Costa Rica is a paradise on earth. With lush green jungles, picture-perfect waterfalls, postcard-worthy beaches, and enviable wildlife diversity, Costa Rica’s beauty woos everyone.
Being a gateway to Latin American culture, the country is a tourist hotspot in Central America, and there is no shortage of hotels, tour operators, public transport, and local guides.
If you plan to visit the country anytime soon, and you don’t know where to start, this list of the 10 very best things to do in Costa Rica will guide you.
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- Caribbean Coast
- Cloud Forests
- Arenal Volcano National Park
- Corcovado National Park
- Manuel Antonio National Park
- Hot Springs
- Puerto Viejo
- San Jose or San José
- Rincón de la Vieja National Park
- Beach Hopping
The Caribbean coast or the eastern coast of Costa Rica is teeming with beautiful beaches, national parks, and wildlife.
A little less developed and less touristy than the Pacific coast, the Caribbean coast is where you can experience unspoiled nature, go snorkeling, sunbathe, and watch wild animals.
The Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge on the Caribbean coast is a great place to watch manatees, dolphins, sloths, turtles, exotic birds, etc.
Tortuguero National Park is no different. Wild animals wandering through mangroves, beaches, and swamps are a common scene.
In the Limon Province is the Tree of Life Wildlife Rescue Center where you can watch rescued animals getting a second shot at life.
Cloud forests dot the Costa Rican highlands. These are humid and moist but lush green areas because of constant cloud cover.
Heavy clouds manage to keep the temperature low and the humidity allows flora and fauna to thrive. Cloud forests are known for their rich biodiversity and of course the hanging bridges through the rainforest canopy.
Monteverde Cloud Forest is the most popular one, but there are others like the Bajas Del Toro cloud forest, Los Angeles cloud forest, and Central Highlands cloud forest (this is where you will find the La Paz Waterfall Gardens).
At the Arenal Volcano National Park is the cone-shaped Arenal Volcano that last erupted from 1968 to 2010, but it is still smoldering.
You can hike through the lava beds to catch beautiful views of Lake Arenal and the volcano. You can enjoy a few water activities like swimming, kayaking, and fishing at Lake Arenal
There is a nearby popular town of La Fortuna where you can enjoy some delectable food and visit the central park. The La Fortuna Waterfall is nearby, suitable for a day trip.
Near the Arenal Volcano area are the Venado Caves and Cano Negro National Wildlife Preserve, which are other major tourist attractions.
National Geographic named Corcovado National Park as earth’s most biologically intense place, and for a good reason! This national park is located on the South Pacific Coast and covers 13 major ecosystems across a third of the Osa Peninsula.
Costa Rica’s highest concentration of wildlife can be found at the Corcovado National Park. Poison dart frogs, crocodiles, anteaters, all four monkey species of the country, scarlet macaws, jaguars, peccaries, sloths – there are a lot!
You will need a permit and a registered guide to enter the park. So, book in advance and wear proper clothes.
Located on the Central Pacific Coast, the Manuel Antonio National Park is home to howler, capuchin, and squirrel monkeys, but you will also encounter tropical birds, sloths, insects, and other mammals.
The park has three beautiful beaches, meandering trails, boutique eco-lodges, and bustling restaurants. For budget travelers, the nearby Quepos town is a good base to find budget accommodations.
Inside Arenal Volcano National Park is a private rainforest reserve where you will find the Tabacon Resort and Spa which has a network of hot springs and waterfalls.
The most popular hot springs you will find here include:
- Baldi Hot Springs – great for groups visiting Costa Rica
- Eco Termales – mimics the natural aesthetics
- Los Perdidos Hot Springs – clean and peaceful with a restaurant
- Titoku Hot Springs – smallest and quietest
- Kalambu Hot Springs – a water park
If you don’t want to pay, follow the river outside Tabacon Resort and you will find natural hot springs where you can sink into the thermal waters without paying a penny.
Puerto Viejo is a small town on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. A great place for backpackers & digital nomads, Puerto Viejo offers cheap hostels, fun parties, lazy beach vibes, and more.
You can experience Costa Rica and its local way of life by volunteering for reception work or bartending in hostels at Puerto Viejo.
