Things to do in Costa Rica

Get Your Bearings in Costa Rica

By Sophia LaMonica
Costa Rica Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

Costa Rica's two exquisite coasts have ideal beaches for swimming, coral reef for snorkeling and world-class surf spots, but it's the country's lush greenery and abundant wildlife that capture the hearts of those who experience it up close. With so many natural attractions among the things to see and do, it can be hard to choose between national parks, volcanoes, waterfalls and white-water rafting. On the Caribbean, make organic chocolate on a small cacao farm and watch the sunset over the surf at Salsa Brava.

Avoid:

Traffic on the main highways can be a major headache on holidays.

Take It or Leave It:

Avoid mass-produced souvenirs and buy sustainably-made gifts instead.

Hot Tips:

Howler monkeys, toucans and sloths are among Costa Rica's wildlife most active in the early morning.

Where to Stay

Costa Rica's lodging options are spread across the country, offering distinctive perspectives of Costa Rica's extraordinary natural attractions. Your hotel is your home base for exploring. In a day, you can surf, swim, snorkel, tour an  organic coffee and cacao farm, hike to a waterfalls, sip craft beer, and feast on the freshest ingredients for breakfast lunch and dinner.

Hot Tips:

Make reservations, and inquire about green season discounts, which vary from region to region.

What to Eat

Costa Rica's best restaurants are where we get to really taste the flavors that grow from the heart of this fertile country, with just the right amount of the chef's magic worked on them.  Organic superfruits fruits like the mamonchino, carambola, and pegibaje make their way onto menus as often as the ubiquitous mangos, papayas, pineapples and bananas. Arabica coffee complements a Costa Rican breakfast of gallo pinto, and goodies made with criollo cacao on the Caribbean coast are must haves for chocoholics. 

Avoid:

Huevos de tortuga. Eggs of the Turtle. They're illegally sold as an endangered delicacy, don't buy them.

Hot Tips:

Try a "casado" at a roadside "soda" for lunch, and taste really fresh ceviche by the sea

Be Sure to Sample:

"Gallo pinto" with breakfast.

Places to Party

The most vibrant nightlife in Costa Rica may be found in dance clubs and discotheques that pulsate into the wee hours with Latin, reggae, and house music soundtracks. For a mix of music styles and a variety of options, head to El Pueblo, a historic-themed stretch of restaurants, bars and dance clubs.

Caution:

In Costa Rica, "nightclub" refers to a place where the oldest profession in the world is practiced, not just a disco, bar or dance club.

Take It or Leave It:

Ladies Night may be a meat market with free mojitos.

Hot Tips:

High heels are best left to the pros, Costa Rica's uneven sidewalks call for flats.

Where to Shop

 At Galería Namu near the center of San José you'll find intricately carved Brunca masks and polished tagua turtles, handwoven baskets and original artwork from Costa Rican artisans. On the Caribbean coast, Lulu Berlu Gallery curates a large collection of local art, mixed with original mosaic designs and clothing lines.

Caution:

Avoid excess baggage charges on your departure by shipping your souvenirs home before you leave.

Take It or Leave It:

Cacique, Costa Rica's own brand of guaro: sugar cane liquor.

Best Local Souvenir:

Pure Costa Rican chocolate from a small cacao farm.

Things to do in Costa Rica


Costa Rica is known for...

Five of Costa Rica's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Festivals:

Costa Ricans sure know how to celebrate! Festivals take over towns to honor patron saints and spill onto streets with impressive displays. The first two weeks of January kick off the year with the biggest fiesta of carnivals, concerts, tope (hosre parades), and Costa Rican bullfights (in which no bulls are harmed).  Every even year in March, San Jose is host to a citywide arts showcase (FIA) featuring theater, art, and film. In November the Festival de las Carretas celebrates the country’s agricultural heritage with a parade of ox-carts, and every Christmas the Festival de la Luz lights up the city for an entire week of fun, fireworks, and fake snow.

2. Beaches:

With 800 miles of shoreline on its Pacific and Caribbean coasts, Costa Rica lays claim to a lion’s share of the world’s most beautiful beaches. White, gold, pink and black sand beaches dot both coastlines, some with rocky shores and coral reef, others dappled with coconut palms. The bigger beaches of the Pacific such as Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo and Jaco are popular tourist destinations and surf spots but those looking for a remote patch of sand should head to the Caribbean for the still secluded enclaves of Punta Uva, Playa Chiquita, and Manzanillo.

3. Coffee:

Costa Rica is well known for producing some of the world’s best gourmet coffee, and its Arabica beans are highly coveted for their superior taste and flavor. The volcanic soil and temperate climate make for ideal conditions, and the country has eight different coffee-growing regions within its borders. With a little effort you can still find local cafés that brew cups of coffee the old fashioned way in a chorreador, which some claim is the best way to experience Costa Rica’s finest natural resource.

4. Wildlife:

Costa Rica has some of the most diverse wildlife in the world: from stunning scarlet macaws to large green iguanas and red eyed frogs to white-faced and howler monkeys to five species of sloth, you need not venture far beyond the city to find exotic creatures crossing your path. Animal enthusiasts of all kinds should visit Cahuita National Park for practically guaranteed sightings, while Manzanillo-Gandoca Wildlife Refuge offers a field day for birders.

5. Rainforests:

Considered one of the greenest- and happiest- places on earth, Costa Rica contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity, and a whopping quarter of the country’s land is protected in national parks and reserves. Corcovado National Park is internationally recognized for its biodiversity and is home to an abundance of wildlife including four species of monkey, and the Monteverde Cloud Forest contains 2000 plant species and over 400 types of birds.