25 unique things to do in Costa Rica on your first visit (2024)

If you’re looking for a unique experience, Costa Rica has some wonderful things to do and places to see.

And if you twist my arm right here, the top 3 things to do in Costa Rica on your first visit should be to:

  1. Explore La Fortuna to see an active volcano, jungle, and waterfall!
  2. Walk the hanging bridges in Monteverde – an evergreen cloud forest
  3. Join a Coffee Tour to taste the world-class Costa Rican coffee.

Now, let’s get to the fun part and take a look at the best things to do in Costa Rica.

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Best time to visit Costa Rica

The best time to visit Costa Rica is from December to April when the weather is dry and bright.

Temperatures usually range from 74°F to 79°F high, and 59°F to 63°F low.

Consider May to June or November too, for quieter parks and a glimpse of seasonal shifts. You should avoid September and October due to heavy rains.

Read next: The best and worst time to visit Costa Rica

things to do in Costa Rica - 35

Best things to do in Costa Rica

1. Explore Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano is the most iconic volcano in Costa Rica.

It’s over 5,000 feet high and has that classic volcano shape.

What’s more, it’s still active (just sleeping), so you can hike through the old lava beds for some cool views of the volcano and Lake Arenal. The trails are pretty easy and not too long.

If you’re in La Fortuna, you should definitely check it out.

Book here – Full day Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall and Hotsprings

things to do in Costa Rica - Arenal Volcano

2. Relax in Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Hot Springs is a beautiful place with natural hot pools and waterfalls, set in a lush rainforest.

The thermal pools are heated by the Arenal volcano with temperatures ranging from 72 to 105 F.

You can get a volcanic mud wrap and massage at the spa, and continue to the restaurant once you’re done.

Book here – 4-in-1 Hanging Bridges, Waterfall, Volcano, Tabacon Hot Springs

things to do in Costa Rica - Tabacon Hot Springs

3. Walk the hanging bridges in Monteverde

Monteverde Cloud Forest is one of the best places in Costa Rica!

This unique ecosystem offers a lot of fun adventures, including hanging bridges.

Walking them, you get to see the cloud forest from up high. It’s pretty cool – you see lots of green and might spot some wildlife.

Book a day tour from San Jose: Monteverde Sky Tram & Hanging Bridges

Selvatura Park Monteverde

4. Surfing in Tamarindo

Tamarindo is a prime spot for surfing.

It’s perfect for all levels, with consistent waves and many surf schools for beginners.

The place has a chilled-out vibe and a cool beach scene. If you’re into surfing, Tamarindo is worth checking out.

Book here – The BEST Surf Lessons in Tamarindo

Playa Tamarindo

5. Visit Tortuguero National Park

Tortuguero National Park is known as the “Amazon of Costa Rica” because of its rainforest canals and famous turtle nesting.

The cool part?

You can only get there by boat, so it’s a real adventure. If you’re up for something different, Tortuguero is the place to go.

Book here – The best of Tortuguero: Canoe, hike and night tour (turtle in Jul-Oct)

things to do in Costa Rica - Tortuguero National Park

6. Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park

Cahuita National Park is located on the Caribbean coast. It’s not huge but packs a punch with its coral reefs and wildlife.

It’s a great spot for snorkeling and seeing all sorts of sea life. Plus, the jungle trails give you a chance to spot monkeys and other critters.

Book here – Private Snorkeling in Cahuita National Park

things to do in Costa Rica - Cahuita National Park

7. Hiking in Corcovado National Park

Corcovado National Park, down in Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, is a great place for hikers. It’s one of the most biodiverse spots on the planet.

You’ve got everything from beaches to rainforests.

Hiking here, you might see all sorts of wildlife, like monkeys and even jaguars if you’re really lucky.

things to do in Costa Rica - Hiking in Corcovado National Park

8. Rafting on the Pacuare River

Rafting is world-class in Costa Rica! Especially on the Balsa River and Pacuare River, which are known for the rapids and rainforest scenery.

The river stretches for about 108 kilometers, so you’ll get a mix of intense rapids and calmer stretches.

If you’re into white water rafting and want to see some incredible nature, Balsa and Pacuare is where it’s at.

Book here – White Water Rafting Pacuare River Full Day Tour From San Jose

things to do in Costa Rica - Rafting on the Pacuare River

9. Coffee Tour in the Central Valley

Costa Rica is known worldwide for its quality coffee.

It’s the only country in the world where it’s illegal to grow anything but 100% Arabica beans – the best kind.

So – if you love coffee, you should consider taking a coffee tour.

