Best Things to Do In Costa Rica in 2023

If you’re planning a trip to Costa Rica, it pays to know what you want to see and do before you go. Find out where the best places to stay, eat, and play are in beautiful Costa Rica with our inclusive list.

Depending on where you depart from, Costa Rica is roughly 4-6 hours away by plane. This long plane ride can seem like it takes forever as you gaze down on the sandy beaches and lush tropical forests that make Costa Rica a favorite tourist spot for many visitors. The balmy weather is just perfect for a relaxing day on the beach or time spent surfing across the rich blue waves.

At the same time, knowing where the best places are to stay in Costa Rica can be a challenge. If you’re going to visit Costa Rica and want an insider’s look at the best foods, restaurants, hotels, and places to visit, you’ve come to the right place. We’ve gathered local information so you can be confident in your stay.

Even if you don’t have a trip already planned to Costa Rica, you might change your mind after you see what this dazzling island has to offer you. Are you ready to explore?

Brief History of Costa Rica

Costa Rica roughly translates to “rich coast,” but it is agriculture that is the main focus of this land. The capital is San José, and Spanish is the native language. Costa Rican currency is the Colones, but many consider the views, culture, and atmosphere of the tropical beaches and exquisite wildlife to trade for much more than any U.S. dollar could account for.

Though officially discovered by Christopher Columbus in 1502, Costa Rica is currently a democracy. This land draws influences from the Aztecs, Mayans, Incas, and the Spanish, integrating Catholicism into their practices and beliefs. September 15th is celebrated as Independence Day for Costa Rica by the natives, who are often called “Ticos.”

Costa Rica is one of the more expensive Central American countries to visit due to the year-round tourist population, but prices do not exceed what you would typically see in America. You can move around Costa Rica by car, bus, or even air. The temperature is relatively warm all year round, with the rainy season lasting from May until November. The dry season is the most popular with travelers and runs from December through to April.

Popular Cities in Costa Rica

Visitors to Costa Rica will likely travel to one of these main cities and stay nearby:

San José

The capital city of Costa Rica, this city includes a number of barrios, or districts. You’ll also see museums and soaring office buildings, as well as mansions and architecture. Places of note include the Jade Museum and Pre-Columbian Gold Museum.

Malpais

Though the name might translate to “bad land,” it simply refers to the dry season in this stretch of Costa Rica, when dried up rivers couldn’t support local human inhabitants.

Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

This city is located on the Caribbean coast. Bamboo bars play reggae music and the night life is lively. Surfers love this destination, as well as bikers and hikers. There are many tropical farms and gardens to see, as well as black-sand beaches and lush rainforests. Visit during September and October for the best experience.

Montezuma

Best known for its waterfalls, Montezuma is a small village in the Nicoya Peninsula. Trails and waves provide ample opportunities for hiking and surfing alike.

Jacó

This beachside retreat is not far from San José. Visit the Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls to see plenty of wildlife, including birds and monkeys. Younger crowds will enjoy the nightlife, as well as the many shops, restaurants, and hotels nearby.

As you travel around, be aware of what city you’re staying in, as well as what towns around it you might be able to visit.

Places to Stay in Costa Rica

Want to book a hotel room in Costa Rica? The price of a hotel in Costa Rica can vary, just as it would in the States. Nightly prices vary from $50 to $300 or more, depending on where you stay and what amenities are offered. In the rainy season, when less tourists are present, prices drop by nearly half.

Berlor Airport Inn

Located in Alajuela, this traditional Costa Rican hotel provides free breakfast, WiFi, and parking. While accommodations might be basic in some cases, the rooms are priced fairly. Pool access and a complimentary airport shuttle service make it a great pick for families coming and going from the airport.

Buena Vista Chic Hotel

Not more than 20 minutes outside of the city, this hotel features impressive views in a quiet setting. An onsite coffee trail leads away from the modern villas, which are built in an older style. This hotel is ideal for large parties traveling together, but it still offers free breakfast and travel to and from the airport.

