Things to do in Costa Rica list are quite long and diverse as this tiny but spectacular country has many beautiful attractions and activities you should not miss during your holiday here.
Lush tropical forests, white or black sand beaches, wildlife reserves, a wide range of animals and plants, and breathtaking volcanos are all waiting to be discovered.
Those of you who are looking for a relaxing beach holiday far from any source of pollution should head to the Nicoya Peninsula and Guanacaste as these are the most incredible places to perfect your tan.
Tourists looking for some adrenaline and new adventure should head to Monteverde Cloud forest for a tour in the canopy or to Arenal Volcano National Park to hike the volcano hiking trails and discover new and unique landforms.
No matter if you are looking for an active holiday or for some days on the beach, Costa Rica has them all and there are many amazing places to be discovered.
The best way to explore the country is to rent a car and plan your own itinerary based on your interests without being stressed out by the public transport timetable and not depending on others.
Most of the country’s attractions are accessible by car and all the hotels, resorts and lodges from the country offer parking lots for your car.
For a complete list of the most incredible hotels from Costa Rica see the article 15 Best Rated resorts at Costa Rica for your trip.
Top things to do in Costa Rica
1. Snorkeling and scuba diving
My list with Must does Costa Rica things begins with snorkeling and scuba diving in the turquoise waters around this country, on the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean Sea.
The good news for snorkeling and scuba diving lovers is that there are many tour companies that organize trips to the best places to observe coral reefs and marine creatures.
The bad news is that the waters close to the shore are not very rich in marine life and underwater creatures so it is advisable to take a boat tour to the best places from the area.
The cost for a scuba diving tour is around 120 USD and most of the tours leave from Drake Bay, Playas del Coco, Playa Ocotal, Flamingo, Uvita, Cahuita, Tamarindo, and Manuel Antonio.
My favorite tour: Papagayo Gulf: 2 Dives Half-Day Scuba Dive Tour.
The tour lasts for 5 hours and at the rate you have included the diving equipment, 2 dives for certified divers, as well as snacks and drinks.
2. Sailing cruises
What to do in Costa Rica if not a sailing cruise in the beautiful turquoise waters of the Pacific Coast or the Caribbean Sea?
The most relaxing and romantic cruises are the sunset cruises so book your seat in advance not to miss this magnificent experience.
If you are passionate about scuba diving and snorkeling, then book a morning cruise as during this time the marine creatures are more active and easy to spot.
The price for a sailing cruise starts from 70 USD and varies depending on the trip duration and the amenities you have included.
Most of the tours include in the fee snorkeling equipment, water, fruits and drinks, and sometimes snacks or even lunch.
3. Ziplining or canopy tours
One of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica is canopy tours also known as ziplining tours, a popular attraction among tourists from all over the world.
The most popular ziplines are located in Monteverde, followed closely by La Fortuna and Guanacaste canopy tours.
Check out 100% Aventura in Monteverde, Selvatura Park in Monteverde, Arenal Mundo Aventura in La Fortuna or Sky Adventures Monteverde and Arenal.
Costa Rica is located in one of the most spectacular and longest ziplines from the whole continent, Diamante.
My favorite tour: Arenal Volcano Canopy Zipline Tour, a tour full of adrenaline that lasts for 2.5 hours that offers unique views of the colossal volcano and the lush jungle.
4. ATV Tours
If you are looking for some adrenaline on your trip to Costa Rica then you definitely should book an ATV tour.
Drive off the beaten path through the lush vegetation and the dense jungle to admire the view and observe the abundant fauna and flora from Costa Rica.
The minimum age to rent and drive an ATV is 16 and people under 16 should be accompanied by an adult.
The best places for ATV tours are La Fortuna, Monteverde, Herradura, Samara,Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio and Santa Teresa.
Adventures list continues with canyoning or rappelling down waterfalls located rights in the middle of the forest.
One of the most significant rappelling down waterfalls is the one located in the La Fortuna area called Pure Trek and has more than 200 feet tall.
You can also try the Gravity Falls with Desafio from La Fortuna, the Park located near Jaco, Explonatura from Turrialba and Finca Modelo located in Monteverde.
