30 Costa Rica vacation ideas

Dreaming of a trip to Costa Rica? If you're putting together an itinerary, do yourself a favor and check out our collection of top 30 Costa Rica vacation ideas
Suspension Bridge in costa Rica.
Suspension Bridge in costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

Dreaming of a trip to Costa Rica? You're not alone; this enchanting destination is a traveler's paradise, especially for nature lovers and thrill seekers. If you're putting together your itinerary, do yourself a favour and check out our collection of top 30 Costa Rica vacation ideas. From the beach to the rainforest — and everywhere in between — there's a little something for everyone...

1. Climb trees in the rainforest

What better place to explore the lush, awe-inspiring rainforest than by escaping high above the trees? At Hacienda Baru Lodge, travellers can, with the help of an expert guide, scale an enormous rainforest tree to the very top—one that's as high as a 10-storey building. But this is not before warming up with a 40-minute hike that passes through a national wildlife refuge surrounded by overgrown cacao plantations. If it's an adventurous and unforgettable vacation you're after, this activity fits the bill.

2. Take to a catamaran

When it comes to coastal tours, Costa Rica is divine. That said, it's little wonder that taking to the water makes for a brilliant excursion. A local catamaran tour will do the trick, serving up epic sights and a warm breeze along the way. Have your camera ready for the unique and exotic wildlife you will spot while on your journey. Admire scenery filled with islands, jagged cliffs, and rock formations. On the west coast, this tour jets out onto the Pacific and makes a pit stop at the dazzling Biesanz beach before heading back inland.

3. Do a little bird-watching

Costa Rica is abundant with rare, wild birds, so it’s no surprise that observing them in their natural environment is a sight to behold. A guided bird-watching tour is a must, especially for anyone who wants to revel in Costa Rica's natural wonders. Be greeted in the cloud forest with a morning birdsong before taking to a private reserve to catch glimpses of over 170 different species. You can spot rare species of birds including the tropical kingbird, barred becard, rufous-tailed hummingbird, and Amazon kingfisher with Insight Guides' Costa Rica's Wild South trip

Keel-Billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) in Costa Rica. Photo: shutterstockKeel-Billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus) in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

4. Discover unbelievable national parks

Costa Rica is pretty much synonymous with wildlife conservation (over a quarter of the country is designated as some sort of protected area). Translation: the exquisite national parks are among the world's very best. Manuel Antonio, Rincón de la Vieja, Isla del Coco, Corcovado, and Tortuguero are all exceptional. Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the most famous in Costa Rica, due to the variety of flora and fauna that it has to offer. Enjoy a guided tour with a naturalist guide, a part of Insight Guides' Tropical Costa Rica tour, and gain give greater understanding of the wildlife you encounter.

5. Hire a kayak

You don't have to be a kayaking pro to take advantage of this wildly popular Costa Rican experience. Biesanz beach’s secluded coastline (located on the Pacific side), allows you to discover the ocean life above and below the surface. Paddle past picturesque islands and inlets, while everything from pelicans to flying-fish make an appearance. The sea kayaking tours here are suitable for all levels of experience, allowing all visitors to explore the Costa Rican ocean. Some private tours even throw in a spot of snorkelling.

6. Go horseback riding

For a slower change of pace, head inland on horseback on one of Costa Rica's hidden farms or seemingly untouched local trails. Bajos del Toro is a particularly lovely destination, offering up pastoral landscapes along Poas volcano’s heat-etched slopes. The gorgeous views of misty mountains and calming waterfalls take relaxation to a whole new level. These trails even offer a chance to get away from the tourist traps of city life to meet and greet members of the local community.  

7. Spend the day snorkelling

Speaking of snorkelling, to do so in Costa Rica is to open your eyes to a fascinating world waiting just beneath the ocean's surface. The perfect spots for snorkelling lie around the Osa Peninsula, where it is estimated to be the home of 2.5% of the world’s biodiversity. Explore the ocean world filled with views of colourful and exotic fish along the coral reef. On a clear day, expect to come across angelfish, parrotfish, sea turtles, starfish and more.

Horseback riding. Photo: ShutterstockHorseback riding in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

8. Take a farm tour

Want to get off the beaten track? In Italy, you book an olive oil tour; in France, you head to the vineyards. On Costa Rican trips, it's all about coffee and sugar. The El Trapiche tour (led by a local Costa Rican family) takes visitors through the farm's sugar cane and coffee crops, providing a sneak peek into the production process including the opportunity to taste the sugar cane and its derivatives. You’ll also be able to observe the farm’s banana plantation, arracache, macadamia nuts, and orange crops. In a word: fascinating.

9. Hike a volcano (seriously)

For centuries, Costa Rica has been a hotbed of volcanic activity. Today, the Central Valley alone has four active cones. Those who like to vacation on the wild side can explore a volcano on foot on one of many private hiking tours to Arenal Volcano National Park in La Fortuna. This gives you the opportunity to see the area destroyed by the 1969 eruption, which is now going through the regeneration process. The hike will also guide you through the forest to recent lava flows.

