15 Must Do’s in Costa Rica for the Eco Traveller.
It’s my first story for Eco Companion so I wanted to share something close to my heart and tell you about 15 must do’s in Costa Rica.
This must do’s in Costa Rica list goes out to the young and the old, of various capabilities, for both the introvert or extrovert, the lone traveller or group, the well-travelled or first time travellers and the adrenaline junkies or chill surfers; whether it be hiking a volcano or drinking hands down the world’s best coffee with the locals and munching on gallo pinto.
Hike/trek or relax on a beach in one of Costa Rica’s many Nature Reserves or National Parks.
Like a scene out of Jurassic park, although you’re more likely to see a white-nosed coati or sloth than a raptor running about Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Or sit back on white sand, watching the rhythmic crashing of waves, and try not to have your things stolen by any of the beach critters, including capuchins, raccoons, iguanas and coatis.
Top tip: Since they’re not afraid to come right up to you and take your food or go in your bag, ideally don’t bring or show food whilst on the beaches as the animals have become opportunists. You can also try clapping your hands and not moving away from the animal but towards them, if all else fails, using your foot to flick sand towards them should scare them off.
Longest zip wire in South America, Superman style too!
Zip wire 1590m across from one rainforest peak to the other, getting the best birds eye view of the great expanse of green blanketing the rolling hills. Most hostels offer to do this zip wire in Monteverde, but I believe they all go through the company “100% Aventura”. To get to the zip wire site you take what is known as “jeep boat jeep”, whilst jeep has now been replaced by a shuttle bus, the view across the lake is still stunning. There are 11 zip wires in total, one being the longest in Latin America and 2 are in superman style. Hands down the most spectacular way to see the rainforest canopy and quite possibly the most daring!
Spend time in a homestay for the best experience with the kindest and happiest people on Earth, and the most delicious food!
Get to know the true Costa Rican culture by immersing yourself in it and staying with a family, you’ll usually find all the best places like where to eat for amazing food at an amazing price, secret waterfalls, and only the best home cooked authentic food.<
If you do chose to do a homestay, look into seeing if the family offers a trek.
Costa Rica is known for its incredible scenery and is perfect for adventure and nature lovers a-like! From personal experience, we did a 2-day trek through the rain and cloud forests of Santa Elena that our families family had carved out the path over the course of 12 years! It was incredibly intimate to see so much of the forest with no one else around, as we walked through moss covered walls, under 200-year-old fallen trees, past old mud slides and along skinny paths comprised of nothing more than mud, leaves and tree roots.
Camp in the middle of the rainforest.
As part of our 2-day trek with our homestay, our overnight stay was with a new friend. He had a house in San Jos which he lived in for half the year and then this house/cabin in this little open field in the middle of and completely surrounded by rain and cloud forests. We ate dinner at his house, played card games in the candle light and got to see a tapir eating some fallen guava before the dog chased it off, falling asleep to the singing cicadas and tree frogs all around us.
Surfing the Whale Coast
For the avid surfers out there, Uvita, Dominical and O jochal are 3 towns that make the Costa Ballena or the Whale Coast. Whilst their beaches are gorgeous, they’re not so much for swimming but more so for catching some waves. Although keep an eye out for the beach iguanas! They’re not shy.
Walking the Whale Tail Trail at Uvita’s Marino Ballena National Park
Not a surfer? Uvita also boasts a neat beach trail called the Whale tale trail. A naturally occurring deposit of sand due to multiple currents hitting each other from opposing sides, it is great to walk out onto at low tide, where you may even spot some whales in their breeding grounds. If you’re staying in hostels, they should provide the times for high and low tide.
Helping out in a local community for a week.
This in itself is extremely rewarding. You get to immerse yourself in the culture and speak to the locals, become part of one big family regardless of language or cultural differences, and really take on an understanding of Costa Rica’s life motto, Pura Vida, which means pure life.
Eating the national dish of Cassado and gallo pinto.
Why travel if not to try new food, eh? And where better to start than their national dish Cassado. Cassado is an entire meal comprised of rice, beans, plantains, picadillo, salad and some type of meat (although for vegetarians, just ask for it without, as it is not mixed in with the overall dish so should be simple enough). Gallo pinto is a breakfast dish of rice and black beans which is flavoured to perfection, often with other veggies and spices, and a great accompaniment to a variety of other local foods. Whilst it doesn’t sound like anything special, I can promise you Costa Rican’s know how to work wonders with rice and beans. Plus, it’s super easy to buy or make yourself for those travelling on a tight budget, just be sure to not get caught in tourist traps and over paying!
