The 13 Best Things To Do In Costa Rica

By david selina on Nov 03, 2020

Costa Rica travel has something for everyone. There’s no denying that whatever your travel style, this country has exactly what you need to embark on an unforgettable adventure marked by adrenaline, outdoor exploration, and urban discoveries. However, no matter where you go, there’s no escaping Costa Rica’s untouched beauty and nature-based activities!

In this guide, we'll take a look at:

  • 1. Exploring Manuel Antonio National Park
  • 2. Trekking up Arenal Volcano
  • 3. Discovering Monteverde’s Cloud Forest Reserve
  • 4. Catching Waves in Nosara
  • 5. Spotting Crocodiles on Río Tárcoles
  • 6. Visiting Poas National Park
  • 7. Zip-lining in Monteverde
  • 8. Chasing After La Fortuna Waterfall
  • 9. Checking out Río Celeste & Tenorio Volcano National Park
  • 10. Sunbathing on Tortuga Island
  • 11. Whitewater Rafting on Río Pacuare
  • 12. Spotting Whales Off the Coast
  • 13. A Walking Tour of San José

Need to unwind? Costa Rica’s overflowing with secluded, picturesque spots perfect for reconnecting with your body, mind, and soul on the ultimate wellness break.
Catching waves more your thing? Costa Rica’s a world-renowned surf destination thanks to swell from both the Pacific and Caribbean coastlines. Nature-buff? As well as being home to 5% of the world’s wildlife species, it’s also one of the leading countries around the world for sustainable tourism.

From zip-lining through the jungles of Monteverde to hiking the impressive Arenal Volcano and spotting whales off the coast in Santa Teresa, here are thirteen things to do in Costa Rica that you simply can’t miss.

1. Exploring Manuel Antonio National Park

If you’re thinking of where to go in Costa Rica, look no further than Manuel Antonio National Park. Overflowing with biodiversity, white-sand beaches, and great jungle walks, the park is one of Costa Rica’s most-visited attractions for a reason: it’s basically paradise on earth. Although Manuel Antonio National Park is the smallest in the country, nothing compares to the native flora and fauna that call this place home. Keep your eyes peeled for 2 and 3-fingered sloths hanging from the trees, howler monkeys, deer, and all sorts of reptiles making their way through the lush jungle. In order to experience Manuel Antonio National Park to the fullest, I recommend jumping on a guided tour that will take you to all the best spots in the park.

Entrance fee: $16USD for adults, children under 12 don’t pay
Opening hours: Open Tuesday-Sunday from 7 AM to 4 PM
Best time to go: January-February to avoid heavy rainfall
How to get there: Take a bus from Quepos for under $1
Perfect for: Nature & wildlife enthusiasts

2. Trekking up Arenal Volcano

If flora and fauna aren’t your thing but you still want to experience the natural beauty of Costa Rica attractions, how about getting up close and personal with the country’s steamy side? Sixty dormant volcanoes and six active ones are dotted throughout the country. The crown jewel? The well-known Arenal volcano. Reaching the top only requires a comfortable hike, and the views from up above are absolutely breathtaking. Plus, there are also plenty of group tours that can take you around the park with expert local guides to help you navigate the terrain easily. A visit to Arenal Volcano is, without a doubt, one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

Entrance fee: $15USD for adult foreigners and $5USD for children
Opening hours: Open daily from 8 AM to 4 PM
Best time to go: December – April, during the dry season
How to get there: Take a bus from La Fortuna bus station for $5USD
Perfect for: Adventure lovers, nature enthusiasts

3. Discovering Monteverde’s Cloud Forest Reserve

One of 12 in the world, visiting Monteverde’s cloud forest is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. With over 10,500 hectares, the reserve is teeming with local flora and fauna that changes depending on the landscape and climate; there are four different zones throughout the reserve, each with a small ecosystem of its own. In terms of exploring the reserve, there are different loops that visitors can walk through in order to admire the natural beauty of the reserve, which means you’ll have plenty of opportunities to spot white-faced monkeys, birds, and reptiles. Just remember to bring a rain jacket- the weather can be pretty wet at any time of the year! I also recommend hiring a guide if you want to spot all the wildlife along the way. Locals have become experts at spotting animals hiding in the treetops that are almost impossible to catch without a trained eye (or a scope)!

