(2021) 30 Touristy Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them

Last updated on April 18th, 2021 at 03:56 pm EST

Latest posts by Nikki Solano (see all)

Get the Costa Rica info you need by browsing our article’s TABLE OF CONTENTS:

The best things to do in Costa Rica

Are you planning a trip to Costa Rica? Awesome! We bet you’re not just wondering what there is to do here, but which activities are the most deserving of your time and money, and where you should experience each. To answer these questions, we’ve created the below list of 30 touristy things to do in Costa Rica so you can quickly and easily browse through our activity recommendations. Though this particular blog post focuses on quintessential, touristy Costa Rica experiences (i.e., activities that most travelers experience when they explore the land of pura vida), our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do provides additional recommendations for things to do in Costa Rica that are offbeat, unfrequented, or less known to the average visitor.

Reserving things to do in Costa Rica

Looking to save money on Costa Rica excursions? Look no further than our sister site, Pura Vida! eh Inc.. It offers hundreds of discounts for Costa Rica day tours, including several of the experience types discussed below. Best of all, the website is FREE to use, and the discounts are FREE to access! 🙂


Visit a wildlife exhibit

It’s impossible to come to Costa Rica and not see wildlife because animals, birds, insects, amphibians, and reptiles are everywhere here. If there’s a particular species you want to see, however, consider visiting a wildlife exhibit. It’s one of few things you can do in Costa Rica that guarantees wildlife sightings. Stick to visiting exhibits that operate as wildlife rescue / rehabilitation centers to avoid possibly funding an operation that keeps animals in captivity for profit.

Touristy Costa Rica wildlife exhibits

For recommendations for less popular, less busy wildlife exhibits, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Wildlife Exhibit Name Region City / Town
Club Rio Outdoor Center Wildlife Preserve Northern Zone Monterrey (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
La Paz Waterfall Gardens Central Valley Poasito / Vara Blanca
Diamante Eco Adventure Park Guanacaste Matapalo / Playas del Coco
Proyecto Asis Northern Zone Javillos (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Jaguar Rescue Center Caribbean Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Arenal Natura Park Northern Zone La Fortuna
Greentique Wildlife Refuge Central Pacific Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Selvatura Park Northern Zone Monteverde / Santa Elena
Rescate Animal ZooAve Central Valley La Garita (outside Alajuela)

To view photos we’ve taken of birds, mammals, reptiles, amphibians, and insects during our Costa Rica travels, see our related blog post:

Costa Rica Wildlife Photography


Visit a waterfall

Picture a paradisiacal scene in your mind. Does it include a waterfall? If so, Costa Rica may just be the paradise of your dreams. There are many waterfalls worth visiting here, and since they’re spread out around the country, there’s a good chance you’ll be in close proximity to at least one during your visit. Note that some waterfalls have pools that are safe to swim in and others do not, so plan your visit accordingly.

Touristy Costa Rica waterfalls

For recommendations for less popular, less busy waterfalls, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Waterfall Name Region City / Town
Fortuna River Waterfall / La Fortuna Waterfall (Catarata Rio Fortuna / Catarata La Fortuna)
*though the pool at the waterfall’s base is rough, swimming is permitted
Northern Zone La Fortuna
Celeste River Waterfall (Catarata Rio Celeste) inside the Tenorio Volcano National Park)
*swimming is not permitted
Northern Zone Bijagua
La Paz Waterfall + 4 additional waterfalls (Catarata La Paz; inside the La Paz Waterfall Gardens)
*swimming is not permitted
Central Valley Poasito / Vara Blanca
Montezuma Waterfalls (Cataratas Montezuma; 3 in total)
*swimming is permitted
Nicoya Peninsula Montezuma
Llanos del Cortez Waterfall (Catarata Llanos del Cortez)
*swimming is permitted
Guanacaste Liberia / Bagaces
Nauyaca Waterfalls (Cataratas Nauyaca; 2 in total)
*swimming is permitted
Central Pacific Dominical

Explore the rainforest or the dry forest

Costa Rica’s most visited ecosystems are the rainforest and the dry forest. Lush and similar looking during the wet, green, “winter” season (but starkly different during the “summer” season, when the dry forest appears brown and brittle), the two forest types provide excellent settings for nature walks. Each of the rainforest and dry forest hike locations recommended below welcome guided tours but also permit self-guided exploration.

