Latin America

15 things to do in Costa Rica every traveler will love! [2023]

15 things to do in Costa Rica every traveler will love! [2023]
Camila Wanderley
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Camila is a food and travel writer exploring the wonders of the world and the hospitality industry! She loves hotel and restaurant design, as well as discovering the best unique experiences one can have as a traveler!

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Costa Rica is one of the most breathtaking countries in Central America, and maybe in the entire world. With so many things to do and see, it's easy to not know where you should stay in Costa Rica.

Your adventure will never end, and it can be overwhelming having to choose among all of these possibilities. That's why I'm here to help!

I've compiled a list of the top things to do in Costa Rica to make sure you make the most out of your vacation. Here you will find a wide range of possible activities fit for any type of traveler and budget.

Browse through these activities and attractions before you finish planning!

15 Things to do in Costa Rica - Top picks!

15. Immerse Yourself in the Costa Rican Wildlife

The ecosystem and biodiversity of Costa Rica are vibrant and beautiful, and known as one of the most diverse in the world. With Costa Rica being such a small island, you'll be surprised to know that the country accounts for up to 6% of our world's biodiversity!

While exploring Costa Rica, you'll find a tropical rainforest filled with things to do and see, located right in the country's central region. This is the perfect opportunity for nature lovers to explore and see animals and plants you will probably not find back at home.    

Costa Rica Treetop adventures tour.
Courtesy of Isabella Juskova from Unsplash

14. Go On Reserve Tours in Costa Rica

Diving into the wildlife of Costa Rica is one of the best things you can do while vacationing in the country, including birdwatching! If you're an avid outdoor person, go beyond seeing the wildlife alone. Instead, I recommend spending some extra money on a guided tour!

There are plenty of tours in Costa Rica that take you to the country's most famous and preserved national parks. You'll find lots of curious and endangered species of animals, birds, and plants.

Visiting at least one national park is a must-do when you're in Costa Rica, and doing it as part of a group tour will allow you to learn the most from an experienced guide.

Manuel Antonio, Tortuguero, and Arenal are the most famous Costa Rican national parks. In some of the national parks scattered you'll also find dormant volcanos.

Hike some of the most famous volcanoes in Costa Rica, including Arenal, Turrialba, Irazu, and Poas volcanoes. In Arenal, you'll get a chance to visit the volcano right in the center of the reserve.      

13. See the Costa Rica Waterfalls

While in the middle of the jungle, why not refresh yourself in a waterfall? The Catarata del Toro waterfall can be found in the crater of an extinct volcano and is the tallest in Costa Rica.

The Llanos de Cortes waterfall is also famous. The different water streams falling into the still lake are picture-perfect. Hiking waterfalls and swimming in them is a cheap and fun activity that every nature lover will enjoy. 

Costa Rican waterfalls
Courtesy of Marcelo Villalobos from Unsplash

12. Relax at the Tabacon Hot Springs

After a waterfall and volcano adventure, relaxing in a hot spring sounds like an ideal plan. Some hotels even have their own little spring!

In Arenal, the Tabacon river supplies natural hot water to these springs, making them one of the favorite tourist activities in the area. Aside from Tabacan, Arenal is also home to other popular hot springs like Baldi, the Springs, and Ecotermales.

11. Suntan on the Beaches of Costa Rica

Leaving the central region of Costa Rica and heading towards the coast, you will find unique and mesmerizing beaches with plenty of activities to do. Both the east and west coast of Costa Rica are packed with white-sanded beaches and crystal clear water.

Although some of the local cultures might be a bit different in the Pacific and Caribbean, Costa Rican beaches can provide you with relaxation, tan lines, and fun memories. 

But, which are the best beaches in Costa Rica you ask? 

It's hard to choose the best beach in Costa Rica. The most popular ones are on the west coast, like Conchal Beach and Flamingo Beach. The sand at these west coast spots sometimes turns pink. Talk about a great photo opporunity!

Other sandy beaches to visit are the San Juanillo Beach and Santa Teresa Beach. Both have fantastic coast views. My final special mention is Herradura Beach, which is shaped like a horseshoe, and is surrounded by beautiful turquoise water. 

10. Participate in Water Sports at the Beach

Go to the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, and you'll find beaches that are great for kayaking, snorkeling, and diving.

The most beautiful coral reefs of Costa Rica are on the east coast, by the country's southern beaches like Manzanillo Beach and Punta Uva Beach. Here, the turquoise water is perfect for a smooth paddle-boarding adventure.

You can also paddle board at lake Arenal or at some northern Pacific beaches, where the shores are protected from the waves.

More in Our Costa Rica Series

9. Sign Up for Costa Rica Sailing Cruises

A sunset sailing cruise is also a great way to enjoy the beach part of your vacation. There are plenty of sailing tours you can pick from, and it's one of the most romantic things to do in Costa Rica. 

