My Top 6 Experiences in Costa Rica

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I've already shared with you video highlights and some of my best photos from my trip to Costa Rica. But which experiences that I mentioned in that post were my favorites? If YOU find yourself with limited time in Central America's most-visited nation, what should you dedicate some time to?

Read on to learn about my top 6 experiences in Costa Rica. Maybe they'll give you some ideas for your own adventure!

6. Soaking in hot springs

Paradise Hot Springs

After a long, nearly 6-hour drive from Manuel Antonio, we arrived in the town of La Fortuna and were immediately greeted with… rain. Rain, and rather chilly temperatures.

The cool, wet weather continued the next day, nixing our vague plans for zip lining or paddleboarding or any other sort of outdoor pursuit. We went on a drive in the morning through the jungle towards Lake Arenal, spotting some wildlife — and plenty of clouds — along the way.

We eventually gave up and headed to some hot springs for the bulk of the day. We went to Paradise Hot Springs — an alternative to the big, expensive springs like Baldi and Tabacon. While small and not nearly as fancy as its more popular neighbors, Paradise was actually lovely.

Lisa and I were essentially the only non-Costan Ricans there, and we quite liked it that way. The best part was that we only paid $35 for the whole day, including a meal.

5. Arenal at sunset

Arenal

After a lazy day at the hot springs, we returned to La Fortuna just as the clouds were miraculously starting to clear. We were treated to a balmy and beautiful sunset that night from the park in the center of La Fortuna, with Volcan Arenal piercing through the clouds right at the golden hour.

I know how seriously lucky we were — most people I've talked to have visited this part of Costa Rica and never seen even a glimpse of the volcano. It was definitely memorable.

4. Visiting the Sloth Sanctuary

Sloth Sanctuary

Our first stop in on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast (before we'd even had lunch) was at the Sloth Sanctuary. It is one of the only places in the world dedicated to rehabilitating and studying sloths — both three-fingered and two-fingered.

The sanctuary takes in injured sloths — many of them hit by cars or zapped by power lines — and does its best to rehabilitate them, while at the same time using the animals to educate people about these unique creatures.

We took the “Buttercup Tour,” which includes a guided tour of the sanctuary and lots of fun facts about sloths, as well as a canoe ride through the nearby jungly environment.

You used to be able to hold the sloths here, but the sanctuary has discontinued that practice after their vet suggested it was stressing out the animals. If you love sloths (or just want to learn more about them), this is a must-do.

3. Empty beaches in Manuel Antonio

Manuel Antonio NP

Our third day in Costa Rica, we woke up early (before the tourist crowds) and headed to Manuel Antonio National Park — one of the top destinations in the country. We went there hoping to spy monkeys and other local wildlife. But what we found instead were some of the most incredible beaches I've ever seen.

And, because it was before 9 a.m., and because you have to pay to enter the park, the beaches were pretty much EMPTY. Lisa and I agreed that we could have stayed at Playa Espadilla Sur all day.

2. Sunset sailing on the Pacific

Sailing

The afternoon before our morning of private beaches, we spent a few hours sailing the Pacific around Manuel Antonio. With only about 10 of us on a spacious sailboat, we enjoyed the sun and surf with reggae tunes as our soundtrack.

We spotted some dolphins, stopped for some quick swimming/snorkeling, and had one of the best meals of the trip onboard before literally sailing off into the sunset.

The trip was all at once relaxing and exciting — there's nothing better, I've decided, than a sunny day spent on a sailboat in the tropics.

1. Visiting the Jaguar Rescue Center

Jaguar Rescue Center

My favorite experience in Costa Rica was difficult to decide on. Sailing almost won, but in the end I had to go with our visit to the Jaguar Rescue Center in Puerto Viejo.

The Center was started by 2 Spanish biologists who met and fell in love in Costa Rica and became Puerto Viejo's de facto veterinarians. We visited this animal sanctuary on our last full day in the country, with me insisting on it since I knew they had monkeys there — Lisa's favorite animals. 

The Jaguar Rescue Center doesn't actually have jaguars at all — but it does have a whole host of other jungle animals. During our visit we learned about everything from snakes to toucans to green tree frogs to sloths.

The adorable baby sloths were the highlight for me, but I know the highlight for Lisa was the monkey enclosure. Inside are a handful of young howler and spider monkeys who love to play — with each other, and with any human who enters the enclosure. At the end of our visit, we spent about 10 minutes inside, letting the monkeys use our arms, shoulders, and even heads as launch pads. It was not only an educational experience, but also incredibly fun.

