It’s no secret that Costa Rica is on most people’s bucket lists, and for good reason!
Costa Rica offers so many experiences, from amazing beaches, to rare cloud forests, to nature preserves, over 500,000 species of wildlife, and numerous national parks. Coupling that with adventures like white water rafting, zip lining, and surfing, it’s a country that attracts people from all walks of life.
Rated as the best destination to visit in Central America, you may even join me in becoming a Costa Rican resident and making the move full time!
I visited in the mid 1990’s and moved to the country with my family a year later. That’s why I put together this page about things Costa Rica is known for. I hope that you can use this list to convince yourself that taking a trip to Costa Rica is something you won’t regret.
What is Costa Rica Best Known For?
For me, the list starts with its wide variety of beaches. White sand, black sand, and every color of sand in between. Come chill out on the beach, catch some sun, or learn how to surf! There are two unique coasts you can choose from, the Caribbean, which is far less traveled, or the popular Pacific coast.
Whether you are looking to catch some waves and enjoy the surfing scene or relax with a fresh coconut water on a sunbed, you will not regret spending some time by the coast.
I made this post about my list of the best beaches in Costa Rica, and you’ll find something for everyone. Not my thing, but I even made a guide to nude beaches in Costa Rica. They are very rare, and the country isn’t known for that, but I aim to make this site the best guide on helping people understand everything Costa Rica offers, and I cover all topics.
As I spoke about in my Costa Rica Facts article, there are over 500,000 species of wildlife in Costa Rica, including 900 of just birds alone!
Sloths, nesting sea turtles, crocodiles, toucans, poisonous frogs and snakes (be careful!), and even jaguars, pumas, and rare butterflies.
The only place with a more robust offering of wildlife is Africa, which isn’t as tourist-friendly or accessible as the easy to get to Costa Rica. (Check out my updated article about the new Jet Blue flights to Costa Rica.)
My personal favorite is the Arenal Volcano, located in La Fortuna. This is a spectacle you have to see to believe. It’s one of the most gorgeous pieces of Earth I’ve ever laid eyes on.
#4: Aquatic Activities (Snorkeling and Scuba Diving)
For people who are prone to spending their time exploring in the water, scuba diving and snorkeling are two things that draw tourism to Costa Rica. You can see many types of fish, dolphins, turtles, and even whales!
One of the most popular places to snorkel and scuba dive is Cano Island, which is just off the coast of the Drake Bay. Featuring crystal-clear water, this ranks right up there with the Cayman Islands in terms of seeing a lot of beauty under water.
Playa Tamarindo is another place you’ll find a lot of opportunities to do this, if you want to stay in a more tourist-centric area with a bustling beach town full of plenty of options for surfing, dining, and night life.
You can’t mention Costa Rica without including surfing on the list of things Costa Rica is known for. People from all over the world come to Costa Rica to experience the amazing surfing. The aforementioned Tamarindo is the best place to learn surfing in Costa Rica as the town offers many surf camps that offer surf lessons. There are also “surf hostels” in town that cater to people who want that hostel experience.
Other surf destinations in Costa Rica include the perennial party town of Jaco, Dominical, Nosara, and Santa Teresa.
#6: Hot Springs
The first hot spring I went into was the Tabacon hot springs near La Fortuna, Costa Rica, but it was far from the last! The most elevated experience in Costa Rica, for my money, is The Springs Resort & Spa which is just up the road about ten minutes away. You’ll find pools ranging from 94 to 104 degrees, and even a huge swim up bar where you can enjoy libations while relaxing in the water while having the Arenal volcano in the backdrop.
La Fortuna offers many options for enjoying the hot springs, from budget friendly to the aforementioned ultra luxury options.
Others worth checking out are the Rio Negro hot springs located in the National Park Rincon de la Vieja. You won’t hear as much about this one, but this park offers 10 hot springs that are all accessible through passing by on hanging rope bridges. This is something you have to see to believe!
#7: Unique Cuisine
I wouldn’t recommend Costa Rica for foodies unless you are looking for a destination that mirrors the Caribbean in the fact that any luxury restaurants offering exotic, foreign cuisine prepared by expats who traded their lives back home to move to Costa Rica. You’ll find a lot of Italian, Greek, and Peruvian dishes in Costa Rica run by foreigners who moved to the country seeking a better life.
