Those travelers willing to dive headfirst into all Costa Rica’s offerings will find no shortage of activities. From natural hot springs to secret waterfalls, and over two dozen national parks — Costa Rica is a playground for outdoor enthusiasts and nature lovers. One day can find you tromping around an active volcano while the next you may be 50 feet underwater inside a school of swirling fish. Here are the top 12 activities you won’t want to miss in Costa Rica.
Surf the Nicoya Peninsula
Surfing and Costa Rica go hand in hand. For the most surfable beaches, head to the rustic western coast of Nicoya Peninsula. Nosara Beach — noted for its killer sunsets, colorful marine life, sparkling waters and consistent waves — is a favorite. Playa Samara is another great choice for beginner surfers who don’t want to feel intimidated by big waves. It also offers lots of other activities, so if you’re in a split group of surfers and non-surfers, Samara is a good bet.
Trek Around Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano stands an imposing 5,000-plus feet tall. While visitors cannot climb the country’s most active volcano, there are trails that wind through the lava-filled land and dense rainforests. You can see breathtaking views of Lake Arenal, the surrounding ecosystems and the volcano (as well as the devastation it caused with its eruption) via a number of short treks.
Bathe in Hot Springs
After a morning tromping around Arenal, treat yourself to an afternoon dip at Tabacon Hot Springs. Located near the base of the volcano, spending time here isn’t the cheapest way to pass time, but most say it’s worth it. A half-day pass will get you a gourmet meal and four hours of access to the cascading thermal springs. If you want to kick it up a notch, book a volcanic mud wrap or coconut exfoliation at the world-class spa, also on site.
There is no shortage of waterfalls in Costa Rica. You could stumble upon one at any moment, but there are some that are worth a purposeful visit. Catarata de Toro, for example, is a real stunner. Located on a private reserve in the remote Central Valley, this waterfall drops 300 feet down an emerald-green cliff into a volcanic crater. Craving more? Head to the nearby La Paz Waterfall Gardens. If you don't mind the $45 admission price, you can trek the 3.5-kilometer trail and view five waterfalls among the cloud forest.
Take a Boat Ride Through the Canals of Tortuguero National Park
Viewing the turtles laying their eggs on the beaches inside this national park is the number one draw, but there are other ways to spend time here, too. The best way to appreciate this network of marshy islands is with a boat cruise through the canals. From the water, you’ll have the chance to see different species of turtles, monkeys, birds and crocodiles.
Party it up in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Beach and bar hopping is the name of the game on the southeast coast of Costa Rica. The laid-back hippie haven of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is beloved by surfers and beach bums alike. Days are spent lounging on picture-perfect beaches and riding waves. Nights are spent enjoying cocktails and reggae music blasting from the generous spattering of bamboo beach bars.
Swing Through a Cloud Forest
What’s more thrilling than zipping through the treetops of a dense jungle, passing through patches of misty clouds as you go? This is a quintessential Costa Rican experience and best had at Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve. Discover the magic where the sky meets the trees with a zip line tour, hanging bridge tour or aerial tram tour.
Discover Pristine National Parks
With 25% of Costa Rica dedicated to over two dozen national parks and protected areas, you have quite a lot to choose from. If you’re an animal lover keen on spotting diverse wildlife, head to Corcovado National Park on Costa Rica’s South Pacific coast. A few hundred kilometers north of Corcovado lies Manuel Antonio National Park, one of Costa Rica’s smallest protected areas. Despite its petite size, this park offers some truly stunning white-sand beaches that are practically deserted.
Ride Horses on the Beach
Nothing says “vacation” like the sandy shores of a breathtaking beach at sunset. Make this a reality with a horseback riding tour courtesy of The Riding Adventure company. From here you’ll discover the uninhabited beaches of Esterillos Este and spot local wildlife on the forest trails that border it.
Take a Costa Rican Coffee Tour
Some of the world’s most aromatic coffee originates in Costa Rica. Learn all about what makes the local coffee so irresistible, how it’s produced and, of course, sample the goods. Check out one of the best bang-for-your-buck plantations, Don Juan’s (near Arenal Volcano). This tour not only includes a description of the coffee business and production but also includes its famous chocolate tour. Yes, you get to taste it.
Scuba Dive in Tropical Waters
Costa Rica’s Pacific coast offers warm water, diverse marine life and clear visibility year-round. If you’re a certified diver, book a few fun dives for the chance to see whale sharks, dolphins, sea turtles and manta rays. Scuba divers will be most impressed by the dive sites around Osa Peninsula (like the well-known Cano Island) and the Catalina Islands. If going fully submerged isn’t for you, snorkeling is a wonderful alternative. Shallow reefs offer plenty to see. Best bets for snorkelers include Punta Cahuita National Park, Gulf of Papagayo and Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge.