Which unique things to do in Costa Rica grab your attention?
Costa Rica is a beautiful country filled with diverse flora and fauna. Even though it is a very small country, you can also experience a wide range of one-of-a-kind activities all over the territory. This article will explore some of the most unique things to do in Costa Rica during your trip.
1. Watch majestic humpback whales
We start our list with our favorite attraction; the humpback whale sightings. The best place to see the whales is Marino Ballena National Park from late December to early April. Tours at the park are heavily regulated to avoid disturbing the whales while they’re migrating, so it is best to secure your ticket a few weeks before or ask your travel planner to make it a priority.
Humpback whale watching is one of the most majestic experiences that you can have in Costa Rica since whales are often accompanied by their calves. It’s definitely a must-do activity if you are in the area. Read our dolphin and whale watching article for more information about this fun Costa Rican activity.
2. Hike around active (but safe) volcanoes
There are currently four active volcanoes in Costa Rica, though this number could change at any time as volcanoes go dormant or wake back up. Costa Rica actually has around 120 volcanic sites, due to its location in the Pacific Ring of Fire. However, the vast majority are fascinating hills and mountains, and none of them pose a risk.
Costa Rica’s active volcanoes (as of 2022):
- Poas Volcano. Located in the province of Alajuela with an elevation of 8,885 ft (2,708m). The last minor eruption was in 2017.
- Rincón de La Vieja Volcano. Located in Guanacaste with an elevation of 6,286 ft (1,916m). This volcano has minor eruptions all the time.
- Turrialba Volcano is located in the province of Cartago, and has an elevation of 10,958 ft (3,340m). This active volcano has ongoing minor eruptions, which occasionally cause ashfall in the city of San Jose. The national park has been closed for several years due to volcanic activity.
- Irazú Volcano. Located in Cartago with an elevation of 11,260 ft (3,432m). The last eruption was in 1994. Along with Poas, this volcano is one of the most visited in Costa Rica.
- Arenal Volcano. Located in Alajuela with an elevation of 5,480 ft (1,670m). Arenal isn’t considered an active volcano anymore, but is still an incredibly popular destination due to its perfect conical shape.
Arenal Volcano’s last eruption occurred in August 2010. It is famous for a huge eruption in 1968, which spread ash all over the territory that lasted about a decade. As an inactive volcano, Arenal poses no risk to people, flora, or fauna. In other words, enjoy hiking around this volcano without any worries. One of the most popular hikes around the Arenal Volcano is actually called the 1968 trail, as it loops through some of the areas affected by that famous eruption.
Whether hiking around the Arenal Volcano or visiting active Poas or Irazu volcanoes, you’ll definitely get a unique Costa Rican experience!
3. Witness turtle nesting and hatching
Turtle sighting is one of the activities you HAVE to do if given a chance. Look for a tour with a reputable tour provider to see the hatching or the nestlings in Costa Rica. This is the only legal way to view the turtles to maintain you and the turtles safe. You can find tours like this all year round on both the Caribbean and Pacific Coast, as we have many different breeds of turtle that come to our shores to nest. We recommend looking for Humpback Turtles since their size makes the experience impressive and memorable.
4. Immerse yourself in local culture
Overall, ticos (as Costa Ricans define themselves) are charismatic and welcoming people. A unique thing to do in Costa Rica is leave the typical tourism activities for a while and immerse yourself in our culture.
You can find a couple of cultural immersion activities around the country. One of our favorite cultural experiences can be found in the countryside around Arenal Volcano, where many families make a living from farming. On this Campesino Tour, you can visit one of these farms and participate in typical activities, such as milking a cow, squeezing sugar cane to make juice, or taking care of the animals. Many farms around the country, including this one, have prioritized conservation, as farming had previously destroyed much of Costa Rica’s forests. It is truly a unique experience to see how different people and families do their part to take care of our amazing environment.
5. See sloths and other fascinating wildlife
As a country with such robust flora and fauna, you will most likely encounter some wildlife, even in the city. However, if you want to ensure you see the most unique creatures the country can offer, we recommend going to one of Costa Rica’s many national parks. Since these lands are protected, flora and fauna flourish here, which ensures a perfect place for sightings. Manuel Antonio National Park is famous for being very accessible, while Corcovado National Park boasts some of the densest flora and fauna in the whole country.
You can find sloths throughout the country, but especially in rainforest areas like Manuel Antonio, Arenal, and Puerto Viejo, where you can find both two and three-toed sloths. If you do see one up in the treetops, don’t be fooled by their cute appearance, they are still wild animals and shouldn’t be bothered. It is best to see them from afar to avoid any accidents. Find them in the wild by searching the rainforest canopy for brown fur. It’s not assured, but it is possible to catch a glimpse!
6. Experience rainforests, cloud forests, and tropical dry forests all in one day
Costa Rica has vast biodiversity in such a tiny territory. Being both small and biodiverse makes it possible to explore different ecosystems in one day. It’s technically feasible to travel from Arenal’s rainforest to Monteverde’s cloud forest to Guanacaste’s tropical dry forest in a single day, though it would be pretty exhausting!
Whether exploring all three in one day or throughout your vacation, you’ll notice the difference. Costa Rica’s cloud forests tend to be cooler than the rest, and you’ll often see mist floating among the trees. Rainforests are generally warmer due to a lower elevation, while cloud forests are much higher up in the mountains. On the other hand, tropical dry forests usually have much less density and much more unique foliage than the other two.
7. Zipline over the mysterious cloud forest
Speaking of cloud forests and their mysterious fog, can you imagine flying over one? While you can find zip lines everywhere, ziplining over a cloud forest is one of the most unique things to do in Costa Rica, let alone the world. This fun activity combines adrenaline with awe, as you’re often flying through the clouds themselves. Never ziplined before? Check out our guide to ziplining in Costa Rica.
8. Listen to lively calypso music on the Caribbean
Calypso music is one of Costa Rica’s national patrimonies. These rhythms are prominent in Limón, especially in Cahuita, since this is where they emerged from the culture of Jamaican immigrants in the nineteenth century. You can hear the locals sing and dance this rhythm with great passion and pride. Calypso songs tell stories of daily life and often include lyrics advocating for justice. A unique instrument commonly used in a calypso band is the steel pan.
9. Stay at one-of-a-kind resorts only accessible by white water rafting
Can you imagine having to raft your way into your hotel? Now you don’t have to imagine it. There are a couple of hotels and resorts on the Pacuare River that are not accessible by car and only by white water rafting. Despite its adventurous connotation, these rafts and the river rapids are not dangerous and are actually very family-friendly.
Pacuare Lodge is well-known for luxury and sustainability despite its literal off-the-beaten-path nature. You can raft in, enjoy several days of relaxation in their bungalows, and raft out afterward.
10. Visit Tortuguero—a quaint town with no cars
Talking about remote places, Tortuguero is a town in northern Limón that can only be reached through water or air. Despite being so remote, a whole town is located in Tortuguero on a strip of land between the canals and the ocean. There are no cars or roads at all in this town! Locals and visitors alike travel by boat through the labyrinth of rivers, lagoons, and canals. Visiting Tortuguero, which is recommended to do through a package that includes transportation and meals, is definitely a unique thing to do in Costa Rica.
Wildlife is a big priority in this area, which includes a rich national park. This zone shelters many of Costa Rica’s elusive big cats, such as jaguars and pumas.
Which unique Costa Rican experience sounds best to you?
Don’t let Costa Rica’s small size deceive you. There are plenty of unique and fun activities that you can enjoy while visiting—things you might not be able to experience in any other country in the world!