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Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do

Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do

Last updated on February 9th, 2023 at 02:45 pm EST

Written by Nikki Solano

Nikki is the CEO of Pura Vida! eh? Inc. (Costa Rica Discounts), and the author of the guidebooks Moon Costa Rica (2019, 2021, and 2023 editions) and Moon Best of Costa Rica (2022 edition) from Moon Travel Guides. Together with her Costa Rican husband, Ricky, she operates the Costa Rica Travel Blog, created the online community DIY Costa Rica, built the Costa Rica Destination Tool, and designed the Costa Rica Trip Planning 101 E-Course. Nikki wrote the cover feature for Wanderlust Magazine's sustainability-focused Travel Green List issue, showcased Costa Rica destinations and experiences on Rick Steves' Monday Night Travel show, and served as the Costa Rica Destination Editor for Essentialist, a luxury travel brand. Want to show your appreciation for her free article below? Thank Nikki here. ❤️️

Our sister site, Pura Vida! eh? Inc., has discounts for Costa Rica tours and activities. Con mucho gusto (you’re welcome) and pura vida!

Off-the-beaten-path travel in Costa Rica

If you’ve just finished reading our related blog post 30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them, you’re probably itching for some recommendations for non-touristy things to do in Costa Rica, too. If so, you’re in luck! We’ve got plenty. Use our off-the-beaten-path Costa Rica destinations guide below to learn where you should go if you want to avoid crowds. Furthermore, our off-the-beaten-path Costa Rica activities guide below recommends things to do in Costa Rica that are offbeat, unfrequented, or less known to the average visitor. Both will help you plan a perfect Costa Rica vacation if you wish to experience the less popular sides of Costa Rica.

Our guide to Costa Rica destinations that are off the beaten path

If you want a beach destination, visit one of these off-the-beaten-path beaches

Regionchoose this beachin lieu of this beach
In the Caribbean region (Cahuita)choose Playa Negrainstead of Playa Blanca
In the Caribbean region (Puerto Viejo de Talamanca)choose Playa Chiquita or Playa Arrecifeinstead of Playa Puerto Viejo or Playa Cocles
In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Papagayo)choose Playa Virador (the north/east end, away from the Four Seasons Resort)instead of Playa Nacascolo
In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Playa del Coco)choose Playa Ocotalinstead of Playa del Coco
In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Las Catalinas)choose Playa Dantitainstead of Playa Danta
In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Brasilito)choose Playa Puerto Viejo or Playa Zapotillal/Playa Minasinstead of Playa Conchal, Playa Brasilito, or Playa Flamingo
In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region Playa Grande)choose Playa Ventanasinstead of Playa Grande
In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Tamarindo)choose Playa Langosta, Playa Negra, Playa Blanca, Playa Junquillalinstead of Playa Tamarindo or Playa Avellanas
In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Nosara)choose Playa Pelada or Playa Garzainstead of Playa Guiones
In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Samara)choose Playa Cangrejal or Playa Carrilloinstead of Playa Samara
In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Santa Teresa/Mal Pais)choose Playa Los Suecosinstead of Playa Santa Teresa or Playa Carmen
In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Santa Teresa/Mal Pais)choose Playa Hermosainstead of Playa Santa Teresa or Playa Carmen
In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Montezuma)choose Playa Las Manchasinstead of Playa Montzuma
In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Tambor)choose Playa Quizales or Playa Curuinstead of Playa Tambor
In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Isla Tortuga)choose Playa Tropicalinstead of Playa Tortuga
In the Central Pacific region (Jaco)choose Playa Blanca or Playa Mantasinstead of Playa Herradura or Playa Jaco
In the Central Pacific region (Manuel Antonio)choose Playa Gemelasinstead of Playa Manuel Antonio
In the Osa Peninsual region (Drake Bay)choose Playa Cocalitoinstead of Playa Agujitas
In the Osa Peninsual region (Drake Bay)choose Playa San Josecitoinstead of Playa Agujitas

If you want proximity to nature or adventure, visit one of these off-the-beaten-path destinations

Interestchoose this destinationin lieu of this destination
If you want to explore volcanoeschoose the Turrialba region (Turrialba Volcano), the Cartago region (Irazu Volcano), or the Miravalles region (Miravalles Volcano)instead of the La Fortuna/Arenal region (Arenal Volcano), the Alajuela region (Poas Volcano), or the Rincon de la Vieja region (Rincon de la Vieja Volcano),
If you want to explore the rainforest, the dry forest, or other lowland ecosystemschoose the Bijagua region, the Sarapiqui region, the Cano Negro region, the Boca Tapada region, the Curu region, the Sierpe region, or the Golfito regioninstead of the La Fortuna/Arenal region, the Rincon de la Vieja region, the Jaco region, or the Manuel Antonio region
If you want to explore the cloud forestchoose the San Gerardo de Dota region, the San Ramon region, or the Zarcero regioninstead of the Monteverde region
If you want to center yourself in a town with many expatschoose Grecia or Atenasinstead of Playas del Coco or Tamarindo
If you want to surfchoose breaks off Playa Camaronal, Playa Naranjo (Guanacaste), Playa Negra (Guanacaste), Playa Hermosa (Nicoya Peninsula), or Playa Hermosa (Central Pacific)instead of breaks off Playa Tamarindo, Playa Grande (Guanacaste), Playa Guiones, Playa Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen, or Playa Puerto Viejo (Caribbean)