Touristy Costa Rica rainforest hikes and dry forest hikes

For recommendations for less popular, less busy rainforest and dry forest hikes, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Rainforest or Dry Forest Hike Location Name Region City / Town
Arenal Volcano National Park Northern Zone El Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Tenorio Volcano National Park Northern Zone Bijagua
Santa Rosa National Park Guanacaste Liberia
Manuel Antonio National Park Central Pacific Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Carara National Park Central Pacific Jaco / Tarcoles
Rincon de la Vieja National Park Guanacaste Rincon de la Vieja

Hike through cloud forest

High up in Costa Rica’s mountain ranges are the country’s mystical cloud forests. This chilly ecosystem type invites you to discover high altitude bird, wildlife, and flora species while hiking through puffs of cloud. Each of the cloud forest hike locations recommended below welcome guided tours but also permit self-guided exploration.

Touristy Costa Rica cloud forest hikes

For recommendations for less popular, less busy cloud forest hikes, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Cloud Forest Hike Location Name Region City / Town
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve Northern Zone Monteverde / Santa Elena
Santa Elena Cloud Forest Biological Reserve Northern Zone Monteverde / Santa Elena
Los Quetzales National Park Southern Inlands Cerro de la Muerte (outside San Gerardo de Dota)
Chirripo National Park Southern Inlands San Gerardo de Rivas (outside San Isidro de El General)
Bajo Del Tigre (Children’s Eternal Rainforest) Northern Zone Monteverde / Santa Elena

Relax at a beach

Tired from hiking Costa Rica’s rainforest, dry forest, and cloud forest? Choose one of more than 150 Pacific and Caribbean beaches to relax at. There’s a perfect Costa Rica beach for you no matter what you’re looking for: silky sand, shallow water or tide pools you can wade in, consistent waves that deliver spectacular surf, rows of palm trees that provide cooling shade, and so much more. The beaches recommended below are a good starting point; they’re some of the most visited stretches of sand in the country.

Touristy Costa Rica beaches

For recommendations for less popular, less busy beaches, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Beach Name Region City / Town
Manuel Antonio Beach (Playa Manuel Antonio; inside the Manuel Antonio National Park) Central Pacific Manuel Antonio / Quepos
South Espadilla Beach (Playa Espadilla Sur; inside the Manuel Antonio National Park) Central Pacific Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Tamarindo Beach (Playa Tamarindo) Guanacaste Tamarindo
Samara Beach (Playa Samara) Nicoya Peninsula Samara
Coco Beach (Playa del Coco) Guanacaste Playas del Coco
Cocles Beach (Playa Cocles) Caribbean Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Jaco Beach (Playa Jaco) Central Pacific Jaco
Montezuma Beach (Playa Montezuma) Nicoya Peninsula Montezuma
Uvita Beach (Playa Uvita; inside the Marino Ballena National Park) Central Pacific Uvita / Bahia
Flamingo Beach (Playa Flamingo) Guanacaste Playa Flamingo
Conchal Beach (Playa Conchal) Guanacaste Brasilito
Guiones Beach (Playa Guiones) Nicoya Peninsula Nosara
White Beach (Playa Blanca; inside the Cahuita National Park) Caribbean Cahuita
Dominical Beach (Playa Dominical) Central Pacific Dominical
Santa Teresa Beach (Playa Santa Teresa) Nicoya Peninsula Santa Teresa

To learn more about Costa Rica beaches, don’t miss our related blog posts:

Best Beaches In Costa Rica: Central Pacific Beaches

Best Beaches In Costa Rica: Nicoya Peninsula Beaches

Best Beaches In Costa Rica: Northern Pacific / Guanacaste Beaches


Climb to a volcano crater or over lava rocks

If volcanoes interest you, you’ll be pleased to learn that there are several volcano-related experiences you can have in Costa Rica. Some active volcanoes here allow you to gaze into bubbling, steamy, or pit-like craters. Others give you an opportunity to hike around volcanic rocks that once tumbled down mountainsides along with hot lava. Guided tours add an element of education to the activity, as tour guides supplement hikes through Costa Rica’s volcano national parks with interesting facts and stories about volcanoes.

