Things to Do in Costa Rica

Amanda Pratt

Some of the best nights I’ve had in Costa Rica didn’t involve going out to a bar. They were spent in hammocks tied to trees in the remote jungles of the... Read More

The Caribbean coast doesn’t have any mega-resorts or hotel chains. What it does have, however, is tons of character. Boutique hotels and B&Bs dot... Read More

This well-known yoga retreat sits on a hilltop above the freewheeling beach town of Montezuma (known to locals as Montefuma because of all the pot... Read More

It doesn’t get more sumptuous than a soak in the hot springs at Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa with a mojito in one hand and your partner’s hand in the... Read More

Active travel (cycling; walking; sea kayaking; rock climbing) paired with unexpected cultural experiences (storytelling in Ireland; a game of boules in... Read More

This lengthy stretch of rose-colored sand and rocks used to be a hiding spot for pirates, hence the name. Ensconced in dry forest, the beach still has a... Read More

Costa Rica isn’t well known for its caves, but boy does it have some great ones, and they’re all in Barra Honda National Park. Although just one of the... Read More

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... Read More

Overlooking Playa Guiones from a hilltop just past Playa Garza, this posh yoga retreat space features a wide yoga deck with ocean views, a full-service... Read More

The Tico bullfight is more like a rodeo, in that the bulls aren’t slain and (arguably crazy) men often ride them. Oh, and spectators can also choose to... Read More

The people most familiar with Cabuya are supposedly dead. At the very end of the Nicoya Peninsula, this tiny island that doubles as a cemetery can be... Read More

In Manuel Antonio, this bar and restaurant is widely regarded as the best place to watch the day give way to night.  Atop a flight of stairs in a... Read More

Coffee is king in Costa Rica—and of the nearly 150,000 large and small coffee fincas (plantations) that dot the Costa Rican landscape (most in the... Read More

Coffee has been an important part of Costa Rican culture since the 18th century, when the “grano de oro” (golden grain) grown in the Central Valley... Read More

Casona de Laly is a traditional Costa Rican place with a location in each fancy San José suburb—one in Escazú, one in Santa Ana. The service at these... Read More

Driving down the middle of Costa Rica has its hazards: big trucks, sharp curves, occasional downpours. It also has some of the most scenic and... Read More

Summiting Cerro Chirripó, Costa Rica’s tallest peak, is a national rite of passage. The 12,533-foot-tall mountain promises serious adventurers stunning... Read More

Chiliguaro began as a fringe shot order in Playas del Coco on the northwestern coast about two years ago. But the hot sauce, lime juice, guaro and salt... Read More

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... Read More

Unbeatable access to experiences around the globe—learning firsthand about a family-run organic coffee plantation in the Galápagos; dining... Read More

Based in Santa Maria de Dota, this cooperative of about 800 farms was the world’s first to go carbon neutral. The farms operate on low energy and water... Read More

Costa Rica’s largest primary forest is here in Corcovado, and it’s only natural that the zip-line tour through it is excellent. This operation offers 11... Read More

Central America’s largest population of scarlet macaws can be found in Corcovado’s 127,000 acres of primary rain forest, among some 400 other bird... Read More

Perhaps the least tame wilderness in all of Central America, this protected rainforest area is braved only by the most intrepid travelers and nature... Read More

The oldest and most reputable adventure outfitter in the country (founder Michael Kaye left his native New York to open the biz in 1978), Costa Rica... Read More

A 1.7-mile zipline network in the Monteverde Reserve operated by Costa Rica Sky Adventures gives airborne guests close-up glimpses of forest-dwelling... Read More

Not even a mile from the famous Monteverde Cloudforest Reserve in north-central Costa Rica sits the entrance to the less-explored Curi-Cancha Reserve,... Read More

The hardest thing about going to the Caribbean is choosing where to eat. Selvin’s Restaurant has the best Caribbean food I’ve ever tasted, but then,... Read More

Advanced divers should reserve time for the daylong trip to Cocos Island. This rugged, uninhabited island and marine park is best known for its... Read More

For a lesson in the history and process of making coffee, hit Doka Estate in the quaint Póas region, where the road curves past organic strawberry farms... Read More

