Friendly locals, very safe, amazing climate, very affordable, great public transportation.
Hard to find direct flights.
I was fortunate enough to spend three weeks in Costa Rica last year and want to share a few of the places I visited and things I did. It was easily the best vacation I've ever taken, and I've been all over the world. Here is my list of the ten things you must do when visiting Costa Rica. Oh, and the list is numbered, but it is in no particular order.
1. Spend an Afternoon in Downtown San Jose â€“ There is no better way to get a feel for a foreign country than to find a spot downtown and just watch life happen. Downtown San Jose is not very big, but it is easy to spend an entire day there. San Jose has a great public transportation system with buses running constantly. The best way to get downtown is to hop on a bus and ride to Calle 17 where you will be dropped off near the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. The museum is housed in the Bellavista Fortress which was built in 1917 as a military barracks.
As you venture passed the museum towards the center of town you'll see many restaurants and casinos, feel free to choose one and enjoy, you really can't go wrong. Eventually you'll come to the Plaza de la Cultura. This was a great place to really get a feel for downtown San Jose. It is not unlike a central plaza you can find in any large city and is a great place to get a feel for the city.
2. Visit Arenal â€“ One of the most spectacular things you'll ever witness is a volcano erupting and Arenal is one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world. It is constantly erupting, and when I say erupting, I'm talking exploding and spewing lava! Not on a weekly basis, or even dailyâ€¦it is erupting constantly! At night it is truly amazing to watch the lava flow down from the top of the volcano. It is a sight that should not be missed. There are several hotels in the area that include hot springs and views of all the action.
3. Deep Sea Fishing â€“ Costa Rica is home to some of the best sport fishing in the world. Take a trip to the pacific coast, charter a boat for the day and hook up a monster Marlin. Catching a 200+ pound fish is an experience you'll never forget. And don't worry, most of the fish you catch can be released to live another day.
4. Canopy Tour â€“ This was one of the highlights of my time in Costa Rica. Flying through the trees 100's of feet above the ground while suspended on a wire! Oh yeah! Stepping off the platform the first time was a little nerve wracking, but once you start to "fly" it is pure joy! We went on a canopy tour near Arenal that included a horseback ride up to the canopy. I had never been on a horse, and certainly never flown through the trees, so combining two things that I'd avoided up until then took a little convincing, but I am so glad I did it and you will be too.
5. White Water Rafting â€“ Again, this is another activity that I had never done before. The combination of tranquil rafting through the forest watching the wildlife, and the excitement of paddling through the rapids was unbelievable. I felt totally safe the entire time, and the adrenaline really pumped when the action started. We used Green Frog Rafting, and I highly recommend them.
6. Day at the Beach â€“ You can never go wrong with a day at the beach, and Costa Rica has some of the nicest beaches in the world. Whether you're into sun bathing or surfing you will find a beach that is right for you. The beaches along the Central and Southern Pacific coast are the surf spots that have long been visited by surfers from around the world. Places like Jaco, Tamarindo, and Playa Hermosa have consistent breaks year round and all of Costa Rica's beach areas offer a wide variety of accommodations.
7. La Paz Waterfall Garden â€“ If you enjoy nature and specifically, rain forests and waterfalls, the La Paz Waterfall Garden has got to be on your to-do list when in Coasta Rica. In addition to the waterfalls, you will find a butterfly observatory, a Hummingbird Garden, and several other areas dedicated to creatures found in the rain forest. A word of caution, you will climb hundreds of stairs throughout the park and if you're out of shape you will struggle on the last set of stepsâ€¦ they seem to go on forever. Luckily there are plenty of places to stop and rest as you make your climb.
8. Poas or Irazu Volcanos â€“ I visited both in my time in Costa Rica, if you're a fan of volcanoes, go see them both. If seeing one is enough for you, pick the one that is closest to where you are staying. I listed these separately from Arenal because these two offer a different experience than Arenal. You can't get very close to Arenal because it is erupting, but both of these volcanoes have observation points where you can look down into the crater! Irazu is a much more popular tourist destination and is honestly better for sight-seeing. The top of Poas is more desolate and more consistent with what you'd expect to see at the top of a volcano.
9. Coffee Plantation â€“ A stay in Costa Rica would not be complete without a tour of a coffee plantation. When you look out at the hills that surround the central valley of Costa Rica you will see miles and miles of coffee farms. I took a tour of the CafÃ© Britt plantation and had a great time. The tour includes an orientation in an auditorium where they educate you on the process of turning a coffee berry into a cup of coffee. You get a tour of the facility, and of course all the time you need in the gift shop where you can buy chocolate covered coffee beans!
10. Speak Spanish â€“Immerse yourself in the culture and try to speak as much Spanish as you can. The reason I was in Costa Rica was to attend a Spanish language institute in San Jose. It was an immersion program where I lived with a family and really got a feel for life in Costa Rica. I rode the bus to school every day just like I would if I had grown up there. But the coolest part of the experience was speaking Spanish, and learning Spanish from native speakers that really didn't know much English. It was an experience I will cherish and I encourage everyone to try at least once!
I hope this list will inspirer you to take a trip to Costa Rica, it truly is one of the most beautiful and diverse places on earth. When people ask me, I tell them it is like Hawaii only cheaper, more beautiful, and more friendly.