If you are lucky enough to vacation in one of the world’s most bio diverse spot on earth that features stunning cerulean beaches, lush emerald rainforests and gushing waterfalls, not to mention a virtually seamless range of plant and animal life. The earth’s naturally blessed corridor therefore offers hikers, budget travelers, groups and friends and families several free or inexpensive things to do such as visit to nature parks, museum tours, city walks, mountain hikes, beach trails, bird watching, free markets, local festivals and events, river/waterfall hikes and much more. You can lazily lounge around on Costa Rica’s beaches soaking in the sun and sand without spending a dime. You can do these places with little or no money, but a generous spirit of adventure and the thirst to learn more about this charming destination is a must. Here are some exciting and free things to do in Costa Rica.
Famous for its teeming bio diversity and striking natural beauty, Costa Rica is a bird watcher’s haven with over 800 aerial species, including Toucans, Scarlet Macaws, Motmots, Quetzals and more. Even if you take off for bird watching for just one day in this charming spot on the globe you can up to 80 to 150 different species.
Passionate bird watchers will swear by Costa Rica as one of the top places on the planet to see and develop insights about a variety of birds inhabiting the country’s biologically rich corridor. Avid bird watchers can spend hours with their binoculars to spot the fascinating native and migratory bird range in Costa Rica. Costa Rica offers to birders plenty of bird watching opportunities within comparatively short distances, involving diverse habitats in the six primary aerial hotbeds regions of the country from sea level right up to the elevated mountain slopes.
This country alone houses 12 of the earth’s 18 different bio zones so one can imagine the amazing bio-diversity of life here. Varying from the dry tropical climate of the Nicoya Peninsula to the warm, balmy lowlands of the Caribbean coast, Costa Rica has a remarkable assortment of habitats and ecosystems. Each of these ecosystems holds unlimited birding possibilities. You can spot Quetzals in the cloud forests of Savegre then head to the Caribbean side elevations to see the Black Guan or Tinamou.
The birding regions in the highlands Includes the mountains of Cordillera of Talamanca and Cordillera Volcanica Central; the Poas and Irazu volcanoes, Cerro de la Muerte, and Chirripo National Park, along with the stunning highlands of Monteverde. The Caribbean birding hotspots include North Lowlands, Arenal, Sarapiqui, Turrialba, Braulio Carrillo National Park and the whole Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, from Tortuguero to the South Caribbean. The North Pacific bird hotbeds are Guanacaste, the Nicoya Peninsula, Monteverde and the north side of Puntarenas. In the South Pacific, the birding strip runs from the Carara Reserve in Jacó, to the south border of Costa Rica, and Valle de El General. In the Central Valley, some of the most verdant birding areas are the Metropolitan Area and surroundings, San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, Orosi and the cities with more population of Costa Rica.
Beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula
The Nicoya Peninsula’s glistening 100 mile shoreline features some of the snazziest yet charmingly rooted in tradition beach towns flanked by azure waters and lush green rainforests and Nosara Beach’s gleaming golden sand lines on Nicoya Peninsula’s western border. There are other slice of life sightings that’ll give you a glimpse of the everyday Costa Rican living such as cattle-ranching communities to the east of the more rural shoreline. After a prominent increase in tourism that started in the late 70’s, an exodus of restaurants and hotels has enchanted visitors to the peninsula’s sandy coast. But the best things are still free and involve taking a walk along the mile long undiscovered shoreline, exploring virgin beaches, discovering little known isolated spots and natural wonders.
There are several entry free museums in Costa Rica featuring permanent and temporal exhibits that give visitors the opportunity to learn about its erstwhile artistic treasures, intriguing cultural legacy and fascinating everyday life. Most of the museums in Costa Rica such as the Costa Rica Gold Museum, the Costa Rica National Museum and the Jade Museum are housed in its Capital San Jose.
