I’m not really a walking tour person. I’d rather just wander, get lost, and find out what I can on my own time. But every now and then, I find myself on with a really interesting guide who teaches me something I never could have learned by myself. And although I’ve been on countless nature tours around the country, I’m going to reserve this category for the informational tours that are more about the people, economy, and history of Costa Rica.
If you have a day in San José, I’d absolutely recommend getting to know the city and its history with a tour through the various barrios, museums, and galleries. Outside the city, there are tours of farms and plantations that can give you some perspective on the Costa Rican economy and the role of agriculture. One of the most rewarding tours will take you through rural villages with stops at people’s homes, where you can visit with Costa Ricans and learn about their lives first-hand. Here are a few local tours that I recommend.
Barrio Bird Walking Tours
San José might not look like a cultural center, but it’s actually quite rich with history, art, and culinary tradition. Barrio Bird Walking Tours has a special jaunt for each of these topics, and as the city grows and changes, so too do the tours. The knowledgeable guides can explain everything from the history of the National Theater to the state of local politics.
Palmitour at Finca Guarumo
By the Río Frio de Sarapiquí, in a small town called Finca Agua, this tour is an encounter with Costa Rican permaculture on a small family farm. It’s also a lesson on where heart of palm comes from. The farmers guide you through their operation, explaining everything from how they wound up homesteading on the land to how they cultivate worms to enrich the soil. You can even stay in adorable little cabins on the property.
Choco Art Chocolate Tour
On the Caribbean side of Costa Rica, cacao plantations used to dominate the landscape. In the 70s, a fungus decimated those crops and made way for bananas to take over, but recently, cacao has been making a comeback. Touring a cacao farm like Choco Art gives travelers a lesson in both history and agriculture, with lots of delicious taste testing.
Los Santos Ecotrail
This new, 31-mile trail through the Dota region of central Costa Rica takes brave travelers off the Inter-American Highway and through cloud forests and family farms, connecting them with homestays on the way to the Pacific coast. A project called Heart of Gold runs the small group trips, which help support the rural community and teach visitors about the real Costa Rica.
Every August, a pilgrimage takes place to Our Lady of Los Angeles Basilica in Cartago, where the sacred Catholic statue La Negrita is kept. People walk from all over the country—but especially the 15 miles from San José—to ask the statue for various favors and miracles. No, this isn’t a guided tour, but it’s one crazy walk.