There are so many amazing things to do in Costa Rica. So when you visit, you need a bucket list! Famous for being a surfers paradise, Costa Rica draws travelers from around the world to its beautiful beaches, volcanoes, biodiversity and exotic wildlife. Whether you want to explore the fishing village of Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio National Park or the capital San José, Costa Rica has something for everyone. So here is what we consider to be the top things to do in Costa Rica, certainly worthy of a place on your Central America Bucket List anyway.
Here’s our pick of the top things to do in Costa Rica
From simple beginnings as a quiet fishing village Tamarindo has become one of the top destinations in the Guanacaste province on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Tamarindo is a great spot for surfing and sport-fishing, diving and sunbathing. To the north, Playa Grande beach is a major nesting site for huge leatherback turtles along the beaches from October to May. For some nesting of your own, gorgeous B&Bs, beach houses, and luxury hotels line the beaches.
Arenal Volcano National Park
A trip to Costa Rica isn’t complete without a visit to Arenal Volcano. This active andesitic stratovolcano is in north-west Costa Rica around 90 km northwest of San José, in the province of Alajuela, canton of San Carlos. Hiking, canyoning, waterfall rappelling & hot springs are just a few of the attractions in and around Arenal Volcano National Park. You can also discover the forest canopy by Aerial Tram or Zipline and go spelunking at Venado Caves. The easiest way to get to Arenal is by driving. If you are coming from San Jose, it should take you no more than 3-4 hours to get to La Fortuna.
Sitting along the southern Pacific coast of the Nicoya Peninsula in the province of Guanacaste, Sámara is small town with beautiful picture-perfect beaches and stunning scenery. Samara has been a long time favorite vacation spot for travelers looking for a family friendly relaxed beach town that is friendly, fun and safe and it has one of the most beautiful beaches in Costa Rica inside a long crescent shaped bay. Horse riding, fishing and yoga are just a few of the myriad of things to do here.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Along the central pacific coast in the North Puntarenas area of Puntarenas Province sits a Costa Rican paradise known as Manuel Antonio National Park. The park was created in 1972 to protect the rainforest and animals that inhabit it from private development. It also ensured locals would permanently have access to the beaches and forest. This is the most popular National Park in Costa Rica for wildlife watching and you can see all four species of monkeys and both species of sloths.
If you are visiting Costa Rica, don’t miss spending a few days in the capital San Jose which is located in the centre of the country. While Costa Rica is mostly known for its breathtaking natural beauty, San José is like most contemporary cities: packed with craft beer bars and Costa Rican coffee shops. Some of San José’s most beautiful buildings are within walking distance of each other. Check out the parks, museums full of ancient artifacts belonging to the pre-Columbians of South America and San Pedro’s vibrant night-life dominated mostly by students.
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
This small community in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, is located in the Cordillera de Tilarán mountain range and home to elusive wildlife such as jaguars, pumas, ocelots, sloths and spider monkeys. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a unique Costa Rica rainforest with a constant mist resembling clouds that gives the forest its name. Monteverde is one of the country’s major ecotourism destinations and just a four hour drive from the Central Valley.
Corcovado National Park
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Set along the turquoise Caribbean Sea in southeastern Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, called just Puerto Viejo by locals, is a laid back beach town known for the Salsa Brava surf break and beaches like the black-sand Playa Negra. Visit the Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge for rainforest, wetlands and mangroves. The Jaguar Rescue Center to see wild cats and other animals in rehabilitation. To the north, Cahuita National Park protects a large coral reef and has a shipwreck dive site worth paying a visit to.
Turrialba, Central Valley
With some stunning views of Costa Rica’s rural countryside, Turrialba is a charming mountain town that is known as Little Switzerland by locals and tourists alike. Turrialba is off the beaten track, 60kms east of San Jose, in the lush Central Valley in Cartago province. Visit for river kayaking, mountain biking and the Turrialba Volcano.
Mal Pais and Santa Teresa
While Santa Teresa has become a bustling surf town, Mal Pais has retained its laid-back vibe. These two beach towns are close by each other, but provide a very different experience; go surfing in the adventure sport lovers Santa Teresa and go fishing in the quiter Mal Paí. Both are known for consistent surf, pristine jungles, and a lot of chill.
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There is so much more to see and experience in this amazing country. Plan ahead so that you can take your time exploring and be prepared to be flexible because sometimes travelers you meet along the way will have the best suggestions for undiscovered gems and awesome things to do in Costa Rica.
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