Activities & Adventures

The main attractions in Costa Rica are the tropical forests and beaches, but there are hundreds of other adventures and activities to explore. Choose from the menu at left or browse through the options below to get some ideas. (Click a pic to jump to that activity)

Artisans & Souvenirs Bars & Clubs Swimming Beaches Bicycling Birding Botanical Gardens Bull Fights Butterfly Gardens Camping Canoe Canopy Tour Casino Coffee Tour Restaurants Deep Sea Fishing
Scuba/Snorkel 4WD/Jeep Trails Freshwater Fishing Golf Guided Walks Gym Hiking Horseback Riding Hotsprings Internet Access Museum Mountain Climbing Nature Cruise Parque Central Raft/Kayak/Canoe
Amphibian/Reptile/Serpentarium Sailing Air Field Sea Kayaking Shopping Snorkel Surfing Trekking Turtle Nesting Volcano Waterfall Whale Watching Wind Surfing Zoo/Animal Shelter  

 

Swimming Beaches

Beaches—The playas of Costa Rica are rightly famous. They range from miles of deserted golden sand complete with overhanging palms and waterfalls dropping nearly directly into the surf in Corcovado, to the relaxed reggae backdrop of the black sand on Caribbean to the resort areas of the Nicoya Peninsula. Water temperatures are ideal year round, and the weather almost always cooperates for a perfect days.

 

 
Bicycling

Bicycling—Mountain bikes are a great way to explore the forests, especially if you arrange for a vehicle to take you to the top and spend all day cruising down hill.

Touring Costa Rica by bicycle is tough but spectacular. Remember it's a country that goes from Pacific sea level to 12,500 feet (4,000 meters) and back to Caribbean sea level in less than 70 miles.

Outside San José and off the major highways Ticos respect cyclists and give you a wide berth on rural roads, often shouting encouragement when you're struggling up particularily steep sections.

Road racing is a popular sport in Costa Rica, where not surprisingly the leading riders are climbers. The race over Cerro de la Muerte in December is the highlight of the season.

 

 
Birding

BirdingBotaurus pinnatus, Tigrisoma fasciatum, Tigrisoma mexicanum, Egretta thula, Egretta caerulea, Agamia agami, Cochlearius cochlearius- and that's just the most common Aredeidae. Avid birders know that Costa Rica is one of the top spots in the world, but you don't have to spend hours with binoculars glued to your eyes to see fascinating bird life in Costa Rica.

 

 
Botanical Gardens

Botanical Gardens—There are two world class gardens in Costa Rica-Wilson, outside San Vito in the mountains near the Panamanian border, and Lankester, outside Cartago in the Central Valley. A number of smaller gardens are sprinkled across the country.

 

 
Bull Fights

Bull FightsCorridas de Toros, is something of a misnomer, because Costa Rican bull fights have little in common with the blood sport of Spain and Mexico.

Riders challenge the bulls first, and when they are thrown light-footed "matadors" take over distracting and tiring the bull with their cape. Finally cowboys on pirouetting horses rope the bull and lead it from the ring. No blood is drawn.

There is a grand arena in San José but the highest quality is found in the small town's rings where fights are held during their Fiestas de el Patron. Go early as there can be quite a bit of beer consumed and late in the evening the competitions sometimes deteriorate into a gang of drunks trying to tackle a bull.

 

 
Butterfly Gardens

Butterfly Gardens—Large domes created from nearly transparent netting concentrate hundreds of butterflies in gardens of their favorite flowers and fruits.

You'll see them fluttering in the wild, but nowhere near as many and the gardens also often provide educational materials and guides. Most have a "nursery" where you can observe every stage egg, larva, pupae, and hatching into a "jewel of the rainforest."

 

Go to a map of Costa Ricas Butterfly Gardens
Camping

Camping—A growing number of lodges and cabinas offer grassy areas to pitch a tent and use of shared bathroom and cooking facilities for budget travelers.

Camping in the Costa Rican rainforests is very demanding but rewarding. Most of the National Parks don't open until well after sunrise, so spending the night is the only way to be there for the best wildlife viewing hours.

A few beaches have community camping which is very popular with Costa Ricans. Especially on holidays scores of Tico families flood areas like Uvita to set up tents, grills and makeshift soccer goals on the beach.


 
Canoe

Canoeing—Similar to the experiences you might have rafting or on a nature cruise, yet completely different. The silent glide of a canoe is one of the best ways to sneak up on wildlife along the banks of rivers that are nearly impossible to reach by land. Canoe Costa Rica has been providing tours for over 30 years and has top quality gear.

 

 
Canopy Tour

Canopy Tours—There are now more than a hundred places that you can explore the forest canopy. Canopy tours come in two general classes, adventure/entertainment & experience/education. Although there is some overlap you'll want to choose one that emphasizes your expectations.

