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30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them

30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them

Last updated on June 15th, 2022 at 02:24 pm EST

The best things to do in Costa Rica

Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica? Awesome! We bet you’re not just wondering what there is to do here, but which activities are the most deserving of your time and money, and where you should experience each. To answer these questions, we’ve created the below list of 30 popular things to do in Costa Rica so you can quickly and easily browse through our activity recommendations. Though this particular blog post focuses on quintessential, touristy Costa Rica experiences (i.e., activities that most travelers experience when they explore the land of pura vida), our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do provides additional recommendations for things to do in Costa Rica that are offbeat, unfrequented, or less known to the average visitor.

Reserving things to do in Costa Rica

Looking to save money on Costa Rica excursions? Look no further than our sister site, Pura Vida! eh Inc.. It offers hundreds of discounts for Costa Rica day tours, including several of the experience types discussed below.


Visit a wildlife exhibit

It’s impossible to come to Costa Rica and not see wildlife because animals, birds, insects, amphibians, and reptiles are everywhere here. If there’s a particular species you want to see, however, consider visiting a wildlife exhibit. It’s one of few things you can do in Costa Rica that guarantees wildlife sightings. Stick to visiting exhibits that operate as wildlife rescue/rehabilitation centers to avoid possibly funding an operation that keeps animals in captivity for profit.

Popular Costa Rica wildlife exhibits

For recommendations for less popular, less busy wildlife exhibits, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Wildlife Exhibit NameRegionCity / Town
Club Rio Outdoor Center Wildlife Preserve Northern ZoneMonterrey (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
La Paz Waterfall Gardens
*See our related blog post 5 Things To Do In And Around Alajuela Costa Rica for more information
Central ValleyPoasito / Vara Blanca
Diamante Eco Adventure Park GuanacasteMatapalo / Playas del Coco
Proyecto Asis Northern ZoneJavillos (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Jaguar Rescue CenterCaribbeanPuerto Viejo de Talamanca
Arenal Natura Park Northern ZoneLa Fortuna
Greentique Wildlife Refuge Central PacificManuel Antonio / Quepos
Selvatura Park Northern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Rescate Wildlife Rescue Center Central ValleyLa Garita (outside Alajuela)

To view photos we’ve taken of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects during our Costa Rica travels, see our related blog post:

Costa Rica Wildlife Photography


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.

Popular Costa Rica waterfalls

For recommendations for less popular, less busy waterfalls, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Waterfall NameRegionCity / Town
Fortuna River Waterfall / La Fortuna Waterfall (Catarata Rio Fortuna / Catarata La Fortuna)
*though the pool at the waterfall’s base is rough, swimming is permitted
*See our related blog post Visiting The All-New La Fortuna Waterfall And Orchid Garden for more information
Northern ZoneLa Fortuna
Celeste River Waterfall (Catarata Rio Celeste) inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park)
*swimming is not permitted
Northern ZoneBijagua
El Encanto Waterfall (Catarata El Encanto) and La Escondida Waterfall (Catarata La Escondida) inside the Arenal Sky Adventures Park
*swimming is not permitted
*See our related blog post Sky Adventures Arenal: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, And Tram Rides In La Fortuna for more information
Northern ZoneEl Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Blue Morpho Waterfall (Catarata Morpho Azul) inside the Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
*swimming is not permitted
*See our related blog post A Step-By-Step Guide To The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park for more information
Northern ZoneLa Fortuna
El Rio Waterfall (Catarata El Rio) inside the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
*swimming is not permitted
Northern ZoneMonteverde
La Paz Waterfall + 4 additional waterfalls (Catarata La Paz; inside the La Paz Waterfall Gardens)
*swimming is not permitted
Central ValleyPoasito / Vara Blanca
Montezuma Waterfalls (Cataratas Montezuma; 3 in total)
*swimming is permitted
Nicoya PeninsulaMontezuma
Llanos del Cortes Waterfall (Catarata Llanos del Cortes)
*swimming is permitted
*See our related blog post Why (And Why Not) To Visit The Llanos Del Cortes Waterfall Near Liberia for more information
GuanacasteLiberia / Bagaces
Nauyaca Waterfalls (Cataratas Nauyaca; 2 in total)
*swimming is permitted
Central PacificDominical
Pacuare River Waterfalls
*swimming is not permitted
*See our related blog post The Pacuare River Rafting Tour for more information
CaribbeanSiquirres

Explore the rainforest or the dry forest

Costa Rica’s most visited ecosystems are the rainforest and the dry forest. Lush and similar-looking during the wet, green, “winter” season (but starkly different during the “summer” season, when the dry forest appears brown and brittle), the two forest types provide excellent settings for nature walks. Each of the rainforest and dry forest hike locations recommended below welcome guided tours but also permit self-guided exploration.