Sail in the sunset with your family or partner as you watch the colors change in the sky. Swim, eat good food, drink some wine or champagne, and enjoy the fresh air coming from the ocean.

You could even get the chance to do some whale-watching, depending on the season and location of your cruise!

8. Taste the Local Food

Costa Rica has some fantastic local food. The environment in the country is perfect for growing sweet tropical fruits and juicy vegetables, and its proximity to the ocean makes the seafood delicious and fresh.

There are plenty of national dishes you need to try while visiting the country! 

You should try gallo pinto for breakfast. This local dish is a mix of rice and beans served with eggs, tortillas, plantains, and cheese. Go to a local bar and taste test chifrijo, a blend of rice and beans with pico de gallo and fried pork. 

If you want to learn how to prepare some of these dishes, consider taking a cooking class and become familiarized with traditional Costa Rican ingredients and cooking methods.

Local tropical fruits in Costa rica
Courtesy of Ralph Ravikayden from Unsplash

7. Visit Costa Rica's Coffee Plantations

For those of you that are coffee lovers, you need to visit a Costa Rican coffee plantation. Costa Rica grows the best coffee beans in the world, exporting them to many European countries that worship the beverage. 

In a guided tour of a coffee plantation, you can learn about the plantation and harvesting of coffee beans, preparation techniques, and the overall history of the beverage.

At the end of your tour, you'll probably get to taste some high-quality coffee as well! 

Costa Rican coffee.
Courtesy of David Regueira from Unsplash

6. Experience Chocolate Production Tours in Costa Rica

The same goes for chocolate lovers. Aside from coffee, Costa Rica is also one of the biggest cacao producers globally, selling the fruit to chocolate-loving nations like Belgium and Switzerland.

Go on a chocolate tour, which is often combined with a coffee plantation tour. On a tour, you'll learn about the different processes of chocolate production and how the cacao plant plays an essential role in the indigenous communities that grow and sell it. 

5. Try Out Surfing in Costa Rica!

Costa Rica is perfect for those who love to adventure in the middle of nature. At the beach, rent a surfboard and surf in some of the best waves of Central America.

You can start with the small waves at Playa Tamarindo, moving to more advanced beaches like Playa Lagosta and Playa Grande. At Playa Grande or Lagosta, the waves become more prominent but are still friendly to those looking to level up their surfing skills. 

As you go down the Pacific coast, the waves become bigger and perfect for advanced surfers. Dominical Beach, Playa Hermosa, and Esterillos Beach are some of the best spots to find these waves.

These beaches are always packed with surfers who spend the afternoon riding the ocean, so you know Costa Rica is a great option of surf lovers!

Surfing in costa rica.
Courtesy of Justin Sanchez from Unsplash

4. Go Hiking

Hiking is the perfect option for adventure seekers in the country's center in the middle of the jungle. You will find plenty of hiking trails in the national parks, climbing volcanoes, and leading to waterfalls.

Maybe even try zip lining down Cloud Forests, Arenal and Monteverde, some of the best rainforest spots to see the wildlife and flora around you. 

3. Take a Change Water-Rafting

To get out of your comfort zone, try white water rafting down the rivers in Costa Rica. Due to the tropical climate and rainforest structures in Costa Rica, you can find dozens of unique spots to water raft. It's actually one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica! 

Two of the most famous destinations are Rio Naranjo on the Pacific coast and the Pacuare River on the Caribbean coast. Inland, there are a lot of rivers close to Arenal Volcano that are perfect for water rafting as well. 

Water rafting in costa rica.
Courtesy of Chandan Chaurasia from Unsplash

2. Meet the Local People and Culture

Like they always say: Live like a Costa Rican when you're in Costa Rica!

Get to know the people, culture, and history of Costa Rica. While in the big cities like San Jose,  take some time to visit museums and art expositions and try to hold a conversation with locals. 

1. Experience Costa Rican Nightlife

When the sun goes down, Costa Rican nightlife lights up! Costa Ricans love to party, and here you can find some fantastic nightlife opportunities to dance, drink refreshing cocktails, and mingle with locals and other tourists alike. 

To truly engage with the local culture, go to a fiesta Civica!

A fiesta Civica is a regional party where you can eat, drink, dance, play games, listen to live music and try bull riding. Puntarenas Carnaval and Zapote Fiestas are two popular ones. Still, there are plenty of them all over the country, happening year-round.

Fall in love with Costa Rica with Pilot!

Costa Rica is a natural and cultural gem. Here you can find countless things to do and many opportunities to discover new flavors, cultural expressions,  and activities. From surfing the waves of the Pacific coast to trying local chocolate and riding bulls at local parties – there is always something new and breathtaking.

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