Adventure & entertainment canopy tours often have little to do with the rainforest canopy and are more akin to an amusement park ride than a tour. Comprised of zip-lines, and rappels the thrill is the attraction. Zip-lines are cables that descend from the treetops, or one side of a ravine to the other. Riders don climbing harnesses and ascend to the start of the ride on ladders, then clip onto a pulley and rocket down the cable. Rappelling is a vertical descent on a climbing rope.

The goal of experience & education based canopy tours is spending time in the rain or cloud forest canopy, exploring this unique environment. These tours also sometimes utilize rock climbing gear and techniques in addition to ladders, bridges, and chairlifts or gondolas.


Go to a map of Costa Rica Zip Lines and Canopy Tours
Casino

Casinos—Most of the resorts and larger hotels in Costa Rica have a casino. They aren't as spectacle oriented as what you might be used to in Vegas, the Gold Coast, or even Atlantic city. It's more about getting down to the business of winning (or losing...) money.

Costa Rica has become a base of operations for several online gaming sites which are notoriously corrupt. The Casinos on the other hand are fair. Don't forget to leave time to fill out the paperwork and get your vouchers stamped if you happen to win a significant amount (anything over $100 depending on the place).

 

 
Coffee Tour

Coffee Tours—Concentrated in the Central Valley there are several coffee farms and processing stations that offer tours, the best known is Café Britt.
We spent a day at our friends farm during the bean harvest and you can see the photos.

 

 
Restaurants

Cuisine—Relax to the sound of the surf, and sip a tropical fruit batido while your tuna sizzles on the grill. Exploring new foods is as much part of travel to Costa Rica as exploring the rain and cloud forests. We've created a description of some of the tipico foods to get you started on your culinary adventures.

 

 
Deep Sea Fishing

Deep Sea Fishing—Blue water is close to shore, and the billfish are world class. Charters and excursions are widely available on both coasts. Shore casting is popular and productive as well. Pacific snook, jacks, corvina, and Spanish mackerel are around when you see the locals wetting their lines.

 

 
Scuba/Snorkel


Diving, Scuba—Costa Rica, the rich coast offers a number of excellent dive sites. The unique open water experience that Costa Rica can offer is mainly off the Pacific coast where you can see large marine life (like turtles sting rays, hammerhead, white tip and massive nurse sharks, as well as humpback and pilot whales in season).

Several of Costa Rica's National Parks have extensive marine regions including Cahuita, Marino Las Baulas, Marino Ballena, and Manuel Antonio. The Caño Island biological reserve off the coast of Corcovado National Park is a favorite destination of divers.

Costa Rica's Isla del Coco shares many similarities with the better known Galapagos Islands and is often packaged with dive trips there.

 

 
4WD/Jeep Trails

Four WD & Jeep Trails—Although Costa Ricans may wonder aloud why you think it's entertaining (they wish the road to their rancho were paved) there are countless places to test your four wheeling skills.

Narrow rocky cliff hangers are sandwiched between mudbogs where streams cross the track, just don't forget to find a few spots to pull off and shut the engine down to look and listen in the rainforest.

 

 
Freshwater Fishing

Freshwater Fishing—World class tarpon and snook fishing attract anglers from all over, and other game fish include bluegill, rainbow bass (guapote), alligator gar and machaca in the rivers of Barra del Colorado and around Caño Negro.

Lake Arenal is the largest is Costa Rica, and renowned for bass fishing, and fly casting for trout isn't the first thing that pops in mind when you hear Costa Rica, but they're out there waiting.

 

 
Artisans & Souvenirs

Galleries Art & Artisans—Traditional Costa Rican artisans in Guaitíl hand throw Chorotega pottery while you watch, and the wood carvers of Sarchí transform rainforest hardwoods into every imaginable shape. Drums, baskets, textiles, and pre-Columbian reproductions are just a few of the things you'll want to take home with you.

 

     
Golf

Golf—The weather is nearly always perfect for a round, and the sport is gaining popularity in Costa Rica as more courses are built. The Pacific resorts are your best bet for 18.

 

 
Guided Walks

Guided Walks—are one of the best ways to see wildlife. Guides know the best times and places, and they see things that are invisible to untrained eyes. Besides spotting wildlife, a good guide will relate natural history, ledgends and lore about what you are seeing and areas that you are in.

 

 
Gym

Gyms—If you need a warm up, or don't get enough of a workout paddling your sea kayak, or climbing Chirripó, many of the top end hotels have training equipment.

