Costa Rica is one of my favorite countries in the world. I love the never-ending activities, gorgeous beaches, a plethora of wildlife, delicious food, and friendly people. The country may be firmly on the tourist trail and expensive by regional standards but that doesn’t make this country any less amazing. The beaches feel like paradise, there’s great surfing, diving, and plenty of places to get away from the hoards of retired Americans that live here. There is always a quiet spot to be found if you look. Moreover, the local food uses a variety of spices and flavors that excite your mouth. I really can’t say enough good things about this country. It’s a place I happily revisit often!
Top 5 Things to See and Do in Costa Rica
5. Puerto Viejo
Other Things to See and Do
(Click the title to expand the text)
1. Visit San José
Costa Rica’s capital is located in the center of the country making it a great hub. Overall, the city only requires a few days. It’s sort of gritty and there’s not a whole lot to do. Visit the Museum of Contemporary Art & Design to check out the future of Costa Rican art, the magnificent Teatro Nacional to take in its décor, and the history museum located in the town center too.
2. Zip through the rainforest canopy
The highest 10% of a rainforest is where most activity takes place. By going on a zip-line tour, you can have a hair-raising close view of these vast forests. There are dozens of companies offering tours throughout the country, though Monteverde is my favorite place to do it. Expect to pay around 30,000 CRC.
3. Explore Baru National Wildlife Refuge
With 800 acres of land, seven kilometers of walking trails, and three kilometers of fantastic beaches, this refuge is another prime example of Costa Rica’s natural beauty. Birdwatching, canopy tours, and walking tours are the main attractions in the park.
4. Wander around Jaco
Jaco was once a sleepy resort town whose main attraction was its excellent surfing, but growing tourism has transformed it into a haven of beach parties and pumping nightclubs. Surf lessons and rentals are widely available on the beaches and sport-fishing is also popular here. For a more sedate affair, head to the nearby Carara Biological Reserve to spot scarlet macaws, armadillos and hundreds of species of bird.
5. Learn some Spanish
Costa Rica is one of the most popular Latin countries for learning Spanish due to the country’s easy to understand dialect. Programs vary in length and cost, but most offer the opportunity to do a homestay with a Costa Rican family.
6. La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Aside from the famous waterfalls, La Paz also includes an aviary, hummingbird garden, butterfly garden, reptiles, big cats and more. The gardens are the most popular tour from San José have recently been restored.
7. Go sports fishing
The country’s waters are home to Marlin, Sailfish, Dorado, Snapper, Wahoo, and many other species. Consider doing either a one-day or multiday fishing excursion. A basic excursion can cost around 55,000 CRC though prices can by ten times as high for multiday trips.
8. Chill out in Santa Theresa
At the bottom of the Nicoya coast is the hippy backpacker town of Santa Theresa. This “town” really nothing more than a beach with a road lined with eateries, surf shops, and hostels. Not much goes on here as everyone is up early to hit the waves. I like this place as it is a good place to just go, lay on the beach, hang out with people, and relax. It’s an easy place to fall into and spend weeks. Or, like most people, months.
9. Learn to surf
Whether in Puerto Viejo, Cahuita, Manuel Antonio, Jaco, Santa Theresa, or Tamarindo, Costa Rica has a lot of waves and lots of places to learn to surf. In fact, most travelers come here to surf because the waves are world renowned. If you never learned but always wanted to try and Australia, Hawaii, or Bali seem too far, this is your best place to in the region to learn.
10. Walk through the Treetops
The Rainmaker Aerial Walkway was the first aerial walkway to be built in Central America, and it is still considered to be one of the top ariel walkways in the region. At the highest point on the walkway, you’ll find yourself a 20 stories above the ground. Tours start at 45,000 CRC and include two light meals.
