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Home to increíble natural wonders, a stunning array of biodiversity, and countless outdoor activities, Costa Rica is your gateway to adventure in Central America.
Whether you want to explore the rush rainforests, hike volcanos, swim in the waterfalls, or see animals in the wild, there are tons of awesome things to do in Costa Rica that will keep you busy for months.
Costa Rica covers just under 20,000 square miles, but make no mistake, there’s plenty to do here!
To help you plan your Costa Rica itinerary, I teamed up with my fellow travel bloggers to put together a list of the best things to do in Costa Rica. So let’s dig in!
✅ Check my complete guide to the best time to visit Costa Rica
Best things to do in Costa Rica: a complete overview
1. Go on a whitewater rafting trip
📍Location: Located on a section of the Pacuare River, which flows northeast through the center of Costa Rica and empties into the Caribbean.
💰Price: Varies depending on tour operator and length of trip, but typically in the range of $700 to $1,000.
🚙 How to get there: Most tours will have a designated meeting place, often either at popular hotels or at a major landmark in San Jose.
🏠 Where to stay: Accommodations are provided through the tour operator. Many of the tours stay in ecolodges or yurts placed only the river.
👉 General Description: The Pacuare River is a 108 km long and beautiful river flowing through Costa Rica. The lower section has become popular for whitewater rafting for tourists as the rapids are large enough to be exciting but manageable for inexperienced paddlers. It’s one of the most exhilarating activities in Costa Rica for adventure lovers!
🎒 Guided Tours: Except for the highly experienced paddlers, whitewater rafting the Pacuare River requires a guide. backpack
Best Pacuare River whitewater rafting tours
🗓 Practical Tips for Visiting: Do a little research on what to wear whitewater rafting so you’re comfortable throughout the day. Quick-dry shorts and a quick-dry t-shirt over a bathing suit is the best choice.
⏰ Best Time to Visit: January through May is typically the best time to whitewater raft on the Pacuare River, as this period is the driest and has the most sunshine. The latter part of the year has more rain. If you want extra big rapids, the rainy season is for you, as the rain adds volume to the rapids and can make them more exciting.
Contributed by Mikaela of Voyageur Tripper
2. Swim in Catarata Del Toro
📍Location: This stunning waterfall, towering 90 meters (300 feet) tall and nestled in a luscious rainforest, is located on an ecological reserve in the small town of Bajos del Toro in the Central Valley, just 71 km north of San Jose or 73 km east of La Fortuna (making it a perfect detour if you’re headed to La Fortuna from the San Jose Airport).
💰Price: It’s $15 to see the main waterfall (Catarata del Toro) and $25 to get a combo ticket for both the main waterfall, the equally gorgeous Blue Falls, and a variety of other attractions, like Poza Azul (a vibrantly-colored pool of refreshingly cool water to swim in). It is worth getting the combo ticket!
🚙 How to get there: From Bajos del Toro, you can drive north along Route 708 a little over 6 km north. The road here has some potholes and is rather steep in some places, but if you drive slowly and carefully, you should be able to make it to the reserve in any sedan.
🏠 Where to stay: There’s plenty of gorgeous ecolodges tucked deep in the Central Valley’s jungles near Catarata del Toro. One of the best places to stay in the area is Las Calas Lodge.
👉 General Description: Hidden in an endlessly green rainforest, teeming with hummingbirds and other tropical birds, Catarata del Toro is an impressive waterfall, spilling out of the mouth of a volcanic crater. To get to its base, you’ll need to hike a trail that snakes 1.7 km (1 mile) through a dense jungle and down a series of stairs (389, to be exact!).
Along the way, you’ll pass several viewpoints, providing breathtaking views of the waterfall and the surrounding jungle. Once you reach its base, you can get a better look at the vibrant red – and orange – striations along its cliff – remnants of its volcanic origins – and feel the cool spray from its powerful curtain.
You can’t swim at its base, due to its strong current, but if you want a chance to jump in a waterfall, you’re welcome to take a dip in some of the other waterfalls on the property, like the Blue Falls.
💛 What makes this place special: Both of the main waterfalls here, Catarata del Toro and the Blue Falls, in addition to the surrounding rainforests, are spectacularly beautiful- and yet, due to their remote location, the reserve rarely gets crowded. There’s nothing quite like having a 300-foot waterfall totally to yourself!
🎒Are there guided tours available: There aren’t group tours from San Jose or La Fortuna, but a guide may be reserved ahead of time for an extra $25 per person.
🗓 Practical tips: Be sure to get here early (the reserve is open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m.) – and if you buy the combo ticket, there are several waterfalls, beyond Catarata del Toro and the Blue Falls, spread out on the property to explore and enjoy. It also would be a good idea to bring along hiking boots- the trails here can get quite muddy!
⏰ Best time to visit: Outside of the Central Valley’s dry period (mid-December to April), you may contend with some of the aforementioned muddy trails and intense afternoon showers. But on the plus side- the waterfalls will be experiencing their maximum flow from all of the heavy rain!
Contributed by Jessica from the Uprooted Traveler
3. See the gorgeous colors of Rio Celeste
📍Location: Located within the Tenorio Volcano National Park, Rio Celeste is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica.
💰Price: The entrance fee to Rio Celeste costs $12. The area is open from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. but closes at 2 p.m., so make sure to arrive before the closing time if you want to hike. If you are visiting Costa Rica during the high season, arrive early to avoid the crowds.
