There are so many things to do in Costa Rica, and so many of them have to do with its amazing culture and food, and with its gorgeous beaches and friendly people. However, there is little doubt among the top Costa Rica attractions is its natural beauty.
I could go on and on about how many things to do in Costa Rica there are and about the number of outdoor activities that should be added to the perfect itinerary when one is in this part of the world, but the following is a selection of my favorites things to do in Costa Rica.
Scuba Dive in and around Drake Bay
Many travelers who enjoy nature vacations have scuba-diving experiences at the top of their list. Among the coolest places to visit in Costa Rica there are lots of amazing spots to explore under the water. One of the top picks is Drake Bay. Located in the northern part of the Osa Peninsula of Costa Rica, one of the most remote regions of the country, Bahia Drake, as it’s called in Spanish, was named after Sir Francis Drake. He discovered it in the 16th century, during his voyage around the globe.
Drake Bay, and particularly the nearby Cano Island which sits around 13 miles off the coast, is a wonderland for nature lovers, explorers, and adventurers. Tucked away between beaches, rainforests, and rocky cliffs, the destination is perfect for those looking for a place to get away from the crowds. Going to Drake Bay is definitely what to do in Costa Rica when searching for a quieter place.
If diving is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica, then Drake Bay is one of the places to visit in Costa Rica. The area has some of the best diving in the country, because seasonal rains don’t affect visibility like they do in other locations, plus there is also a lack of development.
Cano Island is a protected marine park, with fishing prohibited for three miles around it. The harvesting of marine life and collection of shells is also against the law. As such, the waters are full of coral, fish, and other sea creatures such as reef sharks, sting rays, turtles, and eels, making it one of Costa Rica points of interest for marine life.
I wasn’t there at the right time unfortunately, but I highly recommend arranging a trip to Costa Rica to coincide with the migration seasons for humpback and pilot whales, so that there is a chance to see these creatures passing through (after all admiring wildlife is one of the things to do in Costa Rica).
Another benefit of diving in the untouched Drake Bay area is that there are lots of spectacular archways and tunnels to swim through, and it is not necessary to go deep to see a plethora of memorable sights. Easy to see why this is one of Costa Rica attractions.
What makes this area one of the places to visit in Costa Rica is the fact that it is possible to get a good nature fix in other ways. The area is surrounded by numerous national parks (including the well-known Corcovado National Park) and dozens of hiking trails (hiking and visiting national parks are among the coolest things to do in Costa Rica).
There are also miles of quiet coastline and pristine beaches to explore (some of them are among the best beaches in Costa Rica), plus activities like mountain bike riding, swimming, kayaking, snorkeling, and horseback riding. Birdwatchers can find much of interest in this part of the country too. Easy to see why this part of the country is among Costa Rica attractions.
Furthermore, it is possible to take mangrove tours (one of the most fun things to do in Costa Rica), head to the Osa Wildlife Sanctuary, or check out the San Pedrillo or La Llorona Waterfalls. It’s no wonder then that, with all of this to look at, National Geographic sees the Osa peninsula as one of the most “biologically intense” places on Earth.
Ziplining with Sky Adventures in Arenal
I love zip lining. I have tried it in many countries, including Argentina and Cambodia. I know that I will never be able to sprout wings and fly, but the next best thing might just be ziplining above the rainforest tree canopy in Costa Rica. This is definitely one of the most adrenaline filled things to do in Costa Rica.
Among the best zip lining in the country, there is the Sky Trek tour operated by Sky Adventures in Arenal, in the northern part of Costa Rica, which is also home to one of Costa Rica attractions, the Arenal Volcano – a place that can’t be missed even if visiting Costa Rica in a week. I suppose my obsession with volcanoes is clear by now, with all the volcano hikes I did in Sicily last month. So it’s easy to see why I love Costa Rica.
Sky Trek’s zipline tour, which is said to be the most thrilling in Costa Rica, starts with an open-air gondola ride that takes visitors up to an observation area. Here it is possible to take in the amazing views, since it is sitting at around 4100 ft. high. Note, too, that this Sky Tram can be taken by itself if one is not keen to do the zipline adventure afterwards. Still, I think ziplining is one of the coolest things to do in Costa Rica.
From the tall viewing platform, zipliners then start riding down on a track that stretches across canyons, sits in between treetops, and heads down mountainsides. There are seven zip lines in total, which can get up to around half a mile long, and the duration of the experience is two and a half hours all together. To me, it is one of the most incredible things to do in Costa Rica.
Apart from checking out the rainforest and surrounding lake and other lands while zipping along, not to mention spotting wildlife, the zipline tour gives a prime view of the Arenal Volcano. (Up until 2010 this volcano was one of the most active in the whole world, but its eruptive cycle has paused and it’s currently in a resting phase.) Arenal Volcano looms large over the hillsides surrounding it, and reaches close to 5,500 feet high.
