrove kayaking tour
- Palo Verde National Park half day river cruise
- Dolphin watching and mangrove tour at Golfo Dulce
- Nosara guided birdwatching and kayak tour
- Nosara river kayaking and birdwatching tour
Go on an Adventure in Arenal
Among the top things to do in Costa Rica there is zip lining, hiking, walking the hanging bridges. There are few places in the world that offer as much adventure as this beautiful Central America country, and the best area to do it is Arenal.
I love zip lining. I have tried it in many countries, including Argentina and Cambodia. I know that I will never be able to sprout wings and fly, but the next best thing might just be ziplining above the rainforest tree canopy in Costa Rica. This is definitely one of the most adrenaline filled things to do in Costa Rica.
Among the best zip lining in the country, there is the Sky Trek tour operated by Sky Adventures in Arenal, in the northern part of Costa Rica, which is also home to one of Costa Rica attractions, the Arenal Volcano – a place that can’t be missed even if visiting Costa Rica in a week. I suppose my obsession with volcanoes is clear by now, with all the volcano hikes I did in Sicily last month. So it’s easy to see why I love Costa Rica.
To find out more about my volcano adventures in Sicily, check my post “Why Stromboli Is The Best Volcano Hike.”
Sky Trek’s zipline tour, which is said to be the most thrilling in Costa Rica, starts with an open-air gondola ride that takes visitors up to an observation area. Here it is possible to take in the amazing views, since it is sitting at around 4100 ft. high. Note, too, that this Sky Tram can be taken by itself if you are not keen to do the zipline adventure afterwards. Still, I think ziplining is one of the coolest things to do in Costa Rica.
From the tall viewing platform, zipliners then start riding down on a track that stretches across canyons, sits in between treetops, and heads down mountainsides. There are seven zip lines in total, which can get up to around half a mile long, and the duration of the experience is two and a half hours all together. To me, it is one of the most incredible things to do in Costa Rica.
Apart from checking out the rainforest and surrounding lake and other lands while zipping along, not to mention spotting wildlife, the zipline tour gives a prime view of the Arenal Volcano. (Up until 2010 this volcano was one of the most active in the whole world, but its eruptive cycle has paused and it’s currently in a resting phase.) Arenal Volcano looms large over the hillsides surrounding it, and reaches close to 5,500 feet high.
For those who want to spend more time in the Arenal area – one of the nicest places to visit in Costa Rica – Sky Adventures also operates a Sky Walk. This experience involves walking across a series of suspension bridges and trails, and allows travelers to be introduced to the flora and fauna of the forest canopy in a more relaxed way, and from a fresh perspective.
The walks are led by naturalist guides so it’s easy to learn all about local animal species and native plants while checking out the upper levels of the rainforest canopy, where around 90 percent of forest organisms are located. The trails are generally flat and clear, so are suitable for walkers of many ages and abilities – no wonder this is one of the top things to do in Costa Rica.
These are some of the best tours of Arenal that include activities such as hiking, ziplining and hanging bridges:
- Arenal volcano hanging bridges and jungle walking tour
- Full day hike of Arenal volcano from San Jose
- Hiking in Arenal National Park
- Mountain biking in Arenal Volcano National Park
- Arenal National Park hanging bridges tour
- Arenal volcano canopy zipline tour
- Arenal volcano 6 in 1 nature activity combination tour
- Arenal volcano expedition
- Chato and Arenal volcanoes extreme hiking tour
- Horseback ride to the Arenal volcano
- Arenal volcano rainforest natural history walk
- Arenal volcano raft and canopy tour adventure
- San Jose to Arenal full day tour
- Arenal sky tram, zip line and sky walk adventure
Enjoy the Hot Springs
There are more reasons why visiting the Arenal region is one of the top things to do in Costa Rica. Indeed, it is possible to pay a visit to some of the hot springs that occur because of the geothermal activity beneath the volcano. Many of these springs serve up fantastic, unobstructed views of the sleeping giant too.
Among the places to bathe and enjoy the thermal waters there are Tabacon, Baldi, Tikoku, Paraiso and Ecotermales.
