A guide to things to do in Costa Rica
With a dry, tropical climate and beautiful white sand beaches, idyllic Costa Rican holidays are popular with those seeking winter sun. Costa Rica‘s Pacific coast provides some of the best surf spots and you’ll find a wealth of watersports to get stuck into. Inland are rainforest filled national parks waiting to be explored. Whether you decide to embark on a volcano hike or simply lounge on the beach with a good book, you won’t want to leave this little piece of paradise.
Fairytale magic at Rio Celeste River
In the northern lowlands you’ll find the Rio Celeste River and waterfall, one of Costa Rica’s best kept secrets that is hidden within the cloud forests of Tenorio National Park. Travel time from downtown La Fortuna is approximately two hours and upon arrival you’ll be met with dense rainforest and views of the towering Tenorio Volcano, immediately opening your eyes to some of Costa Rica’s natural wonders.
The moderate hike to the waterfall takes you along a trail through a scenic canopy of trees scattered with inquisitive monkeys, colourful poison dart frogs and an array of bird songs and butterflies. You’ll hear the acclaimed waterfall before you see it, as the river comes crashing 18 metres down from the trees into a vibrant pool of magical blue water. Complete your trip with a dip in the natural hot springs further up the trail.
The province of Guanacaste is quite rightly nicknamed The Gold Coast, offering a plethora of idyllic beaches. You’ll find everything from secluded white sand secrets to bustling tourist hotspots, complete with an abundance of watersports including snorkelling, jet skiing, kayaking and fishing.
The horse-shoe shaped bay at Playas del Coco stretches for three kilometres and is surrounded by mountains covered in rich jungle. The palm-lined sand offers some welcome shade and the striking blue water is perfect for a paddle – making this a consistently popular spot for families.
Further down the coast you’ll find the gleaming white sand of Playa Flamingo, cocooned by tropical greenery and home to the nation’s largest marina. This Blue Flag beach is the ultimate in luxury, offering indulgent sunbathing and a wealth of watersport activities. Beyond the kilometres and a half-long stretch of sand you’ll also find a handful of excellent restaurants and bars.
Costa Rica holidays are known worldwide for their excellent surf, so it’s the perfect spot to grab a lesson and take to the sea. Playa Tamarindo is the go-to beach for beginners and intermediates alike and just so happens to be the most developed beach in the region, with a big party reputation to match its acclaimed surf.
Surf shops and schools line the main street so you’ll have no trouble learning the basics. When you’re all surfed out, you’re free to relax under the palm trees or grab a refreshing drink in one of the chilled out beach bars.
Stay in shallow water and snorkel with the kids to get a closer look at the multitudes of colourful small fish that can be seen just a couple of metres off the shoreline.
You can also take in some scuba diving at top dive sites located within the area, such as off the shores of Isla del Coco. This island lies close to Playa del Coco and is a 70-minute drive from Playa Tamarindo. Here you can see schools of hammerhead sharks and manta rays, as well as a pod of wild dolphins.
Volcanic vents in the rainforest
For the ultimate Costa Rican adventure head to the Rincon de La Vieja National Park, around a two hour drive from the popular beach town of Playa Tamarindo. Here you can explore the rich tropical rainforest, home to a cluster of volcanoes that have left a trail of sulphuric hot springs, steaming vents and boiling mud pools.
Zigzag through the park along the marked trail and look out for monkeys, sloths and tropical birds stopping off to bathe in one of the naturally heated pools, before cooling down in a nearby stream or waterfall.
The more advanced trails to the volcanic summits have been closed intermittently. It’s likely to stay that way for the foreseeable future, but the trails around the base, passing through thick rainforest and open fields, are still accessible via the ranger stations.
Swinging above the forest canopy on ziplines is a sure fire way to have lots of fun. You’ll also get some incredible views of Costa Rica’s amazing landscape and spot treetop wildlife at the same time.
There are several family-friendly zipline adventure parks in the region, such as Pura Aventura in El Guapote, Playa Tamarindo. Offering a fun, eco-friendly environment you’re likely to spot wild monkeys, exotic birds, puma and deer while you’re flying around.
Get in some mountain biking and four-wheel drive thrills
The rural inland roads and miles of untouched natural landscape of Costa Rica offer an exciting adventure playground for mountain biking and off-road four-wheel drive trips. You can ride around dirt paths, along cattle trails and across grasslands for some high-octane thrills.
There are tours available that offer differing levels of difficulty so you can choose a pace that suits you. Have a fun family day out or really go for it with a wild and fast ride through rugged terrain. Many bike tours take in the incredible views, such as through the beautiful Valle Central and Zona Norte, which passes along the scenic Pacific coast.