11. Wander a Coffee plantations
Costa Rican coffee is famous all over the world. By taking one of the coffee plantation tours you can see every step of the refining process and get the chance to buy discounted coffee in the gift shops. I hate the taste of coffee but the kind I had in Monteverde tasted like chocolate. Prices vary but expect to pay at least 14,000 CRC for a tour.
Food – By eating at local restaurants you can expect to pay around 535-1,600 CRC for meals. These are a local favorite and will save you from paying tourist prices in other establishments. Typical meals like the traditional casado are 2,670 CRC. Most restaurant meals will cost around 3,900 CRC or more. A very nice meal in a tourist area will cost around 9,000 CRC. For cheap food, eat from the street vendors where snacks and light meals can cost as little as 265 CRC. If you plan on cooking for yourself, a week’s worth of groceries will cost around 15,000-20,000 CRC.
Transportation – Public transportation is cheap here. Short bus trips (under 3 hours) are around 2,000 CRC while longer trips will cost closer to 5,500 CRC. There are a number of private coach operators who go directly between major cities and tourist attractions. Those buses are about triple the price of the local public bus, so stick with the local buses if you’re on a budget. Trains are virtually non-existent and flights around the country are quite pricey.
Activities – Entrance into most national parks is usually around 5,500 CRC with discounts available for students. Canopy tours and day trips are around 24,000 CRC. A two tank dive can be between 32,000-53,325 CRC. Surf lessons start around 11,000 CRC per hour. There are also lots of surf camps where you can spend the week learning how to surf (or honing your skills if you already know how to). Prices vary widely, though expect to pay at least 23,000 CRC for a week.
Suggested daily budget
22,150-27,700 CRC / 45-50 USD (Note: This is a suggested budget assuming you’re staying in a hostel, eating out a little, cooking most of your meals, and using local transportation. Using the budget tips below, you can always lower this number. However, if you stay in fancier accommodation or eat out more often, expect this to be higher!)
Money Saving Tips
- Travel off-season – Late April-November is considered the rainy season, and as a result, prices tend to be less expensive and the region less crowded.
- Avoid tour activities – There are a lot of great but expensive group activities and tours in the area. Skip them, and do the free activities such as hiking the park, the La Fortuna waterfall, and a few of the hot springs.
- Eat at the sodas – “Sodas” are small family run restaurants which specialize in inexpensive local meals, usually costing around 1,065 CRC including a drink. These hole-in-the-wall restaurants offer the best value in the country.
- Go camping – Most of the resorts and hostels in many places will let you camp. If you don’t have your own tent, you can rent them. Usually, under 3,000 CRC per night, this is the best way to keep your accommodation costs down.
- Visit the Caribbean side – Costa Rica is pretty expensive. There are few ways around that fact. But visiting the cheaper Caribbean side will let you see the beautiful country without the high prices of the popular Pacific destinations.
- Eat at Musmanni – Musmanni is a bakery found all over the country. The offer a great lunch special. For 1,000 CRC, you can get a sandwich and a soda. Most of their pastries are only 300 CRC. I ate at this place whenever I found one because it helped keep my food costs down.
- Avoid the tourist buses – While local buses are a lot slower than the tourist buses, they are also about half the price. If you aren’t rushed for time, take the local buses.
My Must Have Guides For Traveling to Costa Rica
This book shows you how to take money out of the travel equation and and master the points and miles game. It will show you how to easily collect and redeem travel points for free airfare and accommodation so you can get you out of your house faster, cheaper, and in comfort.
Kristin Addis writes the solo female travel column for this website and her detailed guide addresses all the concerns women have about traveling and gives the specific advice and tips you need to conquer the world and stay safe.
This book will teach you everything you need to know about landing your dream job and features interviews with dozens of teachers, recruiters, detailed information on the top teaching destinations, sample resumes, advice on nailing your interview, and much more.
My New York Times best-selling paperback guide to world travel will teach how to master the art of travel so that, no matter how long you want to travel for, you’ll save money, get off the beaten path, and have a more local, richer travel experience.