Top 15 Things To Do In Costa Rica

When considering travel to foreign countries it’s especially useful to plan your routes and proximities to activities, attractions and excursions in advance.

With the many variables of ground transportation, and the added challenges of rugged travel conditions, it pays to do some research on the types and locations of excursions in and around the regions(s) you plan to visit.

Costa Rica is a perfect example of a country which has a plethora of tours and attractions. But to travel between the regions of the country can be an all-day event.

So for a typical 7-10 day stay it makes sense to choose 1 or 2 of the six regions of Costa Rica and zero in on the types of adventures and tours you would most like to experience in those regions.

With our list of 15 fun and exciting activities we’re sure you’ll find something that suites you.

Costa Rica Activities at a Glance:

SnorkelingHikingZiplining
Scuba DivingKayakingATV Tours
White Water RaftingPaddle BoardingECO Tours
Horse Back RidingSurfingRiver Tours
Sightseeing ToursDeep Sea FishingTransportation

Things to Do in Costa Rica

Snorkeling

Snorkeling Tours

Costa Rica is not well known as a snorkeling destination for a variety of reasons. That’s not to say you cant find some good spots depending on the time of year.

If you go expecting conditions like you might find in the Caribbean you may be disappointed.

The problem is the long rainy season will wash sediment from the rivers into the snorkeling areas. The wave action also tends to keep the water visibility poor and conditions rough.

As long as you don’t go there for snorkeling as your primary activity and have realistic expectations you can enjoy some good snorkeling tours.

The one area that is consistently good for snorkeling is Manzillo Beach which is on the Caribbean side on the country near Panama.

The reef in the region is considered by many to be the best in the country. Cahuita National Park has a protected coral reef near Limon that is also an excellent snorkeling spot.

If you want to go with the best chance for have excellent conditions, you should go during the months of September and October.

If you have access to a boat or a tour, another good destination is the island of Canos. It is far enough offshore that the mud from river runoffs does not cloudy the water in this area.

Scuba Diving

Scuba Diving Tours

Costa Rica is known for its adventure activities and its rainforests however there is plenty to see under the water as well. There are plenty of great dive sites for you to explore. The majority of good diving is found on the Pacific Coast around the islands that dot the area.

The west coast of Costa Rica has three main dive areas; Guancaste, Northern and Southern Puntarenas and this is where you will find the majority of diving. Here are some of the top areas for diving:

  • Cocos Island National Marine Park – This is pretty far and not a day trip, its just over 300 miles off the coast and a uninhabited island. It’s the remote nature of the island that makes it so good. Really the only way to dive the area is on a liveaboard. There are large concentrations of tropical fish and coral here.
  • Nicoya Peninsula – This is the northern area of the Guanacaste province and offers some great diving that can be reached by boat and there is plenty of shore diving as well
  • Cano Island – The island is not quite as good as the Coco Islands but it offers many similarities but a LOT closer. Its only about 13 miles of the coast and offers 80 feet of visibility as its far from the sediments from the river runoff.

Diving in Costa Rica can be done year round as there is little change in the water temperature between summer and winter. But if you are going to be diving closer to shore the rainy season will offer less visibility due to the river runoff.

Whitewater Rafting

Whitewater Rafting Tours

Costa Rica is known for many adventurous activities with whitewater rafting being near the top of the list of things to do. There is some of the best rafting in the world on Costa Rican rivers and not matter what your ability level you are sure to find a river to suite you.

There are rivers in Costa Rica for those seeking a leisurely float down a Class I river enjoying the scenery or an adventure junkie looking for a class V river.

If you make the journey to Costa Rica be sure you take a trip on one of its many rivers. No matter what region of the country you are in there is a river nearby for you to enjoy.

If you are looking for the best, meaning roughest and fastest water, June through September are the best times. The dry season of December to April are when the rivers are at their tamest.

Here are few of Costa Rica’s best rivers:

Pacuare River – This is probably Costa Rica’s best known river for whitewater rafting. Not only is it an exciting river to raft it is also has some of the best scenery in the country. It is surrounded by steep canyons and lush rainforest and dozens of waterfalls. Here you can feel one with nature, far away from the urban areas.

