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30 Epic Things to Do in Costa Rica for an Unforgettable Trip!

Scenic panorama of La Fortuna waterfall amongst lush rainforest one of the best things to do in Costa Rica
La Fortuna Waterfall

Searching for the best things to do in Costa Rica? I’ve got you covered.

I’ve been visiting Costa Rica since 2019 and have explored all the top Costa Rica activities and uncovered its best-kept secrets during an epic 2-month road trip.

From spotting sloths in the rainforest of Manuel Antonio to snorkelling off of Tortuga Island. I’ve hiked around the majestic Arenal Volcano, soaked in the soothing Tabacon Hot Springs, and zip-lined through Monteverde’s misty cloud forests. I’ve surfed the famous waves of Santa Teresa, marveled at the turquoise waters of Rio Celeste, and witnessed the magical turtle hatchings in Nosara.

And you can too!

Join me as I guide you through the ultimate Costa Rican adventure, offering insider tips to help you experience the best of this beautiful Central American gem.

surfing along the coast is one of the top activities in Costa Rica
Santa Teresa Beach in January

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My Favorite Costa Rica Activities

If renting a car feels like an added stress on your holiday, you can experience all of the top things to do in Costa Rica through one of these popular and highly rated organized day tours:

Arenal Volcano, Waterfall + Hot Springs Tour
Manuel Antonio Park Tour with Specialist
Monteverde Ziplining Canopy Tour
Tortuga Island Day Tour

Ultimate Guide on What to Do in Costa Rica

Arenal & La Fortuna

The Arenal region, which includes Arenal Volcano and the town of La Fortuna, is the only Costa Rican destination I’d say is a must visit on your holiday. Known as the country’s adventure capital, you can find all the exciting, adrenaline-rushing activities here.

1. Visit La Fortuna Waterfall

a woman wearing white stands underneath a gushing waterfall in La Fortuna Arenal Costa Rica things to do

Visiting La Fortuna Waterfall is a must-do in Costa Rica. The hike down to the base of the waterfall is a bit steep but manageable, and the sight of the 75-meter cascade is absolutely worth it. The water is refreshingly cool, perfect for a swim on a hot day.

Insider tip: arrive early to avoid crowds and have a more tranquil experience. I once had the waterfall nearly to myself by getting there just as it opened. Bring sturdy shoes for the trail and a waterproof camera to capture the stunning beauty.

2. Soak in Tabacon Hot Springs

a cascading hot springs in green jungle in Costa Rica activities

Tabacon Hot Springs offers a luxurious way to relax amidst nature. The springs are heated by the Arenal Volcano and are surrounded by lush tropical gardens. There are multiple pools of varying temperatures, so you can find the perfect spot to unwind. My favorite time to visit is in the evening when the atmosphere is serene, and the springs are lit up beautifully.

Insider tip: book a day pass that includes dinner for a complete experience. The buffet is delicious, featuring local and international cuisine.

3. Explore around Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano on a sunny day with white clouds

Exploring the area around Arenal Volcano is an adventure lover’s dream and a top activity in La Fortuna. You can hike the trails, which offer stunning views of the volcano and the surrounding rainforest. For the best views, try the 1968 Trail, named after the last major eruption. I vividly remember the awe I felt seeing the volcano’s perfect cone from the Lava Flow Trail.

Insider tip: bring binoculars for bird watching, as the area is rich in wildlife. After your hike, visit the nearby Arenal Observatory Lodge for more breathtaking vistas.

4. Take a Chocolate Tour

close up of orange and red cacao pods on a chocolate tour in Costa Rica

A chocolate tour in La Fortuna is both educational and delicious. You’ll learn about the history of cacao, the process of making chocolate, and get to sample some fresh, organic chocolate. My favorite part was grinding the roasted cacao beans and making my own chocolate. The tour guides are knowledgeable and passionate about their craft.

Insider tip: buy some chocolate to take home – it makes a great souvenir and supports local farmers.

5. Traverse the Mistico Hanging Bridges

a girl in white walks away along a suspended hanging bridge one of the top Costa Rica things to do

The Mistico Hanging Bridges Park is a fantastic way to experience the rainforest canopy. The park features a series of suspension bridges that offer incredible views of the treetops and the wildlife within. I had an unforgettable encounter with a family of howler monkeys while on one of the bridges.