Vulcano Arenal. Photo: ShutterstockTrips to Costa Rica can include hikes to Volcano Arenal. Photo: Shutterstock

10. Sail the high seas

Catamarans aren't the only way to explore Costa Rica by water. Sailing enthusiasts are sure to get a kick out of setting off on the shimmering blue waters of the Atlantic, spotting turtles, dolphins, flying fish, and whales along the way. For those who want to take a chance at casting a line, you may be able to catch a yellow fin tuna, mahi mahi or maybe even a sailfish. And, if you're lucky, your captain will whisk you to a secluded bay before dropping anchor.

11. Relax in the hot springs

Take a dip in volcanic thermal springs - with the rainforest as your backdrop. Prepare to be relaxed; this natural phenomenon is nothing short of remarkable. Ready to unwind in a natural Jacuzzi while fully immersed in the jungle? Our top two choices are Tabacon and Ecotermales. At Tabacon, there are five different springs, ranging from 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) to 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Ecotermales has six relaxing areas with pools from 37 to 41 degrees Celsius (or 98 to 105 degrees Fahrenheit).

12. Get up close and personal with exotic wildlife

Costa Rica is home to some of the world's most treasured wildlife; this we already know. But what you might not know is that when it comes to Costa Rica vacation ideas, actually getting up close to exotic animals takes the cake. Catch the arrival of the green sea turtle where you wait for the turtles to return from the sea and watch as they dig their nests and lay their eggs. It’s truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Sea Turtle Hatchling. Photo: ShutterstockWatch sea turtles hatching on the beach on trip to Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

13. Go zip-lining through the jungle

There's strolling around the rainforest - then there's zipping through it at high speed while suspended from a zip-line. Costa Rica is known the world over as a destination for outdoor adventure sports, and zip-lining is no exception. Visitors shouldn't have trouble finding a tour guide to hook them up (literally). Arenal Volcano National Park is a great place to start. With 12 cables and 16 platforms, it makes for an adventure seeker’s dream. 12 of the platforms hang 90ft above ground in the tree canopy, giving plenty of opportunities to view the local wildlife below.

14. Grab a surfboard

Whether you're a seasoned pro or someone who's never hung ten in their life, Costa Rica is indeed a surfer's paradise with spectacular waves. You can even snag a professional lesson in Tamarindo where instructors guarantee that by the end of the session, you’ll be able to stand up and ride your first wave.

Surfing in Costa Rica. Photo: ShutterstockSurfing in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

15. Go stand-up paddle boarding

Stand-up paddle boarding more your speed? Challenge your balance with this popular new sport. You can grab lessons in the small coastal beach town of Tamarindo. Tamarindo is located on the Nicoya Peninsula, which makes for a perfect view. Fortunately, the pros say that mastering this art is far easier than it looks, and the built-in deck grip on the board provides maximum traction. Bonus: it's also said to be a killer workout (it sure beats the gym).

16. Try your hand at river rafting

For the more daring traveler, white water rafting is easily one of the wildest Costa Rica vacation ideas. In Londres Village, take to the rushing Naranjo River. During the run, rafters are surrounded by gorgeous mountains, farmlands, palm plantations, and jungle gorges. If you want to get your blood pumping, put one of these tours on your list. No experience is required, but the rapids of the rivers can be challenging. Luckily, there are a variety of options for river rafting classes based on your needs and experience levels.

17. Float along the river

Intense rafting adventures aren't up everyone's alley. Looking for something more on the mild side—but equally mesmerising? A safari float tour offers a rainforest experience that's more on the tranquil side. Enjoy a quiet paddle down the river while also spotting some local wildlife along the way. A professional guide will share details about the plants and animals that you encounter. Be sure to bring some binoculars and a camera—there will be plenty of memorable photo opportunities.

18. Get your culture fix in San José

Trips to Costa Rica aren't all jungles and water sports. Culture-vultures can get their fix in bustling San José, where they'll be greeted with colourful locals and extraordinarily fresh markets and cuisine. Immerse yourself in San José as part of Insight Guides' Tropical Costa Rica tour. For a more in-depth look at Costa Rica's fabulously rich culture, consider taking a city tour through the capital's many museums and historical sites. In the city’s museums, art galleries and in some hotels, you’ll find a small booklet called GAM (Greater Metropolitan Area). This is a calendar of all activities happening in and around the capital city, you’ll find out what’s going on while you’re there.

Museo de Oro, gold museum in San Jose. Photo: Corrie Wingate/APAMuseo de Oro, gold museum in San Jose. Photo: Corrie Wingate/APA

19. Take in the rainforest

One of the most alluring things about Costa Rica is the rainforest. Exploring the jungle is an absolute must—but between zip-lining, hot springs, river rafting and more, deciding on what to do can present a problem in itself. For those of us who want to do it all, consider a comprehensive rainforest tour that offers a little taste of everything. Eco-parks like Hacienda Pozo Azul offer create-your-own rainforest adventures with plenty of activities on the menu.

