costa rica

Costa Rica Travel: A Beginner’s Guide

Easily the most popular destination in Central America for travelers from the United States and Europe looking for an eco-friendly, warm-weather escape, Costa Rica is a gem you’ll certainly want to add to your bucket list. Whether you’re looking for white sand beaches, eco lodges, or lovely cities with delicious food and cultural events, you’ll find it in Costa Rica.

In this beginner’s guide to Costa Rica travel, learn the ins and out of all that Costa Rica has to offer. From Costa Rica travel tips to some of the best places to visit and activities you’ll want to add to your Costa Rica itinerary, we have everything you need to plan your ultimate trip to Costa Rica.

arenal costa rica

Getting There

Most travelers enter Costa Rica from the international airport in the country’s capital city of San José, though you’ll also have other options. An increasingly popular choice is flying into the airport in Liberia, near the country’s Pacific Coast, for easy access to popular destinations like Peninsula Papagayo, Pacific coast beach towns, and jungle spots like Monteverde.

Of course, you can also enter Costa Rica overland from the neighboring countries of Panama and Nicaragua. Costa Rica’s extensive network of roads and great public transportation options make it easy to get around and navigate the country, no matter your budget.

Read More: 11 Easy Day Trips from San José, Costa Rica

Things To Do In Costa Rica

1. Walk The Hanging Bridges

The hanging bridges in Monteverde give you amazing views of the cloud forest. Get up close and personal with the fauna and flora above ground.

For anyone fearful of heights, not to worry. The bridges are sturdy and stable. It’s fun and easy, especially if you are not interested in adrenaline-filled activities.

2. Visit Costa Rica’s Volcanos

No visit to Costa Rica is complete without a visit to one of the country’s impressive volcanoes. Check out these beautiful national parks and their volcanoes for an unforgettable day trip from San José or to explore more in-depth.

Arenal Volcano National Park

Hiking up Arenal Volcano is one of the most popular things to do in Costa Rica and a must-add to your bucket list for the trip. The famous volcano last erupted in 1968, and today visitors can hike through lava beds to find amazing views of Lake Arenal.

The best time to visit is during the dry season or from December to April.

Poas Volcano National Park

Poas volcano is active, but rest assured, there hasn’t been any activity in decades. While there, you’ll see the sulfuric, bubbling, green rain-fed lake at the bottom. It’s quite a unique experience and one worth having!

3. La Fortuna Waterfall

If you make it to Arenal Volcano National Park, then be sure to add La Fortuna waterfall to your to-do list. The short hike to the waterfall will afford you views of a luscious surrounding jungle, the lovely surrounding park, and more! Get your cameras ready!

4. Visit A Black Sand Beach

You’ve, of course, heard of white sand beaches on tropical islands; some remote areas have pink sand on their shores, and Costa Rica offers you the experience of a black sand beach.

The black sand is actually tiny black pebbles that are slightly bigger than actual grains of sand. As a result, the texture will be different and a bit rougher. While it’s not the most soothing feeling to be on a black sand beach, it is a unique thing to do and one to add to your to-do list.

5. Ziplining

Costa Ricans love their ziplining, and it’s easy to see from the lines they have set up. A ziplining adventure will get you top-down views of waterfalls, some jungle animals, mountains and cliffs, and much more.

Monteverde, La Fortuna, and Guanacaste are some of the best places to experience zip lining in Costa Rica. There are family-friendly ziplining tours for beginners and varying age groups to adrenaline-filled ziplines with extra superman cables and Tarzan swings!

6. Mud Bath

This is not your typical spa mud experience. A mud bath in Costa Rica is set up outdoors and is often alongside a hot spring. Coat yourself in mud, rinse off and then enjoy the natural hot spring. It’s all part of their relaxation process and the photo ops.

7. Enjoy Countless Watersports

Scuba Diving & Snorkeling

If you’re scuba certified, you can dive in Costa Rica. You can also opt to get lessons while you’re there! It’s a unique experience to do while there as you can dive on the Caribbean or Pacific side. You can still participate in this activity if you are not scuba certified. There are what’s called “Discovery dives” you can join, which are specifically for those who are not certified.

