When you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, the sheer number of things you can choose to see and do can be a little overwhelming. From touring cities to exploring rainforests, lounging on beaches, and everything in between, you definitely won’t have enough time to fit it all in. Instead, it’s important to be realistic and prioritize the things you want to experience the most while you’re there.
Having a hard time defining that list? I’m here to help! Here are just a handful of the best things to see and do in Costa Rica you won’t want to miss:
SPEND SOME TIME IN THE RAINFOREST
Costa Rica is home to some of the world’s most gorgeous rainforests, and you’d be missing out if you didn’t spend at least some of your Costa Rican vacation experiencing them for yourself.
Many of Costa Rica’s national parks are dedicated to rainforests. These parks make great additions to any traveler’s itinerary and offer an excellent glimpse into the beautiful, biodiverse world that makes up this exotic ecosystem. Head to the remote, untouched Corcovado National Park, or stick to the beaten path and plan a visit to Manuel Antonio National Park, one of the most visited rainforests in Costa Rica. Either way, you’ll be treated to lush, green forests and the opportunity to glimpse some incredible wildlife – not to mention, a healthy dose of humidity and bugs.
While you’re free to rent a car and explore on your own, many tourists and travelers opt for guided tours.
For a seriously thrilling experience that’ll give you an entirely new perspective on the Costa Rican rainforest, sign up for a ziplining adventure. Ziplining will send you soaring through the canopy of the rainforest, suspended along a steel cable spanning various platforms. There are a number of local spots that are run by professionals who take safety seriously, making it a great way to embrace your sense of adventure while you’re on vacation.
If you’re afraid of heights, it might be hard to truly appreciate the view, but most people will thoroughly enjoy the views from above. If you have a GoPro or other action camera, bring it – you can capture some once-in-a-lifetime footage that’ll make all of your friends and family jealous.
MARVEL AT THE SANTA ELENA CLOUD FOREST RESERVE
For a one-of-a-kind rainforest experience, you’ll want to add the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve to your Costa Rican itinerary. This cloud forest isn’t the most famous in Costa Rica – that honor goes to the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – but the smaller crowds make this a much more enjoyable stop.
Depending on your style of exploration, you may want to hire a guide or join a tour group to explore the forest and learn about the plants and animals that call it home. Alternately, you can explore on your own. Either way, it isn’t hard to appreciate this unique landscape and ecosystem.
HIKE TO THE FORTUNA RIVER WATERFALL
Witnessing a waterfall up close can be an absolutely magical experience, and there’s one in Costa Rica you won’t want to miss. Not too far from the Arenal Volcano sits the La Fortuna Waterfall, a stunning display of nature’s beauty. The waterfall itself is reachable by walking a well-maintained but tiring path – a journey of roughly 500 steps – but once you reach it, you’ll be treated to some of the most stunning views and incredible photos ops you’ll find anywhere.
The best part? You can actually swim in La Catarata – the pool the waterfall empties into. So, if swimming beneath a waterfall is on your bucket list, you can plan to check it off here!
EAT GALLO PINTO AND OTHER DELICIOUS COSTA RICAN CUISINE
Costa Rica is known for its delicious food as much as it’s known for its beautiful scenery. Local cuisine is focused on freshness and flavor, and it’s pretty healthy, too, making it a great way to fuel your body as you explore.
Gallo pinto is one of Costa Rica’s most quintessential dishes, and it’s one every visitor should enjoy at least once. This traditional breakfast is a delicious combination of rice, beans, onions, garlic, and peppers with a healthy splash of the nation’s favorite condiment – Salsa Lizano.
Aside from gallo pinto, you should also try to sample:
- A Costa Rican tamale, known as a tamal. Wrapped in banana leaves instead of corn and less spicy than their Mexican counterparts, they make a great snack.
- Casado, an easy Costa Rican lunch typically consisting of rice and beans, some kind of salad, and a protein – meat or fish. That’s at a minimum. Most of the time, your casado will come with other sides like corn, eggs, avocados, a salad, or other healthy (and not-so-healthy) additions.
ENJOY ONE OF COSTA RICA’S MANY BEACHES
With the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean on the other, it’s no surprise that Costa Rica is known for its stunning beaches. The Pacific coastline is home to some of Costa Rica’s most pristine national parks, excellent opportunities to surf, and great whale-watching spots.
Visit the Caribbean side, however, and you’re treated to a calmer coastline perfect for kayaking, paddle boarding, and other activities on the water. Colorful offshore reefs make it a prime destination for snorkelers and underwater photographers. And while you won’t see many whales, you can sign up for tours to witness sea turtles laying their eggs on the shore – a truly magical experience.
It’s truly hard to go wrong when planning a vacation in Costa Rica, but taking advantage of these experiences while you’re here will help you make the most of your time in this beautiful country. Whether you want an experience geared toward adventure and excitement or you’re looking to escape to Costa Rica for a relaxing getaway, orsome down time with the family, consider incorporating some (or all) of these activities and experiences into your itinerary to make the most of your trip.