Country Inn & Suites

If you’re looking for a familiar hotel experience with a bit of Costa Rican flair, check out the Country Inn & Suites. This no-place-like-home hotel is clean and safe, with modern accommodations. Enjoy a Costa Rican breakfast in this resort-like hotel that offers free rides to and from the airport.

Hotel Millenium

This hotel is close to the airport and offers rooms at a price a bit steeper than some. However, you’ll get free parking, 24-hour service, a quiet and comfortable setting, and free breakfast every morning. The outdoor seating allows you to enjoy your morning fare amid the beautiful scenery. Plus, it’s within walking distance of many restaurants.

Camino Verde Bed & Breakfast

South and west of Monteverde, this bed & breakfast is small and charming but full of great views. It’s within walking distance of a number of sodas, or mom-and-pop restaurants that serve traditional Costa Rican food. The complimentary breakfast is made-to-order.

Monteverde Villa Lodge

A family-friendly, rustic, and cozy location, the Monteverde Villa Lodge offers both rooms and cabins. The owners live on site and pride themselves in the made-to-order breakfasts that are complimentary for those staying at the Lodge. Kitchenettes in the rooms are also great for families looking to prepare a few snacks during the day.

Arenal Observatory Lodge

With the Arenal Volcano in view, this Lodge is one of the most immersive in terms of how close you are to Costa Rican flora and fauna. It’s a quiet and family-friendly location just outside of town, but there are no TVs in the rooms. A free ride to and from the airport helps keep travel easy, as well as the complimentary buffet breakfast.

Hotel El Silencia del Campo

For an even more immersive experience, stay at Hotel El Silencio del Campo. This rustic hotel provides free breakfast so you can tackle the manicured gardens, hot springs, and farm tours. Take a walk around the property to get a glimpse of the impressive Arenal Volcano.

As you can see, there are many affordable and luxurious hotels to stay in when you visit Costa Rica.

Places to Eat in Costa Rica

The prices for most food in Costa Rica are similar to what you would pay in your hometown, depending on where you live. If you’re looking for an informal setting to spend the least, look for a soda. These spots offer traditional Costa Rican fare with an affordable price tag any budget can appreciate.

Here are some of the many wonderful places to eat in Costa Rica.

Botaniko

This restaurant features grilled meats and vegetables, a sushi bar, and a cocktail bar.

Casa Inti

For a low-key and quiet meal, enjoy Casa Inti, where Peruvian and international food is served.

Celajes

Selecting only the best ingredients from their local family farm and on-site garden, Celajes offers some of the best cocktails and seasonal menus of any hotel restaurant.

Chubascos

For early breakfast food to late-night snacks, Chubascos serves it all. Travelers seeking out an authentic Costa Rican meal should be sure to stop in here for a bite.

Don Rufino

With an eclectic menu and plenty of familiar dishes such as ribeye, lamb, and Reuben sandwiches, Don Rufino is a culinary experience you won’t want to miss.

El Patio Restaurante Gourmet

Friendly staff, excellent service, and plenty of great food to eat keep even the locals coming back for more.

Graffiti Resto Cafe & Wine Bar

A sushi bar with New Orleans flair, the Pan-American inspired menu of Graffiti Resto Cafe & Wine Bar cooks with local ingredients and spices like no one else.

La Pecora Nera

This Italian restaurant features nightly specials and a mixed feast for hungry travelers.

Liberia Social

Looking for some steak? Check out this restaurant, which also features Mediterranean, international, Central American, and Costa Rican menu items sure to delight your taste buds.

Lola’s

Set on the beach, this quirky restaurant’s mascot is a pig.

Pangas Beach Club

Mixing fresh ingredients with local influences, this restaurant serves a mix of traditional and Asian cuisines.

Papaya

Housed inside a hotel, this restaurant features fish, seafood, and a blend of cuisines made from Asian and Latin American influences.

Playa de los Artistas

Mediterranean-inspired cuisine is on the menu, as well as plenty of grilled seafood choices served on banana leaves.

Posada Real Cafe

This Costa Rican favorite features vegan- and vegetarian-friendly food. Outdoor seating provides plenty of room for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and drinks at this cafe and grill.

