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The Ultimate Costa Rica Bucket List

I have recently returned from Costa Rica, and can confidently say it’s one of the most incredible places I’ve ever visited. What amazed me the most about Costa Rica is the huge variety of landscapes and experiences you can have.

We spent two weeks in Costa Rica, one of which was dedicated entirely to surfing, so we only really had one week to travel around Costa Rica.

Yet we found that to be more than enough time, which allowed us to live so many incredible and different experiences.

In this Costa Rica bucket list I’ve put together the activities we did that I found most fun, which I think everyone should add to their Costa Rica itinerary.

It’s possible to do many of these in more than one location, so I’ve only listed the activity, so that you can decide where you prefer to do it.

Overlooking Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

Overlooking Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

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The first waterfall you will find when visiting the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

The first waterfall you will find when visiting the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

10 Costa Rica bucket list activities

Do a zip-line & canopy tour

There are a lot of rainforests and jungles in Costa Rica. Doing a zip-line and canopy tour is a unique opportunity to see them from a completely different angle.

Zip-line and canopy tours will usually offer multiple lines, as well as the occasional suspended bridge or walking rope.

This allows you to see quite a large part of the forest, and experience the thrill of flying amongst the trees more than once!

Zip-lining through the tree tops of Tortuguero National Park

Zip-lining through the tree tops of Tortuguero National Park

We did a zip-line and canopy tour in Tortuguero National Park for 35 USD each. I had been zip-lining before in Croatia, over a huge canyon, and this was a completely different experience.

Having the trees all around you makes you feel more in touch with nature, as opposed to just looking down into a beautiful view.

Depending on where you do it your zip-line guide might also give you an explanation of the plants and animals you see.

Blonde girl walking across a hanging bridge at the top of rainforest treetops in Tortuguero National Park

And then on to some hanging bridges!

Relax in hot thermal pools

There are a lot of volcanoes all over Costa Rica (6 active ones and 61 dormant volcanoes), meaning there are also a lot of hot thermal pools.

Dotted all over Costa Rica you will find natural hot water springs. These are the perfect place to relax after a long day of exploring the nature and adventures Costa Rica has to offer.

Relaxing in the hot thermal pools of Orosi

Relaxing in the hot thermal pools of Orosi

We visited two different thermal springs during our time in Costa Rica. One in Orosi and one at the base of Arenal Volcano.

The thermal springs in Arenal were free and very wild, looking very much like any ordinary river until you touched the water and realised it was hot!

The thermal pools in Orosi were private and entry costs 45 USD. They are much more curated and look like pools, with stunning views over the valley of Orosi and a bar where you can order food and drinks.

The free thermal pools close to Arenal Volcano

The free thermal pools close to Arenal Volcano

Go waterfall chasing (and swim in them!)

Costa Rica is also rich in waterfalls. There are countless waterfalls all around the country that you can visit, some of the most famous and noticeable are La Paz, Catarata del Toro, the Blue Falls of Costa Rica and La Fortuna.

We did a joint tour of Catarata del Toro and the Blue Falls and absolutely loved it. Catarata del Toro is the tallest waterfall in Costa Rica and a true sight to behold.

You can hike all the way to the bottom of the fall, and look up at the 82m waterfall dropping along the side of the dead volcano crater. It’s one of those experiences that makes you feel small in front of the power of nature.

One of the viewpoints overlooking Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

One of the viewpoints overlooking Catarata del Toro waterfall

Hiking to the base of the Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

Hiking to the base of the Catarata del Toro waterfall in Costa Rica

The Blue Falls might not be as big and impressive, but they are equally stunning. These waterfalls are characterised by a bright turquoise colour, and the fact that you can safely swim in them!

You have to hike for about half an hour before reaching the falls, but once you get there it’s well worth the effort. The joint tour of Catarata del Toro and the Blue Falls costs 25 USD and lasts around four hours.

Going for a dip in the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

Going for a dip in the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

Drone shot of the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

Drone shot of the Blue Falls of Costa Rica

Do a wild animal spotting tour in the rainforest

Did you know that Costa Rica contains nearly 6% of the world’s biodiversity? For a country that accounts for only 0.03% of the earth’s surface I think that’s pretty impressive!

A popular activity that always features on Costa Rica bucket lists is doing a rainforest safari. These are wild animal spotting tours and there are different types of tours you can do.

A small crocodile we spotted during our rainforest canoe tour

A small crocodile we spotted during our rainforest canoe tour

In Tortuguero National Park we did a night walking rainforest tour and a rainforest canoe tour, each for 20 USD each. These are obviously very different types of tours, which allow you to see all sorts of animals and in different ways.

During the night tour we were able to spot a number of snakes and frogs, as well as a sloth! Whilst during the canoe tour we went deep into the riverside vegetation, and spotted loads of iguanas, birds, and even crocodiles!

A chameleon that we saw during our night walking tour in Tortuguero National Park

A chameleon that we saw during our night walking tour in Tortuguero National Park

Go rafting

During our Costa Rica trip we did a short stop in Sarapiqui, a beautiful region that gets its name from the Sarapiqui River. Here you will find a number of rafting routes, for all levels of difficulty.

