Costa Rica multi activity vacations

Most of the time, a trip to Costa Rica is a multi activity vacation to Costa Rica. This is a country that gives you no choice but to go all-in, tumbling down a rabbit hole into a Wonderland of zip line-zagged rainforests, sea turtle beaches, rafting rivers, sloth sanctuaries, swooping coastal roads, and cloud forests echoing with monkey war cries. It’s positively psychedelic. You don’t have to cram all those activities into your vacation – but the country is compact and easily navigable, so it’s usually hard to resist sneaking a peek at what’s around the corner.
Activities in Costa Rica are totally immersive. You’ll swap butterfly gardens and wildlife parks for butterfly-laden rainforests and volunteering with turtles.
The variety of activities is largely down to the ever-changing terrain. Costa Rica has two coasts: a 1,000km Pacific coastline where sloth rainforests push against sandy beaches, and a 200km Caribbean coast that lays out sea turtle beaches, coral reefs and easy-going coastal communities. The interior is comprised of volcanic national parks and indigenous forest communities. Unsurprisingly, then, multi activity vacations to Costa Rica are all about the great outdoors; in fact, tourism here is so geared towards it that trips don’t often look beyond zip lines and wildlife.
“Certainly, most people on most vacations won’t feel that they’ve had any great cultural experience,” says David Orrock, from our Latin America specialists Pura Aventura. “But that’s one of the benefits of looking for places a bit more off the beaten track, as you’re more likely to see daily life going on… and get a good guide – that will help you get a feel for local life.”

There are almost too many activities to choose from – so we’ve mined our Costa Rica specialists for their recommendations.

Zip lines & canopy walks

David puts it plainly: “You can’t go to Costa Rica and not do a zip wire or five.” So make like a flying squirrel and zoom through the mountainous rainforest canopies at roughly 60kph. Monteverde and Arenal Volcano are decorated with several zip line circuits – some up to a kilometre long.
You can’t go to Costa Rica and not do a zip wire or five.
Hiking in Costa Rica is less trekking and more interpretive forest trails led by wildlife experts. You can jazz things up with another Costa Rican speciality: canopy walks along creaking bridges suspended in the treetops. They’ll put you eye-to-eye with the monkeys, frogs and toucans that live life at altitude.

Wildlife watching

There’s nothing quite like getting your alarm call from a howler monkey: the world’s loudest (and eeriest) land animal. The variety of flora and fauna in Costa Rica is staggering; there are over 900 species of birds, including 100 types of hummingbird. Then you’ve got the sea turtles, sloths, crocodiles, caimans, monkeys, poison-dart frogs, toucans, iguanas, bats, butterflies – all equating to over five percent of the planet’s biodiversity.
We saw so much there – I just wasn’t expecting it. In one two-hour boat ride we saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, sloths, toucans, putus, all kinds of rare birds we hadn’t even heard of…
In terms of diversity, it’s hard to beat a wildlife tour of Tortuguero National Park. This is a no car zone, so you’ll explore by boat via mangrove canals. Natasha Preston, from our adventure travel experts Exodus Travels, picks it out as her favourite place: “We saw so much there – I just wasn’t expecting it. In one two-hour boat ride we saw howler monkeys, spider monkeys, sloths, toucans, putus, all kinds of rare birds we hadn’t even heard of… I was also impressed at how well the national parks were all geared up with very good trails. I did take my walking boots, but I didn’t have to wear them all the time.”

You can also watch sea turtles in those flooded forests, or head to the Pacific Coast instead. That’s the favourite spot of Tenille Moore, from our Latin America vacation specialists Geodyssey: “There’s an arribada – or mass nesting – of olive ridley turtles on the north Pacific coast at a place called Ostianal, and that’s quite impressive because of the huge numbers of turtles that come up to the beach... People are really stunned by it, and there aren’t many people around.”

