What to Do in Costa Rica
With its pristine beaches, majestic waterfalls and lush rainforest, Costa Rica is paradise for nature lovers. Nearly two million tourists flock to this beautiful country every year to visit its national parks, surf its world-famous waves, and observe its exotic wildlife.
While Costa Rica is smaller than the state of West Virginia, it is home to numerous ecosystems and six percent of the world’s total biodiversity. The possibilities for adventure seekers are endless.
What follows are some of our suggestions for your visit:
Visit a National Park
Over a quarter of Costa Rica is protected in the form of national parks, reserves and wildlife refuges. Earlier this year, the country celebrated 50 years of its robust national park system by converting San Lucas Island into its 30th park. Most tourists who come to Costa Rica end up visiting one of the country’s protected areas. And for good reason.
Manuel Antonio has been the country’s most visited national park in recent years. Its beaches are consistently ranked among the most beautiful in the world, and the area is one of the best places to see the country’s treasured animals, such as capuchin and howler monkeys, sloths, and scarlet macaws.
Costa Rica’s active and dormant volcanoes are also popular draws. About an hour-and-a-half from downtown San José are the Poás and Irazú Volcano National Parks. Irazú, which famously erupted on March 19, 1963, the very day President John F. Kennedy arrived in Costa Rica for a visit, is the country’s tallest volcano, standing at 11,260 feet (3,432 meters).
The Poás Volcano’s main crater is among the largest and most active in the world, and you can peer into it on a clear day. Also appreciated by visitors are guided tours of the Arenal Volcano National Park, where you can learn about the area’s rich history and enjoy excellent views of the mountain.
Thousands flock to Costa Rica’s Southern Zone to visit Marino Ballena National Park in hopes of seeing humpback whales, as well as bottlenose dolphins, manta rays, hammerhead sharks, parrotfish, and mackerel. The park’s 270 protected acres of land (110 hectares) and 13,200 acres of ocean (5,375 hectares) are critical to preserving the area’s beaches, coral reefs, mangroves, and whale breeding grounds. Marino Ballena is also famous for its sand formations, which resemble a whale’s tail.
Kick Back at the Beach
Costa Rica’s 800 miles (1,290 kilometers) of coastline make it an enticing destination for beachgoers. From the cool Pacific waters to the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica’s beaches are beautiful and well-kept. 135 of Costa Rica’s beaches have received the Blue Flag certification for their cleanliness and commitment to sustainability.
Costa Rica’s beach communities are quite diverse. You will surely be able to find the right spot, whether you are looking to relax for a few days or are searching for something livelier. The bustling towns of Tamarindo and Jaco on the Pacific Coast are great for surfing, restaurants and nightlife. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Montezuma and Dominical’s bohemian vibes make them appealing spots for those drawn to Costa Rica’s counterculture currents. For those seeking to get off the beaten path, check out the remote coastal rainforest along the Osa Peninsula in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone or the turquoise and white sands of Punta Uva on the Caribbean.
Beginner and expert surfers from around the world come to Costa Rica to ride its crashing waves. Sportfishing is popular here, dra
wing enthusiasts in search of marlin, roosterfish, sailfish, wahoo and other species. Beachgoers also enjoy snorkeling, scuba diving, paddle boarding and parasailing.
Relax at the Hot Springs
The volcanic hot springs in the town of La Fortuna by the Arenal Volcano is one of Costa Rica’s prime attractions. People from around the world are drawn to the warm waters surrounded by the volcano and tropical rainforest.
Many of the hotels in the area offer their own hot springs facilities, where you can soak in the warm waters, rich in mineral salts and ions, while sipping on a refreshing cocktail. The Tabacón Thermal Resort & Spa probably offers an excellent experience for visitors who come to see the resort’s famed river pools and cascading thermal waterfalls. If the place where you are staying does not have on-site springs, you can get a day pass at Ecotermales or Baldi Hot Springs. For those feeling adventurous, head to the Chollin River and take a dip in the thermally heated river for free.
Zip-Lining and Hanging Bridges
Costa Rica’s canopy tours are among the country’s most popular activities and are great fun for all ages. Zip-lining tours are offered throughout the country, including Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, and Guanacaste. They provide an exhilarating way to explore this beautiful country.
For those looking for something a bit less strenuous, take a self-guided tour through the famed hanging bridges in Arenal and Monteverde. The Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park outside of La Fortuna, which offers 1.9 miles (3.1 kilometers) of trails, six hanging bridges, and breathtaking views of the volcano, is highly recommended.
Enjoy the Local Cuisine
Costa Rican cuisine is simple but delicious. The country’s fresh tropical fruit and vegetables, traditional dishes and homegrown coffee make coming here a culinary experience.
A traditional breakfast typically consists of gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together with Lizano sauce) served with eggs, cheese, sour cream, tortillas and other options. While at the beach, keep an eye out for fresh tuna, mahi mahi and snapper on the menu and wash it down with an Imperial or PIlsen, Costa Rica’s national beers. Most tourist spots also have a wide variety of international restaurants. You can find authentic Italian, MIddle Eastern, and Asian cuisine with fresh, locally-sourced ingredients.