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Surf lovers from all over the world come to Costa Rica because here they can find the best waves to ride from the whole of Central America.
Don’t forget to include on your list Jaco, Playa Cocles, Playa Flamingo, beaches from the Osa Peninsula, Playa Avellanas, Playa Grande, or Playa Tamarindo for the best waves to ride.
For those of you interested in learning to surf there are plenty of surf camps where you can stay and take surf lessons.
The price for a surf lesson is around 60 USD and lasts for about 2 hours, while the price for board renting is around 20 USD per day.
7. Go to fiestas civicas
Other interesting things to do in Costa Rica are to go to fiestas civics or local parties, a great opportunity to meet locals and make new friends.
At these parties, you can dance the whole night to Latin music, eat Costa Rican food and take part in all kinds of games.
This is actually the best opportunity to get in touch with local culture and to get an idea about how locals live and their way of living.
These fiestas are held during the whole year, and are basically the same; the only thing that is different is the location as they move from one town to another.
Look after the signs and posters to find out when and where is the next fiesta Civica and make sure you don’t miss it.
The most popular months for such parties are the months of the dry season: December, January, February, and March.
The most renowned parties are the Palmares Fiestas, Puntarenas Carnaval, and Zapote Fiestas with lots of funny games, live music, and local food as well as bull riding contest.
The bull riding contest does not end with murder as the bull is not killed in the end; it runs free in the ring to chase people and then it is put back in the cage.
If you want to be chased by the bull you have to pay around 10-20 USD and prepare to run in a circle when the bull is coming.
8. Cruise to Tortuga Island
From Nicoya Gulf, you can take a boat trip to the beautiful island of Tortuga, which is just 1.5 hours away from the mainland.
Generally, the boat tour to the island last for about 5 hours and leave from Jaco or Puntarenas and even from San Jose and the transfer is included.
You can go snorkeling, jet skiing, hiking on the island, or kayaking and the cost starts from 80 USD per person.
9. Visit an Aventura park
If you are looking for a day full of adrenaline then a trip to an adventure park is the right choice for you.
The best Aventura Park from Costa Rica is Guachipelin Adventure Park located close to Rincon de la Vieja National Park.
Horseback riding tours, river tubing, ziplining, mud baths, and hot springs are just some of the things you can experience in this adventure park.
The cost for a day in the park is around 100 USD per adult and the park is located about 1.5 hours from Tamarindo or Conchal and you can reach the park by car or book a transfer from your hotel.
10. Stand up paddleboarding
The list of fun things to do in Costa Rica continues with stand-up paddleboarding, a very popular activity in this tiny but stunning country.
You can book a tour or take private classes because this sport it’s good for your body and for your mind.
Playa Panama, Playa del Coco, Jaco or Golfito, Playa Mantas and Playa Platanares are among the best places for this activity.
The prices for a tour start from 50 USD and you can book your board for an extra fee as all tour companies offer you this possibility.
11. Visit a wildlife refuge for turtles
Costa Rica is home to a large number of animals and plants and turtles are among the species that live in this beautiful country.
Some of the Costa Rican beaches are used by sea turtles to lay their eggs and so a new generation is born here year after year.
The natural phenomenon of turtles laying eggs is known in the local language as arribada and there are two beaches in the country popular for this event.
The most popular place from Costa Rica for arribada is Ostional Wildlife Refuge, the place whereon the right time of the year, from May to December, you can spot thousands of turtles laying eggs.
You cannot go to this wildlife refuge on your own, you need to book your visit in advance and be accompanied by a guide.
As the event is extremely popular among nature lovers we strongly recommend you book your seat in advance.
Other popular places for seeing turtles laying their eggs are Hermosa Wildlife Refuge, Montezuma, Tortuguero, and the Osa Peninsula.
12. Go fishing
The list of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica continues with the fishing experience, a popular sport because of the rich marine biodiversity that lives in the waters around the mainland.
We encourage you to book a sport fishing tour during your stay in Costa Rica, to catch and release marlin, sailfish, or roosterfish.
If you want to keep what you fish, then you need to catch mahi-mahi or tuna snapper and the good news is that many restaurants from the area will cook your catch if you ask for it.