Our guide to Costa Rica activities that are off the beaten path or authentic Costa Rican experiences

Visit a Waterfall

Picture a paradisiacal scene in your mind. Does it include a waterfall? If so, Costa Rica may just be the paradise of your dreams. There are many waterfalls worth visiting here, and since they’re spread out around the country, there’s a good chance you’ll be in close proximity to at least one during your visit. Note that some waterfalls have pools that are safe to swim in and others do not so plan your visit accordingly.

Costa Rica waterfalls that are off the beaten path

For recommendations for popular waterfalls that you may prefer to visit, see our related blog post 30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them.

Waterfall NameRegionCity / Town
Gemelas Waterfalls (Cataratas Las Gemelas)
*though the pool at the waterfall’s base is rough, swimming is permitted
Central Valley Bajos del Toro
Toro Waterfall (Catarata del Toro)
*swimming is not permitted
Central ValleyBajos del Toro
Danta Waterfall
*swimming is not permitted
Northern ZoneEl Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Waterfalls inside the Valle Escondido Reserve
*swimming is not permitted
Northern ZoneMonteverde
Las Chorreras Waterfalls (Cataratas Las Chorreras)
*swimming is permitted
GuanacasteRincon de la Vieja
El Chorro Waterfall (Catarata El Chorror)
*swimming is not permitted
Nicoya PeninsulaTambor
King Louis Waterfall (Catarata King Louis)
*swimming is permitted
Osa PeninsulaMatapalo

Picnic or take photos at a scenic lookout

Seeking respite from Costa Rica’s endless adventures? Why not escape to a tranquil lookout spot where you can take in a beautiful view in silence? With time to kill, you can picnic at a few of the lookout spots listed below. Others are positioned along the side of roads or hiking trails, so if you plan to road-trip and/or hike around Costa Rica, you can make brief stops along the way.

Non-touristy lookout spots

Lookout NameViewRegionCity / Town
Unnamed (inside the Barra Honda National Park)Nicoya InlandsNicoya PeninsulaBarra Honda
Orosi Lookout (Mirador Orosi)Orosi ValleyCentral ValleyOrosi
Ujarras Lookout (Mirador Ujarras)Lake CachiCentral ValleyUjarras
Unnamed (on the way to Vandara Hot Springs and Adventure)Dry forest plainsGuanacasteBuena Vista
Unnamed (on the way to Playa Virador)Tip of the Papagayo PeninsulaGuanacastePapagayo
Unnamed (halfway between Playa Danta and Playa Dantita)Playa DantitaGuanacasteLas Catalinas
Miro’s MountainPlaya JacoCentral PacificJaco
Unnamed (in Golfito center)Town of GolfitoSouthern PacificGolfito
Unnamed (on the way to Purto Jimenez)Golfo DulceOsa PeninsulaChacarita/Rincon

Soak in less frequented hot springs

Looking to spoil yourself while on vacation? The best way to do so is with a soak in Costa Rica’s many hot springs. Arguably, Costa Rica’s best hot springs are located in the Northern Zone, and they don’t include the hot spring properties listed below. If you want to hang out at a hot springs attraction that either attracts more locals than tourists or simply isn’t as busy as Costa Rica’s top hot spring properties, the below options will do.

Costa Rica hot springs that are off the beaten path

For recommendations for popular hot springs that you may prefer to visit, see our related blog post 30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them.

Hot Springs Property NameRegionCity / Town
Los Laureles Hot SpringsNorthern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Titoku Hot SpringsNorthern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Talitas del Arenal Hot SpringsNorthern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Kalambu Hot SpringsNorthern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Termo Arenal Hot SpringsNorthern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Free Hot Springs (Rio Chollin)
*See our related blog post Local Free Hot Springs In La Fortuna/Arenal for more information
Northern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Vandara Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Visiting Vandara Hot Springs and Adventure—Photos And Brief (5-Minute Read): Rincon de la Vieja, Costa Rica for more information
GuanacasteRincon de la Vieja
Orosi Hot SpringsCentral ValleyOrosi

Want to learn about and compare La Fortuna / Arenal’s various hot springs? Don’t miss our related blog post:

Best Hot Springs In Arenal: We Compare All 12 La Fortuna Hot Springs

Have questions about hot springs in Costa Rica? See our related blog post:

Your Costa Rica Hot Springs Questions Answered!

Visit a turtle hatchery

Sea turtles are known to nest on several Costa Rican beaches, including a few that fall within national park territory. But they also nest on smaller, less popular beaches. Some of these beaches have informal turtle hatcheries where turtle eggs are protected from predators. Visiting a turtle hatchery is typically as easy as taking a stroll along the beach where the hatchery is located.