🚙 How to get there: The best way to get here is by renting a car in San Jose or Liberia after landing there.
🏠 Where to stay: Bijagua de Upala is the closest town to Rio Celeste, but many visitors come here either from La Fortuna or Liberia. Apartamento Miravalles Rancho is an excellent option, if you want to spend the night in the area.
👉 General Description: One of the most popular natural attractions, Rio Celeste is famous for the incredible waterfall and the stunning blue color of its river. If you are wondering about what to do in Costa Rica, this place is a no brainer!
The intense blue color of the water in the river comes from a combination of calcium carbonate and sulfur, however, there are several legends about where this color has originated.
A hike to Rio Celeste takes you along stunning lagoons, hot springs, and a cascading waterfall, one of the most popular stops along the way. Since only a limited number of people are allowed to go down to the platform in front of the waterfall, you might have to wait in line before you can get there.
✔️ For best experience visit early morning.
💛 What makes this place special: When you enter Rio Celeste, you will hike a 1-mile trail along the Rio Celeste River. As you walk toward the end of the trail, you will come to an overlook of the confluence of two tributaries and will see the exact spot where Rio Celeste gets its amazing turquoise color!
Best guided tours of Rio Celeste
🎒Guided tours: If you don’t have a car, you can opt for a guided tour of Rio Celeste. A guide will show you the area and tell you about its significance for Costa Rica. It’s an excellent option for those travelers who don’t have a car rental with many tours of Rio Celeste departing from San José and Guanacaste.
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: Because only a certain number of people are allowed to enter the area at a time, it’s not uncommon to have to wait in line before you can enter the area. Once you do, you will have to walk down the stairs toward the observation platform in front of the waterfall.
The trail along the Rio Celeste River is muddy and can be very slippery if it’s raining, so don’t forget to bring a pair of good hiking shoes.
4. Regenerate in Arenal hot springs
📍Location: La Fortuna
🚙 How to get there: You can get to La Fortuna by rental car from Gunacaste or from San Jose, via one of major roads in Costa Rica.
🏠 Where to stay: Arenal Manoa Hot Springs and Spa
👉 General Description: No trip to Costa Rica is complete without a stop in La Fortuna, a getaway to adventure and home to some of the most awesome things to do in Costa Rica where you can find volcanoes, waterfalls, scenic trails, and one of the biggest draws of this region – hot springs. One of the top highlights is La Fortuna waterfall that’s best visited early morning before it gets busy.
Best Arenal Hot Springs
To enjoy some of the best hot springs in La Fortuna, you can book a stay in one of the hotels that provide FREE access to these natural wonders.
Just to give you an example, a day pass could be around $35 per person, while the hotel could cost around $100, and include a variety of amenities. This is well worth the price, in my opinion 😊
✅ Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa – One of the most popular hot springs in La Fortuna and a 5-stat hotel that feels like a real slice of paradise
✅ The Springs Resort and Spa at Arenal – This gorgeous hotel offers some of the best views of Arenal Volcano and 28 hot springs
✅ Baldi Hot Springs Hotel and Spa – This is one of the biggest hot springs resorts in Costa Rica with over 20 hot spring pools in the middle of the jungle. Since reservation is not required, it can get a busy here.
✅ Hotel Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa – This popular hotel has 8 cascading hot springs and phenomenal views of Arenal Volcano from its rooms.
💛 What makes it special: Arenal hot springs are perfect to visit whether you want to finish your day of adventure here or spend a couple of hours. Arenal hot springs have healing features that are good for your body and mind.
🎒Guided tours: You can visit some of the best hot springs in Arenal with a guided tour to save time and money.
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: There are many hot springs in Arenal, ranging from luxurious hot springs in the big resorts to smaller ones that come at cheaper rates. Tabacon Hot Springs is known for its eco-conscious setting and sprawling luxurious facilities; while Termales Del Arenal are known as some of the best budget-friendly hot springs in Arenal.
5. Visit Cahuita National Park
💰Price: Entrance is donation-based. The park suggests $5 per person but visitors can choose how much they give.
🚙 How to get there: The easiest way to reach Cahuita National Park is by bus. It costs a little bit more than a dollar per person and takes around 30 minutes. The bus drops you off at both entrances to the national park and runs around once every hour.
🏠 Where to stay: Cahuita National Park is about 30 minutes north of Puerto Viejo. Some travelers stay in the small town Cahuita next to the national park. There isn’t much going on here, but you can spend the night Finca La Paz in Puerto Viejo if you need some down time after exploring the park.
👉 General description: Cahuita National Park is one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica off the beaten track. This park is not extremely large and there is a beautiful hike that takes you along white-sand beaches and lots of animals like sloths, monkeys, raccoons, and much more.
🎒 Are there guided tours available: You can hire a ranger to take you through the park and explain the different animals and plants. There are also guided tour packages available from Puerto Viejo but most of the time they’re not worth it.
Guided tours of Cahuita National Park
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: Make sure to go early as the park closes at four and they stop letting people in at around 2 or 3. The entire hike around the park is long but worth it.
⏰ Best time to visit: Make sure to visit on a sunny day so you can enjoy the stunning beaches. Go in the mornings from 10 to 11 am to make sure you have enough time.
Contributed by Victoria from Guide Your Travel
6. Hike around Irazu Volcano
📍Location: Located in central Costa Rica, Irazu Volcano National Park is a breathtaking natural landmark that has become one of the easiest and most popular volcanoes to visit in Costa Rica. Hiking here is one of the most adventurous things to do in Costa Rica, if you are looking for a less crowded place.
