Costa Rica recently became one of my favorite places in the world for nature-focused travel. With an abundance of wildlife and natural beauty like no other place on earth, adventure, and beautiful, wild beaches, it’s also quickly becoming a firm favorite for many others.
I’m Alex Wieteska, a travel blogger and content creator at Roam & Thrive where we focus on wellness-focused travel and bringing out the best from health-conscious destinations. Last year I spent over 2 months in Costa Rica and completely immersed myself in the ‘Pura Vida’ life and culture.
Here are my top 10 things you absolutely cannot miss from any Costa Rica itinerary and they encompass so much of what the country has to offer. While there is much, much more to see, this is a great start for anyone visiting Costa Rica.
Top 10 Things to Do in Costa Rica
Best Time to Visit Costa Rica
Due to its tropical climate, Costa Rica has two seasons, dry and wet. The dry season runs from November-May and it generally rains from May-November but it does vary by region as Costa Rica does have several small microclimates all around the country. For example, August- September is actually the best time to visit the Caribbean Coast.
In general, it’s best to visit during the dry season where you’ll have the sunniest days, yet even then be prepared for rain. In places like Monteverde and La Fortuna, it rains all the time. Temperatures are comfortable 70-95 degrees all year around.
Top Tips for Visiting Costa Rica
- Rent a car- public transportation isn’t great and many places that you’ll want to see are a little off the beaten path and to access them you’ll need your own wheels or to go as part of a tour.
- Over budget- Costa Rica is the most expensive country in Central America and if you’re visiting for the first time you might be a little shocked by the prices. Budget for Costa Rica like you might for a trip to Europe.
- If you’re interested in wildlife and/or photography bring binoculars and a good zoom lens. Wildlife is often far away and difficult to see.
- Pack for rain even in the dry season, especially when headed to the Central Highland Regions.
Top 10 Things to Do in Costa Rica
1. See the Wildlife
Hands down one of the most spectacular reasons to come to Costa Rica is for its abundance of wildlife. Costa Rica is one of the most diverse countries in the world and wherever you go in this beautiful country you’ll encounter tropical birds flying freely above you, sloths swinging from the trees, and howler monkeys standing in for your alarm clock throughout your vacation.
There’s something quite magical about seeing wildlife roaming freely through its natural habitat and you’ll likely have so many opportunities for wildlife encounters in Costa Rica.
These are the best areas, parks, and places for wildlife spotting in Costa Rica. I highly recommend visiting at least once.
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Corcovado National Park
- Tortuguero National Park
When visiting any of these places it’s pretty easy to add the services of a guide to your visit- guides will offer their services at the entrance. I really recommend using them as you’ll be able to see much more this way.
Guides know where the animals are hiding and they have eyes trained to spot the tiniest creatures. They also have a huge scope from which you’ll be able to see the animal a lot better than you would otherwise.
2. Bathe in the Hot Springs of La Fortuna
With an abundance of volcanoes and volcanic activity in Costa Rica, you’ll also find hot springs throughout the country. The most well-known destination for hot springs in La Fortuna where you’ll find some of the most luxurious hot spring resorts as well as free natural hot springs.
Resort Hot Springs:
You’ll have access to the hot springs as a guest of the resort or through purchasing a day or half-day pass which can be done on the resort’s website. My favorites include:
- Tabacon Hot Springs Resort & Spa- the most popular resort in the area
- The Springs Resort & Spa
- Baldi Hot Springs Hotel & Spa
- Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa
- EcoTermales- this one is a stand-alone hot spring and not attached to a resort
- Volcano Lodge, Hotel & Thermal Experience – the most budget- friendly resort
If you don’t want to pay to access any hot springs, there is one free hot spring in the area right next to Tabacon Resort. The springs are completely natural with no infrastructure and while the hot spring resorts are well worth it, the free springs make a lovely place to relax for a few hours.
3. Surf at Playa Guiones, Nosara
Apart from its nature and wildlife, Costa Rica is also known for its world-class waves.
One of the best spots to get in the water is Playa Guiones in Nosara no matter if you’re a pro or just beginning. In Nosara you’ll find some really great surf schools which can provide you with knowledgeable instructors that’ll help you get on your feet- literally- and ride your first wave.
The best surf schools to check out are Nosara Surf Academy and Cacho’s Surf School.
Another great place to learn to surf is Santa Teresa or Mal Pais.
4. Boutique shop in Santa Teresa
Costa Rica isn’t exactly a shoppers paradise, but if you fancy a little boutique shopping and to support local businesses then Santa Teresa is the place for it.
