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Costa Rica is one of the most rejuvenating and peaceful places I have ever visited. It’s incredibly green and rich in nature, with lots to experience for those who like outdoor adventures.
The food is made with fresh ingredients, the people are incredibly welcoming and with two coastlines you’ll be spoilt for choice when it comes to beaches. I spent a week there but it just wasn’t enough and I only really got a small taste of this beautiful country.
If you’re planning a visit and you’re not sure where to begin, here are some of the best things to do in Costa Rica:
Best Things to Do in Costa Rica
Coffee Tour at Don Juan Coffee Plantation
Costa Rica is famous for its coffee production and you can see exactly how it’s made by doing a coffee tour at places such as the Don Juan coffee plantation.
You can learn about the entire process from growing to roasting and taste a fresh cup of coffee at the end with a gorgeous view of the forest. In addition to the coffee, you can try your hand at pressing sugar cane juice and blend your own artisanal chocolate.
Walk the Sky Bridges at Sky Walk Monteverde
Costa Rica has incredibly green, dense forest which is best explored via the hanging bridges.
At the Sky Walk in Monteverde we walked along trails and various suspension bridges to further examine the canopy of the rainforest.
We saw all kinds of flora and fauna, but the best bit was seeing howler monkeys chilling out on the treetops in the wild.
We then took a cable car to the top for incredible views over the cloud forest and passed by people who were zip lining through the trees.
Ride Horses to La Fortuna Waterfall
One of my best memories of Costa Rica was riding horses beneath the Arenal volcano. I hadn’t ridden horses since I was a child and it reminded me just how much I loved it. You don’t need to be experienced as my group was full of people with a range of abilities, from complete beginner to advanced.
We set off in a group on horseback, riding through lush green fields and scrambling through streams till we reached our destination: the La Fortuna waterfall.
The thundering waterfall is incredibly impressive and when you’ve climbed down the steps to get to it, you can cool off with a refreshing swim in the water below.
Bathe in Hot Springs at Tabacon Grand Spa
Costa Rica is all about relaxation and there’s nowhere better to relax than a hot spring. The Tabacon Grand Spa is popular with honeymooners who come to bathe in the natural waters, order a drink or two from the swim-up bar and enjoy a buffet dinner afterwards.
The hot spring has waterfalls, cascades and pools of varying temperatures split across different levels. Best of all, it’s set in lush, tropical surroundings with exotic flowers- the perfect setting to relax those tense muscles and reap the health benefits. We arrived after the sun went down for a night time swim under the stars, then sat down for dinner in the restaurant.
Sleep Under Arenal Volcano
When I woke up at the Hotel Arenal Springs Resort I was absolutely stunned by the view! We arrived at night so we couldn’t see a thing, but when I opened my eyes in the morning I realised I had been sleeping right at the foot of the Arenal Volcano.
It was beautiful to see the volcano under a blue sky, then watch as the clouds gradually gathered around its peak. The resort is enormous with beautiful little bungalows surrounded by exotic gardens, flowers and animals.
White Water Rafting at Sarapiqui
Costa Rica is blessed with two coastlines, plus multiple rivers and lakes, which means there are plenty of water sports you can do here. The country is one of the best places for white water rafting and has hosted the World Rafting Championships, so it’s the ideal place to get your adrenaline fix.
After spending the night in Arenal we stopped by Sarapiqui which has a river that is quickly becoming a top destination for adventure lovers. The river is good for beginners, with a wild beginning and a smooth ride at the end.
See How Chocolate Is Made at Tirimbina Biological Reserve
Whether you have a sweet tooth or you’re just curious about how chocolate it’s made, a Chocolate Tour is a fascinating way to learn about Costa Rica’s chocolate.
At Tirimbina Biological Reserve you can see what the cacao fruit looks like and watch a demonstration showing how the cacao beans are turned into chocolate. At the end you can taste the different kinds of chocolate and blend your own in the traditional way.
Watch Sea Turtles Nesting in Tortuguero National Park
Without a doubt one of the most memorable experiences of my life to date was seeing turtles nesting on the beach in Costa Rica. In Tortuguero National Park a ranger takes you down to the beach late at night to witness turtles coming in from the ocean and making it onto the shore.