💰Price: Entrance to Irazu costs $15 per person, and it is open every day. The parking fee is $2.
🏠 Where to stay: Hotel Boutique Alta Las Palomas
🚙 How to get to Irazu: Irazu is about an hour and a half away from San Jose. The drive to the national park is breathtaking so take your time on the drive. The main road to get to Irazu is Route 219.
👉 General description: Irazu Volcano is an active volcano around 11,260 feet above sea level, and its first eruptions were in 1723. There are four craters in the national park, but only two can be seen. The most popular crater is called Main Crater, and there is also a smaller inactive crater Crater Diego de la Haya.
🎒Guided tours: You can book a tour that includes a tour of Irazú Volcano, Cartago City & Orosi Valley Tour, and it lasts around eight hours.
Best tours of Irazu from San Jose, Costa Rica
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: Currently, you need to purchase tickets online in advance to enter the park, and the park is open from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. It is also very chilly because it is so high up in elevation, so make sure you bring layers. Walking around and exploring the area is easy, and the paths are mostly flat.
⏰ Best time to visit Irazu Volcano: Come early morning to avoid the crowds, and there is also a better chance of avoiding the fog in the early morning. There tends to be a fog in the afternoon that prevents you from seeing the magnificent views.
Contributed by Michelle from The Wandering Queen
7. Zipline in the Arenal Rainforest
📍Location: There are several places to go zip lining in Costa Rica, but the Arenal Rainforest near La Fortuna in the north region of Costa Rica is one of the premier destinations for adrenaline-pumping activities like canopy tours.
💰Price: $90 per adult $60 per child
🏠 Where to stay: La Tigra Rainforest Lodge
🚙 How to get to the Arenal Rainforest: The Arenal Rainforest surrounds the inactive, yet impressive Arenal Volcano. Located off Route 142, the Arenal Rainforest is one of the best day trips from La Fortuna. Many guided tours offer shuttle services from the area resorts and hotels, but if you rent a car, you can drive to any of the zip-lining attractions in the area.
👉 General description: The 504,000-acre immense ecosystem is home to some of the world’s most incredible floral and fauna. At least 50 percent of Costa Rica’s native animals live in the rainforests. A zip-lining tour in Arenal rainforest allows you to spot native wildlife in their natural habitat while staying at a respectful and safe distance, as you soar above the trees.
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: Long pants and closed-toed shoes are a must when zip-lining. You’ll also want to dress in clothing you do not mind getting dirty and bring a pair of clean clothes to change into after your tour.
⏰ Best time to visit: The dry season, between November and April, is the most popular time to visit Costa Rica, particularly if you plan to zip line. During the rainy season, afternoon storms can move in quickly and the rain comes down heavily. If you are visiting from May through October plan your ziplining tour for the morning hours.
Contributed by Melissa from Parenthood and Passports
8. Explore Arenal 1968 Hike
📍Location: Arenal Volcano is in the northwestern Costa Rica, in the province of Alajuela and district of La Fortuna.
The volcano is currently in a resting phase but is illegal to climb, so one of the best ways to see it is via hiking trails. Among the most popular trails is Arenal 1968, which is well-known for its stunning views as you trek through lava fields.
💰Price: $17 per adult which can be paid in cash at the entrance, and free for children under 12.
🏠 Where to stay: Paradise Hot Springs
🚙 How to get to Arenal 1968: The best way to travel Costa Rica is with a rental car because buses are unreliable and there is no direct public transit to the Arenal reserve. If you don’t have a car, you can take a taxi or book a tour. The drive to Arenal from La Fortuna takes about 15 minutes.
👉 General description: The Arenal volcano is a must-see during any trip in Costa Rica, and while many are drawn to the Arenal National Park, you may prefer the Arenal 1968 trails which are quieter, less crowded, and open for longer hours. At Arenal 1968, there are two trails. The first is the “Sendero Colada” Lava Flow 1968 Trail which is shorter (1.6miles / 2.5km) and will take just over an hour to hike.
The second is the “Sendero Bosque” Forest Trail that also includes the Lava Flow trail (totaling 2.8 miles / 4.5km) which will take about 2.5 hours. At the entrance, there is a fantastic viewpoint of the volcano reflecting over a lake and a cafeteria to replenish your energy after the hike.
🎒Guided tours: While a self-guided hike is more budget friendly, hiring a local tour guide is definitely worth the small fee as they can help you appreciate the landscape, history, and wildlife. Guides can be booked online through different websites including Arenal 1968 and may provide transportation from La Fortuna.
Best guided tours of Arenal 1968 hike
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: Grab a hiking stick at the entrance (for free) as it will help you with the rocky areas, but make sure you return it so that others can use it as well. Also, wear good hiking shoes with tread and ankle protection to keep your feet safe and happy for the rest of your trip in Costa Rica.
⏰ Best time to visit: While Arenal 1968 is not overly crowded, try to visit early in the morning. In the humid Costa Rican climate, the volcano can be covered by clouds so be patient with the views, and if possible, hike on a sunny day.
Contributed by Candace from A Journey Inspired
9. Take in scenic views of Monteverde Cloud Forest
📍Location: Santa Elena Cloud Forest is located in northwestern Costa Rica, in the mountainous Monteverde region known for its spectacular landscapes and lush forests. There are three cloud forest reserves in Monteverde but the Santa Elena reserve is the highest in elevation and has more mist than the others.
