Top 9 Unique Experiences for Costa Rica First-timers

26 February, 2019

The world is full of beautiful countries and tropical nations with options to kick back and unwind. What makes Costa Rica stand out among these destinations is its local ecology and lively and friendly culture. Here is a small taste of what there is to discover in this Central American country. 

1) A Vibrant Natural World at the Doorstep

Six percent of the biodiversity on Earth resides in Costa Rica — a country that’s roughly the size of West Virginia or Croatia. And what sets this small country apart from other biodiverse nations in the Americas is its access to the natural world.

For example, cloud forests make up only 1% of the world’s woodlands, a beautiful rarity home to a breathtaking array of plants, birds, primates, and other animals that live nowhere else in the world. In Costa Rica, visitors can experience this microclimate firsthand without river boat, safari jeep, or a long wilderness trek.

Visitors to Costa Rica can drive to Monteverde Cloud Forest from the International Airport in Liberia in less than 2.5 hours, and hike through rainforest canopies with three-toed sloths in the morning, and then get back to their hotel in time for poolside cocktails in the evening. In Costa Rica, that's just a normal day.

In many instances, local communities are just a short walk from ecosystems bursting with life, complete with howler monkeys, Capuchins, exotic birds, and more.

2) Sea Turtle Nesting

The Nicoya Peninsula is home to two essential nesting grounds for endangered sea turtles. From October to March, migratory oceanic turtles come from throughout the Pacific to make their nests on Playa Grande, just north of Tamarindo and about 45 min from Las Catalinas. This event, called arribadas in Spanish, sees the arrival of hundreds of thousands of sea turtles like the leatherback sea turtle and the hawksbill sea turtle, according to Costa Rican Experience.

More importantly, people can witness this incredible event in an environmentally conscious manner, in which they actually helps protect sea turtle habitats. Park fees and donations to Las Baulas National Marine Park, where the sea turtles make their temporary homes, go directly toward their conservation efforts.

3) Tasting Old Favorites Like New

Costa Rica is home to many of the world’s finest producers of coffee and chocolate. It's almost unfair -- thanks to proximity to the source, the products food lovers find at local farmer’s markets around will be just as fresh, rich, and complex as almost any in the world.

Top 9 Experiences_Taste Favorites

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The Diría Coffee Tour in Guanacaste region is a great way to go in-depth with one of the world's favorite drinks. Visitors to the farm follow the path that coffee takes from growth through to processing and eventually into recycling and composting, ending the trip with a taste of the local coffee and snacks.

The Diría plantation is also particularly unique due to its location -- in a region with traditionally poor coffee-growing conditions due to weather and type of soil, the microclimate around Diría provides ideal growing conditions and, as visitors will be sure to learn, a unique set of flavors.

4) Underwater Adventures

Cocos Island is situated 350 miles west of Costa Rica. For decades, it’s been a destination for explorers in search of both treasure and adventure. Most of the treasure around the area has been found, but the adventure still remains, including some of the world's premier reefs.

Traditionally accessed via a live-aboard dive boat, Cocos Island offers remarkable options for the more experienced diver. Visitors get the chance to explore undisturbed reefs near the shore, as well as some spectacular open water diving in one of Cocos’s main attractions -- scuba diving with hammerhead sharks.

A school of fish off of the Catalinas Islands

Much closer to the mainland, there're excellent opportunities for diving at the Catalinas Islands, just a 30-minute boat ride offshore and accessible to divers of all experience levels.

The premier offering in Guanacaste is with ConnectOcean's diving e, who have partnered up with local fishermen and guides to offer visitors a number of unique diving and snorkeling excursions, which is part of a diverse offer of ocean expeditions in Costa Rica.

For guests in the walkable beach town of Las Catalinas, there are a number of spots to dive and explore right from the shore, like rock reef at the north end of Playa Dantita, the leeward coast by Punta Penca, or out on the shore side of the Islotes Pitahayas. Each offer a lively assortment of reef fish, rays, and underwater diversity that can hold a candle to most beaches in the world.

5) Exploring the Caves

Much of Costa Rica's natural wealth usually considered to be in its coastlines, its forests, and its mountains, but there's also a whole world to explore underground. For spelunking enthusiasts, Costa Rica offers some unique opportunities to go deep underground and find that life doesn't stop at the surface.

One example is the Barra Honda Caves, located in Barra Honda National Park just outside Nicoya. While there, people can set out on a cave exploration excursion to hike through underground caverns, find seemingly impossible rock formations, and explore the habitats of the cave dwelling wildlife that makes its home there, according to Costa Rica Guide.

6) Venturing to the Volcanoes

Costa Rica saw some excellent news recently for visitors to unique volcanic habitats -- after 16 months, Poás Volcano National reopened in November 2018. It's just one of the many places to experience these ecosystems, where the unique conditions of dormant volcanic soil give rise to wildlife found nowhere else in the world.

Costa Rica's landscape is dotted with volcanoes to explore

Visitors don't have to travel far for volcanoes either.  Just 15 miles northeast of Liberia airport, Rincón de la Vieja and its surrounding national park are one of the most beautiful areas of Guanacaste, with stunning views of these unique habitats and the chance to immerse yourself in activities like hiking, horseback riding, relaxing in hot springs, swimming, picnicking, and camping.  

7) Learning to Cook Something New

One of the best ways to immerse in a new culture is through their food. Not many people know about the rich culinary tradition in Costa Rica, which brings a wide variety of fresh and local ingredients to life in a colorful collection of flavors, and a great way to embrace this vibrant cuisine is to learn how to prepare it.

Take for example the foraging class with Gilberto Briceño, a master chef and expert of foraged and fresh cuisine currently operating out of Las Catalinas.

In his two-part course, participants set out onto the beaches and tropical forests of the surrounding area to forage for unique edible ingredients, which they then prepare under Briceño’s watchful eye. It’s a tremendous afternoon filled with exploration and education, and the meal afterward -- one foraged and prepared -- is a next level of satisfying.

8) Epic surfing

Costa Rica is home to some of the world’s great surf beaches, so much so that we could fill a dozen articles with them and still not scratch the surface.

Wave competitions — including the Billabong World Surfing Games — are regularly held all along the western coast. Playa Naranjo — a.k.a. “Witches Rock” from Endless Summer II — is home to some of the biggest and most exciting waves in the country. And there's a break available for every skill level, ranging from beginner to pro.

9) Living Pura Vida

Pura Vida is the Costa Rican national motto. And to Ticos, it's also a pretty versatile phrase — it serves as a greeting, a goodbye, and, above all else, a way of living. Directly translated in English to “pure life,” it’s a term that describes the Costa Rican love for the good life.

This approach to life can take the form of a family meal or a day spent by the pool. It can be cocktails before dinner, or Saturday afternoon football matches, or canoeing the rock outcroppings along the coast. It’s about enjoying  the things in life that matter. For many, it is something wholly unique and it might be the most important, as it runs through each of the experiences on this list.

It's Just the Start

Fist timers in this country quickly become recurring visitors. Costa Rica's unique cuisine, its way of life, lively culture, rich biodiversity, and offer of outdoor sports and activities draw visitors from all over the world each year.

These unique experiences are just a small sample of what experiencing the real Costa Rica is all about. Many others are waiting to be discovered.

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