Costa Rica is one of the most enchanting countries in the world. Famous for its active volcanoes, adventurous activities, unique wildlife and jaw dropping nature, you can be sure to find plenty of things to do in Costa Rica to make any vacation a memorable one.
Whether you like canyoning, hiking, relaxing on a beach or meeting cuddly sloths, Costa Rica is a destination that offers all this and more.
If you’re planning a trip and need ideas for what to do in Costa Rica to add to your itinerary, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this guide, we share the top attractions, places to visit, and activities, that should not be skipped off any travelers to-do list.
- Is Costa Rica Worth Visiting?
- Best Things to Do in Costa Rica
- 1. Relax on The Beaches
- 2. Visit Arenal Volcano
- 3. Explore the Rainforest of Monteverde
- 4. Bathe in Eco Temales Hot Springs
- 5. Try Gallo Pinto
- 6. Try Costa Rican Coffee
- 7. Enjoy The Costa Rican Nightlife
- 8. Visit The Farmer’s Markets
- 9. Celebrate Independence Day in Costa Rica
- 10. Attend Semana Santa
- 11. Celebrate New Year Overlooking Central Valley
- 12. Visit The Sloth Sanctuary
- 13. Visit The Jaguar Rescue Center
- 14. Explore The National Parks (Tenorio Volcano National Park, Corcovado National Park & Tortuguero National Park)
- 15. See Turtle Conservation Efforts at Ostional Wildlife Refuge
- 16. Relax in San José
- Places to stay in Costa Rica
- Getting To And Around Costa Rica
- Best Time of Year to Visit Costa Rica
- Final Thoughts
- Other Central America travel tips
Is Costa Rica Worth Visiting?
You might be on the fence about visiting Costa Rica, so allow me to sway your opinion.
Costa Rica is one of the most beautiful and peaceful countries in the world, with a vibe that beckons you to go slow and relax.
It’s also one of the most eco-friendly countries you can visit, as not just businesses but locals take pride in their environmentally friendly ways.
Very few countries offer the same level of biodiversity that you will find in Costa Rica, it’s rich in nature from all corners. It has two coastlines (The Pacific Coast and Atlantic Ocean), rainforests, waterfalls, and volcanoes.
Costa Rica is also a country of some of the warmest and most welcoming people I have ever encountered.
They adore children and welcome them into every situation. This makes Costa Rica a great destination for families as well as singles and couples.
So, to summarize, Costa Rica is definitely worth visiting, because it has an abundance of nature to explore, friendly locals, a relaxing atmosphere, unique wildlife, and eco-friendly initiatives spanning across the country.
Best Things to Do in Costa Rica
There are so many amazing things to do in Costa Rica, that it can be a struggle narrowing down the options. To help you out, here are some of the most unmissable attractions in Costa Rica.
1. Relax on The Beaches
There are no shortage o beaches in Costa Rica, and each of them offers something vastly different from the other.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Beach, on the Caribbean coast, particularly Punta Uva beach, are a definite must-see on any Costa Rica itinerary.
The crystal-clear waters and white sand beachess of Playa Conchal and Playa Hermosa are perfect for snorkeling and wildlife spotting.
For a more laid-back vibe, Manuel Antonio National Park and the charming town of Santa Teresa beckon with their natural beauty and vibrant atmosphere.
From the tranquil shores of Malpais and Santa Teresa to the surfers’ paradise of Playa Santa Teresa where you can find gentle waves for surfing lessons, there’s something for everyone.
In the town of Tamarindo, in the Guanacaste province, you’ll find beaches with a stronger surf for more experienced surfers.
2. Visit Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano is perhaps the most famous volcano in Costa Rica.
Formed around 7,000 years ago, it stood as the country’s most active volcano for over four decades, with eruptions that left a lasting impact on the region.
The 1968 eruption, in particular, reshaped the landscape and spurred widespread devastation, leaving an indelible mark on the area.
Today, Arenal’s dramatic conical shape and surrounding lush rainforest and nearby lake Arenal showcase just how diverse and vibrant Costa Rica’s biodiversity is.
Arenal Volcano is currently in its “resting phase,” so it’s safe to visit.
3. Explore the Rainforest of Monteverde
The rainforests of Monteverde are some of my favorite spots on earth, but most people skip them to enjoy the beautiful beaches.
While the beaches in Monteverde are beautiful, don’t skip the Monteverde Cloud Forest.
This unique ecosystem is a haven for nature enthusiasts, housing over 400 bird species, including resplendent quetzals and vibrant toucans.
The jungle is full of wildlife, from colorful butterflies to vocal howler monkeys to elusive tapirs, and is crucial for preserving rare and biologically rich habitats, making it an essential stop for ecotourism in Central America.
If you prefer to get active, you can also find thrilling ziplining adventures and hanging bridges in the rainforest, which allows you to see the lush rainforest from high up in the canopies.