Earthwatch, a nonprofit organization that does ecologically oriented scientific field research around the globe, has maintained a strong presence in... Read More

For a more intimate hot springs experience, Eco Termales is a smaller facility in the Arenal area that is solely focused on its baths. The space around... Read More

Karaoke is kind of a big deal for me, and I’ve never had more fun than at El Steinvorth, where you perform up on a stage in front of hundreds of club... Read More

Do you like to cover yourself in glitter and dance with abandon? Have you used the word “manifest” as a verb? If you responded yes and yes, this... Read More

This is one of those places you could drive by 20 times and never realize it existed. A veritable no man’s land between the crowded beach towns of Jacó... Read More

Translated to mean Festival of the Little Devils, this event takes place in two indigenous communities, Boruca and Rey Curre, in December and in... Read More

This is Costa Rica’s biggest cowboy party, and it lasts two whole weeks. With horse parades, rodeos, musical performances, carnival rides, and a... Read More

During this annual festival in January, the fiercest bulls from all over Costa Rica descend on the city’s capital to compete in the biggest rodeo of the... Read More

Ok, technically Flor is Nicaraguan. But it beats every rum made in Costa Rica and is widely available here, so, just drink it. My personal favorite is... Read More

In the artsy Barrio Amón in downtown San José, this gallery showcases the works of indigenous tribes from all over Central America. There are beautiful... Read More

I did not expect to have the best gallo pinto of my life in an unpretentious old San José bar that’s open 24 hours a day, but it happened. And now, at... Read More

The eco-minded outfitter organizes customized itineraries with volunteer activities—protecting green, hawksbill, and leatherback turtle nests with... Read More

The reserve protects 815 acres of coastal rain forest. Look for capuchin monkeys, toucans, and three-toed sloths along the reserve's well-groomed trails. Read More

In the health-crazed beach town of Nosara, The Harmony Hotel is one of the most beloved yoga resorts in the country. It’s got a truly breathtaking yoga... Read More

For the slightly more adventurous family, a trek in the Talamanca mountains may be in order. And while I don’t recommend Chirripó (the tallest mountain... Read More

Summiting Chirripó takes a couple of days, but those with the will and the stamina shouldn’t have a problem scaling its 12,533-foot peak. The trek takes... Read More

This long established agency can organize botany, birding, or photography tours, and more. Read More

If you receive a photograph of your husband “sport fishing” in Costa Rica, it may have been taken with a fake fish and ocean backdrop at this San José... Read More

In and around Domincal, there aren’t many elevated hotels. Villas Las Alturas is one of the few. Due to its sightline of mountains, jungle, and the vast... Read More

At night, the surf town of Jacó transforms into a mecca of grit and sleaze that somehow also manages to be a really good time. Los Amigos Restaurant and... Read More

A club just opened in Jacó called Space, and its catch phrase is: “Where no one can hear you scream.” So that’s the kind of place Jacó is: dirty, wild,... Read More

Yes, the guaro sour is the national drink. But it doesn’t compare to the welcome drink at Kura Design Villas, dubbed the jaguar colada. This delicious... Read More

On certain nights, the sky over Uvita goes orange and purple at sundown, and there is no better place to watch than from Kura Design Villas, a new... Read More

A lively mix of locals and globals gather at this casual beach bar to lounge in leather rocking chairs on the open-air patio and sample from an... Read More

Picture Brazil’s Carnival, transport it to the Caribbean port city of Límon, subtract a few thousand people, and there you’ll have Costa Rica’s Carnival... Read More

This ever-popular bar and restaurant in Playa Avellanas in Guanacaste is famous for its namesake, a massive pig named Lola known to enjoy playing in the... Read More

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... Read More

This Scottish Ale invented by Costa Rica Craft Brewing Co. is named after a killer rodeo bull, and unsurprisingly, it pairs very well with steak.... Read More

There’s a good reason that people like Mel Gibson and Tom Brady have homes here: it’s secluded. Plus, it’s got everything a person could want, and it’s... Read More

In this central Pacific beach destination, the road curves dramatically past dozens of upscale hotels and sexy restaurants until it ultimately reaches... Read More

