Ready for a little pura vida in your life? We’ve got all the highlights to help plan your Costa Rica vacation right here, including the best beaches like Tamarindo and surfing in Samara, the best adventure tours, eco-resorts, natural sights and other top things to do in Costa Rica.
Top Things to Do in Costa Rica
Depending on your length of stay, there are a number of beaches in Costa Rica and natural reserves worth exploring both along coasts just waiting for you. Some highlights are the Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forest region in central Costa Rica and Volcano Arenal, located just 90 km northwest of the capital of San José. To give you some highlights so you can pick what’s best for you on your Costa Rica vacation, we’ve rounded up a list of some of the best spots to visit in Costa Rica.
1. Experience a Costa Rica hot spring
With 61 volcanoes scattered across the country, including 6 active ones, it’s no surprise that Costa Rica is a tropical destination blessed with an abundance of hot springs. Some of Costa Rica’s best hot spring experiences can be found near the popular Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna and it’s one of the top things to do in Costa Rica. After catching a few glimpses of the volcano, head to the nearby Tabacon Hot Springs. Other hot springs in the area include Baldi Hot Springs, Ecotermales and Titoku Hot Springs. The Tabacon Hot Springs are particularly recommended for couples but open to everyone.
Travellers can purchase day passes for the Arenal hot springs or get complimentary access if you’re staying at one of the resorts near the springs. If you’re travelling to Costa Rica on a budget, there is a free hot spring called the Rio Tabacon, just a short walk across the Tabacon Thermal Resort.
2. Take a day trip to Poas Volcano National Park
Looking for things to do in Costa Rica close to San José? Located just a short drive or bus ride from San José, the Poas Volcano National Park in Alajuela Province is a perfect outdoor experience for a short hike and epic views. Drive up to the park entrance and from there it’s a short walk up to the Poas Volcano. Head here early in the day to beat the midday fog over the crater. There’s an admission fee of $15 to enter the park.
The park reopened at the end of 2018 after an eruption in 2017, and there are plenty of travellers hiking the volcano every week. There are well-marked and maintained paths to hike up the volcano, but be sure to bring good walking shoes!
3. Hike to La Paz Waterfall Gardens
Just a 30-minute (20km) drive away from Poas Volcano National Park is the beautiful area known as the La Paz Waterfall Gardens. This is one of the top things to do in Costa because it has the best of what the country has to offer all in one place. After hiking to the La Paz Waterfall, be sure to check out the hummingbird garden, the orchid garden, and Frog Pond, where you can have the pleasure of spotting Costa Rica’s famed green leaf frog and poison dart frog.
The La Paz Waterfall Gardens is a great experience for any nature lovers and a recommended family-friendly choice for your Costa Rica vacation. If you want to spend the night (and treat yourself) check out the La Paz Waterfall Gardens and Peace Lodge. The Gardens are only a short distance from San José and the airport, so you can do this trip on your way in or out of the country. Admission here is $48.
4. Go ziplining and cross the hanging bridges in Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve
Did you know that canopy tours originate from Costa Rica? If you’re looking for canopy and zip line (Tarzan swing) tours in Costa Rica, head no further than Monteverde. These experiences are definitely some of the top things to do in Costa Rica. The most popular option is the Official Canopy Tour, where you can go on a variety of zip lines across the cloud forests, climb up hollow trees and more.
You can also go on a walking guided tour (day or night) in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. The tours include a walk across the area’s suspension bridges so you can get some of the best views of the surrounding cloud forest. While you’re in the area be sure to check out Café de Monteverde, a sustainable coffee farm located in the Monteverde region.
5. Get under the radar in Santa Elena
Looking to really get lost in the jungle? Head to the neighbouring town of Santa Elena, just a few kilometres from the Monteverde Reserve. Santa Elena offers a variety of luxury and budget accommodation, making for a good alternative if you don’t want to stay in the Reserve itself. You’ll also be close (5 km) away from Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, another cloud forest reserve in the Monteverde region. Many travellers just head in and out of Monteverde, but if you really want to catch those real pura vida vibes, a getaway to Santa Elena might just be for you.
6. Go surfing along in Tamarindo and Samara
For those hoping to learn to surf in Costa Rica or spend some time on their own catching a wave, the best beaches in Costa Rica for surfing are Tamarindo Beach, Santa Teresa & Malpais Beach (Nicoya Peninsula), and Playa Samara on the Pacific Coast. Samara is one of the best beaches in Costa Rica if you are a beginner surfer. Samara is a chill little town with a few beach areas where the break isn’t so strong, so you can easily practice your surfing skills. Check out one of the town’s surf schools like C & C Surf School and stay a while.
7. Chill out in the Caribbean Coast
The Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is great for surf, but if you’re looking to relax, head east towards the Caribbean to slow things down in paradise. Start in Cahuita and head to Playa Blanca and Manzanillo. Head south as you get deeper in the jungle and along the coast with some beautiful black sand beaches. If you end up at the Panama border, you’ve gone too far! But if you’re feeling really adventurous, you can cross over to Panama overland and take a quick bus to the popular Bocas del Toro. Spend a few days by the beach in a hammock and you’ll be reminded of the truly important things in life.
8. What to Do in San José
Typically used as a stopping off point before taking the first bus out to the coast, Costa Rica’s capital city of San José is often overlooked. Want to know what to do in San José? Take a break from your outdoor eco-adventure and learn about the culture and heritage during your Costa Rica vacation and explore some of these main attractions.
