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Top 10 Best Things to Do in Costa Rica

Hiking or diving ? Waterfalls or beaches ? Wellness centers or fishing ?… In Costa Rica  there are plenty of things to do. Your stay here will be close to nature, revitalizing and unique. Are you ready ? Let’s show you the 10 best things to do in Costa Rica for a perfect holiday.

Sea-Based Activities

Costa Rica is located between 2 Oceans: The eastern part faces the Atlantic Ocean (Caribbean Sea) and the Western Part faces the Pacific Ocean. You can now understand why sea-based activities are famous and various in this country.

Best beaches for swimming

playa-samara-peninsule-nicoya-costa-ricaPlaya Samara

We cannot count the exact number of Heavenly beaches in Costa Rica. Moreover, landscapes never look the same and each beach is unique. The 3 best beaches to go for swimming are:

  • Playa Flamingo - North Pacific: This beach is ideal for a swim with your kids as currents are low. You can also go snorkeling or water skiing (so much fun). If you go to Playa Flamingo, you must stay here until the sunset. It is breathtaking ! Try to see the green light, this last ray of sun that becomes green for less than a second, right before the sun disappears behind the horizon line. 
  • Playa Samara - Nicoya Péninsula: Families like to meet up there during weekends for a picnic under a palm tree. In the evening you can even go horse riding on the beach, at sunset time… What else do you need ?
  • Punta Uva - Caribbean Coast: It is one of the most quiet beaches of Costa Rica and therefore the best for swimming, especially if you come with your children. What is it like ? Coconut trees, white sand, crystal clear water, mangrove… Perfect !

The Best Surf spots

Talking about Costa Rica without mentioning Surfing spots would be a bad mistake. If you are willing to surf for your entire stay in Costa Rica you will need to rent a car big enough to carry your surfing boards. Think about it ;-)
Here are the best surfing spots. Once you reach one of them, follow local people who love to share their culture. This is PURA VIDA.

Spots for Beginners

playa-tamarindo-spot-surf-costa-rica

You want to try surfing ? Let us show you some spots where waves are easy to catch. Perfect for learning.
Tamarindo Beach: Don’t go to the mouth of the river at the beach entrance, there are crocodiles. Anyway, you can’t miss the signs when you arrive.

  • Punta Morales – Jaco: Jaco is a very long beach with several surfing spots. Look for Punta Morales, perfect to learn how to catch a wave.
  • Avellanas – South of Tamarindo: See for yourself: the ocean with beautiful waves awaits you. Ideal for beginners. 

Spots for mid-level surfers

playa-avellanas-surf-costa-rica

The next 5 spots have beautiful waves really nice to surf on and not dangerous at all:

  • Playa Grande - North Pacific: 15 minutes away from Tamarindo by car (or by boat from Estero).
  • Playa Avellanas - North Pacific: 10.5 miles South from Tamarindo
  • Playa Guiones – Nosara: Nicoya Peninsula
  • Playa Jaco
  • Cocle - Caribbean Coast: Surfers often stay on the Pacific Coast. Cocle is therefore calmer than the other surfing spots.

Spots for high-level surfers

surf-high-level-costa-rica

  • Witches Rock – North Pacific: You will need 4x4 to go to this wonderful spot (3 to 4 hours drive from Tamarindo). The journey to get there is spectacular. Note that you will not find any shop in the area. Bring your own food and water. 
  • Santa Teresa: The entire village lives at the pace of surf, tide, and parties… We love it !
  • Pavones - South Pacific: Only 2 hours drive on Uvita Road. Pavones Beach is famous for its long waves
  • Playa Hermosa - Jaco: It is THE perfect surfing beach. Actually, there are quite often national and local surfing competitions.
  • Playa Dominical: Caution, waves can be strong
  • Salsa Brava - Caribbean Coast: Salsa Brava’s wave is very famous for being dangerous. Before you go there, be sure to be ready and check the weather before you leave.

This surfing website gives you the weather conditions for each surfing spot of the country. Otherwise you can download 2 apps: Magicsweed or Surfline.