Manuel Antonio National Park is best avoided at packed peak times, but despite that it still has some of the most wildlife-rich forests in Costa Rica. Natasha recommends timing your trip here just right: “We got up very early in the morning for a nature walk to the national park… we still saw some incredible things; I think that was the only place I saw the two-toed sloth, and the white-throated capuchin monkey.”
There’s an arribada – or mass nesting – of olive ridley turtles on the north Pacific... People are really stunned by it, and there aren’t many people around.
Birdwatchers will get better viewing chances if they stay in a lodge in the sticky tropical jungle of Esquinas National Park, in the south-west corner of Costa Rica – especially during the March-May nesting season. “The birdlife is amazing,” says Natasha. “There are caimans around as well… I must have seen hundreds of different species of birds. It’s incredible... We were the only people there; our group pretty much filled the lodge.”
If you’re interested in conservation projects powered by indigenous communities, Tenille recommends meeting the indigenous Bribri community of Kekoldi: “You can also go on a half day trip to their village and learn about the green iguana rehabilitation project and walk through their grounds and have a typical Bribri lunch, which is root vegetables and then chicken baked in banana leaves. Just the atmosphere – there’s no development, you can do boat tours to see dolphins, you can take a bike and cycle along the beach road. It’s all beautiful rainforest-backed beaches.”

Water sports

You’ll need an expert vacation company to steer you in the direction of water sports that are suitable for you or your family. Costa Rica is often equated with beach vacations, but the ocean can be pretty rocky and invisible riptides can catch out even seasoned water babies, especially on the Pacific Coast. It’s a surfing above swimming kind of country. Saying that, Caribbean-facing Calat has rare pockets of snorkel- and paddleboard-friendly waters and you can go scuba diving in the Cocos Islands.
Safety is very high in Costa Rica… so we don’t have to worry about them as we would do in other Latin American countries.
Really, river water sports are more Costa Rica’s cuppa. Teenagers and adults can career down white water rapids in Pacuare, while younger children can raft or go tubing down slower rivers like Rio Perdido.
Tenille says that you don’t have to worry about trusting in your rafting and surfing guides, either: “Safety is very high in Costa Rica. They grade things, are very sensitive to ages, and they have lots of precautions in place, so we don’t have to worry about them as we would do in other Latin American countries.”

Our top trip

Costa Rica small group adventure vacation

Costa Rica small group adventure vacation

Volcanoes, wildlife, rainforests, beaches & adventure!

From £1279 to £1599 16 days ex flights
Small group travel:
2023: 9 Dec, 16 Dec, 25 Dec, 30 Dec
2024: 1 Jan, 6 Jan, 8 Jan, 13 Jan, 15 Jan, 20 Jan, 22 Jan, 27 Jan, 29 Jan, 3 Feb, 5 Feb, 10 Feb, 12 Feb, 17 Feb, 19 Feb, 24 Feb, 26 Feb, 2 Mar, 4 Mar, 9 Mar, 11 Mar, 16 Mar, 18 Mar, 23 Mar, 25 Mar, 30 Mar, 4 Apr, 6 Apr, 8 Apr, 11 Apr, 13 Apr, 15 Apr, 18 Apr, 20 Apr, 22 Apr, 25 Apr, 27 Apr, 29 Apr, 2 May, 4 May, 6 May, 9 May, 11 May, 18 May, 23 May, 25 May, 1 Jun, 8 Jun, 15 Jun, 22 Jun ...
Travel Team
If you'd like to chat about Costa Rica or need help finding a vacation to suit you we're very happy to help.

Cycling & driving

Coach trips pace the same old tired routes through Costa Rica. Put yourself in the saddle or driving seat, on the other hand, and you’ll get a totally different perspective of the country. Gina Eckersley, from our adventure specialists Exodus Travels, says: “I was converted because I didn’t feel like a tourist… you feel so far removed from the tourist droves.” You could hire your own bike or car – your vacation company will be able to help with that – or go on a multi activity vacation that’s also a cycling or self drive trip.
I was converted because I didn’t feel like a tourist… you feel so far removed from the tourist droves.
The roads are great for road-tripping, whatever your choice of vehicle. The roads are mostly tarmacked, even when riding through jungle. Instead of being trapped behind a coach window, all you have to do is roll down the window or pause for a breather to see – and hear – the birds chattering around you. And who needs a zip line when you’re freewheeling down a mountain plateau that’s just for you?
For Gina, the roadside juice stands were an unexpected highlight: “There’s nothing better for keeping hydrated than just stopping at these little shacks on the side of the road and having the local coconut water. Our driver would stop the van every 5-6 miles and they’d chop up all this local fruit and you’d be able to refill your water, so we had all these amazing refreshments… The fruit was the first thing I would always talk about, and I’d never tasted anything like it.”
Photo credits: [Page banner: Ben Ostrower] [Zip line: Ben Ostrower] [Wildlife: Lloyd Blunk] [Watersports: Zachary Shea] [Driving: dakine kane]