Are you thinking of visiting this stunning Central American destination? If so, you need this list of all the best things to do in Costa Rica to plan your perfect adventure. This scenic country has far more than its fair share of natural beauty, including white sandy beaches, lush rainforests, active volcanoes, vibrant cities, and fascinating culture.
Whether you're wondering where to go in Costa Rica, what to do in Costa Rica when you travel solo, as a couple, or as a family, or you are trying to decide which must-see in Costa Rica belongs on your list, this guide is here to lead the way.
From unspoiled national parks and lush hiking trails to Costa Rica tourist attractions within the capital city, here you'll find all the Costa Rica activities and places of interest in Costa Rica to consider adding to your itinerary.
We've also covered general tips for Costa Rica travel. Plus, a range of frequently asked questions around Costa Rica things to see & check off your list.
Here are 27 top things to do in Costa Rica, Central America. Which of the top attractions in Costa Rica - or thrilling activities - will you try first?
Pro Tip: There is so much wildlife in Costa Rica! Book a guided tour or two to ensure you see as much as possible (many are easily camouflaged & easy to miss without a pro to point them out). You'll learn much more about the animals & the area with a guide.
Things To Do In Costa Rica - National Parks
Arenal Volcano National Park
At the top of the list of tourist attractions in Costa Rica is Arenal Volcano National Park, located in the country's northern part. The town of La Fortuna is the gateway to the park. It lies within the protected Arenal Conservation Area and offers many jaw-dropping natural features and native wildlife.
Suppose natural attractions in Costa Rica are what it's all about for you. In that case, this 75 square-mile site offers hot springs, rainforest trails, Lake Arenal for water sports, fields formed from cooled lava, and the active Arenal Volcano from which the park takes its name.
In terms of wildlife, many Costa Rican must-see animals live inside Arenal Volcano National Park. Jaguars are one of the region's main draws (though they are rarely seen in the wild), but other animals also inhibit the area.
Popular species include tree frogs, white-faced monkeys, sloths (remember to look up), exotic reptiles, insects, and colorful birds such as toucans.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Another must-do in Costa Rica is exploring Manuel Antonio National Park. For beautiful beaches, there's arguably nowhere better to visit. A network of hiking trails also crisscrosses the area, so you'll want to pack your best hiking shoes before exploring.
Suppose you're wondering what to see in Costa Rica and want to see the best of the country's abundance of tropical flora and fauna. In that case, Manuel Antonio belongs on your itinerary. Here you can trek through the unspoiled rainforest, laze on bone-white sands, hike into the mountains or delve underwater to discover the coral reefs.
Of course, animals are always on the list of things to see in Costa Rica. In Manuel Antonio National Park, you won't be disappointed.
You'll see many creatures, including two and three-toed sloths, several monkey species (capuchin moneys are everywhere), and a vast range of tropical birds. You may spot migrating whales and dolphins and more minor examples of local marine life in the water.
Pro Tip: Be sure to put things in a bag or backpack that can be closed up when at the beach & tie it to a tree before heading to the water. Otherwise, a sneaky monkey might steal your belongings.
Corcovado National Park
Of course, many of the most fun things to do in Costa Rica revolve around nature, and Corcovado National Park offers abundant unspoiled beauty. This national park on the Osa Peninsula can be found in southwest Costa Rica and is also home to a range of terrain, trails, and habitats for local wildlife.
Some of the Pacific Coast's most stunning beaches fringe Corcovado National Park, and you can also discover mangrove swamps, waterfalls, and rainforests. With almost 264 square miles to explore, this reserve is the ideal place to see tropical ecosystems in action, which are among Costa Rica's top attractions for many visitors.
Corcovado's natural draws include Squirrel and howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, tapirs, harpy eagles, giant anteaters, and more.
Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is another Costa Rica must-do. Again, this park covers some of the country's incredible coastline. This park is located on the northern Caribbean coast. The wildlife seen here includes shelter-spectacled caiman crocodiles and the endangered green turtles that lend their name to the park.
In addition to the coastline, Tortuguero National Park offers lush rainforest to explore. Here, colorful birds flit between the trees while monkeys swing from branch to branch. You can spot a large variety of native flora at Tortuguero or ply the Caribbean waters by boat.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Braulio Carrillo forms part of Costa Rica's Central Conservation Area. If you're looking for must-dos in Costa Rica within easy reach of San Jose, this might be the park for you. Rainforest tram rides are a highlight of spending time in this area.
These cable cars seat five and have open sides to view the rainforest from within. Many people at the park also enjoy the hiking trails during their visit. The park also has dedicated orchid, butterfly, and hummingbird gardens for fun & unique close encounters.
