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Visiting Costa Rica: Top 20 Things to Do – 2018

Top things to do in Costa Rica

To visit Costa Rica is to leave for an unforgettable adventure in an almost intact nature and a most relaxed atmosphere. It is the ideal destination for nature lovers and ecotourism !

In order to help you organize your trip, I have prepared a top 20 things to do in Costa Rica .

Visit the Manuel Antonio and Corcovado national parks, go rafting on the Rio Pacuare or zip line in the Monteverde reserve or climb the Poàs volcano … Your stay promises to be rich and varied!

So, what to do in Costa Rica? Follow the guide!

Visit Costa Rica: The essentials

To visit Costa Rica is to leave for an unforgettable adventure in an almost intact nature and a most relaxed atmosphere. It is the ideal destination for nature lovers and ecotourism !

In order to help you organize your trip, I have prepared a top 20 of the best activities to do and things to see in Costa Rica .

Visit the Manuel Antonio and Corcovado national parks, go rafting on the Rio Pacuare or zip line in the Monteverde reserve or climb the Poàs volcano … Your stay promises to be rich and varied!

So, what to do in Costa Rica ? Follow the guide!

1. San Jose

It is probably in the capital San José that will begin your journey in Costa Rica. City of students, intellectuals and artists, San José contains the history and culture of the country.

There are many hotels, some bars and nice restaurants, but I will not hide it, the city is still very ordinary.

I advise you to spend at least a day, if only to admire the neoclassical and colonial buildings. You can also take the opportunity to visit one of the many museums in the city.

Things to See in San Jose  :

  • The Marco Fidel Tristan Jade Museum, which is the archaeological museum
  • The Museo Nacional de Costa Rica : traces the history, development and culture of the country
  • The Museo del oro Precolombino (Pre-Columbian Gold Museum), on the history and art of pre-Columbian peoples
  • The Mercado Central, the central market of the city where you can taste and buy local coffee
  • The National Theater, an elegant building built in 1897

It is also from hotels in San José that many excursions are organized to national parks and other places of interest.

San José, the capital of Costa Rica

2. Manuel Antonio National Park

Surely the most popular natural park in the country, but also the smallest, the Manuel Antonio National Park is located on the Pacific coast. There are paradisiacal beaches and forest trails at the turn of which we discover abundant wildlife  : screaming monkeys, lazy, pelicans, armadillos, parrots, iguanas …

This is an opportunity to discover the beauties of the rainforest on landscaped trails, while being teased by monkeys not at all shy. Be careful because there is almost always a crowd at Manuel Antonio Park. I advise you to go there in the morning to enjoy it to the fullest. It is possible to stay in one of the many hotels in the park.

Things to do in Manuel Antonio National Park:

  • observe the fauna and flora in the rainforest (Costa Rica is one of the only countries in the world where wildlife can be so easily seen!)
  • stroll on Playa Espadilla Sur , Playa Manuel Antonio and Playa Puerto Escondida
  • go kayaking, the snorkelling or surfing
The beach at Manuel Antonio Park

3. Tortuguero National Park

On the Caribbean coast , Tortuguero National Park is covered by canals and marshy areas. The interest of this park is that there is no road to get there, you have to either take the plane or go by bus and boat from Limon. On site, the tour is done in boats with guides or in rental kayaks if you have the soul of an adventurer.

The main attraction of the park (and which has also given it its name) is the laying of turtles to observe in the moonlight on the beach. But to have the chance to attend the show, you must be present between July and August. If you are out of season for turtles, do not worry because there are all exceptional wildlife to observe: caimans, howler monkeys, tropical birds, lazy …

Price at the entrance of the park : about 10 $ usd per person

At Tortuguero Park during turtle laying season

4. Poas National Park

In the heart of the Poàs National Park, a must-see trip to Costa Rica awaits you: the Poàs Volcano. Only 37 km northwest of San José, the Poàs volcano is still active and very often erupting.

With its 3 impressive craters, the largest of which contains a huge acid lake with toxic vapors (you do not want to get close to it of course), the ascent of the Poàs volcano is really to be expected in your program. Some tours are organized to take you safely to the top.

My advice  : to do early in the morning because the afternoon, and sometimes even 10am, the volcano is covered by clouds and you will not see anything.

If you like walking and exploring, I can advise you 3 routes to do in the park:

  • The Botos Lagoon trail  : 30 minutes of walk to get a view of the glacial lake of the same name.
  • Pobre’s Sombrilla Trail (“The Poor Man’s Umbrella”): This tarmac road winds through the forest and ferns and takes you to an observation point with a superb view of the huge crater with toxic fumes.
  • The Escalonia trail  : 20 minutes of walks in the heart of the forest to observe the fauna and flora.
The Poas Volcano in the national park of the same name

5. The Fortuna

Fortuna is a small town in the north-west, near the Arenal Volcano. It is a region with spectacular landscapes in which I strongly advise you to spend 2-3 days.

