Want to explore a country full of activity? Look no further than Costa Rica. These are the best activities in Costa Rica. You’ll leave full of culture, good times and pura visa.
Best Activities in Costa Rica – Explore Beaches, Mountains and More
Traveling to Costa Rica? This small (but epic) country will open your eyes to a diverse experience of culture, food and good times. We listed all the things you should experience during your stay.
For photographers looking for a tropical travel destination with more to offer than just endless beaches and fruity drinks served in coconut shells, consider Costa Rica. Sure, this lush, tropical country has its share of sparkling beaches on which travelers can relax and unwind.
But Costa Rica has earned a reputation for treating visitors to once-in-a-lifetime eco-adventures.
With snorkeling, zip-lining, hiking, kayaking, and more, you will always find some adventure waiting for you in Costa Rica.
Table of Contents
List of the Top Activities in Costa Rica
1. Explore the Caribbean and Pacific Coasts
Your Costa Rica vacation will never be complete without exploring the underwater wonders of the country’s coasts. The clear, blue tropical waters surrounding Costa Rica are ideal for diving and snorkeling. Snorkelers to the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge on the Caribbean Coast will see sea turtles, dolphins, manatees, and maybe even crocodiles. Colorful fish are abundant in the coral reefs, inlets, and islands of the refuge.
On the Pacific Ocean side, the Catalina Islands offer rare diving and snorkeling experiences. Formed from volcanic rock, the waters around the Catalina Islands are filled with sea turtles, reef sharks, moray eels, octopus, and a whole assortment of tropical fish. You will want a selfie with a sea turtle if you can, so an underwater camera is a must.
Say goodbye to those cliché snorkeling guide pictures! Check with your snorkeling guide company before you book and ask if they rent underwater cameras. Many do. They will also give you a quick tutorial on how to get the best underwater pics using their camera.
Costa Rica is fortunate to have two coastlines so if you are missing the morning sunrise over the ocean, you will still be able to catch the sunset over the water.
The country’s volcanic soil is rich and fertile so you can silhouette palm trees, ferns, flowers and other foliage against the pinks and oranges of the setting sun…or rising sun.
See Related: Best Beaches in Costa Rica
2. Marvel at the Magnificent Arenal Volcano
The jungles and volcanoes of Costa Rica provide endless adventures for nature lovers. Hiking trails wind their way through rainforests, beaches, jungles, and mountains, giving hikers a chance to see the lush plant life and the wildlife up close.
The Arenal Volcano is one of the country’s most popular locations, and viewing it is one of the best activities in Costa Rica. This 1,670-meter high active volcano located in north-western Costa Rica cannot be climbed, but picturesque hiking trails that lead to spectacular viewing decks prove that the journey is just as much of a treat as the destination.
Whether you’re traversing the orchid-studded Los Heliconias trail or climbing the Los Miradores rainforest, you’re guaranteed breathtaking views that showcase the best of Costa Rica’s thriving flora and fauna.
Be sure to have a waterproof case or a watertight bag to store your equipment in if you get caught in a downpour.
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3. Gawk at Costa Rica’s Extraordinary Rio Celeste
Costa Rica boasts some of the most breathtaking waterfalls on the planet. Some of these waterfalls are easily accessible, but that makes them more popular among tourists… and more photographed.
You can see the Rio Celeste Waterfall from the Tenorio Volcano National Park by following a jungle trail that leads to a staircase. If you’re looking for an Instagram-worthy shot, nothing beats the awe-inspiring beauty of Rio Celeste.
Once you descend down the 250 steps, you will reach a viewing platform where you will get to see the unnaturally blue water of the cascading waterfall.
According to Costa Rican legends, the dazzling blue water was created when God, who had just finished painting the sky, washed out his paintbrushes in the waterfall, forever staining the waters at brilliant blue.
It is a lovely story but in actuality, the color is the result of chemical reactions in the volcanic soil. Swimming is not permitted at Rio Celeste because those chemicals may be hazardous, so you will have to settle for snapping pics of the waterfall.
4. Traipse along Naucaya Waterfalls
If you are looking to get wet in a Costa Rican waterfall, a visit Nauyaca Waterfalls in the South Pacific region of the country should be tops on your list. What makes this spot special is that the falls are split into two, the 140-foot Upper Falls and 60-foot Lower Falls. Nauyaca Waterfalls are secluded about two and a half miles into the rainforest but tourists can reach it on foot, on horseback, or via an off-road vehicle.
Along the way, you can enjoy the lush greenery of the rainforest while keeping your eyes out for darting hummingbirds, swinging monkeys, and colorful butterflies. As you approach the falls, the trail splits. You can choose to stop first at the Upper Falls.
The Upper Falls is bigger and more impressive, yet there is a serene quality to this place.
You can cool off in the blowing mist of the water, or take interesting, misty photos. You can also shoot the falls from some of the flat, smooth, rocky outcroppings for a unique angle and perspective. The Lower Falls, however, is an adventure lover’s paradise.
The waterfalls from the upper pool in a watery veil to the natural swimming pool that beckons swimmers. In fact, you can change into your swimsuit at a nearby building so you will be ready to hit the water and let the waterfall crash down on you. You can even jump into the pool from the cliffs, if you are brave enough.