Lush cloud forest, rainforest, and thousands of plant species place Braulio Carrillo National Park high on Costa Rica's to-do list.
Rincón De La Vieja National Park
The active Rincón de la Vieja volcano last erupted in 2017, making this Costa Rican national park a star attraction for anyone intrigued by volcanoes. This area's lively geothermal activity is also fascinating and fun.
At Rincón de la Vieja National Park, you can spend the day visiting four beautiful waterfalls, go tubing for an adrenaline rush, take a hike or sample the region's hot springs and mud baths.
As well as spurting geysers, pools of bubbling mud, steaming fumaroles, and waterfalls, Rincón de la Vieja also offers wildlife encounters with monkeys, wild cats, and a variety of reptiles and amphibians including iguanas, giant toads, and tree frogs.
Pro Tip: Visit during May-November when the volcano's fumaroles and mud posts are most active.
Cahuita National Park
The southern Caribbean coast is home to another national park that covers both land and sea. Suppose you're seeking activities in Costa Rica that involve venturing beneath the ocean's surface. In that case, Cahuita National Park offers easily accessible coral reefs.
This park is less crowded than others and is a great place to connect with the locals, thanks to strong links with the local community. Bribri waterfall is also included on many tours to Cahuita, and knowledgeable guides can help you spot native wildlife, including armadillos, snakes, and a variety of amphibians.
Other Fun Things To Do In Costa Rica
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve
One of the most famous places in Costa Rica, in terms of biodiversity, is Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This is the habitat of the Resplendent Quetzal, an incredibly striking tropical bird that visitors flock here to see.
Another type of bird popular here is the hummingbird, which comes in all rainbow colors. The natural environment here makes people feel at one with the cloud forest, and spotting this area's unique feathered friend is an unmissable experience. The number one Costa Rica best place to visit for any avid bird watcher!
La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park
When you're wondering what to do in Costa Rica within reach of the country's capital city, La Paz Waterfall Gardens Nature Park near San Jose is a fascinating eco-park to head for. There are hiking trails to five waterfalls, and you can also encounter monkeys and jungle cats at the wildlife sanctuary here.
Positioned between Braulio Carrillo National Park and Poas Volcano National Park, La Paz is on Costa Rica's popular eco-route between San Jose and Arenal.
Mistico Hanging Bridges Park
You can't go to Costa Rica without visiting their famous hanging bridges. Mistico Hanging Bridges Park is my top recommendation. There are 16 bridges in total here, including half a dozen hanging bridges.
As you might expect, these elevated walkways' views are jaw-dropping and ensure visitors feel fully immersed in the rainforest canopy. You can also engage in pastimes at the park, including horse riding, zorbing, night walks, and exploring the butterfly gardens.
Suppose you're not using the capital as a base for making day trips to other Costa Rican destinations. In that case, visiting the city is a must. This vibrant city belongs on any Costa Rica to-do list, and there are plenty of attractions for fans of culture, history, and food.
Teatro Nacional, the Mercado Central, a butterfly garden, the Metropolitan Cathedral, and many exciting museums ensure plenty to see and do in San Jose. The best include the Museo de Arte Costarricense, the Jade Museum, the Museo de los Ninos, the pre-Columbian Gold Museum, and the Museo Nacional.
Alturas Wildlife Sanctuary
This wildlife refuge must be among the must-sees in Costa Rica when encountering native creatures. A wide range of animals are cared for here, focusing on those sick, injured, or orphaned.
The ultimate aim is to release each animal back into the wild, making 'rescue, rehabilitate and release' the sanctuary's strapline. It's a not-for-profit organization, and guided tours are available several times per day between Tuesdays and Saturdays and are delivered in English or Spanish.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Close to Arenal Volcano National Park and the town of La Fortuna is a cascading waterfall bearing the same name as the latter. La Fortuna Waterfall - or Catarata Fortuna - is 70 meters plus in height and is around three-and-a-half miles from town.
The waterfall is close to the Chato volcano base and is attractively set among lush green forests. A pretty blue natural pool can be found where the waterfall ends.
Pro Tip: Be prepared to take the stairs! You will go down (and then back up) a LOT of steps to reach the waterfall…500 to be exact.
EcoTermales Hot Springs
Close to La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano National Park is a lovely, relaxed place where you can admire the waterfall, bathe in the natural pools fed by hot springs, or unwind at the bar and restaurant.
The natural waters here are said to have therapeutic benefits and are rich in natural minerals such as magnesium. There are also spectacular views of the Arenal Volcano from the site. Five pools and two bars can be found, and the bartenders are a dab hand at whipping up delicious, international cocktails.