Museum of Precolumbian Gold (Museo de Oro Precolombino) – The Museum of Precolumbian gold is a free museum located under the Plaza de la Cultura in the heart of San Jose. This striking underground building contains exhibits that are not just offer the background for the exquisite gold pieces of the Pre-Columbian era but also help provide insights about the evolution of the science of metals to the present age. The museum belongs to the Central Bank and is located under the Plaza de la Cultura in San Jose downtown, near the National Theater. The Costa Rica Gold Museum displays a nicely presented collection of around 1600 Pre-Columbian gold pieces (500 AD – 1500 AD), a small section of ancient Costa Rican currency and temporary exhibits featuring local artisans. During the visit to the Costa Rica Gold Museumuses visitors can learn about the meanings of the different gold pieces and along with it trace the social and cultural progress of pre-Columbian cultures.The Museo de Moneda, or the Coin Museum, is housed in the same building as the Pre Columbian Museum, and its exhibit include information on coins in addition to other interesting samples.
Costa Rica Jade Museum (Museo de Jade Costa Rica) – The Jade Museum is located in the INS building in downtown San Jose. This museum features the largest collection of American jade exhibits in the world. The collection is precious owing to the rarity of the mineral and for the cultural and historical importance it holds for local and Indian population in Costa Rica. The jade art pieces feature stunning animal shapes. The Costa Rica Jade Museum also houses temporary exhibits and an art collection with works of some of the most celebrated artists from various periods and movements.
The Museum of Natural Science (Museo de Ciencias Naturales La Salle) – This is a relatively small Entomology Museum in the University of Costa Rica. The first museum is located in La Sabana and presents a taxidermy collection of various wildlife creatures along with a separate fish and reptile exhibit section. The tiny university museum features a large collection of insects of Central and South America, including native butterflies.
Exploring Local Markets
A visit to Costa Rica is complete without a visit to one of Costa Rica’s street side markets, locally referred in every town as the “Mercado Central where local farmers bring their products to sell directly to the public. The experience can be very fulfilling as one walks through the narrow lanes lined up with hundreds of tiny stalls selling fresh fruits, organic vegetables, grains, cereals, locally made artifacts and virtually anything that can be grown and handmade. There are charming little soda places or inexpensive eateries if the food craving strikes serving some of the most delectable local lunches and desserts or a just brewed cup of the famous Costa Rican coffee.
La Fortuna Waterfall
Travelers who have brought along swimming suits and their sense of fun can swim in the chilly waters below the fall. Others can enjoy an outing along the rocky shoreline or even take photographs of the panoramic vistas around them. The site of the waterfall can be accessed by a short hike. The walking trail snakes through lush pastures and rainforests, offering opportunities to spot toucans, monkeys, and other tropical animals. It takes about 15 minutes to hike down the stairway set to the waterfall.
Rio Celeste and Tenorio Volcano Hike
You can hike through both the primary and secondary rainforest in the Tenorio Volcano National Park. Visitors will enjoy the trails while viewing monkeys, sloths, tropical birds and more. As visitors continue hiking, they’ll soon arrive along the banks of the Río Celeste. One can take beautiful pictures here and the trail winds along the banks of the river, taking visitors upstream as they walk along. Eventually visitors will reach the point of confluence of the Buena Vista and Roble rivers. That sports a breathtakingly beautiful deep emerald waters. When visitors continue hiking, they’ll soon arrive at a stunning waterfall, which is an incredible place to take photographs and swim. Though this hike is not very physically demanding, it is recommended for people in sound physical condition. Visitors should wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a camera, swimming gear, and insect repellent.
Montezuma Waterfall Hike
Those that prefer to cool off in freshwater can hike up any river and find natural bathing tubs with glistening jacuzzis surrounded by the elevated corridor of the jungle. The best pools are those of the Rio Montezuma where visitors can enjoy and a series of waterfalls that tumble over the rocks and form dense natural cool pools where hikers can swim. The many waterfalls are one of the most noted features of Montezuma. The highest and most beautiful one is the Montezuma Waterfall which tumbles down from 24 meters and feeds a huge swimming pool. The waterfall is accessed on a 20-minutes hike from the village center, starting from Hotel Amor de Mar.