Touristy Costa Rica volcanoes

For recommendations for less popular, less busy volcano trails, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Volcano Name Region City / Town
Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal; inside the Arenal Volcano National Park)
*crater not accessible; climbing over lava rocks possible
Northern Zone El Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Arenal Volcano (Volcan Arenal; can also be experienced via the Arenal 1968 Trail, which sits outside the Arenal Volcano National Park)
*crater not accessible; climbing over lava rocks possible
Northern Zone El Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)
Poas Volcano (Volcan Poas; inside the Poas Volcano National Park)
*main crater accessible
*See our related blog post How To Reserve The Poas Volcano National Park (Screenshots) for more information
Central Valley Poasito / Vara Blanca
Irazu Volcano (Volcan irazu; inside the Irazu Volcano National Park)
*main crater accessible
Central Valley Cartago
Rincon de la Vieja Volcano (Volcan Rincon de la Vieja; inside the Rincon de la Vieja National Park)
*main craters not accessible; mini crater accessible
Guanacaste Rincon de la Vieja

Go white-water rafting

One of our top things to do in Costa Rica is go white-water rafting, which also serves as a highlight of many travelers’ vacations. Even if you’re not an avid adventurist, you’ll love the closeness to nature that many rafting tours provide (especially trips down the Pacuare River, which run through remote Costa Rican jungle). Several white-water rafting tours in Costa Rica serve as city-to-city transportation-inclusive tours. To learn more about these types of tours, which allow you to travel between two destinations while rafting along the way, see our related blog posts Costa Rica Tour Transportation: How To Use Tours To Travel Between Destinations and Costa Rica Transportation: 12 Ways To Get Around Costa Rica.

Touristy Costa Rica rivers for white-water rafting

River Name Region City / Town Where Rafting Tours Depart
Pacuare River (Rio Pacuare)
*See our related blog post The Pacuare River Rafting Tour for more information
Caribbean San Jose, La Fortuna / Arenal, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Cahuita, Sarapiqui, Tortuguero, and Siquirres
Savegre River (Rio Savegre) Central Pacific Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Naranjo River (Rio Naranjo) Central Pacific Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Tenorio River (Rio Tenorio) Guanacaste La Fortuna / Arenal, Monteverde, Canas, Liberia, Samara, Nosara, and northern Pacific beach destinations including (but not limited to) Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Brasilito, and Tamarindo
Sarapiqui River (Rio Sarapiqui) Northern Zone / Caribbean Sarapiqui, La Fortuna / Arenal, and San Jose
Balsa River (Rio Balsa) Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal and San Jose

Have questions about white-water rafting in Costa Rica? See our related blog post:

Your Costa Rica Rafting Questions Answered!


Tour a set of hanging bridges

Want to immerse yourself in nature? If so, and assuming you don’t have a fear of heights, plan to tour a series of hanging bridges while you’re in Costa Rica. A few properties in the country (mostly in the Northern Zone) offer this activity type, which permits both guided and self-guided exploration of the rainforest canopy (a.k.a., treetops) where several bird and wildlife species reside.

Touristy Costa Rica hanging bridges

For recommendations for less popular, less busy hanging bridges, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Want to compare our Costa Rica hanging bridges recommendations? Don’t miss our related blog post:

Best Hanging Bridges In Costa Rica: Comparing 4 In Arenal And Monteverde


Go zip-lining

Considered one of the top must-have Costa Rica experiences, zipline tours (also called “canopy tours”) are wildly fun. Much like the experience of touring a set of hanging bridges, zip-lining allows you to explore Costa Rica from above, gliding past treetops high above the forest floor toward a backdrop of rainforest, cloud forest, gulf, ocean, or volcano views. Though zip-lining is an intense thing to do in Costa Rica, some canopy tours offer milder experiences and are suitable for children.

Touristy areas that offer canopy zipline tours

For recommendations for canopy tours run in less popular, less busy areas, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Want to compare our Costa Rica canopy tour recommendations? Don’t miss our related blog post:

Best Ziplines In Costa Rica: Comparing 6 In Arenal And Monteverde

Have questions about zip-lining in Costa Rica? See our related blog post:

Your Costa Rica Ziplining Questions Answered!