Popular Costa Rica rainforest hikes and dry forest hikes

For recommendations for less popular, less busy rainforest and dry forest hikes, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Rainforest or Dry Forest Hike Location NameRegionCity / Town
Arenal Volcano National Park
*See our related blog post Why You Should (And Shouldn’t) Visit The Arenal Volcano National Park for more information
Northern ZoneEl Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Tenorio Volcano National ParkNorthern ZoneBijagua
Santa Rosa National ParkGuanacasteLiberia
Manuel Antonio National Park
*See our related blog post Why The Manuel Antonio National Park Is Different Than Other Costa Rica National Parks for more information
Central PacificManuel Antonio / Quepos
Carara National ParkCentral PacificJaco / Tarcoles
Rincon de la Vieja National ParkGuanacasteRincon de la Vieja
Corcovado National Park (San Pedrillo, La Leona, or Sirena sectors)Osa PeninsulaDrake Bay/Carate

Hike through cloud forest

High up in Costa Rica’s mountain ranges are the country’s mystical cloud forests. This chilly ecosystem type invites you to discover high-altitude bird, wildlife, and flora species while hiking through puffs of cloud. Each of the cloud forest hike locations recommended below welcome guided tours but also permit self-guided exploration.

Popular Costa Rica cloud forest hikes

For recommendations for less popular, less busy cloud forest hikes, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Cloud Forest Hike Location NameRegionCity / Town
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological ReserveNorthern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Biological ReserveNorthern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Los Quetzales National ParkSouthern InlandsCerro de la Muerte (outside San Gerardo de Dota)
Chirripo National ParkSouthern InlandsSan Gerardo de Rivas (outside San Isidro de El General)
Bajo Del Tigre (Children’s Eternal Rainforest)Northern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena

Relax at a beach

Tired from hiking Costa Rica’s rainforest, dry forest, and cloud forest? Choose one of more than 150 Pacific and Caribbean beaches to relax at. There’s a perfect Costa Rica beach for you no matter what you’re looking for: silky sand, shallow water or tide pools you can wade in, consistent waves that deliver spectacular surf, rows of palm trees that provide cooling shade, and so much more. The beaches recommended below are a good starting point; they’re some of the most visited stretches of sand in the country.

Popular Costa Rica beaches

For recommendations for less popular, less busy beaches, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Beach NameRegionCity / Town
Manuel Antonio Beach (Playa Manuel Antonio; inside the Manuel Antonio National Park)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Manuel Antonio Costa Rica (Central Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Central PacificManuel Antonio / Quepos
South Espadilla Beach (Playa Espadilla Sur; inside the Manuel Antonio National Park) Central PacificManuel Antonio / Quepos
Tamarindo Beach (Playa Tamarindo)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Tamarindo Costa Rica (Guanacaste / Northern Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
GuanacasteTamarindo
Samara Beach (Playa Samara)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Samara Costa Rica (Nicoya Peninsula) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Nicoya PeninsulaSamara
Coco Beach (Playa del Coco)GuanacastePlayas del Coco
Puerto Viejo Beach (Playa Puerto Viejo)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Puerto Viejo Costa Rica (Caribbean) From Our Personal Collection for more information
CaribbeanPuerto Viejo de Talamanca
Cocles Beach (Playa Cocles)CaribbeanPuerto Viejo de Talamanca
Jaco Beach (Playa Jaco)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Jaco Costa Rica (Central Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Central PacificJaco
Montezuma Beach (Playa Montezuma)Nicoya PeninsulaMontezuma
Uvita Beach (Playa Uvita; inside the Marino Ballena National Park)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Uvita Costa Rica (Central Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Central PacificUvita / Bahia
Flamingo Beach (Playa Flamingo)GuanacastePlaya Flamingo
Conchal Beach (Playa Conchal)GuanacasteBrasilito
Guiones Beach (Playa Guiones)Nicoya PeninsulaNosara
Blanca Beach (Playa Blanca; inside the Cahuita National Park)CaribbeanCahuita
Dominical Beach (Playa Dominical)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Dominical Costa Rica (Central Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Central PacificDominical
Santa Teresa Beach (Playa Santa Teresa)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Santa Teresa Costa Rica (Nicoya Peninsula) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Nicoya PeninsulaSanta Teresa