Red Frog Coffee Roaster

For dishes made with seasonal fresh fruits, freshly squeezed juice, and fresh seafood, choose the Red Frog Coffee Roaster. You can also purchase their famous fresh roasted iced coffee and Costa Rican breakfast plates.

Sikwa

A unique blend of native ingredients and cultural influences seasons food from Sikwa.

Silvestre

Though still relatively new to the scene after opening in 2017, Silvestre features dining rooms and courtyard seating with a new spin on Costa Rican food.

Yellow Bark

For Latin, Central American, and Costa Rican food, Yellow Bark has it nailed. Dishes including ceviche and pasta are popular.

Note that tipping in Costa Rica is not necessary. You can round up your bill to the nearest dollar/Colones if you’d like, but it is not required.

See the Sights in Costa Rica

Traveling to a new land can seem a bit daunting, but we’ve put together a list of places you can see on your trip to Costa Rica. Mark these down on your map so you can be sure where you’re going once you arrive.

Guanacaste

Full of secluded beaches and remote fishing villages, this province includes dry savannas, white sand, and plenty of cowboy culture to go around. The Playa Carrillo Beach and Rincón de la Vieja National Park are located here, along with plenty of hot springs and waterfalls. The volcanoes in the east are the Cordillera de Guanacaste.

Santa Rosa National Park

This UNESCO World Heritage Site preserves the 1856 Battle of Santa Rosa.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

See over 100 mammals, hundreds of types of birds, and over 2,500 plant species on this preserve, which spans over 25,000 acres. The Sky Walk and Sky Trek, as well as guided walking tours, make this place an experience of its own.

Arenal Volcano

Though no longer active, this volcano last erupted in 2010. It is over 5,000 feet above sea level and between February and April each year, you can see the top of the mountain. Otherwise, it is covered by clouds.

Nicoya Peninsula

Nosara Beach covers most of this peninsula, which spans 80 miles. There are many hotels and restaurants to visit, with clear waters reflecting the beautiful sunsets in this location.

Tabacón Hot Springs

Fans of relaxation and retreat will love these hot springs, which occur naturally. They are 3% magma, but rich in minerals. Near the Arenal Volcano, this hot springs location boasts flowing waterfalls as well.

Escazu

This tourist spot features shops, night clubs, and restaurants.

Marina Pez Vela

This custom-designed coffer system dam consists of 195 floating concrete docks. There is also high-speed fiber optic internet available, along with dry dock storage, bilingual staff, a commercial plaza, whale watching, and private villas.

Hacienda Alsacia Starbucks Coffee Farm

Learn about where Starbucks coffee is made by taking this 90-minute tour. At the foot of the Poas Volcano, this farm is less than an hour away from San José and spans over 240 hectares of land.

Teatro Nacional Costa Rica

Built in 1897, this theater holds self-guided tours, orchestras, operas, and ballets. Two statues sit at the front of the theater: Calderon de la Barca and Ludwig van Beethoven. Aleardo Villa’s “Allegory of Coffee and Bananas” can be found here as well.

Cahuita National Park

If you enjoy snorkeling, this destination should be on your itinerary. You’ll also see shipwrecks, wildlife, trails, and coral reefs on these 2,500+ acres of protected land.

El Toledo Coffee Tour

Walk the plantation to learn more about how coffee is made here.

Playa Hermosa

If you’re looking for a family-specific location, Playa Hermosa offers plenty of kid-friendly beaches. There are many national parks in the area as well.

La Paz Waterfall Gardens

This home of the largest animal sanctuary in Costa Rica is a must-see if you have kids.

There are plenty more places to visit than we could fit on this list. Leave some time open for exploring so you can find new places as well.

Visit Costa Rica on Your Next Vacation

Taking a trip to Costa Rica can be a fun and rewarding experience. Make new memories in this wonderful land of tropical sunsets, sprawling beaches, adventurous waves, and culturally diverse peoples. Book your trip today, because now you know where you should stay, eat, play, and visit for a memorable experience you’ll treasure for years to come.

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