Soak in hot springs

Looking to spoil yourself while on vacation? The best way to do so is with a soak in Costa Rica’s many hot springs. Though the majority are found in the Northern Zone, a few less popular sites dot the country. Each property ranges is price, size, quality, and amenities. Give yourself some time to research the various Costa Rica hot springs options; doing so will help ensure you end up at either the resort of your dreams (if you want to be pampered) or at a more modest property that won’t break the bank (if you’re looking to minimize the cost of the experience).

Touristy Costa Rica hot springs

For recommendations for less popular, less busy hot springs, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Hot Springs Property Name Region City / Town
Springs Resort Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Springs Resort Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Baldi Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Baldi Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Tabacon Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Tabacon Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
EcoTermales Hot Springs
*See our related blog post EcoTermales Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Paradise Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Paradise Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Los Lagos Hot Springs
*See our related blog post Los Lagos Hot Springs Review for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Rio Negro Hot Springs Guanacaste Rincon de la Vieja

Want to learn about and compare La Fortuna / Arenal’s various hot springs? Don’t miss our related blog post:

Best Hot Springs In Arenal: We Compare All 12 La Fortuna Hot Springs

Have questions about hot springs in Costa Rica? See our related blog post:

Your Costa Rica Hot Springs Questions Answered!


Take a mud bath

Of the many things there are to do in Costa Rica, a quick visit to a mud bath is perhaps the most rejuvenating. During this experience, you can paint yourself from head to toe (over your bathing suit) with volcanic clay. After you let it dry and wash it off (approximately 15-20 minutes), you’ll love how soft your skin feels. The mineral-rich clay treatment is said to produce several health benefits too.

Touristy Costa Rica mud baths

For recommendations for less popular, less busy mud baths, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Mud Bath Property Name Region City / Town
Rio Negro Hot Springs Guanacaste Rincon de la Vieja

Go bird-watching

Though avid birdwatchers have been coming to Costa Rica for decades, bird-watching here has gained so much attention as of late that it’s one of the fastest growing things to do in Costa Rica. The good news is, you can see birds just about everywhere in Costa Rica: during nature tours and adventure excursions, from your hotel balcony, while dining at restaurants, and so on. If there’s a particular species you wish to see, or if you want to spy on birds at key migratory sites, there are several great bird-watching spots that keen-eyed tour guides are waiting to show you.

Touristy Costa Rica bird-watching spots

For recommendations for less popular, less busy bird-watching spots, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Bird-Watching Location Name Region City / Town
Carara National Park Central Pacific Jaco / Tarcoles
Cano Negro Wildlife Refuge Northern Zone Los Chiles
Palo Verde National Park Guanacaste Bagaces
Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve Northern Zone Monteverde / Santa Elena
Tortuguero National Park Caribbean Tortuguero

To view photos we’ve taken of birds in Costa Rica, see our related blog post:

Costa Rica Wildlife Photography


Tour a coffee plantation

Do you love your morning brew? If so, you may also love learning about the process of coffee production. Most coffee tours in Costa Rica explain the process of growing and roasting coffee, plus offer a cup or two to taste. From coffee berries (sometimes called “cherries”) to perfectly prepared beans, Costa Rica’s got it all, and on full display at plantations and roasteries visited during guided coffee tours.

Touristy areas that offer coffee tours

For recommendations for coffee tours run in less popular, less busy areas, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.


Tour a cacao farm

If you crave chocolate, book a Costa Rica chocolate tour immediately. The experience is fascinating; not only will you discover how chocolate is made, but you’ll also learn how store-bought chocolate differs from pure cacao. Most chocolate tours in Costa Rica allow you to sample chocolate at various stages of processing and take home your own homemade chocolate treat!

Touristy areas that offer chocolate tours

For recommendations for chocolate tours run in less popular, less busy areas, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Chocolate Tour Operator Name Region City / Town
Caribeans Chocolate Tour Caribbean Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
La Fortuna Chocolate Tour Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Costa Rica Chocolate Tour
*See our related blog post A Costa Rica Chocolate Tour For Your First Or Last Day In The Country for more information
Central Valley Alajuela
Rancho Raices Chocolate Tour Osa Peninsula Puerto Jimenez

Tour a sugarcane mill

Sugarcane Tour Operator Name Region City / Town
El Trapiche Tour Northern Zone Monteverde / Santa Elena

Take a scenic boat or canoe tour

Winding through Costa Rica’s lowlands are several rivers, swamps, canals, marshes, and mangroves that are best explored by watercraft. Boat tours and safari float tours, which can be experienced in a canoe, kayak, or raft, provide an immersive nature experience and an opportunity to spot birds and other wildlife that reside among wetland ecosystems. On the northeast and southwest sides of the country, the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea invite open-water exploration. Several boat tours, including sailing tours and catamaran tours, provide a chance to spot active marine life, see a beautiful sunset, and take in views of scenic stretches along the coast.