For those of you who like to fish we recommend heading to Tamarindo, Quepos, Puntarenas, Playa Flamingo, Playa del Coco or Playa Herradura and Drake Bay.
13. Visit a wildlife refuge for jaguars
I bet that you want to see a jaguar on your trip to one of the many national parks from Costa Rica, but bear in mind that these are shy creatures that hunt at night.
If you really want to see this majestic animal you’d better head to Jaguar wildlife refuge from Puerto Viejo de Talamanca.
Most of the national parks from Costa Rica offer guided tours, the perfect occasion to learn new things about animals and to find out how the sanctuary helps wild animals.
All the sanctuaries and protected areas from Costa Rica play a very important role in educating locals and tourists on how to interact with wild creatures and in preserving nature.
Besides this amazing sanctuary near Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, you can pay a visit to Centro de Rescate Las Pumas, Kids Saving the Rainforest, or Toucan Rescue Ranch.
14. Take a walking tour in the capital city
More than 1 million Costa Ricans live in the capital city of San Jose so be prepared for a noisy and stressful city.
This city is completely different than the rest of the country and the best way to explore it is with a walking tour.
There are not many things to see and do in the area and the rest of the country is definitely more interesting and attractive.
That is why we recommend you book one or a maximum of two full days to explore the area and get a good sense of the locals.
There are walking tours organized by locals in which you will discover the most important attractions of the city, including Avenida Central, the heart of the city.
End your day with a dinner show, a great way to experience the local cuisine cooked by famous chefs trained over the seas.
My favorite tour: San Jose: City Tour by Night, which lasts for about 4 hours and includes hotel pick up and drop off bottled water, and a knowledgeable guide who speaks English and asks all your questions about this amazing city.
15. Go kayaking
The best place for kayaking is Tortuguero National Park also known as the Amazon of Costa Rica, a place famous for its wildlife, beautiful canals, and gentle turtles that come to lay their eggs.
You can book a tour along the canals but the best way to observe wildlife is with a kayak as you can access the parts of the canals where motorboats do not have access.
You will see toucans, sloths, and even monkeys on your kayak tour and you can quietly get closer to these creatures.
The best time to visit this park for kayaking is September and October, as the national park is located on the Caribbean coast.
16. Get close to a volcano
Costa Rica is a surprising country and there are many interesting things to do in Costa Rica, and exploring a volcano is one of them.
Arenal Volcano, Irazu, Turrialba, and Poas Volcano are the most famous and popular volcanos from the country and you definitely have to include at least one of them in your travel plans.
Book a full day to explore each volcano as you can hike close to the summit and explore the unique volcanic landscape.
17. Ride a tram in the rainforest
All across the country, there are a few trams that take you across the jungle and offer amazing views from up there over the canopy and the lush vegetation.
Actually, trams are the best way to explore the jungle if you don’t want to hike or experience exciting things like ziplining tours.
You will see many creatures that live in the dense forest like birds and monkeys, as these are the most common ones.
Book a tram tour in Monteverde cloud forest, in Arenal National park, or in Jaco so see the world from the sky with no effort.
My favorite tour: Pacific Aerial Tram at Rainforest Adventures, which lasts for 2.5- 3.5 hours that have included the entrance fee to the park, transfer to and from the hotel, guided walking tour, a visit to the Butterfly Garden, Snake exhibition, an English speaking guide and the most important of all, the tram gondolas that go over the jungle.
18. Go on a waterfall tour
There are many stunning waterfalls in Costa Rica ( my favorite one is Rio Celeste) and some of them are conveniently located close to each other.
Many of these waterfalls are accessible after a pretty short hike in the jungle or near a volcano while others require a guided tour and proper equipment.
There are a few companies spread all over the country that offer guided tours to the spectacular waterfalls hidden into the dense jungle and we definitely recommend this activity as it is a great opportunity to reconnect with nature.
19. Try some white rafting
For a full day of fun and outdoor activities, we recommend you a white water rafting tour offered by one of the many local tour companies from Costa Rica.
Pack your bags and get your camera and prepare for a full day of adventure on the Costa Rican rivers and canyons.
Depending on your experience and appetite for danger you can book different white rafting tours with degrees of 3 or 4 or even 4+ for those very experienced.