READ NEXT: Fun Facts About Sloths

Which of these experiences would YOU most want to have in Costa Rica?

 

 

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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38 Comments on “My Top 6 Experiences in Costa Rica

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  1. They all look wonderful! I hope we get a chance to see Arenal when we eventually visit. Gorgeous!

      Cross your fingers for good weather! It’s often cloudy/misty there since it’s in the middle of the rainforest. But if you get lucky and have good weather, it’s super impressive!

    I’d do them all, plus add the zip-line, and stay for at least a month.

      Yes, next time I definitely want to do some more adventure activities, and also visit the cloud forest!

    The sloth sanctuary sounds amazing! And a canoe ride as well… would definitely do that!

      The Sloth Sanctuary was really cool – definitely recommended if you want to learn more about sloths!

    like the look of that sloth sanctuary, didn’t realise sloths were that cute!

    Looks incredible! I’m really hoping to get there sometime this year and will definitely be following in your footsteps for some of these things. 🙂

    Costa Rica was my first international trip when I was 15 — I remember it fondly, and your top 6 experiences make me desperate to go back. The hot springs and the jaguar rescue center sound best to me! $35 for the whole day at the hot springs, and getting to see jungle animals up close?! Then again, I love sailing, and that deserted beach looks amazing…

      They were all really great experiences, for sure! It was difficult to choose my top one.

    Great post, I love them all but I would definitely be hitting the beaches at Manuel Antonio! They look amazing!!

      Fantastic beaches with lovely warm water! And barely any people!

    Great photos! I love the hot springs at Arenal. Jealous of your trip.

      Just proof that you don’t need to spend oodles of money to enjoy the hot springs in that area. 🙂

    Arenal/La Fortuna is one of my favorite places in CR. Both times I’ve visited I made it a point to stop there. We were there for four days and it wasn’t until the evening of the third day that the clouds lifted from the volcano. You’re definitely right, it takes luck to catch as good as glimpse as you did. Glad to read that you enjoyed it!

      It’s such a cool, chilled-out little town. I loved the park right in the center.

      It didn’t really hit me until afterwards how lucky we were to see the volcano while we were there. I’m so glad we did!

    Those hot springs look really nice! I like the sailing photos too.

      I’m curious to see what the really expensive hot springs look like – I’m sure they’re doubly amazing!

    Sounds like you had an amazing trip! Thinking of going some time mid-late May, though no one I know wants/can go so pondering whether to go lone-ranger. Suggestions for young female traveller to CR?

      It was indeed awesome! And Costa Rica has enough of a tourist infrastructure that I don’t think you’d have a problem tackling it solo. Though of course another option would be to book onto some sort of small group tour if you don’t want to go it alone!

    OMG. So happy I found this post! The sloth photos just make me the happiest girl alive! Well, besides seeing photos of penguins, haha. Am hoping to head to Costa Rica in December for a few weeks with some girlfriends, so I will be definitely checking back in with your blog/this post for the necessary places I need to go!

      How fun! If you need any tips, feel free to ask! I by no means saw everything in Costa Rica in a week, but I did cover quite a bit of ground!

    Aloha Amanda from Hawaii!
    I had messaged you last year about travel tips to New Zealand and after following your advice we had the most marvelous time campervanning around the country. Would you recommend renting a car and camping in Costa Rica as well? Is this a safe option? How did you choose your transportation and lodging here?

    Many mahalos,

    Allie Jo

      Hi Allie Jo! So glad to hear that you had a great time in New Zealand!

      As for Costa Rica, I’m honestly not sure how safe camping is there. It’s certainly not New Zealand. 😉 I went with a friend and we met up with another friend of mine who’s actually from Costa Rica. We rented a car and stayed in hotels – and my CR friend was our unofficial “guide” along the way. So my experience was different to most, I’d say! Driving in Costa Rica is fine, but there are some places there that I probably wouldn’t want to camp.

    Hi – how did you get around Costa Rica?
    E.g. in between all of these places?

    Thanks

      We rented a car! Normally I probably wouldn’t have done that on my own, but I had two friends with me, one of whom was from Costa Rica and knew his way around pretty well.

    Loved this article! I had a similar experience in Costa Rica, the pura vida culture is so welcoming! I never got to check out the beaches of Manuel Antonio or sail on the Pacific like you did! Although, I did really enjoy our experiences hiking in the Arenal region and coffee/chocolate tasting in Monteverde. Check these out for your next trip to Costa Rica 🙂

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