Top Costa Rica Excursions
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Costa Rica is full of adventure travel for everyone- from zip lines to hanging bridges, white water rafting, bird watching, scuba diving and awesome volcanic hikes- there is an excursion for everyone in Costa Rica! This guide will help you pick the best fit for your family and gives my top recommendations.
About Costa Rican Excursions
Costa Rica is rife with adventure travel. While some of my favorite activities in Costa Rica are related to food, for travelers looking for adventure, Costa Rica delivers.
Whether you are visiting Costa Rica for the beaches, the rainforest or both, there are definitely excursions for all ages and types of families. We’ve traveled to Costa Rica with our kids and my parents, and easily found excursions everyone loves.
I do think it’s important to research and decide some general yours and activities you are interested in before you head down to Costa Rica. Tourism is a huge industry, and as soon as you hit the ground you will find all kinds of people looking to sell you a tour.
In this post, I’ve rounded up some of my favorite activities so you have a general idea of which types of activities you want to do, and start to plan your vacation around the best places to do each activity.
I worked in tourism in Costa Rica and now have lots of contacts for some of the best locally-owned tours. So as you go through the list of activities, please do keep in mind that I am happy to help you plan your trip and book your activities through my customized Costa Rica Trip Plan service
In this post I’ll outline a few of the most popular activities and excursions in Costa Rica, the best places to do them and my favorite tour operators in the case I have one.
Related post: Driving in Costa Rica
Types of Excursions in Costa Rica
Zip Lining might be the most sought after excursion in Costa Rica- and zip lining arguably was born in Costa Rica. An exhilarating and fast zip through the rainforest canopy, these tours are both an adrenaline rush and a relaxing walk through the forest.
Safety protocols in Costa Rica are extremely stringent, but it is still important to vet your tour and if at any point you aren’t comfortable with your tour just stop.
Popular places to zip lin include La Fortuna, Monteverde, Jaco, Braulio Carillo National Park and more. My favorite zip line for families with young children is Eco Glide near the Arenal Volcano.
Combining hiking and birdwatching, the hanging brides of Costa Rica are one of my favorite activities. You feel like you are floating through the forest but there is a suspended metal bridge below you. And they are HIGH!
It’s important to make sure you have sturdy shoes for the hanging brides, and that you go when there isn’t a lot of lightning as the bridges are metal. But we’ve been with kids of all ages and it’s been a lovely time.
My favorite hanging bridges in Costa Rica are at Arenal Mistico– they have gorgeous hiking trails and extensive gardens on the property so you see much wildlife and plants native to the area.
Related post: Mosquitos in Costa Rica
There is nothing more relaxing than getting on a boat with an expert Costa Rican guide and floating through the manglars while you look at river animals and birds.
Some of my favorite river tours are from Sierpe to Drake near the Osa Peninsula, arriving at Tortuguero on the Caribbean coast, and near Tamarindo at Marino Las Baulas National Park.
Running a horse down one of the many white sand beaches in Costa Rica is so fun- especially if you are on a tour with a traditional Costa Rican horseman. There is a long tradition of horseback riding in Costa Rica, and horse tours are a great way to see hidden beaches, arrive at scenic overlooks, and of course to head through the forest.
My favorite horseback tour is with a man on the beach at the south end of Jaco Beach (see photo), but you can find great horse tours all over the country. Just make sure the horses are humanely treated and the guides aren’t running them all day with heavy loads. A great palace to do a horseback tour is also from La Carolina Lodge in the Tenorio Volcano/Rio Celeste area.
Toucans, quetzales, and scarlet macaws are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of species of birds you can see in Costa Rica- it is one of the best places in the world for birdwatching.
You can look for birds on your own- this is the most popular birding guide in Costa Rica or you can hire an expert guide.
We love to sit and watch the birds over breakfast at Casitas Tenorio, and of course, there is incredible birdwatching in Monteverde, Corcovado National Park, and around San Gerardo de Dota.
As you drive north along the main highway between San Jose and Liberia, make sure to stop at Restaurante Mi Finca as they have scarlet macaws that like the tree on the back patio and you can reliably see scarley macaws preening and playing there.
If you want to see all of nature in one place, consider visiting La Paz Waterfall Gardens or ZooAve.
Related post: San Jose Day Trips
Night tours are so freaking cool in Costa Rica! Once the sun sets, you can see all kinds of frogs, snakes, bats, crazy insects- you name it. I highly recommend taking a night tour, but make sure you are with a guide you really trust if you are going off the beaten path.
We were recently at Tapir Valley nature reserve near Casitas Tenorio and had the opportunity to do a night tour with Donald where we saw 4 adolescent eyelash vipers just hanging out on the trial. We were there is 6 kids under 8 years old, and Donald knew EXACTLY what to do to keep us safe. Things could have gone downhill fast had he not been such a pro.
Why not learn to surf in Costa Rica. Even though there are some of the best waves in the world in Costa Rica (not to mention in all of Central America), you can definitely learn to surf on some nice baby waves too.
