By Ashley Harrell
August 25, 2014
Al Argueta / Alamy

Disney World in Florida. Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. The Statue of Liberty in New York. Every place seems to have these super-touristy attractions that are crowded, expensive and often overexposed, and yet, somehow, still completely awesome and absolutely worth doing. In Costa Rica, these excursions tend to involve wildlife that’s not exactly wild, or natural wonders that aren’t exactly natural (or are no longer so wondrous). And of course, there are the ubiquitous surf lessons and the pervasive zip-lines. You cannot come to Costa Rica and not go on a canopy tour. That’s heresy.

If you’re thinking about passing up a spot because it seems too popular, it is well worth remembering that not just any tourism business can succeed. There’s something about these well-trodden adventures that made them so popular and good reasons they continue to thrive. If you pay close enough attention at these places, you just might learn something new and hugely important about Costa Rica.

Sloth Sanctuary

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 sounds. To support the rescue center, the owners operate a hotel, offer tours, and raise money via a sloth adoption program, which allows caring donors to support the medical attention and boarding of a rescued little guy.

Volcano Arenal

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, the fireworks came to a halt and apparently won’t resume for another 500 years. No matter. Because the volcano became so poplar, all kinds of amazing businesses and tours sprung up around it—and they’re still worth a visit for sure, particularly the hot springs.

Zip-Lining, Anywhere

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 number of platforms, but as somebody who has zip-lined more than two dozen times, I can say this for sure: it’s always ridiculously fun.

Surf Lessons, Anywhere

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 to surf in a matter of three days. You won’t. It’s really hard and takes a whole lot of practice. Still, it’s one of those things you must do—the workout is fantastic and maybe someday if you really like it, you can dedicate a month to actually learning.

Tarcoles Bridge

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 is also customary. This is a place I have to love, because it’s fascinating to watch as the crocs are inappropriately fed, and the overpriced coconut juice is always sweet and cool, just how I like it.