A wild and wonderful vacation destination, Costa Rica is full of attractions and activities. A trip there can be as adventurous or as relaxing as your desire. There are so many cool things to do in Costa Rica, whether you want to spend long days lounging on beaches of white, black, or even pink sand, snorkeling in colorful reefs, or exploring plantations. There are also countless unique things to do in Costa Rica, from hiking in a cloud forest, getting up close and personal with sloths, or trekking in rainforests in Costa Rica rainforest after dark. So, if you’re planning a vacation to this stunning Central American country, here are our picks for the best things to do in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, is the country’s largest city. Therefore it’s no surprise that there are many attractions to explore. San Jose is strangely often overlooked by visitors to Costa Rica in favor of the wild and natural spaces that the country is famous for, but with attractions including museums, galleries, parks, and even waterfalls to explore, there is no reason to skip San Jose on your Costa Rica vacation.
Top 5 best things to do in San Jose, Costa Rica
Visit the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica – the National Museum of Costa Rica
San Jose is home to many fantastic museums. The most unmissable of them all is the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica or the National Museum of Costa Rica. If you want to get an overview of the history and culture of this remarkable country, then this museum should be high on your list of attractions to visit. There are exhibits about archaeology, anthropology, the natural world, and history, among others.
The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica is easy to find. It is housed inside a canary-yellow fort called the Bella Vista Barracks, which is an incredible historic site in itself, and a wonderful place to visit for architecture and history fans. Entrance to the National Museum of Costa Rica costs $11 for a general ticket or $6 for students. The Costa Rican National Museum is by far one of the best things to do in Costa Rica for culture and history fans.
Take a trip to the La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Costa Rica is particularly famous for its immense waterfalls. The good news is that you don’t have to go far from the capital to see some. The La Paz Waterfall Gardens are a privately-owned attraction about 1.5 hours drive away from San Jose. It features 5 beautiful waterfalls as well as butterfly houses, a trout lake, and a bird sanctuary. To see the waterfalls, you can follow a trail network that will take you to viewpoints for each of them. You can either visit independently with a rental car or join a guided tour from San Jose. The La Paz Waterfall Gardens is the most visited ecological attraction in Costa Rica, so it’s worth prebooking your tickets online before your visit. It costs $48 to get in, which covers access to all trails and attractions.
Explore San Jose Central Market
If you want to experience the beating heart of the city, then a trip to San Jose Central Market is not to be missed. Filled with stalls, stands, and sodas (food stalls), there is so much to explore that you could easily spend a few hours perusing the goods on offer. The San Jose Central Market is home to a particularly well-known ice cream shop called Helados De Sorbetera. They prepare refreshing ice creams with a unique recipe, which is so popular that many other ice cream shops have tried to replicate it, but never quite succeeded. As well as snacks, the San Jose Central Market is a great place to pick up local and authentic souvenirs from your Costa Rica travels.
Take a day trip to Tortuga Island
Only accessible by boat, Tortuga Island is somewhere that embodies that tropical paradise idyll that is typical of Costa Rica. If you’re a fan of the great outdoors, the Tortuga Island tour from San Jose is a must-do. You can enjoy world-class snorkeling and scuba diving, hiking trails, watersports including kayaking and paddleboarding, and beautiful white sandy beaches. You can easily visit Tortuga Island on an organized day trip from San Jose.
Visit Teatro Nacional Costa Rica – the National Theatre of Costa Rica
One of the most beautiful buildings in San Jose, the Teatro Nacionale Costa Rica, or the National Theatre of Costa Rica, is a stunning place to spend a rainy day. You can either go on a tour of the building or catch a show in the auditorium. The building’s interior has an air of prestigiousness, with lavish furnishings and marble statues adorning hallways and rooms. The theater is open for tours from Tuesday to Sunday. It costs $10 to get in for a look around.
Known for its idyllic white sand beaches, Tamarindo is a popular tourist resort in the Guanacaste region. If you want somewhere with plenty of bars and restaurants alongside Costa Rica’s famous natural attractions, then Tamarindo is the place for you. Particularly renowned as a great spot for surfing, Tamarindo vacations are spent on the beaches and in the water, as well as at the local attractions we’ve picked out below.
Top 5 best things to do in Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Enjoy a beach day at Playa Tamarindo
Costa Rica’s beaches are unmissable, and Playa Tamarindo is the resort’s beautiful white sand offering that stretches for 3.5 km along the coastline. For surfers, the beach is a fabulous place to be. Families will enjoy the soft golden sand, which is perfect at high tide for relaxing, beach games, and a spot of swimming.
Take part in some watersports
As with many beach resorts, Tamarindo has many fabulous opportunities for watersports. As mentioned above, surfing is a big draw. Gentle waves offer beginners the ideal place to try it out for the first time. Larger swells for experienced surfers can be found just up the coastline. If surfing isn’t your thing, never fear. There are plenty of other ways to experience the water in Tamarindo. These include kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, and jet skiing, as well as snorkeling and scuba diving.
