Things to do in Costa Rica

Costa Rica’s top sights

Forget Mesoamerican ruins. Forget Spanish colonial history. Everyone knows you come to Costa Rica for its colourful wildlife.

  1. Trek in Parque Nacional Corcovado
  2. See a show at the Teatro Nacional
  3. Go turtle watching
  4. Climb Volcán Arenal
  5. Make for some off-the-beaten-track reserves
  6. Discover the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum
  7. Get some white-water thrills
  8. Hit the beach
  9. Explore the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio
  10. Go loco about coffee
  11. Stay at an ecolodge
  12. Ride the surf
  13. Visit the Basílica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles

Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse areas on the planet. Its habitats range from lush rainforests and untouched beaches to steaming volcanoes and dense mangrove swamps. We challenge you not to fall for the country’s poster boys - think lovable sloths and tiny frogs, brightly plumed macaws and toucans - but the range of things to do in Costa Rica doesn’t end with its wildlife. Jungle treks? Check. River rafting? Check. Oh, and did we mention drinking more coffee than is probably good for you?

In collaboration with
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1. Trek in Parque Nacional Corcovado

There’s more to Costa Rica than its wildlife, but it’s a good place to start. Straddling the Osa Peninsula in the far south of the country, this biologically rich, coastal rainforest is one of Costa Rica’s finest destinations for walking and wildlife spotting. The park’s heartthrobs include margay, ocelot, tapir and puma.

Best for: Superlative wildlife viewing

Did you know?: Corcovado literally means ‘hunchback’ - serious hiking here is not for the faint-hearted.

2. See a show at the Teatro Nacional

We hope you packed something fancier than your hiking boots. Put on your finery and make for a show at Central America’s grandest theatre - the National Theater of Costa Rica - extravagantly done out in gold and marble and built in imitation of the Palais Garnier in Paris.

Best for: Serious showmanship

Did you know?: The theatre was built from funds raised by levying a tax on every bag of coffee Costa Rica exported.

3. Go turtle watching

Thousands of turtles - leatherback, hawksbill, olive ridley and green - come ashore to lay their eggs in Costa Rica each year. Recognise the spectacle from a nature doc? Most likely, but nothing can prepare you for the real deal. Join a midnight tour and - if you’re lucky - watch their hatchlings’ perilous journey back to sea.

Best for: A magical moonlight moment

Did you know?: Turtles have been laying their eggs on Costa Rica’s shores for literally millions of years.

4. Climb Volcán Arenal

The lava may have stopped spewing, but Arenal is still a magnificent site. The surrounding area is one giant adventure playground - soak in volcanic hot springs, zipwire through the forest canopy or sign up for any number of other outdoor activities.

Best for: High-adrenaline thrills

Did you know?: Arenal’s most recent eruption was on July 29, 1968.

5. Make for some off-the-beaten-track reserves

No one wants to see more selfie sticks than sloths. The most famous national parks can get crowded in peak season, so it pays to get off the beaten track. Try Parque Nacional Juan Castro Blanco, take a multiday hike in the Bosque Eterno de los Niños or visit Parque Nacional Los Quetzales, home of the iconic resplendent quetzal.

Best for: Wildlife spotting in peace

Did you know?: The Parque Nacional Los Quetzales is known for its stunning green and red namesake bird.

6. Discover the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum

If you’re more culture vulture than animal lover, visiting the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum in San José is among the best things to do in Costa Rica. Among the country’s top museums, its dazzling display features more than 1500 pre-Columbian gold pieces. Midas, eat your heart out.

Best for: Surveying Costa Rica’s golden touch

Did you know?: Little is known of the prehistory of the Diquís, who were responsible for most of the goldwork on display here.

7. Get some white-water thrills

There’s no shortage of white water in Costa Rica. In fact, you’ll find some of the best rapids south of Colorado here, making whitewater rafting among the country’s most exciting outdoor activities - whether you’re floating down the Peñas Blancas or riding Class-V rapids on the Pacuare. Rafters rate their rivers from Class I (easiest) to Class V (pretty hard).

Best for: White water and white knuckles

Did you know?: Don't venture onto Class V rapids unless you know what you’re doing.

8. Hit the beach

There’s no use trying to tan with someone blocking your shade. It’s no use going for a relaxed swim next to shrieking kids. For some peace at the beach, head for the gorgeous sands of Playa Junquillal in Guanacaste and Uvita’s Playa Hermosa on the southern Pacific coast.

Best for: Escaping the crowds

Did you know?: Playa Junquillal is a surfer’s paradise

9. Explore the Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio

Spotting some friendly sloths and other wildlife is - binoculars down - one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. The perennially popular Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio boasts white-sand beaches, tropical forests full of sloths and monkeys, and stunning coastal scenery peppered with striking rock formations.

Best for: Wildlife lovers of all persuasions

Did you know?: Manuel Antonio is actually the smallest of all Costa Rica’s national parks.

10. Go loco about coffee

San José’s traditional cafés are wonderfully atmospheric places for people watching and sampling Costa Rican coffee. Some of the coffee in Costa Rica is pre-sweetened, so if you ask for it with sugar (con azúcar) you’ll get a saccharine shock.

Best for: Caffeine fiends

Did you know?: It’s actually illegal in Costa Rica to produce coffee that isn’t 100% Arabica - no wonder it tastes so good.

11. Stay at an ecolodge

Live the good life all day and sleep the same way by night. There can be few more gratifying ways to spend your holiday than by lushing it up in a luxury lodge in the middle of the rainforest, safe in the knowledge that your money is going to a worthy cause.

Looking for an ecolodge to call your own? Search Costa Rica holidays and get started. 

Best for: Sleeping in style

Did you know?: Costa Rica has some of the best ecolodges in the Americas.

12. Ride the surf

Boasting nearly 1300km of palm-friend coastline and a variety of beach breaks, reef breaks, long lefts and river mouths, Costa Rica has a wave for just about every surfer out there.

Best for: Surfer dudes and chicks of all abilities

Did you know?: The surf is up on both Costa Rican coastlines - you can surf all year round on the Pacific.

13. Visit the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles

Still wondering what to do in Costa Rica? Step away from the sloths and marvel at some architecture, instead. In a country not necessarily known for its architectural heritage, Cartago’s showpiece church is a stunner, with a gilded interior to match.

Best for: Architecture aficionados

Did you know?: The basilica was rebuilt in decorative Byzantine style after an earthquake struck the original in 1926.

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