unique things to do in costa rica

12 Incredible & Unique Things to Do in Costa Rica

Costa Rica is well known for its sloths, jungles, zip lines, and beaches.  And you should not miss them, they are truly awesome.  However, once you’ve done all these typical (and worthwhile!) activities, you may be looking for something different and perhaps a little offbeat.  So, if you’re looking for hidden gems in Costa Rica for your next adventure, here is our guide to the more unique things to do in Costa Rica.  Whether it’s watching thousands of turtles on the beach or backpacking through a National Park, you’ll have plenty of options to fill your days with these incredible activities.  Families, friends, and adventure-seekers can all find something awesome here to add to your itinerary.  Take a look and plan out your next trip with these fun, unique things to do in Costa Rica.



Poas Volcano

Visit Poas Volcano

The number 1 place to visit in Costa Rica is Poas Volcano. This FIVE star day trip comes with full transport and an English-speaking guide. It is a stunning place to visit – don’t miss it!

Costa Rica is an incredible country to visit, with immense biodiversity and natural sites.  Whether it’s sloths you want to see, or beaches you want to explore there’s plenty for everyone.  But if you’re looking for something slightly different, then we have you covered.  These are Costa Rica’s unique things to do.

1.       Explore Costa Rica’s Poas Volcano

Located north of San Jose in Alajuela Province

Most people flock to Arenal when they go to Costa Rica.  Arenal is a gorgeous area to hike in.  But many people miss the beautiful Poas Volcano on their way to La Fortuna.

Poas Volcano has an impressive crater of milky blue that you can view at the park.  It’s an easy walk on a paved trail to get to the observation point.   It’s an easy and extremely rewarding day trip from San Jose.

Poas Volcano Crater Costa Rica uniques

If you’re lucky, you’ll see the crater in a nice sunny moment.  Thick fog rolls into the area obstructing the view, but can change from one moment to the next.  Note: Poas Volcano MUST be reserved in advance online (and there is no reception once you get there to buy your ticket!). One of the easiest ways to visit Poas Volcano is to take a day trip from San Jose – this fabulous day trip also visits waterfalls and a coffee plantation and is extremely highly rated!

2.      Chill out on Lake Arenal

Located just to the west of La Fortuna

While Arenal Volcano National Park gets all the attention, many people miss the opportunity to get on the lake right next door.

Lake Arenal has plenty of activities to enjoy, like kayaking or going on a boat tour.  Various places around the lake can rent out kayaks and paddle boards, giving you a nice relaxing day on the lake.  And you can’t beat the volcano backdrop.

You can even take transportation across Lake Arenal to Monteverde to beat driving around the lake.  You’ll still have to take a shuttle on both ends to get to your destination, but taking a boat across the lake is an exciting way to see the area and Arenal Volcano (and there’s more on what it’s like here

Boats on Lake Arenal Costa Rica

3.      Safari Float on the Rio Peñas Blancas in Costa Rica

Located Outside of La Fortuna, where many tours begin

Another unique thing to do in Costa Rica is to take a safari down a river.  While staying in La Fortuna, you can book a tour to pick you up and take you to Peñas Blancas where a raft and a guide await.

Then, you can gently float down the river as the guide points out and takes you close to some of the wildlife.  See local birds, sloths, monkeys, and even crocodiles.

This Safari Float is perfect for families since young kids can enjoy it safely.  Smaller kids are safely sat completely inside the raft.

Afterward, enjoy a snack and learn about growing cacao and sugarcane locally.  You’ll even get to drink some fresh hot cocoa.  This safari float is so much fun, and yet really easy.

4.      Check out the Arribada- Turtle Nesting at Playa Ostional, Costa Rica

Located in Guanacaste, just outside Nosara

The Ostional Wildlife Refuge is located on the western side of the Nicoya Peninsula.  It was created over 30 years ago to help protect the tens of thousands of turtles that arrive and lay eggs all year from poachers.

At the Refuge, you can witness a cool event known as arribada.  This is when sea turtles start nesting and laying their eggs. 

Turtle Nesting Costa Rica

There are a few places in Costa Rica where this occurs.  At the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, turtles nest each month over a period of 2-3 days.  The larger arribadas occur between July and November, but December through June still see smaller nesting events.  October and November can see arribadas of over 100,000 turtles!