To learn more about Costa Rica beaches, don’t miss our related blog posts:

Central Pacific Beaches In Costa Rica

Nicoya Peninsula Beaches In Costa Rica

Northern Pacific / Guanacaste Beaches In Costa Rica

Caribbean Beaches In Costa Rica

Osa Peninsula Beaches In Costa Rica

Climb to a volcano crater or over lava rocks

If volcanoes interest you, you’ll be pleased to learn that there are several volcano-related experiences you can have in Costa Rica. Some active volcanoes here allow you to gaze into bubbling, steamy, or pit-like craters. Others give you an opportunity to hike around volcanic rocks that once tumbled down mountainsides along with hot lava. Guided tours add an element of education to the activity, as tour guides supplement hikes through Costa Rica’s volcano national parks with interesting facts and stories about volcanoes.

Popular Costa Rica volcanoes

For recommendations for less popular, less busy volcano trails, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Volcano NameRegionCity / Town
Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal; inside the Arenal Volcano National Park)
*crater not accessible; climbing over lava rocks possible
*See our related blog post Why You Should (And Shouldn’t) Visit The Arenal Volcano National Park for more information
Northern ZoneEl Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal; can also be experienced via the Arenal 1968 Trail, which sits outside the Arenal Volcano National Park)
*crater not accessible; climbing over lava rocks possible
Northern ZoneEl Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Poas Volcano (Volcan Poas; inside the Poas Volcano National Park)
*main crater accessible
*See our related blog post How To Reserve The Poas Volcano National Park (Screenshots) for more information
Central ValleyPoasito / Vara Blanca
Irazu Volcano (Volcan irazu; inside the Irazu Volcano National Park)
*main crater accessible
Central ValleyCartago
Rincon de la Vieja Volcano (Volcan Rincon de la Vieja; inside the Rincon de la Vieja National Park)
*main craters not accessible; mini crater accessible
GuanacasteRincon de la Vieja

Go white-water rafting

One of our top things to do in Costa Rica is white-water rafting, which also serves as a highlight of many travelers’ vacations. Even if you’re not an avid adventurist, you’ll love the closeness to nature that many rafting tours provide (especially trips down the Pacuare River, which run through remote Costa Rican jungle). Several white-water rafting tours in Costa Rica serve as city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours. To learn more about these types of tours, which allow you to travel between two destinations while rafting along the way, see our related blog posts Costa Rica Tour Transportation: How To Use Tours To Travel Between Destinations and Costa Rica Transportation: 12 Ways To Get Around Costa Rica.

Popular Costa Rica rivers for white-water rafting

River NameRegionCity / Town Where Rafting Tours Depart
Pacuare River (Rio Pacuare)
*See our related blog post The Pacuare River Rafting Tour for more information
CaribbeanSan Jose, La Fortuna / Arenal, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Cahuita, Sarapiqui, Tortuguero, and Siquirres
Savegre River (Rio Savegre)Central PacificManuel Antonio / Quepos
Naranjo River (Rio Naranjo)Central PacificManuel Antonio / Quepos
Tenorio River (Rio Tenorio)GuanacasteLa Fortuna / Arenal, Monteverde, Canas, Liberia, Samara, Nosara, and northern Pacific beach destinations including (but not limited to) Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Brasilito, and Tamarindo
Sarapiqui River (Rio Sarapiqui)Northern Zone / CaribbeanSarapiqui, La Fortuna / Arenal, and San Jose
Balsa River (Rio Balsa)Northern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal and San Jose

Have questions about white-water rafting in Costa Rica? See our related blog post:

Your Costa Rica Rafting Questions Answered!


Tour a set of hanging bridges

Want to immerse yourself in nature? If so, and assuming you don’t have a fear of heights, plan to tour a series of hanging bridges while you’re in Costa Rica. A few properties in the country (mostly in the Northern Zone) offer this activity type, which permits both guided and self-guided exploration of the rainforest canopy (a.k.a., treetops) where several bird and wildlife species reside.

