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Costa Rica (Things to Do + Sample Itinerary)

By Hetvi Doshi, Subiksha Umakanth, and Raquel Davidson

Places to Visit

Central Valley:

A couple of days in SJO.

- Irazu Volcano National Park (day trip): go early (be there when the park opens) it’ll give you the best chance at a clear sky. Cartago is also quite nice if you go here.

- California (party)

- Rafting in Pacuare River (day trip)

- Savegre/Los Santos (day trip)

- Barva Volcano (hike, day trip)

Caribbean Coast

- Tortuguero National Park (2 days)

- Cahuita (National Park), Pto Viejo, Manzanillo (National Park), Gandoca (National Park).

Pacific Coast (Southern side)

- Nauyaca Waterfalls (from Perez Zeledón to Dominical)

- Corcovado National Park (hike, you should book in advance, and you might need at least about 4-5 days)

- Marino Ballena National Park

- Manuel Antonio National Park

- Chirripó Mountain - highest point in CR (hike, you should book in advance, and you might need at least about 4 days)

Pacific Coast (Northern side)

- Montezuma (hippie, chill, party)

- Malpaís/ Sta. Teresa (surfing, party)

- Barrigona, Carrillo (chill), Sámara (chill/party), Nosara (surfing)

- Llanos de Cortés

- Arenal

- Monteverde (outdoor activities)

- Tamarindo (party + beach)

Additional Recommendations:

You can also go see Orosí and the Mirador de Ujarrás. There is also Monumento Nacional Guayabo, which has ruins of Native costarican architecture with a broad stone traderoad and a 2000 year old working aqueduc system, which is engineering world Patrimony with the one from Machu Picchu. I wouldn’t go without a guide though, things will make more sense with one.


Arenal/La Fortuna

San Jose

  • Museums: National Museum ($4-8), Jade Museum ($16 of free with student ID) Gold Museum ($5-9), Art Museum (free)

  • Butterfly Gardens ($10-15)

  • Municipal Rose Garden

  • Cathedral Basilica of St. Joseph

  • Hike in coffee plantation ($15) and coffee tour on property for an added cost

  • Free walking tour:


  • Ziplining in cloud forest

  • Night tour

  • Hanging bridges in Selveture Park


  • Tamarindo (party + beach)


  • Malpaís (better than Tamarindo)

  • Nosara/Santa Teresa

  • Secluded beaches close to La Cruz in the Northern Part

  • La Cruz de Guanacaste has an amazing view too on Bahia Salinas and the peninsula de Santa Elena

  • Playa Rajada (will need a car to go) - very quiet, tranquil, almost like a pool just for us with an amazing view on the peninsula

Foods to try

  • Gallo Pinto

  • Chifrijo

  • Casado

  • Fried Fish

  • Tamales

  • Drinks, I would say chiliguaro

Saple Itinerary

Day 1 - San Jose

  • National Museum of Costa Rica (8:30-4:30, closed on Christmas)

  • Eat at Restaurante Nuestra Tierra (has vegetarian food) OR Macchu Picchu (Amazing Peruvian Food)

Day 2 - San Jose

  • Breakfast wherever you are staying

  • Free walking tour at 9:00 AM (booked)

  • National Theatre

  • Mercado central for lunch

  • Spirogyra Butterfly Garden

Day 3 - White Water Rafting (Pacuare River)

  • 6am-: Day-long white water rafting on Pacuare river ($100/pp, transport and food included, start at ~6am)

  • Dinner and sleep upon return - will be very tired

  • Link to the best company we found:

Notes about this company: They are awesome! I don't know how to swim and the river guide did his best to not let me fall in (I didn't!). They also gave me friend a full refund a day before the event since she couldn't make it.

Day 3 - La Fortuna (driving from SJ)

  • Stop by La Paz Waterfall Gardens - wildlife sanctuary and has 5 waterfalls that feed into each other

  • Check in at hostel

  • Hot Springs and Dinner (Baldi Hot Springs $40 day pass)

Note about the hot springs: the slides close at 8 so finish the hot springs before dinner (they didn't tell us this :()

Day 4 - La Fortuna

  • Early morning - Chocolate and Coffee Tour ($40, 2.5 hours)

  • Hike at Arenal 1968 Volcano View and Lava Trails

  • Lunch at the restaurant at the end of the hike (beautiful location good food)

  • La Fortuna Waterfall (buy tickets in advance to not wait in line)

  • Dinner at Don Rufino (Fine Dining)

Note about the hike: Better than the national park hike since you get to walk on lava rocks and volcanic terrain

Note about the waterfall: one of my top 5 favourite things to do. Involves 500 steps each way.