4. Bathe in Eco Temales Hot Springs
Where ever there is a tourist trap, like the Baldi hot springs in Arenal Volcano National Park, for example, there is often a more local place like Las Lagos or Eco Termales that will charge you FAR less without losing the amazing experience.
If you want to dip into a thermal natural hot springs, then don’t go tot he tourist trap.
Nestled in the lush wilderness near La Fortuna, Eco Termales Hot Springs has been a popular bathing site for locals since 2002.
This tranquil haven harmoniously blends sustainable practices and wellness, creating an intimate retreat where you can unwind amidst the captivating rainforest.
5. Try Gallo Pinto
Costa Rica is not really known for its food, but the national dish of Gallo Pinto is worth a try. This dish is made up of rice and beans with seasonings, is served with most breakfasts.
Gallo Pinto literally translates to “spotted rooster”, because the appearance of the dish is speckally like a rooster.
Some other dishes you can try are Arroz con pollo (rice and chicken), Ceviche (cold fish in lime juice and cilantro) which is popular in countries in South and Central America, and casados (choice of grilled meat with rice, beans, and salad).
As is true with most eateries, where ever you find tables packed with locals, you can bet it is a great spot.
There are many American chains throughout the Central Valley, but they all come with a large cost factor.
The true beauty of the Costa Rican food is the freshness!
You will find loads of inexpensive vegetables and fruits growing in practically every yard or at one of many fruit stands along the road.
6. Try Costa Rican Coffee
The coffee… Oh, how I miss the exquisite Costa Rican coffee. Most people are familiar with Costa Rican coffee, since it can be found all over the world.
The country has rich, volcanic soil and a warm climate with heavy rainfall, which is perfect for growing coffee beans. This creates a very unique taste and aroma that can only be found with Costa Rican beans.
When traveling back to visit the United States, we’d bring twenty ½ kilo bags of Atenas coffee with us as gifts and to drink during our short stay in the States.
You can bring home half-a-kilo (1.1 lbs) of beans for less than $5 in Costa Rica, so it’s well worth grabbing a few bags to take home with you when you leave.
But if you want to try coffee in Costa Rica, my advice is to find the more town local favorites such as La Villa in Atenas. Café Brit, while the most commercialized brand, is not as pleasing or fresh as a local town brands.
7. Enjoy The Costa Rican Nightlife
Costa Ricans enjoy to party and every town, big and small, will offer a few options for a drink right in the town center.
Imperial is the local beer and most commonly compared to a Budweiser. They are starting some small local breweries and some imports are available as well, but at a cost.
Most weekends there is some type of celebration going on complete with fireworks, drinks, and loud music. If at all possible, try to get to one, it is a sight to see, whether it is a “tope” (horse parade), or the celebration of a saint, you will enjoy it!
8. Visit The Farmer’s Markets
Each town in Costa Rica will have their own local farmers markets. These are most definitely worth a visit as they offer the best value and a nice introduction to the local culture, not to mention incredibly fresh and delicious fruits vegetables, cheeses, yogurts, herbs, etc.
There is also a lovely walking street in the heart of San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city, where you can find trinkets, clothing, locally made art, and bootleg things.
It is located just behind the National Theatre, another great spot to see if strolling around the city.
9. Celebrate Independence Day in Costa Rica
Independence day is probably the biggest holiday in Costa Rica, celebrated on September 15th.
There is a night parade in each town with local children carrying “faroles” (handmade lanterns) and also a huge parade during the day.
It is celebrated with much pride in nearly every town in Costa Rica.
10. Attend Semana Santa
Semana Santa is the week leading up to Easter. Being a Catholic country this is also taken very seriously.
It is considered the highest of the high seasons, so accommodations and food will be the most expensive.
If you are visiting during Semana Santa, note that everything will be booked well in advance, such as hotels (especially on the beach).
Also of note, many things shut down during this week and on Good Friday you are not even supposed to drive a car, although many do anyway.
Alcohol is also difficult to purchase on Good Friday and throughout Easter weekend.
11. Celebrate New Year Overlooking Central Valley
If it is at all possible to spend New Years eve on a mountain top overlooking the Central Valley, I would do it every time! It is the best show I think I have ever seen and was so sad to miss it this year.
Words cannot really describe the amazing sight of countless fireworks exploding at midnight over the city and everywhere around you.
So, do yourself a favor and get down there for at least one New Years.
12. Visit The Sloth Sanctuary
For wildlife lovers, you cannot miss a visit to The Sloth Sanctuary. It was established in 1992 and is nestled within a 320-acre nature preserve on the southeast Caribbean side of Costa Rica, near the city of Cahuita.
This haven is dedicated to protecting and rehabilitating sloths while offering educational tours to fund its noble cause.
On these guided tours, you can learn about why these animals have come to the sanctuary and what they need in order to be released into the wild.