Explore the Tamarindo Night Market
Every Thursday, Tamarindo comes alive with the infectious beat of live music, dancing, and general merriment at the Tamarindo Night Market. Whether you’re looking for a bite to eat, some entertainment, or a place to pick up handcrafted goods and souvenirs, the night market is a great place to stop by. It’s also a fun way to get a little insight into the local Costa Rican culture. Acts such as singers, fire eaters, and more provide family entertainment throughout the evening. The Tamarindo Night Market takes place every Thursday from 6 pm through 9 pm.
Take a trip to Ricon de la Vieja National Park
Ricon de la Vieja National park is the closest national park to Tamarindo. It is 1.5 hours away by road, so easily doable as a day trip from the town. It is fantastic for hikers and those looking for adventurous activities. The name Rincon de la Vieja comes from the dormant volcano within the park, one of several in Costa Rica, and a magnificent site from the many trails and pathways in the park. Along with the various hiking opportunities, there are some waterfalls and hot springs to explore. There are also adventure activities such as zip lining, tubing, and more.
Take a sunset cruise in Tamarindo
Costa Rican sunsets are something to behold, and the best way to see one is from the comfort of a catamaran or sailboat, enjoying a drink as the sun slips below the horizon and turns the sky into a kaleidoscope of fiery shades. For couples looking for a romantic excursion, you can’t beat a sunset cruise as one of the top things to do in Costa Rica.
Guanacaste is one of Costa Rica’s most popular destinations, and for good reason, as it combines all of the quintessential things that make a Costa Rica vacation so special. There are numerous beautiful beaches in Guanacaste, as well as countless adventure and outdoor activities in the dramatic landscape.
Top 5 things to do in Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Visit the Costa Rica wetlands
Taking a tour through the Costa Rica wetlands of the Nicoya Peninsula is a fantastic way to get to know the local flora and fauna of Costa Rica. The wetlands are home to an astonishing number of species, so is a must-visit for wildlife spotters. Among those calling this stunning landscape home are crocodiles, anteaters, and countless species of birds. It is easiest to visit the wetlands on an organized tour, many of which include an expert guide who will point out the critters so you don’t miss anything.
Take to the trees on a zip-line Guanacaste tour
One of the premier adventure activities in Costa Rica, a Guanacaste zip-line canopy tour is the best way to get a bird’s eye view of the rainforest as you zoom over top of the canopy. In and around Guanacaste, you can try ziplining at Buena Vista Del Rincon, Canyon de la Vieja, Hacienda Guachepelin, and more, so there are ample opportunities to get that adrenaline rush. It is one of the most iconic adventurous things to do in Costa Rica and a totally unmissable experience for those who want to try something unique and exciting.
Get up close and personal with sloths at the Sloth Sanctuary Costa Rica
Guanacaste offers visitors a unique experience, as it is one of the only places in the world where you get up close and personal with sloths in their natural environment. These adorably lazy creatures are something of an animal mascot of the country, and at the Sloth Sanctuary Costa Rica, you can see them in a protected habitat and learn more about them and the conservation work that the sanctuary does to protect them.
The Sloth Sanctuary Costa Rica offers two tours, one involving a rainforest walk where you will see the sloths, and another which includes not only the trek but also a look behind-the-scenes of the sanctuary at the nursery. All money raised goes directly to helping the animals, and you can help out further by adopting a sloth and following its story as it is released back into the wild. This is a unique thing to do in Costa Rica for animal lovers and supports a great cause. What more could you want from a vacation activity?
Relax in some Guanacaste hot springs
Due to its volcanic landscape and historic eruptions, Costa Rica boasts some pretty fabulous natural hot springs. These geothermally-heated waters are the perfect places to kick back, relax, and ease those aching muscles. Some of the best Guanacaste hot springs can be found at Buena Vista Del Rincon, which you can visit on a day tour and enjoy the soothing properties of the thermal waters and mud baths.
Visit spectacular waterfalls in Guanacaste Costa Rica
Some of Costa Rica’s most impressive waterfalls are within the Guanacaste region, and seeing at least a couple of them is one of the most unmissable things to do while in the area. There are numerous Guanacaste waterfall trails that allow you to hike through the forest to the falls, with some, such as the Llanos del Cortez waterfalls being a short and easy 20-minute walk from the nearby car park, and others, like Oropendola waterfall offering a more challenging 1.5-hour trek. Whichever of the Guanacaste waterfalls you choose, you’ll be greeted by the breathtaking power of nature in a spectacular landscape.
Jaco is the closest beach city to Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose. As such, it is a popular base for those looking for the best combo of city attractions, beach relaxation, and opportunities to explore Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Renowned for its nightlife, Jaco draws a young crowd, but the relaxed atmosphere during the day alongside the ample available day trips make it a great base for everyone visiting Costa Rica.