The Central Valley (around the capital city of San José) is the heart of coffee country, where you can learn how coffee is made, from bean to cup.

The scenery is great, with coffee plants all around. Plus, you get to taste some of the best coffee in the world.

Book here – Craft Specialty Coffee and Chocolate Tour

things to do in Costa Rica - Coffee Tour in the Central Valley

10. Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is the smallest national park in Costa Rica but one of the most popular. And one of the best things to do there is a sunset catamaran cruise.

You get on a boat, sail along the coast, and watch the sunset over the ocean. It’s pretty relaxing, and sometimes you can see dolphins or whales!

things to do in Costa Rica - Sunset Catamaran Cruise in Manuel Antonio

11. Bird watching in San Gerardo de Dota

San Gerardo de Dota is a hotspot for bird watching. It’s especially famous for spotting the colorful quetzal, which you can also find in Monteverde Cloud Forest.

The place is quiet, nestled in a valley, and perfect for nature lovers.

You either hire a guide or just walk around, look up, and there you have birds you don’t see every day.

Monteverde Cloud Forest
Here it is – the famous Quetzal

12. Try ziplining in Monteverde

Imagine soaring above a cloud forest, seeing everything from a bird’s-eye view. That’s ziplining in Monteverde for you!

The place is known for its long and fast zip lines. Plus, the views are unique!

Book here – Zipline, Superman, and Mega Tarzan Tour in Monteverde

things to do in Costa Rica - Zip lining

13. Spot wildlife

Costa Rica is a paradise for animal lovers, home to about 4% of the world’s biodiversity. You can find exotic birds, monkeys, sloths, and much more in their natural habitats. Here are the ones to look for:

  • Humpback Whales: Best seen in Uvita; they’re common due to Costa Rica’s long humpback whale season​​.
  • Dolphins: Spotted and bottlenose dolphins are often seen on catamaran or sailing cruises, especially in coastal areas like Manuel Antonio and Tortuguero​​.
  • Turtles: Key nesting sites for various species, including leatherback and Olive Ridley turtles, are found on the coasts, particularly in Tortuguero​​.
  • Sloths: Though challenging to spot, sloths are found in rainforest areas like Manuel Antonio and Monteverde​​.
  • Monkeys: Four species, including the White-faced Capuchin and Howler monkeys, are mostly found in places like Corcovado National Park and the Osa Peninsula​​.
things to do in Costa Rica - Humpback Whales

14. Relax on Conchal Beach

Conchal Beach is often ranked as one of Costa Rica’s most beautiful beaches, and it’s easy to see why.

The water is super clear and the beach isn’t your usual sand – it’s made up of tiny, soft, sparkling white shells, which is pretty unique.

There are no facilities here, though, so bring food/water and wear your swimsuit if you want to swim.

things to do in Costa Rica - Conchal Beach

15. Kayaking in Damas Island, Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio is known for its rainforest and mangrove settings, which makes it perfect for kayaking when you want to explore.

You just paddle through these mangroves, and you’ll see birds, monkeys, and possibly other tropical animals.

The water is calm, so it’s easy even if you’re new to kayaking.

Book here – Mangrove Kayak Tour

things to do in Costa Rica - Damas island mangrove

16. Visit the Sloth Sanctuary: Aviarios del Caribe

Aviarios del Caribe is a sloth sanctuary where they study, protect, and help these little guys.

They’ve been around since 1992, starting with Buttercup, the first sloth they cared for. They’ve got a learning center and even a sloth adoption program.

It’s just 35 kilometers south of Limon, near Cahuita National Park. A tour costs $25.

things to do in Costa Rica - Sloth Sanctuary

17. Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall

La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most popular waterfalls in Costa Rica.

It’s in the rainforest, and you get to it by walking down a big outdoor staircase. There are spots to rest and take in the view.

The path ends at the waterfall, perfect for photos, and you can swim at the base.

Book here – Full day Arenal Volcano, La Fortuna Waterfall and Hotsprings

things to do in Costa Rica - La Fortuna Waterfall

18. Visit the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in San José

In the capital San José, you’ll find the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum.

It’s run by Costa Rica’s Central Bank in a historic building and has one of the largest collections of gold artifacts in Latin America.

With over 1,600 items like Costa Rica’s first coin, handmade ceramics, jewelry, and religious icons from 500 to 1500 AD, it’s packed with history.

Book here – San Jose Walking Food Tour and visit Gold Museum

19. Stay at an Eco-lodge

Costa Rica is home to many award-winning and luxurious eco-lodges.