If you’re looking for unique things to do in Costa Rica, seeing thousands of turtles should be high on your list. It’s easy to arrange a specific tour of Costa Rica, especially if you’re looking for eco-friendly things to do. This country is famous for its ecological, environmental and nature focused trips.

5.      Visit the Whale Tail in Costa Rica

Located in Uvita

One of the coolest, natural forming formations comes in the shape of a whale tail.  This natural landscape was formed from two different currents laying sediment in the area, forming the land in the shape of a whale’s tail. 

Many people call this area the Whale Tail because of its shape, but it’s also known as one of the best places to see humpback whales migrate through the area twice a year (with the best time being in August).

You can find the Whale Tail during low tide in Marino Ballena National Park in Uvita.  It’s about a 2 kilometer (1.25 miles) walk to get to, which isn’t too far, but it can get hot. 


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6.      Explore Costa Rica’s Playa Conchal – the beach with a difference

Located in Guanacaste near Brasilito

Costa Rica may not be filled with hundreds of fine, white sand beaches.  But it is home to one of the most unique beaches.  Playa Conchal is Spanish for “shell beach,” and that’s just what it is.

Playa Conchal has “sand” that is actually made from finely crushed shell.  This 4 kilometer (2.5 mile) stretch of beach is not a far drive from the popular Tamarindo and about an hour from Playas del Coco, making it an easy day trip.

Google Maps will automatically take you to the south end of the beach… but make sure to change it and enter the beach from the north side by the hotels.  You’ll get a better feel for the shell beach here.

7.      Kayak in Bioluminescence in the Gulf of Nicoya, Costa Rica

Located in Santa Teresa, Nicoya Peninsula

There are a few places to see bioluminescence in the Earth’s waters.  Costa Rica is one of them.

In the Gulf of Nicoya, you can see bioluminescent algae year-round. 

Bioluminescent Algae

When the algae sense something or feel threatened, they produce a chemical reaction that gives off light.  Pushing your paddle through the water will trigger an explosion of light below.  With millions all around, the water takes on a magical, glowing effect.  You can book a kayaking tour in the bioluminescence of the Gulf of Nicoya here.

While kayaks are more fun than boats, they also give off less pollution to the water.  In addition, you can be closer to the bioluminescent activity in a kayak.  There are a few great hotels in the area, but the Bahia Rica offers tours on-site, making it very convenient during your stay.

8.      Get underground in Costa Rica’s Barra Honda Caverns National Park

Located in Santa Ana in the Nicoya Peninsula

The word “caverns” often sparks images of Kentucky or Midwest US states filled with tunnels of caves.

But there are some really awesome caverns in Costa Rica.  Barra Honda National Park is located in the Nicoya Peninsula and makes a great day trip from Samara just about an hour away.

The Barra Honda Caverns are the only of its kind in Costa Rica.  Inside are stalagmites and stalactites within the limestone walls, spanning over 40 rooms.  However, only one is open to the public. 

If you need some unique things to do in Costa Rica, what’s more unexpected than visiting a cavern in the land of jungles?

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9.      Take a Mud Bath at Hacienda Guachipelin

Located in Liberia (north of town)

Ever had a mud bath?  The mess is ironically beautifying. 

Near Rincón de la Vieja National Park is a hotel in Guachipelín.  Hacienda Guachipelín is a beautiful place to sleep, but you can also just purchase a day pass to participate in various adventure activities. 

While many people enjoy the adrenaline activities and hot springs (which blend right in with nature), you can get an adventure package that includes taking a mud bath.  This nutrient-rich volcanic mud is fun and nourishing, enriching your skin and body with vitamins and minerals, while also exfoliating dead skin.

10.  See Two Seas at Once at Chirripó National Park

Enter the park in San Gerardo de Rivas, this is great for avid hikers and backpackers

Costa Rica is a lush land filled with warm beaches, jungles…and of course glacial lakes.  That last one can be found at Chirripó National Park in the Talamanca mountain range. 