Turtle hatcheries that are off the beaten path

Beach NameRegionCity / Town
Junquillal Beach (Playa Junquillal)GuanacasteJunquillal
Carmen Beach (Playa Carmen)Nicoya PeninsulaSanta Teresa/Mal Pais
Rio ClaroOsa PeninsulaRio Claro

Explore churches

If you like roaming around town centers, check out one or more of Costa Rica’s beautiful churches; they’ll impress you with their unique construction, ornate finishes, and interesting stories.

Costa Rica churches that are off the beaten path

For recommendations for churches that are located in more popular regions, see our related blog post 30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them.

Church NameRegionCity / Town
Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Las Mercedes
*See our related blog post 5 Free Things To Do In Grecia, Sarchi, And Zarcero Costa Rica for more information
Central ValleyGrecia
Parroquia San Rafael Arcángel
*See our related blog post 5 Free Things To Do In Grecia, Sarchi, And Zarcero Costa Rica for more information
Central ValleyZarcero
Parroquia Santiago Apóstol
*See our related blog post 5 Free Things To Do In Grecia, Sarchi, And Zarcero Costa Rica for more information
Central ValleySarchi
Iglesia ColonialCentral ValleyOrosi
Ermita de La AgoníaGuanacasteLiberia
Iglesia Colonial de San BlasNicoya PeninsulaNicoya

Visit art studios, workshops, cooperatives

A great way to support local artists and woodworkers is to visit their studios/workshops and buy their products directly. This is also a fantastic way to score unique souvenirs, and usually for less money than you’ll pay for the same item in a popular souvenir store. If you choose to visit a cooperative and either dine or purchase souvenirs on-site, you can help many local artists (mainly women) at once.

Costa Rica art studios and workshops

Woodshop / Studio / Cooperative NameRegionCity / Town
Taller Eloy Alfaro e Hijos (woodshop)Central ValleySarchi
Rosewood Licho’s Shop (woodshop)Northern ZoneMonteverde
CASEM (cooperative)Northern ZoneMonteverde
The Monteverde Art House (art studio)Northern ZoneMonteverde
Glass Art (artstudio)Northern ZoneMonteverde
Foresta Arte Local (art studio)Northern ZoneMonteverde

Admire local sculptures, statues, street art, and historical artifacts

Costa Rica’s history, character, and traditional charm appear in town centers as statues, sculptures, street art, and artifacts. Though there are too many to list below, the photos above depict a few. Several monuments are stationed in central parks; most are free to visit.

Shop at a market

Skip the grocery chains and souvenir stores in favor of shopping at ferias (farmer’s markets). Farmer’s markets, which exist in nearly every medium-sized beach town, are great places to try new fruits and fruit drinks or to purchase artisan creations. Most products are grown or made locally, so your purchase not only supports the local economy but the environment as well.

Try street food or beach food

Some of Costa Rica’s most delicious food comes from informal carts, stalls, and stands positioned along roadsides, in central parks, and on beaches. You can get everything from refreshing copos and churchills to filling vigorones and empanadas to sweet churros and pan bon, all without ever stepping foot in a restaurant. Also for sale are ice-cold pipa fria, raw-fish ceviche, locally made ice cream, and balls of stringy queso palmito. For more information about these foods and more, don’t miss our related blog post Costa Rica Food Guide: 30 Things To Eat In Costa Rica And When To Eat Them.

Practice speaking Spanish with locals

Once upon a time, I was a non-Spanish-speaking traveler. Every word and phrase that I now understand in Spanish (save for “hola,” “hasta la vista,” “cerveza,” “por favor,” and “adios“) I learned by speaking with locals, including my Costa Rican husband and his family. Reading the local newspapers and watching the local newscasts helped, too. If you’d really like to immerse yourself in the full, authentic Costa Rica experience, try speaking a little Spanish during your trip. Even if you can’t form complete, grammatical sentences and you’re staring at a Spanish dictionary the whole time, give it a try. If in doubt, say “pura vida!” and you’ll fit right in.

Volunteer or donate and do good!

In general, Costa Ricans are kind, humble people. They give to others regularly, so it’s fitting that incorporating travel philanthropy into your trip is one way you can embody the Costa Rican spirit while abroad. Costa Rica is home to a variety of volunteer-based projects and initiatives where you can donate your time. If you don’t have time to give, consider bringing items with you from home to donate while you’re in the country. Assisting with donation logistics is the organization Pack For A Purpose. They work with several companies in various regions of Costa Rica; see their website for a partner list ( If you click on the name of a Costa Rican business, it will show you their donation “needs,” which are items they ask travelers to bring from home. Items range from school and reference materials, art/music items, and toys to first aid and personal grooming supplies. Sadly, the “needs” lists are endless.

To learn more about our personal donation efforts, check out our related blog posts:

Our Costa Rica Soccer Shoes Donation Program

True Inspiration At Its Finest. Treat Others While Treating Yourself!

Thank You Readers For Making This Happen. We Couldn’t Have Done It Without You.

QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What are your favorite things to do in Costa Rica off the beaten path?

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Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do
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Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do
We detail (with photos!) which destinations and beaches to pick, and things to do if you want to experience Costa Rica off the beaten path!
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