Insider tip: go with a guide to spot more wildlife and learn about the flora and fauna. Early morning tours are the best for birdwatching.

6. White Water Rafting

a group of people wearing vests and helmets sit on a water raft amongst turbulent water in Costa Rica

Experience the thrill of white water rafting on the Upper Balsa River, one of Costa Rica’s top spots for adventure seekers. The river offers class II and III rapids, making it perfect for both beginners and seasoned rafters. As you navigate the exciting twists and turns, you’ll be surrounded by lush rainforest, with the chance to spot exotic wildlife along the way.

Insider tip: choose a guided tour with safety briefings and enjoy a refreshing swim in the calmer sections.

7. Canyoning & Waterfall Rapelling

For an adrenaline-pumping adventure, try canyoning and waterfall rappelling in the Arenal region. This thrilling activity involves descending down waterfalls using ropes, navigating through rocky canyons, and splashing through pristine streams. On an organized tour with expert guides to ensure your safety, you’ll rappel down several waterfalls, the tallest being over 200 feet. The combination of the stunning tropical scenery and the heart-pounding excitement of the descent is truly unforgettable.

Insider tip: wear sturdy water shoes and be prepared to get soaked – it’s all part of the fun!

8. Day Trip to Rio Celeste

water flows into an electric blue pool amongst vegetated cliffs in Rio Celeste Costa Rica

A day trip to Rio Celeste in Tenorio Volcano National Park is a highlight of any Costa Rica itinerary. The river’s striking turquoise color is due to a unique chemical reaction. The hike to the waterfall is moderately challenging but incredibly rewarding. The color of the water is even more vibrant in person.

Insider tip: wear good hiking shoes and bring rain gear, as the area is prone to sudden showers. You can either rent a car in La Fortuna for the one hour journey or take one of the popular organized day tours that leave La Fortuna daily.


The mountainous region of Monteverde holds one of the most biodiverse rainforests in the country. With its unique cloud forest setting, it’s ideal for nature lovers seeking ziplining, birdwatching and hiking. Don’t forget to take a night tour in Monteverde, as this is when 80% of the region’s wildlife comes awake!

9. Ziplining through the Rainforest Canopy

two people hang from a zipline in Monteverde Costa Rica activity

Monteverde is famous for its ziplining adventures, offering an adrenaline rush as you soar above the cloud forest. The longest lines give you a bird’s-eye view of the dense canopy below. I felt like I was flying, with misty clouds enveloping the treetops around me.

Insider tip: choose a tour that includes a Tarzan swing or a Superman zip for added excitement like at Selvatura Adventure Park. Wear comfortable clothing and closed-toe shoes.

10. Hike the Monteverde Cloud Forest

misty clouds sit on top of a lush Costa Rica rainforest

Hiking in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a magical experience. The reserve is home to diverse flora and fauna, including the resplendent quetzal. The trails are well-marked and vary in difficulty. My favorite trail is the Sendero Bosque Nuboso, which offers a chance to see exotic birds and stunning plant life.

Insider tip: visit the hummingbird gallery at the entrance – it’s free and buzzing with activity. Early morning is the best time for birdwatching.

11. Visit a Sloth Sanctuary

a furry Costa Rican sloth hangs upside down from a branch

Monteverde’s sloth sanctuary is a wonderful place to learn about these adorable creatures and see them up close. The sanctuary rehabilitates injured sloths and educates visitors on conservation efforts. I was captivated by the slow, deliberate movements of the sloths and their endearing expressions.

Insider tip: book a guided tour for the best experience and to support the sanctuary’s efforts. While you can see sloths in other parts of Costa Rica, visiting this particular sanctuary is one of the best activities in Monteverde.

Santa Teresa

This international digital nomad hub offers trendy cafes, some low-key nightlife and expansive beaches for surfing, morning yoga and epic sunsets.

12. Surfing at Santa Teresa Beach

a man with a long beige surfboard walks along the sandy coastline looking out at the surf break in Santa Teresa Costa Rica

Santa Teresa Beach is a surfer’s paradise, with consistent waves that attract surfers of all levels. The beach is expansive and less crowded than other popular surf spots. I enjoyed my first surf lesson here, with friendly instructors who made the experience unforgettable.