Many tour companies include in their offer transfer from San Jose and drop off in Puerto Viejo or La Fortuna.
20. Take a guided tour in a national park
All national parks have guided tours with professional and very knowledgeable guides who will give you much useful information about the local fauna and flora.
One of the most exciting things to do in Costa Rica and a great way to find out new things about animals and plants, guided tours proved to be a great option for those passionate about nature.
The most famous park that offers guided tours is Manuel Antonio National Park but prepares for people roaming around and a lot of noise.
I personally prefer to take guided tours in more isolated parks, less popular and with few tourists to observe creatures and reconnect with nature.
Most of the guided tours have included in the price the entrance fee and at the end of the tour, we advise you to tip the guide as their income is not very high.
21. Take a night tour in a protected area
One of the most exciting and unique activities to do when in Costa Rica is a night-guided tour in one of the national parks in the country.
Not all national parks organize such tours, but the ones that do offer a great opportunity to observe the nocturnal creatures that live in the jungle.
You will see frogs, snakes, insects, spiders, and many other creatures that come out only when outside is dark.
Among the most popular places for taking a night tour are Manuel Antonio, Arenal Volcano, and Monteverde, while Leona Station is less crowded but equally beautiful.
My favorite tour: Manuel Antonio: Night Jungle Tour, a great way to spot nocturnal creatures. In the ticket price, you have included the hotel pick up and drop off, the entrance to the park, an English-speaking guide, and equipment.
22. Go to a safari
A great activity for families with kids and a great way to observe wildlife without any effort is to go on a safari.
You can take a floating safari on the canals to observe the local fauna and flora and I strongly recommend you to go to a floating safari on Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge an amazing place to observe wildlife in Costa Rica.
Taking a river rafting tour is great to get close to animals without disturbing them and getting really great shots of these beautiful creatures.
There are many rivers and canals used for floating safari but my recommendations are Rio Frio and Corobici River for a more intimate experience.
23. Visit a coffee plantation
Costa Rica is an important provider of coffee beans all across the world, coffee being one of the main sources of income of the country, besides tourism and bananas.
You cannot leave the country without visiting a coffee plantation and learn the process of harvesting, roasting, and preparation of this magical potion.
The guided tour of a plantation is very educational and comes with many new and interesting information about the process of harvesting and preparation of the coffee.
Obviously, each tour ends with a delicious coffee served in the end and you also have the possibility to buy beans directly from the plantation.
There are plenty of coffee plantations all over the country that can be visited out of which I would like to mention Britt in Heredia, Espiritu Santo in Naranjo, Finca Rosa Blanca in Heredia too, Coopedota in San Gerardo de Dota.
And for Starbucks fans, I have a little surprise: Hacienda Alsacia, the company’s own coffee plantation from Costa Rica.
The best time to visit coffee plantations is between October to March when is the harvest season in Costa Rica.
As for the best places to go for coffee plantations I strongly recommend you to head to the highlands around Alajuela, Grecia, San Jose, Heredia, Monteverde, and Turrialba.
My favorite tour: Poás Volcano, Coffee Plantation & La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a full-day tour with a professional guide, breakfast and lunch included, and the unique opportunity to see a volcano, a stunning waterfall, and a coffee plantation in a single day.
24. Take some beautiful photos of the whale’s tail
Take with you as many memories as you can from Costa Rica and head directly to the whale’s tail to take some great shots of this unique landform.
This unique landform is located inside Marino Ballena National Park and refers to a section where 2 different beaches come together.
When the tide is low, the water withdraws and the sand comes out from the sea as a whale tale so from here the name.
More than that the place is famous for humpback whales so head to Uvita to see this unique scenery when the water is low and the gentle giants of the seas when they come to these waters to mate.
25. Take a bath in a hot spring
The next activity on my top things to do in Costa Rica list is to take a bath in a hot spring from a volcano area.
The most popular area for hot springs is obviously around the volcanos, with Arenal in the first place.
Some of the rivers that flow in the area of the volcano have their own hot springs and the access to the natural pools formed are free for tourists and locals.
