Costa Rica is a spectacular country in every single way. Because of its nature, wildlife, beaches, and people you should not refrain from doing things in Costa Rica, one of the happiest countries in the world. You can discover its volcanoes, bathe in wild beaches, and run into all kinds of bugs after every step. If you like animals and extreme adventure, you will not be disappointed.
In this post, we recommend 50 things to do in Costa Rica. We also propose an itinerary through Costa Rica in 15 days, to get to know the best of the country on your own.
1. Get to know its charming capital city, San José
The capital of Costa Rica is the most populated city in the country and the economic, social, and cultural center of the Republic. Although it is not its main attraction, being close to the airport and being such a centralized country, you will surely spend a few hours in the capital. So you will not lack time to get to know some of its charms such as the National Theater or the Post Office Building.
Of course, try to avoid walking around the city at night. When the sun goes down there is no one on the street and things get dangerous. Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Central America, even so, its capital is still a major focus of crime. Even so, we believe that getting to know her is an essential thing to do in Costa Rica.
2. Discover Cartago, the first capital city
Cartago is one of the most interesting cities in Costa Rica. Located on the slopes of the Irazú Volcano, it is only 25 kilometers from San José. Of course, to get there, it will surely take a little longer for the famous dams, especially at peak times.
The city was founded in 1563 by the Spanish conqueror Juan Vázquez de Coronado. Since that time until the independence of Costa Rica from Spain in 1821, this was the residence of the governors and the main wealthy families. This contributed to its status as the first capital of the country, although it later rotated and ended up in San José, where it remains.
3. Visit the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels, in Cartago
The main attraction of the city is its Basilica, the second largest religious temple in the country. This Byzantine-style basilica with Romanesque influences hides a very interesting history. Every August 2nd, thousands of people walk from their home to the Basilica to celebrate the pilgrimage. Without a doubt, it is the most important pilgrimage center in Costa Rica.
The Basilica dates from 1912, although the first temple was located in 1635 on the site where an image of Our Lady of the Angels was found, to which several miracles were later attributed. Admission is free and we believe that, if you have enough time, it is a highly recommended activity to do while in Costa Rica.
4. Snooping in the Lankester Botanical Garden
On the outskirts of the interesting city of Cartago are these botanical gardens. Nowadays, they are maintained by the University of Costa Rica, which turned a private garden into a magnificent research center as well as an important tourist destination.
There, you can enjoy more than 3,000 species of plants, especially orchids and epiphytes. For sure, it is a different and curious activity to do in Costa Rica. Entry tickets for foreigners cost US$ 10.
5. Climb the Irazú Volcano, one of the must-see activities to do in Costa Rica
If there is something you cannot miss on your visit to this country that is the Irazú Volcano. We had to go up several times to see it clear. So before paying the ticket, ask how the forecast is (although it may change at any time). We actually went up in incredible fog but it was super clear at the top.
With 3,432 meters of altitude, the Irazú is the highest volcano in Costa Rica and one of the most popular among those who visit the country. It is still active although, since 1994, no significant eruption has been observed. Visit it, enjoy its 5 craters, and relax. The most impressive is the turquoise volcanic water lagoon that has formed in the main crater, which is about 1 kilometer in diameter. No doubt that it is an essential visit to do in Costa Rica. Admission fare is US$ 15.
How to go from San José to the Irazú Volcano by public transport?
Getting to Irazú Volcano by bus is relatively easy. It is taken at 8:00 a.m. behind the National Theater, on Avenida 2 between Calles 1 and 3. It returns at 12:30 p.m. The journey takes 2 hours and costs around US$ 10.
If you want to catch it in Cartago, the bus stop is on Calle 2, Avenida 2-4; it departs at 9:00 a.m. and returns at 1:30 p.m. You can also hire a tour from San José that includes a visit to the Orosí Valley and the Lankester Garden.
6. Learn about the history of the Durán Sanatorium, a mysterious visit to do in Costa Rica
If you go by car to Irazú, you can stop by to watch the Durán Sanatorium. It is a historic building, which served as a hospital to isolate tuberculosis patients since 1915. It had more than 300 beds and was a pioneering center of its type in the world. In fact, many of the patients were European. It owes its name to its founder, Dr. Carlos Durán.
Being a hospital in ruins, being abandoned since 1963, there are many legends that make anyone’s hair stand on end of fear. In addition, it is in an area where there is usually a lot of fog, which adds a touch of mystery to the matter. But not everyone believes those hair-rising stories, and its gardens have become a popular place for picnics and meeting friends.
7. Approaching the Turrialba Volcano
After passing by the Irazú, it is the second highest volcano in Costa Rica. The Turrialba Volcano has its summit at 3,340 meters and is famous for expelling smoke and ash frequently. That is where its name comes from. The Spanish colonizers baptized it as Torre Alba, which means “white smoke” in old-fashioned Spanish.