Top 5 things to do in Jaco, Costa Rica
Ride the waves at Playa Hermosa
A famous surfing destination, Playa Hermosa is a popular and beautiful beach near Jaco. It is fantastic for experienced surfers, with large and lively swells offering a thrilling ride along the coastline. For beginners, Jaco Beach itself offers much smaller waves and gentler conditions. Surfing is a very cool thing to do in Costa Rica, whether you’re a total novice or an expert wave-rider. There is also the opportunity to watch from the sand if you don’t fancy getting your feet wet. Jaco hosts many surfing competitions throughout the year.
Explore the underwater world on a scuba or snorkeling tour
Another water-based activity in Jaco lets you explore the technicolor world beneath the waves. You can enjoy snorkeling and diving tours from Jaco. You will be transported by boat to secluded dive spots where the reefs teem with ocean life. It is possible to spot colorful reef fish, manta rays, and even turtles on snorkel and dive tours from Jaco.
Meet the crocodiles of the Tarcoles River
Just 25 minutes drive north of Jaco is the Tarcoles River with its famous crocodile bridge. This is an example of the name being very literal. The Tarcoles River is home to one of the largest crocodile populations in the world. A walk across the bridge gives you a fantastic chance of seeing them lazing on the river banks or floating like driftwood down the river. You can also take a crocodile cruise for a more in-depth look at these prehistoric reptiles.
Meet Costa Rica’s wildlife in Carara National Park
If you want to see more than crocodiles, a day trip to Carara National park is highly recommended. One of Costa Rica’s most important protected environments, it was created to look after the mighty Tarcoles River and the surrounding rainforest. There are many Carara National Park animals that call the area home, from the aforementioned Costa Rican Crocodiles to various snakes, sloths, monkeys, and birds including Scarlet Macaws and Toucans. The park has a $10 entrance fee. You can visit independently or on numerous Carara National Park guided tours from Jaco.
Party the night away with Jaco Costa Rica nightlife
It would be remiss of us to not mention Jaco’s buzzing nightlife scene. With numerous clubs, bars, and venues playing music and DJ sets throughout the night into the small hours of the morning. Many of Jaco’s nightclubs attract DJs from across Central America. Jaco nightlife is amongst the best Costa Rica, a must-do if you’re into the party scene.
In the heart of the Guanacaste region, Liberia is an important city in Costa Rica. It is home to one of only two international airports in the country (the other being San Jose). There is, therefore, a high chance that you might be entering or leaving Costa Rica from here. It is centrally located with a lot of easy day trips nearby. As such it is a popular base for visitors exploring this region of Costa Rica.
Top 5 things to do in Liberia, Costa Rica
Get to know the city at Parque Mario Canas Ruiz
Right in the heart of Liberia’s Old Town, Parque Mario Canas Ruiz is the perfect place to get to know the city. The park has a fun and laid-back atmosphere, with street vendors selling food and souvenirs and live music often happening on the park’s central stage. The most striking element of the park is the grand Central Church of Liberia, a geometric and unusual building painted white.
Do the La Leona waterfall hike
La Leona waterfall is a magnificent sight, located in a dramatic canyon with water tumbling over a sheer rock face. The easiest way to visit La Leona is on a guided tour. These will take you on a trek around Ricon La Vieja volcano to the falls, where you could have the opportunity to swim in the pool below the waterfall.
Learn about one of Costa Rica’s most important exports on the Tio Leo Coffee Tour
Coffee is a hugely important Costa Rican export. So why not learn all about it on the Tio Leo Coffee Tour? Located at a traditional Costa Rican coffee shop, you can grab a brew for yourself before exploring the plantation, the sugarcane extraction process, and the roasting of the beans in a hands-on tour led by Tio Leo himself. The coffee plantation is only 10-minutes away from Liberia Airport. It is a great first or final stop on your trip. Tours cost $39 for adults.
Be amazed by the Poza Los Coyotes
Only open to the public since 2020, Poza Los Coyotes is an absolutely mesmerizing place just 20 minutes from Liberia. It is a firm favorite with locals but a little bit under the radar for a lot of visitors to Costa Rica, so visit soon before word spreads far and wide. The main draw of Poza Los Coyotes is the color of the water. It is a dazzlingly blue shade thanks to the high mineral content of the water that trickles down from the mountains and nearby volcano. You can rent an inflatable tube a float down the caves and natural pools, where you can also see a waterfall and canyon.
Get cultural at the Hidden Garden Art Gallery Liberia
If you want to see the cultural side of Costa Rica, then the Hidden Garden Art Gallery is a must-visit in Liberia. With 15 rooms of artwork and sculptures by local artists who have captured the beauty of Costa Rica, this gallery is just 5 minutes from the airport, making it the ideal place to stop off and grab a unique and meaningful souvenir from your trip. The gallery staff are experts in packing up pieces for flights, so many people make a stop to pick up something special on their way home.
In the shadow of the mighty Arenal volcano, La Fortuna is a small and charming Costa Rican town. The town itself has restaurants, bars, and places to shop, but the biggest draw is the opportunity to easily explore Costa Rica’s incredible landscapes.