💰Price: The entrance fee to Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve is $16 for adults, $9 for students, and $7 for children.
🚙 How to get there: The cloud forest is a 3-hour drive northwest from San Jose along Route 27 and 606. If you’re coming from the La Fortuna area, you’ll need to take Route 142 around Lake Arenal.
🏠 Where to stay: The best place to stay in the Monteverde area is the town of Santa Elena which has the largest variety of accommodation options and restaurants. Monteverde Country Lodge is an excellent option that offers transportation to the airport and great amenities.
👉 General description (+ what makes it special): Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve consists of 764 acres of verdant forest home to rich flora and fauna. Due to its relatively high altitude, the forest has a cooler temperature than the rest of the country and receives a lot of rain, which results in incredibly lush vegetation and permanent mist. It’s one of the best cloud forests in Central America!
Inside the reserve, there are multiple hiking trails to choose from with lengths ranging from 0.3 miles to 3 miles. There’s also an observation tower offering panoramic views of the rolling green landscapes.
Best guided tours of Monteverde Cloud Forest
💛 What makes it special: There are only a few places in the world where you can find a tropical cloud forest and Santa Elena reserve is one of them. Walking through this mysterious untouched forest is truly a one-of-a-kind experience that should be a part of every Costa Rica itinerary.
🎒Guided tours: The reserve also offers guided walking tours and private hikes. Reservations should be made at least one day in advance.
More tours of Monteverde Cloud Forest
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: The roads in Monteverde are in a pretty rough shape so it is recommended to have a 4×4 car or at least a 2×4 with high ground clearance.
To preserve the ecosystem, you’re not allowed to bring any single-use plastics (including plastic bags and disposable bottles) inside the reserve and can consume food at the restaurant area or in the parking lot.
Contributed by Marjut from The Smooth Escape
10. Take a coffee tour of Doka Estate
📍Location: The Doka Estate is home to a coffee plantation in the central valley of Costa Rica, on the slopes of Poas Volcano, approximately an hour’s drive from the capital city of San José.
💰Price: The cost of the Costa Rica Coffee Tour with Butterfly Garden and Bonsai Garden is approximately $95 per person, however, there are several coffee tours to choose from. Alternatively, there is a possibility to book a day trip to both Doka Estate and the Poas Volcano.
🏠 Where to stay: Hotel El Presidente
🚙 How to get to Doka Estate: The tour organized by the Doka Estate includes a hotel pick up from hotels located centrally in San José.
👉 General Description: The Doka Estate has been dedicated to growing quality coffee for three whole generations. Established by the Vargas family in 1940, this coffee producer makes some of the best coffee in Costa Rica. The plantation has received accolades for producing the best coffee in the world.
💛 What makes it special: At Doka visitors can learn all about the stages of coffee making, processing, and production and witness the oldest Wet Coffee Storage in the country which is used in the production process until this day and is moved solely by the source of water.
Since 2003 it has been recognized as a Historical and Architectural Heritage site by the government of Costa Rica. There are three packages to choose from which will further enhance the visitor’s experience. Tours are available from Monday to Sunday. There are five available time slots throughout the day, the last one starts at 3:30 pm.
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: Since the Costa Rican weather is unpredictable, always have a poncho or an umbrella on hand and wear comfortable shoes.
Contributed by Elena from Passion and Hospitality
11. Take a day trip to Poas Volcano National Park
📍Location: Poas Volcano is located inside Poas National Park, an hour north of the capital city of San Jose.
💰Price: Entrance costs 1,000 Costa Rica Colons for adults. There are additional charges for parking if you arrive with a private vehicle.
🚙 How to get there: If you want to reach the volcano by car, then from San Jose take the highway to Alajuela, and from there take route 712 to Poasito and follow the signs to the volcano. Alternatively, there is a daily bus departing from San Jose. Lastly, there are some day trips available from San Jose that also include a visit to other attractions nearby.
🏠 Where to stay: Poas volcano is usually done as a day trip from San Jose but if you decide to stay in the area, El Silencio Lodge & Spa is a great choice. It’s located in the middle of a private rainforest 7 km from the Poas National Park.
👉 General Description: One of the most popular things to do while in Costa Rica is to visit the active Poas Volcano, which has one of the biggest crater lakes in the world. It sits at an altitude of 2,697-metres and it has erupted more than 40 times.
Best tours of Poas Volcano National Park
Once you arrive and wear your protective helmet you see at the auditorium a small film with the history of the volcano. Then you walk 10 minutes up to the crater where you are allowed to stay only for 20 minutes. On your way out there is a small cafe and a gift shop. Although the time spent at the crater is not long it is worth it as the view over the volcano is stunning.
⏰ Best Time to Visit: The best time to visit the volcano is early in the morning when you get a better chance to see the crater not covered in clouds.
Contributed by Chrissy from Travel Passionate
12. See Leatherback Turtles on Playa Ostional
📍Location: Playa Ostional is located on the Northern Pacific coast of Costa Rica just north of the popular surf town, Nosara, and south of Tamarindo.
💰Price: The beach is technically free to enter. However, while turtles are laying eggs, the beach becomes a protected area that can only be entered with a certified tour guide.
🏠 Where to stay: Tierra Magnifica Boutique Hotel
👉 General description: The turtles that nest on Playa Ostional are Olive Ridley Turtles. They are the second smallest sea turtles in the world and tend to grow to a maximum length of two feet long.