Popular Costa Rica hanging bridges

For recommendations for less popular, less busy hanging bridges, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Hanging Bridges Property NameRegionCity / Town
The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
*See our related blog post A Step-By-Step Guide To The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park for more information
Northern Zone Lago Arenal (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
The Arenal Sky Adventures Park’s Sky Walk Hanging Bridges
*See our related blog post Sky Adventures Arenal: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, And Tram Rides In La Fortuna for more information
Northern ZoneEl Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
The Monteverde Sky Adventures Park’s Sky Walk Hanging Bridges
*See our related blog post Sky Adventures Monteverde: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, And Tram Rides In The Cloud Forest for more information
Northern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
The Selvatura Park’s Treetop Walkways Hanging Bridges
*See our related blog post: Selvatura Monteverde: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, Butterfly / Hummingbird Gardens, And A Reptile / Amphibian Exhibit In The Cloud Forest for more information
Northern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena

Want to compare our Costa Rica hanging bridges recommendations? Don’t miss our related blog post:

Best Hanging Bridges In Costa Rica: Comparing 4 In Arenal And Monteverde


Go zip-lining

Considered one of the top must-have Costa Rica experiences, zipline tours (also called “canopy tours”) are wildly fun. Much like the experience of touring a set of hanging bridges, zip-lining allows you to explore Costa Rica from above, gliding past treetops high above the forest floor toward a backdrop of rainforest, cloud forest, gulf, ocean, or volcano views. Though zip-lining is an intense thing to do in Costa Rica, some canopy tours offer milder experiences and are suitable for children.

Popular areas that offer canopy zipline tours

For recommendations for canopy tours run in less popular, less busy areas, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Canopy Tour Operator NameRegionCity / Town
The Monteverde Sky Adventures Park’s Sky Walk Hanging Bridges
*See our related blog post Sky Adventures Monteverde: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, And Tram Rides In The Cloud Forest for more information
Northern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
The Selvatura Park’s Canopy Tour
*See our related blog post: Selvatura Monteverde: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, Butterfly / Hummingbird Gardens, And A Reptile / Amphibian Exhibit In The Cloud Forest for more information
Northern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Arenal Mundo Aventura’s Canopy Tour
*See our related blog post Arenal Mundo Aventura: La Fortuna Canopy Ziplining Tour for more information
Northern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
The Arenal Sky Adventures Park’s Sky Walk Hanging Bridges
*See our related blog post Sky Adventures Arenal: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, And Tram Rides In La Fortuna for more information
Northern ZoneEl Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Witch’s Rock Canopy TourGuanacastePapagayo
Montezuma Waterfall Canopy TourNicoya PeninsulaMontezuma
Monteverde ExtremoNorthern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Terraventuras Canopy TourCaribbeanPuerto Viejo de Talamanca
100% AventuraNorthern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Congo Trail Canopy TourGuanacasteMatapalo / Potrero

Want to compare our Costa Rica canopy tour recommendations? Don’t miss our related blog post:

Best Ziplines In Costa Rica: Comparing 6 In Arenal And Monteverde

Have questions about zip-lining in Costa Rica? See our related blog post:

Your Costa Rica Ziplining Questions Answered!


Soak in 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. Though the majority are found in the Northern Zone, a few less popular sites dot the country. Each property ranges in price, size, quality, and amenities. Give yourself some time to research the various Costa Rica hot springs options; doing so will help ensure you end up at either the resort of your dreams (if you want to be pampered) or at a more modest property that won’t break the bank (if you’re looking to minimize the cost of the experience).

Popular Costa Rica hot springs

For recommendations for less popular, less busy hot springs, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Hot Springs Property NameRegionCity / Town
Springs Resort Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Springs Resort Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Baldi Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Baldi Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Tabacon Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Tabacon Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
EcoTermales Hot Springs
*See our related blog post EcoTermales Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Paradise Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Paradise Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Los Lagos Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Los Lagos Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Rio Negro Hot SpringsGuanacasteRincon de la Vieja

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!


Take a mud bath

Of the many things there are to do in Costa Rica, a quick visit to a mud bath is perhaps the most rejuvenating. During this experience, you can paint yourself from head to toe (over your bathing suit) with volcanic clay. After you let it dry and wash it off (approximately 15-20 minutes), you’ll love how soft your skin feels. The mineral-rich clay treatment is said to produce several health benefits too.