Those who seek greater trills can continue on a challenging small trail to the right side of the waterfall to another cascade located on top of the Montezuma Waterfall. A relatively easier walk to this upper cascade with its swimming pool starts adjacent to the Montezuma Butterfly Garden.
To the north Montezuma, on the border of the village, is Playa Montezuma, a large sandy beach, great for sun bathing, swimming, and bonfires at night. Take care however, as the sea bottom drops drastically and the surf is known to be ruthless sometimes. For those who need more solitude, take along a bottle of water and venture further, passing by immaculate, isolated bays bordered by the high rising jungle of the Montezuma Biological Reserve. After a 15-minutes hike, visitors reach the Piedra Colorado, a tiny beach where the river and the sea confluence. This off-shore reef is a great snorkeling spot.
Further away from northern Costa Rica’s foggy rainforests lies Jacó, a charming town choc-o-bloc with shops, eateries, and beachside vacation resorts. Hermosa and Esterillos Este’s spacious palm rimmed shores feature some of the best surfing waves in the country. Nature aficionados should make their way into wildlife hubs like the Pura Vida Botanical Garden to spot the area’s indigenous and colorful birds and monkey. Visitors can also enjoy some spectacular mountain views.
Costa Rica’s Gold Coast is one of the nation’s most unusual destinations, and it’s not because of its isolated beaches. The region’s arid, sunny landscape works in complete antithesis to the cloud covered rainforests found in other parts of the nation. To the east, visitors can hike up to the volcanoes comprising the Cordillera de Guanacaste. Along the beach coast which extends to the Nicaraguan border visitors will find pockets of white sand surroundings resorts and quaint, cast away fishing villages. Further in the interiors of the island, visitors will discover a fascinating cowboy culture that has been prevalent since the Spanish colonial rule in the mid 19th century. Other attractions here include the idyllic Playa Carrillo beach and the Rincón de la Vieja National Park, and the Santa Rosa National Park.
Costa Rican Festivals
The Costa Ricans love to party and how. Each month of the year there is at least one festival being celebrated and all their biggest festivals are free to enjoy Of course, visitors have to pay for the festival food and drink stalls and other items purchased but largely the entire ambiance, essence and spirit of the festival replete with music, dancing and fireworks are all free.
Some of the most popular festivals in the country include the Plamares Festival that includes plenty of culture such as folk dances, music, amusements and bullfighting, the Limon Carnival where Columbus Day is celebrated in style in this harbor with street dances, parades and music throughout the week, The carnival in downtown San Jose which is known to be the biggest party here in December and more, the Puntarenas Virgin of The Sea festival where fishing boat regatta which celebrates the life of Puntarenas’ Patron Saint, La Virgen del Monte Carmelo and comprises parades, dances and fireworks.
Puerto Talamanca Viejo de Talamanca
The village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, nestled on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast is replete with music, cool watering hole bars, and an exciting nightlife. The surfers can head to Cocles Beach, while nature lovers commune with the earth’s treasures to discover verdant rainforests. There are tons of little known walking paths snaking through tropical farms and gardens.
Explore Downtown San Jose
San José, Costa Rica’s vivacious capital, serves as a nice middle of the town point for exploring the city. Visitors can head to stop here while travelling to Costa Rica’s many mountains, rainforests and beaches. Towering offices, historical monuments, and museums will greet visitors as they set out to discover the city’s network of districts. It is easy to travel around the city on foot. San Jose offers a fairly hassle free navigation thanks to its well organized grids.
The more adventure struck souls can take a bus to San Antonio de Escazú (last stop) or Barrio Corazon de Escazú and start moving further along. There are no marked trails or hiking path signs, however walking along the paths can eventually lead you to a trail. Here visitors find stunning views of the Central Valley, unending green pastures and cast away estates. Other hotspots to hike around the region include the ranges behind Heredia and Braulio Carrillo.