Entrance fee: $20USD for adult foreigners, children under 6 don’t pay
Opening hours: Open daily from 7 AM – 4 PM
Best time to go: Avoid national holidays to stay away from crowds
How to get there: Take a local bus from town for $2USD
Perfect for: Nature & wildlife enthusiasts

4. Catching Waves in Nosara

Surfers, rejoice! One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is heading to the beach for a day of catching waves alongside locals and travelers in Nosara. The great thing about surfing in Nosara is that the waves at spots like Playa Guiones are suitable for beginner and intermediate surfers, which means there’s no need to be intimidated if it’s your first time on the board! With clean left and right waves and year-round swell, Nosara is one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica for great surfing conditions no matter the season. Playa Guiones is also protected by locals from any gray and black water dumping, making the water extremely clean; and, with no buildings around the beachfront, this unique surf experience in Costa Rica is as natural as it gets.

Surf lessons & rentals: Group lessons are available starting from $65USD. Board rentals are also available starting from $20USD
Best time to go: December – April
How to get there: Accommodation options are available walking distance from the beach
Perfect for: All-level surfers looking for thrills

5. Spotting Crocodiles on Río Tárcoles

On the way from San Jose to Jaco, there is a famous section of the Río Tárcoles that’s become famous with travelers for the scaly residents that enjoy sunbathing along the water. One of the best things to do in Costa Rica, a quick pit stop on the bridge above Río Tárcoles is a must for any crocodile lovers out there. With some of them chilling by the water – and others sneakily floating around – these crocs have become some of the region’s most famous locals. The best side to take a look is to the left of the bridge – when you’re coming in from San Jose – so park the car and wander over carefully to avoid stepping off into the busy road. But, whatever you do, remember not to feed the crocs! These guys have bite, so it’s best to simply watch from afar and let them go about their business.

Entrance fee: No fee, just make sure you’re on a taxi or bus that will make the stop
Best time to go: The crocodiles are there year-round, but it’s best to visit during low tide
How to get there: Travel by car from San José to Jaco
Perfect for: Animal lovers

6. Visiting Poas National Park

Easily accessible on a day-trip from San José, a visit to Poas Volcano and Poas National Park is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica if you’re only spending time close to the capital or your Costa Rica vacation is coming to an end. Home to the most acidic crater lake in the world, which gives the highly-toxic water an almost unreal turquoise color, Poas National Park is perfect for travelers who want to get some time out in nature and away from the bustle of San José. The park is also home to the widely talked about Poas Volcano – one of the most visited in the country. Considered to be the largest active crater in the world, the landmark is iconic with both locals and travelers who come to Costa Rica in search of biodiversity and stunning landscapes. It’s very important to note that tickets must be booked in advance if you’re visiting the park solo. If you’d like to avoid the hassle, simply jump on a tour and let them take care of the process for you.

Entrance fee: $15USD
Opening hours: Open daily from 8 AM – 3:30 PM
Best time to go: December – April during the dry season
How to get there: Travel by bus or car from San José for $3USD
Perfect for: Outdoor lovers and trekkers

7. Zip-lining in Monteverde

A day out that’s perfectly suited for adrenaline junkies, Monteverde is the country’s top destination for travelers hoping to get their heart racing with a dose of zip-lining deep within the Costa Rican jungle. Legend has it that Monteverde is actually the birthplace of the sport, which locals say they invented as a quick and easy way to deliver lunch to workers. True story or not, there’s no doubt that Monteverde is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica to enjoy its most exciting adventures: from zip-lining to bungee jumping, this oasis truly has it all!

Entrance fee: Depending on the park, tickets start from $30USD
Opening hours: Depending on the park, opening hours and days can change
Best time to go: Best enjoyed during the dry season
How to get there: Use private transport from Monteverde
Perfect for: Adrenaline junkies & thrill-seekers

8. Chasing After La Fortuna Waterfall

The town of La Fortuna might be small, but there’s no doubt that it’s one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica if you’re looking for a nature-themed getaway. Located just outside of town, La Fortuna Waterfall is the perfect place for your adventure dreams to come together. With zip-lining available, as well as swimming in the pool that forms below, the incredible landmark is visited by locals and international travelers throughout the year. There are about 500 steps to reach the bottom of the waterfall – make sure you have walking shoes on since the walk can get very wet – but the way down is rewarded with incredible natural scenery and peeks at the waterfall rushing with power. Just make sure you save up enough energy for the climb back up!

Entrance fee: $18USD for adult foreigners and $5USD for children
Opening hours: Open daily from 7:30 AM – 4 PM
Best time to go: Swimming in the pool is easier during the dry season (December-April)
How to get there: Take a bus from La Fortuna bus station for $5USD
Perfect for: Nature lovers and thrill-seekers

9. Checking out Río Celeste & Tenorio Volcano National Park

Legend has it that this gorgeous river, located within the Tenorio Volcano National Park, got its turquoise color after God dipped his brush in the water while he was painting the sky. There are plenty of tours available, and the trek to the waterfall usually takes about an hour during which you’ll be constantly surrounded by a green jungle landscape and its accompanying wildlife. Keep your eyes peeled for the monkeys jumping above your head! Seeing the river might be one of the best things to do in Costa Rica, but the fun doesn’t stop there. Once you make it to the waterfall, continue the trek through the park to visit the Blue Lagoon and the borbollones. Unfortunately, no swimming is allowed within the national park, so you’ll have to watch the water from afar and follow strict guidance from park employees to stay behind the fence at all times.

Entrance fee: $12USD for adults and $5USD for children
Opening hours: Open daily from 8 AM – 4 PM
Best time to go: June-July when the rain has stopped
How to get there: Book a private taxi from Tamarindo for $30-40USD
Perfect for: Nature lovers

10. Sunbathing on Tortuga Island

Located on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Tortuga Island is a beach lover’s paradise. One of the best places to visit in Costa Rica, this stunning island has something for everyone, whether you prefer lounging on the beach or staying active. In order to enjoy the best of this stunning place, you’ll need to take a boat trip out to Tortuga Island. Once there, you can enjoy white-sand beaches and crystal clear waters that are perfect for snorkeling and exploring the area’s underwater world. There are also kayaks, stand-up paddleboards, jet skis, and pedal boats available to rent. Most tours also offer fresh lunch once on the island, which means you’ll be all set and your only worry will be where to soak up the sun. Make sure you bring extra water, though! The days can be hot and you don’t want to run out once there.

Entrance fee: Tours are available starting from $85USD
Best time to go: December – April makes for the best snorkeling conditions
How to get there: You’ll need to take a boat
Perfect for: Beach bums and water sport lovers

11. Whitewater Rafting on Río Pacuare

Not for the faint of heart, rafting on Río Pacuare, in Puerto Viejo, is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica if you’re all about adrenaline. Famous for its pristine beauty, the river is surrounded by lush green scenery and the sounds of wildlife deep within. The river itself is about 108 kilometers long and is world-famous for being one of the best places to go rafting in Costa Rica. The rapids make for a great adventure down the river, with a difficulty class that ranges between III and IV, and shouldn’t be attempted by anyone under the age of 12. Plus, the best part is you’ll be rewarded with nice calm waters – perfectly suitable for swimming – once the hard part is over.

Entrance fee: Tour prices depend on the company you choose. Some tours start at $100USD
Best time to go: For more action, go between May – December during the rainy season
How to get there: Tour companies offer pick-up and drop-off at your convenience
Perfect for: Adrenaline junkies

12. Spotting Whales Off the Coast

Like something straight out of a nature documentary, humpback whales can be easily spotted off the coast in Costa Rica, where they come to breed and raise their young. Humpback whales from two different regions travel to Costa Rica throughout the year: one group travels from the north (Alaska and California) and another group comes from the south (Antarctica). Although it’s possible to spot whales all along the coast, most of them tend to stick around the Southern Pacific, making this the most popular destination to catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures, and one of the best things to do in Costa Rica if you’re hoping to connect with its natural inhabitants.

Entrance fee: Different tours are available, starting from $65USD
Best time to go: July – September & December – March
How to get there: Depending on where you stay, transport can be arranged to the boat
Perfect for: Wildlife and animal lovers

13. A Walking Tour of San José

City slickers need not to worry: San José, the country’s capital, also has plenty to offer while shying away from the nature-based aspect of most Costa Rica vacations. While most people tend to shy away from the city, a stay in San José means interacting with the locals and getting to know more about the country’s past. The walking tours in San José are usually led by young, passionate locals who are eager to show visitors everything there is to see in San José: from historical monuments and some of the top Costa Rica attractions to hidden gem restaurants and great shopping spots. It’s the perfect way to see the city through a local’s eyes, which makes the visit all the more interesting and personal.

Entrance fee: Although free walking tours are available, donations are encouraged
Best time to go: Year-round
How to get there: Most tours have specific meeting points that are walking distance from your accommodation
Perfect for: History buffs and urban explorers

As you can see, there are plenty of things to do in Costa Rica that are suited for every type of traveler, and you don’t have to go far in order to enjoy them.

Travel options like Selina offer group and private tours that can take you directly to the source of the fun, which means you won’t have to wander around town looking for the perfect option: it’s right outside your door! Plus, with accommodation options suited for every budget – like glam teepees and private apartments, just to name a few – you don’t have to sacrifice comfort while sticking within your means.

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