They then move to the back of the beach, dig a hole and lay their eggs, before returning to the ocean. We saw three different turtles at various stages of this process, beneath an incredible night sky full of shooting stars. We weren’t allowed to take cameras with us as this might disturb the turtles but it meant I could be totally present to enjoy such a beautiful moment in nature.
Walk on the Beach in Cahuita National Park
Established in 1970 to protect a coral reef off the Caribbean coast, Cahuita National Park is one of the most beautiful places in Costa Rica. The park boasts sandy beaches and coral reefs and is therefore a great spot for snorkeling and turtle watching. Underwater you can discover at least 35 species of coral, plus all sorts of molluscs, crustaceans, and fish.
Cahuita is located on the southern Caribbean coast in Limón Province – it takes around 4-5 hours to get there by driving.
Get in Touch With Your Hippie Side in Puerto Viejo
Puerto Viejo is a relaxed beach town with some beautiful secluded beaches backed by palm trees and a famous surf spot called the Salsa Brava. Come here to do nothing, kick it at the beach and then party by night in one of the many bars pumping out reggae beats. This is the place to put on your yoga pants and channel your inner hippie child.
Eat a Costa Rican Breakfast
A typical Costa Rican breakfast includes ‘gallo pinto’ which is basically rice and beans, with plantains, a tomato based sauce and maybe some scrambled eggs. There’s also a sauce that everyone uses over there called Salsa Lizano- try it and take some home as a souvenir!
Surfing at Jaco Beach
Jaco Beach is known for being a surfer town so it’s a great place to catch a few waves or learn to surf. If you want to sign up for some beginner surf lessons – check out surf schools such as Sunrise Surf School and Jaco Beach Surf School.
This tourism hotspot is known for its nightlife and has a good selection of restaurants, lounge bars and clubs. Since the beach faces west, expect some incredible sunsets!
Explore Manuel Antonio National Park
This national park may only cover three square miles but it has a lot to discover, including nature trails, secluded beaches and lush rainforest.
The journey time to Manuel Antonio National Park is around three hours by car from San Jose and entrance tickets cost $16. Bring a picnic and show up early when the park opens if you want to beat the crowds.
While walking through the park expect to see monkeys, iguanas, rare birds and other interesting wildlife.
Eat at Cafe & Macadamia
If you happen to be traveling through Guanacaste Province to visit Arenal, check out Cafe & Macadamia, which was one of my favorite food stops in Costa Rica! The food is very fresh and the smoothies are delicious.
The restaurant boasts a beautiful view, so it’s definitely worth making a rest stop here if you’re passing through. There’s a reason it’s rated one of the best restaurants in Costa Rica!
Stay at an Eco Lodge in the Rainforest
To me there’s nothing more relaxing than falling asleep to the sound of raindrops or the ocean crashing against the shore. Near Sarapiqui I stayed at a tent camp called Hacienda Pozo Azul (Cuculmeca Tent Camp), which features fully equipped tents mounted over platforms in the rainforest. The accommodation is fairly basic but you get to stay right in the middle of nature and have some time for self reflection. It was so relaxing to look out into the forest with the rain falling down.
There are tons of eco-lodges in Costa Rica so definitely take the opportunity to stay at one during your trip to Costa Rica.
Best time to visit Costa Rica
Temperatures in Costa Rica are fairly consistent and tropical throughout the year although the country does experience a wet season and a dry season.
The best time to visit Costa Rica is usually between December and April when the weather is warmer and drier and you can get out and enjoy the beaches. This is also peak season though, so hotels and flights are likely to be more expensive.
May to November in Costa Rica is the wet season, also known as the green season. The wettest months in Costa Rica are generally September and October so you’ll want to avoid those two months if possible. If you want to benefit from cheaper hotel rates, consider June and July, which get slightly less rainfall.
Getting around Costa Rica
Since Costa Rica is a country full of national parks and nature, driving is really the best way to explore Costa Rica. Consider renting a car from the airport for the duration of your trip. Try sites like Kayak and Rentalcars.com to find the best rates. You could also check out Adobe Rent a Car, which is a local Costa Rican car hire company.