It is true that most of these natural pools are not arranged by the authorities, while others are taken by hotels and have all the facilities needed for a great afternoon at a natural spa.
The most popular rivers with hot springs from Costa Rica are Baldi, Tabacon, the Springs, and Ecotermales.
26. Go Whale watching
Whale lovers, this is the right place to go as Costa Rica has one of the longest whale watching seasons in the whole world.
You will see these gentle giants in their natural habitat if you go at the right time, I mean in August and September.
The best places to see the humpback whales are around Las Catalinas islands, the Gulf of Papagayo, and Uvita.
The guided tour generally lasts for a couple of hours and the cost starts from 80 USD per person and the group generally has around 15-20 people per boat.
27. Book a bird watching tour
Almost 1000 species of birds can be found in the forests of Costa Rica, a true paradise for birds because of its climate and latitude.
Dozens of species of hummingbirds, parrots, toucans, and macaws as well as a wide range of exotic birds can be found in this exotic country.
The rarest and hard-to-see birds from the country are definitely Resplendant Quetzal which can be seen in March especially in Monteverde cloud forest.
28. Take a walk on a hanging bridge from a cloud forest
The most famous hanging bridges are located in Monteverde Cloud Forest and give you an incredible view of the dense forest from below.
It is a unique experience and a great way to reconnect with nature, get close to animals and observe their behaviors in their natural environment.
The bridge is extremely safe and well maintained so you don’t have to worry about your safety when walking on top of the canopy.
Most of the adventure parks have their own hanging bridges out of which the most famous ones are Sky Trek and Selvatura from Monteverde Cloud Forest and Mistico Hanging Bridges from Arenal area, La Fortuna.
29. Explore the Central Valley area
Costa Rica is indeed spectacular and has one of the most amazing sceneries in the whole world and Central Valley is one of the places which you have to see.
The best way to explore Costa Rica and Central Valley is with a rented car as it gives you the mobility and freedom to explore the area in your own rhythm.
Get the best price for your car rental today
Stop in Grecia, Zarcero, or San Ramon to see how is to live in a small Costa Rican town, taste the local cuisine and explore some less touristy places.
30. Take a private boat tour and explore the shores
One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is to rent a boat and explore the waters from the comfort of a private boat.
The most spectacular area to explore is without any doubt the Gulf of Papagayo with its small bays, white sand beaches, and beautiful snorkeling and scuba diving spots.
Private tours with professional skippers give you the freedom to go wherever you want, stop on your favorite beach, and lay on the sun for how long you want.
The good news is that around the Gulf of Papayago area you can find many secluded beaches accessible only by boat where you can stop and stay for how long you want.
During these times of restrictions, a private boat keeps you away from the crowds and allows you to explore the Costa Rican shore in your own way.
The list with the most interesting things to do in Costa Rica can continue with many other activities, but the ones mentioned above are must-do Costa Rica experiences.
All these activities give you the unique opportunity to get in touch with local people, to learn new things about the local flora and fauna, and to explore this stunning piece of paradise.
Logistical tips and tricks for your trip
Book your accommodation
We always use Booking.com as they have the best price-quality ratio and they offer a wide range of hotels, guesthouses, apartments, and villas to choose from.
You will find here all types of accommodations, from the cheapest ones to the most luxurious.
Don't forget travel insurance
Travel insurance will always protect you against unexpected events and cost like illness, COVID, injury, theft, or travel cancellation.
We never go on any trip without travel insurance and there were many cases when we had to use it.
Renting a car
We like to explore a country on our own and a car gives us the mobility and freedom to do that.
We always rent our car from Discovercars as they have free cancellation 48 hours prior to starting date and a wide range of car rental companies and options to choose from all over the world.
Tours and attractions
When we are looking for some adventure or we simply want to break up the monotony and discover new places, we always use GetYourGuide.
We love it because we always find the most amazing experiences, with free cancellation and a large variety of activities and tours to choose from.
Airplane tickets and holiday packages
Expedia is our ally when searching for the best price for airplane tickets as it works as an aggregator for a huge number of airlines and we always find the best price for our flights.
Travel tip: use Expedia when you are searching for holiday packages as they have many last-minute offers and great discounts for hotels, flights, and even the whole holiday packages.