Of course, you will want to snap pics at this spectacular location, and of all the waterfalls you find while exploring Costa Rica. A popular trend on Instagram waterfall pics is to do a long exposure.
A long exposure produces the dreamy, filmy look to the movement of the water. You can achieve this effect with a DSRL camera, but it is also possible with just an iPhone camera. You first need to set your iPhone camera to the Live setting then, holding your phone as still as possible, shoot your waterfall pics.
Afterwards, open your favorite pic in the Photos and swipe up to reveal the Effects. Loop and Bounce show up first so you will need to swipe left and click on the Long Exposure.
Your original photo will be transformed into one of those cool, ethereal long exposure waterfall pics that you see all over Instagram.
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5. Try an Adrenaline-Pumping Extreme Sport
For some of Costa Rica’s other famed adventures, you may consider bringing a GoPro or other helmet-mounted camera with you or renting one at an outfitter in Costa Rica. One thing’s for sure, you won’t run out of high-octane outdoor activities in Costa Rica.
With one of these hands-free cameras, you should be able to get great action shots of your jungle zip-lining excursions or white water rafting adventures or kayaking through mangrove experiences.
You can take a video of jumping off a cliff or sliding down a waterfall. Some of the world’s best surfing is in the waters off Costa Rica. If you are a novice surfer, you can take lessons before you hit the waves.
6. Wallow in the Wildlife
If you’re raring for a wildlife experience, nothing beats the fauna-filled sceneries of the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve.
Plan a trek around this 25,000-acre reserve shaded by towering jungle canopies and spy as much wildlife as you can from its vibrant collection of 400 bird types, 100 mammal species, and thousands of flora families.
To up the action ante, you can walk across suspended hanging bridges or zipline your way through the thick of trees to view the reserve from above. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is located in Santa Elena, within Puntarenas and the Alajuela Province.
See Related: Top 20 Black Sand Beaches Around the World
7. Turtle Spot at Tortuguero
Take the road less traveled and head to Tortuguero National Park – a beach-studded enclave located in the Limon Province. Home to an array of sea turtles, Tortuguero is one of the best Costa Rica attractions, and with good reason.
With some luck, you might be able to spy on any of its four endangered sea turtles: the Hawksbill, Green sea turtle, Loggerhead, or the Giant Leatherback. Each of these turtles nests at specific seasons, so do your research beforehand. This wildlife conserve may only be accessed by domestic flight or boat.
It can be difficult to visit Tortuguero alone, so we advise independent travelers to sign up for a tour instead of making their own arrangements. Building your own itinerary may be costly too, and may actually ruin your plans due to rules and regulations (Tortuguero imposes a limit on the number of night-time visitors).
Do note that it rains here all the time, as Tortuguero is one of the rainiest destinations in Costa Rica. Should you visit during the dry seasons, you may expect some showers here and there too.
This makes it for a great spot for a family vacation in Costa Rica.
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8. Go on a Culture Trip in San Jose
Maybe San Jose wasn’t at the top of your list when looking for the best place in Costa Rica for activities, but we encourage you to give it a chance. While it is true that San Jose, endearingly called Chepe by its locals, is most likely to fail in giving a remarkable first impression, those who look beyond its gritty state will be generously rewarded.
Costa Rica’s largest city offers lots of treats for culture vultures: historic architecture, lots of art, and rich history. If you take your time, you’ll discover that San Jose is one of the best places in Costa Rica for activities. Take a day trip in any of its art galleries and museums, explore colonial mansions or just hob-nob with gregarious locals.
If you’re looking to unwind, hop into any of its bars and enjoy some of the country’s best craft beer.
Sooner than later, the hustle and bustle of city life will creep in, so take a respite from the noise and head to the Spirogyra Butterfly Garden and marvel at colorful butterflies and vibrant tropical plants.
Make sure to include the Teatro Nacional, Barrio Amon, Jade Museum, and the pre-Colombian Gold Museum in your itinerary.
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9. Go Gaga Over Chocolate
Chocolate was such an integral part of Costa Rica’s history that the prized cacao bean was used as currency up until the 1930s. Today, the delicious confectionary takes center stage in a dizzying array of scrumptious locally-made desserts and drinks.
If you’re up for a sweet treat, participate in a chocolate farm tour – one of the best activities in Costa Rica.
This is a great way to learn about Costa Rica’s chocolate-making process, which starts in roasting the cacao beans, to grinding them into a smooth, mouth-watering slurry and finally molding them into bite-sized bars.
While learning about Costa Rica’s love affair with chocolate in these tours is intriguing, munching on the chocolate samples is actually the best thing.
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10. Gorge on Local Fare
Food tripping is one of the best activities in Costa Rica. Rife with fresh fruits, vegetables, and bursting with Latin flare, it’s easy to get acquainted with local food in Costa Rica, thanks to a plethora of small, family-owned restaurants called sodas in almost every corner.
Visit any of these food spots and you’ll most likely to served staples like the gallo pinto, a breakfast meal that consists of black beans and rice, fish, chicken, beef, and fried plantains.
End your meal on a sweet note with a delicious arroz con leche, a popular Costa Rican rice pudding.
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