- Teatro Nacional (National Theater)
- Museo Nacional de Costa Rica (National Museum of Costa Rica)
- Museo de los Niños (Children’s Museum)
- Mercado Centrale (San José’s Central Market)
Further reading: Central America Travel Guide
Where to Stay in Costa Rica
Wondering where to stay in Costa Rica? From sustainable luxury resorts to simple bungalows in the jungle, here are some accommodation options for every budget for your Costa Rica vacation.
Best luxury stays in Costa Rica
For a luxurious spa experience with some hot springs thrown in for good measure, try the Nayara Hotel Spa and Gardens. If you’re planning a stay in the central highlands, the Monteverde Lodge and Gardens is one of the best overall eco-luxury options in the cloud forests. They offer excellent tours of the area by local experts. Ocho Artisan Bungalows in Tamarindo has seven beach bungalows great for a small group and all the amenities you could want in a luxury hotel experience. Latitude 10 Exclusive Beach Resort in Santa Teresa is a top-rated eco hotel stay complete with free parking, delicious breakfast, a swimming pool, and beachfront access.
Best mid-range options in Costa Rica
Relax in a hammock and take in the breathtaking views at Arenal Kioro Suites & Spa, a wellness hotel near the Arenal Volcano. Si Como No Resort & Wildlife Refuge in Manuel Antonio National Park is a great value hotel with a bar, on-site bar, and excellent hidden beaches only a short walk or drive from the property. For mid-range hotels in Guanacaste, check out Hotel Rip Jack Inn by Playa Grande in Tamarindo Bay. It’s a popular spot for surfing and right by a national park. Hotel Samara Paraiso near Playa Samara is a condo hotel with great ratings.
Best budget hostels
Pension Santa Elena is the top budget hostel in the Santa Elena/Monteverde cloud forest region and a great place to unwind for a few days that won’t cost you much. Plus, the hostel’s located next door to the Orchid Garden (a must-see in Monteverde!) If you’re looking for some beach time on your Costa Rica vacation, head to Vista Verde in Playa Viejo on the Caribbean coast. With all the chill vibes here and being just a short walk from the beach, you might never want to leave. Las Mariposas in Playa Samara is a great place in Samara for meeting other travellers and taking in those chill beach vibes. If you’re on a budget and want to stay near the Arenal Volcano, the Arenal Backpackers Resort is just a short drive from the volcano and other popular natural sights.
Where to stay in San José
In Costa Rica’s capital of San José, there are a number of hotels for any budget. The lavish Gran Hotel Costa Rica has large, comfortable rooms and plenty of amenities. It’s well-located and within walking distance to lots of San José attractions. Costa Rica Guesthouse is an affordable option with double rooms, parking, and close to the city centre and major attractions. Budget travellers will love Selina San José, where a bed is less than $10/night in a dorm room. The place has a fun, clean, and chic look to it and there are activities and a bar and restaurant on-site so you can get your bearings and meet other travellers.
Insider tip: If you’re flying into San José Airport (SJO) late at night, book your stay at the Courtyard Marriott Alajuela. This San José hotel is located only 5 minutes from the airport and next to a Europcar, a Walmart and a number of dining options.
Getting Around Costa Rica
While the cheapest way to travel around during your Costa Rica vacation is to take the bus, many tourists choose to rent a car during their trip.
Can rentals in Costa Rica
Be sure to check the drive times along your route because they often can take longer than anticipated as you’ll be driving along winding rural roads with a slower speed limit. When booking your car, remember to request an automatic car is that is preferred as manual options are wildly available at often a lower rate.
Other Costa Rica Travel Information
What is the main airport in Costa Rica?
San José International (SJO) is the main hub airport in Costa Rica and offers connecting flights to the Caribbean area, Pacific in the south and the Central Valley.
Liberia International Airport (also known as Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport) (LIR) is located in Guanacaste in the north within driving distance to Playa Hermosa, Playa Flamingo, and Playa Taramindo.
How long is the flight from Toronto to Costa Rica?
A direct flight from Toronto (YYZ) to San José, Costa Rica (SJO) is just over 5 hours. From Toronto, Air Canada, Jet Airways and Avianca flight this route. However, if you are open to a layover you can also flight with Copa Airlines, Aeromexico, Interject, WestJet, Lufthansa, and British Airways.
What language is spoken in Costa Rica?
The main language spoken in Costa Rica is a dialect of Central American Spanish. If you’re travelling along the Caribbean Coast, you’ll also come across people speaking a dialect of Jamaican patois known as Mekatelyu.
However, in the majority of tourist areas many of the attractions offer tours in English and restaurants offer menus in English as well.
What currency is used in Costa Rica?
The national currency in Costa Rica is the colón (plural: colones), however, the dollar (USD) is accepted in main tourist areas. It is important to note that bills larger than $20 USD may not always be accepted by businesses and often when items are paid for in USD the change is given in colones.
While credit cards are also accepted, having some cash on hand may be helpful if you are travelling in more remote areas of the country.
What is the average temperature in Costa Rica?
The average temperature in Costa Rica annually ranges from
12° and 27° Celsius.
When is the best time to visit Costa Rica?
The best time to plan your Costa Rica vacation is during the dry season from mid-December to April. However, because it is the most popular time to visit it can often be the most popular and ideal time to visit for tourists and is often when rates are the highest.
What time zone is Costa Rica in?
Costa Rica is located in the Central Standard Time (CST) zone all year long. Daylight savings time is not observed in Costa Rica.
Now, that you know what you want to see during your Costa Rica vacation, all you need to do is find a flight deal and you’re on your way. Set up a price alert with Skyscanner or search by month to find the cheapest time to fly.