Things to do in Costa Rica

Things to do in  Costa Rica

Welcome to the jungle

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica spans just 170 miles (274 kilometers) coast-to-coast, yet contains six percent of the world's biodiversity. Postcard-perfect beaches; lush, protected rainforests; and a proud history of promoting conservation and eco-tourism have helped make the country a veritable paradise for active travelers and nature lovers—as well as Central America's top travel destination. Many tours begin in Costa Rica's ""Golden Triangle"" and string together the most popular destinations: Arenal Volcano National Park and nearby La Fortuna, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and Manuel Antonio National Park. In this region alone, there are enough outdoor activities to fill several vacations, ranging from ziplining through the rainforest canopy, to whitewater rafting, to rainforest safaris, and perhaps even a glimpse of the Arenal volcano in action. Many tours offer family-friendly options, and proximity to the Pacific coast makes it easy to include plenty of beach time. Off the beaten path, consider a private tour of Tortuguero National Park, a protected wilderness reserve and seasonal sea-turtle nesting ground that's home to monkeys, crocodiles, and more than 300 species of birds. If you have some time in San Jose, the capital offers a wealth of museums, including the National Museum, the Gold Museum, the Jade Museum, and the Children's Museum. Or tour the lively Central Market to shop for handicrafts. Everywhere you go, Costa Rica casts its spell—don't be surprised if you fall in love with the ""pura vida"" lifestyle and never want to leave.

Top 15 attractions in Costa Rica

Tamarindo Beach

Once the site of a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo Beach has become one of Costa Rica's most popular stretches of golden sand. Surfers travel from across the globe to ride Tamarindo's waves, but you don’t need to be a pro to hang 10 here. There are spots nearby that are calm enough for first-time wave riders to learn.More

Rosario Islands (Islas del Rosario)

The Rosario Islands(Islas del Rosario) are a highlight of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast, famous for their vibrant marine life, pristine white beaches, and sun-soaked beach resorts. A cluster of 28 idyllic islands dotted offshore of the port city of Cartagena, this archipelago sits atop the world’s third-largest barrier reef and makes up Islas del Rosario National Park.More

Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park

The 16 hanging bridges that line the paths of Costa Rica’s Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park stretch a total of 1.6 miles (2.6 kilometers) across the steep landscape. See the birds, monkeys, sloths, snakes, and frogs that call the forest canopy home by ascending these spans, suspended above gorges and stretched across jungle floors.More

La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall cascades 200 feet (61 meters) down the sheer cliff face of Cerro Chato, the Arenal Volcano’s dormant and thickly forested twin. One of the most impressive and accessible waterfalls in Costa Rica, La Fortuna is a great place to picnic, swim, and photograph the waterfall’s perpetual mists and nearby exotic vegetation.More

Selvatura Park

Selvatura Park is a popular nature-adventure park in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. Located just outside Monteverde, the park contains over 850 acres (344 hectares) of ecologically diverse forest. Attractions include zipline and suspension bridge tours, hummingbird and butterfly gardens, natural history walks, and reptile exhibitions.More

Rainmaker Park

Brimming with lush forest, wildlife, and waterfalls, Rainmaker Park provides a quieter alternative to the often-crowded Manuel Antonio National Park. As well as being home to animals such as dart frogs, snakes, and butterflies, the off-the-beaten-path attraction offers great forest views from a set of swinging bridges.More

Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga)

A postcard-perfect paradise of white-sand beaches, swaying coconut palms, and sapphire-blue water rife with marine life, Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga) is an ideal spot to swim, snorkel, or bask in the sunshine. The island is only accessible from Costa Rica’s main cities via a scenic boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya—an extra perk for your vacation.More

Arenal Volcano National Park

Although visitors once flocked to Arenal Volcano for its impressive lava shows, the 5,437-foot (1,657-meter) volcano has stayed quiet since its last eruption in 2010. However, Arenal and the surrounding Arenal Volcano National Park remain a hot spot for visitors to Costa Rica, especially popular among those seeking hiking trails, swimming holes, hot springs, bird- and wildlife-watching, and sweeping views of the tropical rain forest.More

San Jose Central Market (Mercado Central)

Bountiful produce stalls, local-approved cafeterias, and vendor stalls selling everything from coffee beans to cowboy boots give visitors to San Jose’s Central Market (Mercado Central) a taste of real Costa Rican culture. Visit as part of an epic errand run or for a chance to look behind-the-scenes at everyday life in Costa Rica.More

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is the ultimate “one-stop shop” for Costa Rica’s natural attractions. Expect fuming volcanoes, gushing waterfalls, sky-high ziplines, natural hot springs, and more—all within just a couple of hours of the popular Guanacaste coast.More

Curi-Cancha Reserve

The cloud forest of Curi-Cancha Reserve creates a habitat for flora and fauna such as colorful quetzals and monkeys. Visitors can explore the private reserve via several nature trails. Plus, the private reserve’s daily 50 person cap means you’ll see more wildlife without having to battle the crowds.More

Jaco Beach

Jaco is a lively beach town known for its water sports and party atmosphere. Located on some of Costa Rica’s most developed coastline, within two hours of the capital, it’s a favorite escape for San José residents, as well as backpackers, snowbirds, and North American retirees.More

Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve (Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena)

Brimming with wildlife, orchids, and ferns, the Reserva Bosque Nuboso Santa Elena (Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve) is consistently covered in tree-level clouds, which result in the rich biodiversity that sets this forest apart from others. The reserve spans mountains, valleys, and rivers, and offers many wildlife-watching opportunities.More

Poas Volcano National Park

Poas Volcano National Park houses one of the more popular volcanoes in Costa Rica—a telling superlative for a country with world-famous geothermal activity. But with its spectacular wildlife, informative museum, and variety of hiking trails, the accolade comes as no surprise.More

Baldi Hot Springs

Located in the shadow of active Arenal Volcano and surrounded by a lush jungle landscape, Baldi Hot Springs is one of the largest hot springs resorts in the world. Visitors can choose from 25 different thermal pools, plus pampering spa treatments, swim-up bars, and Costa Rican cuisine for a complete day of relaxation.More

Trip ideas

Top activities in Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio Canopy Tour - Longest Twin Zip Line in Central America
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Combo Tour Arenal: Hanging Bridges + Hot Springs + Waterfall from San José
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All about Costa Rica

When to visit

The most popular time to visit Costa Rica is the dry season, December–April. It’s the best time for outdoor activities. If you can put up with a bit of rain, July and August you'll have smaller crowds and lower prices, though it’s not a good time for navigating trails in the cloud forests. Beginner surfers will find manageable waves in March and April, while expert surfers come for bigger waves in September and October.

Getting around

There are many options for getting around Costa Rica. Domestic flights are the quickest option, especially to more remote areas. Buses are the cheapest and slowest. Shuttle buses to popular tourist destinations are faster and more comfortable, but also more expensive. While taxis are best for short distances, rental cars offer the most flexibility—consider a 4WD for more remote, wet areas. Hiring a car with a driver also offers flexibility, but will be pricey.

Traveler tips

Costa Rica is becoming more popular as a tourist destination. To escape the crowds, look beyond the hot spots. Instead of Jaco or Tamarindo for surfing, try Dominical or Playa Negra, and instead of Arenal Volcano, head to Miravalles or Rincón de la Vieja volcanos. The Caribbean Coast also sees fewer visitors than the Pacific Coast, but offers pristine beaches, jungles, and incredibly rich biodiversity. The remote Osa peninsula also offers adventure without the crowds.


People Also Ask

What is Costa Rica best known for?

Costa Rica is best known for its scenery, from sandy beaches to wide expanses of tropical cloud forests full of all sorts of wildlife—everything from colorful birds to adorable sloths. Costa Rica is also known for its excellent coffee, which gets exported all over the world.

How many days do you need in Costa Rica?

In order to make the most of Costa Rica, you’ll need at least 10 or so days. This will allow you to spend time visiting attractions such as Arenal Volcano and Monteverde Cloud Forest, with time to see a beach town or check out some museums in San Jose.

What should you not miss in Costa Rica?

If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, don't miss the Monteverde Cloud Forest and Arenal Volcano, particularly if you’re interested in spotting wildlife. It’s also worth stopping at a coffee plantation and spending time at some of San Jose’s museums, notably the Gold Museum.

Is there a lot to do in Costa Rica?

Yes. There is a lot to do in Costa Rica. There are tons of great beaches, so surfing, sunbathing, and swimming are all popular activities. Hiking and wildlife-viewing opportunities also abound, and you'll want to stop at some of the protected parks that provide refuge to everything from toucans to primates.

Is it safe to walk around Costa Rica?

Yes. It is safe to walk around Costa Rica, at least for the most part. Visitors and locals alike should exercise caution after dark, particularly in certain areas of San Jose, but tourist areas are—by and large—very safe.

What are some traditional activities in Costa Rica?

Traditional activities in Costa Rica for tourists include ziplining, surfing, and taking guided nature hikes through the rainforest. If you want to learn more about the traditions and day-to-day lives of Costa Rican people, consider joining a cooking class or attending a soccer match.

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