Popular Costa Rica mud baths

For recommendations for less popular, less busy mud baths, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Mud Bath Property NameRegionCity / Town
Rio Negro Hot SpringsGuanacasteRincon de la Vieja

Go bird-watching

Though avid birdwatchers have been coming to Costa Rica for decades, bird-watching here has gained so much attention as of late that it’s one of the fastest-growing things to do in Costa Rica. The good news is, you can see birds just about everywhere in Costa Rica: during nature tours and adventure excursions, from your hotel balcony, while dining at restaurants, and so on. If there’s a particular species you wish to see, or if you want to spy on birds at key migratory sites, there are several great bird-watching spots that keen-eyed tour guides are waiting to show you.

Popular Costa Rica bird-watching spots

For recommendations for less popular, less busy bird-watching spots, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Bird-Watching Location NameRegionCity / Town
Carara National Park Central PacificJaco / Tarcoles
Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge
*See our related blog post Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge: Know This Before You Visit for more information
Northern ZoneLos Chiles
Palo Verde National ParkGuanacasteBagaces
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological ReserveNorthern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Tortuguero National Park
*See our related blog post Is Tortuguero Worth Visiting for more information
CaribbeanTortuguero

To view photos we’ve taken of birds in Costa Rica, see our related blog post:

Costa Rica Wildlife Photography


Tour a coffee plantation

Do you love your morning brew? If so, you may also love learning about the process of coffee production. Most coffee tours in Costa Rica explain the process of growing and roasting coffee, plus offer a cup or two to taste. From coffee berries (sometimes called “cherries”) to perfectly prepared beans, Costa Rica’s got it all, and on full display at plantations and roasteries visited during guided coffee tours.

Popular areas that offer coffee tours

For recommendations for coffee tours run in less popular, less busy areas, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Coffee Tour Operator NameRegionCity / Town
Don Juan Coffee Tour
*See our related blog post Don Juan Coffee, Chocolate, And Sugarcane Tour: A Trifecta Of Costa Rican Tradition, Temptation, And Trade for more information
Northern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Britt Coffee TourCentral ValleyHeredia
Doka Estate Coffee TourCentral ValleyAlajuela

Tour a cacao farm

If you crave chocolate, book a Costa Rica chocolate tour immediately. The experience is fascinating; not only will you discover how chocolate is made, but you’ll also learn how store-bought chocolate differs from pure cacao. Most chocolate tours in Costa Rica allow you to sample chocolate at various stages of processing and take home your own homemade chocolate treat!

Popular areas that offer chocolate tours

For recommendations for chocolate tours run in less popular, less busy areas, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Chocolate Tour Operator NameRegionCity / Town
Caribeans Chocolate TourCaribbeanPuerto Viejo de Talamanca
La Fortuna Chocolate TourNorthern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Costa Rica Chocolate Tour
*See our related blog post A Costa Rica Chocolate Tour For Your First Or Last Day In The Country for more information
Central ValleyAlajuela
Rancho Raices Chocolate TourOsa PeninsulaPuerto Jimenez

Tour a sugarcane mill

Sugarcane Tour Operator NameRegionCity / Town
El Trapiche TourNorthern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena

Take a scenic boat or canoe tour

Winding through Costa Rica’s lowlands are several rivers, swamps, canals, marshes, and mangroves that are best explored by watercraft. Boat tours and safari float tours, which can be experienced in a canoe, kayak, or raft, provide an immersive nature experience and an opportunity to spot birds and other wildlife that reside among wetland ecosystems. On the northeast and southwest sides of the country, the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea invite open-water exploration. Several boat tours, including sailing tours and catamaran tours, provide a chance to spot active marine life, see a beautiful sunset, and take in views of scenic stretches along the coast.

Popular Costa Rica boat tours and canoe tours

For recommendations for less popular, less busy boat tours and canoe tours, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Location or Tour NameRegionCity / Town
Tortuguero Canals (inside the Tortuguero National Park)
*slow-moving boating
*See our related blog post Is Tortuguero Worth Visiting for more information
CaribbeanTortuguero
Damas Island (Isla Damas)
*slow-moving boating and kayaking
*See our related blog post Manuel Antonio Mangrove Tour Costa Rica for more information
Central PacificManuel Antonio / Quepos
Penas Blancas River (Rio Penas Blancas)
*slow-moving canoeing, rafting, and kayaking
Northern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Planet Dolphin Sailing Tour
*See our related blog post Manuel Antonio Sailing Tour With Snorkeling And Dolphin Watching for more information
Central PacificManuel Antonio / Quepos
Tempisque River (Rio Tempisque; alongside the Palo Verde National Park)GuanacasteBagaces
Cold River (Rio Frio)Northern ZoneLos Chiles
Marlin del Rey Sailing TourGuanacasteTamarindo and Playas del Coco
Corobici River (Rio Corobici)
*slow-moving rafting
GuanacasteCanas

Surf or paddle the coast

Surf culture in Costa Rica is vibrant and widespread. No matter which section of the Pacific or Caribbean coast you center yourself at, you won’t be far from a social surf town where surf shops line the main drag, you can rent a board of any size or shape, and surfers line up in the water to ride waves from dawn to dusk. If you’d prefer to surf in solitude, remote and less-visited surf communities are spread out along both coasts.