Top 5 things to do in La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Explore the rainforest on a night walk
If you think that the Costa Rica rainforests are amazing during the daylight hours, then prepare to be blown away by them once the sun goes down. Taking a guided night tour of the Costa Rica rainforest around La Fortuna is a must-do, even if you’ve visited during the day. During the night, you’ll see the rainforest in a completely different way, all murky shadows and the sounds of skittering and rustling undergrowth as the nocturnal inhabitants awaken. From dart frogs to bullet ants, lizards, and even jaguars, the rainforest at night is an intoxicating and eerie place. It is essential to go on a guided tour. Luckily, there are many to choose from that start from La Fortuna. This is one of the unique things to do in Costa Rica. For many people offers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore a tropical rainforest after dark.
Journey below the Earth at Venado Caves
If you’re seeking something adrenaline-fuelled, then a trip to Venada Caves might be just the excursion that you’re looking for. This incredible underground network takes you on a journey back in time. You can see ancient rivers and sea beds that are millions of years old and dramatic rock formations during an exploration and spelunking trip, where you will clamber, scramble, and leap through chasms and crevices.
Visit La Fortuna waterfall
This breathtaking 230-foot waterfall is one of the top attractions in La Fortuna, and with good reason; it is one of the most impressive sights in an area boasting many of them. La Fortuna waterfall can be visited either on a tour or privately – and it is relatively easy to get to. You need to drive to the car park, pay the entrance fee ($18) and then walk about 15 minutes down around 500 steps to reach the waterfall. You can swim in the pool below the waterfall, and make sure to keep an eye out for wildlife such as toucans in the trees around the waterfall.
Explore the Mistico Hanging Bridges
If you want to see the forest from a different perspective, a visit to the Mistico Hanging Bridges is highly recommended. They are located in a privately-owned park that is protected by a local family. A network of 14 bridges, 6 of which are hanging, leads you on a trail through the rainforest. The 6-mile long trail offers the chance to rub shoulders with the rainforest and wildlife spotting opportunities. There are also fantastic scenic viewpoints of the Arenal volcano. Adult entrance to the park costs $26, or you can take a guided tour from La Fortuna.
Visit the Butterfly Conservatory Costa Rica
About 30 minutes from La Fortuna in the small town of El Castillo you can find the Butterfly Conservatory. Here, you’ll observe Costa Rica’s native species in large butterfly houses where the insects fly freely around you. The center runs a Metamorphasis Tour for $17. This lets you walk through the houses, learn from butterfly experts, and be amazed as the butterflies flutter and swoop around you.
With a name that means ‘Green Mountain’ in Spanish, it comes as little surprise that Monteverde is one of the lushest and most verdant areas in Costa Rica. A small town packed with adventure, Monteverde is the ultimate destination in Costa Rica for fans of the great outdoors. There are unique ecosystems and amazing excursions on offer. Monteverde sits at a high elevation, so make sure that you pack for chillier and wetter conditions than on the Costa Rican coast.
Top 5 things to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica
Costa Rica as a whole is an incredible destination for twitchers, but the bird-watching in Monteverde is particularly special. The Curi-Cancha Reserve is one of the best places in the country to spot winged species, from tiny hummingbirds to elegant scarlet macaws and toucans. You can go solo on your bird-watching tour, or join an organized excursion for expert insight into the birds and their habits.
Hike through the Monteverde cloud forest reserve
Monteverde’s most famous and enigmatic attraction is the cloud forests, where the sky meets the Costa Rican rainforest in a swirling mass of clouds, leaves, and mist. It offers visitors the unique opportunity to walk through low clouds, all while looking out for over 1700 species of mammals, birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Monteverde Cloud Forest biological reserve has 6 main trails forming around 8 miles of track through the trees. You can visit the forest either independently or with a guide, and the entrance fee is $25. Cloud forests require a very specific and unusual set of weather conditions. Therefore, the chance to visit the Monteverde cloud forest is one of the most unmissable and unique things to do in Costa Rica.
Face your fears on a bungee jump
For the daring amongst you and those looking for particularly adventurous things to do in Costa Rica, the Monteverde bungee jump is an irresistibly adrenaline-filled activity to tick off your bucket list. At a staggering height of over 460 feet, the jump at Monteverde Extremo Park is the highest not just in Costa Rica, but in all of Central America. One thing that makes this bungee jump unique is that you leap from a tram hanging above the famous cloud forest, giving you a completely unforgettable view of the clouds and trees as you soar down passed them. The jump costs from $87.
Admire rare orchids in bloom
If you prefer something a little less hair-raising, perhaps a visit to Monteverde’s orchid garden is more up your street. The garden is home to over 450 species of orchids, with at least 120 in bloom at any one time. These delicate and colorful flowers are a beautiful sight on mass. Taking a guided tour of the garden gives you all the knowledge that you need to spot them yourself. The entrance fee, which includes the tour, costs $14.
Count amphibians at the Frog Pond, Monteverde
Costa Rica is home to a huge number of species of frogs and toads, and the Frog Pond is a great place to see as many of them as possible. Tickets to the Frog Pond cost $20. They are valid for 2 visits. One during the day and one at nighttime when more of the amphibians are awake and active. You could spot beautiful tropical species including the red-eyed tree frog and the poison arrow frog.