Insider tip: check out the tide schedule to catch the best waves and visit nearby cafes for a post-surf meal. Sunset sessions are particularly magical.

13. Horseback Riding on the Beach

perspective of a horseback rider riding a horse along a sandy beach surrounded by jungle and water on a sunny day

Horseback riding on the beaches of Santa Teresa is a serene way to explore the coastline. Guided tours take you through scenic trails and along the sandy shores, often at sunset. The tranquility of riding with the ocean breeze in your hair is unmatched.

Insider tip: book with a reputable tour operator who treats the horses well. Wear long pants and closed-toe shoes for comfort.

14. Day Trip to Tortuga Island

birds eye view of a paradise beach with green palms, white sand beach and bright blue water on a blue sky day in Costa Rica Tortuga Island

A day trip to Tortuga Island offers snorkeling, diving, and pristine beaches. The boat ride from Santa Teresa includes scenic views of the coastline and, sometimes, dolphin sightings. On the island, you can relax on white sand beaches or explore the underwater world.

Insider tip: bring sunscreen and a hat, as shade can be limited. The snorkeling here is some of the best, with clear waters and abundant marine life.

15. Visit Montezuma Waterfall

a multi cascade waterfall flows into a pool of water with people sitting around the edge in Montezuma Costa Rica

The Montezuma Waterfall is a series of cascading falls surrounded by lush jungle. The hike to the falls can be challenging but rewarding, with the opportunity to swim in natural pools. I loved the adventure of climbing to the upper falls and diving into the refreshing water.

Insider tip: wear sturdy shoes for the hike and bring plenty of water. Be cautious on slippery rocks and enjoy the stunning scenery.


This family-friendly, yet bougie American expat community offers some of the most consistent surf in the country. Rent a board, take a lesson and then relax at one of the town’s top coffee shops or many scenic beaches. Make sure to rent an ATV and visit the Ostional National Refuge at sunrise for turtle sightings.

16. Surfing at Guiones Beach

a surfer rides the Nosara surf break in the distance amongst consistent waves in the morning

Guiones Beach in Nosara is a prime spot for surfing, with consistent waves suitable for beginners and experienced surfers alike. The beach has a relaxed vibe, and the surf schools are top-notch. My surf lessons here were fantastic, with patient instructors who tailored the lessons to my skill level.

Insider tip: stay hydrated and use reef-safe sunscreen. The beach is also great for yoga and sunset walks.

17. Witness Turtle Hatching at Ostional National Wildlife Refuge

a grey turtle moves along a black sand beach near the water in Ostional National Wildlife Refuge outside of Nosara Costa Rica

Witnessing turtle hatching at Ostional National Wildlife Refuge is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The refuge is one of the world’s most important nesting sites for olive ridley turtles. Seeing the baby turtles make their way to the sea is both moving and inspiring.

Insider tip: visit during the arribada (mass nesting) for the best experience. Guided tours are available and help support conservation efforts.


A popular and touristy surf hub with easy access from the Liberia Airport, Tamarindo is a great spot for younger travellers seeking vibrant streets and relaxing beaches.

18. Surf in Tamarindo

Tamarindo is known for its excellent surf conditions, making it a hotspot for surfers of all levels. The town has a vibrant atmosphere with plenty of surf schools, shops, and restaurants. I had a blast catching waves and enjoying the lively beach scene.

Insider tip: rent a board from a local shop and take a lesson if you’re new to surfing. The sunsets in Tamarindo are spectacular, so plan to stay on the beach to watch the sky light up.

Central Valley

19. Visit a Coffee Plantation

a close up on raw, medium roasted and dark roasted coffee beans sitting in a wood tray on a coffee tour in Costa Rica

A coffee plantation tour in the Central Valley is a delightful way to learn about Costa Rica’s famous coffee. Tours often include a walk through the coffee fields, a demonstration of the roasting process, and, of course, tastings. I found the insight into sustainable farming practices fascinating.

Insider tip: buy some freshly roasted coffee to take home – it’s a great souvenir and supports local farmers.

20. Visit the Poás Volcano

Visiting Poás Volcano offers a unique glimpse into one of Costa Rica’s most active volcanoes. The crater is one of the largest in the world and often emits steam and gas. The surrounding park has beautiful trails and picnic areas. I was awe-struck by the sheer size of the crater and the vibrant colors of the crater lake.

