Best Outdoor Activities in Costa Rica

Snorkel, Surf, Hike and Bike Costa Rica's Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean coast of Costa Rica is awash with outdoor activities, most of which are easily accessible and reasonably affordable. In Puerto Viejo de Limon, Talamanca you can horseback ride on the beach, zipline through the jungle canopy, and snorkel around coral reef all in the same day. Surf- or watch the experts- at Salsa Brava Beach, also the best place for sunsets. Rent a bike and take the road south to its end in Manzanillo; a scenic ride along the coast surrounded by the rainforest. Take a hike though a real cacao farm on the Chocolate Forest Experience, or stay at a rustic eco-lodge and learn how the Bribri have been making it for thousands of years. At the Jaguar Rescue Center, a tour includes hands-on playtime with recovering monkeys and sloths before they're released, and happiness abounds. This stretch of Costa Rica is home to some of the country's most  exquisite beaches. Enjoy the therapeutic properties of Playa Negra with its volcanic black sand, and the relaxed atmosphere on two beaches of Punta Uva, divided by a tree covered cliff that holds a blue grotto. Visit the tranquilo villages of Cahuita and Manzanillo and explore Cahuita National Park and the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.


Puerto Viejo Beach
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Find this flat swath of white sand beach in front of Johnny's Place, next to the Police Station, right next to Playa Negra- here the black sand meets soft white sand in a distinct line. Large sections of coral reef create a series of tide pools, and it's an ideal spot for snorkeling, swimming, and submerging. Cars can drive up close to the water's edge, and the white sand beach is soft and narrow. On holidays Puerto Viejo Beach can get crowded with families, picnickers, sunbathers, and swimmers- but not surfers- there is rarely a swell at this coral-studded beach. Also known as El Chino Beach.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Clear, calm water, tide pools and adjacent to a great bakery.

Sophia's expert tip: Rent snorkeling gear at Reef Runners on the water's edge to explore the sea life of the tide pools.

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Playa Chiquita
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Playa Chiquita is a small stretch of coast with a narrow white sand beach and calm water that is often ideal for snorkeling in between the coral reef. This is the most hidden beach in the area, due to the dense rainforest that separates the water's edge from the road, and a lack of signage- but that's part of why it stays so special. A few trails lead to secluded coves and sparsely populated beaches lined with palms and coconut trees. During high season, Playa Chiquita is popular for families, dogs, and nudists, who come to play in the gentle water.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: For families with children this beach is worth seeking out.

Sophia's expert tip: Look for the path across to the beach across from El Duende Gourmet Market.

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The Caribbean's most precious beach could just be Punta Uva, or Grape Point. There are two sides to this beach, North and South, divided by a steep green cliff. On the south side lies a long sweeping stretch of white sand, dappled with coconut palms and a sloping shoreline lapping with gentle waves. One the north side is a smaller beach, protected on both sides, with gentle surf good for learners and conditions that tend to be ideal for snorkeling. Kayaks may be rented on the sand here, and the Punta Uva dive shop offers scuba tours and PADI certification.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Kayak, surf, snorkel, swim, sunbathe stroll, hike, fish...there isn't much you can't do outdoors at Punta Uva Beach.

Sophia's expert tip: A highlight of Punta Uva is the point iteself, which has a trail leading from the shore up and over- it's a nice climb and offers an excellent view of the coast in both directions, but don't attempt it on a wet day.

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Salsa Brava Beach
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Salsa Brava is the beach that helped put Puerto Viejo de Limon, Talamanca on the map for tourists- back in the 1970s, few but the most intrepid reached this region of the Caribbean coast, but surfers who caught wind of the killer waves at this beach were more than willing to face the rough roads and lack of basic services for wicked waves. In 1991, an earthquake significantly altered the coastal landscape, creating an even more formidable- and enticing-surf spot. Salsa Brava, or Brave Sauce, is not for the faint of heart; amateurs best survey the conditions carefully before paddling out.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Small but striking, Salsa Brava's coral studded beach is beautiful.

Sophia's expert tip: Salsa Brava is the best site to watch the sunset and surf.

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At the Jaguar Rescue Center in Playa Chiquita, a few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo, a primatologist and her herpatologist husband are a couple of passionate animal lovers who created the Jaguar Rescue Center in response to the community need for a place for the rescue of orphaned or injured animals, who are cared for and raised with a goal of releasing the animals back into the wild once rehabilitated. Recently, the center was caring for 37 baby sloths who were found abandoned by their mothers. The Jaguar Rescue Center accepts visitors every day except Sunday at 9:30 am or 11:30 am for 1.5 hour tours. There is a $15 suggested donation.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Visit orphaned baby sloths before they're released into the rainforest.