Hikers can enjoy hiking to Cerro Chirripó, the highest point in Costa Rica at over 12,500 feet.  Once at the top, you’ll be able to see both the Pacific and the Caribbean from the same spot. Getting to the highest point is quite difficult, getting down is also hard work, I’d advise taking a set of hiking poles at least for the descent.

Chirripó National Park Costa Rica

It’s not just about the destination, though.  The journey to the top will take you through different ecological zones.  You’ll have the chance to see various wildlife and plenty of birds, including the popular Quetzal and Macaws.

Hiking to the top of Chirripó is a feat for experienced hikers.  It will likely take a few days to summit the top and is no walk in the park. 


Most Popular Trekking Poles

These fabulous budget trekking poles are the best buy and the most popular poles for hiking.

Less experienced hikers can spend the night at Crestone’s Base Camp and start from there, which shortens the hike and makes it attainable for more people.

To hike up Cerro Chirripó, you must have a guide and a permit.

For those adventurous souls, this is one of the unique things to do in Costa Rica that you probably hadn’t thought of.  Who knew you could summit a mountain on your jungle getaway?

11.  Scuba Dive at Islas del Coco (Costa Rica’s Treasure Island!)

The adventure begins in Puntarenas and this is great for experienced scuba divers.

Experienced scuba divers will find Islas del Coco to be an incredible spot for a dive.  Divers may view dolphins, sharks, manta rays, and other animals that live or migrate through the area.  Past divers have gone on and on about the impressive shark viewings.  Over 300 sharks have been tagged in the area.

There are also plenty of fish species to see underwater.  It’s a dream location for avid scuba divers.

Islas del Coco is also rumored as a real Treasure Island.  In the 1800s, the Treasure of Lima was put in the hands of Captain William Thompson to transport to safety during the war.  It was supposed to go to Mexico, but Williams turned to piracy.  It’s said that the treasure is buried somewhere on Islas del Coco…though with hundreds of seekers, no one has found It yet.

Visiting Islas del Coco is one of the most unique things to do in Costa Rica for a reason.  Not only is it great for scuba diving and stories of treasure, but it’s one of the lesser-visited areas of Costa Rica. 

Islas del Coco is located 532 kilometers off the coast, so you’ll need a boat tour to get you there.  It’ll take 30+ hours and there is nowhere to stay on the island, so you’ll be sleeping on the boat as well.

It’s quite an adventure.  Celebrities who have visited have called it the most beautiful island in the world and many rival it with the Galapagos.

It will cost thousands of dollars to visit this unique spot and many tours stay for around a week.

12.  Explore La Amistad International Peace Park

Popular Entrance “Alta Mira” near Buenos Aires in Puntarenas -Great for backpackers

La Amistad Peace Park is the largest protected area in all of Costa Rica.  While Costa Rica is home to 4% of the world’s species, La Amistad is home to 2/3 of those.  (There are over 600 species of birds!)

Visiting La Amistad International Peace Park is ideal for backpackers.  There are no paved roads through the park, so you’ll have to get a 4×4 for the rough roads, and then access the sites on foot. 

Why is it called an international park?  Part of La Amistad flows into Panama as well, making it a park shared by the two countries. 

There are no hotels/lodging inside the park, but campers have two campground options to set up a tent for the night.  You can also arrange for lodging in surrounding local communities.

There are 4 different entrances on the Pacific side and one ranger station in the town of Los Nubes. depending on what part of the park you’d like to explore.  Hikers should stay on the trails, as much of the park hasn’t been discovered yet and it’s easy to get lost.  It’s highly recommended to get a guide for your adventure.

Travel Tips for Exploring Costa Rica

Final Words on the Best Unique Things to Do in Costa Rica

Ziplining through the jungle and checking out beach towns is amazing and really fun to do on your trip.  But if you are really looking for some unique things to do in Costa Rica, perhaps some things a little off the beaten path or lesser-known adventures, make sure to take this list with you. Whether you’d like to take a boat ride far off the coast to swim with the sharks or float down a river on safari, there are plenty of little hidden gems in Costa Rica you may not have thought of.  Make your trip unforgettable with these unique things to do in one of the most beautiful places on Earth.

Stock images in this article are courtesy Deposit Photos.

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