Things to do in the area of La Fortuna  :

  • The Arenal Volcano  : this famous conical volcano has been dormant since 2010. You can not climb the summit but several hiking trails allow you to admire it from a distance. One has a superb view of the volcano from the Observatory Lodge (ideal on a clear day).
  • The ascent of Mount Cerro Chato  : this is a really physical expedition and quite difficult, reserved for sportsmen. It is even one of the most full-bodied Costa Rica. At the end, a swim in the crater lagoon rewards the efforts.
  • Bathing in the hot springs near the volcano. Most of these sites are developed for tourists, which may seem superficial for some, but the sources are indeed natural. For example, Baldi Hot Springs Resort allows you to swim in several pools of hot water, after having enjoyed a good dinner at the restaurant of the establishment and before going for a drink at the bar. Count about 50 dollars for a dinner + access to the pools.
Arenal Volcano

6. Corcovado National Park

This park is located in the wild region of the Osa Peninsula where nature seems pristine from any human intervention. In this region, prices are particularly high, enough to blow your budget if you plan to spend a few days. It seems that the price level is voluntarily seen on the rise in order to limit the number of visitors and thus preserve the ecosystem.

The National Park Corcovado is one of the most interesting in the country, especially because it is difficult to access and therefore little used. We discover a very dense and intact wet forest, for an unpredictable journey in the countryside. Here biodiversity is very rich and wild animals appear before our eyes amazed at the turn of the trails. You will also have the opportunity to discover coves and secluded beaches.

For a complete overview of the park, the ideal is to visit it over several days, especially since everything is done on foot because there is no road. Visits are organized with local guides.

The Corcovado Park is accessible from the city of Puerto Jimenez, a few hours drive in 4 × 4.

The Corcovado National Park

7. The Irazu Volcano

On the heights of the Central Valley, in Irazu National Park, the volcano of the same name rises to 3432 meters and has 5 craters, the largest of which contains an acidic lake, which you can observe once arrived at the summit.

Here and throughout the climb, you are dealing with a lunar landscape composed of volcanic rocks, gray earth and very little vegetation. It’s really confusing! On the spot, the climate is cold and most of the time one evolves in a thick fog, a strong wind and sometimes of the rain. Do not forget to dress in the consequences with warm and dry clothes!

To climb to the top of the volcano, rent a car or take the bus from San José (it takes between 1h and 1h30 of road). At the top of the volcano, you will discover a panoramic view of the whole valley and, on a clear day, you will have the privilege to admire a magnificent view of the two oceans .

As for all sites at high altitude, I strongly advise you to go early in the morning, before 10am to avoid fog and be able to observe the craters and the panoramic view.

The Irazu volcano and its acidic lake

8. Monteverdre Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

In the center of the country, the Monteverde reserve is one of the most visited sites in the country. This virgin forest extends over more than 105 km² and has the distinction of being an altitude forest. This type of forest is called a “cloud forest” because it is constantly bathed in a rather thick mist that stays on the ground. It’s pretty amazing and the mist gives a really mystical atmosphere to these places.

Once inside the reserve, we wander in the heart of a virgin forest on trails. In many places, we cross bridges suspended above the void, for an atmosphere at Indiana Jones. For thrill-seekers, the Monteverde Reserve is also the ideal place to zip around the canopy.

Unlike Corcovado, the atmosphere here is ultra-touristy, which may not please everyone, even if Monteverde remains a legendary place in Costa Rica .

The Monteverde Reserve

9. Mount Chirripo

The Cerro Chirripo is the highest point of the country but also of all Central America (3820 meters of altitude). It is located in the Cordillera de Talamanca in the south of the country. To reach the summit, the hike is done in 2 days and is truly one of the most beautiful to do in Costa Rica .

Access to the summit is not free and it is necessary to book several weeks in advance to reach the summit of Mount Chirripo .

The climb is long and quite tough, it is important to be physically ready before attempting the adventure (a training about 3 months before is necessary to consolidate the support of the knees because the trail is really steep). The first kilometer of the ascent is called the ”  Thermometro  ” because it is the most difficult and allows to “measure” the will and abilities of hikers. Then, the climb is easier and you reach the summit in about 8 hours, after a night spent in the hostel site.

At the top is the consecration: you will discover a spectacular view of a landscape of rocks and glacial lakes. It is more interesting to reach it before dawn to be able to admire the sunrise from the top of the clouds. On a clear day, you can see both the Caribbean coast and the Pacific coast. The ascent of Mount Chirripo is really a beautiful adventure that it would be a shame to miss.