These turtles arrive at Ostional once a month in packs. Sometimes it is possible to see up to 10,000 turtles in just one day. This synchronized arrival of large-scale turtle nesting is called arribada.
To lay their eggs, the female turtles drag their bodies up the beach to above the high tide line. They then dig a hole before depositing their eggs, fill the hole with sand, and then make their way back into the ocean.
🎒Guided tours: Guided tours with an English-speaking guide are possible with transportation from Nosara and Tamarindo facing the Pacific Ocean.
It is also possible to drive to Ostional and join a tour with the local protection association. These tours typically cost about $10 per person but keep in mind that these guides usually only speak Spanish.
Practical tips on visiting Playa Ostional
📍To stay on top of the turtle nesting schedule and to arrange tours (without transportation), refer to the Asociacion de Guias Locales de Ostional Facebook page.
📍Keep in mind that driving to Ostional can involve river crossings, especially during the rainy season. In Costa Rica, rental cars are not legally allowed to drive through rivers.
📍Make sure to give the turtles plenty of space for the nesting process. They get nervous when people stand close to them.
⏰ Best time to visit: In Ostional, the arribada happens throughout the year but typically most turtles arrive between July and December. October and November are peak months to visit. This also happens to be the peak of the rainy season on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica.
Because the turtles arrive in packs, they tend to come in once a month over one week. Usually, this coincides with a new moon, but stormy weather can disrupt this process.
Contributed by Sarah from Costa Rica Vibes
13. Spot wildlife in Corcovado National Park
📍Location: Located on the remote Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park is one of the most biodiverse environments on earth.
💰Price: Due to its remote location, Corcovado can only be visited on an organized tour with a certified nature guide. The prices range from around $100 (day tour from Drake Bay) to $500 (3 days/2 nights).
🚙 How to get to Corcovado: Corcovado is vast and much of it is inaccessible. But there are five ranger stations in the park that are open to visitors. The best of them is Sirena Ranger Station which has some basic facilities, including dorm-style accommodation and a restaurant.
Sirena Station can be reached by a 1-hr boat ride from Drake Bay, an 8-hr (20km) hike from Puerto Jiminez, or by a 20-min flight on a small plane either from Drake Bay or from Puerto Jiminez.
👉 General description: Corcovado is epic in every sense of the way. It protects almost a third of the Osa Peninsula and encompasses the only remaining swath of old-growth lush rainforest on the Pacific coast of Central America. The park has been protected since 1975 and the animals around the ranger stations are quite used to people, you can have some up-close and personal wildlife encounters in Corcovado.
As you explore the trails around Sirena Station with your guide, you might find yourself surrounded by a band of foraging coatis, perched on an edge of a mud bath with snoozing Baird’s tapirs, or bombarded by fruit discarded by the mischievous Squirrel monkeys from the branches above your head.
Best tours of Corcovado National Park
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: If you are planning on getting to Corcovado by boat, pack a pair of water shoes. The beach landing involves wading in the surf and jumping onto the boat at the right moment. The last thing you want to worry about is losing your shoes in the process. Keen sandals are perfect for the job.
⏰ Best time to visit: December to April is the dry season in Costa Rica and the best time to visit Corcovado. The rainy season lasts from May to early December, with the rainiest month being October when the park is closed to visitors.
Contributed by Margarita from The Wildlife Diaries
14. Spend time in the nature at Manuel Antonio National Park
📍Location: The Pacific Coast. Manuel Antonio National Park is located next to the small town also called Manuel Antonio and just down the road from the city of Quepos.
🚙 How to get to Manuel Antonio National Park: You can organize a shared or private shuttle to the park from nearby tourist destinations including Jaco, Uvita, and San Jose. Day trips are available from these destinations. A public bus from the town of Quepos runs every 20 minutes directly to the park entrance.
You can take a public bus to Quepos and then transfer to the bus station to get to the national park. There is also ample parking at the park entrance gates for those who want to drive themselves.
🏠 Where to stay: Casa Olas
👉 General Description: Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most popular places to visit in Costa Rica. This pristine coastal park showcases a variety of landscapes all in a small, easily walkable area. It’s also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. You can choose from a variety of trails to explore mangroves, pristine white-sand beaches, and dense jungle.
Best tours of Manuel Antonio National Park
The biggest drawcard to Manuel Antonio National Park is the abundance of wildlife found here. Most visitors see sloths, a variety of monkeys, and plenty of birds. You can walk the trails yourself and try to spot them or book a guided tour. The park guides are experts at spotting wildlife, so you’ll see more on a tour.
🗓 Practical tips on visiting Manuel Antionio National Park: Be sure to buy your park entrance ticket in advance online (if you aren’t visiting on a guided tour where the ticket is already included). The park has limits on the number of visitors per day, so you need to do this to secure your entry. Bring a photo ID to enter the park that matches your entrance ticket name booking.
No food is allowed inside of the park, and rangers will search your bag on entry.
⏰ Best time to visit Manuel Antonio National Park: This park is excellent all year round, however, when it rains animals are more difficult to spot. Try to get there first thing in the morning and during the week when fewer people are around.
Contributed by Bailey from Costa Rica Travel Life
15. Learn about rescued animals at Las Pumas Rescue Center
📍Location: Located in the province of Guanacaste, Las Pumas Rescue Center lies near the small town of Cañas. Near the center, you will find the main attractions like the Palo Verde national park, the beautiful Cortez de llanos waterfalls, or the Coribici river where you a do a floating safari.