 

 
Hiking

Hiking—Hiking is a perfect way to explore almost any of Costa Rica's National Parks and reserves. Trails range from paved and level to bare tracks climbing steeply through sucking mud. If you're intent on spotting birds and wildlife an experienced local guide will lead you to the best spots, and reveal much that is invisible to untrained eyes.

 

 
Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding—Costa Rica, and especially Guanacaste Province has a strong equestrian tradition. Guided rides are common, and dozens of Ranchos and Fincas around the country offer day and overnight trips.

Horses are still used as transportation as well and a jeep taxi/boat ride/horseback combination is one of the most practical and fun ways to get from Arenal Volcano to Monteverde Cloud forest reserve.

 

 
Hotsprings

Hot springs—Sitting in a steaming pool under a hot waterfall at Tabacón resort while Arenal Volcano rumbles and spits red hot lava in the background is an amazing experience. The Guide's favorites are all more secluded though, and your only company is likely to be pollinating bats and stars overhead.

 

 
Internet Access

Internet Cafes—Although the coffee is the best you'll ever have, you won't want to sit in front of a computer screen for long when there are all these other things to do in Costa Rica.

It is a good way to keep in touch, and check back here at MapCR.com for more information if you need to change your plans ;-) Internet cafes, and connections in hotel rooms are quite common, so whether you need to e-mail mom or the nanny, or download your digital photos so you can take more, you won't have any trouble getting online.

 

 
 

Kite Surfing—A cross between a snowboard and a surfboard, a cross between a kite and a parachute, and a windy day at the beach...

 

 
Museum

Museums—Pre Columbian, indigenous, and contemporary art, insects, natural history, philatelic, railway, printing, and jade museums are found in San José. Several of the national parks have natural history museums and interpretive centers with exhibits specific to their main attractions.

 

 
Mountain Climbing

Mountain Climbing—Cerro Chirripó in Chirripó National Park is the highest peak in Costa Rica and is surrounded by several other scaleable peaks, at least eight distinct ecological zones, excellent trails, and a system of refugios.

Sport climbing is becoming more popular in Costa Rica, but one of the difficulties is finding bare rock.  Tropical foliage is so exhuberant it covers even vertical surfaces. 

 

 
Nature Cruise

Nature & Wildlife Cruises—The rivers are like roads to the deepest parts of the rainforest and you are likely to see more wildlife from the water than from a trail. The two main destinations for river/canal/marsh cruises are Caño Negro and Tortuguero National Parks. Mangrove swamp tours are offered near Manuel Antonio and further south from Sierpe.

 

 
Bars & Clubs

Nightclubs & Bars—Not surprisingly, bars and clubs are concentrated around the beach areas where people come to relax and unwind. DJ's and live music keep the dance floors hopping in Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, and Flamingo. In the central valley, San José has lively nightlife.

 

 
     
Parque Central

Parks—The Parque Central is usually across from the church, and a social focus for most Costa Rica Communities. Spend some time walking through the gardens or sitting on a bench people watching.

 

 
Raft/Kayak/Canoe

Rafting & Kayaking—As you might suspect in a country covered in rain forest that rises from one ocean to 12,000 feet and drops back to sea level in the space of 70 miles, whitewater abounds in Costa Rica. Trips cater to all ablility levels and interests.

 

 
Amphibian/Reptile/Serpentarium

Reptiles, Amphibians & Serpentariums—One of the most common fears expressed about travel to Costa Rica is one of snakes, and while you're likely to spot a number of colorful reptiles and amphibians in the wild, snakes are very shy. It's not likely that you'll see any unless you hire a good guide to seek them out, or get a close up look at a serpentarium.

 

 
Sailing

Sailing—Safe anchorages dot the Pacific Coast if you are bringing your own boat. If you just want to get out and feel the salt spray, a sunset cocktail cruise is a perfect way to relax after a long day of exploration, and can be arranged though many of the hotels in beach areas.

 

 
Air Field

Scenic Flights—Helicopter tours are available from San José, but more likely you'll find yourself using a small plane for transportation. Don't pack your camera, because although your main goal might be to get from point A to point B you won't want to miss the opportunity to snap a shot to the scenery in between from the air.

 

 
Sea Kayaking

Sea Kayaking—Options range from an afternoon atop a surf kayak exploring the secluded beach around the headland from your hotel to multi-night excursions along some of the wildest regions of coast. Paddle with dolphins, whales, and turtles for a unique experience in otherwise inaccessible areas.

 

 
Shopping

Shopping—Costa Rica doesn't sport a Rodeo Drive, Fifth Avenue, or Champs Elysee but there is shopping none the less. Many of the resorts have shops, and the upscale coastal hotels sport boutiques with swimwear and beach fashions on display.