Dominated by the imposing conical crater of the Arenal volcano, Arenal is wild Costa Rica at its finest. Suppose you’re visiting Costa Rica during the wet or ‘green’ season. In that case, Arenal is perfect. The Costa Rica rainforest will be at its most luscious during this time of year (if you want more information about Costa Rica’s wet and dry seasons, take a look at our guide to the best time to visit.)
Top 5 things to do in Arenal, Costa Rica
Bathe in the Arenal hot springs
There are several Arenal hot springs, both natural and artificially heated. Nothing beats relaxing in soothing water in the shadow of the volcano that made them warm. Arenal is one of the few places where you can experience that. One of the natural hot springs is in the Tabacon Grand Spa. It has multiple pools to choose from, including an adult-only one. It also does not use any pumps or machines to enhance the water. Instead, it relyies on the geothermal energy beneath the Earth to deliver a blissful bathing experience.
Feel the adrenaline rush of Arenal white water rafting
The amount of rainfall during Costa Rica’s wet season causes fast and swollen rivers. In other words, the perfect conditions for white-water rafting. Arenal is a fantastic place to experience the unique rush of flying down a churning river on an inflatable boat. It has three major rivers flowing through it. For beginners, the Penas Blancas River is the one to go for. It has slow and gentle currents making for a leisurely experience floating through the forest. Adrenaline addicts and experienced rafters will want to head for either the Balsa or Toro rivers. Here you’ll find fast rapids for a white-knuckle ride down the river.
Explore Arenal Volcano National Park
Named after the majestic andesitic stratovolcano that looms over the horizon, Arenal Volcano National Park is a must-visit when in the area. It is one of the most iconic things to do in Costa Rica. Arenal volcano is currently in a resting phase. Therefore, the chances of you seeing lava are lower than they were until recently. That doesn’t make the sight of the conical mountain any less impressive. You can take numerous Arenal volcano hikes and trails around the volcano and the surrounding Costa Rican rainforest, where you could see howler monkeys, snakes, and macaws. Because it was very active until 2010, you cannot climb to the summit of Arenal volcano, but you still get some incredible views from the trails set out through the park.
Enjoy the views at the largest lake in Costa Rica
If a towering volcano and a rainforest weren’t enough natural splendor for the Arenal area, it is also the location of the largest lake in Costa Rica. The stunning Lake Arenal sits in the shadow of the volcano. It makes a spectacular scene for trying out some watersports or simply relaxing on the shoreline. Windsurfing is popular on lake Arenal because there is little in the way of wave activity, but plenty of wind. There are also picnic spots and pathways leading around the lake.
Repel down a waterfall
Costa Rica’s waterfalls are world-famous – we’ve mentioned quite a few of them already on this list. If you want to do more than simply admire them, how about strapping yourself to the side of one and repelling down? This adrenaline-fuelled activity is a unique way to experience the pure power of Arenal’s thundering waterfalls. It is also the perfect way to keep cool on hot days. The refreshing spray of water feels so soothing as it enrobes you while you jump down the sheer rock face. Once you get over the fear, this is one of the most fun things to do in Costa Rica.
A colorful beach town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, Puerto Vieja is often a little overlooked in favor of the bigger resorts up the coastline. Puerto Vieja is laid-back and oozes Caribbean charm. It also has typically gorgeous white-sand beaches backed by swaying palm trees. There are plenty of fun activities to enjoy here during your stay.
Top 5 things to do in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica
Explore the colorful Caribbean town
Puerto Viejo may be a small town, but there are plenty of beautiful things to enjoy there. One of the best ways to see the town is to rent a bicycle. You can pedal your way through the charming streets, stopping at bars and viewpoints that take your fancy. Puerto Viejo also has a vibrant nightlife scene, so day or night, you’ll have plenty to keep yourself entertained.
Soak up the sun at Punta Uva
If you’re in the market for a quintessentially tropical paradise beach, one where you can dip your toes in the surf while sitting on soft golden sand under the shade of a palm tree, then Punta Uva is just the beach that you are looking for. Punta Uva is about 5 miles out of downtown Puerto Viejo and is easily reachable by car, taxi, or bike. Days on the beach are best spent in full relaxation mode. Think lounging on the sand, walking through the surf, or paddling through the tranquil water in a kayak.
Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center
Costa Rica’s most enigmatic predator is undoubtedly the jaguar. The spotted wild cat has become one of the faces of animal conservation across the globe. Wildlife lovers simply cannot miss the opportunity to visit the Jaguar Rescue Center. Here, conservation efforts are made every day to ensure the survival of these magnificent animals. A visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center does not guarantee that you will see a jaguar. The center returns as many animals as possible to the wild (and they currently have a 100% success rate). However. they do also have spaces where they raise baby sloths and other native wildlife that has found itself in trouble in the wild. Entry costs $22, which includes a mandatory guided tour.