Fun fact:If you’re staying in hostels or a homestay, you’ll most likely hear of various different cheats or special waysto cook it. I remember being told that putting a metal spoon in the pot as the rice and beans cooked was the way to a perfect gallo pinto.
Going on a night trek in the rainforest
Costa Rica is known as being one of the most, if not the most, bio-diverse country in the world, and a large majority of that flora and fauna can only be seen at night time. From hairy porcupines to bark scorpions, if you’re a nature lover, this is a must do!
Top tip: Don’t wear your head torch on your head unless you like moths and bugs flying in your face, and especially in Monteverde, they boast an impressive diversity of (big) months.
Driving/riding down Monteverde’s infamous pothole-riddled roads.
Getting around anywhere in Costa Rica requires a 4-wheel drive, and you won’t be any less about. Getting around by the local buses is a cheap and effective means of transport, and a hilarious way to experience the unpaved roads of Monteverde. There was pressure to pave the roads as tourism increased to make access easier, however, I think they are an attribute in themselves! You can even buy souvenirs claiming I survived Monteverde’s roads!
Drinking traditionally filtered Costa Rican coffee, best done with some friendly locals.
Anytime I go to a coffee shop, if they have a Costa Rican coffee blend I jump at the chance. But before you go on and think I mean Costa’s coffee is ok, I can’t explain to you the world of difference of drinking Costa Rican coffee, traditionally filtered through a chorreador whilst chatting about your day’s adventures or making new friends with the locals or other travellers. Often, if you’re staying with a homestay, they may offer small things to buy, for me, I had the chance of buy locally grown coffee and it was single handily the best buy and coffee I have ever made. It’s not only the beans but the chorreador that will have your taste buds singing. If you get a chance they’re a great souvenir to get yourself or other coffee lovers, their simplicity means they’re great for the environment and you can often find many painted with beautiful colourful designs.
Hiking the Cerro Chato trail up La Fortuna’s Volcano and swimming in the mist enthralled lake at the top.
La Fortuna is known for Arenal volcano. This is the big volcano you can see in the picture, however there is a smaller volcano off to the side of Arenal which you can hike. It is roughly a 3-4-hour ascent and has a scene at the top which you’d expect to see in some post-apocalyptic film; a huge lake sits in the crater of the dormant sister volcano, covered in mist so that is slowly just fades out into the abyss. If you can handle the drop in temperature as you ascend and the cold water, it’s a must do!
Trying some local dishes, foods and condiments such as fried plantain, rambutan and cacao fruit, Salsa Lizano and Tres Leches .
Fried plantain should be on everyone’s must do’s in Costa Rica, it’s a delicious savoury side dish which goes great with gallo pinto, or as a dish in themselves served with guacamole Rambutan are the small red spikey fruits that you’ll often see being sold by the road side for next to nothing, its similar in taste to lychees but with a less distinct flavour. Other tropical fruits like mango, guava, passion fruit, pineapples and banana are all super cheap here! So, they’re perfect for those on a budget and those with a sweet tooth, and super healthy, plus you can get them pretty much anywhere. Most hostels will offer you a free breakfast of pretty much unlimited coffee and bananas, with the odd few extras. Cacao fruit was a gift from the locals so I’m not completely sure how easy it is to get but since its grown in Costa Rica, it can’t be too hard. It is the fruit that we make chocolate out of, but the fruit itself is white on the inside and most definitely edible, with a sweet and tangy taste! Salsa Lizano can be found at almost any restaurant or café table and can spice up any dish, whilst Tres Leches is a Costa Rican dessert, perfect for those with a massive sweet tooth and not afraid of a little (a lot of) rum.
Take a dip in La Fortuna’s natural hot springs!
Last on my list of must do’s in Costa Rica, but by no means least!
If you ask about, you can get dropped off at some local hot springs which are a short walk from the road side into the rainforest and are completely free. With the natural flow of the water and rock fall, you can get a heated massage by sitting under the mini waterfalls dotted throughout the river, just be aware that these are geothermally heated from the volcano and therefore will have a strong sulphur smell, which pretty much smells of egg.