Insider tip: check the volcano’s activity status before you go, as it can close due to safety concerns. Dress in layers, as the weather can change quickly.

21. Explore the Capital, San José

San José, the bustling capital of Costa Rica, is rich in culture and history. Visit the National Theatre, the Gold Museum, and the bustling Central Market. I loved exploring the vibrant neighborhoods and sampling local cuisine, especially gallo pinto and ceviche.

While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend spending any time here, if you happen to arrive on an evening flight and need to spend the night, there is plenty you can explore.

Insider tip: use Uber or taxis to get around safely and avoid driving in the busy city.


22. Party the Night Away

Jaco is known for its vibrant nightlife, with a wide range of bars, clubs, and restaurants. The town comes alive after dark, offering live music, dancing, and beach parties. I enjoyed a fun night hopping between the various spots and meeting fellow travelers.

Insider tip: stay in a centrally located hotel to make it easy to walk back after a night out. Try the local cocktails, especially those made with fresh tropical fruits.

Manuel Antonio

23. Explore Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is a gem on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast, known for its beautiful beaches and rich biodiversity. The park’s trails lead you through lush forests where you can spot monkeys, sloths, and a variety of birds. I loved hiking the Punta Catedral trail for its breathtaking coastal views.

Insider tip: hire a guide at the entrance to enhance your wildlife spotting experience. Arrive early to avoid the heat and crowds, and bring plenty of water and snacks.

Uvita/Marino Ballena

24. Go Whale Watching in Marino Ballena National Park

Marino Ballena National Park is one of the best places for whale watching in Costa Rica. Humpback whales migrate here to breed and give birth, offering an incredible sight. I was thrilled to see these majestic creatures up close during a boat tour.

Insider tip: visit between July and October or December and April for the best chance of sightings. Bring binoculars and a camera with a good zoom lens.

Osa Peninsula

25. Explore the remote and biodiverse Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula is one of the most biodiverse places on Earth. The park is home to a staggering variety of wildlife, including jaguars, tapirs, and scarlet macaws. I felt like an explorer trekking through the dense jungle and spotting rare animals.

Insider tip: hire a knowledgeable guide to enhance your experience and ensure safety. The park is remote, so plan your trip carefully and bring all necessary supplies.

Cahuita/Puerto Viejo

26. Snorkel or Dive in Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park on the Caribbean coast offers excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities. The coral reefs are teeming with marine life, including colorful fish, rays, and turtles. I loved the vibrant underwater world and the clear, warm waters.

Insider tip: hire a local guide for the best spots and safety. The park also has beautiful hiking trails along the coast.

27. Spot Wildlife in Cahuita National Park

The park is also great for spotting wildlife on land, with trails that take you through dense jungle and along the coast. Monkeys, sloths, and a variety of birds are common sightings. I enjoyed a peaceful hike, with the sounds of nature all around me.

Insider tip: bring insect repellent and a good pair of binoculars. Early morning or late afternoon is the best time for wildlife viewing.

28. Explore the Town of Puerto Viejo

Puerto Viejo is a laid-back Caribbean town with a unique blend of Afro-Caribbean and Costa Rican culture. The town has a vibrant atmosphere with reggae music, delicious food, and friendly locals. I loved wandering the colorful streets and trying local dishes like rice and beans with coconut milk.

Insider tip: rent a bike to explore the area, including nearby beaches and the Jaguar Rescue Center.


29. Discover Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is known for its network of canals and abundant wildlife. Boat tours offer a chance to see monkeys, crocodiles, and a variety of birds. The park is also a crucial nesting site for sea turtles. I was mesmerized by the beauty of the canals and the richness of the ecosystem.

Insider tip: visit during turtle nesting season (July to October) for a chance to see turtles laying eggs or hatchlings making their way to the sea.

Rincon de la Vieja

30. Hike in Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja National Park is a geothermal wonderland with hot springs, bubbling mud pots, and fumaroles. The park also offers stunning hiking trails through diverse landscapes. I particularly enjoyed the Las Pailas trail, which showcases the park’s volcanic activity.

Insider tip: bring plenty of water, sunscreen, and a hat, as some trails can be hot and exposed. The park also has waterfalls where you can take a refreshing dip.

More Things to Do in Costa Rica Detailed Guides

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