If you don’t have time for volunteer work, you can just enjoy a Puerto Viejo chocolate tour or eat rice and beans at Soda Lidia’s Place.
The culture of Puerto Viejo is heavily influenced by the nearby Caribbean islands. So, don’t be surprised by what they eat.
Costa Rican capital San Jose (correct spelling – San José) is located right in the middle of the country and hosts Costa Rica’s biggest airport – the San José Airport.
It is a convenient location to venture out to the cloud forests inland, the Caribbean coast, and the Pacific coast. The city is best for learning Costa Rican history.
The main attractions include the Central Market, the National Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design, the Jade Museum, the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and the National Theater.
Central Avenue is a great place to explore the capital of Costa Rica. There are various bars, restaurants, and shops.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park in the Guanacaste province of the North Pacific Coast is home to the active Rincón de la Vieja Volcano. It is a thermally active area where you can find bubbling mud pots and multiple adventure parks.
You can experience a volcano and a tropical dry forest in a single day. There are many fun activities like horseback riding, ziplining, mud baths, river tubing, and hot springs.
There are several waterfalls that can be reached through hiking trails. The best one is the La Cangreja Waterfall with a 40-meter free fall ending in a blue pool where you can enjoy a refreshing dip.
With a massive coastline on two sides, Costa Rica has many stunning beaches. On the Caribbean Coast, there are many white sand beaches with calm waters great for kayaking and snorkeling. Manzanillo Beach and Punta Uva Beach are very popular.
Some of the best beaches are on the Pacific Coast. Popular beaches in the Guanacaste region include:
- Flamingo Beach: The sand here is nearly pink.
- Conchal Beach: You can find many beautiful little shells here.
- Santa Teresa Beach and San Juanillo Beach in the Nicoya Peninsula of the Guanacaste region have particularly beautiful coastal scenery.
Move to the Central Pacific Coast and you will find Linda Beach and Matapalo Beach, both of which are small secluded beaches.
The Southern Pacific Coast has the famous Uvita Beach at Marino Ballena National Park which has the shape of a whale’s tail. This is a great place to see humpback whales.
Costa Rica has so much more to offer than what is listed above. So here are a few more places to visit in Costa Rica;
The Rio Celeste River in the Tenorio Volcano National Park is a stunning sky-blue river. The hiking trails will take you up to the majestic waterfall, and further up at the end of the trail you can witness the union of two rivers and create a bright blue color.
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Costa Rica’s fun cannot be complete without surfing. If you don’t know how to surf, sign up for a surf camp and take surf lessons from expert Costa Rican surfers.
Some of the best surfing spots are Playa Grande, Playa, Matapalo (Osa Peninsula), Dominical, Playa Cocles, Playa Tamarindo, Playa Hermosa, Santa Teresa, and Playa Avellanas.
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If you are a foodie, you will possibly enjoy taking a cooking class where you can learn about Costa Rican food and traditional cooking methods from local Costa Rican people.
In the Guanacaste region, Peninsula Papagayo and Sámara Beach are ideal locations for standup paddle boarding. You can enjoy the same at Lake Arenal, too!
Both the Caribbean Coast and the Pacific Coast have great snorkeling spots. To snorkel in incredible coral reefs, visit the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and the Cahuita National Park.
Osa Peninsula on the Pacific side is another great destination, but you can also check out Drake Bay in Playa San Josecito and Corcovado National Park.
The Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is a great place to watch sea turtles that nest between February and October. You can watch them even on the Pacific Coast.
Female turtles in large numbers (often exceeding 100,000) start arriving in September and October and the event is called arribada or arrival.
The dry season that starts in November and lasts till April is ideal for visiting this country in Central America. This is the high season when you will experience big crowds and high prices.
May through October is the wet season or the green season. This is the low season with September and October being the wettest months.
The shoulder months of May through August and November to mid-December are best to avoid crowds and enjoy low prices.
If you want to visit the Caribbean Coast, September and October will be great because it is relatively dry there compared to the Pacific Coast.
There is no shortage of hotels, hostels, or Airbnb in Costa Rica, so it completely depends on your requirements and budget.
I use booking.com as my preferred hotel booking app. I have tried many over the years and booking.com consistently offers me the best deals.