Touristy Costa Rica boat tours and canoe tours

For recommendations for less popular, less busy boat tours and canoe tours, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Location or Tour Name Region City / Town
Tortuguero Canals (inside the Tortuguero National Park)
*slow-moving boating
*See our related blog post Is Tortuguero Worth Visiting for more information
Caribbean Tortuguero
Damas Island (Isla Damas)
*slow-moving boating and kayaking
*See our related blog post Manuel Antonio Mangrove Tour Costa Rica for more information
Central Pacific Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Penas Blancas River (Rio Penas Blancas)
*slow-moving canoeing, rafting, and kayaking
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Planet Dolphin Sailing Tour
*See our related blog post Manuel Antonio Sailing Tour With Snorkeling And Dolphin Watching for more information
Central Pacific Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Tempisque River (Rio Tempisque; alongside the Palo Verde National Park) Guanacaste Bagaces
Cold River (Rio Frio) Northern Zone Los Chiles
Marlin del Rey Sailing Tour Guanacaste Tamarindo and Playas del Coco
Corobici River (Rio Corobici)
*slow-moving rafting
Guanacaste Canas

Surf or paddle the coast

Surf culture in Costa Rica is vibrant and widespread. No matter which section of the Pacific or Caribbean coast you center yourself at, you won’t be far from a social surf town where surf shops line the main drag, you can rent a board of any size or shape, and surfers line-up in the water to ride waves from dawn to dusk. If you’d prefer to surf in solitude, remote and less visited surf communities are spread out along both coasts.

Touristy Costa Rica surf spots

For recommendations for less popular, less busy surf spots, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Surf Beach / Destination Name Region City / Town
Tamarindo Beach (Playa Tamarindo) Guanacaste Tamarindo
Santa Teresa Beach (Playa Santa Teresa) Nicoya Peninsula Santa Teresa
Puerto Viejo Beach (Playa Puerto Viejo) Caribbean Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Santa Rosa National Park
*marine sector
Guanacaste Liberia
Guiones Beach (Playa Guiones) Nicoya Peninsula Nosara
Jaco Beach (Playa Jaco) Central Pacific Jaco
Avellanas Beach (Playa Avellanas) Guanacaste Avellanas
Pavones Beach (Playa Pavones) Southern Pacific Pavones
Dominical Beach (Playa Dominical) Central Pacific Dominical

Watch sea turtles nest

One of the most miraculous scenes you can witness in Costa Rica is a mass arribada (arrival) of sea turtles on a turtle nesting beach. These experiences can be difficult to catch, and they often require a ton of patience, but if you’re lucky enough to spot the event, we guarantee it will amaze you. Most turtle nesting tours take place on beaches inside protected land spaces and require a government-approved tour guide.

Touristy Costa Rica beaches to see sea turtles

For recommendations for less popular, less busy turtle nesting beaches, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Turtle Beach / Destination Name Region City / Town
Tortuguero Beach (Playa Tortuguero; inside the Tortuguero National Park)
*See our related blog post Is Tortuguero Worth Visiting for more information
Caribbean Tortuguero
Ostional Beach (Playa Ostional; inside the Ostional Wildlife Refuge) Nicoya Peninsula Ostional
Big Beach (Playa Grande; inside the Marino Las Baulas National Park) Guanacaste Playa Grande

Practice yoga

Costa Rica is a burgeoning yoga destination, thanks to the country’s numerous yoga-centered hotels and resorts. There are many ways you can practice yoga in Costa Rica depending on your level of interest; you can attend a one-time yoga class at an in-town studio, stay at a yoga resort, or sign-up for a brief or long-term yoga retreat. If you’re a seasoned yogi looking to become a yoga teacher, several properties in Costa Rica run yoga instructor workshops and certificate programs.