I had never been rafting before so we chose to do a level 2 route. Our guide reassured us that also young children do this and during our rafting experience there were 60+ year olds in another raft which helped reassure me.

One of the tougher parts of our rafting experience in Costa Rica

One of the tougher parts of our rafting experience in Costa Rica

You will receive a safety briefing before getting in the raft, and then head off on your rafting adventure! We paid around 30 USD each for 2 hours of rafting.

The river had some peaceful moments where you could relax, alternating with the more intense rapids where you actually get a bit of adrenaline rush. For any adventure junkie it’s a must-see on your Costa Rica itinerary!

Rafting with my friends in the Sarapiqui River

Rafting with my friends in the Sarapiqui River

Hike around Arenal Volcano

There are a lot of volcanoes in Costa Rica, but Arenal volcano is possibly the most famous and visited.

All around Arenal Volcano there are hiking trails that you can explore, which take you to viewpoints, through forests and to lava fields. Visiting Arenal Volcano is without a doubt one of the best things to do in Arenal.

It’s a great opportunity to see some really unique landscapes, and to really appreciate the rich biodiversity and nature in Costa Rica.

Hiking around the base of Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Hiking around the base of Arenal Volcano

Stay in a “finca”

A “finca” is a traditional Costa Rican country estate, ranch or farm. These are beautiful properties with an adjacent piece of agricultural land, which in recent times have become popular tourist attractions.

Many finca owners have opened the doors to their homes to tourists who want to experience the traditional Costa Rican lifestyle. We stayed in a finca in Orosi and it was the most picturesque stay of our trip.

Finca Agropecuaria Queveri is perched on the mountainside in Orosi, with stunning views over the valley. They also arranged a 2-hour horse riding tour for us around the estate.

We got to enjoy some beautiful views and even help herd the cattle to their daily pasture spot.

One of the lounge areas of our finca, with view over the valley of Orosi

One of the lounge areas of our finca, with view over the valley of Orosi

Go horse riding

We arranged our horse riding tour with our finca in Orosi and it was the most fun and unexpected activity of our trip.

It’s something we hadn’t originally planned that we only found out about once we arrived at the finca, and we’re glad we were able to do.

Our horse riding tour started with retrieving a group of cows from a field, and we helped herd them back to their pen. From there we continued our ride further up the mountain a beautiful viewpoint over the valley.

Orosi is a great place to go horse riding because of the views, but if you have the opportunity to do it elsewhere in Costa Rica I’m sure it will be incredible there too!

Horse riding in Orosi, Costa Rica

Horse riding in Orosi, Costa Rica

Learn how to surf!

The Pacific coast of Costa Rica is blessed with strong and consistent waves, perfect for anyone looking to surf! We spent one week in Santa Teresa, and loved it.

Not only were the waves perfect for any level of surfing experience, but the town itself was chill, fun and everything you want from a relaxed beach holiday.

Due to the tide the strength of the waves changes throughout the day, giving all surfing levels a time of day when you can comfortably surf.

| READ MORE: SURFING IN SANTA TERESA |

Surfing in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

Surfing in Santa Teresa, Costa Rica

I have been surfing in the Canary Islands and other countries before (Bali, Australia and Sri Lanka to name a few) but Santa Teresa had the best waves I’ve ever surfed.

The beach is huge so you never run the risk of being in someone’s way, and the waves are so long they are perfect for beginners and intermediates.

There are lots of shops along the beach and on the main road that offer surf lessons and board rentals. Lesson prices are around 50 USD and rentals are around 10 USD for a day.

Surfing in Santa Teresa Beach at sunset, Costa Rica

Surfing in Santa Teresa Beach at sunset, Costa Rica

Go whale watching

I didn’t realise this was the case until I arrived in Costa Rica, but Costa Rica is also an extremely popular whale watching destination!

It’s actually possible to see humpback whales for 9 months of the year, due to the migration patterns of northern and southern whales.

There are a number of places all along the Pacific coast from where you can go whale watching, such as Manuel Antonio, Guanacaste and the Osa Peninsula.

We actually spotted a whale while cruising to Isla Tortuga, without even searching for one!

The whale we spotted while sailing to Isla Tortuga from Montezuma

The whale we spotted while sailing to Isla Tortuga from Montezuma

There you have it, the ultimate Costa Rica bucket list! Have you been to Costa Rica before? How did you find it? Let me know in the comments below!

I tried to put together a compilation of all the most awesome things to do in Costa Rica. There is something on this list for every type of traveller, so I hope you will find it useful in putting together your own Costa Rica itinerary!

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Collage of Arenal volcano, the Blue Falls of Costa Rica, thermal pools in Orosi and surfing in Santa Teresa with text overlay saying "The ultimate Costa Rica bucket list for 2020"

Catarata del Toro waterfall seen from one of the viewpoints with text overlay saying "The ultimate Costa Rica bucket list for 2020"

Photo collage of the thermal pools of Orosi and Arenal volcano with text overlay saying "10 most epic things to do in Costa Rica"

Juan R Soto

Sunday 27th of June 2021

Excellent article. Good for anyone visiting Costa Rica.