Best spots for scuba diving / Snorkeling

In Costa Rica there are many natural reserves that protect an amazing wildlife. If snorkelling is a not to be missed activity, scuba diving is wonderful and you can be sure you will see big fishes like tunas, barracudas, rays, morays but also sea turtles and if you are lucky, Dolphins and white tip sharks. Our favorite spots are:

  • Isla Del Cano – South Pacific: It is on the Osa Peninsula. Diving there means swimming in clear water where the visibility is excellent. You will see giant corals (more than 13 feet high) growing on beautiful rocky fallings.
  • Santa Teresa – Nicoya Peninsula: in Santa Teresa, you might see with near certainty, manta rays, turtles and barracudas among many other fishes and corals. 

Fishing

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Costa Rica is one of the most famous countries in the world for fishing. Many big fishes come close to the coasts : Mackerels, pikes, groupers, jacks…

Most used fishing techniques are Jig fishing and  throw fishing. You can also see surfcasting which is basically fishing from the seaside, on foot.

Finally rivers and lakes are full of fish. It is the case of Lake Arenal. You will not be disappointed, we promise you !

When and Where to go fishing ?

  • From May to November: In Papagayo Bay (North Pacific)
  • From December to April: Bahia Drake and Golfito (South Pacific)

Which company to choose to go fishing ?

Many private companies offer full day excursions on different interesting spots 

  • Golfito and Puerto Jimenez - South Pacific
  • Manuel Antonio and Punta Leona - Center Pacific
  • Tambor Malpais: Nicoya Peninsula
  • Barra del Colorado: Caribbean Coast

Fishing in Costa Rica is mainly based on the “catch and release” principle, in order to preserve the species.

Whale watching

Every year, for several months, whales come close to the Costa Rica coast to give birth in warmer waters.

What kind of whales can we observe ?

You can see 3 different whale species in Costa Rica. They do not come exactly at the same time:

  • Humpback whale (Ballen Jorobada): From July to October
  • False killer whale: From November to April
  • Pilot Whale: From December to April

Where to observe whales ?

You have 2 options to observe whales. If you want to see them from the land here a 3 great spots:

  • Marino Ballena Park – South Pacific
  • Papagayo – North Pacific
  • National Parc of Corcovado and Drake Bay – South Pacific

Otherwise, if you want to see them from closer, companies offer to approach them by boat. Please, check before you choose one that they are CST certified: it is an eco-friendly label that makes you sure they respect rules to respect the mammals.

Land-Based Activities

Must-see volcanoes

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Acid Lake in Irazu Volcano Crater

They all are superbs. We chose 3 volcanoes you do not want to miss:

  • Arenal Volcano – North, 3 hours drive from San Jose: It is the youngest volcano in Costa Rica and a very famous symbol of the country. Its last eruption was in 2010. Reaching to the summit is forbidden for obvious security reasons. However, several hiking trails in the Volcano Arenal National Park are worth it.
  • Cerro Chato – North, 3 hours from San Jose: Cerro Chato is right next to Arenal Volcano. Smaller, shorter, it is at least as beautiful as its neighbor. The trail to go to the summit can be slippery if it rains (something common during rainy season). But once you are at the top of it, the wow effect is guaranteed. You will see the crater full of water. Beautiful !
  • Volcan Irazú South-West of San Jose, close to Cartago: Measuring 3432 meters high, Volcan Irazù is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica. It is located in the heart of Irazù Volcano National Park between San José and Cartago. Some hiking companies take you to the summit where you can admire the acid lake in the crater. It is easily accessible for reduced mobility persons from the parking lot. On your way back, have a stop in Cartago to visit the city and its beautiful Basilica.
    Our piece of advice: Try to go there as early in the morning as possible before the clouds get stuck at the summit. Also, think about bringing a jacket, it is cold up there.

The best hiking trails

mount-chirripo-peak-costa-rica

Mount Chirripo

Many people go to Costa Rica only for hiking. There are hundreds of nice trails and they are all amazing. We selected 3 hiking trails for you:

  • Monteverde – North, 3 hours drive from San Jose: Once you arrive in Monteverde Reserve, you can either go hiking or go horse riding. In any case, it will be gorgeous. But that’s not all… People know Monteverde for its zip lines, hanging bridges and accrobranche. Monteverde is a cloudy and humid forest with a peaceful atmosphere. Don’t forget to bring good trail shoes, an waterproof jacket and changing clothes.
  • Mont Chirripo – South, 3 hours from San Jose: Reaching the highest point of Costa Rica (3820 meters) is not an easy task. But it is definitely worth it ! If you want to go up there, you need to be physically and mentally prepared. At the top of the mountain, you will enjoy a 360° panoramic view.
  • Osa Peninsula – South Pacific: You want to go to Corcovado National Park. Be aware that you can only visit this park with a local ranger. This hiking is for adventurers. There, you will see: monkeys, sloths, parrots and toucans. You might also see jaguars and pumas (but it is rare). Your guide will show them to you, do not worry.

