Free Things To Do in Costa Rica
- #1View all PhotosfreeNicoya Peninsula#1 in Costa RicaBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The Nicoya Peninsula's sparkling 80-mile shoreline boasts beach-centric towns with cream-colored shores and dense forests. Half of the peninsula is found in the Guanacaste province, while the other half sits in the Puntarenas province. Nosara Beach's powdery sands line the Nicoya Peninsula's western edge. You'll also find fishing and cattle-ranching communities east of the rustic coastline. After a significant rise in tourism that began in the 1970s, an influx of restaurants and hotels have enticed visitors to the peninsula's sandy coast.
Recent travelers highlight Nosara Beach's gorgeous sunsets, colorful fish and turquoise waters as ideal for surfers and beach lovers alike. But be warned: shade is minimal (and it gets hot!) and the undertow can be challenging; sunset walks on the beach are highly encouraged. Other hot spots include Mal País and Montezuma, a charming coastal town that boasts affordable hotel accommodations and untamed splendors, like magnificent waterfalls and gentle cerulean waves.
- #3View all PhotosfreeGuanacaste#3 in Costa RicaBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDBeaches, Free, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Costa Rica's "Gold Coast" is one of the nation's most unique destinations and that's not just because of its secluded beaches. The region's dry, sunny savannas contrast the misty cloud-covered rainforests found in other parts of the country. To the east, you'll admire volcanoes comprising the Cordillera de Guanacaste. Along the coast – which extends all the way to the Nicaraguan border – you'll find pockets of white sand flanking hotels and remote fishing villages. Further inland, you'll discover a thriving cowboy culture that has flourished since Spanish colonial rule in the 19th century. More notable highlights include the pristine, palm-studded Playa Carrillo beach and the Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Another must-see attraction is the Santa Rosa National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site that preserves the site of the 1856 Battle of Santa Rosa.
Recent travelers particularly recommend visiting Rincón de la Vieja National Park, which boasts hot springs and beautiful waterfalls. You'll also get to see some impressive volcanic activity.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Costa RicaFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
The village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, located on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, comes alive with reggae music, funky bamboo bars and a wild nightlife. Surfers crowd coconut-fringed Cocles Beach; nature-lovers venture inland to explore rainforests; and foodies check out downtown's delectable cuisine. Off the beaten path, you'll find dusty biking and walking paths running through tropical farms and gardens. Along the coast, you'll discover remote bungalows and empty stretches of sand.
Travelers recommend visiting Playa Negra's black-sand beach – located in the northwest end of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca – for a less touristy retreat. Visit between September and October for the best chance of sunlight in this often damp, tropical region.
- #8View all PhotosfreeJacó#8 in Costa RicaFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
Far away from northern Costa Rica's foggy rainforests lies Jacó, a beautiful town teeming with shops, restaurants and beachfront hotels. It's also the closest beachside retreat to San Jose, the country's capital. Surfers should venture to Hermosa and Esterillos Este's sprawling palm-lined shores for the best waves. If you're looking for a calm beach day sans the waves, consider Playa Mantas and Playa Blanca – two beaches popular with locals. Nature seekers should head to wildlife havens like the Pura Vida Gardens and Waterfalls to spot the area's beloved residents – colorful birds and monkeys – and gaze at the soaring coastal mountains. Whatever you do, save some energy for the lively night scene, which is known for its adults-only activities.
Recent travelers highlight one major drawback: the city's popularity. But if you don't mind sharing this sprawling beach retreat with others, previous visitors said it's worth a day or two.
- #12View all PhotosfreeSan José#12 in Costa RicaFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPENDFree, Neighborhood/AreaTYPEMore than Full DayTIME TO SPEND
San José, Costa Rica's vibrant capital, serves as a central base for exploration. You'll likely want to stop here before heading to the country's magnificent rainforests and beaches. Soaring offices, apartment buildings and museums will tower above you as you roam through the city's interconnected barrios (districts). Barrio Amón is popular with tourists for its centuries-old mansions and photo-worthy architecture. Barrio Escalante is equally popular for its variety of restaurants, bars, cafes and bakeries. If you plan on staying in the city for a few days before connecting elsewhere, consider heading downtown to explore the exquisite collections at the Jade Museum and Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Both facilities house dazzling and rare pre-Columbian artifacts.
Recent visitors were equally impressed with the Jade Museum's presentation as they were with the extensive collection displayed in its confined space, though they did say it is a bit pricey. Travelers in search of the city's trendier areas may wish to drive about 3 ½ miles west of San José to reach Escazú, a sophisticated spot that boasts vibrant shops, nightclubs and restaurants. If you need help navigating the capital's dining scene, consider signing up for a food tour.
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