The last major eruption was in 1866, but activity has been recorded since 2014. In the Turrialba Volcano National Park, you can walk through its 3 craters and enjoy the panoramic views from its top.
Clouds of smoke and ash can pose a danger to the visitor, so the park is temporarily closed. On sunny days, you can see the other volcanoes in the central area, as well as the Caribbean coast. Admission fare is US$ 12.
8. Visit the Guayabo National Monument
Very close to the aforementioned highest volcanoes in our country, you can visit an important archeological area. Because of its privileged location, Costa Rica was a meeting point for the pre-Columbian cultures of North and South America. This city, dominated by a chieftain, was inhabited since 1000 B.C. until 1400 A.D.
Currently, only a small part of the town is excavated but mounds, aqueducts, tombs, monoliths, and petroglyphs can be seen. It is a very interesting visit to do in Costa Rica for history lovers. Admission fare is US$ 5.
9. Enjoy the views from the Mirador del Valle de Orosí
The Orosí Valley, through which the Río Grande passes, has a spectacular beauty. Surrounded by green mountains, there are numerous coffee plantations, as well as areas of virgin forest. You can sight it from the public viewpoint of Orosí, equipped to spend a family day with a beautiful landscape. It has children’s play areas, picnic tables, and several paths to walk.
10. Discover the colonial church of Orosí
A historical visit to do in Costa Rica is visiting its oldest church. It is in the town of Orosí and was built in 1767 by Spanish missionaries. Its design is a perfect example of colonial architecture; austere and connected to a convent where there is now a small museum of religious art.
11. Get used to the Costa Rican schedule
Our trip to Costa Rica taught us to get up, at the latest, at 7 a.m. no alarm clock. It rises and falls very early, so it is best to get up early to make the most of the hours of sunlight. Once it gets dark, there are not many things to do in Costa Rica since its main attractions are its natural wonders. So it pays to quickly adapt to local time. There were days when we went to bed at 8:00 pm… It sounds incredible but as true as it can be!
12. Get to know the Poás Volcano
Another of the most famous and visited Costa Rican volcanoes is Poás. It has 3 craters. The main one is 1,300 meters in diameter, 300 meters deep and a large lagoon with a greenish color due to the large amount of sulfuric acid it contains. Do not miss the Botos crater, at the highest point of the volcano. There is another lagoon (this one is of pluvial origin) surrounded by a spectacular cloud forest.
The most important eruptions occurred in the 1950s. But since April 2017, some phreatic eruptions have occurred again, causing it to expel toxic gases. Therefore, the park remains closed to visitors until their visit is safe again.
13. Enjoy like a child in the La Paz Natural Park
A non-missing visit, if you have little time in Costa Rica, is the La Paz Waterfalls Park. Right there, it is the La Paz Waterfall, one of the most famous in the country. There are also 4 more waterfalls with which you will be amazed. In addition to being a privileged place due to the nature that surrounds the roads, it is an area with animals that, unfortunately, cannot live in freedom for different reasons. There you will see monkeys, toucans, hummingbirds, pumas, snakes, and even a jaguar.
Admission fare is US$ 44 for foreigners. Honestly speaking, it is quite expensive, but the park has great facilities and gives you to spend a very full day. And if you want to treat yourself, there is a beautiful hotel in the park called Peace Lodge.
14. Relax in the Manuel Antonio National Park, among other non-missing activities to do in Costa Rica
The most visited national park is a non-missing stop to do in Costa Rica. There, you will be able to see some of the most beautiful beaches in the country, as well as being very close to a forest with lots of fauna. In fact, you won’t have to move from the beach to see raccoons and monkeys. With the arrival of so many visitors, they have become accustomed to our presence and are not afraid to rummage for food among the beach bags.
Although it may seem like a stressful experience with so many wild animals, the beaches are absolutely worth it. The entrance costs 16 US$ for foreigners and must be purchased around 100 meters before the park entrance, in a place called Coopealianza.
Helpful tips while in the park
• We must be careful not to leave belongings unattended, because there have been cases in which a monkey has taken clothes, sunglasses or even cameras.
• Some animals are quite aggressive; we witnessed how a raccoon bit a girl who was trying to defend her beach bag. A good trick to scare them away is to have a stick nearby to hit the sand and scare them away.
• If you want to be calmer, go to the beach that is on the right side. There are not so many people there and, therefore, those animals do not bother so much.
Here we take advantage of this warning to recommend you take out travel insurance before traveling to Costa Rica. It is a country where you will be in constant contact with nature, and that has some risks. For example, we travel with Intermundial insurance, which you can get fares up to a 20% discount.
15. Party in Jacó
The coastal city of Jacó is well-known for its nightlife. There, you will find a lot of bars and clubs to have a good time. Some of the busiest venues are the Los Amigos Bar and the Monkey Bar. However, one must be cautious as, unfortunately, there is also a lot of street prostitution and there are many illegal drug dealers.