To wrap up the Costa Rica blog series, I’m providing a concise rundown of the 15 fabulous things to do in Costa Rica. Trust me when I say none of these you’d want to miss. And we haven’t even covered the Caribbean Coasts and Guanacaste yet…
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Things to Do in Costa Rica
The following things I’m going to list out are either in San José or scattered along the west side of Costa Rica only–in La Fortuna and Arenal area, and on the south side of Nicoya Peninsula. This country really has so much to offer. Unless your trip is over a month long, one visit is certainly not enough. I can’t wait to go back and explore the rest myself!
Soak in the hot springs of La Fortuna
Starting off in La Fortuna Costa Rica, my absolute favorite town in the country so far. From the colorful little town area itself to the hot spring resorts and the variety of wildlife tours available, it’s such an exciting spot!
Packed with volcanos, Costa Rica is so famous for its hot springs because the geothermal activity in the ground naturally heats these pools. These hot springs help relieve stress, clean your skin, and relax your muscles.
You can either visit one of the natural pools or stay at one of the hot spring resorts. I stayed at Paradise Hot Springs and loved it! The resort pools are man-made but filled with naturally heated geothermal water as well.
Swim in the pool of La Fortuna Waterfall
Another must-do in La Fortuna is to visit the waterfall! Catarata Río Fortuna sits at the base of a dormant volcano, which means you’ll be hiking down into the valley and back up. The waterfall drops from about 75 meters at a speed of 300 kph (187 mph), so swimming anywhere near it is forbidden. But you can definitely swim in the pool if you keep your distance, so bring a swimsuit!
Hike the Arenal Volcano
While we’re still in La Fortuna, make sure not to miss out on hiking the Arenal Volcano as well! The Arenal is ACTIVE. It last exploded in 1968, only 54 years ago at the time of writing. And no one knows when it will decide to have another round of fun…
The trail is strangely beautiful, riddled with both wildflowers and black volcanic rocks. If you search well, maybe you’ll find tiny pieces of volcanic gems and diamonds along the way. I did!
Take a walking tour of San José
This bustling capital city is so much more than buildings and traffic. Each building, monument, park, or even sign, has its own history. And to walk by them without knowing would be a real shame.
I did my walking tour with San José A Pie (San José on Foot). They’re a small tour company operating through Airbnb Experiences. The guide was very knowledgeable and made the experience very enjoyable.
Try Lolo Mora’s vanilla ice cream
While you’re still downtown San José, stop by the Central Market and look for Lolo Mora Ice Cream Palor, pictures below. They only sell ONE flavor, vanilla cinnamon. And there’s a reason why they’re that confident about it. It tastes SO GOOD! You don’t want to miss this one!
Either take a scoop to go, or find a seat and have the ice cream on top of their blended juice selections.
Go snorkeling at Tortuga Island
If you’re going to Costa Rica, then you must love nature! Take it a step further by hanging out with marine life off the coast of Tortuga Island for an hour or two. Either book a tour with my favorite people at Bahia Rica or check out one of the selections from Viator below.
Dive around the shipwrecks of the Santa Catalina Islands
If you’re an avid diver, the Tortuga Island and Montezuma area are also home to 3 famous shipwrecks that you can dive to. The Caroline Star, the Coronel Alfonso Monge, and the Franklin Chang Diaz. I don’t dive myself, but I’ve heard the best things, and I bet they’re a sight to behold.
Learning how to dive is on my life bucket list, so rest assured I’ll be returning to these wrecks soon!
Take the bioluminescence tour in Paquera
After spending the day chilling around Tortuga Island, what’s a better way to end it than taking advantage of the dark and watching bioluminescence glitter on your hands and feet?
There’s an option at Bahia Rica that lets you combine your experience snorkeling on Isla Tortuga with kayaking in bioluminescence as well.
Visit the National Theater
From the outside, this unsuspecting building is almost just like any other in San José. But as soon as you step inside, everything screams elegance, even the way their tours are given. The guides dress up and act like people from old-time Costa Rica, and they tell all the stories while staying in character!
Take a coffee tour with Britt
Did you know that Costa Rica is like the Italy of the Americas in terms of coffee? For decades, they’ve planted and produced gourmet coffee for people all over the world. The high altitude and mostly volcanic soil yields harder coffee beans, which means a much more even roast.
