Ready to find your Pura Vida? Costa Rica’s slogan means “pure life,” and beckons all who visit to make time for whatever makes them happiest. For some, it’s the thrill of a volcano zip line, for others, a calming beach. The only way to find yours is to try out all of the best things to do in Costa Rica.
Best Things to Do in Costa Rica
Taste Coffee and Chocolate at Plantations
You can’t leave Costa Rica without experiencing its two most famous and delicious exports: coffee and chocolate. Costa Rica’s government allows only high-quality Arabica beans to grow on coffee plantations, meaning you should get yourself to a cupping session (read: coffee tasting) to taste this famous export and learn all about coffee growing, roasting, and brewing.
And those with a sweet tooth are in luck: Costa Rican cocoa beans yield rich chocolate all over the country, from famed Cafe Britt‘s gourmet coffee/chocolate tours near San Jose to rural marketplace cubiertos—chocolate-covered nuts and coffee beans sold by the sack for just a few American dollars.
Hike a Volcano
Costa Rica is home to six active volcanoes, a few of which are safe enough to be widely popular for hikes. Trek to Poas Volcano’s steaming blue crater pool, visible from a lookout point at its namesake national park; or explore Arenal Volcano’s biodiverse foothills formed by lava flows. The most accessible volcano, Irazu, is ringed in a cloud forest that’s accessible by car–it’s also the most visited national park in Costa Rica.
Visit a Market or Farm
Eating and shopping at a local farm or marketplace is one of the coolest things to do in Costa Rica thanks to the country’s dedication to ecotourism. You’ll come away with more than just souvenirs, thanks to educational experiences at farms like Corso Lecheria and friendly vendors at San Jose’s Central Market. Taste fruit you’ve never seen (let alone tasted) at markets—don’t miss the chance to try cas, mamon, soursop, and water apple, or to simply stock up on fresh bananas, papayas, and mangos.
Corso Lecheria in Heredia offers immersive educational experiences, and will tote you around the property by tractor to milk cows, explore a cloud forest, pet farm animals like bunnies and calves, and taste fresh organic cheeses, strawberry juice, and homemade tacos and soups—all made from on-site ingredients and by locals.
Action-packed Costa Rica has plenty of idyllic beaches to lounge on, but adventurous locals and visitors prefer surfing. Hermosa Beach on the nation’s Caribbean coast is off the beaten path and a favorite for its curling waves and soft sand. If you’re not looking to hang ten, opt for sea kayaking, beach horseback rides, or simply lounging on the sand and watching surfers instead.
Explore a Cloud Forest
If the word “Costa Rica” doesn’t evoke images of a fog-shrouded rainforest, let us introduce you to Costa Rica’s most famous ecosystem: the cloud forest. What makes a cloud forest unique is its elevation and humidity, which team up to create a low cloud cover. The Monteverde region is a famously diverse cloud forest frequented by visitors who want to zip-line, bird watch, explore Instagram-worthy canopy footbridges, and look for wildlife like jaguars, ocelots, and even the occasional slow-moving sloth.
Chase Waterfalls and Hot Springs
Not a beach person? Costa Rica is rife with waterfalls and hot springs. Arenal Volcano’s La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica for a reason—this visitor-favorite offers an easy hiking path to a massive blue pool at the base of chaotic, 270-foot falls. About 90 minutes outside San Jose, Bajos del Toro cloud forest is home to a 300-foot waterfall accessible by foot—but rather than swim, you can get up close and personal on a foot path to get soaked by the falls’ mist.
Also at Arenal Volcano is Eco Termales hot spring, fed by volcanic mineral water. Its four pools are family-friendly and allow a maximum crowd of 100 visitors, so you won’t be overcrowded in your quest to relax in Arenal’s natural springs.
Known for its ecotourism, Costa Rica has plenty of sustainable hotels and eco-lodges that require you to unplug from civilization and revel in Pura Vida. The Pacuare Lodge, perched in the remote Central Valley, is as luxe as it is unplugged. Swap electricity and Wi-Fi for a personal open-air villa complete with an infinity pool, deck, hammock, and claw-foot tub. The lodge also boasts some of the best things to do in Costa Rica: zip lines, waterfalls you can swim in, and authentic home-cooked food (dinner is by candlelight only, of course).
Zip-Line or White-Water Raft
Rumor has it zip-lining was invented in Costa Rica by nature researchers, but regardless of how the adventure activity got its start, it’s now one of the most popular and best things to do in Costa Rica. Experience jungles and cloud forests from above by soaring between platform perches in cloud-nestled Monteverde, remote Central Valley provinces along the Pacuare River, or even through the forests and waterfalls around Arenal Volcano. There are plenty of ecosystems to experience via zip-line, and if you’re lucky you could spot a monkey or sloth along the way.
For a water-adventure equivalent, white-water rafting is also one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica. The Pacuare River is a favorite rafting spot for its proximity to eco-lodges and stops at waterfalls and swimming holes along the way. Suit up and row your way through class four rapids in between sandy coves and rocky ledges where you can jump into the river’s calmer spots. The Pacuare Lodge staff leads guests on white water rafting expeditions often—rafting is the easiest way to get to and from the property.
Indulge in Spa Treatments
It’s easy to get caught up in all the adrenaline-pumping things to do in Costa Rica, so make time to slow down for natural and affordable spa treatments as a relaxing counter activity. Chocolate, coffee, and volcanic mud treatments are popular at eco-lodges and hotels, and are used in spa treatments like massages, body wraps, and facials. Most hotels have a menu of indulgent services that start at surprisingly affordable prices—the benefit of a strong U.S. dollar in Central America. Try the spa at Finca Rosa Blanca inn and coffee plantation in Heredia for a multi-treatment session featuring a coffee and chocolate scrub that’s followed by a chocolate or coffee-based cocktail. It might be just what you need after a long day of adventure activities.
Break for Museums and Shows
Costa Rica’s forests are full of bucket-list activities and exceptional nature, but the bustling capital city of San Jose is worth a visit as well. The historic National Theater of Costa Rica has been a landmark in San Jose since the 19th century, and hosts performances several times a week. It can also be visited on a historical tour for a closer look at the frescoes and gilded ceilings that make up the most beloved building in San Jose.
San Jose is an arts and culture hub, featuring the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, the Costa Rican National Museum, and unique institutions like the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, and the Jade Museum. There’s also a Peace Museum—Costa Rica is known for its pacifist ideology, which may be why its locals make it so easy to relax and indulge in Pura Vida.
More from SmarterTravel:
- 10 Best Places to Go in Costa Rica
- Best Family Vacation Destinations
- 8 Ways to See Wildlife Responsibly When You Travel
Associate Editor Shannon McMahon visited Costa Rica courtesy of Visit Costa Rica. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram.
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