Sunrise at Mount Chirripo

10. The beaches of the province of Guanacaste

The province of Guanacaste is a perfect place for relaxation and nautical activities  : there are some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. Get ready for a postcard landscape made of white sand beaches, coconut palms and azure sea.

The main beaches to see in Guanacaste  :

  • The Playa del Coco beach scuba diving enthusiasts, located on the small village of El Coco, very touristy and busy at night. From the village, there is also access to the beach of Penca, very remote and, according to some, the most beautiful in the country. Here it is tranquility assured, it feels like on a desert island.
  • The Tamarindo beach for surfers and adapted snorkelling
  • The Playa Hermosa and Playa Panama  : the beaches ideal for sunbathing
  • The Playa Samara, a beautiful desert beach in the Santa Rosa National Park. You can surf, stand-up paddle, yoga and even the ULM (in the migratory season, you can even watch the whales from the sky).
  • The Playa Santa Teresa, wild beach a long length without any trade. It’s a surfer’s paradise. I strongly suggest you face the sea with a mojito and watch the sunset: a delight!

11. Rincon de la Vieja National Park

During your trip to the province of Guanacaste, on the Pacific coast, you will also have the opportunity to visit the Rincon de la Vieja National Park .

Located 25 km from the city ​​of Liberia, the park is home to the volcano of the same name, still active. Several hiking trails allow to approach. During the walk, we discover many areas of geothermal activities in the dry tropical forest: hot springs, geysers, fumaroles and even pools of mud still burning.

Some waterfalls and rivers also dot the road. It is very nice to walk there, the trails are well laid out, with picnic areas and even areas where you can camp.

As in most parks in the country, it is not difficult to observe wild animals such as iguanas, armadillos, spider monkeys, ocelots and tropical birds.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

12. Nosara

Always in the province of Guanacaste, do not miss the small area of ​​Nosara, between paradise beaches and wild jungle. Nosara includes 3 beautiful beaches interconnected by a network of trails that winds between the hills.

Things to do in Nosara  :

  • Surf on Playa Guiones. There are many surf schools but also restaurants, cafes, bars and yoga centers. It is possible to stay on site in very nice hostels.
  • Visit the Refuge for Wildlife  : This wildlife rescue center is run by a woman who collects wounded or orphaned howler monkeys, while allowing visitors to discover her work. In the same spirit, you can also visit the Wildlife Sanctuary of Sibu, close to the jungle.
  • Stroll on Playa Pelada  : wilder and more remote than Playa Guiones, this beach is perfect for swimming, watching the sunset and relaxing.
  • Kayaking or mini-cruising on the Nosara and Montana rivers (the two longest rivers in the country).
The beach of Nosara

13. Turrialba Volcano

“Another volcano? You will tell me. Yes, Costa Rica is home to hundreds and the Turrialba is one of those worth a look. Still active, his last eruption was in 2015.

It is located in the national park of the same name, in the province of Cartago and 25 km from the city of Turrialba .

The climb of the volcano is done on foot in about 4 hours. At the top, we have a great view of the three craters, one of which is still active.

As for all volcanoes, it is best to go in the morning before 10am to have the maximum chance to enjoy a clear view. Do not forget to provide warm and waterproof clothes because at altitude the atmosphere is cool and wet.

Access to the volcano site is from the city ​​of Turrialba, or from the Irazu volcano where a road to the volcano Turrialba is open, preferably to travel 4 × 4 because the roads are difficult.

14. The village of Montezuma

Built on the edge of a beautiful beach, Montezuma is the coolest village in the country. Small fishing village on the Pacific coast, it has become for thirty years the headquarters of hippies, “cool babas” and “roots” style travelers.

The atmosphere is very relaxed and the streets animated by artists, jugglers, but also yogi, neo-rastas … in a zen atmosphere and the sound of reggae. It is a perfect destination for ecotourism lovers The restaurants are very good and the hostels are very nice for one or two nights.

From the village you can reach the Cabo Blanco reserve and take a nice hike to a 3-level waterfall.

The village of Montezuma

15. Kayaking in Gulf Dulce

Located in southern Costa Rica, the Golfo Dulce region in the Osa Peninsula is worth a visit for one or two days. It is accessible by airliner from Palmar , Golfito or Puerto Jimenez airports, or by car (but in this case it is better to rent a 4 × 4 because the roads are quite “wild”).

There are many kayaking clubs between Palmar and Puerto Jimenéz. The region is very rich in biodiversity, it is common to cross the road of dolphins, whales and tropical fish while paddling. It is also possible to move away from the ocean to navigate the channels of the mangrove, this time among herons, snakes, lazy and other caracaras.

If you want to linger a little in this beautiful region, you can walk the country roads to discover the culture of Guaymies, an indigenous ethnic group very present in Costa Rica, who lives in small remote villages and practices agriculture.