Touristy Costa Rica yoga destinations

For recommendations for less popular, less busy areas to practice yoga, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Region City / Town
Nicoya Peninsula Nosara
Nicoya Peninsula Santa Teresa
Central Pacific Dominical
Caribbean Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Go canyoning

Want more of the adrenaline that popular adventure tours like zip-lining and white-water rafting provide? Try canyoning (sometimes called “canyoneering” or “waterfall rappelling”), if you dare. This activity will have you suit-up in harness, strap-on a helmet, and rappel down rock faces, usually beside rushing waterfalls. Like zip-lining and white-water rafting, some canyoning experiences are tamer are welcome children to participate.

Touristy areas that offer canyoning tours

For recommendations for less popular, less busy areas to try canyoning, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Canyoning Tour Name Region City / Town
Desafio Adventure Company’s Canyoning in the Lost Canyon Tour
*See our related blog post Costa Rica Canyoning Tour: Adrenaline And Assurance Found At The Lost Canyon for more information
Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal
Hacienda Guachipelin’s Waterfall Canyoning Tour Guanacaste Rincon de la Vieja
Pure Trek’s Canyoning Tour Northern Zone La Fortuna / Arenal

Visit a museum

To appease your cultural side, step foot in one of Costa Rica’s museums. Most cluster around San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital city, but all promise to deliver a helping of humble pie. Learn about Costa Rican customs and traditions; legends and Indigenous groups; precious metals, stones, and ceramics; historical battles; the local economy; and so much more on a walk through one of Costa Rica’s beloved (and surprisingly modern) museos (museums).

Touristy Costa Rica museums

Museum Name Region City / Town
Jade Museum Central Valley San Jose
La Casona (inside the Santa Rosa National Park) Guanacaste Liberia
Gold Museum Central Valley San Jose
National Museum Central Valley San Jose

Marvel at a church or ancient ruins

If you like roaming around outdoors, check out one or more of Costa Rica’s architectural works of art. Churches and ancient ruins will impress you with their unique construction, ornate finishes, and interesting stories. Some are even said to be haunted! This is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica if you’re traveling on a shoestring… the activity type is free!

Touristy Costa Rica churches and ancient ruins

Church / Ruins Name Region City / Town
Cartago Basilica Central Valley Cartago
Metropolitan Church Central Valley San Jose
Cartago Ruins Central Valley Cartago
Ujarras Ruins Central Valley Ujarras

Tour an archaeological site

If you’re a history buff, you simply cannot miss the incredibly rare finds housed inside Costa Rica’s most prized archaeological sites. There are relics, unearthed communities, petroglyphs, spheres, and more evidence of pre-Columbian Indigenous groups to discover. Also provided to supplement your learning are informative placards that detail the archaeological findings and paint a picture of what Costa Rica was like many years ago.

Touristy Costa Rica archaeological sites

For recommendations for less popular, less busy archaeological sites, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Archaeological Site Name Region City / Town
Guayabo National Monument Central Valley Turrialba
Finca 6 Osa Peninsula Sierpe

Stroll around a garden

Low-key exploration of Costa Rican flora is best conducted at one of Costa Rica’s well kept gardens. You can admire everything from tiny, native Costa Rican orchids to tall, exotic shoots of bamboo and just about everything in between. Most gardens are easy to walk around, if not wheelchair accessible, making this activity one of the best things to do in Costa Rica for senior or mobility-impaired travelers, in addition to botanists and nature lovers.

Touristy Costa Rica gardens

For recommendations for less popular, less busy gardens, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.

Garden Name Region City / Town
Monteverde Orchid Garden Northern Zone Monteverde / Santa Elena
Lankester Gardens Central Valley Cartago

Go scuba diving or snorkeling

If you enjoy exploring open water, you’ll love the scenes and marine life that beautify Costa Rica’s protected marine spaces. Dive trips and snorkel tours to popular islands and offshore sites run on the regular, though opportunities to spot marine life (especially whales and sea turtles) vary by season. To scuba dive in Costa Rica, you’ll need a PADI certification, otherwise you’ll need to take a Discover Scuba Diving course through an accredited dive shop. If you’re not qualified to dive, give snorkeling a go. The experience type doesn’t require previous experience or certification.