There’s a lovely selection of cool surf shops selling all kinds of apparel, vibey concept stores, and boho boutiques. You’ll be able to find anything from local swimwear brands to unique homeware and of course surf and yoga apparel.
My favorite boutiques to check out are Pacific Wolf Factory (PAWO) for swimwear and Studio Collectiva for beautiful, conceptual pieces.
5. Explore Caribbean culture in Puerto Viejo
The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is nothing like the Pacific side and the little town of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has its roots well grounded in Caribbean culture. Puerto Viejo has a large Jamaican community and it’s here where you can experience Costa Rica’s unique Afro-Jamaican culture.
The town itself is really colorful and you’ll hear Bob Marley, being blasted out of speakers almost everywhere, as well as a fair share of great Jamaican and Caribbean restaurants to choose from. You’ll also hear a little bit more English being spoken here compared to other places in Costa Rica, especially by locals.
People here are really lovely, friendly, and live by the Costa Rican motto ‘Pura Vida’ so the best thing to do is simply walk around and talk to locals.
6. Go on a wellness retreat in a world-class resort
Over at Roam & Thrive, we talk quite a bit about wellness travel so I couldn’t quite leave this out of a Costa Rica itinerary. Costa Rica has some of the best wellness resorts and retreats in the world so if you’re looking to truly relax and take some time out for yourself this is the place.
Costa Rica’s wellness retreats offer a number of different programs, services, and retreats to enhance living from world-class spas to yoga retreats.
Some of my favorites include:
Bodhi Tree Yoga Resort
The Retreat Wellness Resort & Spa
Casa de Agua Spa, The Well
Tabacon Hot Springs & Spa
7. Adventure sports e.g. ziplining
Costa Rica is full of opportunities for anyone looking for more of an adrenaline-filled experience.
From ziplining, which seems to be one of the most common activities here, in fact, Costa Rica did invent it, to white-water rafting.
One of the best places to base yourself for adventure sports and activities, especially zip lining and rafting, is La Fortuna.
8. Go Whale Watching in Uvita
Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is one of the best places in the world for whale watching because you can pretty much see them all year round. While it’s possible to whale watch anywhere along the Pacific Coast, Uvita, located on the Osa Peninsula, is where most of the whale-watching infrastructure lies.
Between July- November Humpback whales from the Southern Antarctic Region make their way up to warmer waters, while in December- April you’ll most likely see humpbacks that live in Northern Regions. They come to breed and raise their juveniles, so the likelihood of spotting baby Humpback whales is big.
Tours range from $50-$90 depending on the time of year and what’s offered. I highly recommend Ballena Aventura who also does fishing and snorkeling tours in the area.
After your whale watching tour, make sure to explore more of Marino Ballena National Park, its incredible beaches, and Punta Uvita, which, rather appropriately is shaped just like a whale’s tail.
9. Trek near a Volcano
While you can’t really trek up many volcanoes in Costa Rica, you can certainly trek around them or near them. Costa Rica has over 200 volcanic formations, but only 5 are currently active volcanoes.
Many of the volcanoes are also inside national parks, where you’ll be able to choose from many different trekking paths and hikes according to your needs.
Poas Volcano – this is one of the most active but also the most accessible volcanoes in Costa Rica. It’s part of the National Park of the same name and it’s located fairly close to San Jose. There are many hikes to do including one to a viewpoint from which you can see the volcano’s crater.
Arenal Volcano– Located just outside la Fortuna, this volcano is a perfect cone shape. You can’t climb this one but head to Arenal Volcano National Park where you can hike the ‘Arenal 1968 Volcano View and Lava Trails’ for the best views of the volcano.
Volcan Tenorio National Park– Another great national park full of jungle hiking trails with volcano views. Don’t miss Rio Celeste, the sky-blue colored river here too.
Rincon de la Vieja– Another volcano national park worth a stop and a trek.
10. Go waterfall chasing
Costa Rica really does have some stunning waterfalls and you simply must see at least a few during your trip. Luckily they are spread out throughout the country so you’re bound to be close to one at some point.
Many of the waterfalls are developed facilities with paved walkways and stairs while others are much more off the beaten path, where you’ll have to trek through the jungle to get there or drive down a muddy road in a 4×4. Some of them you can swim in, others you can’t.
Top waterfalls You Can’t Miss:
- La Fortuna Waterfall, La Fortuna
- Rio Celeste Waterfall, Rincón de la Vieja National Park
- Bajos del Toro Waterfall, Alajuela
- Nauyaca Waterfall, near Uvita
- La Paz Waterfall and Gardens, Alajuela
- Llanos de Cortez Waterfall, near Liberia