If however, you’re looking for super budget accommodation try hostelworld.com.
Here are the best budget and mid-range accommodation options in Costa Rica include:
Into the Greens: Starting at $45/night [For budget accommodation]
Located in Madre de Dios, Limon region. Each unit of the property comes equipped with free Wi-Fi, private parking, a private bathroom, flat-screen TV, and other features.
Casas Pelicano: Starting at $74/night [For mid-range accommodation]
A beachfront German Cuisine Cooking School, Casas Pelicano also offers accommodation and has an outdoor pool overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Located in Paraíso (14 kilometers from Tamarindo, the property offers car rentals. The surrounding areas are perfect for snorkeling, horse riding, canoeing, fishing, etc. Free Wi-Fi is available.
Maquenque Ecolodge: Starting at approximately $118/night [For luxury accommodation]
Only 100m away from the San Carlos river, the bungalows come with private terraces and bathrooms. There is a swimming pool for guests. However, there is no Wi-Fi connection because of the natural settings.
There is no shortage of trips and tours to make the best use of your time in this beautiful country. However, here are some suggested trips I recommend you explore further.
- The best way to get around Costa Rica is by renting a car. This is especially helpful if you want to explore off the beaten path and do a lot of exploring. However, you will need a driver’s license. Public buses are also there, which is the most affordable transportation available in Costa Rica. You can take domestic flights to save time, but that can become costly.
- Wi-Fi connection was pretty good almost everywhere in Costa Rica, but remember that when you go to certain isolated locations like national parks, cloud forests, etc., you may have connection issues. But most residential and commercial areas have high-speed internet available.
- Colones is the official currency of Costa Rica. Credit cards will be accepted in touristy areas, but do carry some cash because that helps you get the best exchange rates while paying in local currency.
- Depending on how long you’re staying and the kind of phone contract you’re on, it might be worth getting a local SIM when you get there. Most times when I travel, a local sim is the cheapest option. You can get a postpaid or prepaid travel SIM. Prepaid SIMs are popular and they usually cost 1,000 Colones plus a certain amount of money for data and minutes. You can recharge when you use up the balance. Government-owned Kolbi and private players Claro and Movistar are great options. It’s worth checking roaming fees with your phone company before traveling.
- If taking money out of an ATM, always choose the ‘convert from your own bank’ option, rather than the convert from the ATM option. This is a golden rule worldwide. I have tried multiple ATM’s in multiple countries and the bank conversion is always without fail cheaper than a local ATM conversion.
- Also when paying with your travel credit or debit card, always choose local currency. If you choose your own currency, the conversion will be done then and there by their bank. When choosing local currency, the conversion is done by your bank and will be cheaper. Not by much, but every little helps! The bank that make travelling easy is Wise.
It’s tough when organizing your travels to know which companies offer the best deals and can be trusted with your credit card details!
The following resources are companies I have consistently used over my 11 years of travels and who I believe are the best in the business. I’m constantly updating this list as I find new and improved services.
Rome2Rio – a fantastic app which will show you the best routes to get from city to city or country to country. Simply enter where you’re traveling from and too, and they’ll show you how to get there via planes, trains and automobiles!
Skyscanner.net – always my first port of call when looking for the best flights. Easy to use and consistently highlights flights I can’t find anywhere else, they’re the best flight resource there is. Plus an easy to use app.
Flight Aware – a free, handy app showing flights around the world. I use this to track family or friends when they’re flying, to check whether my flight has left on time on previous days so I can be prepared for delays etc, and just to double check my own flight details as and when I’m traveling.
Trainline (for Europe) – I used to use this just for UK trains, but nowadays you can book trains all over Europe using their services. Cheap, reliable and with a great refund policy for canceled or delayed trains, they’re highly recommended.
Booking.com – I have tried all the other hotel booking sites and without doubt booking.com has consistently offered the best deals. One caveat to this, is always to just check the hotel website directly before finalizing your booking as sometimes they’ll have specialized deals.
Getyourguide.com – the easiest and most reliable activity booking agent. I haven’t had a bad trip to date with them. Plus an easy to use app which tracks all your bookings and includes the meeting point, trip details and everything else you need to ensure your activity goes smoothly.