Leaving the Gulf Dulce, do not hesitate to make a small hook by the village of Osa Mountains, an ecological village in which it is possible to visit a small farm of permaculture, located on the mountain.

At Gulf Dulce

16. Isla Del Cano

Isla Del Cano looks like a paradise island with its beautiful white sand beach and turquoise waters. This island is made for diving and snorkelling fans. You can easily see sharks, barracudas, rays, turtles and even humpback whales depending on the time of year.

Access to Isla Del Cano is by boat, usually via the diving clubs of Bahia Drake or Sierpe. Clubs organize excursions. On the program: boat trip to Isla Del Cano, walking tour of the island, diving sessions where there are more fish then collective meal. For this type of organized day, it takes about 50 dollars per person.

Isla del Cano

17. Rafting on the Pacuare River

The tropical Pacuare River, also called Rio Pacuara, runs along the high mountains of Talamanca and makes its way into the heart of the virgin forest. Considered one of the most beautiful rivers in the world, it is also one of the best for rafting thanks to its white water, its dizzying descent, its waterfalls and its breathtaking scenery. Making rafting on the Pacuare River is a genuine adventure full of emotions, not to be missed during your stay.

Excursions are organized from hotels in San José with bus trip to the river, collective breakfast and small rafting training. Then, we left for 4 hours rafting down the Rio Pacuare. Strong sensations (fast from class 2 to 4) and guaranteed amazement!

Throughout the descent, one is immersed in the middle of lush vegetation, one meets waterfalls, howler monkeys, tropical birds and other wonders of nature. At the end of the journey, a small swim in the river can reward efforts, then return to San José .

My advice : the region is one of the rainiest in the country, rafting is preferred in the dry season. Count around $ 80 per person for the tour.

18. Cahuita National Park

This seaside national park on the Caribbean coast is accessible by Highway 36, by car or bus. Created in 1978 in order to preserve Costa Rica’s most important coral reef , Cahuita is the only park in the country whose entry price is left to the good will of the visitor.

This park is really beautiful and represents perfectly the image that everyone is made of the Caribbean  : beaches of white sands, coconut palms and rainforest. A real postcard!

The wildlife is of course very rich and easy to see, as in the Park Manuel Antonio. Take the time to observe howler monkeys, sloths, raccoons, ibises, herons and other snakes …

Do not miss Cahuita National Park:

Once entered the park, the first beach that we find is Playa Blanca. U-shaped beach with white sand, coconut trees leaning towards the sea and turquoise waters, it is perfect for a break or picnic in the shade of trees.

The trail then takes you to one of the park ‘s most important sites  : the coral reef surrounding Punta Cahuita. It is possible to dive or snorkel, but only with a guide because the site is protected and very sensitive (allow 30 to 60 dollars per session).

The hikers will appreciate being able to explore the park’s forest along the trails.

After a day of sightseeing, I advise you to go eat good spicy Caribbean cuisine in the charming village of Cahuita reggae sounds.

Cahuita National Park

19. Central Valley coffee plantations

The Costa Rica, with its volcanic soil, produced one of the best coffees in the world. The majority of the plantations are in the Central Valley and it is very easy to take the car to walk the country roads and admire the coffee plantations on the hillsides.

Of tours in plantations are proposed, for example at the Finca Cristina (in Orosi Valle ) and Finca Café Britt near the town of Brava. These tours last a day and are very interesting to discover the methods of cultivation and the process of making coffee. You will also have the pleasure of sampling several samples of the famous beverage. After this day, I promise you that you will not taste your coffee the same way.

In a plantation of the Central Valley

20. Garden of the Fall of La Paz

This natural park located in the center of the country is famous for its waterfalls and it is also a sanctuary for wild animals. You can get there from the Poas Volcano area, less than 30 minutes by car.

The entrance is a bit expensive (38 dollars per person) and the place very touristy, but it’s still a site to see because it offers very enjoyable ballads in a beautiful setting. I advise you to plan a whole day (arriving from 8am) to enjoy a maximum of the visit.

The animal sanctuary has many different species that are rare to observe in the wild, including ocelots and other felines of the rainforest. You can also enter a papillonnière including the beautiful blue butterfly Morpho Bleu .

At noon, an open buffet is open to visitors and offers local and classic cuisine (pizzas, french fries …). The room is in addition very beautiful, open and all in wood. Lunch is $ 13 each but it is well worth it.

After lunch, we leave for the waterfall trail. Throughout the 3.5 kilometers of walking, we discover the 5 waterfalls of the park, the highest of which is Catarata de la Paz. On arrival, a rather rustic bus, but full of charm, takes you back to the reception of the park.

La Paz Waterfall

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Camille L.

Passionate about foreign languages, cooking and writing. I wish to share with you the places, the meetings and the gastronomic discoveries which gave relief to my travels.

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