These are some of the best tours of Arenal that include a stop at the hot springs:
- Arenal volcano 6 in 1 nature activity combination tour
- Arenal volcano zip line and hot springs tour from San Jose
- Venado caves and Arenal hot springs tour from San Jose
- Arenal volcano hike and hot springs tour from San Jose
- Arenal volcano nature and hot springs tour
- Arenal 4 activities tour with optional hot springs
Go Hiking in Corcovado National Park
With so much nature and so many volcanoes, it’s only obvious that one of the unmissable things to do in Costa Rica is hiking. I love volcano hikes (my favorite to date has been that of Mount Bromo, in Indonesia), and hiking in Arenal and La Fortuna is one of the top activities in Costa Rica. However, I also recommend heading to Corcovado National Park for more adventures.
Corcovado National Park is located in the Osa Peninsula, on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. It is one of the most diverse places on earth in terms of flora and fauna, and a paradise for anyone who – like me – loves hiking and wildlife.
Many people go on day hikes in Corcovado. Yet, I think that one of the top things to do in Costa Rica to fully enjoy its nature and wildlife is to go on a long distance hike. This is a fantastic way to see the wildlife of the region, which by the way is similar wildlife to that I saw in Guyana!
If you intend to hike around Corcovado (or anywhere in Costa Rica, really) make sure to wear the appropriate gear. Things to keep in mind when setting to hike are the high humidity levels of this part of the world, and the bugs that will feast on you unless you wear long sleeves and pants, and apply bug repellent. I suggest reading my post on what to pack for the jungle to have an idea of what to wear and pack for an adventure trip to Corcovado.
One of the most adrenaline filled things to do in Costa Rica is canyoning – that is, going down waterfalls on a rappel. This literally is a once in a lifetime adventure, and a great way to appreciate all the incredible nature Costa Rica has to offer. The best places to visit in Costa Rica for canyoning are La Fortuna and Arenal, but this activity is now offered in Jaco now.
These are some of the best tours that include canyoning:
- Canyoning in La Fortuna
- Rio Colorado canyoneering tour with La Victoria waterfall
- Jaco canyoneering and canopy tour
- Arenal volcano raft and rappel adventure
- Arenal volcano raft and canopy tour adventure
- Extreme canyoning at Gravity waterfalls
- Pure Trek canyoning waterfall rappel
- Rappel and raft in Costa Rica
Few things are as fun as whitewater rafting. I have done it in many places – the last time was in Nepal and every time had a complete blast. One of the most fun things to do in Costa Rica is rafting, and there are several places to do it. The best one is Rio Pacuare, where there are class 3 and 4 rapids.
While many companies now offer one-day rafting tours, one of the top adventure things to do in Costa Rica is going on a multi-day rafting expedition.
These are some of the best rafting tours in Costa Rica:
- Pacuare white water rafting
- Pacuare rafting en route from San Jose to La Fortuna
- Pacuare river white water rafting tour from San Jose
- Whitewater rafting to La Fortuna
- Rafting in Rio Tenorio, Guanacaste
- Rafting down the Sirapiqui river
- Guanacaste whitewater rafting in Rio Tenorio from Arenal
- Rio Balsa rafting adventure
- San Jose to La Fortuna and rafting in the Balsa river
- Rafting in the Sirapiqui river
- Rafting in the Chirripo River
- From Jaco: Sagreve whitewater rafting
Go Kayaking in Tortuguero National Park
One of the nicest places to visit in Costa Rica Tortuguero National Park, which is famous for turtle nesting. Both the park and Tortuguero village can only be accessed via boat – getting there is an incredible ride but it requires a bit of planning – going on a 3 day organized tour of Tortuguero from San Jose may be a good idea. Here’s a great one.
Once in Tortuguero, going on a boat tour is a great way to explore the area. If you feel up for the workout and would like to get to the tiniest canals, you also have the option of kayaking – it’s one of the nicest things to do in Costa Rica, especially in Tortuguero.
Take a Tram across the Rainforest
One of the coolest things to do in Costa Rica is riding a tram through the rainforest. Of course I still think hiking is the best way of getting in touch with nature in Costa Rica, but if this is not your thing or you just don’t feel like it for whatever reason, a tram will allow you to get through the jungle and admire lots of wildlife, including birds and monkeys. Make sure to also have a guide, whose trained eyes will point to all there is to see!