For those who want to spend more time in the Arenal area – one of the nicest places to visit in Costa Rica – Sky Adventures also operates a Sky Walk. This experience involves walking across a series of suspension bridges and trails, and allows travelers to be introduced to the flora and fauna of the forest canopy in a more relaxed way, and from a fresh perspective.
The walks are led by naturalist guides so it’s easy to learn all about local animal species and native plants while checking out the upper levels of the rainforest canopy, where around 90 percent of forest organisms are located. The trails are generally flat and clear, so are suitable for walkers of many ages and abilities – no wonder this is one of the top things to do in Costa Rica.
But there are more reasons why the Arenal region is one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica. Indeed, elsewhere in the region, it is possible to pay a visit to some of the hot springs that occur because of the geothermal activity beneath the volcano. Many of these springs serve up fantastic, unobstructed views of the sleeping giant too. In addition, Arenal is a good area to go canyoneering, white-water rafting, or hiking.
Birdwatching in Carara National Park
Due to the diverse ecosystems and geography in Costa Rica, the country is home to a wide variety of avian life, including endangered and elusive birds like the scarlet macaw, quetzal, warbling cuckoos, jewel-toned tanagers, and more. It is well known that one of the best things to do in Costa Rica is birdwatching.
One of the top Costa Rica attractions for birdwatching is Carara National Park, approximately 10 miles north of Jaco. Those who visit can easily see it is so high on the list for many birding enthusiasts around the world.
The park, one of the best places to visit in Costa Rica, is a crucial sanctuary for wildlife and serves as a bridge between the Northwest’s dry, tropical forest, and the wet rainforest of the southern Pacific. As such, it supports a wide variety of waterfowl and other species, including woodpeckers, toucans, manakins, jacamars, and hundreds of other birds. Even the scarlet macaw can be found here, with an estimated 450 birds living within the park. This makes it the only area in the north Pacific to be home to a significant population of the endangered bird.
What makes Carara one of Costa Rica attractions is the fact that, covering close to 13,000 acres, apart from so many bird species, it is also home to a diverse array of other wildlife to keep an eye out for. This list includes sloths, monkeys, deer, armadillos, peccaries and even big cats and crocodiles. The park also has various interpretative trails to explore, even for those who are less active. Many tour companies operate tours (including hiking, river boating, and birding excursions) in Carara, so it is easy to find guides to help see this part of Costa Rica in depth.
Admire a Waterfall
I love waterfalls, and admiring a waterfall is what to do in Costa Rica when wanting to really be awed by nature’s splendor and power. There are hundreds of amazing falls around the nation, many of which can be reached via a hike, horseback riding or even rappeling to.
El Chorro Waterfall is one of Costa Rica’s most famous tumbling water attractions, and is just a few miles from Montezuma. While it’s located near Playa Cocolito’s gorgeous white sand beach, which can be a distraction in itself, one should not miss out on watching El Chorro tumble into the Pacific Ocean (it’s one of a select number of waterfalls around the world that drops into the ocean): it definitely is one of the greatest things to do in Costa Rica.
Those who have enough time and are quite fit can hike to the waterfall. Otherwise it is possible to go on horseback. Either way, it’s best to leave early in the morning to fully enjoy what is one of Costa Rica attractions.
Another popular waterfall in the country and one of the top places to visit in Costa Rica is the otherworldly Rio Celeste Waterfall. It’s situated in Tenorio Volcano National Park, in the northern region of Alajuela. The waterfall occurs where the Celeste River spills over a cliff and down into a waiting pool below. The freshwater river is an amazing blue color because of a chemical combination of sulfur and calcium carbonate, and as a result, sometimes the waterfall actually glows blue too as it tumbles down. It is a decent hike to get to the waterfall but well worth it for the stunning sight at the end.
Visit an Animal Sanctuary
With so many amazing creatures being found in Costa Rica, no visit to the nation is complete without some time spent at one or more animal sanctuaries. Visiting an animal sanctuary is one of the things to do in Costa Rica, and the Jaguar Rescue Center, in Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean Coast, is among the best.
While I do not support the use of animals in tourist attractions and will always advocate for responsible tourism, I am all in favor of sanctuaries that rescue ill-treated animals with a view to rehabilitating them. The Jaguar Rescue Centre is one of the places to visit in Costa Rica for that reason. It was created by a biological and herpetologist couple who decided it was time to make a difference after witnessing years of others mistreating and killing native wildlife.
The name is a bit misleading: I don’t think anybody ever saw any jaguars there (the center’s name is a dedication to the memory of an abandoned baby jaguar whose mother was murdered by farmers). Yet, the sanctuary does have wildcats, anteaters, owls, marsupials, sloths, monkeys, deer, parrots, toucans, snakes, and frogs, which make it worth supporting, a visiting is one of the nicest things to do in Costa Rica.