OK, this was a really hard post to write. Why? Because I’ve only been to Costa Rica twice, and when I was there I was only able to visit a few cities. So I’m by NO MEANS an expert. AND because there are so many things to do while you’re in Costa Rica that choosing five is nearly impossible! So I apologize in advance if I missed something terribly important … but just let me know in the comments!
In no order … if you are visiting Costa Rica, here’s what I recommend you do:
Try out ziplining in Monteverde.
I had been ziplining once before – also in Monteverde when in high school – so I knew what to expect. And I really enjoyed it again. B, who has a somewhat fear of heights, also enjoyed the zipline – and at the place where we went, Selvatura, the last zipline included a “couple’s zipline” – meaning we zipped holding onto one another for 1,000 m. For those of you Americans, that’s a little more than 2/3 of a mile long. It was so long that we couldn’t see the end of the line but still amazing. And we enjoyed some breathtaking views.
I know other areas have ziplining (including Arenal) but our experience was awesome. And 1,000 m is far longer than the longest Arenal zipline from what I have seen. I did see signs in Monteverde for the “longest zipline in Costa Rica” that was 1,600 meters (aka 1 mile) so there’s always that option as well if 1,000 m is 600 meters too short for you!
Rappel and try out other canyoneering activities (cliff jumping into jungle rivers, rope/vine swinging)
Let me start by saying I’m NOT an adventurous person. I don’t like to be scared. I have never skydived and have no idea how to waterski (I guess that’s not adventurous but I just wanted to show you how lame I actually am). Using the high-dive at the public pool during summer camp is probably the bravest I have ever been. But when in Rome … (or Costa Rica)? B had booked us for a half-day canyoneering trip and I was scared. On the bus ride to the canyon, the guide was explaining the trip. “First we do a rappel down next to a big rock. You must stop halfway down on the rope, see the rock, and then continue down into the raging river of the canyon. Then we do a tarzan swing on a rope into the river, but be careful because it’s not that deep. Then a longer rappel but you have to be careful on this one because the cave wall is narrow and you can’t swing out or you’ll cut yourself on the rock. Then a zipline. Then a rappel down a waterfall and you’re not allowed to use your hands…” You get the idea. Let’s just say I was not looking forward to it and nearly had a nervous breakdown on the van ride over.
BUT somehow I REALLY liked it. Was I an expert rappeller? No. But did I have to be? No that’s what our guides were for. The first one made me nervous. But after that? And a few dunks into the water?? I was good as new.
Enjoy the local cuisine and drinks
I am such a fan of the food in Latin America. I know you won’t all agree with me, but my love for spicy food, fresh seafood, amazingly fresh fruit, along with living in Ecuador probably helps my tastebuds. Anyway, here are a few things to try while you’re here:
Casados: Literally it means married (i think?). It’s great. It’s a protein (fish, chicken, pork, etc.) with rice and beans, sometimes plantains, a salad and cheese. I can’t get enough of their queso fresco – my favorite cheese. You won’t leave hungry.
Sopa: I LOVED the black bean and egg soup. I love black bean soup ordinarily, but the Costa Rican version is sublime. Plus it has a hard boiled or even sometimes softer egg in there which is pretty awesome.
Fried plantains and plantain chips: Sweet or salty/savory, what’s not to like about these banana-like fruits?
Yuca: I love yuca in all its forms. Fried yuca. Yuca chips. Yuca bread. Mashed yuca. YUM!
Guaro: Guaro is the local vodka-like alcohol. Guaro sour is a popular drink and it’s pretty delicious if you like sweet/sour drinks. Local rum is pretty good as well as the local beer.
Ceviche: I love almost all ceviche but the ceviche in Costa Rica that I had was also amazing. I had it about 6 times, so nearly every other day. And that wasn’t nearly enough!
All of the fruit: Seriously. Eat it all. Best pineapple I’ve ever had (even B ate it. And he hates pineapple), amazing coconut from the side of the road, the maracuya and guanabana are also awesome.
There are so many more foods to try, but since I had given up meat for Lent, I stayed vegetarian/pescatarian the entire time so the above recommendations are based on that.
Enjoy some hot baths and hot springs in Arenal
The volano Arenal is not only beautiful, but from what I can tell, it supplies tons of heat for the hot baths and springs in the neighboring town. Tabacon has some of the best hot springs (went there in high school) and B and I also enjoyed the baths at Baldi – there were many options, each pool had a swim up bar, and most had a “cool pool” (of like 65 degrees) so you could heat up in the hot bath, then cool down, then heat up, etc.
Snorkel, swim, and enjoy the ocean(s)
Due to time constraints, B and I only had time to experience the western and Pacific coast of the country. But if you go, see both coasts. They are different. See different beaches, swim in the oceans, snorkel, experience black sand beaches and more. I even was able to see a blowfish – and touch it! Yup. You’re in a tropical country – do it all, put on some sunscreen and enjoy!
BONUS: Take a coffee tour
Okay, okay, I couldn’t pick just 5. While you’re in Costa Rica, you must see a coffee plantation. Coffee is one of the country’s top 5 exports, so why not se how it’s produced? I must admit that the coffee tour we went on when I was in high school, while enjoyable and educational, was pretty touristy. We got free coffee samples, walked around the grounds (pun intended hehe) and saw stations that showcased the different processes of making coffee. The tour B and I did – Monteverde Coffee Tour – was MUCH better and seemed much more authentic – I highly recommend you go on this. We had a nearly private tour of some Costa Rican farmer’s land – saw all of this livestock, learned about what they all did on the farm and how they contributed in some way to the coffee process/circle of life, walked among real coffee and other plants (banana trees, lime/orange trees), and really learned about life as a Costa Rican and a farmer. And more than i ever wanted to know about coffee. They didn’t try to sell us anything at the end (we had to ask them if we could buy coffee) and we enjoyed some amazing locally made (that day!) goat cheese from their goats.
PS – Happy birthday to my brother Greg! This has nothing to do with Costa Rica but I thought he deserved a shout out.