Almost every town of any size in Costa Rica has a mercado central, where in addition to produce, fruits and meat, there are booths selling everyday items. They are worth seeing before they are replaced by supermarkets and mini-malls.

Golfito near the Panamanian border is in a special commerce zone and thrives on duty free shopping. Unfortunately for travelers, it is geared mainly towards bargains on home appliances.

 

 
Artisans & Souvenirs

Souvenirs—You won't be able to resist several pounds of coffee beans, then you can choose from banana leaf stationary, Chorotega pottery, carved rainforest hardwoods, drums, baskets, textiles, and pre-Columbian reproductions. It one of the oddest souvenirs, but you'll understand better after you've tried it and are trying to figure out how to get a couple of bottles of Lizano sauce home without breaking them.

 

 
 

Spelunking—There are two main areas of caves that are open to cavers in Costa Rica, Barra Honda National Park on the Nicoya Peninsula, and Venado caverns often visited on day trips from Arenal.

 

 
Snorkel

Snorkeling—Costa Rica is not a snorkeling and diving destination like Belize and the Caribbean Islands. Most of the best snorkeling is around some of the small islands of the Pacific coast and is easiest to access by hitching a ride on a dive boat.

On the Caribbean side, Cahuita is know for the reef that prompted establishing a National Park there. However, visibility is often poor due to the sediment carried by the runoff from nearby banana plantations, the best sites are offshore, and all but the strongest swimmers require a boat, and since an earthquake lifted part of the reef above the low tide mark it's never quite been the same.

 

 
Surfing

Surfing—With it's huge ratio of coastline to land mass, Costa Rica is a surfers paradise. You can cross from the Pacific to the Caribbean in under an hour in a small plane, so you can chase the waves wherever they are best.

 

 
Trekking

Trekking and Backpacking—Some of the parks and reserves are better bets for a backpacking trip than others, because they have better trails, drinking water, and some established campgrounds and/or refugios (small shelters that eliminate the need for a tent).

Cerro Chirripó in Chirripó National Park is the highest peak in Costa Rica and is surrounded by several other scaleable peaks, at least eight distinct ecological zones, excellent trails, and a system of refugios.

Corcovado National Park is located on the southern tip of the southern Osa Peninsula, and highly recommended for a three or four day trek. If you don't want to carry a tent you can take advantage of the modest accommodations at the ranger stations.

Santa Rosa National Park has drive-in, walk-in and boat-in campsites. Playa Naranjo is excellent for surfing and the campground is just off the beach.

 

 
Turtle Nesting

Turtle Nesting—Thanks to people who are interested in watching turtles rather than eating them or their eggs, sea turtles may be making a comeback. It's possible to see turtles nesting any time of the year, but there are definite seasons for the spectacular arribadas when hundreds come ashore in a single night to lay their eggs. Seasons are noted on the individual park pages for Marino Ballena, Tortuguero, and Marino Las Baulas National Parks.

 

 
Volcano

VolcanoesVolcán Arenal is the undisputed champion of Costa Rican volcanoes for lava flows and spectacular ejections of molten boulders and ash. A stay in one of the lodges with views of the volcano can reward you with night-time scenes of rivers of red. There are a number of trails around the volcano where you can see older, cooling flows, and the stages of regeneration as the forests reclaim the conical slopes.

Poás, Turrialba, Chato, Irazú, Miravalles, Orosí, and Rincón de la Vieja lack the flowing lava, but offer an assortment of craters, pyroclastic cones, boiling mud pots, otherworldly green and blue lakes, cloud forests, and hotsprings to explore.

 

 
Waterfall

Waterfalls & River Hiking—The number of spectacular waterfalls in Costa Rica reflects rainfall averages of over 20 feet a year and the sheer drops of some of the mountain ranges. Some are visible from paved roads as you travel from place to place, but others require significant effort to reach. The surest way to find a falls with a deserted swiming hole at the bottom is to start walking upstream.

 

 
Whale Watching

Whale WatchingMarino Ballena National Park takes its name from the humpback whales that mate in its warm waters each December though April. They can often be seen from the beach, or boat tours are available from local hotels.

 

 
Wind Surfing

Windsurfing—The constantly balmy water (66 to 71 °F, 19-21 °C), average wind speeds of 24 mph (40 kph) and the exquisite setting combine to make Lake Arenal a world class destination for windsurfers. Rental equipment and lessons are available locally.

 Bahía Salinas in the northwest is the most popular beach location for windsurfing

 

 
Zoo/Animal Shelter Zoos & Animal Rescues—The Simón Bolívar zoo in San José of course specializes in Central American species. Other small "zoos" around the country have been organized around animal rescue efforts. Zoo Ave. in Alejuela is a particularily good example; rehabilitating parrots for reintroduction into the parks and reserves of Costa Rica.