These are some of the best tram tours in Costa Rica:
- Rainforest Pacific aerial tram
- Canopy, zipline and Pacific aerial tram from Jaco
- Pacific aerial tram rainforest tour from Jaco
- Rainforest aerial tram from San Jose
- Arenal sky tram, zip line and sky walk adventure
Visit the Central Valley
Most people who visit Costa Rica head straight to the coast – either the Pacific or the Caribbean. Yet, one of the nicest things to do in Costa Rica is exploring the Central Valley. There are many nice places to visit, most of them completely off the beaten path. I truly enjoyed Sarchi – where I must have been the only tourist the locals had seen in a while, and Tucurrique.
Walk the Suspended Bridges of Monteverde
Another of the things to do in Costa Rica to appreciate its nature and diversity if walking the hanging bridges of Monteverde. I am a massive fan of hanging bridges – I walked one in Val di Sole recently, and one in Guyana. I found them to be fabulous ways to get views of the forest and (especially in Guyana) of the local wildlife!
These tours in Monteverde also include a walk on the suspended bridges:
Admire the Local Wildlife
In case it isn’t clear yet, I am a massive fan of wildlife. One of the nicest things to do in Costa Rica is admiring the wildlife, with many beautiful species that can be seen in various regions. First and foremost, Costa Rica is famous for its sloths. These can be seen in Tortuguero, but I was lucky enough to see them as I walked around in the proximity of Puerto Viejo.
Another of the places to visit in Costa Rica for sloths is Manuel Antonio National Park, which is also great for monkeys. Crocodiles can be seen in Tortuguero, but the best place for them is Rio Tarcoles.
Finally, one of the top things to do in Costa Rica is seeing turtles – nesting and hatching. The best place to see them is Tortuguero National Park. Regardless of the place, make sure that watching the turtles has no impact on them. Things such as intense light and touching are extremely bad for these animals – if you opt for a guided tour to see turtles, make sure this is 100% responsible!
Pay a Night Visit to the National Parks
One of the top things to do in Costa Rica to admire wildlife is going on a guided night tour. Most animals are night creatures, and go out of their nests after sunset. This is a great time to spot frogs, snakes and – for the lucky ones – even jaguars. Night walks are offered in Tortuguero Natioanal Park, in Arenal and in Osa Peninsula. Needless to say, you will need a guide for this – first so that you don’t get lost, and secondly because unless you are an expert, you’ll need someone pointing the animals to you, and following their tracks.
Visit Marino Ballena National Park
One of the coolest places to visit in Costa Rica is Marino Ballena National Park, which is a great place to admire whales!
Birdwatching in Carara National Park
Due to the diverse ecosystems and geography in Costa Rica, the country is home to a wide variety of avian life, including endangered and elusive birds like the scarlet macaw, quetzal, warbling cuckoos, jewel-toned tanagers, and more. It is well known that one of the best things to do in Costa Rica is birdwatching.
One of the top Costa Rica attractions for birdwatching is Carara National Park, approximately 10 miles north of Jaco. Those who visit can easily see it is so high on the list for many birding enthusiasts around the world.
The park, one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica, is a crucial sanctuary for wildlife and serves as a bridge between the Northwest’s dry, tropical forest, and the wet rainforest of the southern Pacific. As such, it supports a wide variety of waterfowl and other species, including woodpeckers, toucans, manakins, jacamars, and hundreds of other birds. Even the scarlet macaw can be found here, with an estimated 450 birds living within the park. This makes it the only area in the north Pacific to be home to a significant population of the endangered bird.
What makes Carara one of Costa Rica attractions is the fact that, covering close to 13,000 acres, apart from so many bird species, it is also home to a diverse array of other wildlife to keep an eye out for. This list includes sloths, monkeys, deer, armadillos, peccaries and even big cats and crocodiles. The park also has various interpretative trails to explore, even for those who are less active. Many tour companies operate tours (including hiking, river boating, and birding excursions) in Carara, so it is easy to find guides to help see this part of Costa Rica in depth.
Admire a Waterfall
I love waterfalls, and admiring a waterfall is what to do in Costa Rica when wanting to really be awed by nature’s splendor and power. There are hundreds of amazing falls around the nation, many of which can be reached via a hike, horseback riding or even rappeling to.
El Chorro Waterfall is one of Costa Rica’s most famous tumbling water attractions, and is just a few miles from Montezuma. While it’s located near Playa Cocolito’s gorgeous white sand beach, which can be a distraction in itself, one should not miss out on watching El Chorro tumble into the Pacific Ocean (it’s one of a select number of waterfalls around the world that drops into the ocean): it definitely is one of the greatest things to do in Costa Rica.
Those who have enough time and are quite fit can hike to the waterfall. Otherwise it is possible to go on horseback. Either way, it’s best to leave early in the morning to fully enjoy what is one of Costa Rica attractions.
Another popular waterfall in the country and one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica is the otherworldly Rio Celeste Waterfall. It’s situated in Tenorio Volcano National Park, in the northern region of Alajuela. The waterfall occurs where the Celeste River spills over a cliff and down into a waiting pool below. The freshwater river is an amazing blue color because of a chemical combination of sulfur and calcium carbonate, and as a result, sometimes the waterfall actually glows blue too as it tumbles down. It is a decent hike to get to the waterfall but well worth it for the stunning sight at the end. Tours of Rio Celeste can be booked online.
Visit the Caves of Barra Honda National Park
I am a massive fan of caves – there are several beautiful ones in Sardinia, where I grew up. Costa Rica has some fantastic caves in Barra Honda National Park, in the Nicoya Peninsula. You will need a local guide to explore them, but this is definitely one of the most unique things to do in Costa Rica.
Go Horseback Riding
One of the nicest things to do in Costa Rica to get closer to nature is going horseback riding, and it can be pretty much done anywhere in the country. You can easily rent a horse from any of the local farms in the area where you are staying. Otherwise, horseback riding tours can even be booked online. Here’s a selection of the best:
- Horseback riding to the Chorreas and Victoria waterfalls
- Horseback riding tour to Oropéndola waterfall
- Horseback ride to La Fortuna and indigenous village
- Half day rainforest horseback ride to Arenal Volcano
- Horseback riding to Herradura, Jaco and Los Suenos
- 5 hour horseback tour in Monteverde
- Monteverde full day horseback riding
- Horseback riding, zipline and hot spring tour in Monteverde
Go on a Coffee or on a Chocolate Plantation Tour
To be fair, Costa Rica isn’t the most famous country for coffee. Yet, if you are a coffee fan as much as I am, you will want to go on a coffee plantation tour. It’s one of the coolest things to do in Costa Rica. You will basically learn all the secrets of growing coffee, picking it and then toasting the beans and grounding it. And needless to say, you can taste a cup of freshly brewed one and even buy some of it to make it at home.
Coffee plantation tours are offered in various areas in Costa Rica. I did mine in Turrialba, in the central highlands.
Wherever there is coffee, more often than not there is also chocolate. This obviously means that one of the tastiest things to do in Costa Rica is going on a chocolate tour. The best chocolate tours are in the area of Puerto Viejo and in La Fortuna.
These are some of the best coffee and chocolate tours in Costa Rica:
- Monteverde Santa Elena half day coffee and chocolate tour
- Coffee plantation tour at Café Britt
- A cup of Heredia tour from San Jose
- Poas Volcano, Doka estate and La Paz waterfall tour from San Jose
Visit an Animal Sanctuary
With so many amazing creatures being found in Costa Rica, no visit to the nation is complete without some time spent at one or more animal sanctuaries. Visiting an animal sanctuary is one of the things to do in Costa Rica, and the Jaguar Rescue Center, in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast, is among the best.
While I do not support the use of animals in tourist attractions and will always advocate for responsible tourism, I am all in favor of sanctuaries that rescue ill-treated animals with a view to rehabilitating them. The Jaguar Rescue Centre is one of the places to visit in Costa Rica for that reason. It was created by a biological and herpetologist couple who decided it was time to make a difference after witnessing years of others mistreating and killing native wildlife.
The name is a bit misleading: I don’t think anybody ever saw any jaguars there (the center’s name is a dedication to the memory of an abandoned baby jaguar whose mother was murdered by farmers). Yet, the sanctuary does have wildcats, anteaters, owls, marsupials, sloths, monkeys, deer, parrots, toucans, snakes, and frogs, which make it worth supporting, a visiting is one of the nicest things to do in Costa Rica.
Have you ever been to Costa Rica? What are the things to do in Costa Rica that you enjoyed the most?
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