However, you will find that Costa Rican cuisine is quite unique. It’s the only place you’ll find people largely eating the national breakfast dish of gallo pinto, no matter what their wealth or social status is, which is pretty cool to me. This dish is largely a mix of rice, beans, onions, and some peppers, and you’ll find it not only at breakfast, but eaten throughout the day. Simple, filling, and delicious when made right.
If you are looking for a local lunch or dinner, the “Casado” is another popular dish Costa Rica is known for. You’ll typically find this dish with a protein, such as chicken, beef, or fish, along with a salad, rice and beans, and even patacones. You’ll find this in “sodas” which is best compared to a local diner in the United States.
#8: Pura Vida
You’ll hear this saying constantly in Costa Rica. “Pura Vida” translates to “pure life,” but it means so much more than that. It’s used to say “good, okay, yes, and even hello.”
Costa Rica is constantly rated as one of the happiest countries in the world. You’ll see this first hand when you speak with locals. Pura vida is a way of living life, and once you see how laid back the populous is, you’ll start living your life a little more relaxed as well.
#9: National Parks
28% of Costa Rica is protected, which is largely due to the 28 national parks that exist in the country. You’ll find wildlife, amazing scenery, and much more in the national parks. Manuel Antonio National Park is among the most popular, and all of them are very accessible and affordable.
If you want to see an active volcano, visit the Poas National Park located just 90 minutes from San Jose.
Costa Ricans work hard, and play hard. They live the pura vida life to it’s fullest extent! The country has a lot of vibrant night life, from the disco’s in San Jose, to the laid back beach bars in coastal towns, to the prostitution rampant town of Jaco, where you get a mix of both. Make sure you read about safety in Costa Rica if you head there or downtown San Jose and intend on getting a good buzz.
You’ll find people enjoying local beers and rum in hostels, to bonfires on the beach, to everything in between in Costa Rican nightlife.
#11: Cloud Forests
You won’t find cloud forests as spectacular as we have in Costa Rica anywhere in the world!
These are loosely defined by being a tropical forest that is always surrounded by fog or heavy mist. It has so much moisture that it’s littered with clouds, which brings a lot of biodiversity.
The most known cloud forest is Monteverde, which is among the the most famous in the world. You’ll be able to enjoy over 35,000 acres of beauty while traversing over hanging bridges. It’s like playing Swiss Family Robinson in real life.
#12: Wildlife Rescue Centers
As I mentioned earlier, there are many species of wildlife in Costa Rica, and the country does its best to protect them. There are very harsh laws about taking animals out of their natural habitat, which I personally experienced when visiting the wildlife rescue at the Springs. They had a monkey with one arm, that was rescued after it tried to escape captivity and had it blown off by an electric fence. Injured or sick animals are often relocated to wildlife rescue centers where they can be protected and cared for.
You’ll find more expatriates in Costa Rica than many other countries, and it caters to digital nomads and people who want to relocate to offshore their business. Escazu and Santa Ana have many expatriates from all over the world. I live in Santa Ana and have met people from many European countries, as well as from the US, Canada, Mexico, Colombia, Venezuela, Argentina, and more.
The lower cost of living in Costa Rica coupled with the low cost of employees is a huge draw for expatriates.
Yoga is big in Costa Rica, especially in the Nicoya Peninsula, where people tend to live a very long time due to it being one of the blue zones.
If you are yoga enthusiast, check out the Nosara Yoga Institute.
There are yoga retreats in many areas of Costa Rica.
#15: Coffee Plantations
The quality of the land and conditions in Costa Rica are a big reason that Costa Rica is so well known for their coffee. Quality beans are made thanks to fertile soil, high elevation, and steady rainfall. That’s what creates the flavors and aroma that Costa Rican coffee is known for.
There are many coffee plantation tours you can go on in Costa Rica.
How Do You Experience All of These Amazing Experiences in Costa Rica?
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – renting a car in Costa Rica is the biggest hack when it comes to making the most out of your vacation.
Until I moved here permanently, I always rented cars. Since 2016 the company I recommend to family, friends, and blog readers is Discover Cars.
One reason I recommend them is that you’ll have a lot of issues in any third world country when renting a car, but this company takes that completely out of the equation. You have to get mandatory insurance when you rent a car, but DiscoverCars has this insurance baked into their price. The price will be LESS what you pay at any actual dealer when booking directly. It’s the biggest hack in travel right now, and I fully recommend them if you want to have a good experience renting cars in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is known for many amazing things, and this is just a top 15 things Costa Rica is known for list. You’ll find out why I moved here if you visit.
If I can be of any help planning your trip to Costa Rica, please contact me!