See the volcanic black sands of Playa Negra
It is not difficult to find incredible white sand beaches, but black sand beaches are a far rarer occurrence. Only found in volcanic places (other notable black sand beach countries include Iceland and Spain’s Canary Islands), these dramatic locations are a breathtaking sight to behold. Playa Negra near Puerto Viejo is one such black sand beach in Costa Rica, and it’s most beautiful. The turquoise of the Caribbean Sea contrasted against the inky black sand makes for an unforgettable place to catch some sun rays or take a paddle in the surf. Just remember that black sand soaks up all the sunshine, so gets far hotter than white sand ever will.
Snorkel in the Caribbean Sea
The Caribbean Sea is a beautiful place to don your mask and flippers and take a journey beneath the waves. Near Puerto Viejo, you can snorkel in places like Cahuita National Park and Manzanilla. You will see coral reefs that are home to countless species of fish, rays, and even reef sharks.
Quepos is quite a touristy destination, popular in part because of the magnificent Manuel Antonio National Park. The city itself offers many exciting attractions, including a beautiful harbor area, plenty of bars and restaurants, and a pulsating nightlife scene.
Top 5 things to do in Quepos, Costa Rica
Visit Manuel Antonio National Park
One of the most well-known national parks in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio more than deserves its reputation as one of the top wildlife destinations in the country. Sloths, iguanas, land crabs, caimans, and more all live in the park and can be seen with a knowledgeable guide. Beach lovers will also love Manuel Antonio National Park. It boasts some of the best in Costa Costa, as well as sublime sea views from various viewpoints.
See the boats at Marina Pez Vela
There is a strong seafaring history in Quepos. Nowhere is this more apparent than at the city’s beautiful Marina Pez Vela. Here, you can see all sorts of boats from small fishing vessels to shiny yachts. It is a great place to grab a drink and watch the sun go down.
Try local fruits at Quepos Farmers Market
Fruit is among the finest local produce that Costa Rica has to offer. You can sample some of those tropical delights at Quepos Farmers Market. These markets that are held across Quepos throughout the week are also amazing places to see colorful piles of fruits. Melons, pineapples, passion fruits, papayas, and bananas are alongside more unusual offerings such as spiky-coated rambutans.
Try some watersports
From kayaking to stand-up paddleboarding and jet skiing, there is a range of watersports that you can try in and around Quepos. These activities are the ideal way to explore the coastline, have a bit of fun, and cool off in the warmth of the Costa Rican sunshine.
Explore the stalagmites stalactites at Damas Cave
Just outside of Quepos is something a world away from the beaches and sea views that make the city famous. Damas Caves is about 20 km to the north of the city. It is one of the few cave systems in Costa Rica that has not been overly adapted for tourists, so it feels like a very authentic caving experience. You can see mighty stalagmites and stalactites jutting out of the cave’s ceiling and floor like the enormous mouth of a petrified dragon, while bats flitter in and out of crevices above.
Puerto Limon is one of the largest cities in Costa Rica and a popular cruise port. There is always something happening in this lively destination. The province of Limon has got a little bit of everything that Costa Rica is famous for. This makes it a great choice for first-timers or families wanting to see as much as possible.
Top 5 things to do in Limon, Costa Rica
Visit the ‘Amazon of Costa Rica’ – Tortuguero National Park
A labyrinthine network of canals running through dense Costa Rican rainforest, it’s no surprise that Tortuguero National park is nicknamed the Amazon of Costa Rica. One of the best ways to see the park is from the river. You can take an open-air boat tour and perhaps see some of the protected species that call the park home, including the rare and elusive green turtle. You can visit Tortuguero National Park on an organized tour from Puerto Limon, or go independently.
Take a guided tour of the Veragua Rainforest
Located about an hour outside of Puerto Limon, the Veragua rainforest is the best place in the area to see sloths in the wild, as well as countless other tropical species. Alongside trails and walkways that lead through the forest, Veragua rainforest also has an ariel tram that takes you up into the canopy for a bird’s eye view of the breathtaking landscape. You can visit the Veragua rainforest independently – entrance costs $58, but we recommend joining a guided tour with a wildlife expert to increase your chances of seeing the more elusive creatures that live in the forest.
Relax and snorkel at Playa Bonita, Limon
With a name translated as ‘the Beautiful Beach’, you know that you’re in for a treat when you spend a day at Playa Bonita. This golden sand wonder is the quintessential paradise beach and ideal for spending a relaxing day unwinding after adventurous activities and Costa Rican rainforest treks. There is also fabulous snorkeling at Playa Bonita. If you’re lucky, you might even see a turtle drifting passed!
Visit a banana plantation
Costa Rica is the world’s largest exporter of bananas. So it would be a shame to go all the way there and miss learning a bit more about the curvy yellow fruit. There are several plantations near Limon where you can learn about the processes involved in growing, harvesting, and exporting bananas, and even buy a few fresh off the plantation to sample.
Try your hand at traditional chocolate making
Chocolate is an important part of Costa Rican culture. Learning to make it the traditional way in the company of experts from the indigenous Bribri tribe is one of the most rewarding and memorable things to do in Costa Rica.