Popular Costa Rica surf spots

For recommendations for less popular, less busy surf spots, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Surf Beach / Destination NameRegionCity / Town
Tamarindo Beach (Playa Tamarindo)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Tamarindo Costa Rica (Guanacaste / Northern Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
GuanacasteTamarindo
Grande Beach (Playa Grande)GuanacastePlaya Grande
Santa Teresa Beach (Playa Santa Teresa)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Santa Teresa Costa Rica (Nicoya Peninsula) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Nicoya PeninsulaSanta Teresa
Puerto Viejo Beach (Playa Puerto Viejo)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Puerto Viejo Costa Rica (Caribbean) From Our Personal Collection for more information
CaribbeanPuerto Viejo de Talamanca
Cocles Beach (Playa Cocles)CaribbeanPuerto Viejo de Talamanca
Santa Rosa National Park
*marine sector
GuanacasteLiberia
Guiones Beach (Playa Guiones)Nicoya PeninsulaNosara
Jaco Beach (Playa Jaco)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Jaco Costa Rica (Central Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Central PacificJaco
Avellanas Beach (Playa Avellanas)GuanacasteAvellanas
Pavones Beach (Playa Pavones)Southern PacificPavones
Dominical Beach (Playa Dominical)
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Dominical Costa Rica (Central Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Central PacificDominical

Watch sea turtles nest

One of the most miraculous scenes you can witness in Costa Rica is a mass arribada (arrival) of sea turtles on a turtle nesting beach. These experiences can be difficult to catch, and they often require a ton of patience, but if you’re lucky enough to spot the event, we guarantee it will amaze you. Most turtle nesting tours take place on beaches inside protected land spaces and require a government-approved tour guide.

Popular Costa Rica beaches to see sea turtles

For recommendations for less popular, less busy turtle nesting beaches, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Turtle Beach / Destination NameRegionCity / Town
Tortuguero Beach (Playa Tortuguero; inside the Tortuguero National Park)
*See our related blog post Is Tortuguero Worth Visiting for more information
CaribbeanTortuguero
Ostional Beach (Playa Ostional; inside the Ostional Wildlife Refuge)Nicoya PeninsulaOstional
Grande Beach (Playa Grande; inside the Marino Las Baulas National Park)GuanacastePlaya Grande

Practice yoga

Costa Rica is a burgeoning yoga destination, thanks to the country’s numerous yoga-centered hotels and resorts. There are many ways you can practice yoga in Costa Rica depending on your level of interest; you can attend a one-time yoga class at an in-town studio, stay at a yoga resort, or sign-up for a brief or long-term yoga retreat. If you’re a seasoned yogi looking to become a yoga teacher, several properties in Costa Rica run yoga instructor workshops and certificate programs.

Popular Costa Rica yoga destinations

For recommendations for less popular, less busy areas to practice yoga, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

RegionCity / Town
Nicoya PeninsulaNosara
Nicoya PeninsulaSanta Teresa
Central PacificDominical
CaribbeanPuerto Viejo de Talamanca

Go canyoning

Want more of the adrenaline that popular adventure tours like zip-lining and white-water rafting provide? Try canyoning (sometimes called “canyoneering” or “waterfall rappelling”), if you dare. This activity will have you suit up in harness, strap on a helmet, and rappel down rock faces, usually beside rushing waterfalls. Like zip-lining and white-water rafting, some canyoning experiences are tamer are welcome children to participate.

Popular areas that offer canyoning tours

For recommendations for less popular, less busy areas to try canyoning, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Canyoning Tour NameRegionCity / Town
Desafio Adventure Company’s Canyoning in the Lost Canyon Tour
*See our related blog post Costa Rica Canyoning Tour: Adrenaline And Assurance Found At The Lost Canyon for more information
Northern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Hacienda Guachipelin’s Waterfall Canyoning TourGuanacasteRincon de la Vieja
Pure Trek’s Canyoning TourNorthern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal

Visit a museum

To appease your cultural side, step foot in one of Costa Rica’s museums. Most cluster around San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city, but all promise to deliver a helping of humble pie. Learn about Costa Rican customs and traditions; legends and Indigenous groups; precious metals, stones, and ceramics; historical battles; the local economy; and so much more on a walk through one of Costa Rica’s beloved (and surprisingly modern) museos (museums).