This lovely beach town is the place for spendy ladies looking to swank out on a nice hotel and a few multi-course meals. The beach is stunning, as is... Read More

Just south of Quepos on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica are a series of wide, white-sand beaches backed by dense, tropical forest, mangrove swamps, and... Read More

Although this is the smallest national park in the country, it contains a preponderance of wildlife that can be easily viewed by guests (particularly... Read More

While this Pacific stretch’s notorious breaks are mainly for experts, novices can learn to hang ten along the calmer shores of Manuel Antonio Beach. Read More

This boutique hotel perches on the edge of a 100-acre rain forest reserve near the base of Chirripó, and attracts a wide array of painters and sculptors... Read More

Nearly 5,000 feet above sea level—and reached via a four-hour, precipitous, unpaved drive from San José—this 25,700-acre, amazingly... Read More

Wandering the lush reserves near the mountain town of Santa Elena, guests are often struck by the abundance of life and greenery. Here, large swaths of... Read More

Above the cloud forest in central Costa Rica, this zip-ling extravaganza involves 14 platforms at a starting height of nearly 1,400 feet. Four of the... Read More

A reasonably priced tour ($45), this is one of the best zip-line deals I’ve encountered. With 13 platforms suspended above the jungle, the adrenaline... Read More

In San José’s La Sabana Park, this former airport is now a museum of Costa Rican and regional art, displaying 3,000 permanent works with plenty more... Read More

Known colloquially as the Balls, these gabbro, limestone, and sandstone spheres are some of the best known (and most mysterious) sculptures from the... Read More

Costa Rica is easily the adventure sports capital of Central America, and maybe of all the Americas. If zip-lining was any more ubiquitous, I’d probably... Read More

Should you leave from San José, this road trip begins with a picturesque ferry ride across the Gulf of Nicoya (your car goes too!), and it only gets... Read More

Attention health enthusiasts: Nosara is the wellness capital of Costa Rica. Yoga centers abound, as do spas and other therapeutic treatment centers. And... Read More

In this seldom-visited area of the country, community is strong and property values are reasonable. The mountainous landscape and proximity to the... Read More

Bono—yes, U2’s Bono—is big on this one. He’s come with his family more than once to skid out off the Osa Peninsula and into deep water, where dolphins... Read More

An independent group of naturalists directed by biologist Mike Boston leads custom wilderness treks on the Osa Peninsula. Read More

This remote, wild peninsula is made for weekend warriors. The road to Drake Bay is about as much of a car-killer as you’ll find—if you’ve ridden a... Read More

This highfalutin finger of land appeals to the kind of person with oh, $30 million in the bank, a willingness to part with a large chunk of it, and an... Read More

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... Read More

The left point break at Pavones is the country’s most legendary wave—and a pilgrimage site for top surfers from all over the world.... Read More

In a little mountain town called Cachi lives José Alvarez, a great Tico chef who looks like Richard Gere and serves up palate-blowing Costa Rican dishes... Read More

Eight miles from La Fortuna, right next door to the mega-resort Tabacon, two thermal rivers merge and create the free natural hot springs known to... Read More

The new Las Catalinas development is, in theory, not just another rich people vacation community. The developers have made it clear that they want to... Read More

It’s no accident that surf schools abound in Guiones. The consistent, rolling waves tend to drop down easy, which is ideal for beginners and... Read More

Five minutes from the beginner spot Playa Jacó—where I’ve surfed plenty—is Playa Hermosa, where I’ve surfed once (never again). The swells here can be... Read More

Pavones is the stuff of legend: a secluded jungle beach where only the most serious surfers tend to congregate. It’s famous left point break offers one... Read More

Tamarindo is one of the most famous surf spots in Costa Rica, thanks largely to its impressive year-round surf. The area is replete with surf schools... Read More

This enormous but virtually unknown beach stretches for 6 miles on the shores of the Golfo Dulce in southern Costa Rica, dotted with coconut palms and... Read More

No other national park in Costa Rica receives as many visitors as the Poás Volcano and its gigantic crater, which measures almost one mile across and... Read More