💰Price: For foreigners, the price for an adult is $12, for students and the elderly, and the kids between (4 to 12 years old) is $8.
🚙 How to get to Las Plumas Rescue Center: The center is 4.5 Km from Cañas going to Liberia, North Interamerican Highway, entrance on the right side of the road.
🏠 Where to stay: Cañas does not have a lot of accommodations, but the regions near the coast or Liberia have more options. The small town is also close to the tourist hub of the Arenal. I recommend Hotel and Hot Springs Sueno Dorado.
👉 General Description: Las Pumas offers a second life to hundreds of animals every year. People from all over the province surrender animals that were once pets, injured, or orphans. The center’s main mission is to rehabilitate animals and release them into the wild. The animals that stay here can’t be released due to an injury or because they got used to human contact and can’t survive in the wild.
During your visit, you will be able to admire the 4 types of monkeys that reside in Costa Rica, toucans, the majestic red macaws, the elusive pumas, jaguars to name a few. The resident animals have big enclosures and all of their medical needs are taken care of. The center has both national and international certification from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.
🎒Guided tours: The center offers guided tours with an Environmental Educator at no additional cost, all you need to do is to email firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your visit. The tour provides information about the animals and the work of the center.
Contributed by Melanie from Brb Travel Blog
16. Walk on Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges
📍Location: Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges is a nature preserve just outside of La Fortuna, a town in northwest Costa Rica that sits in the shadow of the Arenal Volcano.
💰Price: about $28. Reserve your ticket time online in advance – time slots do sell out!
🏠 Where to stay: Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa
🚙 How to get to Arenal Hanging Bridges: From the beautiful Los Lagos Resort where I recommend you stay, follow the main road (Route 142) west of La Fortuna for about 30 minutes.
👉 General description: Mistico Park is a series of suspension (or “hanging”) bridges strung through and above the rainforest. There are about 2 miles of trails through the park that take you through gardens, along a ravine, across about 10 stationary bridges, and by a waterfall. Walking on suspension bridges here is a lot of fun!
💛 What makes it special: The view from the hanging bridges is breathtaking, as you are suspended high above the rainforest and can see down into the canopy, and far out over the valley. At the first hanging bridge, you get a fantastic view of the Arenal volcano (as long as it’s a clear day!), which stands proudly tall among the otherwise flat ground.
Keep your eyes open for wildlife – you can regularly see coati, sloths, monkeys, leafcutter ants, and other bright insects.🦋
🎒Guided tours of Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges: You can do a self-tour or book a guided tour directly through their website, via Viator or Get Your Guide. You can come back later for night tours of the park, and while you don’t get the amazing views, you do get the chance to see nocturnal animals out and about.
Best guided tours of Manue Antonio National Park
🗓 Practical tips on visiting Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges: It is recommended that you wear closed-toe shoes to visit Mistico, but since the majority of the trail is paved, it’s not hard to walk in sandals. Note that you will be required to sign a waiver if you go in with sandals, though!
⏰ Best time to visit Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges: Since the trails are expansive and time slots are regulated, there is no bad time to visit. However, the least crowds are seen either first thing in the morning or between 2-4 in the afternoon.
Contributed by Stephanie from The Unknown Enthusiast
17. See a different side of Costa Rica at Tortuguero National Park
📍Location: Northern Costa Rica along the Caribbean Coast.
💰Price: Tortuguero National Park is open daily from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, and admission is $15 USD per person.
🚙 How to get there: The closest access point is the village of Tortuguero, which can be reached by boat from Cariari (connected to San José by bus). There are also flights from San José to Tortuguero.
🏠 Where to stay: Hotel Tortuguero Beachfront. This boasts large rooms set around a lush garden and with every comfort for a perfect stay.
👉 General description: Visiting Tortuguero National Park is one of the most awesome things to do in Costa Rica for wildlife spotting. The region is mostly famous as turtles lay their eggs on the beach between July and October.
These turtles hatch between November and January. In the park it is also possible to spot jaguars – which are however nocturnal and very hard to spot; sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, and various species of birds, frogs, and snakes.
💛 What makes Tortuguero special: The amount of wildlife you will see at Tortuguero, and its remoteness, make it an incredible place. There are no cars – and hence no traffic – at all in the area, so you can wander around safely and enjoy the silence and the sound of nature and the waves crashing onto the beach.
🎒Guided tours of Tortuguero National Park: You can wander around the park on your own following the well-marked trails, but if you want a more in-depth experience and – especially – want to observe wildlife, you will want to join a guided tour.
Best guided tours of Tortuguero National Park
Guides have a trained eye and know how to spot the animals. Several companies in the village will offer a guided tour. Beware of companies that attract customers by suggesting a free walking tour through: they will surely make you pay!
🗓 Practical tips on visiting Tortuguero National Park: Make sure to wear hiking boots or rent a pair of wellies in the village before visiting. The paths in the park tend to get very muddy and there are snakes and spiders around, so it’s best to protect your feet and ankles. Apply insect repellent to avoid the bites.
Contributed by Claudia from My Adventures Across The World
18. Relax in Limon
📍Location: Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast
💰How to get there: The best way to get to Limon is by renting a car in San José.
🏠 Where to stay in Limon: Awa Beach Beach Boutique Hotel. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a coastal town with beautiful beaches that is perfect to stay for a few days. Here you can find small restaurants, artisan shops, and yoga studios.