Once a small town in Costa Rica’s Nicoya Peninsula, Nosara has steadily grown into a bustling surf center popular with families, couples, and those looking for a more laid-back Costa Rican vacation than can be found in the big cities.
Top 5 things to do in Nosara, Costa Rica
Ride the waves at Costa Rica’s number-one surf spot
If Nosara is known for three things, they are surfing, surfing, and yet more surfing. Drawing board masters from around the world, Nosara’s surf scene is world-class. The 7km Guiones Beach is always busy with beginner, intermediate, and advanced surfers looking to catch some breakers. Nosara is home to several surf camps and surf schools. If you fancy giving it a go, you’ll be in safe, expert hands. There are also shuttle boats taking you out into the deeper water, which are recommended. Guiones Beach is also rather popular with stingrays!
Take a tour to see nesting sea turtles
If you’re a wildlife lover, then Playa de Ostinal is somewhere that you’ll want to mark on your itinerary. Every rainy season, about a week before the new moon hundreds of turtles come ashore to lay their eggs in what is called an arribada. If you want to see this amazing natural spectacle, it is important to go with a reputable tour company, such as the Wildlife Conservation Association. They will ensure that everyone, humans and turtles, get the most out of your visit.
Take a trek through Nosara Biological Reserve
Although smaller than many reserves in Costa Rica, Nosara Biological Reserve is still well worth a visit. Visit early in the morning to see the animals at their most active. Keep an eye out for species including anteaters, armadillos, iguanas, and howler monkeys. The entrance costs $6, and you can also do a guided walk of the trails for a small extra charge. If you’re looking for things to do in Costa Rica with kids as a way of introducing them to the Costa Rica rainforest without having the trek for hours, this is a good choice.
Take a Nosara yoga class
Alongside surfing, Nosara is famous for yoga. From one-off community classes to yoga retreats in Nosara and even courses, there are plenty of ways to find your zen. Whether you’re an experienced yogi or a total beginner, you’ll be able to find a class or experience to suit your needs in Nosara.
Visit a pink sand beach, Nosara
Very few places on Earth can lay claim to having a pink sand beach. Costa Rica is one of them. Playa Rosada has beautiful rosy blush-colored sand, which looks just incredible against the bright blue of the ocean. The contrast makes the pink sand beach a dream for photographers. The easiest way to get to Playa Rosada is to hop on an organized excursion that will take you there by boat at the best time according to tides.
Another of Costa Rica’s premier surf towns, Santa Teresa is always buzzing with those looking to up their game on some of the country’s best waves. Far from being only a surf town, Santa Teresa is also a brilliant place for a relaxing beach getaway. There are numerous, shops, bars, and restaurants lining the waterfront.
Top 5 things to do in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica
Visit Costa Rica’s oldest protected area, The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve
The Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve really did blaze a clear trail in terms of conservation and preservation in the country. It is the oldest protected area in Costa Rica. You can easily reach Cabo Blanco via public bus or car from Santa Teresa. There are two trails within the park. The shorter one is called the Danes Trail. It is just over a mile long and loops out from the ranger station. The other, busier popular route is the Sueco Trail, a 3.1 trek from the ranger station to Playa Cabo Blanco. From either trail, you can see wildflowers, lizards, snakes, bats, and birds. Entrance to the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is $12.
See some of the best sunsets in the country
Santa Teresa’s beach faces west, meaning that you will have a front-row seat to some breathtaking Costa Rican sunsets. They are rumored to be the best that you’ll find anywhere in the country. The Golden Hour is a popular time for surfers to hit the water, so you can enjoy a sublime view of them riding the waves as the sun glows gold on the horizon. It’s one of those vacation memories that will last a lifetime.
Hike the Montezuma waterfalls
About 40 minutes from Santa Teresa are the beautiful Montezuma waterfalls. This network of three incredible falls is some of the few waterfalls in Costa Rica without an entrance fee. The three falls are magnificent, with the lower falls being the easiest to get and a truly beautiful place to sit back and revel in the sheer power of nature. The upper falls require a little bit of hiking to get to them, but once you make it, you’ll be rewarded with the opportunity to bathe in the pools beneath the waterfalls.
Enjoy the nightlife of Santa Teresa
Santa Teresa attracts quite a young crowd. While it is a laid-back surf town during the day, it comes alive at night to the steady beat of club and dance music drifting along the waterfront from numerous clubs and bars. Sunset parties on the sand are popular, as is the (usually) weekly jungle party held up in the mountains on Saturday nights.
Hire an ATV
One of the most fun ways to explore the area around Santa Teresa is to hire an ATV. Hiring a vehicle like this is particularly popular here because Santa Teresa is on a single road that runs north to south. This makes getting around on foot a little tricky. Hiring an ATV gives you immense freedom to explore and get off the beaten path, finding hidden beaches and coves. It costs around $70 for daily hire, and there are plenty of places for ATV rental in Santa Teresa.
