10 things to do in Costa Rica
Updated: Nov 10, 2020
10 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica
When planning a trip to Costa Rica, there are so many activities to choose from that you may feel like a mosquito at a nudist colony — you’re happy to be here, but you hardly know where to start.
There are almost too many options to choose from, and many travelers have a short amount of time to do it all. You want to experience the culture as much as possible, yet you have to pick and choose.
However, there are some adventures and activities that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here are suggestion for the 10 best things to do in Costa Rica:
1. Experience the Food
You gotta eat, so you’ll want to sample the full range of culinary options available here.
A traditional Costa Rican breakfast, for example, always includes “gallo pinto” — mixed rice and beans, usually served with eggs, sausage or bacon, fruit, coffee and juice. (“Gallo pinto,” FYI, means “speckled rooster” — a reference to the colors of the mixed rice and beans.)
This is a ”casado” — one of the most varied meals you can find in Costa Rica, and often the lowest-priced item on the menu.
The traditional Costa Rican lunch is called a “casado,” which means “married,” because it’s the kind of full and varied lunch a married man would eat. It consists of rice and beans, your choice of protein (beef, chicken, pork or fish), a salad, fried sweet plantains, and a “picadillo,” which is a mix of chopped vegetables like potatoes or chayote.
Casados tend to be the most popular dishes served at “sodas,” which are small, inexpensive Costa Rica diners.
You can also sample a the wide array of food at Costa Rican streets festivals.
However, some of the best food in Costa Rica can be found at restaurants that specialize in the cuisines of other countries — Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Peruvian, Argentinian, Spanish, American and many more. Wherever you end up in Costa Rica, sample the food broadly and you won’t be disappointed.
2. Go snorkeling
There are several popular snorkeling spots just off the coast of Papagayo . While coral is not common, there are rock reefs where small reef fish and star fish congregate. These snorkeling locations are often accessed by small boat, kayak or sailboat cruises.
3. Enjoy the Beach
When deciding what to do in Costa Rica, most people will naturally think of the beach. There are many ways to enjoy the beaches of Costa rica — not least of all by throwing out a towel and lying down on one, perhaps with a cold drink and/or a book.
Costa Rica is famous for its beaches, so find your own and enjoy.
You’ll also want to venture into the water and get wet, of course, but beware of two things. If the beach has riptides or huge waves, be very cautious about going too deep, and keep a close eye on children. Also, never leave valuables unattended on the beach, or they may have vanished when you return.
Some beaches offer decent snorkeling, though the best scuba diving and snorkeling spots are usually reached by boat.
4. Go Ziplining
Recreational zip lining was invented in Costa Rica, and you’ll find a multiplicity of options almost anywhere in the country. Zip lining is also called “canopy tours” here, because they are almost always built in the canopy of the rainforest.)
If a child this size can do it, so can you. Ziplining is one of the most popular adventures in Costa Rica.
The Arenal, Monteverde and Guanacaste regions offer some of the country’s best options, although there are ziplines just about everywhere. Some offer thrilling, face-down “Superman cables,” some have heart-stopping “Tarzan swings,” some have controlled vertical rappelling, and all offer adrenaline-pumping thrills.
Face your fear of heights, step up and fly! Ziplining is one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica.
5. See a Volcano
Costa Rica was created by volcanic and tectonic activity, and there are multiple volcanoes in the country, both active and dormant. Many volcanoes anchor a national park, includes Arenal, Poás, Irazú and Rincón de la Vieja.
Costa Rica has multiple volcanoes, some of them active and several of them anchoring a national park.
If possible, you should be all means visit at least one volcano while you’re here. This typically involves hiking — sometimes arduous, sometimes easy. In some places, especially Arenal and Rincón de la Vieja, all that magma underground creates hot springs that are open to the public for a relaxing soak and/or a mud bath.
6. Go on a Sunset Cruise
Costa Rica is famous for sunset cruises on sailboats with open bars, appetizing food, interesting snorkeling and visits to otherwise inaccessible beaches. Sometimes, by sheer happenstance, you see turtles, dolphins and whales breaching the water around you.
A sunset cruise on a sailboat is an exciting and relaxing way to enjoy the ocean.
Sunset cruises usually leave around 2 p.m. — good option for people who don’t like to get up early. But if you love to drink on a boat (which it turns out many people do), please restrain yourself so you’re sober enough to snorkel in crystal-clear waters in the middle of the afternoon.
We’ll leave the rest to you, but we promise that if you ever go sailing on the ocean off Costa Rica, you will never have a bad time, and you will remember it for the rest of your life.
Costa Rica is one of the world’s best places to catch a sailfish, and if you go to the right place with an experienced operator it’s also easy to hook a marlin. Both of these species, by law, are catch-and-release only.
Whether you want to catch a marlin or a tuna, sportfishing tours abound in Costa Rica.
Other common catches include tuna, mahi-mahi, snapper, jack, roosterfish and wahoo. Operators distinguish between deep-sea and in-shore fishing, and catches vary depending on the depth of the ocean.
Fishing is also good on rivers and lakes — the giant Laguna Arenal, for example, is famous for “guapote,” or rainbow bass. And the rivers of the chilly Los Santos region are known for their trout fishing.
8. Go on a Wildlife Tour
Costa Rica has only 0.03% of the world’s landmass, yet it’s home to 5% of the planet’s biodiversity. That means that of every 20 animal species on earth, one of them is native to Costa Rica. It’s one of the most biodiverse places in the world, rivaling the heart of Africa or the jungles of the Amazon.
A guide with a telescope will help you get the most out of your wildlife tour.
A wildlife tour typically involves a guided hike through a national park or some other protected environment, of which there are many. It’s estimated that some 25% of Costa Rica’s territory is protected from development, allowing a plethora of species to thrive in an undisturbed environment.
Some wildlife tours focus on birding, though good guides will often spot mammals, reptiles, amphibians, arachnids and unusual insects. Many visitors venture out to explore the trails on their own, and you can certainly do that. But if you hire an experienced guide, you’ll see things that you would miss on your own. Guides often have telescopes to zoom in and to help you take amazing close-up photos, even with a common cellphone.
9. Try Whitewater Rafting
Thanks to Costa Rica’s abundant rainfall, and the steep gradients between the mountains and the sea, there are lots of fast, fun, navigable rivers.
Whitewater rafting is a thrilling way to see Costa Rica at its wildest.
Whitewater rafting is one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica, along with variants including tubing, canoeing and kayaking. The best rafting spots include the Pacuare River in the eastern part of the country, the Naranjo river in the west and the Sarapiquí River in the north.
But you can find rafting within a day trip of almost anywhere, and it’s one of the most thrilling ways to have an unforgettable adventure and see parts of the country that you’d never see from a tour bus.
, put on your helmet and life vest, and get ready to paddle, paddle, paddle!
10. Rest & Relax
Always leave some time in your plans for some R&R — lying on the beach, lounging by the pool or reading a book in a hammock. Embrace the “pura vida” mindset and find time to unwind.
Amid all the thrilling adventures you may undertake in Costa Rica, be sure to find time for some rest and relaxation.
For some visitors, the main point of the trip lies in the rest and relaxation.By all means, try to do something challenging and extraordinary, but factor in some time to lie back and just watch the world go by.
Have a great trip!