Right up the beach from Santa Teresa, this dreamy resort was built by the same people who did Florblanca down the road. It’s an aesthetic marvel with a... Read More

This laid-back Caribbean beach town is a good combination of everything a girl could want: plenty of shoreline and wildlife, lots of great restaurants,... Read More

The Río Pacuare offers the most thrilling rafting in the country. Experience is not required, but a sense of adventure is must. Rafters on the Pacuare... Read More

Up in the northern Caribbean sits Tortugero, one of the most remote villages in the entire country. It borders Tortugero National Park, where birds,... Read More

Many of the nearly 400 bird species at Rara Avis can be found nowhere else in the world. Costa Rica’s first reserve, this is the place that kicked... Read More

Throughout Central American, the Caribbean side wins for food, and especially when it comes to the staple: beans and rice. The east coast has it’s own... Read More

Renting a car for a trip to Arenal is a good idea, and if you tack on a side trip to Rio Celeste, it’s a great idea. This river appears to run the color... Read More

A slightly newer site, Rio Perdidio is tucked behind Bagaces, a little-explored mountain town in the foothills of the Miravalles Volcano on the way to... Read More

Float quietly past the howler monkeys, green iguanas, crocodiles, and toucans that reside on the thickly forested banks of Guanacaste’s Tenorio... Read More

Every night of the week in Puerto Viejo there is live music or fire dancing or at least a happy hour somewhere. My personal favorite spot is The Lazy... Read More

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... Read More

On the Caribbean Coast in Puerto Viejo, Salsa Brava offers some of the most badass surfing in the country. The waves break extremely large and powerful... Read More

This stunning property is tucked into the jungle, up on the mountain above Puerto Viejo. Bungalows are expertly constructed and comfortable, with... Read More

Dozens of broken surfboards are screwed to the ceiling (proof of Dominical’s powerful waves), and surf-competition photos line the walls at this... Read More

Despite their reverence for the quetzal—a massive tropical trogon with irridescent green plumage and doe-like eyes—the Mayans nearly drove this bird to... Read More

Wander through the dry forest of Santa Rosa National Park all day, and then plop down on its western boundary, Playa Naranjo, to watch the sky explode... Read More

Perched on the remote tip of a secluded peninsula, Santa Teressa tends to get the heart pounding. Incredible sunsets, delicious international... Read More

Birders like to keep a record of what they’ve seen, and the Sarapiquí Eco Observatory has made that much easier. In the north-central town of La Virgin,... Read More

Home of the oxcart, a vibrant Costa Rican symbol and coffee transport device, Sarchi is a quaint mountain town populated by artisans. It’s a wonderful... Read More

With its zip-line canopy tours, Selvatura brings you eye-to-eye with birds that occupy the rainforest treetops—and lets you fly like one yourself.... Read More

Those with a sweet tooth should make time for Sibu, an education center focused on all things chocolate, with a worthwhile tasting experience offered... Read More

The most dramatic zipline tour around, featuring 11 lines and the country’s tallest platform. Read More

This elaborate canopy tour begins with an open-air gondola ride to the tippy top of the trees, where an observation deck gives you full view of the... Read More

Over on the Caribbean coast just north of Puerto Viejo, this animal rescue center is home to more than 100 sloths—and it’s every bit as adorable as it... Read More

About a 90-minute boat ride from the mainland, this small island boasts white-sand beaches and swaying palms, along with vibrant coral communities right... Read More

Before bananas took over, cacao farms used to drive the economy in the southern Caribbean. And lately, there’s been a renewed interest the area’s sweet,... Read More

The national pastime here is soccer, and at the 2014 World Cup, Costa Rica’s team—La Sele—made it farther in the tournament than ever before, defeating... Read More

Consider the Southern Caribbean of Costa Rica the country’s relaxation capital. The gently lapping ocean is often bathtub-warm, the food is decadent and... Read More

Sport fishing isn’t quite as popular as it used to be, but tell that to the marinas full of fishing boat captains in Quepos, Playa Herradura, and the... Read More

The smallest national park in Costa Rica also happens to contain multitudes of wildlife, which is super convenient for families looking for a contained... Read More