We love to take lessons at Tamarindo, Playa Grande, Jaco and in Puerto Viejo.
Related post: Best Costa Rica beaches
I’ll be quite honest- if you are an avid snorkeler or scuba diver, Costa Rica is not going to deliver the same experiences as you will find in other parts of the world (even in Honduras or Belize nearby).
But if you are looking to snorkel or scuba for the first time, or just enjoy the activity, then Costa Rica is a great place to do so.
It can be as simple as renting a mask and walking into the water offshore (Cahuita, Juniqullal, Conchal, Manuel Antonio National Park come to mind) or going on a full scuba excursion from Coco Beach or Flamingo- there are lots of options.
Costa Rica is home to Cocos Island (where parts of the Jurassic Park movies were filmed) but the trip is several days to a week-long and in the five figures per person to do.
Related post: Costa Rica’s National Parks Guide
You haven’t visited Costa Rica until you take a coffee tour. They are all over the place, but my absolute favorite is Espiritu Santo Coffee Tour outside of Naranjo.
There is also Cafe Britt (Heredia), Don Juan Coffee Tour (Monteverde), Hacienda Alsacia (Alajuela) (the Starbucks Farm) and more. We love the coffee tours near San Gerardo de Dota and in the Central Valley.
Chocolate tours have become increasingly popular throughout Costa Rica, and they are delicious and fun. Don Juan Chocolate tour in Monteverde is very popular, as are some on the Nicoya Peninsula and on the Caribbean near Puerto Viejo.
Staying on a farm or touring one in Costa Rica is the best. With a long history of agriculture, you will see the real Costa Rica on a farm. We love Casitas Tenorio, Rancho Margot, and La Carolina Lodge.
Seeing glow-in-the-dark sea life by kayak is an incredibly unique experience, and one of the best things we ever did with our kids.
Make sure to do it though Bahia Rica tours as they are the absolute best!
Deep Sea fishing
Sportfishing is super popular in Costa Rica- it’s also expensive as the country’s focus on biodiversity and protection of marine life makes guides need permits. So make sure you go with someone reputable. The most popular sport fishing tours leave from Quepos and Jaco.
White Water Rafting
The Sarapiqui region near Cartago is most well known for it’s whitewater rafting, but you can also react near La Fortuna and even do a nice low key river float near the Bijagua area.
During high rainy season the rapids can be extremely high and dangerous. Please choose a guide carefully- especially when considering white water rafting with younger children. It’s not joke.
Waterfall chasing might just be the favorite activity of every tico! We have loved visiting waterfalls in Bajos del Toro near Sarchi, and Llanos de Cortez is a popular stop if traveling near Liberia from San Jose.
Hacienda Guachepelin is home to many waterfalls that you can easily hike to, and Nauyaca Waterfall near Uvita in the south is very popular. La Fortuna is home to many waterfalls, although the main waterfall has become very touristy and expensive. The waterfall near Montezuma beach is a popular hike and easy to do with all ages.
Volcanic Hot Springs
I mean- you have to visit them. We love Baldi, Tabacon, Volcano Lodge and Springs, and Kalambu Hot Spring at La Fortuna.
Here is a guide of my favorite hot springs around Costa Rica.
Consider caving! Located near La Fortuna are the Cavernas de Venado which you can explore with a guide. It’s a crazy tour- expect to crawl, jump and be in completel darkness. Super fun, you can see tons of bats.
If you are looking for a thrill then you should try rappelling down a waterfall! I LOVE Maquique Adventure in La Fortuna.
Additionally, Hacienda Guachepelin near Liberia has some great rappelling and canyoneering tours that are great for all ages.
There are sea turtles nesting almost all over Costa Rica ts some point during the year. At Ostional, Nosara, Tortuguero, Cahuita and more, you can see the turtles nesting and the babies heading to the ocean almost all year round.
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How To Book Your Tours
Do your research and find local guides with high ratings. I have recommended some of my favorite tours here, but I can also help customize your trip and get you some great local discounts in the process. Contact me here.
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Welcome! I’m Christa, a former high school teacher married to a handsome Costa Rican and mother of two bilingual daughters. I love all things Spanish and bi-cultural, (especially travel and food!) and you’ll find my observations on life here. Thanks for stopping by
Your information that I’ve read has been very helpful. Thanks! We’ve been told that it’s best not to rent a car. So that being the case, how is the best way to get around – i.e. from airport to hotel, to places like Arenal & Guanacaste? Also, my husband wants an all-inclusive, so is it best to stay in one place and shuttle around? And since we are flying into San Jose, is it best to book in the Jaco area which is closer?
Hi Jeri. I actually think renting a car is the best way to get around- and the most cost-effective. If you are looking at an all-inclusive, however, they most likely will have shuttles and excursions for you to do right from the hotel. I would say in that case not renting a car would be the best option for you. Pura vida! ~Christa