Waterfalls & Rivers

Costa Rica offers wonderful waterfalls. Let us show you our 3 favorites. It was hard to pick !

  • Rio Celeste – North San Jose: Rio Celeste is located in Tenorio Volcano National Park. It is well known for its unique blue color due to volcanic minerals. A 3-hours hike is necessary to reach this beauty of nature.
  • Nauyaca Waterfalls – South Pacific: They are often considered as the most beautiful waterfalls of the country. Let us picture you the scenery : Tropical forest, 262-feet large canyon, Barucito river and right in the middle of that, 2 wonderful waterfalls you can reach either by walking, horse riding or with a 4wd.
  • Del Toro Waterfall - Volcano Area, North San Jose: this beautiful waterfall is a natural wonder. 590 feet high can you imagine ? Plus, it is in the heart of an old volcano crater… You will love it, for sure ! you can even go down the waterfall rappelling… Will you dare ? 

Tortuguero Natural Reserve

tortuguero-island-costa-rica

Credit: Etienne Delorieux

Tortuguero Natural Reserve is located in the North East of the Caribbean Coast location. You can only access it by boat from Guapiles or by plane. Tortuguero it’s 35 km of beaches and dense vegetation. That is why Tortuguero is also named the Little Amazon. Be aware, the ocean at tortuguero is dangerous, swimming is prohibited. Anyway you do not visit Tortuguero for swimming. You go there to observe the Turtle nesting activity. You will also see more than 300 bird species, 60 amphibians and as many mammals.

Do not forget to visit Tortuguero Village before you discover local fauna and flora in a magical place and out of time. This is a list of what you can do in the Reserve. Note that you need to book your activity in advance:

  • Canoe trip
  • Walking (with or without a guide) in the Park
  • Observe Turtle nesting activity (Green turtle, Loggerhead, LeatherbackTurtle)
  • Night hike in the park to see frogs
  • Ascent of Cerro of Tortuguero

Wellness, a religion in Costa Rica

Tired of your everyday working routine ? You will love doing a wellness trip in Costa Rica. Nature is in the center of everything. Wellness is the most important thing for People in Costa Rica.

Beach Yoga or Paddle Board Yoga

Let’s start with activities in nature. Yoga is very popular in Costa Rica. You will find many classes on the beach at sunrise or sunset for a great relaxing time. Bikram, Hatha, Vinyasa, Ashtanga or Iygengar, none of them are missing.

Nicoya Peninsula is very attractive for Yoga as is Dominical and Uvita. On the beach or in a hotel, there are many classes for all levels. Some even offer yoga classes on Paddle Board… you will find them in the area of Laguna Rio Cuarto (Sarapiqui). No need to be an expert in yoga or have a great balance to do it. Everyone is welcome.

Relaxing and Wellness Center

There are plenty of spas and therapy centers in Costa Rica. They offer care, treatments, massages, baths, yoga classes… We leave the choixe to you. Those centers use only what nature has to offer: mud, thermal water, medicine plants oils, etc. One thing for sure, you will leave the place relaxed, happy and with a soft skin ;-)
We advise you to go relax in the warm waters of Arenal Volcano. 

2 options: Go to Tabacon Hot Spring and its 17 baths. You will have to pay to get in. The second option is free. Outside of the Tabacon Hot Spring, the river continues and you can stay in it, for free.

Chamans

If you are looking for a spiritual experience or a retreat, you are at the right place. Chamans are everywhere and easy to reach in Costa Rica. The Bribri, an indigenos ethnia, organize touristic experiences. You will easily find travel companies specialized in this kind of holidays.

Costa Rica offers a lot of various activities. You can mix them up, go hiking, then rest for a while on a wonderful beach and relax your muscles in a spa after a good surfing session. That is what we call perfect, ideal, resourcing holidays !