Touristy Costa Rica dive sites and snorkel spots

Dive Site / Snorkel Spot Name Region City / Town Where Scuba / Snorkel Tours Depart
Coco Island (Isla del Coco) Central Pacific Puntarenas
Bat Islands (Islas Murcielago; inside the Santa Rosa National Park) Guanacaste Northern Pacific beach destinations including (but not limited to) Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Brasilito, and Tamarindo
Cano Island (Isla del Cano) Osa Peninsula Drake Bay, Sierpe, Uvita, Dominical, and Manuel Antonio / Quepos
Catalina Islands (Islas Catalinas) Guanacaste Northern Pacific beach destinations including (but not limited to) Papagayo, Playas del Coco, Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, Brasilito, and Tamarindo
Marino Ballena National Park
*marine sector
Central Pacific Uvita, Manuel Antonio / Quepos, and Dominical
Isla Tortuga (Tortuga Island) Nicoya Peninsula Puntarenas, Tambor, Montezuma, and Santa Teresa / Mal Pais
Cahuita National Park
*marine sector
Caribbean Cahuita

Cool off at a swimming hole or in tide pools

Costa Rica is hot! Sometimes, you need a place to cool off at, and two of our favorite locales that offer this are swimming holes and beaches with tide pools. At the former, you can jump in a refreshingly cool river or pool and kick back among nature. At the latter (usually around low tide), you can find our own private place on the beach where water forms a shallow pool perfect for wading in. Both spots are pure heaven.

Touristy Costa Rica swimming holes and beaches with tide pools


Explore caves

Think caves are cool? If so, sign-up for a guided tour through one of the country’s few underground caves (skip this activity if you’re claustrophobic). If you’d rather stay above ground, don’t miss Costa Rica’s beach caves, which are free to explore on your own.

Touristy Costa Rica caves

Cave / Beach Name Region City / Town
Terciopelo Cave (inside the Barra Honda National Park)
*underground cave
Nicoya Peninsula Barra Honda
Ventanas Beach (Playa Ventanas)
*beach cave
Central Pacific Ojochal
Venado Caves
*underground cave
Northern Zone Venado

Ride an aerial tram

Several of the best things to do in Costa Rica involve being active. Aerial tram rides, however, do not. Great for kids, senior travelers, and individuals with limited mobility, aerial tram rides provide an opportunity to experience Costa Rica’s rainforest and cloud forest ecosystems from the comfort of your seat.

Touristy Costa Rica aerial trams


Ride the ferry

As the old adage goes, it’s not the destination that’s important, it’s the journey. Consider turning an ordinary city-to-city transfer service into an enjoyable and photo-worthy experience. If you plan to travel between the Nicoya Peninsula and Costa Rica’s mainland, consider using one of a few ferries that connect the two destinations. Not only will you save yourself some hours spent driving in a vehicle, but you’ll get to experience a one-hour cruise across the beautiful Nicoya Gulf. Look for dolphins and whales in the water, snap photos of islands you pass along the way, and let rays of sunshine and the breeze of salty air warm and cool your skin.

Touristy Costa Rica ferries

Ferry Name Region Ferry Departure / Arrival City / Town
Naviera Tambor Central Pacific / Nicoya Peninsula Puntarenas -> Paquera and Paquera -> Puntarenas
Coonatramar Central Pacific / Nicoya Peninsula Puntarenas -> Playa Naranjo and Playa Naranjo -> Puntarenas

Eat at a soda restaurant

Sodas are informal, inexpensive, Costa Rican family-style restaurants that serve traditional Costa Rican cuisine. They’re a big hit with many travelers, and dining at the establishment type should be a part of your Costa Rica experience as much as exploring nature, seeking adventure, and seeing wildlife. This activity is one of the most convenient things to do in Costa Rica because sodas are everywhere here: in large cities, in small towns, and even along roads and highways. To dine like a Tico (a Costa Rican), grab a chair, a bar stool, a picnic table, or a bench at one and enjoy a delicious, authentic meal that only a good soda can provide.

For recommendations for other places you can get authentic Costa Rican food and drink, see our related blog post Costa Rica Off The Beaten Path: Where To Go And What To Do.


QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What are your favorite things to do in Costa Rica?

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Summary

30 Touristy Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them

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30 Touristy Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them

Description

We detail our top 30 things to do in Costa Rica (with photos) and describe the attractions, beaches, cities, and towns that offer them!

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Nikki Solano

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The Official Costa Rica Travel Blog

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