Sophia's expert tip: Rain or shine, this is one place you will always have fun at when you visit- bring your camera, but hold on tight to it.

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Caribeans Chocolate Forest Experience
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Chocolate lovers, nature enthusiasts, and those looking to learn more about Costa Rica's rich history of cacao should indulge in the Chocolate Forest Experience, an in-depth exploration of chocolate from tree to bean to bar. The experience begins with a guided tour through varied areas of cacao, from the jungle to the forest and managed cacao restoration zones. Following the tour, there's a professional chocolate tasting with organic wine. The Chocolate Forest Experience costs $26 per person and includes all the chocolate you can eat. Monday tours are at 10 am, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 am & 2 pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 2 pm.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: It's an entertaining exploration of chocolate from tree to bean to bar.

Sophia's expert tip: Don't wear flip flops or sandals, sneakers or boots are suggested.

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White sand beaches and clear waters flanked by lush vegetation are hallmarks of Manzanillo, a quintessential Caribbean fishing village where not too much has changed in the past fifty years or so. Small houses are built on stilts and colorful fishing boats dot the shoreline, and the water is usually ideal for swimming and snorkeling. The vibe is as low-key and laid-back as it gets, and the most action happens at Maxi's Place, a Rasta-styled restaurant reknowned for its fresh seafood and ocean breezes. The best way to reach Manzanillo is by bike, but if you're not up for a scenic ride, buses run to and from a few times a day from Puerto Viejo.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: The beach is beyond breathtaking and Manzanillo Gandoca Wildlife Refuge is a special treat to explore.

Sophia's expert tip: Keep your eyes peeled for dolphins just off the coast- three species inhabit the waters around Manzanillo.

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Cocles Beach
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Cocles Beach, called "Beach Break" by locals, is the most popular beach in the area for its long golden sand beach and its consistently good surf. A majestic craggy rock sits a few meters off-shore, and legend has it that pirates buried their booty there years ago. Cocles has the only lifeguard station in the region, but it's not always occupied. Rent a surf board on the beach, and refresh with a smoothie from one of the small cafes that line the roadside across from the sand. To get to Cocles from Puerto Viejo on foot, find the unmarked path that leads through the forest, starting at Salsa Brava.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: Golden sandy beach great for sunbathing, swimming, strolling and surfing.

Sophia's expert tip: Look for flags to signal riptides, which are common and strong at Cocles.

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Yes, it is the quintessential Costa Rican adventure, and yes it is a must-do experience, if you enjoy the great outdoors, that is. You'll feel the adrenaline in your veins and the wind in your hair as you whiz from platform to platform (there are twenty platforms!) suspended by cables just above the tree tops in the jungle outside of Puerto Viejo de Limon. If you're lucky, you may spot monkeys and sloths swinging on branches beside you, and there are always birds and iguanas at play above and below. For the affordable price of $55 per person, everything is included from pick-up at your hotel, a snack, and all the equipment- round trip is 3.5 hours.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This adventure offers a unique treetop perspective and a rush like no other.

Sophia's expert tip: Don't wear loose fitting clothing; snug duds will help keep your ride smooth.

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Reef Runner Divers is a one-stop dive shop located in a prime beachfront spot in Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica. With a staff of experienced divers and a trusty panga boat named "The Reefer" this long-standing outfit has access to the most pristine, untouched parts of the Caribbean eco-system. Visit "The Holes" and swim through sun filled waters over the great barrier reef, and scale the Seahorse Wall, where yellow, green and brown sea horses can be seen up close on the Reef Runner Divers Fun Dive. Get your PADI certification or stay closer to the surface with a Snorkeling Safari. Find Reef Runner Divers on the water's edge at El Chino Beach.

Recommended for Outdoor Activities because: This is the best, and often the only, dive shop in town.

Sophia's expert tip: Discounts offered for groups of 4 or more, sunset booze cruises for special occasions.

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Meet Sophia LaMonica

On Sophia's first trip to Costa Rica, she came face to face with white-faced monkeys, gasped at the sight of giant purple crabs, and rode horseback through plunging waterfalls. Costa Rica...  More About Sophia