Yep, it’s another post about Costa Rica… I just spent 5 weeks there, didn’t you know? Ok, ok, yes I’m now a little bit obsessed with this glorious country and think that you should be too. So, just in case you ever take my advice and one day find yourself there, I’ve put together the top 20 things to do in Costa Rica. Enjoy.
1. Visit Manuel Antonio National Park. Between the white sandy beaches and all the incredible animals you’ll see, this place is an absolute must. And make sure you get a guide to help you spot the sloths – you won’t see anything without one!
2. Surf in Jaco. I spent 2 weeks learning to surf here, so it will always hold a special meaning for me. Jaco is a really cool surfer town, with heaps of great bars, restaurant and people. But most importantly it has great surf… on any given day you’ll see a load of people out in the line up, just waiting for their next ride. And it’s a great place for beginners too, with plenty of really good surf schools.
3. Take a learning vacation at School Of The World. Here you can learn to surf, do yoga, or take spanish, photography and GoPro classes. The place is beautifully designed, the people are fab and you’ll leave with knowledge you didn’t have before.
4. Walk all the way along the beaches in Montezuma. Just start walking along the beach, away form the town and you’ll soon find yourself on a trail that takes you through a really cool nature reserve between each beach. You can walk for miles and miles and miles.
5. Jump in the waves in Sámara. When I was there, the waves were really fun – the sea was calm enough to swim but with big enough waves to play and jump around in. At certain times of day there’s good surf for beginners too.
6. Rent a kayak and paddle to Choro island (Sámara). You definitely don’t need to do this as part of a tour… just rent a kayak and snorkel gear from the guys on the beach ($30 for two people) and away you go. It’s about a 45-minute paddle to the island (via a very specific route through the waves so you don’t end up on the rocks) and so much fun. Just remember to wear lots of sunscreen!
7. Do a coffee tour in Monteverde. I went on the Don Juan coffee tour and I would highly recommend it. Costa Rican coffee is delicious, and it was really cool to see the whole production process (and get to try some free coffee and chocolate at the end)
8. Go on a night hike. If you feel like seeing some nocturnal animals in their natural habitat (and freaking yourself out a little bit in the dark), then a night hike is definitely for you. I did one in Monteverde but you can do them all over the country – it’s a great chance to see sloths actually moving around, as well as some other interesting creatures you might not have even known existed.
9. Trek through the cloud forests in Monteverde or Santa Elena. Both nature reserves have great hiking trails and some even better views – I’d recommend going early in the morning so you can actually see everything before the clouds descend.
10. Find the local swimming hole in La Fortuna and fly off the rope swing if you dare. Within our first hour in La Fortuna we ended up taking the short 15-minute walk out of town with a bunch of people from our hostel to this awesome swimming area with little waterfalls and plenty of rocks to jump off. This place is a total local hangout so ask around and someone will be happy to show you the way.
11. Swim under La Fortuna waterfall. Ok, don’t actually swim directly under it, because the sheer amount of water falling from above will probably make your head fall off, but you can swim in front of the waterfall, for sure. The rocks are super slippery and the water is freezing cold, but it’s a glorious way to cool off in the heat of the day. Top tip: go in the morning when there’s no one there.
12. Lie in the natural hot springs in La Fortuna. There are plenty of fancy schmancy hotels and spas that you can go to and enjoy the hot springs from Volcano Arenal, but I’d recommend heading to the totally natural (and free) thermal pools that are just under the bridge as the main road leads out of La Fortuna. The water is hot, hot, hot and very clean, and there’ll only be a few other people about.
13. Travel by local bus at least once. Local buses are cheap and (mostly) quite comfortable. Yes the journeys can be long and a bit bumpy sometimes, but just think about all that money you’ve saved. And don’t you feel like a ‘real’ traveller now?
14. Enjoy the luxury of a shuttle bus service at least once. Sometimes, using the local bus system in Costa Rica is an absolute nightmare. Maybe you’re going to have to change buses 4 times and you don’t quite know where you’re going, or there isn’t an accurate bus schedule anywhere, or you don’t speak any Spanish at all and are a little nervous about ending up somewhere random in the middle of the night. In those times, treat yourself and get a little mini bus to pick you up from your hostel and drive you directly to your next one, wherever you might be going. Yes, this service is expensive, but you get what you pay for… air conditioning.
15. Hike to the waterfall in Montezuma. Then climb the scary vertical path up to the highest fall. This was possibly one of the mot fun and insane things I did on this trip. We walked the trail up to the first waterfall, swam in the muddy brown waters and then considered our options – go back the way we came to find the ‘real’ (safe) path up to the second and third falls, or climb the almost vertical wall of tree roots and then follow the slippery, muddy path, using makeshift ropes to get down to the second waterfall, pretty much rappelling with no harness. Obviously we did the second option. Live a little.
16. Stay at Hostel Pagalú in Puerto Viejo. This place has a first come, first serve policy – no booking allowed. And I really liked that. You show up, ask if they have space, and then you can stay as long as you like. It’s clean, the rooms are lovely, and the big open kitchen, dining, hangout area is right by the reception, so everyone automatically keeps it super tidy.
17. Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo. Ok, I’m going to put it out there early – there aren’t actually any jaguars here anymore. But don’t let that deter you from taking the trip. This place is amazing. They are completely run by volunteers and totally self funded – every penny you pay ($18) goes towards the running of the center. They have sloths, owls, monkeys, crocs, snakes and much, much more, all being rehabilitated back into the wild. I think I’m going to go volunteer here one day.
18. Walk the jungle path along the water’s edge in Puerto Viejo. I loved Puerto Viejo. With its super chilled Caribbean vibe, beautiful weather, white sand and blue seas, this place is somewhere I could really see myself living. Mostly because you can walk everywhere. We discovered the beach/jungle path sort of by accident and realised it goes for miles, all the way along the coast… you can just keep walking forever.
19. Do a canopy tour/zip line somewhere! I’m not going to lie to you. I chickened out of this one. I don’t like heights (a new development in my life it seems) and I really don’t like zip lines, so this wasn’t really my jam. But a few of my friends went and did a canopy tour near Jaco and absolutely loved it. They even went upside down. I’d say if you’re going to do it, the best ones are in Monteverde.
20. Spend at least a day in San Jose, browsing the markets and museums and taking in the city’s culture. While San Jose really wasn’t my favourite, there is plenty to do – you can visit the National Theatre and marvel at it’s beautifully sculpted and decorated interior, go underground and back in time at the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, or simply wander through the streets and the Central Market, buying gifts for everyone at home.