Make sure you bring your driver’s license and remember they drive on the right side of the road. If you’re coming from the US then this will be no problem but if you’re coming from places like the UK or Australia, you will need to remind yourself to drive on the opposite side of the road.
You will want to rent a 4×4 if you plan on visiting more remote places or you’re visiting in the rainy season. If you don’t feel confident driving on the terrain, consider hiring a driver from your hotel.
You can also book multi-day tours online through companies like G Adventures and Intrepid Travel.
Here’s a selection of multi-day trips:
- Costa Rica Upgraded, 14 days, G Adventures
- Basic Costa Rica: Coastlines and Cloud Forests, 14 days, G Adventures
- Costa Rica Experience, 9 days, Intrepid Travel
- Classic Costa Rica, 15 days, Intrepid Travel
For day trips, check out GetYourGuide and Viator.
The quickest way to get around Costa Rica is by domestic flight although this is usually the most expensive option. San José Airport and Liberia Airport are the two international airports in Costa Rica and they usually have domestic flights to regional destinations such as Puerto Jiménez, Quepos and Tortuguero. Expect to pay around $50-$100 for a one way ticket.
The country has two main domestic airlines – SANSA and Aerobell. Also check out Skyway, Costa Rica Green Airways and Aero Caribe. Be warned, however, that flight schedules can often be changed or canceled due to weather.
Taxis and Uber
Taxis are good for shorter trips and Uber also exists in Costa Rica. Uber is usually cheaper than a taxi and is good for getting to and from the airport or around the capital of San Jose. If you decide to hail a taxi, note that official taxis are usually red and in San Jose they are metered.
Shuttle buses are also available and there are two options – shared buses or private buses. These are small to medium size vans with air-conditioning and are a comfortable way to get around. They’re good for trips to and from the airport or traveling between major tourist destinations. A shared shuttle bus between La Fortuna and Tamarindo costs around $59 USD per person.
The main companies are:
Bus is the cheapest option but obviously takes much longer and you don’t have the flexibility that you do with a rental car. If you plan on taking the bus between, say, San Jose and Puerto Jiménez on the South Pacific Coast, the journey takes roughly eight hours.
However, if you have the time and you’re on a budget, bustravel is definitely the way to go. You can definitely take buses from San Jose to major attractions such as Manual Antonio, Jacó, and Monteverde. Check out the Visit Costa Rica website for detailed information on buses.
FAQs About Costa Rica, Answered
Costa Rica has so many beautiful beaches, forests and national parks to discover. Don’t miss Monteverde Cloud Forest, La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal Volcano and Tortuguero National Park. Watching the sea turtles nesting at Tortuguero was the highlight of my trip.
place, known for its tropical cloud forests and lush greenery, as well as its coffee plantations. The country has numerous national parks where visitors can enjoy all sorts of adventure activities including hiking, river rafting and ziplining. While on a trip to Costa Rica you can also see a wide variety of wildlife, including sloths, sea turtles, monkeys and toucans.
You ideally need about 10 days to see Costa Rica properly. At minimum you could visit for 5 days but 10 days will allow you to explore all the major highlights. Remember that while there are domestic flights, it’s often easiest and most cost effective to get around by shuttle or rental car. Even though the country is fairly small, you’ll need to allow for travel time between destinations.
For an average meal, expect to pay around $10 for an appetizer, $12-$15 for an entree and $5 for dessert. Breakfast is usually cheaper costing around $5-$8. If you drink alcohol, expect to pay roughly $3-$4 for a beer or $5-10 for a glass of wine.
Costa Rica is cheaper than most major cities in the U.S. but it’s the most expensive country in Central America. So if you’re coming from somewhere like the UK or USA expect it to feel a bit cheaper than back home but still moderately expensive. Overall, the cost of living in Costa Rica is 26.6% lower than the United States and 31.5% cheaper than the United Kingdom. If you’re visiting on a budget, traveling by bus and staying in hostels would be the cheapest way to see the country.