Day 5 - Monteverde

  • Leave early morning

  • Ziplining with Sky Adventures

  • Hanging bridges at Selvetura Park (right next to Sky Adventures)

  • Lunch at

  • Dinner at Tree House

  • Night walk through the forest ($25) at 8:00 pm

Note about zip lining: There might be better companies out there but we liked this one. It was expensive though - ~$89

Note about the night walk: Amazing. We saw sleeping hummingbirds, howler monkeys, frogs, snacks. It's safe.

Day 6 - Rincon de la Vieja

  • Las Paula’s circular trial

  • Lunch at Hotel Hacienda Guachipelin

  • Hot Springs and Mud Pool

  • Check in and relax for the evening

Note about Rincon de la Vieja: BEST THING TO DO. You see volcanic activity such as mud pots, sulphur pools, and bubbling water.

Note about the hot springs: Better and more natural than the Baldi ones, though kids might enjoy the latter more.

Day 7 - Tamarindo (Beach Town)

Last leg of the trip. Meant to hit some bars, relax, go to the beach.

There are leatherback turtle nesting tours but they have been called for some time since the turtles no longer visit.

If they are open, to make a reservation, visit the Las Baulas National Park headquarters at Playa Grande or call (+506) 2653-0470, ext. 10


Transportation Options

  • Busses are safe enough and cheap, but take a longer than shuttles/driving and are not conducive to taking luggage (suitcases, multiple large bags)

  • Shuttles/car services: safe, luggage is easy to take, around ~50 for each trip

  • Car rental (a process to rent, luggage is easy, 120-200 per day depending on length of rental)

Getting a SIM card

We had lots of problems with this since our American sims stopped working. If you need a local SIM card, you will find one in supermarkets.

  • Get Claro not Movistar

  • You have to call a number to activate (on the back of a pack)

  • To recharge: tell cashier in the supermarket your service provider and your phone number and how much to recharge


BONUS: Things to do in Costa Rica during Christmas

-Bull run (Fiestas de Zapote is a yearly event that celebrates Costa Rica’s bull fighting tradition. It is held in the town of Zapote, just outside of the country’s capital, San Jose. The festival itself starts in December 25, on Christmas, and ends on the first week of January, during Three Kings Day on the 6th. There are at least two bull fighting events per day for the entire week, one in the afternoon and one in the evening.)

-Horse parade (Dec 26) (The parade begins around 1 p.m. in downtown San Jose on Paseo Colon)

-The Carnival Nacional (takes place on December 27 in San Jose with a parade of colorful floats on display and colorfully costumed participants dancing to the rhythm of the bands.)

-Christmas Mass 24th Eve

(On Christmas Eve, everyone in Costa Rica puts on their favorite clothes and participates in Midnight Mass. In Costa Rica, it’s called Misa de Gallo or Mass of the Rooster.

After the Midnight Mass is over, they eat Christmas meal. The meal usually consists of pork and chicken tamales and a lot of eggnog and rum punch.

You can use this chance to interact with the locals and see their happy faces during this lovely Christmas Eve. Don’t forget to dress up for the occasion of course. You don’t want to bring the mood down.)

-The Children Museum (located in north-central San José and provides a mesmerizing show for everyone on Christmas Eve. It’s even better if you’re traveling with a kid because they would love to come here.)


-Chinamos (cute smol shopping; Guadalupe Central Park)

-Children’s hospital (decorations)

Food (specifically dinner over Christmas):

Barceló Hotel

Hotel Alta las Palomas

Villa Caletas

Cocina Josefina

Feria Verde in Barrio Aranjuez

Britt Shop Chocolates

For New Year's

Tamarindo! It's absolutely amazing. There are fireworks on the beach and all the clubs and bars are right next to it. Plus, the locals are extremely friendly and life is thriving all around.

However, here is what my friend who is from Costa Rica thinks about Tamarindo: "We used to love it 20 years ago before it got over developed, too much tourism, and drugs. Now it’s just crowded and pretty gross. But that’s my opinion. Some people love going there because of the partying and so on. I’m more of a tranquil empty beach kind of gal. I like to go where people don’t go, or at least where it’s bit quieter. Tamarindo is where all the american tourists go. If it was me, I would not go to Tamarindo or Jacó."


Acknowledgments: Subiksha Umakanth and Raquel Davidson (my best friends) put this together with me. Charlotte and Alonso are my friends who are locals whose recommendations we lived for.


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