When the surf instructors in Costa Rica get together over beers, here’s what they laugh about: you. What’s funny is that you think you’re going to learn... Read More

The movie Endless Summer 2 came out in 1994 and featured Costa Rica’s Pacific beaches, and the country has never been the same. It’s entirely normal now... Read More

The Arenal volcano region in north central Costa Rica has always attracted pilgrims to the natural hydrotherapy provided by the hot springs and... Read More

Tabacon was the first hot springs facility in Costa Rica, and it remains the most impressive. Its two natural rivers are divided into dozens of bathing... Read More

Tabacón was the first hot-springs facility in Costa Rica, and it remains the most impressive. Here, twin rivers are heated by Arenal (one of the world's... Read More

Bachelorettes, start your engines. Tamarindo is the place to get down, and it’s also got some of the best restaurants in the country (Pangas Beach Club... Read More

On the way from San José to Jacó, there’s a famous bridge where tourists gather to gawk and throw food at enormous crocodiles. Buying delicious coconuts... Read More

Behind the columned, Neoclassical facade of San José’s National Theater, the opulent pink marble lobby with statues of Beethoven and other... Read More

Take a spectacular sunset, throw in a sexy clientele, live music on the beach, finely mixed cocktails, and a reliable party-food menu, and you have The... Read More

On the Caribbean Coast in Puerto Viejo, this dive-y outpost is a place to hang late into the night, drinking cheap Imperial, listening to reggae, and... Read More

Set back from the Arenal Volcano, this magnificent hotel and its sprawling grounds are the mecca of hot springs. There are more than a dozen pools to... Read More

For the super-active family with older kids, the company has introduced teen-focused itineraries that include surfing, photography, and salsa dancing. Read More

I’m a sucker anything with heart of palm (referred to in Costa Rica as palmito), but the fish with palmito sauce at Los Potrero’s in San Isidro Heredia... Read More

In the dusty surf town of Dominical, on the southern Pacific coast, this beach bar is famous for its margaritas and guacamole. It’s a reasonably priced... Read More

There are birds in the remote Tortugero National Park—a 47,000-acre reserve on the northeastern Caribbean coast—that you’ll likely never encounter... Read More

In the far northeastern corner of the country, this park is accessible only by plane or boat, and is home to many amphibians and birds that exist... Read More

An intricate network of jungle canals, lagoons, and beaches is contained within this remote, 47,000-acre coastal presere—and it's accessible only by... Read More

The weird name means “panty remover” and doesn’t lie. From Escazú brewery Treintaycinco tastes like hibiscus and lands like moonshine, and it’s... Read More

This once unknown highland sanctuary is gaining traction with honeymooners, and for good reason. The boutique hotels that pepper the mountain provide... Read More

Heated by Rincón de la Vieja, this hot springs and adventure facility includes zip-lining, horseback riding, and a giant waterslide. After you’ve... Read More

With a prime, elevated view of Playa Hermosa’s enormous but surfable waves, I stop at this chic beach bar and eatery every time I’m passing through. The... Read More

Malpais is one of the best places in the country to watch the sunset, and Vista Las Olas, a mountaintop hotel, restaurant, bar, and spa, is my favorite... Read More

For it’s dramatic eruptions and lava spewing, this volcano used to be one of the most popular attractions in the country. But more than two years ago,... Read More

One of the top eco-tourism destinations in a top eco-tourism country, Monteverde is replete with cloud forest reserves, hanging bridges, zip-line tours,... Read More

An arribada—or massive gathering of egg-laying turtles—happens at Playa Ostional each month around the last quarter moon. Kids won’t be the only ones... Read More

Within the Las Cruces Research Station, up near the northwestern border with Nicaragua, the Wilson Botanical Gardens is home to rare birds like the grey... Read More

From November to April, the winds pick up over near the Arenal Volcano and the windsurfers hit the lake. These winds are some of the strongest in the... Read More

On the swanky Papagayo Peninsula, you better believe this canopy tour is the safest, slickest thing around. The views range from dry forest to ocean to... Read More

No matter where you go in Costa Rica, you can count on there being a zip-line tour within 10 miles of you. They may vary in price, types of trees, and... Read More

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