Best Things to do in Costa Rica for Wildlife and Adrenaline Junkies

Costa Rica is a sanctuary calling your name because of its rich jungle paradise and abundance of wildlife. One day you can go surfing on the Pacific Coast, the next, you can be spotting smiley sloths (how cute are they!) or hiking the Arenal Volcano. So whether you seek sun, nature, or adventure, we will unpack some of the best things to do in Costa Rica below. 

A quick lesson on Costa Rica

waterfall in Costa Rica

Located in Central America, Costa Rica is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama. With roughly a quarter of its land a protected jungle, it’s no wonder nature lovers flock to the country.

There are two international airports: San Jose International Airport and Roberts International airport in Liberia. Most flights, however, arrive in San Jose.

Once you’ve arrived, spend a night or two in San Jose before starting your adventure. If you want, you can use San Jose as a base and take weekend getaways from there. If you don’t want to hire a car (most main roads are in good condition these days), then your best bet is to take buses or travel in a shared minivan

Below, you will find some of the most unique things to do in Costa Rica. 

Must-do things in Costa Rica for a pura vida holiday 

Surf on the Pacific Coast 

girl surfing

It’s no surprise that one of the most popular activities in Costa Rica is surfing since it experiences perfect year-round waves.

Some popular places to surf include the party town of Tamarindo. You will find reef, river mouth and beach breaks surrounding the town, offering varied options for keen surfers. Additionally, it’s easy to get from San Jose to Tamarindo.

Nosara and Guiones, both located further down the coast, are becoming well known for their surf schools. 

​​Playa Santa Teresa, Playa Carmen and Mal Pais are other towns to consider when planning a surf trip. 

Look out for sloths 

Sloth hanging from a tree in Costa Rica

If you don’t see a sloth, have you even been to Costa Rica? 

Their dopey-eyed smiles are just the cutest, and searching for them in the wild has to be one of the most fun things to do in Costa Rica. 

Sloths live all over the country, but the Caribbean, central Pacific, and Osa Peninsula are the areas with the highest concentrations. The trick is to keep an eye on where you’re walking while also looking up. They reside in the tops of trees, only coming down about once a week to poop! 

They love cecropia trees, which are tall and have thin white trunks, so be on the lookout.

If you have children or are impatient (we don’t blame you!), your best bet is to go with a guide. They are the experts and know how to find them. Believe it or not, sloths are hard to find. They actually look camouflaged in the trees, so a guide isn’t cheating. It’s wise if seeing a sloth is essential to you. 

However you spot them, it is definitely one of the best things to do in Costa Rica!

Go Whale Watching in Ballena Marine National Park

whale breaching

Whales are commonly spotted in Costa Rica, especially on the west coast. As Ballena means whale in Spanish, it’s easy to see why this Marine National Park would be your go-to. 

Whale watching is almost a year round activity, with whales arriving from the seas of North America from December to April. In addition, from July to November, you will have the chance to spot whales from Antarctica. 

Adventurous Things to do in Costa Rica

Hike Arenal Volcano (or take in the views from afar)

Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Do volcanoes excite you? How about if we told you this one was still active? Although it has not erupted since 2010! 

Located just 18km (11 miles) from La Fortuna, you will find the main sector of the Arenal Volcano, known as the Volcano Sector. The Peninsula Sector is an additional 2km (1.2 miles) away. If you only choose to visit one area, we recommend the Volcano sector. There are some amazing viewpoints, a lava trail and giant trees that survived the major 1992 eruption. 

While you can visit some viewpoints on your own (either by car or walking), we would suggest signing up for a guided hike. 

Explore La Fortuna 

white water rafting

If you’ve decided that the Arenal Volcano is a Costa Rica must-see, then it may be easiest to base yourself in La Fortuna for a night or two. Located in the Northwest, it makes a great base with lots of restaurants, cafes and shops to explore. 

Plus, it has breathtaking views of the Volcano in the background. 

Besides visiting an active volcano, some other adrenaline-fueled activities include taking a safari float along the Peñas Blancas River, going white water rafting and jumping from the rope swing at El Salto swimming spot.

After the adrenaline high wears off, soak in the natural hot springs nearby. 

From San Jose to La Fortuna, it is a reasonably relaxed 3-4 hour drive. If you haven’t hired a car, the best options are a bus or minivan. Prices start at $41. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest Walk 

Monteverde Cloud Forest Costa Rica

If you are still wondering what to do in Costa Rica, then a trip to Monteverde Cloud Forest Walk is highly recommended. A name that was not given to it by accident. 

Perched high above the sea level, a mist hangs over the lush forests. 

You can choose to visit Monteverde Cloud Forest Walk with a guide or by yourself. If you want to learn more about the forest, the ecosystem and spot wildlife, then we would opt for the first option. 

As you adventure around, you will see an abundance of wildlife, including many bird and butterfly species, frogs, and snakes. You can also come across monkeys, tapirs and sloths. Remember what we said earlier? Look up if you are trying to spot sloths! The uniqueness and abundance of wildlife make it one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. 

There is an entrance fee of $25 per person, and the best place to base yourself for a Monteverde Cloud Forest Walk trip is Santa Elena.

To get from La Fortuna to Monteverde, take a bus or minivan for about 3 hours and 30 minutes. Prices start at $45.  

Spend the day at Manuel Antonio National Park 

Manuel Antonio National Park in Costa Rica

Located on the Central Pacific Coast of Costa Rica and spread across 680 hectares lies Manuel Antonio National Park. It is an adventurer’s paradise waiting to be explored. 

Inside the national park, you will find three-toed sloths, toucans, iguanas and a range of bird species. The most social creatures are the capuchin, howler, and squirrel monkeys. Keep a close watch on your snacks. Some of them are notorious thieves, so never underestimate a monkey! 

Spend the day exploring the national park by foot along casual rainforest trails or hike along mountain trails. If your feet get tired, don’t fret. There are four pristine beaches to rest and enjoy some sun. 

Best time to visit Costa Rica

colorful toucan sitting on a branch

From mid-December to April, there is less rain with average temperatures in the high 70s to low 80s. It’s the most popular time to visit—read busier and more expensive. 

From late April to November, Costa Rica experiences short rainfalls most days. However, it shouldn’t stop you from visiting at this time of the year! With the abundance of nature in the country, everything is super green during these months, which is also a plus. 

FAQ

What is the local currency in Costa Rica?

It’s the colón (CRC). However, US dollars are accepted and used at most places. 

What is the capital city of Costa Rica?

It’s San Jose—known for its world-class museums, parks and historic buildings. 

What language is spoken in Costa Rica?

Spanish is the official language. However, English is widely used in touristy areas.

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