Discovercars.com – Easy to use website to find rental cars in over 145 countries around the world. Pick up from one location, drop off in another. Find the best deals with the best reviews.
Safetywing – quite simply the best insurance for digital nomads and long term travelers. See my Safetywing insurance review for more details, but with cheap monthly plans and an easy to use claims process, you won’t find better on the market.
Light Packing Guide
I’m generally a very light packer so for a summer trip here is what I would usually pack, with a maximum weight of 7 KG;
Swimming costume or bikini
Light Beach dress
2 x pairs of shorts
2 x summer skirts
3 x t-shirts
1 x ‘going out’ dress
2 x night shorts & tee
14 x underwear (I always take a lot as I hate washing underwear in hotel sinks)
1 skin color plunge bra (can wear under black or white, and with posh dress or t-shirts)
1 x flip flops or thongs or sandals (depending where you’re from in the world)
1 x trainers/sneakers (which I generally wear when traveling from place to place or hang off the back of my bag
3 x trainer socks
1 x leggings
1 x light cardigan
Travel size all in one Shampoo/Conditioner (sacrilege to some women, but hey I want to travel light)
Travel size shower gel
Small battery powered toothbrush (with cap)
Travel size sun lotion
50SPF lip balm
Travel size body moisturiser
Ziplock bags – for anything and everything!
Travel Bags – for separating tops/shorts/underwear etc, and also great for laundry
My husbands bag usually weighs less than mine and he takes;
2 x shorts (Both double as swim shorts)
2 x tees
7 x socks
7 x boxers
1 x ‘going out’ shorts & tee
1 x croc flip flops
1 x trainers/sneakers
Travel size shampoo
1 x razor
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Costa Rica is a small Central American country and shares borders with Panama to the south and Nicaragua to the north. The Pacific Ocean is to the west and the Caribbean Sea is to the east.
Costa Rica is very safe even for solo female travelers.
As with all popular tourist destinations you’ll need to watch out for pickpockets and keep your valuables hidden, plus for females, use your common sense and don’t go wandering on your own in the middle of the night plus be careful when drinking in bars/clubs. (Sad but true across the globe).
But on a general scale compared to the rest of the world, for tourists visiting Costa Rica it would be considered a very safe city, for solos, couples & families alike.
Nevertheless, always ensure you have travel insurance wherever you go as it will protect you against theft, injury, illness, or cancelations. Use the form below to get your personalized quote.
The official currency of Costa Rica is the Colones (₡). Though you can pay in American Dollars, which is widely accepted there, it is better to pay in local currency to enjoy the best exchange rates and avoid a commission. You can use international travel credit and debit cards that will allow paying in Colones in touristy areas, but I recommend carrying some local currency because certain remote places and local shops do not accept cards.
Spanish is the official language, however, many people speak English, especially in major tourist destinations.
Throughout the year Costa Rica follows Central Standard Time (CST), which is six hours behind the UTC or the Coordinated Universal Time. Daylight Saving Time clock changes are not followed in Costa Rica.
A gateway to Latin America and home to 5% of the world’s biodiversity, Costa Rica has all the elements for a perfect vacation.
Gorgeous Caribbean and Pacific beaches, protected national parks, lush green rainforests, incredible biodiversity, and plenty of outdoor activities including scuba diving, hiking, horseback riding, ziplining, kayaking, snorkeling, etc. – there is something for everyone.
It is also a great place for bird watching, turtle watching, whale watching, and more. Topping that all are the friendly Costa Ricans who will make you feel at home.
Costa Rica has much to offer.
Teeming with incredible biodiversity, hot springs, stunning waterfalls, picturesque beaches, and lush rainforests, Costa Rica is a dream tropical vacation destination.
Home to New World monkeys, exotic birds, and many other species of animals and insects, the country is a treasure trove for wildlife enthusiasts.
Some famous natural attractions include the Monteverde Cloud Forest, Arenal Volcano, La Paz Waterfalls, Rio Celeste River, Tamarindo Beach, Papagayo Peninsula, etc.
I hope you’ve found this list of the 10 very best things to do in Costa Rica useful for your travels. Let me know how you go!