Costa Rica is an incredible place to visit with diversity, rainforests, beaches, and wildlife. However, most visitors frequent the same places creating an overcrowded experience even though there is so much more to see and do. The country is filled with cultural and natural wonders that let you explore a different side of Costa Rica. Find a unique adventure, including those that can let you ditch the crowds, with one of these 13 off-the-beath path things to do in Costa Rica.
1. Go White Water Rafting in the Pacuar River
Go on a scenic river adventure surrounded by tropical rainforests when you take a whitewater rafting trip along the Pacuar River. Besides the thrill of soaring down rapids, you’ll also take in spectacular landscapes during a 5-hour tour. Other adventure activities nearby include canyoning and ziplining through the rainforest canopy.
2. Explore San Isidro Farmers Market
Locally known as the feria, the farmer’s market in Perez Zeledon/San Isidro is one of the biggest farmer’s markets in Costa Rica. Over 200 vendors are there selling agricultural goods, homemade foods, free-range non-hormonal meat, vegan specialties, vegetable seedlings for your garden, and amazing baked goods. The market occurs weekly on Thursdays all day and on Friday until mid-day.
3. View Graffiti at San Lucas Island Prison
Shut down since 1991, the San Lucas Island Prison used to be the largest prison in Costa Rica for 117 years. Once a “hell on earth,” where you can still tour the torture chambers, it’s now a national park. Most interestingly, though, is the graffiti on the walls left by the prisoners. It’s a 40-minute boat ride to the island from the port city of Puntarenas.
4. Soak in Miravalles Volcano’s Hot Springs
Yes, Arenal Volcano is popular, but Costa Rica has other volcanic destinations with fewer visitors. One of these untapped locales is Miravalles Volcano in the Guanacaste region. Although dormant, it still produces enough thermal energy for you to enjoy the amazing volcanic bath and hot spring experiences. The prices are also at a fraction of the cost you would pay at Arenal Volcano.
5. Visit the Boruca Tribe’s Village
The indigenous Boruca tribe has preserved their identity despite facing the challenges of the Spanish conquistadors back in the 1500s. You can visit the Boruca village to see how they live and work, including how they are masters of mask making and crafts. There’s a museum and co-op gift shop. You can also visit Marina, who opens her home for a fresh farm lunch and demonstrate yarn making and dyeing from natural sources.
6. Explore the Orosi Valley
Orosi Valley has all the incredible scenery you seek when visiting Costa Rica – panoramic valley views, lush vegetation, and waterfalls. Only difference? It’s not a touristy and crowded place. The valley has the River Reventazon snaking its way through and plenty of wildlife, including birds of prey, white-faced monkeys, and tapirs.
At the end of the valley are non-sulfurous natural hot springs that feature the best views ever. The town of Orosi also features Costa Rica’s oldest Catholic Church that’s still running.
7. Visit the Rio Celeste Waterfall
Located in Tenorio Volcano National Park, there is a reason why the Rio Celeste is a popular destination. While it can get crowded, it’s too unique not to have on this list. The river has a neon, magical blue color from the chemical reaction of volcanic minerals. The waterfall is surrounded by dense tropical forest and plunges 98 feet right into the pool of bright blue. It’s a natural wonder you won’t want to miss!
8. Go on an Inner Wisdom Retreat.
Costa Rica features various retreats, including meditation and yoga retreats. However, if you want a profound journey of inner exploration, try an iboga retreat. The iboga shrub has psychedelic properties and known to be a powerful and life-changing tool.
The oldest and most well-known of the iboga retreats in Costa Rica is Iboga Wellness Center. Iboga Wellness has been using iboga as a depression tool for the last 7 years. Many war veterans and trauma survivors have found psychedelics, such as iboga, as a powerful way to leave the past behind and move forward.
9. Hike Mount Cerro Chirripó to Costa Rica’s Highest Peak
Cerro Chirripó is Costa Rica’s tallest mountain, rising 3,820 meters (12,533 feet) above sea level. The hike to the top is a 20-km (12.4 mile) trail from the San Gerardo de Rivas mountain village. Once at the top, you’ll see spectacular views of the surrounding Talamanca Mountains. It’s not for the faint of heart and you can overnight at Crestones Base Camp.
10. Take Some Permaculture Tours and Workshops
Exploring permaculture in Costa Rica opens you up to an innovative framework for sustainable ways of living. You have various options for tours, workshops, and courses. For example, the Hidden Valley Farm is nestled along the edge of a valley on Costa Rica’s “Green Mountain”, Monteverde.
You can also find learning opportunities at Rancho Mastatal education center that teaches you about permaculture on their campus located on 300-acres of a wildlife refuge. Learn about syntropic farming, hike to waterfalls, get a permaculture design certification, and more.
11. Visit Corcovado National Park
Located on the Osa Penisula, Corcovado National Park is one of the world’s most biodiverse places. A visit brings you unspoiled beaches, waterfalls, trails, and fabulous eco-lodges. It’s also a great location for animal lovers, with the park being home to various protected species, including silky anteaters, ocelots, howlers, green turtles, glass frogs, and more.
12. Hit the Sand at Samara Beach
In the Nicoya Peninsula and 4 hours from San Jose, Samara is a gorgeous beach town with sunny skies and tropical vibes. It also doesn’t get very crowded. The calm and smooth beach is protected by a bay and is great for kayaking and paddleboarding. Samara also offers other attractions such as ATV adventures, horseback riding, zip-lining, and the Belen Waterfall.
13. Stay with a Costa Rican Family
Instead of staying in an Airbnb or hotel, immerse yourself into the Costa Rican culture by staying in a homestay. You can get to know a Costa Rican family and experience their warmth and hospitality, including eating local meals. You can also choose homestays in rural areas that give you a glimpse into locals’ simple and rustic lifestyles.