👉 General description: The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica offers an entirely different side than the touristy Pacific coast. It’s cheaper, less explored, and in many ways more authentic, than many popular places to visit in Costa Rica where prices are often geared toward tourists.
💛 What makes it special: The area boasts a laid-back attitude, and provides a more authentic taste of Costa Rica with unspoiled views and plenty of local cultures. It’s more similar to other destinations in Central America than touristy places in Costa Rica.
🎒Guided tours: Some of the highlights of the area are gorgeous secluded beaches Punta Uva and Playa Negra. You can also visit Jaguar Rescue Center to learn about local efforts to reduce and preserve these beautiful cats.
Best tours of Limon, Costa Rica
🗓 Practical tips on visiting Limon: Since this is a less developed part of Costa Rica, it’s better to rent a car for your trip to Limon. Transportation options can be limited in Limon, and you will have a much better time exploring the Caribbean Coast of the country at your own pace.
👉 Click here to rent a car for your trip to Limon, Costa Rica
19. Watch humpback whales
📍Location: Pacific Coast of Costa Rica
🚙 How to get there: via Liberia International Airport
🏠 Where to stay: Casa Luna Boutique Hotels
👉 General description: Costa Rica is one of the best places in Central America for spotting humpback whales. During certain times of the year, these magical creatures come to the waters of Costa Rica, and if you want to see them, plan your trip to Costa Rica for January or February or from July through September.
💛 What makes it special: Whale watching is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. The country is home to some incredible biodiversity, and you can see sloths, monkeys, macaws and other cool animals year-round, however, whale watching is different because it can only be done during certain months.
Best whale watching tours in Costa Rica
🎒Guided tours: Watching humpback whales is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica for nature lovers, but it’s possible only with a tour since you have to go in the open water to see these magical creatures.
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: Some of the most popular places for watching humpback whales in Costa Rica are Osa Península, Drake Bay, Marino Ballena as well as Uvita and Papagayo.
20. Hike in Rincon De La Vieja National Park
📍Location: Rincon De La Vieja National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site located in the inland part of the Guanacaste Province about 20 kilometers from Liberia.
🚙 How to get there: The easiest way to get to Rincon De La Vieja is from Tamarindo. This national park makes a perfect day trip from the beaches of Tamarindo, as it offers an entirely different side of Guanacaste.
🏠 Where to stay: Jardin Del Eden Boutique Hotel
👉 General Description: Rincon De La Vieja National Park is a spectacular park famous for its hiking trails, waterfalls and tons of adventure tours. Here you can try rafting down the Rio Negro, rappel or soak in the natural hot springs, among other things.
💛 What makes it special: Translated from Spanish as the old lady’s nook, this national park is relatively off the radar and provides a nice break from one of the busiest areas of the country.
🎒Guided tours: While it’s better to visit Rincon de la Vieja with a car rental, many guided tours can pick you up at your hotel, and provide a detailed tour of the area. You can book one of these tours online through a platform like Viator.
Best tours of Rincon De La Vieja National Park
🗓 Practical tips on visiting: Rincon De La Vieja has hiking trails, waterfalls, and plenty of scenery, so if you are planning to spend some time here, come prepared. Make sure to wear comfortable hiking shoes with a good grip, light clothing that dries quickly, and also bring your swimsuit, in case you want to take a dip in one of the waterfalls.
Putting a couple of snacks and a water bottle in your backpack is also a good idea, since you will most likely spend at least a couple of hours here.
21. Dive in Las Catalinas Islands
📍Location: Located in the Guanacaste Region of Costa Rica, the Catalinas Islands are a gorgeous natural landmark with plenty of nature to be seen.
💰Price: The cost for visiting depends if you are doing a snorkel tour ($60) or a scuba diving tour ($90 not including gear rental if needed).
🏠 Where to stay: Hotel Pasatiempo
🎒Guided tours: Permits are required to visit the islands to help prevent over-tourism, so guided tours such as snorkel or scuba diving are required. If it is a full-day tour, lunch is often included.
👉 General Description: The archipelago consists of several islands ranging from 2-15 kilometers off the coast. You can easily visit the islands from the beach town of Tamarindo. The true beauty of the islands is hidden below the surface.
Snorkeling or scuba diving in the Catalina Islands is one of the best things to do in Tamarindo.
The islands are home to hundreds of species of fish, the Pacific Giant Mantas, and white-tip reef sharks. Be sure to pack an underwater camera so you can capture these beautiful animals. Keep an eye out for devil ray sharks when you’re on your way to the archipelago. They can be seen jumping and flipping several feet into the air from the water.
Best diving tours of Catalinas Island
🗓 Practical tips for visiting: Be sure to bring waterproof, reef-safe sunscreen. The boat is the only source of shade, so you’ll be in the sun for a few hours. Once you’re in the water, be sure not to touch anything. The ecosystem is delicate and should be respected accordingly. Having an underwater camera is a great way to capture the sights without endangering the wildlife.
⏰ Best time to visit: For the best water visibility, visit the Catalinas Islands during the dry season, January to March. Manta rays can be spotted from November to May and whales are typically seen between September and March.
Contributed by Pamela from Directionally Challenged Traveller
22. Take a tour of San Jose, Costa Rica
📍Location: San Jose, the capital and the largest city of Costa Rica. It’s the primary city into which tourists enter Costa Rica from the SJO airport.