Corobici River – This a wide river that is home to class I to class III river rapids and is right in the center of the popular tourist destination of Guanacaste. Being one of the calmest rivers in Costa Rica it is ideal for families and people who have never rafted before. If you are a bird watcher, this is an ideal destination for you, there are over 250 species of tropical birds along the river.

Reventazon River – While many of rivers in Costa Rica tend to become calmer in the dry season the Reventazon maintains high water levels throughout the year. If you are looking for Class III to Class V river rapids the Reventazon is a good choice. Not quite as scenic as other rivers it still offers some views of Costa Rica rainforest along with a variety of birds.

Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding Tours

If you’re looking for things to do in Costa Rica, horseback riding should be on your list. Exploring the Costa Rican countryside is an excellent way to get around. You can experience the thick lush jungle or the drier tropical forests of Costa Rica in half-day tour on horseback.

Many of the tour operators offer horseback riding as part of combo tours where you can take a ride on a horse to a river rafting adventure or ATV tour. This allows you to enjoy the best of both worlds, a relaxing horseback ride combined with the adrenaline of an adventure activity.

No matter if, you have never been on a horse or an experienced rider there are ranches that can accommodate your needs. Costa Rica has a long history of horsemanship going all the way back to colonial times. This is an activity that should not be missed.

Kayaking

Kayaking Tours

As you might expect Costa Rica has some fantastic kayaking. There are many area of Costa Rica that can only be seen by kayak. If you have never been on a kayak you are in for a treat!

Kayaking is fun and easy. Where else can you kayak down a calm river and see monkeys, sloths and exotic birds?

Using a guide while kayaking is HIGHLY recommended because not only can you get a locals guide to what you are seeing they can point out many things that you would ordinarily miss if you went by yourself.

Not only will you see many things that you will miss, you will get a professionals explain about the plants and wildlife you will see making it much more interesting.

Not only that, many of the rivers are remote and you may get turned around and lost. Better to have someone with you that knows where they are going.

Paddle Boarding

Paddle Boarding or SUP is one of the fastest growing sports in the world. It’s easy to learn how to do and people of all abilities can do it. Paddle Boarding is thought to have been invented by the ancient Polynesians and has spread around the world.

Similar to surfing in that you stand up on a board but instead of riding a wave you propel yourself with a paddle. Although many people so surf with their paddle boards. As you might imagine, Costa Rica is a paradise for paddle boarding.

The water on Costa Rica’s Pacific and Atlantic shores is in the 80’s year round and makes for ideal conditions year round. Being such a popular sport it is easy to find plenty of places to rent paddle boards and get instruction if you are new to the sport.

Tamarindo, which is in Costa Rica’s Northwest Pacific coast region is one of the most popular destinations, especially for beginners because the water is calm and there are many bays that are protected from the wind making for calm waters year round.

There is no shortage of beautiful scenery to enjoy. If your up for something different, paddle boarding on Lake Arenal in the shadow of the volcano will be something you will not soon forget.

If you are experienced and want to try some surfing, the Southern Pacific coast  has some of the best waves in the world that is ideal for beginner to expert surfers.

Deep Sea Fishing

Deep Sea Fishing Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of the top deep sea fishing destinations in the world. It is famous for its trophy sized marlin, wahoo, yellowfin tuna and sailfish. Marlins are regularly caught 11 feet long and weighing over 400 pounds. Anyone who catches one of those will never forget it!

The three main regions known for the best sport deep sea fishing is the Central and South Pacific area from Jaco to Golfito and the Northern Pacific region which is from the Nicoya Peninsula to Nicaragua.

The Northern Caribbean coast from Parisminato Barra del Colorado is best known for its excellent tarpon fishing. The best fishing is normally in the winter from December to April but there is fishing year round.

Here are a few tips for booking a deep sea-fishing trip:

  • Keep in mind fishing is not cheap so don’t just book the cheapest trip you can find. While all boats may look similar, you will likely find there are large differences in price. There is usually a good reason for this however and the cheaper trip will likely not be worth the savings.
  • Don’t rely on just a website, you really need to go there in person and talk to the captain of the boat to make sure you know what your getting.
  • Talk to locals, they are going to know the best fishing boats and captains. They are going to know which are the best for catching the trophy-sized fish.

