Costa Rica is the perfect place to visit if you love spending time outdoors. There are so many beautiful beaches, national parks and wildlife to see, it can be hard to narrow down what you want to see. Recently, I had a chance travel around this beautiful country and visit several locations. Here are several of my favorite things to do in Costa Rica as well as a few travel tips that should help you plan the trip of a lifetime!
Getting To Costa Rica
Flying to Costa Rica has never been easier. With it becoming such a popular travel destination there are plenty of direct flights from major cities across the United States. With the increased competition the cost of flights have come down significantly. In fact, it seems like every week there’s a new sale on flights to Costa Rica. If you don’t see anything today, set an alert in Google Flights to let you know when prices drop.
I’ve flown into both Liberia (LIR) and San Jose (SJO) on Southwest because we have the coveted Companion Pass. Even if you don’t have the pass, Southwest is an easy way to redeem your miles to fly there. And the best part about flying Southwest is that you can rebook your flights for free if the prices come down after you buy them. We did this before both of our trips and saved thousands of miles!
Most people fly into San Jose when they visit Costa Rica. There really isn’t much to see or do there, or in Liberia, so I would recommend just staying there the night if you arrive late. Plan on heading out the following morning to see everything else on your to-do list.
Planning Your Trip
Hotels – There types of hotel options available will vary depending on where you are in Costa Rica. There are several gorgeous resorts and hotels where you can redeem your points for free nights. There are also many independent hotels throughout the country that can fit anyone’s budget. I used Hotels.com to book our hotels the first time so I would still be able to earn rewards on these nights.
Our second trip I used points to book our hotel in La Fortuna and then cash for the all-inclusive we stayed at. There are also several wonderful vacation rentals to choose from as well.
Renting A Car – A lot of the popular things to do in Costa Rica are pretty spread out. If you’re not planning to do a tour of Costa Rica, you’ll definitely need to rent a car. Here is my favorite way to easily save money renting a car.
Tours – My mom loves to travel with a tour group, so we booked a tour with Tour Radar to take us around the country on our first trip. With the exception of visiting Tortuguero, I think you can easily visit Costa Rica on your own if that’s your preference. On my second visit with the family, I used the guide we met below to help plan all of our activities.
Guides – During our trip, we had different tour guides at each location. They were all good, but one was incredible! His name was Leonardo Morales and he was super knowledgeable, personable and so much fun! He is an independent tour guide and will take you anywhere you want in Costa Rica.
I’m not getting paid to mention him but he was that good that I would recommend him to anyone! If you want to contact him, here’s his email address or his number on WhatsApp is 506-8639-0237. He was with us for 3 days when we went as a family and we had the best time!
Money – The currency in Costa Rica is called the Colon. However, the U.S. dollar is accepted pretty much everywhere so we never had to exchange our money. I also don’t like to carry a lot of cash on me, so I make sure to have a credit card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees when I travel. Depending on how much you travel, my favorite travel cards are either the Chase Sapphire Preferred and Chase Sapphire Reserve cards.
The first place in Costa Rica I would recommend visiting is Tortugeuro. It’s located on the east coast of the country in the middle of the rain forest. Due to its remote location, it’s a great place to see a lot of wildlife. We had to travel in small boats down the river in order to get to our hotel. Because it’s difficult to get to, I would strongly recommend booking a tour for this part of your trip.
Nature Walk – There are a couple small hotels in Tortuguero to choose from. Most are bungalow-style hotels and really provide a unique experience. Right next to the Pachira Lodge, there was a boardwalk trail that takes you back into the rain forest. Along the trail you will see monkeys, sloths, iguanas and many more animals. You can complete the loop in under an hour but it’s a great way to explore at your own pace.
Canal Tour – Another fun thing to do is take a canal tour through Tortuguero National Park. You can book one of these with any of the hotels in the area. You’ll get to explore the canals in the small boat accompanied by a tour guide. They’ll point out all of the wildlife you come across and is a great place to spot turtles and caiman.
My favorite part was being travel down these beautiful tiny canals deep in the rain forest.
Turtle Tour – If you happen to be in Tortuguero between July and October, you have to go on a turtle tour. These tours can be booked through any of the hotels in the area. During this time of year, giant green turtles come to Tortuguero to lay their eggs at night. These tours are overseen and sanctioned by the National Park as part of their conservation efforts. You will be able to get close to these magnificent creatures as their nesting and laying their eggs.
Shopping & Beach – Get out and enjoy the local shops and restaurants in Tortuguero. The majority of the stores line the main street and it’s a great place to buy souvenirs and eat the local cuisine. After a nice meal, take a walk along the beach that’s a stone’s throw from the main street. You should not go swimming though because there’s a rip tide, barracuda and jelly fish in the area but it’s a gorgeous place to wander.
La Fortuna is located in the northwestern part of Costa Rica and is home to the most recognizable landmark in the country, the Arenal volcano. There is so much to see and do here that I would place it high on my itinerary. After being there twice, I would actually make this my top place to visit.
Where To Stay – We stayed in a small boutique hotel close to the main plaza in the center of town. On our recent trip, we stayed at the Tabacon Resort using points and it was absolutely incredible! I’ll be writing a review soon, so stayed tuned for that. There are also several resorts and Airbnb’s located within a couple miles of downtown.