They’re nestled among hot springs, rainforests, and quiet coastal areas, giving you a great chance to get up close with Costa Rica’s plants and animals.

3 of the best eco-lodges

things to do in Costa Rica - Eco lodge

20. Parque Francisco Alvarado

Zarcero’s Parque Francisco Alvarado is one of the most unique things to do in Costa Rica.

Since the 1960s, Evangelista Blanco has turned its shrubs into amazing art. Think playful shapes, jolly figures, and even a Jesus bush.

The highlight?

Rows of green arches form natural tunnels. It’s right by a grand church, but this park’s creativity stands out.

things to do in Costa Rica - Parque Francisco Alvarado

21. Horseback riding in Nosara

Nosara, in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste region, is perfect for horseback riding.

You get to ride through jungles and along beaches, seeing the place differently. It’s good for any level of rider.

Book here – Private Sunset Horseback Riding in Nosara

things to do in Costa Rica - Nosara

22. Bask in the beauty of Rio Celeste

Río Celeste (“sky-blue river” in English) is a popular sight in La Fortuna.

The highlight is the powerful Rio Celeste Waterfall that plunges 98 feet into a beautiful blue pool, surrounded by dense tropical forest. 

Getting there on your own can be a bit tough without a rental car, so taking a tour is a good idea.

Book here – Rio Celeste Hiking, Sloth Sanctuary & Llanos de Cortes Waterfall

things to do in Costa Rica - Rio Celeste

23. Take a Chocolate Tour

Like coffee, cacao thrives here thanks to the ideal tropical climate.

On this tour of a family-owned farm near La Fortuna, you’ll dive into Costa Rica’s world of coffee, sugarcane, and chocolate.

These are the country’s big exports, and you’ll see how coffee goes from bean to cup and then get to taste these and other crops with a guide.

Book here – Craft Specialty Coffee and Chocolate Tour

things to do in Costa Rica - Chocolate Tour

24. Visit one of the black beaches

Black sand beaches in Costa Rica are unique, with their dark sand coming from eroded volcanoes. They’re a must-see for their rare beauty.

Here’s where you can find them:

  • Playa Negra, Guanacaste: Known for surfing, less crowded, near Tamarindo​​.
  • Playa Carbon: Close to Tamarindo, part of Las Baulas National Marine Park​​.
  • Playa Hermosa, Central Pacific Coast: South of Jaco, good for surfing, great sunsets​​.
  • Playa Pavones: Off-grid, southern Costa Rica, known for surfing and wildlife​​.
  • Playa Negra, Southern Pacific Coast: Near Cahuita National Park, good for swimming and beginner surfers​​.
things to do in Costa Rica - Playa Negra

25. Experience Pura Vida in local villages

Pura Vida is a popular phrase in Costa Rica that means “pure life” or “simple life”. It’s a way of having a laid-back, happy attitude towards life.

You’ll get the feel of Pura Vida in Costa Rica’s local villages.

Here, you can enjoy home-cooked meals, meet welcoming locals, and soak in the genuine culture. It’s about simplicity and warmth.

FAQ – Best things to do in Costa Rica

What is the number one thing to do in Costa Rica?

If you’re going to Costa Rica, you’ve got to check out its rainforests. Hiking through these lush jungles is a standout experience.

You’ll see incredible wildlife, waterfalls, and maybe even a volcano. It’s the real deal for nature lovers.

Where is the best place to go in Costa Rica for the first time?

For your first trip to Costa Rica, visit Manuel Antonio National Park and Arenal Volcano.

Manuel Antonio has pretty beaches and wildlife. Arenal has an iconic volcano and hot springs. Both are solid choices to see what Costa Rica’s all about.

What is the most beautiful part of Costa Rica?

The most beautiful part of Costa Rica is Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Its unique cloud-covered rainforest offers stunning biodiversity and surreal landscapes.

Is Costa Rica an expensive trip?

Compared to other Central American spots like Nicaragua or El Salvador, Costa Rica’s a bit pricier. It’s more developed and popular with tourists, so yeah, you’ll spend more here.

You can still manage costs with simpler stays and activities, but overall, it’s not your cheapest option in the region.

Read my post about how much it costs to visit Costa Rica for more details.

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Discover the ultimate Costa Rica itinerary with this curated list of the best things to do in Costa Rica. From exploring lush rainforests and stunning beaches to experiencing the rich culture and adventure activities, this guide covers all the must-try Costa Rica activities for your next trip. #CostaRicaTravel #AdventureAwaits #PuraVidaLife

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