The best dive sites include the Gulf of Papagayo, Bat Islands, Las Catalina Islands, Tortuga Islands shipwrecks, Cocos Island, Cahuita National Park, and Caño Island.

Snorkeling is also a must-do activity. However, this is better done in the morning hours and through a sailing tour that can take you further off the coast, where you’ll get better views of underwater wildlife.


Costa Rica has some of the best surfing in Latin America. For this reason, athletes from all over the world visit just for the experience.

Some of the best surf spots include Santa Teresa, Playa Hermosa (Jaco), Playa Cocles, Playa Matapalo (Osa Peninsula), Playa Avellanas, Playa Tamarindo, and Playa Grande, to name a few.

If you’re a beginner or want to learn, you can sign up for surf camp!

Read More: 12 Best Beaches in Costa Rica

8. Manual Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica: see wildlife, explore biodiversity, white-sand beaches, and amazing jungle walks. What’s a typical visit like? You’ll see sloths, howler monkeys, deer, reptiles, and more. See these unique animals in their natural lush rainforest habitat.

You can visit on your own or through a tour group. Group tours, including roundtrip transportation, entry tickets, and a bilingual guide, may be the easiest option.

9. Enjoy a Cruise

Sunset Cruise

Sunset cruises are one of the best things to do in Costa Rica for families and large groups. Take advantage of the open seas, watching the sunset while also having the opportunity to eat, drink, swim, snorkel, relax and enjoy the ocean air.

Cruise to Isla Tortuga

Tortuga may make you think of Pirates of the Caribbean, but here it’s another chance to experience beautiful ocean waters, a boat, and another part of an amazing country.

From the Gulf of Nicoya, you can take a day trip to Isla Tortuga, with stunning white sand beaches. The trip includes 1.5 hours through the Gulf of Nicoya for spectacular views of Isla Tortuga. You’ll get 5 hours on the island and then cruise back at sunset.

10. Enjoy Local Food & Drinks

Take A Cooking Class

What better way to immerse yourself in Costa Rican culture than through the food! Experience authentic Costa Rican cuisine and flavor by learning how to make their favorite dishes. The best part is that you can then enjoy the meal afterward!

Drink Costa Rican Coffee

Costa Rican coffee is some of the best in the world. It’s smooth and strong without being bitter. Even if you don’t like black coffee, you’ll likely be able to drink this black.

If you’re a coffee lover, consider a coffee plantation tour to learn about the growing process. Options for tours include Doka Coffee Estate, Golden Bean in Turrialba, Britt in Heredia, Espiritu Santo in Naranjo, El Cafetal in Monteverde.

If you’re a Starbucks lover, then you’re in luck! They have a plantation in Costa Rica called Hacienda Alsacia.

11. Puerto Viejo De Talamanca

In addition to black sand beaches of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, there is a Jaguar rescue center and surfing options. Plus, you can sneak in some scuba diving in their protected shipwreck dive site in Cahuita National Park. A full-day experience in this coastal town is well worth your time and could be the answer if you have limited time in the country.

Read More: Puerto Viejo de Talamanca: Ultimate Travel Guide

Costa Rican People

The Costa Rican people are amiable and welcoming to visitors. They have a famous phrase, “pura vida,” meaning “pure life,” showing the Costa Rican focus on living purely, freely, and happily.

There are plenty of things to do in Costa Rica to satisfy any traveler. You can relax on many incredible beaches, embark on adventure tours, or learn new skills. It’s a friendly country that will end up on your list of favorites!

This article originally appeared on Hello Sensible.

carley rojas avila

Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual New York-based travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Explorers Away and Home to Havana. Carley is an expert on all things Latin America, the Caribbean, and Cuba, having lived and worked in four different countries in the region. Her writing has appeared on the Associated Press wires and in Travel + Leisure, Yahoo, MSN, Euronews, The Weather Channel, and more. When she's not writing about her travels, find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.