Popular Costa Rica museums

Museum NameRegionCity / Town
Jade Museum
*See our related blog post 10 Things To Do In And Around San Jose Costa Rica for more information
Central ValleySan Jose
La Casona (inside the Santa Rosa National Park)GuanacasteLiberia
Gold Museum
*See our related blog post 10 Things To Do In And Around San Jose Costa Rica for more information
Central ValleySan Jose
National Museum
*See our related blog post 10 Things To Do In And Around San Jose Costa Rica for more information
Central ValleySan Jose

Marvel at a church or ancient ruins

If you like roaming around outdoors, check out one or more of Costa Rica’s architectural works of art. Churches and ancient ruins will impress you with their unique construction, ornate finishes, and interesting stories. Some are even said to be haunted! This is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica if you’re traveling on a shoestring… the activity type is free!

Popular Costa Rica churches and ancient ruins

Church / Ruins NameRegionCity / Town
Cartago BasilicaCentral ValleyCartago
Metropolitan Church
*See our related blog post 10 Things To Do In And Around San Jose Costa Rica for more information
Central ValleySan Jose
Cartago RuinsCentral ValleyCartago
Ujarras RuinsCentral ValleyUjarras

Tour an archaeological site

If you’re a history buff, you simply cannot miss the incredibly rare finds housed inside Costa Rica’s most prized archaeological sites. There are relics, unearthed communities, petroglyphs, spheres, and more evidence of pre-Columbian Indigenous groups to discover. Also provided to supplement your learning are informative placards that detail the archaeological findings and paint a picture of what Costa Rica was like many years ago.

Popular Costa Rica archaeological sites

For recommendations for less popular, less busy archaeological sites, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Archaeological Site NameRegionCity / Town
Guayabo National MonumentCentral ValleyTurrialba
Finca 6Osa PeninsulaSierpe

Stroll around a garden

Low-key exploration of Costa Rican flora is best conducted at one of Costa Rica’s well-kept gardens. You can admire everything from tiny, native Costa Rican orchids to tall, exotic shoots of bamboo and just about everything in between. Most gardens are easy to walk around, if not wheelchair accessible, making this activity one of the best things to do in Costa Rica for senior or mobility-impaired travelers, in addition to botanists and nature lovers.

Popular Costa Rica gardens

For recommendations for less popular, less busy gardens, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Garden NameRegionCity / Town
Monteverde Orchid GardenNorthern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Lankester GardensCentral ValleyCartago

Go scuba diving or snorkeling

If you enjoy exploring open water, you’ll love the scenes and marine life that beautify Costa Rica’s protected marine spaces. Dive trips and snorkel tours to popular islands and offshore sites run on the regular, though opportunities to spot marine life (especially whales and sea turtles) vary by season. To scuba dive in Costa Rica, you’ll need a PADI certification, otherwise, you’ll need to take a Discover Scuba Diving course through an accredited dive shop. If you’re not qualified to dive, give snorkeling a go. The experience type doesn’t require previous experience or certification.

Popular Costa Rica dive sites and snorkel spots

Dive Site / Snorkel Spot NameRegionCity / Town Where Scuba / Snorkel Tours Depart
Coco Island (Isla del Coco)Central PacificPuntarenas
Bat Islands (Islas Murcielago; inside the Santa Rosa National Park)GuanacasteNorthern Pacific beach destinations including (but not limited to) Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Brasilito, and Tamarindo
Cano Island (Isla del Cano)Osa PeninsulaDrake Bay, Sierpe, Uvita, Dominical, and Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Catalina Islands (Islas Catalinas)GuanacasteNorthern Pacific beach destinations including (but not limited to) Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Brasilito, and Tamarindo
Marino Ballena National Park
*marine sector
Central PacificUvita, Manuel Antonio / Quepos, and Dominical
Isla Tortuga (Tortuga Island)Nicoya PeninsulaPuntarenas, Tambor, Montezuma, and Santa Teresa / Mal Pais
Cahuita National Park
*marine sector
CaribbeanCahuita

Cool off at a swimming hole or in tide pools

Costa Rica is hot! Sometimes, you need a place to cool off at, and two of our favorite locales that offer this are swimming holes and beaches with tide pools. At the former, you can jump in a refreshingly cool river or pool and kick back among nature. At the latter (usually around low tide), you can find our own private place on the beach where water forms a shallow pool perfect for wading in. Both spots are pure heaven.