20. Grab dinner and a show

After a day spent on the beach or in the jungle, some tasty food and top-notch entertainment isn't a bad way to wrap it up. We recommend Ram Luna, which you'll find overlooking the Central Valley high above the mountains with panoramic views of the capital at dusk. In addition to the wonderfully authentic and customary Costa Rican food, guests are also treated to traditional dances and marimba music, as well as fireworks and to-die-for views.

21. Get to know some reptiles

While it's usually Costa Rica's exotic birds and cuddly sloths that steal the show, this destination is also home to some fabulous reptiles that are certainly worth visiting—vibrant tree frogs, lizards, snakes and more. The reptile exhibition at Selvatura Park is a definite standout. These reptiles are rescued and gathered from all over Costa Rica and kept in optimum conditions inside acclimatised terrariums, in order to stimulate the natural habitat of each species.

22. Take a stroll through a butterfly garden

Also at Selvatura Park is one of the biggest butterfly gardens in the Americas. The park has a domed structure that is covered by a special acrylic and metallic ceiling to help control the temperature within the enclosure. This enables visitors to catch a glimpse of more than 30 different species from different climates and altitudes, all of which are native to Costa Rica. This includes the stunning blue Morpho - —the iconic rainforest butterfly.  

23. Meet some baby sloths

Costa Rica is perhaps the best destination in the world for getting to know the loveable sloth. In San José, the Toucan Rescue Ranch has a variety of rescued sloths that are currently being rehabilitated. You can watch them working on their climbing skills, as well as learning to be independent. Besides sloths, the centre is also currently caring for spider monkeys, a sea otter, and other exotic creatures in need. A visit with the incredible staff is sure to awe and inspire.

Costa Rican sloth. Photo: ShutterstockThe adorable Costa Rican sloth. Photo: Shutterstock

24. Explore the Could Forest at night

The Monteverde Cloud Forest is especially captivating come nightfall. With a flashlight in hand, visitors can observe nocturnal wildlife while immersing themselves in the wondrous sounds of the jungle that can only be heard at night. You will see tarantulas, frogs, fluorescent fungi, several species of insects, and bats flying overhead. It is recommended, if you’re brave enough, to turn off your flashlight to really get the full experience of the new world that awakens at night. Explore Monteverde Cloud Forest with Insight Guides' Costa Rica: Coast to Coast trip.

25. Jump on a bike

Explore Costa Rica by mountain bike around the Arenal Lake shore with . The view from the country’s most iconic volcano makes for an incredible backdrop as you cycle from one natural wonder to the next. While cycling, you will also learn about the nearby towns, local people, and the history of the volcano and its surroundings. Your guide can also point out unique sightings while telling you about the natural history of the area. Be sure to stop along the way, to make the most of the picturesque views.

26. Visit and eco-lodge

It isn't all that surprising that eco-tourism is all the rage in Costa Rica. Opting to stay at an eco-lodge proves why. Here, travellers can experience nature at its best, as most lodges are relatively remote and located near national parks. Some eco-lodges including Lapa Rios Eco Lodge provide excursions for travellers to learn about the area around them. You can take a local medicine tour, hike through the forest to the waterfalls, or help contribute to Lapa Rios reforestation program by transplanting a tree in an emerging forest area. Outdoor enthusiasts will feel right at home.  

Eco lodge in Costa Rica. Photo: ShutterstockEco-travel focused trips are all the rage in Costa Rica. Photo: Shutterstock

27. Give water rappelling a try

For those who aren't familiar, water rappelling basically translates to (securely) stepping backward from the top of a waterfall. With the help of safety ropes and professional guidance, you then follow the flow to the bottom. This impressive adventure sport is also known by the name canyoning. A place that is great to give it a try is the Osa Peninsula. No experience required, except maybe a big dose of bravery. Extremely cool? Yes. Slightly terrifying? Yes, again.

28. Get to know the Venado Caves

Formed 15 to 20 million years ago during the Miocene period, the Venado Caves are known for their whimsical stone formations that are actually the result of an underground river. The Guatuzo aborigines discovered the caves, which are made from limestone rocks, stalactites, stalagmites and coral. The caves were under sea level for many years and surfaced only due to tectonic movements. Book onto Insight Guides' Beaches and Volcanoes trip, to experience this geological wonder and spot the fossils first hand.

29. Walk on the wild side

Why hike through the jungle when you can make your way on an iconic hanging bridge as long as 984 feet? These rainforest staples may look precarious, but they're actually more than stable. The Sky Walk tour in Monteverde Park hits all the high points (and we mean high points). This guided tour combines nature trails and hanging bridges, allowing you to enjoy the breathtaking views of the flora and fauna of the area from a different perspective. Walk the Sky Walk with Insight Guides' Costa Rica: Coast to Coast tour.   

30. Try a bit of parasailing 

Hanging bridges aren't the only way to see Costa Rica from above. Back on the beach, parasailing serves as yet another opportunity to appreciate the white-sand coastline. Parasailing requires a bit of courage for those afraid of heights, as you are suspended from a parachute and the only thing keeping you aloft by a fast motorboat. But the gorgeous bird’s eye views of the ocean from up above are well worth it. One great place to give it a try is off the Manuel Antonio coastline.

Parasailing. Photo: ShutterstockParasailing. Photo: Shutterstock

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