Restaurant Recommendations – There are taxis everywhere and it’s only a short ride to downtown. If you want a restaurant recommendation, try Tierra Mia. It’s a tiny place that’s about a block southwest of the main plaza and everything we ate was fantastic! Another great place was Casa Fortuna which is about a half mile away from the main square.
Suspension Bridges – My favorite thing we did in Costa Rica was the suspension bridge tour at Mistico Hanging Bridges Park. I would recommend visiting in the afternoon when the crowds are typically smaller. We did this tour with the guide I mentioned above and it was incredible! You’ll walk through the rain forest and cross several suspension bridges while you enjoy breathtaking views!
You may think I’m crazy but if you can do this tour while it’s raining, it’s even better! What better way to experience the rain forest than when it’s actually raining! You won’t regret it but don’t forget to bring your poncho. Turn up your speakers as you watch this video and enjoy the sweet symphony of nature.
River Tubing – Tubing down the Rio Celeste made everyone’s Top 2 of things we did on our trip. When you’re in the national park, you aren’t allowed to swim in the river. However, once you’re outside of the park, you’re free to do so.
The best way to do this is to take a tubing tour down the river. We booked the tour through the hotel Catarata Rio Celeste. The guides were the nicest and stayed with the younger kids the whole way. The water was perfect and what could be better than floating down the river in the middle of the forest on a summer day?
Near the end, it started to rain, which made the whole experience incredible! The entire trip takes about 2 hours and is a short drive from the national park, so you can easily go tubing and hike to the waterfall on the same day. I’d recommend doing the hike first and then go tubing after.
Rio Celeste – From La Fortuna, you can book a day trip to hike to the Rio Celeste. The gorgeous blue water is a result of a chemical reaction from the minerals in the two rivers that combine to create Rio Celeste. The entire hike takes about 3-4 hours round trip.
To get down to the waterfall, you have to climb a ton of stairs. It’s not so bad going down but coming back up can be tough. It’s definitely worth it so just take your time if you need to. After the waterfall, you can continue hiking another half mile or so to where the river turns blue which I thought was really interesting to see.
Caño Negro – If you can’t make it to Tortuguero, another excellent place to view wildlife is in Caño Negro. It’s about a 2 hour drive north near the Nicaragua border. We hired a local boat operator to take us up and down the river.
We were able to get up close to a pack of white-faced monkeys, which was the absolute highlight. We also saw cayman, birds and other species of monkeys. We may have also gone up the river into Nicaragua a little ways to check another country off our list.
Natural Hot Springs – There are several natural hot springs originating from an underground river by the Arenal volcano. There’s nothing better than soaking in one of these after a long day of adventure. We did this at least daily on our trip with the kids.
Most are them are by the resorts and a lot of the them have private access for their guests to use. If you stay at the Tabacon Resort, access to their hot springs is included. However, there’s a public spot by the resorts that anyone can enjoy. Just park your car along the road and walk down to the springs.
Soak In The Culture – Do yourself a favor and sit in the main plaza one evening and just soak it in. Each night the plaza was filled with people and children running around. With the Arenal volcano as a backdrop, there’s no better place to unwind and “experience” Costa Rica.
Manuel Anotonio is located in the southwest portion of Costa Rica next to the town of Quepos. There are several hotels in Quepos located along the main road. Don’t worry if your hotel is further from the beach than you’d like. There are buses that run up and down the road all day and only cost around $1 per person each way. There are also several great restaurants that line the road as well as down by the beach.
Manuel Antonio National Park – The highlight of visiting this area is definitely the National Park. The park is closed on Mondays, so keep that in mind while planing your trip. We took a guided tour of the park and were able to see several animals like monkeys, sloths and iguanas. If you don’t do a tour, you can still see a lot of wildlife but they’re just harder to spot on your own.
There are a couple beaches within the park where you can sit and relax all day. In fact, one of the beaches within the park has been voted one of the top 10 most beautiful beaches in the world.
Keep an eye out for wildlife while you’re relaxing on the sand because you never know what you’ll see. Visiting this park is definitely a must-do while you’re here.
Quepos Beach – Spend a day relaxing on the beach in Quepos. The sun is plentiful and the beaches are gorgeous. There are several activities like surfing and parasailing you try from one of the local vendors. Or just park yourself under an umbrella and read a good book all afternoon. There are plenty of restaurants and shops along the beach to enjoy as well. No matter what you decide, you’ll have a fabulous time.
Zip-Lining – On our trip with the family, we spent a couple of days at the beach in Guanacaste. Right next to our hotel was the Diamante Adventure Park. There they have a zip-lining course that was so much fun! One of the lines is a “Superman” experience where you lay on your stomach and fly about a mile through the air.
Our youngest is 7 and she did everything but the Superman line because she was a little too scared, but had a great time. On their website it says there’s a minimum weight requirement to do the entire zip-line course. My youngest 2 weren’t heavy enough but it ended up not being an issue. For the Superman line, they just added some weight packs when it was my youngest son’s turn and he was able to do everything.
Costa Rica is an absolutely gorgeous place to visit and should be high on your traveling bucket list. While this isn’t an all encompassing list of things to do in Costa Rica, it can definitely help you narrow things down. Is there something else you’ve seen or done while you were there that you would highly recommend? Leave us a comment below and let us know.