Popular Costa Rica swimming holes and beaches with tide pools

Swimming Hole / Tide Pool Beach NameRegionCity / Town
El Salto
*See our related blog post El Salto Costa Rica: Local Free Tarzan Swing And Swimming Holes La Fortuna / Arenal for more information
*swimming hole
Northern ZoneLa Fortuna / Arenal
Los Suecos Beach (Playa Los Suecos)
*tide pools
Nicoya PeninsulaMal Pais
Pelada Beach (Playa Pelada)
*tide pools
Nicoya PeninsulaNosara

Explore caves

Think caves are cool? If so, sign-up for a guided tour through one of the country’s few underground caves (skip this activity if you’re claustrophobic). If you’d rather stay above ground, don’t miss Costa Rica’s beach caves, which are free to explore on your own.

Popular Costa Rica caves

Cave / Beach NameRegionCity / Town
Terciopelo Cave (inside the Barra Honda National Park)
*underground cave
Nicoya PeninsulaBarra Honda
Ventanas Beach (Playa Ventanas)
*beach cave
*See our related blog post Photos Of Playa Ventanas Costa Rica (Central Pacific) From Our Personal Collection for more information
Central PacificOjochal
Venado Caves
*underground cave
Northern ZoneVenado

Ride an aerial tram

Several of the best things to do in Costa Rica involve being active. Aerial tram rides, however, do not. Great for kids, senior travelers, and individuals with limited mobility, aerial tram rides provide an opportunity to experience Costa Rica’s rainforest and cloud forest ecosystems from the comfort of your seat.

Popular Costa Rica aerial trams

Aerial Tram NameRegionCity / Town
Rainforest Aerial Tram (Atlantic)Central Valley / CaribbeanSanta Clara (outside Guapiles)
The Sky Adventures Arenal Park’s Sky Tram
*See our related blog post Sky Adventures Arenal: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, And Tram Rides In La Fortuna for more information
Northern ZoneEl Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
The Sky Adventures Monteverde Park’s Sky Tram
*See our related blog post Sky Adventures Monteverde: Ziplining, Hanging Bridges, And Tram Rides In The Cloud Forest for more information
Northern ZoneMonteverde / Santa Elena
Rainforest Aerial Tram (Pacific)Central PacificJaco

Ride the ferry

As the old adage goes, it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey. Consider turning an ordinary city-to-city transfer service into an enjoyable and photo-worthy experience. If you plan to travel between the Nicoya Peninsula and Costa Rica’s mainland, consider using one of a few ferries that connect the two destinations. Not only will you save yourself some hours spent driving in a vehicle, but you’ll get to experience a one-hour cruise across the beautiful Nicoya Gulf. Look for dolphins and whales in the water, snap photos of islands you pass along the way, and let rays of sunshine and the breeze of salty air warm and cool your skin.

Popular Costa Rica ferries

Ferry NameRegionFerry Departure / Arrival City / Town
Naviera TamborCentral Pacific / Nicoya PeninsulaPuntarenas -> Paquera and Paquera -> Puntarenas
CoonatramarCentral Pacific / Nicoya Peninsula Puntarenas -> Playa Naranjo and Playa Naranjo -> Puntarenas

Eat at a soda restaurant

Sodas are informal, inexpensive, Costa Rican family-style restaurants that serve traditional Costa Rican cuisine. They’re a big hit with many travelers, and dining at the establishment type should be a part of your Costa Rica experience as much as exploring nature, seeking adventure, and seeing wildlife. This activity is one of the most convenient things to do in Costa Rica because sodas are everywhere here: in large cities, in small towns, and even along roads and highways. To dine like a Tico (a Costa Rican), grab a chair, a bar stool, a picnic table, or a bench at one and enjoy a delicious, authentic meal that only a good soda can provide.

For recommendations for other places you can get authentic Costa Rican food and drink, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.


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30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them
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30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them
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We detail the 30 most popular things to do in Costa Rica (with photos) and describe the attractions, beaches, cities, and towns that offer them!
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The Official Costa Rica Travel Blog
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