7 unmissable experiences to have in Costa Rica

written by Mark Hewitt March 1, 2018
Travellers whitewater rafting in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is one of those destinations that’s so stacked with stuff to do, you could spend more hours planning your holiday than actually on your holiday.

Take the national parks, for instance – there are more than 27 of them, all of them beautiful. Beaches? Around 300 to choose from. To save you from the dreaded online rabbit-hole of indecision, here are seven must-experience things to include when you’re putting together your Costa Rica getaway. This (by no means exhaustive) list is heavy on the nature experiences; but this is Costa Rica, where ecotourism and outdoor adventure quite rightly reign supreme.

1. Find a resplendent quetzal in Monteverde Cloud Forest

Replendent Quetzal in Costa Rica

Image by Ondrej Prosicky

It’s easier said than done, but half the fun of searching for this rare species of Central American bird is the thrill of the chase. Monteverde’s vegetation alone makes it a joy to explore, and any birds you spot (or growling big cats you hear) from the sky-high footbridges feel like a bonus. And in an environment this biodiverse, the bonuses come thick and fast.


2. Go rafting down the Pacuare River

The Pacuare River is rated among the world’s best spots for whitewater rafting. Offering a good mix of accessible and more difficult rapids, it’s flanked by rainforests full of ocelots, monkeys, jaguars, butterflies, colourful wildflowers and some pretty amazing waterfalls. It may be hard to concentrate on the task at hand – negotiating a class 3 or 4 rapid – but such is the dilemma in paradise.

3. Snorkel in the Caribbean Sea

Beach and jungle in Cahuita National Park, Costa Rica

Image by Simon Dannhauer

At the end of said river lies the Caribbean Sea, where the plot thickens considerably. Puerto Viejo is a lovely spot to strap on a mask and dive in, and Cahuita, just north of there, is also an excellent base for snorkelling day-trips. Some 125 species of tropical fish inhabit the waters in and around Cahuita National Park.

4. Tour San Jose’s stunning Teatro Nacional

Teatro Nacional, Costa Rica

Image by Jarno Gonzalez Zarraonandia

Come for the stage show, stay for the interior design. Or is it the other way around? Central America’s grandest theatre, built on the cream of a booming late-19th-century coffee industry, dispels any notion that Costa Rica’s beauty is all the natural kind. Even if you’re not the theatre-going type, take one of the excellent hourly tours and behold all that gorgeous marble.

5. See sea turtles in Tortuguero

Located in the Limon Province on the northern Caribbean coast, Tortuguero is a lush coastal enclave of rainforest, swamplands and lagoons. It’s a chance to see all kinds of wildlife, from jaguars to three-toed sloths to spider monkeys, but the stars of the show are found on the beach. Green sea turtles, one of seven species of turtle in the area, come ashore to lay eggs between July and October.

6. Go birdwatching in Sarapiqui

Honeycreeper, Costa Rica

Image by Salparadis

In the heart of Costa Rica’s banana and pineapple country lies Sarapiqui, the gateway to Central America’s most concentrated bird population. Twitchers will be thrilled with La Selva Biological Research Station, which spans more than 1500 hectares and hosts, at last count, more than 460 species, from hummingbird to hawk to heron.


7. Experience a homestay

Local man cooking in Santa Rosa de Pocosol, Costa Rica

Image by Pedro Paulo Ferreira

In a country as scenically beautiful as Costa Rica, it’s easy to overlook the other national treasure: its people. Latin America is famous for its open, festive, inclusive cultures, and there’s no better way to get amongst Costa Rica’s than on a homestay. A good one is the Juanilama agricultural community at Santa Rosa de Pocosol. Spend time with the locals, meet the farm animals, try your hand at cooking and daily chores, even join in on some soap-making. Try some noni (the stinky super-fruit) if you dare.

For more outstanding experiences in Costa Rica, see our full range of trips here.

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