One of the most luxurious destinations in Costa Rica, the Papagayo Peninsula has got an air of exclusivity about it. Expect to see 5-star resorts rubbing shoulders with glamorous private residencies overlooking the Pacific Ocean.
Top 5 things to do in Papagayo, Costa Rica
Play a few rounds of golf
Undoubtedly one of the most scenic golf courses in the world, the 18-hole Ocean Course, designed by Arnold Palmer is a breathtaking place to tee off. With amazing tropical views at every hole, plus the chance of Costa Rica’s charming wildlife keeping you company between shots, Papagayo is certainly one of the most unique places that you’ll ever practice your swing.
Take a day trip to Nicaragua from Costa Rica
Take the unique opportunity to cross the border in Nicaragua on a day trip to Costa Rica’s neighboring country. On a full-day tour, you can expect to see such wonders as the Masaya volcano, Lake Nicaragua, and the colonial city of Granada. The Papagayo Peninsula is known as the Gateway to Nicaragua. The chance to visit the country on a day trip is pretty unique to this part of Costa Rica.
Go beach hopping
Sometimes, the best vacation days are the most simple ones. Papagayo is a coastal destination, and as such has a plethora of stunning beaches to enjoy. The peninsula not only has beautiful stretches of sand but also fabulous snorkeling and diving opportunities. The best way to see as many as possible, including those on off-shore islands, is to hire a boat and guide to take you to the best spots, particularly if you’re looking to dive.
Try caving at Barra Honda National Park
An unmissable day trip from Papagayo, Barra Honda National Park is home to a labyrinthine cave system. The caves are famous for their dramatic rock formations that are over 50 million years old. Visitors can trek through the cave systems and marvel at the incredible, ancient formations and waterways that dominate the landscape of the caverns.
Explore the waterfront
Grab a kayak or sea canoe and paddle your way along Papagayo’s coast to discover secluded coves and sea caves that you won’t find in a guidebook. In some places, your only beach companions will be scuttling hermit crabs and howler monkeys calling from the trees. Any one of these lovely strips of sand makes a wonderful spot from which to watch the sunset.
Samara is one of the top choices for a family vacation in Costa Rica. It is calm, relaxed, and even a little sleepy during the day, and doesn’t have the party atmosphere of other towns and cities just up the coast. That’s not to say that Samara is boring; far from it! The town has got plenty of nearby attractions to entertain and delight every visitor, young and old.
Top 5 things to do in Samara, Costa Rica
Go whale and dolphin watching
For cetacean fans, Samara is a great base. You can take dolphin and whale-watching tours right out of the town. The Pacific Ocean is home to dolphins for much of the year. Whales visit too when the mighty mammals pass by on their migrations in January, February, July, August, and September. The most common species are humpback whales, and you might also see deep-ocean dwellers such as Bryde’s Whales, and, very occasionally, Orcas. Dolphins are more common, and it is not unusual to see them frolicking through the waves even from the shore.
Paddle to Isla Chora
Isla Chora is part of the reef system that prevents Samara from being battered by large swells. It is well worth a visit, and one of the best ways to get there is by kayak. Kayaking doesn’t damage the fragile underwater ecosystem in the way that boats with motors will. The kayak trip takes around 30 minutes each way. While paddling, you’ll have the chance of seeing reef dwellers such as pufferfish, turtles, and tropical fish.
Explore Belen waterfall
Belen waterfall is the most popular waterfall near Samara. It is around 25 minutes away from the town by road and can be easily reached by bus or car. This one is best visited during the wet season or early in the dry season. The falls can dry up after a long time of no rain, and algal blooms can make it unpleasant to swim in the pools during this time. Instead, visit when the falls are at their most thunderous and enjoy the exhilarating experience of bathing against the backdrop of a waterfall.
Visit the Macaw Recovery Network
Macaws are seriously impressive birds. Large in size, ferociously intelligent, and with beautiful plumage, they are instantly recognizable yet incredibly hard to see in the wild. If you’ve had no luck spotting them in the dense Costa Rican rainforest, then pay a visit to the Macaw Recovery Network at the Punta Islita Wild Macaw Reserve. This is an organization run by those determined to save these beautiful birds from the destruction of their native habitat and recover numbers that continue to fall to dangerously low levels. They have scarlet macaws in their care, but the bulk of the conservation efforts are focussed on the critically endangered Great Green Macaw. To see these magnificent creatures, you can take tours of the reserve from $20 per person.
Take a mangrove tour of the Ora River
We’re hopping back in the kayaks for our final entry into our list of best things to do in Costa Rica. Heading away from Samara’s beaches, instead, this tour takes you into one of Costa Rica’s incredible ecosystems; the mangroves of the Ora River. This excursion is perfect for those without a lot of kayaking experience. The water is calm and still, giving you ample opportunity to spot monkeys, birds, and perhaps even sloths in the trees as you serenely glide down the river.
Book a luxury Costa Rica vacation rental
So, if you’re heading to this remarkable destination, this has been our list of some of the best things to do in Costa Rica. Be sure to check out our stunning Costa Rica vacation rentals to find your luxurious place to stay while in the country.