EcoTermales Hot Springs offers great value food and drinks yet is rarely crowded. It's only about ten minutes from La Fortuna, and as numbers are limited, the place always has a laid-back vibe. If you want to find the best places to see in Costa Rica that are more off the beaten path, this could be perfect for you.
Tabacon Hot Springs
Another way to experience Costa Rica's natural thermal zones is to visit Tabacon Hot Springs. Spending the day here is one of those cool things to do in Costa Rica & was a favorite for us on our trip!
The Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal Resort comprises a series of pools where the water is heated by volcanic activity and surrounded by lush vegetation. In addition to the mineral-rich thermal baths, there's an upmarket spa at the resort, plus a pair of restaurants serving local and international cuisine.
It can be busy here, but the pools are arranged in such a way that you can easily find a spot that feels private, away from others. To experience luxury, you can stay in Costa Rica at this top-notch five-star resort.
Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge
Another of the best things to see in Costa Rica for any wildlife fan is Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. This refuge can be found in the northern part of the country, among the Arenal Huetar Norte Conservation Area and close to the Nicaraguan border.
The humid environment and wetlands at Caño Negro are known chiefly for their colorful birdlife. Still, they are also home to some spectacular flora and other forms of fauna. Storks, spoonbills, and even sloths can be spotted, or you may see monkeys swinging overhead.
Suppose you're seeking animal-focused Costa Rica points of interest. In that case, Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge is a must for your Central American list.
One of the key attractions of Costa Rica is the country's stunning waterfalls. There are hundreds to be found across the land, and the Nauyaca Waterfalls of the southern Pacific Coast are some of the most spectacular of all. Visitors can also swim in the pool here, that's six feet deep.
Nauyaca Waterfalls are one of the Costa Rica must-sees for many. Getting there involves a two-hour hike from the parking lot, a trip via a 4WD vehicle, or on horseback.
Catarata Del Toro
When it comes to waterfalls, Costa Rica sites don't really come any more spectacular than Catarata del Toro. As a bonus - accessing these falls requires minimal effort. The site is privately owned, and there are lookout points and a restaurant to view the falls from.
If you do want to visit all the viewpoints, do note that doing so will require a trip up more than 300 steps. On the downside, it's not possible to swim in the pool at the base of Catarata del Toro Falls.
Irazu is the tallest active volcano in Costa Rica. Conquering the summit is popular among visitors to the Central American country, and there's a good reason why this is among Costa Rica's top things to do. Views of the Pacific and Caribbean coasts can be yours from the summit. With a telescope, it's also possible to get a great view of Lake Nicaragua.
The lagoon at the center of the crater also makes for spectacular photographs. This varies in color depending on the light and time of day, from lime green to a jewel-like emerald. The hiking route is unique, with coffee plantations, fertile farmland, and other lush greenery.
Rio Celeste Waterfalls
Deep inside Tenorio Volcano National Park, Rio Celeste waterfalls are partly known as one of the must-do things in Costa Rica due to their stunning color. The aqua waters here look surreal, making the one-hour hike from the parking lot well worth a visit.
How this arresting hue was achieved is a matter of debate. Religious locals believe it to be the work of a God rinsing his paintbrushes. At the same time, scientists cite a chemical reaction between the volcanic minerals naturally present in the water.
The route is partly paved and part gravel and also involves some steps. You can be rewarded for your efforts, though, with a soak in the warm waters of the natural volcanic mineral pools.
Pro Tip: For the most spectacular color, try to schedule your visit for during the dry season from December through late April.
Río Pacuare in Costa Rica runs for over 65 miles between Cordillera de Talamanca and the Caribbean Sea. It's a thrilling waterway for adrenaline junkies who head here for white water rafting, riverboarding, and kayaking.
If you're searching for more white-knuckle stuff to do in Costa Rica, then the Pacuare River is high on your list. It's one of the finest places on earth for white water sports. The river is also flanked by rainforests, providing habitat for colorful tropical birds, monkeys, jaguars, and other creatures.
Caño Island is on the Pacific Ocean side of Costa Rica and is a small island and biological reserve. If you're into diving and snorkeling, you've likely heard of it. The island offers an incredibly diverse variety of marine life, and you can only access the area by boat.
Come prepared for choppy waters, but it is so worth it. The waters here are crystal clear, and you can see both large and smaller marine species when venturing beneath the surface. You might also find that your boat is joined by dolphins while traveling to and from the island, which is, of course, delightful!
