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8 Must-Do Experiences in Costa Rica

Published 30 March 2016

Claus Gurumeta

Claus Gurumeta

Having seen a huge increase in tourism over the last decade, small and tropical Costa Rica has adapted well to the influx of visitors. Infrastructure in the country is some of the best in Central America, and Costa Rica is now a world leader in ecotourism and hospitality.

From adventure and wildlife spotting to beach-lounging, culture and food, Costa Rica has a lot to offer, no matter what you’re looking for. After exploring the country extensively, Claus Gurumeta shares his tips on which experiences to try during your holiday.

Eat like a Tico

© Claus Gurumeta

1. Eat Like a Tico

A visit to Central America will very seldom be synonymous with good cuisine, but Costa Rica is actually home to some great restaurants, and even the most basic of dishes can taste amazing. Start your day off with a gallo pinto, a bean and rice mixture often served with eggs for breakfast, and keep your energy up through the afternoon with a casado, a hearty dish consisting of rice, black beans, salad, fried plantains, vegetables, and a main course of meat. I recommend Chelles restaurant in downtown San José, a place with a great atmosphere that has been serving casados for over a century. The Sodas – family-run diners – in the Mercado Central of San José also serve inexpensive meals, as well as an array of delicious milkshakes made with local fruits.

Visit a Museum

© Claus Gurumeta

2. Visit a Museum

San José, Costa Rica’s capital city, is home to a number of worthwhile museums, but to me, one museum sticks out above all others. The Museo de Arte Costarricense, housed in the terminal building of San José’s former airport, is home to various art pieces and paintings made by Costa Rican artists. The sculpture garden outside has a collection of beautiful copper statues ranging from realist to modern, all backed up by a view of the building, which is a masterpiece in itself. The upstairs Golden Room, a former VIP waiting area at the airport, is the museum’s crowning jewel; a golden-hued, 3D mural spanning all four walls of the room depicting the history of Costa Rica. Best of all, entrance to the museum is free.

Climb a Volcano

3. Climb a Volcano

Costa Rica’s highest peak is also one of its most beautiful, the perfectly formed Arenal Volcano. Weather-depending, visitors have the chance to take postcard perfect photographs of the peak reflected on the lake of La Fortuna; however, the real life-changing moment happens when you come face to face with Arenal, as you hike its surface or visit the heart-racing hanging bridges, built among the volcano forests. The area is also home to plenty of natural hot springs, perfect for soothing your muscles after a strenuous hike, or simply to relax if you’re looking for a stress-free activity.

Explore a Cloud Forest

© Claus Gurumeta

4. Explore a Cloud Forest

Monteverde, in northern Costa Rica, is one of the most fascinating natural sanctuaries in the world due to its unique biosphere, which depends on a semi-permanent cloud cover for its water intake. The region has adopted ecotourism to such an extent that the forest hasn’t only been preserved, but has actually increased in size five-fold through two decades of reforestation. The cool mountain air and the endemic cloud cover make Monteverde a nice escape from the heat found in the lower parts of the country, and a visit to one of the two biological reserves in the cloud forest is a magical experience. While you are likely to see plenty of vibrant birdlife, butterflies and beetles here, the lush fairytale forest itself, coloured with every shade of green, is the biggest draw.

Zip through the forest

5. Zip Above the Trees

Aside from the biological reserves of the cloud forest, Monteverde has become Costa Rica’s premier destination when it comes to thrilling adventure tourism. If you are looking for beautiful views, the skywalk suspension bridges built above the forest canopy provide breathtaking vistas, with just the right level of adrenaline rushing through your veins. But, if you prefer something that will get your heart beating a little faster, zip-lining above the canopy at high speeds is probably what you’re looking for.

See Unique Wildlife

© Claus Gurumeta

6. See Unique Wildlife

On the bucket list of most travelers to Costa Rica, spotting wildlife is one of the most important things to do here, and Manuel Antonio National Park is the best spot for it. With three different species of playful monkeys, scavenging raccoons and the iconic sloths, this tiny park near the town of Quepos in western Costa Rica has it all, and in such large numbers that you are likely to see many more than you expected. Before you even enter the park, you will probably encounter a white-hooded capuchin monkey or two – most likely trying to steal your camera or hat. Inside, pay careful attention up in the trees, as the sloths move so slowly you’re likely to miss them if you walk too fast!

Walk Endless Beaches

© Claus Gurumeta

7. Walk Endless Beaches

Costa Rica is blessed to have miles upon miles of coastline on both the Pacific Coast and the Caribbean Sea, most of which is filled with beautiful beaches. Tortuguero National Park on the northeast coast is home to picturesque beaches, many of which are reserved for the nesting of sea turtles (which you can see coming to shore from July to October) while Puerto Viejo in the southeast of the country combines its beach scene with a laid-back Rasta lifestyle. My favourite beaches in Costa Rica are in Manuel Antonio, long palm tree-lined stretches of golden sand which are empty at times, save for the tiny local hermit crabs.

Live la Pura Vida

© Claus Gurumeta

8. Live the Pura Vida

As you travel around Costa Rica, you will come across the popular Tican expression pura vida, which directly translates in English to ‘pure life’. The expression can mean almost anything, from a common greeting, an acknowledgement, or a replacement for thank you or you’re welcome, but more than that, it’s a way of life in Costa Rica. The general meaning, which you should adopt during your visit, basically means “relax and enjoy life.” So take pleasure in your time in Costa Rica and don’t forget to slow down, even while you try to cross off all the items on your bucket list – after all, you’re on holiday.


Fancy exploring Costa Rica? Check out Round the World Experts' Costa Rica Explorer small-group Journey.


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