Ziplining

Ziplines Costa Rica

For many years the Costa Rican government has done two things well: protect the natural lands from over-deforestation and promote the tourism industry.

Because of the abundance of protected rainforest and the longtime tourist-friendliness of Costa Rica, it has become a haven for zipline operations and excursions. You will find them near every major tourist hub and even some in parts relatively unknown.

In general, you can expect zipline (or canopy tours) of Costa Rica to be physically non-strenuous. They are designed for people of nearly all ages and physical condition.  There may be a height minimum on some but for the most part children of about age 8 and up should be fine.

It is also safe to assume that the construction quality and capacity standards used to build ziplines in Costa Rica are good.  The municipalities inspect all zip lines before being put into use, and then annual inspections are required.

Ground crews will teach the proper techniques of ziplining and also help you to get fitted into the right harness and helmet. Ziplining is very safe activity and should be tried by everyone.  In addition to the thrill of flying on a wire, you’ll enjoy astounding views of the surrounding rainforest.

Eco Tourism

Eco Tourism

Ecotourism can be described as a form of tourism involving visiting natural, pristine, and relatively undisturbed places.

It is intended to be a way of enjoying and becoming educated about the area with low-impact to the plant, animal and other biological ecosystems found there.

It is chosen as an alternative to standard commercial tourism by those who have a more sincere and active interest in conserving the environment.

Ecotourism is intended to offer tourists insight into the impact of human beings on the environment, and to foster a greater appreciation of our natural habitats.

Ecotourism in Costa Rica is one of the key attractions for travelers from around the world. Since the 1980s a movement has activities of the tourism industry in the country.

By the early 1990s,Costa Rica became known as the default destination for ecotourism.  Today, Costa Rica is among many of the developing nations that look to ecotourism as a way of increasing visitors, and tourism revenues, from the growing demand for this popular trend of travel.

River Tours

River Tours Costa Rica

There are several distinct varieties of Boating Tours offered in Costa Rica. Depending on the region, salt vs. fresh water and type of boat there is something for everybody who loves to get on the water and experience nature.

In general, the coastal waters of the Pacific and Caribbean offer the most salt water boat tour operators.  These trips will often go offshore and visit small out-islands or clusters of mangrove.  These trips may include fishing,  snorkeling, kayaking and/or beach visits in calm coves.

The Pacific Coast is known for it’s plunging rocky shoreline and relatively rougher seas, while the Caribbean is a more relaxed and “swim-friendly” shoreline.  In either case the boat operators know the best spots to go and to experience the aquatic sealife on both coasts.

In the interior of the country there are significant-sized rivers for fishing and sightseeing.  Two such rivers with year round access are the Pecuare and Tortuguero.

These boat tours are typically offered for fresh water fishing, eco sightseeing tours, birdwatching and crocodile tours.

Transportation

Transportation around Costa Rica

For a relatively small country, Costa Rica can present some definite challenges for driving and ground transportation in general. In years past it was due to a lack of roads that were passable during rainy season.

Today, Costa Rica’s roads are much more complete and passable. Nonetheless, many factors including weather, construction zones and police checkpoints present travel inconsistencies that many U.S. drivers would do well to avoid.

An extensive network of private transportation has emerged as a solution to most of these challenges for ground travel.  Comfortable, safe and affordable transportation is available between nearly all major towns and tourism destinations.

Multi-passenger vans and micro-buses are very popular for small and large groups of travelers alike.  Drivers who are contracted with reputable transportation companies (like those represented on Outside Pursuits) are licensed, insured and trained to meet certain standards of skill and customer service.

Hiking

Hiking in Costa Rica

Hiking has become a favorite outdoor hobby in the U.S. for its obvious benefits: cardiovascular exercise, beautiful scenery and stress relief.

The types and levels of difficulty of hiking venues is as widely varied as the regions of the United States. Likewise, hiking in Costa Rica is a somewhat unique and special activity given the varied terrains and types of hiking there.