And why does it have to be Britt Coffee Tour? Well… after producing gourmet coffee for exports while leaving the locals to make do with what they have, Britt stepped up to be the first producer of gourmet Costa Rica coffee FOR Costa Ricans. Starting in 1995, and still going strong!
Visit the Toucan Rescue Ranch
If you’re an animal lover, this experience is for you! Unlike a generic zoo, this ranch was first established to help save injured and abandoned Toucans, then they’ve expanded it to include other species of wildlife as well. Yes, sloths too…
Every animal that arrives at the Rescue Ranch is nurtured until they’re healed. Then they will go through a training program that prepares them for the wild, from elementary through university. Isn’t that cute? And if they fail any of these levels, meaning they’ll be in danger if set free, they will become a permanent resident of the ranch.
Zipline at the Monteverde Cloud Forest
This is something I wish I had time for on my trip, and it came highly recommended by my classmates at the Spanish school. It’s the next time for me!
Monteverde Cloud Forest is exactly what it’s called. You walk into a lush, green forest enveloped in low-hanging clouds. It will feel like stepping into heaven. It’s also home to the countless famous hanging bridges of Costa Rica.
The opportunities are ample here. You can take a zipline tour, a bird-watching tour, a sloth-watching tour, or even a hanging-bridges tour. Don’t be like me, visit Monteverde!
Visit the Museum of Jade
No, it is not an entire museum with JUST pieces of jade! It’s named that way due to the influences jade had on the pre-Columbian Costa Rican culture. This item is not to be missed by my fellow lovers of slow travel.
There is a LOT of jade here indeed, but the point of this museum is to showcase the indigenous way of life and how it evolved. And they’ve done an amazing job! There are 4 floors of gorgeous exhibition rooms, each with its own theme.
Only less than an hour’s drive southeast of San José is Cartago, the former capital city of the country. Standing and booming with trade from 1563 until 1823, it’s packed full of beautiful architecture and rich with history for you to explore
The most famous attraction (but not the only one…) is the Basilica of Los Angeles.
Take a chill afternoon at La Mancha
No, it’s not just your average café! First off, because we’re in Costa Rica, you’re guaranteed to have the best-tasting coffee in the Americas. Secondly, their pastries are to die for. And lastly, it’s hidden INSIDE a building, in this cutest little courtyard in the middle of the bustling San José.
You can barely hear the traffic outside when you’re in here, and the vibe will give you the break you’d never expect in the middle of a capital city!
Are you convinced to visit Costa Rica yet? No? Check out my other blog posts below!
Oh, you’re already convinced? Check them out anyway to help with your planning 😉
To Help You in Costa Rica
Costa Rica offers a range of activities for adventurers and nature lovers. You can explore the breathtaking waterfalls of the Northern Plain like Río Celeste or La Fortuna. For a different perspective, consider a ferry ride across the Nicoya Gulf to the beaches and Islands of Paquera. The Caribbean Coast also boasts the amazing slow-tourism town of Limón and the Tortuguero National Park.
In Costa Rica, a service tax of 10% is commonly included in bills at restaurants, tours, and hotels. While it’s not mandatory to tip beyond this, additional gratuities are always appreciated, especially in tourist-heavy areas. Sales tax is typically 13%, so you might see this reflected in pricing as well.
The US Dollar is widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially in tourist areas. I’d say having around $300 in cash per person for a week is good enough, complemented by credit cards for additional expenses. However, in more remote areas, cash is king, so be prepared accordingly. The local currency is the Costa Rican colón, and ATMs are available for withdrawals.
When packing for Costa Rica, prioritize clothes that dry quickly and manage moisture well. Essentials include closed-toe hiking sandals or sturdy walking shoes, plenty of sunscreens, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, a hat, and a swimsuit. If traveling during the rainy season, don’t forget a waterproof jacket and backpack rain cover. For cooler mountain regions, pack warm clothing like sweaters and socks.
Costa Rica is full of breathtaking landscapes, from rainforests and beaches to volcanoes and jungles. Must-see destinations include the Río Celeste, Monteverde Cloud Forest, La Fortuna Waterfall, and the Arenal Volcano. Each offers a unique glimpse into Costa Rica’s diverse natural beauty.