Costa Rica might not come to mind at first when you hear the words “Caribbean vacation”. After all, it’s part of Central America, rather than an island out in the Caribbean Sea. However, with beaches on both the Caribbean and the Pacific, luxury villas and resorts, lush tropical jungles, immense history, and lots of other things to see in Costa Rica, it should certainly make your list. With that being said, you might not know what to do in Costa Rica. What attractions are worth your time, and which areas should you visit? We’ve compiled a handy guide to illustrate some of the top things to do in Costa Rica.
Arenal Volcano National Park
We’ll begin with one of the things to do in Costa Rica that stands head and shoulders above most others – literally. Arenal Volcano National Park is home to an active (but sleepy) volcano. It’s lush and beautiful, covered in forests and rivers, and is an ideal place to get to know the heart of the nation. You can go hiking, biking, ziplining, and engage in a wide range of other adventure travel/tour options here, too.
Poás Volcano National Park
Another of the most popular Costa Rica attractions, this national park is home to the largest and most active volcano in the country. It tops out at almost 9,000 feet in elevation, and Laguna Botas is the stunning lake that rests in the center of its crater. Around the volcano, you can explore rainforests, cloud forests, lower mountains, and more. It’s an excellent place for bird watching, but there are plenty of hiking and biking opportunities, as well.
A little more earthy (pun intended), the Venado Caves rank among the best things to do in Costa Rica, even if you’re not much of a spelunker. They were discovered in 1945 when a farmer actually fell right into them, and have become a big tourist draw for those with a sense of adventure.
For those looking for a more typical Caribbean vacation, the Catalinas Islands might be well worth the visit. These islands are located in the Caribbean, off the northern coast of the country. They are a Costa Rica must-see attraction due to their natural beauty, white sandy beaches, pristine waters, and bustling towns. They’re also one of the best places for scuba diving in the country, giving you access to tropical fish, reefs, and even whales.
Have a Ball at the Stone Spheres
Looking for one of the most iconic Costa Rica landmarks? The stone spheres at El Sitio Museo Finca 6 in Palmar Sur make a great option. These enigmatic stones are found throughout much of the Caribbean, although their true purpose and creators have been lost to history. In fact, no one even knows for certain how they were made. Many of these stones are over 1,000 years old, and there are over 300 in varying sizes.
The National Theater
If you’re visiting Costa Rica, places to visit should include The National Theater. It’s located right in San Jose and can be easily incorporated into any day trip. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the city and features Neoclassical architecture. Within, you’ll find a broad range of entertainment throughout the year, from concerts to plays, and much more. Shows change regularly, so make sure to check the listings when you arrive to see if you can catch some entertainment.
Go Directly to Jail
You won’t need $200 to get out, but San Lucas Island is a must do in Costa Rica for anyone who loves destinations like Alcatraz in California. From 1873 to 1991, this island was home to the most feared prison in the country. Today, it’s a national wildlife preserve, but some of its previous character remains. Your list of things to do in Costa Rica should certainly include a tour of the prison and the surrounding island. You’ll see a ton of wildlife, including boa constrictors, deer, and many bird species. You can also indulge in a ghost story or two during a guided tour of the prison.
The Lankester Botanical Gardens
Looking for fun things to do in Costa Rica and love flowers and plants? If so, then the Lankester Botanical Gardens should be on your list. It’s home to over 18,000 species of plants, 15,000 of which are orchids! The gardens have been in place since 1940 and make an impressive site. It’s also a good option for bird watchers and butterfly lovers thanks to the almost constant presence of blooming flowers.
What a Croc
Interested in Costa Rica tourist attractions that offer a bit more adrenaline? You should visit the Rio Tárcoles section that features a thriving population of American crocodiles. These massive reptiles can be spotted on the river and on the bank, and you’ll find them around the bridge that connects the city of San Jose with Jaco Beach. Because of the location, this is a good addition to any trip to Jaco Beach. You don’t have to get too close, either. You can stop on the bridge and watch them from a safe distance.
Manuel Antonio National Park
No list of things to do in Costa Rica is complete without a mention of the nation’s most famous parks – Manuel Antonio National Park. It covers almost 1,700 acres of rainforest, and you will find an incredible number of hiking and biking options here. This is where you’re most likely to encounter the nation’s sloth population, but you can also hit the beach if you like. Because it’s a national park, the area is unsullied and pristine, too.
La Fortuna Waterfall
When it comes to Costa Rica activities, La Fortuna Waterfall certainly makes the list of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica. It’s an amazing sight, with water plunging 230 feet to the ground. If you’re interested in hiking, you can arrive at the top of the waterfall and then hike down to the pool below, where you can cool off with a swim. There are monkeys, sloths, toucans, parrots, and a wide range of other wildlife that you might spot here, as well.
Relax in the Hot Springs
One of the best things to do in Costa Rica is to visit Tabacon Hot Springs. They’re part of the Tabacon Thermal Resort and are heated by underground lava throughout the entire year. The surrounding rainforest is lush and pristine, helping you to get away from the hustle and bustle of modern life, as well. Plus, the mountain views are always incredible, no matter what time of year you decide to visit.
Obviously, there are plenty of things to see in Costa Rica. In addition to the immense range of natural wonders, there are urban centers to explore. San Jose is the urban center, but other cities like Liberia are also worth your consideration when it comes to what to see in Costa Rica. With the right planning, you could experience sunrise on the Caribbean beaches, spend the day trekking through pristine forests, and then watch as the sun sets over the Pacific Ocean. If you love the beauty of Costa Rica, make sure to also consider seeing the Caribbean islands with Barbados villa rentals, or a luxury rentals in the Turks and Caicos!