Some Costa Rica tourism and attractions center on the fact that the country produces top-quality coffee and cocoa beans, plus sugar cane. You can gain a unique insight into this industry by taking a tour of an established farm, showing you everything from how the crops are grown to how coffee makes the journey from bean to cup.
Tours tend to include tastings, and along the way, you'll learn how coffee beans are grown, harvested, roasted, and ground down, ready for making some of the world's finest coffee. Try local chocolate or other products made from sugar cane.
I am a coffee lover & I can assure you - this coffee does not disappoint!
One of Costa Rica's best things to do is to hit the waves. Experienced board riders will agree that this is among the best activities in Costa Rica. It's also a good place for beginners to learn the craft. If you want to find things to do in Costa Rica with kids, this is also a great bet - even for (sometimes hard to please) teens and tweens.
You don't need to come prepared: all the necessary equipment can be readily supplied locally. Costa Rica's best surfing beaches include Playa Avellanas, Pavones, Jaco, Playa Cocles, Santa Teresa, Playa Grande, Dominical, Playa Matapalo, Nosara, and Playa Tamarindo.
One of the best things about travel is trying the local cuisine. By taking a cooking class, you don't only get to taste the local fare; you also get to create it yourself. A farm-to-table cooking class, for example, is a great way to get back down to basics by embracing everything from where the produce is grown to finishing your dish in a wood-fired kitchen.
Learning to cook as the locals do is the ideal way to connect with Costa Rican culture. The type of dishes you'll make may include meat tacos, cheese empanadas, or ceviche. Sitting down to eat with fellow travelers can also be a really fun part of this process.
Must-See Areas To Visit In Costa Rica
The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is an excellent choice for densely packed forests, tumbling waterfalls, and golden sandy beaches. Must-see places in Costa Rica - such as Manuel Antonio National Park - can be found here. There's also Corcovado on the Osa Peninsula and a host of other natural attractions.
The town of Tamarindo in Guanacaste is also a popular place for surfing, sunsets, fishing, spotting marine creatures, and diving, or heading to the more laid-back Sámara or well-heeled Papagayo Gulf. For a mix of resorts, lush rainforest, plus sunkissed sands, the Pacific Coast is an incredibly appealing spot for a Costa Rican vacation.
If you prefer to stay away from the crowds, the best thing to do in Costa Rica is head for the Caribbean Coast. While it can be wetter than the Pacific Coast, the Caribbean Coast is less touristy and has plenty to see.
Tortuguero is often named one of the top 10 things to do in Costa Rica, and you can see the nesting turtles here in April and May each year. Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is also a popular place to stay and visit and is favored by surfers and party animals.
The Caribbean Coast also offers some small towns and pristine beaches to discover, and often these have the untouched feel of a hidden gem.
7 Top Costa Rica Travel Tips
Plan Your Budget
Accommodation, food, attractions, and entertainment in Costa Rica aren't quite as cheap to come by as you might think they are. If you don't want to miss out on the top things to see in Costa Rica, you may spend more than you think.
Costa Rica is one of the pricier countries in Central and South America - and some activities can even be more expensive than places like the US and Europe.
When To Go
If you want to visit the Costa Rica main attractions that are most frequented by tourists - or wish to head there for a warm winter getaway - then you must plan your trip in advance. Like other destinations in central and South America, Costa Rica gets especially busy around holiday time.
If you're prepared to plan ahead and pay a bit more, then this can be a very enjoyable time to visit. Easter is also a great time to consider when lots of colorful fiestas occur. If you prefer more peace, not planning so far ahead, and paying less, stick to quieter times of the year.
It's Going To Be Humid
So, yeah… it's the rainforest - this is a hot and humid country, which can seriously put a dampener on all those Costa Rica fun things to do if you aren't prepared. Many of the best things in Costa Rica are outdoors, but even during the dry season, downpours aren't uncommon.
Visiting during the dry season months of December to April is best weather-wise, but whenever you go, be sure to pack some wet weather clothing and gear & embrace the humidity - it's great for the skin!
Cash is king in Costa Rican culture - particularly in more remote areas. If you are heading off the beaten tourist track, bring along a stash of Costa Rican currency - the colón.
Small denominations can be very useful when there's nowhere to change a large note. Though you may expect US dollars to be accepted everywhere, this isn't true.
Pro Tip: Exchange money before you leave at your local bank.
Pack Bug Spray
The mosquitoes are far from one of the best attractions in Costa Rica. In fact, an encounter with one runs you the risk of contracting diseases such as dengue fever and Zika virus. So do pack a decent DEET-containing spray into your luggage.
Other preventative measures include:
- Using mosquito nets.