In general, you can expect that hiking in Costa Rica will be more clay-like trails with some gravel and tree roots to contend with as compared with dry, rocky and boulder-like terrain of the Western U.S.A.  Costa Rica experiences high rainfall almost year round in almost all of its regions.

Therefore the ground is likely to be moist and overgrown with vegetation unless hiking on cleared trails where drainage is ensured.  This wet characteristic makes for slippery surfaces and this should be considered in the selection of hiking shoes.

Trails and paths for hiking are plentiful wherever you go in Costa Rica.  Depending on the region you are visiting there may be self-guided trails and guide-led tours that are more treacherous.

Many will traverse river crossings and waterfalls. Because Costa Rica’s government has protected so much of the lands there is a plethora of birds, wildlife and tropical foliage to be expected on any hiking expedition.

Surfing

Surfing in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has long been a world-class destination for surfers.  Primarily the Pacific Coast with its popular surf towns like Tamarindo, Jaco and Dominical, Costa Rica attracts surfers of all ages and all skill levels year round.  It’s not only an excellent destination for experienced surfers, but for beginners and intermediate-level alike.

Surf schools with group lessons and dedicated instructors are plentiful on the Pacific coast.  You may even be interested in a weeklong surf camp where meals and lodging are provided.  These operations are an “immersive” experience in the sport where you will live among surfers and take in the culture of surfing 24×7.

If you are planning to learn to surf or heading to Costa Rica for vacation plan ahead for the surf spots you’ll visit and rental outfits for anything that you will need.

ATV Tours

ATV Tours

Riding ATV’s in Costa Rica is becoming more popular.  Despite the environmental impact that ATVs can have on the rain forest and nature, there are many designated trails and roads for great ATV touring.

Depending on the region and elevation that you’re riding at you will have a lot of diversity from which to choose when planning a trip.

Everything from sandy beach trails to high mountain trails with panoramic views are available in Costa Rica. Rental ATVs may provide a guide to get you to the more remote spots that require familiarity with the area.

When planning your trip to Costa Rica you may do well to reserve ahead for ATVs – especially during high season (Dec thru May).

With import tariffs the bikes are very expensive and operators can’t keep lot of inventory that goes unused.  Generally rentals will be newer and well-maintained.  Riding gear like helmets and traffic safety vests are provided with rentals.

Sightseeing Tours

Sightseeing Tours in Costa Rica

For those who prefer to take in the cultural, historical and educational aspects of Costa Rica there are many San Jose city tours, including a double-decker bus sightseeing tour.

You’ll discover the most important aspects of San Jose’s history and culture, as well as its architectural highlights. Tour guides in San Jose cater to American and Canadian visitors, so English is commonly spoken on these tours.

A popular destination for art and culture is the National Theater which was constructed in 1897.  National and international orchestral performances are scheduled there year round.

The building is considered the finest historic building in the capital city of San Jose.  It is known for its exquisite interior which includes lavish furnishings. The Gold Museum and the Jade Museum are also options for their artistic and cultural significance.

Costa Rican coffee plantation tours are another pleasant and informative tour option. Here, you’ll see the entire process from farming and cultivation, to roasting and packaging.  Café Britt, a best-known coffee company in Costa Rica has a ½ day plantation tour and tasting room.

Introduction to Costa Rica:

I hope this guide was helpful for finding things to do in Costa Rica to fit your needs. If you want to comment or recommend an activity I didn’t include, please use my contact form to get in touch.

Have fun and enjoy your trip!

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About El Tigre

Richard M. aka El Tigre is an avid adventure traveler with extensive trekking experience throughout Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean. In 1998 he weathered category 5 Hurricane Mitch on the northern coast of Honduras. He has mountain-biked, hiked and 4x4 toured extensively in Central America, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Mexico. In the summer of 2004 he lived among the Kuna Indians of the San Blas islands in Panama. Today, he manages a real estate investments company based in San Jose, Costa Rica and organizes adventure travel excursions to Costa Rica. He is a motorcycle enthusiast and enjoys sport touring and dual-sport riding. Richard lives in Arizona.