Best Outdoor Activities in Costa Rica

By Viator, February 2015

4.5 195 Reviews | Add your review

Costa Rica may be small, but contained within its borders is a profound diversity of natural landscapes and environments — including two gorgeous coastlines, mountain ranges, rivers, waterfalls, volcanoes and plenty of rainforest — that make it a world-class destination for outdoor activities year-round. Here are just a few of the outdoor activities on offer in Costa Rica.


More than a quarter of Costa Rica is covered in rainforests, and one of the best ways to explore these enchanting ecosystems is via a zipline. The country offers a number of zipline courses that fly over beaches, through treetops and across canyons, from the breathtaking views and extensive courses at Vida Aventura Park to the 2 kilometers of lines that zip over primary rainforest at Arenal Volcano National Park. Certainly not a sport for the faint hearted!

Canopy Tours

Canopy tours are an ideal way to get a bird’s eye view of the forest without disturbing the wildlife or endangering the trees. Costa Rica offers a number of canopy tours. A canopy tour, is a guided tour of the forest canopy, often via a series of zip lines or aerial walkways and viewing platforms. Such tours are usually designed to give you scenic views of the canopy and the surrounding landscape while providing a generally educational experience. One of the best canopy tours is the Arenal Hanging Bridges, a network of trails and bridges through Arenal National Park’s dense swathe of primary rainforest, are one of the most impressive hanging-bridge projects in Costa Rica.


Regardless of where you are in Costa Rica, there’s bound to be at least one good hike in the area. From lowland tropical rainforest to beautiful beaches or the vast fields of hardened black lava that surround Arenal Volcano, there are opportunities for hiking in an astonish variety of terrains, often for long distances. If you aren’t comfortable hiking on your own, there are many hiking tours and private local guides you can hire in many parts of the country, including in the stunning biological reserve of Carara National Park, which features a terrific 3-hour hike through primary rainforest.

White Water Rafting

After hiking, white-water rafting is perhaps the most popular activity in the country. There is no shortage of rivers in Costa Rica, some of which are considered the world’s best rivers to raft down, including the Pacuare, the Reventazón, the Sarapiqui and the Corobici. Like most outdoor activities in Costa Rica, there’s something for everyone, regardless of your age or rafting experience.

Snorkeling and Diving

Costa Rica has some terrific snorkeling opportunities, especially in the warm waters of the Caribbean, where you can see a wide variety of marine wildlife and underwater flora, particularly at the small reef near Manzanillo. There are also a few good snorkel opportunities all along the Pacific coast, Playa Panamá and Bahía Ballena to name two.


Due to the world-class surf breaks that come rolling in on both coastlines, surfing is extremely popular in Costa Rica. The country’s warm waters, excellent waves and beautiful natural environments draws surfers from around the world. Surfing is terrific on both coasts, though some beaches are suitable only during certain seasons. The country’s best surfing is on the north Pacific Coast and the Nicoya Peninsula, while the Caribbean's best surfing is in the south between Cahuita to Manzanillo. If you’re interested in learning to surf, there are plenty of surf camps and schools in Tamarindo, Santa Teresa, Mal País and Jacó,  and no shortage of shops around the country that rent surfboards and boogie boards.

Horseback riding

Horseback riding is one of the best ways to experience Costa Rica’s countryside. Almost everywhere you go in the country, you should be able to hook up with a horse riding tour, some of which will take you past waterfalls, up to breathtaking viewpoints or along the beautiful coastline. Different versions of trails are offered according to the rider’s experience, and rates are quite reasonable, especially if you’re willing to shop around. Guanacaste is probably the best area in the country for riding, while riding along the beach on the Nicoya Peninsula is also very popular.


Costa Rica is a paradise for bird-watchers, with some 840 species of birds found throughout the country — more than all of North America. It’s likely that you’ll spot scarlet macaws, toucans, oropenulas, Laughing Falcons, Royal Flycatchers, White-fronted Nunbirds, Cinnamon Woodpeckers, kingfishers and many others. You might even spot the elusive quetzal, found in the higher elevations of Monteverde, Parque Nacional Braulio Carrillo and the Cordillera de Talamanca. Where you should go depends on the season, just be sure to hire a good birding guide to take you to the right place and help you spot some of the more elusive species.

Mountain biking

There are only certain places in Costa Rica with ideal conditions for extensive mountain-biking tours, the best of which are Parque Nacional Corcovado, Parque Nacional Santa Rosa and the road from Montezuma to the Reserva Natural Absoluta Cabo Blanco on the Nicoya Peninsula. The area around Arenal National Park is also great (you can ride up to see the volcano!), as are the routes around Jaco, which will take you along rivers, past coffee plantations, through tropical forests, beside beaches and through lush farmland. There are plenty of bike rental shops throughout the country and some hostel and local tour agencies also rent them.

Tours & Tickets

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Arenal Volcano and Tabacón Hot Springs Day Trip from San Jose

4.5 star rating: Recommended 23 Reviews

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica
Duration: 13 hours

From USD $139.99

Tortuguero National Park

4 star rating: Recommended 52 Reviews

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica
Duration: 12 hours

From USD $104.99
From USD $74.99

Buena Vista Rainforest Combo Tour

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 35 Reviews

Location: Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Duration: 10 hours

From USD $152.99

Waterfall Canopy Zipline Tour at Adventure Park Costa Rica

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 14 Reviews

Location: Jaco, Arenal, San Jose, Puntarenas or Guanacaste
Duration: 6-8

From USD $98.99

Arenal Volcano Hiking Tour with Hot Springs

4 star rating: Recommended 3 Reviews

Location: Arenal, Costa Rica
Duration: 6 hours 30 minutes

From USD $115.99

Hanging Bridges Walking Tour in Arenal

4 star rating: Recommended 13 Reviews

Location: Arenal, Costa Rica
Duration: 4 hours 30 minutes

From USD $69.99

Costa Rican Wildlife in Palo Verde National Park

3.5 star rating: Worth doing 4 Reviews

Location: Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Duration: 8 hours

From USD $98.99

Costa Rica ATV Adventure Tour from Arenal

5 star rating: Highly Recommended 6 Reviews

Location: Arenal, Costa Rica
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes

From USD $58.99

Monteverde Cloud Forest and Butterfly Garden from Guanacaste

4.5 star rating: Recommended 10 Reviews

Location: Guanacaste, Costa Rica
Duration: 10 hours

From USD $134.99

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