- Wearing long-sleeved clothing.
- Keeping up to date with any pre-travel vaccinations required.
Learn The Lingo
Even a little basic Spanish can help you get by when exploring and booking activities in Costa Rica. If you do feel like learning the language properly, there are also plenty of schools where you can do just that scattered across the land.
A few rudimentary phrases can ensure you receive a warm welcome and the best possible service, even if it's only your Ps and Qs, plus several general polite inquiries.
Though Costa Rica is a relatively safe country to travel in, dangers do exist. Don't head off to all your planned Costa Rica places to go without exercising the same care and caution that you would anywhere.
Make good use of hotel safes, money belts, theft-proof daypacks, etc. Never leave valuables visible through a car or accommodation window, and beware of pickpockets at busy spots like stations and city centers.
Best Things To Do In Costa Rica FAQs
What is Costa Rica well known for?
Costa Rica in Central America is famous for its natural attractions above all. So what can you do in Costa Rica to make the most of this? Visit the incomparable national parks, get up close to the local wildlife, venture beneath the sea's surface, and you may discover more flora and fauna than ever before.
There are also plenty of fun activities in Costa Rica for fans of the adrenaline rush. In this Central American destination, you can go surfing, cave tubing, white water rafting, tubing, canyoning, ziplining, or zorbing.
Is Costa Rica expensive to visit?
Whether you want to head to the top places to go in Costa Rica or are venturing off the beaten track, this can be one costly country as compared to its Latin American neighbors. It can even seem pricey, at times, when you check prices against what you might pay in the US or UK. It's something to remember when planning which things to see and do in Costa Rica.
What activities can be done in Costa Rica?
There are so many adventurous things to do in Costa Rica! Thrilling pastimes include ziplining, white water rafting, surfing, and more. Slightly more sedate activities include fishing, horse riding, and snorkeling. You can also explore by boat or ATV or hike through a national park or other area.
How many days is best in Costa Rica?
A fortnight in Costa Rica should be sufficient to see many of the main sights you want. There are points of interest in Costa Rica all over the land, so giving yourself this time frame will allow for traveling between destinations and spending enough time in each. If you can't stretch to two weeks, ten days is better than one week.
What months are best to go to Costa Rica?
The best time to head to the must-visit places in Costa Rica - if you can - is between December and April. This is the dry season, so there's less chance of rain daily. You should also experience around 12 hours of daily sunshine then.
While the Christmas and New Year periods are a good time to be in Costa Rica, the country is busier during the festive season. So if you do go, then you'll need to book ahead. You can also expect to pay more and places will be more crowded.
Where do you fly into Costa Rica?
Costa Rica has two main international airports, in San Jose and Liberia. Which to fly into depends on which of the popular tourist attractions in Costa Rica you want to visit - or whether you want to get off the beaten path.
Liberia is in the northeast and near the Pacific Ocean. At the same time, San Jose, in the capital, is best for southwestern and central parts of the country. The former is ideal for the Pacific coast and La Fortuna areas. San Jose is best for the capital, southern beaches, and various national parks.
How do you get around in Costa Rica?
The cheapest way to get around Costa Rica is to take the bus. Services tend to be efficient and frequent, even in more rural areas. If you can, book tickets in advance to avoid disappointment.
Other options for accessing the top places to see in Costa Rica include domestic flights, privately run shuttle bus services, car rentals, and taxis. The latter can offer good value when splitting prices between a group.
Does Costa Rica have any nightlife?
Costa Rica has nightlife scenes centered on the capital and other popular destinations. San Jose's Calle de la Amargura is lined with late-night venues. Some of the country's beach resorts are also good for nightlife. Hotspots include Jaco, Playa Tamarindo, and Puerto Viejo.
Which Things To Do In Costa Rica Will You Check Off Your List?
With so many Costa Rica attractions to choose from, there are lots to keep visitors of all ages busy in this most appealing of Latin American destinations. Whether your preference is for adrenaline-inducing activities in Costa Rica, hiking the trails of the national parks, learning a new skill, taking a dip in the pool at the base of a waterfall, or venturing beneath the ocean's surface.
The only question is which of these Costa Rica things you want to add to your shortlist. From white water rafting on the Pacuare River or learning to surf in Tamarindo to exploring the trails of the national parks or soaking in the natural hot springs, visiting Costa Rica does offer something for everyone.
For nature lovers, this country is simply unmissable. As one of the most eco-diverse places on the planet, it's heaven for fans of animals, birds, amphibians, and reptiles. And indeed all kinds of lush greenery & gorgeous flowers. Get ready to take loads of amazing pictures!