You can witness these endearing creatures as they undergo rehabilitation before being released back into their natural habitat under the careful guidance of sanctuary staff, as well as see baby sloths who need constant care and attention.
13. Visit The Jaguar Rescue Center
Another important wildlife sanctuary to visit is The Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, which serves as a temporary haven for a diverse array of wildlife, not only jaguars, and provides care for sick, injured, mistreated, and orphaned animals.
As well as jaguars, you can see monkeys, sloths, birds, and reptiles as they undergo care and rehabilitation.
The center offers public tours that bring visitors into direct contact with the wild cats, anteaters, and other animals at the sanctuary, and provides an up close view into the conservation efforts.
14. Explore The National Parks (Tenorio Volcano National Park, Corcovado National Park & Tortuguero National Park)
Costa Rica is famous for its national parks, so be sure to add a few to your itinerary.
My favorite national parks are Tenorio Volcano National Park, Corcovado National Park and Tortuguero National Park, which offer an unparalleled immersion into Costa Rica’s natural grandeur.
Tortuguero National Park is famous for its leather back sea turtle colonies that nest on its beaches, as well as its riverways and canals that provide habitats for a variety of creatures.
Corcovado National Park is a national park known for its untamed beauty, showcasing one of the planet’s most biologically intense regions.
Here you can find many hiking trails which lead from the coast to mangrove swamps to montane rainforests. You may even spot a cheeky Central American monkey in the trees.
Tortuguero National Park is another national park known for its natural beauty and wildlife.
It’s most famous for its Rio Celeste Waterfall, and is also compact with lush rainforests and pristine waterways, which provides a sanctuary to endangered turtles and a variety of bird species.
15. See Turtle Conservation Efforts at Ostional Wildlife Refuge
Located in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, the Ostional Wildlife Refuge is a refuge for the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles.
This pristine natural sanctuary is renowned as one of the world’s most critical nesting sites for these gentle marine creatures.
Here you can be treated to sights of arribadas, mass nesting events where thousands of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs.
The ethereal beauty of this phenomenon, combined with the sanctuary’s commitment to wildlife preservation, makes it a must-visit for nature lovers in Costa Rica.
16. Relax in San José
San José is arguably the pulsating heart of Costa Rica, and is not to be missed if you want to experience the cultural, historical, and urban charms of the country.
From its world-class museums and picturesque parks to the vibrant nightlife and architectural marvels, the city presents a captivating fusion of tradition and modernity.
It’s also known for its yoga retreats, eco resorts and eco-lodges, where you can experience the harmonious side of Costa Rica.
Places to stay in Costa Rica
Use the map below to help you find your perfect accommodation in Costa Rica. Or see what’s available on Expedia,
Getting To And Around Costa Rica
Within the country, Nature Air often offers deals to save on in country travel times.
Driving is also an option, but it can become increasingly difficult if taking a car over any borders. You can rent a car but it is expensive and driving the windy and foggy roads can be a challenge and usually somewhat time-consuming.
Also remember that a tourist visa is free to enter (most passports will get 90 days upon entry) but there is an exit tax of $28 USD per person when leaving the country by plane!
Public transport is a great way to see the country. Buses are available for short and longer distances and even for travel between neighboring countries.
There are no trains in Costa Rica, but buses (Ticabus and Nicabus) are always an option. They are more affordable than any flights but certainly take a considerable amount of time.
Each town also has multiple taxi services. Red taxis are the insured ones, but are a bit more expensive. There are also smaller companies that we used for a fraction of a cost, but they offer no insurance.
Orange taxis are the official transport from the airport and it is recommended that you use those for safety and best value. You could hire a taxi for a full day for around $100.
Best Time of Year to Visit Costa Rica
The best time of year to visit Costa Rica largely depends on what you want to get out of your trip. Most of the country experiences a dry and rainy season.
Dry season is from November to April and consists of very little rain, leaving much of the countryside dry and brown, and with very warm temperatures. Rainy season goes from April to November and progressively gets rainier, climaxing in October.
The benefit in the rainy season is that the travel costs are all down and the temps can be quite a bit cooler. Typically, it will rain for an hour or 2 in the late afternoon so really it doesn’t affect your day very much at all, until October that is.
One of the most interesting things about Costa Rica is its microclimates though so check in more detail for your exact location(s). Even in the same town, elevation variations can make temps and rain levels quite a bit different.
High season is the dry season and it’s quite beautiful, but I’m partial to the “green” (rainy) season. I recommend going anytime, save for October.
Costa Rica is a country that will leave you with lasting memories.
Some of our fondest moments as a family came while learning to surf together, climbing a volcano, horseback riding to hot springs, and enjoying the perfect climate that graced our small mountain town.
We hope this guide helped you plan some things to do in Costa Rica and gave you some inspiration for places to visit.