🚙 How to get there: Most people arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica by flying into the airport and transiting from SJO to the city center, via private transfer, rental car, or airport bus. This tour has several pick-up points in the city and hotel pick-ups can also be arranged.
🏠 Where to stay: Hotel Trianon is in a superb location very close to the San Jose Main Square, the owner here speaks English but is happy to let you practice your Spanish.
👉 General description: Most visitors head straight from the airport to one of Costa Rica’s national parks or straight to the resort, but the city is worthy of your time. The best way to explore San Jose – and to maximize your time here is to take a tour of the highlights of the city.
A bus tour is a great way to explore and see the highlights of the city, including the glorious National Theatre (Teatro Nacional). For $68 USD you’ll get to explore the primary sites of the city, with an expert guide – you’ll also get to see the Metropolitan Cathedral and have a fabulous lunch with amazing Costa Rican specialties such as the national dish of rice and beans!
💛 What makes it special: San Jose is cosmopolitan, exciting, and exploring the city offers the opportunity to visit museums and the history of the country as well as making a base to take day trips out to other areas of the country. You can visit downtown San Jose, Costa Rica at any time of the year, which can’t be said about some of the most popular places in Costa Rica.
🎒Guided tours: You can visit San Jose independently, but the best way to see the highlights of the city is to take a tour. The bus tour means you’ll get an expert guide to take you around areas of the city.
Best tours of San Jose, Costa Rica
🗓 Practical tips for visiting: Try to explore the Escalante district of the city, which is the culinary area of San Jose. – La Luz Gastronomy Street is the area of the city with the highest concentration of restaurants. Costa Rican food is tasty, delicious and you’ll find the rice and beans become a staple of your stay here – and they’ll likely accompany most of the dishes that you try in San Jose and Costa Rica.
Contributed by Sarah from ASocialNomad
Renting a car in Costa Rica
If you want to enjoy some of the most fun things to do in Costa Rica during the high season, book your car ahead of time!
Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations during winter, and it’s not uncommon for car rental companies to have shortages in San Jose and Liberia, two major airports in Costa Rica. Book your car with DiscoverCars, one of the best car rental companies that has thousands of vehicles available.
PRO TIP: If you are planning a trip to Costa Rica, but don’t know where to begin, check my suggested one week in Costa Rica itinerary that will help you to enjoy some of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
Best things to do in Costa Rica: FAQ
What 3 things is Costa Rica known for?
Costa Rica is a small Central American country that is known for its eco-tourism, amazing surfing and spectacular wildlife. Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations in the region located between Nicaragua and Panama.
Best time to visit Costa Rica
Costa Rica has two seasons. The dry season lasts from late November through April and the wet season is from June through September.
The dry season is the best time to visit Costa Rica because the weather is ideal, however, it is also the busiest time when prices tend to be the highest. For a better experience, consider visiting Costa Rice during the shoulder season when the weather is good and prices are not as high.
The rainy season has the most precipitation, but it’s a great time to visit Costa Rica because of smaller crowds and an opportunity to see a different side of the country.
How many days to spend in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica is a small, but a very scenic country that can take months to explore. It boasts a stunning Pacific Coastline, lush rainforests, and many volcanoes, some of which you can hike.
If you are visiting Costa Rica for the first time, plan no less than 7 days, to enjoy some of the best things to do in Costa Rica. Ideally, plan about 2 weeks in Costa Rica – an ideal amount of time if you want to explore some of the most awesome things to do in Costa Rica without rushing through.
Is Costa Rica safe to visit?
Yes! Costa Rica is often called one of the safest countries in Central America and is known as being one of the most tourist-friendly places in the region. That being said, petty crime can occur here, especially in popular tourist areas like La Fortuna and Guanacaste. Always keep an eye on your belongings, lock your car when you go sightseeing, and be aware of your surroundings.
In recent years, most criminal activity in Costa Rica has been related to drug trafficking, as the country is increasingly used to transport drugs from South America up north. As a tourist, you are not likely to affect by drug trafficking as long as you stay away from drugs. Still, it never hurts to to stay vigilant, when you travel around the country.
Is Costa Rica worth a visit?
Yes! Costa Rica is a spectacular country that is worth your time and money! When you come here, you will realize what made this country so popular in the first place: the laid-back atmosphere, breathtaking landscapes, and countless recreation opportunities. Many people keep coming back to Costa Rica after visiting it once, and there’s a good chance you will also fall in love with this gorgeous country!
More resources for planning your Costa rica trip
Making a list of the best places to visit in Costa Rica is just one part of your trip. Whether you need to book a car, organize a tour or book a flight to Costa Rica, consider using some of my suggested services.
✅ Agoda.com – a great website for budget hotels in Costa Rica.
✅ WorldNomads – Great service for insurance coverage that will keep you safe on the road.
✅ Safety Wing – Excellent insurance plan for long-term travelers that offers competitive rates is you are planning to stay on the road several weeks in a row.
✅ GetYourGuide.com – Thinking about booking a tour in Costa Rica? Get Your Guide is my favorite platform that offers awesome tours and top-notch guides in some of the most popular places in Costa Rica.
✅ DiscoverCars.com – There’s nothing like exploring Costa Rica at your own pace. Most travelers who come here rent cars as it allows to explore the country better than by public transportation.
✅ CheapoAir.com – One of the best platforms for saving money on flights to Costa Rica.
✅ Booking.com – a popular website with tons and tons of options for accommodations of all sorts.