Costa Rica is a country filled with lush landscapes and pristine beaches. There’s a little bit of everything here for the traveler that enjoys nature and adventure. Although its possible to spend your time in one town, I highly recommend renting a car and taking a road trip in order to really cover ground and see as much as possible. Plus, if you’re anything like my husband and I, we like to experience all a city has to offer and move on. Hey, you never know the next time you’ll be in a country like Costa Rica so why not do as much as you can!
Before we get started, here are a few words you should know before traveling to Costa Rica to help you get by.
- Pura Vida! – Pura vida is used in many ways but the general idea of the phrase refers to the laid back, peaceful way of life in Costa Rica. Think of it as the “hakuna matata” of the country.
- Tico – Tico (or tica) is the word for a Costa Rican. You may hear people use the term “tico time” quite a bit – this insinuates the leisurely, non-time conforming way of life. In other words, don’t expect anything to be prompt or on time.
- Soda – You may see these signs and think, boy, the Costa Ricans sure love their carbonated drinks but, the word soda actually refers to a small neighborhood “restaurant”. Sometimes these sodas are located right in the home or garage of a families own home.
- Perezoso – In Spanish it means lazy so it’s no wonder it’s also the word used to describe a sloth! We might not need to know the term for it, but it certainly helps if you’re on the hunt for one like I was!
- Pulpe (Pulperia) – A small convenience store where you can pick up essentials like toothpaste, fruit, beer, and other items.
- Birra – The Costa Rican word for beer. Very important to know. 😉
- Mae – An expression similar to “Dude!” or friend depending on it’s context. It can be used with acquaintances or strangers.
1. Visit a coffee plantation – I swear, I didn’t even care for coffee before I came to Costa Rica for my first time. I’m sure there are plenty of incredible plantations throughout the area but, the Doka Estate changed the game for me. This was our very first stop upon arriving to Costa Rica via San Jose. No kidding, we went to Doka before we checked into our hotel or even rented a car. It was the perfect introduction to our trip and we actually learned a lot about the process of making coffee. The best part? Unlimited coffee samples.
2. Hike a volcano – There aren’t many that can say they’ve hiked to the top of a volcano. Not only is this great workout but it gives you some pretty legitimate bragging rights.
A peek into the crater!
*My absolute favorite coffee in the world, Poas Volanic coffee, grows on the side of this volcano. International shipping is available…just sayin’!
3. Go white water rafting – Costa Rica is known for their white water rafting. Depending on the kind of thrill you’re seeking, you can choose to brave class 3-5 rapids. Many are a combination of the three. I would recommend you be at least a decent swimmer and be willing to put in quite a bit of work. This is not for the leisurely. (Notice our guide holding on for dear life? He fell out twice & we had to retrieve him!)
4. Ride horses – Do go and ride horses, preferably on the beach. It’s a unique way to explore the surrounding area and usually doesn’t cost much at all to rent them out for the afternoon. You might even be able to buy some extra time off of your guide with a couple of Imperials (beers).
5. Swim in volcanic hot springs – Aside from being relaxing, soaking in the volcanic hot springs has a myriad of health benefits. Hot water opens your pores and aids in blood flow and delivering oxygen to the rest of your body. Minerals and other micro organisms provide your skin and bloodstream with beneficial elements found in nature and rejuvenate your skin. We had heard about Tabacon Hot Springs and knew we had to take the opportunity to go. It’s the only all-natural hot spring that is considered luxury, eco-friendly and carbon neutral in the area (Arenal), although there are other hot springs to choose from. Tabacon boasts five pools ranging from 77 degrees to 122 degrees fahrenheit. If you’re not staying at the resort, day passes can be a bit pricey ($85-95) but it’s definitely worth the splurge if you ask me. *The day pass also includes an a la carte lunch.
6. Go zip lining – Costa Rica was the first place I ever zip lined. Since then I’ve gone many more times throughout my travels around the world but none can compare. We chose to zip line in Arenal and I’m so glad we did because the courses were spectacular! *Tip: If you make reservations for the earliest time slot, chances are, you might be the only one in the group, giving you no lines to wait in and the chance to try some fun tricks with your guide.
7. Go snorkeling – There’s much to see under the sea!
8. Catch some rays – It’s pretty hard to avoid this one but throughout all your expeditions, be sure to stop and enjoy some tranquility. The water is warm and the beaches are beautiful.
9. See wildlife in a National Park – Nearly a quarter of Costa Rica is comprised of protected jungle. There is much to see in these national parks and each one offers something a little different.
Pop Quiz! How do you say sloth in Spanish?
10. Catch an awe-inspiring sunset – Costa Rica is known for their jaw-dropping sunsets. Don’t miss out!
11. Eat with the locals – One of my favorite things to do is try new cuisine so when in Costa Rica, do as the ticos do! We met this friendly local by the beach and later in the evening, he took us to a neighborhood soda for some authentic food. We would’ve never found this place on our own so don’t be afraid to make friends and try something new.
12. Go on a hunt for unique creatures – Under almost every leaf, crack or crevice, there are beautiful insects, amphibians and other “creepy crawlies” waiting to be discovered. It’s a bit of a macro photographers dream here.
13. Go for a hike in nature – No matter where you go in Costa Rica, you’re bound to be surrounded by endless nature. Take some time to explore by foot and work off some of that delicious food you’ve been indulging in.
14. Chase a waterfall – TLC may have sang about doing just the opposite but don’t be fooled, Costa Rica has some amazing waterfalls. Chase away!
15. Visit the Cloud Forest – Monteverde is known to be the most well known cloud forest in the world for its unique biodiversity, conservation efforts and scientific research. You can also step on each side of the Continental Divide, technically being on the Caribbean and Pacific side at the same time.
Beware of driving conditions through the more undeveloped areas. These pot holes are why it’s best to have a vehicle that can handle such terrain.
16. Purchase some authentic Costa Rican souvenirs – I always like to bring something back for myself and my friends. That being said, you should make sure you are purchasing true local goods. Not only are they authentic items but you are supporting the people of region as well.
17. Charter a catamaran – Spend a day at sea snorkeling, sunning, drinking and swimming. No further convincing needed.
18. Cross the sky bridges – These suspended bridges hang amongst the treetop canopies over canyons and drainages throughout the Monteverde rainforest. There are six bridges in total and connect to other walking trails.
19. Go rock climbing/repelling – If you’re up for a (safe) challenge, give rock climbing a go. The views are undoubtedly going to be pretty cool and repelling back down is half the fun!
20. Try the mud baths – Volcanic mud baths are messy and amazing! Slather yourself in mineral rich mud and get your detox on.
21. Bathe outdoors – From mud baths to thermal pools, bathing outdoors only seems like the next best thing. Cleanse your mind, body and soul!
22. Go kayaking – The perfect combination of exercise and leisurely drifting. This was my first time kayaking and it was an awesome afternoon activity with my girlfriend.
What are your favorite things to do in Costa Rica? Leave us a comment!
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