Things to do in Costa Rica

Get Your Bearings in Costa Rica

By Sophia LaMonica
Costa Rica Expert

See & Do

Things to See

While many people head straight to Costa Rica's two exquisite coasts for swimming, snorkeling and world-class surf, it's the country's lush greenery and eye-popping wildlife that capture the hearts and minds of those who take the opportunity to experience it. With so many natural attractions among the things to see and do, it can be hard to choose between a multitude of national parks, volcanoes, waterfalls and even white-water rafting.


Highways become parking lots on major holidays.

Take It or Leave It:

Eschew chemical-laden bug repellent; try citronella instead.

Hot Tips:

Early birds get the worm; rare wildlife is active in the early morning hours.

Where to Stay

Costa Rica's finest lodging options are spread out across the country, each offering a distinctive perspective of one of the most bio-diverse places in the world. Even from your hotel in the capital city of San José, you can visit waterfalls, volcanoes and visit some of the Pacific coast's legendary beaches within a day's trip. Some remote hotels offer so much to see and do within the grounds that many guests find it difficult to leave.

Hot Tips:

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

What to Eat

Costa Rican restaurants have only recently been widely recognized as dining establishments worth writing home about, but these days there are plenty that clamor for attention. Downtown San José hosts some first-class options that incorporate Costa Rica's wealth of fresh ingredients with international flavors for culinary results that are unlike elsewhere in the world. On the Caribbean coast, the fresh seafood and authentic Italian cuisine are stand-outs, and there is no place better to experience farm-to-table dining.


Huevos de tortuga. They're not legally sold, but are enjoyed by some as an endangered delicacy

Hot Tips:

Try a "casado" for lunch, and add a fresh fruit "batido."

Be Sure to Sample:

"Gallo pinto" with breakfast.

Places to Party

The most vibrant nightlife in Costa Rica may be found in and around the capital city of San José, where dance clubs and discotheques pulsate into the wee hours. 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 where Costa Ricans and tourists mingle after dark. In Puerto Viejo de Limon, the party doesn't get started 'til later.


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:

Save some colones by seeking out Ladies Night discounts.

Hot Tips:

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

Where to Shop

Souvenir shopping in Costa Rica can run the gamut from inexpensive trinkets made elsewhere in the world to beautiful authentic handicrafts made by local artisans  for the latter, seek out Galería Namu near the center of San José. There you'll find intricately carved Brunca masks and polished tagua turtles, handwoven baskets and original artwork from Costa Rican talent. On the Caribbean coast, Lulu Berlu Gallery curates a large collection of local art, mixed in with the owner's own amazing mosaic designs and clothing line.


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 sugar cane liquor — some love it, some hate it.

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.