Last updated on August 17th, 2021 at 01:38 pm EST
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Off-the-beaten-path travel in Costa Rica
If you’ve just finished reading our related blog post 30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them, you’re probably itching for some recommendations for non-touristy things to do in Costa Rica, too. If so, you’re in luck! We’ve got plenty. Use our off-the-beaten-path Costa Rica destinations guide below to learn where you should go if you want to avoid crowds. Furthermore, our off-the-beaten-path Costa Rica activities guide below recommends things to do in Costa Rica that are offbeat, unfrequented, or less known to the average visitor. Both will help you plan a perfect Costa Rica vacation if you wish to experience the less popular sides of Costa Rica.
Our guide to Costa Rica destinations that are off the beaten path
If you want a beach destination, visit one of these off-the-beaten-path beaches
|Region||choose this beach||in lieu of this beach|
|In the Caribbean region (Cahuita)||choose Playa Negra||instead of Playa Blanca|
|In the Caribbean region (Puerto Viejo de Talamanca)||choose Playa Chiquita or Playa Arrecife||instead of Playa Puerto Viejo or Playa Cocles|
|In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Papagayo)||choose Playa Virador (the north/east end, away from the Four Seasons Resort)||instead of Playa Nacascolo|
|In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Playa del Coco)||choose Playa Ocotal||instead of Playa del Coco|
|In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Las Catalinas)||choose Playa Dantita||instead of Playa Danta|
|In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Brasilito)||choose Playa Puerto Viejo||instead of Playa Conchal, Playa Brasilito, or Playa Flamingo|
|In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region Playa Grande)||choose Playa Ventanas||instead of Playa Grande|
|In the Guanacaste / Northern Pacific region (Tamarindo)||choose Playa Negra, Playa Blanca, or Playa Junquillal||instead of Playa Tamarindo or Playa Avellanas|
|In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Nosara)||choose Playa Pelada or Playa Garza||instead of Playa Guiones or Playa Nosara|
|In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Samara)||choose Playa Cangrejal or Playa Carrillo||instead of Playa Samara|
|In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Santa Teresa/Mal Pais)||choose Playa Los Suecos||instead of Playa Santa Teresa or Playa Carmen|
|In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Montezuma)||choose Playa Las Manchas||instead of Playa Montzuma|
|In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Tambor)||choose Playa Quizales or Playa Curu||instead of Playa Tambor|
|In the Nicoya Peninsula region (Isla Tortuga)||choose Playa Tropical||instead of Playa Tortuga|
|In the Central Pacific region (Jaco)||choose Playa Blanca or Playa Mantas||instead of Playa Herradura or Playa Jaco|
|In the Central Pacific region (Manuel Antonio)||choose Playa Espadilla Sur||instead of Playa Manuel Antonio|
|In the Osa Peninsual region (Drake Bay)||choose PLaya San Josecito||instead of Playa Agujitas|
If you want proximity to nature or adventure, visit one of these off-the-beaten-path destinations
|Interest||choose this destination||in lieu of this destination|
|If you want to explore volcanoes||choose the Turrialba region (Turrialba Volcano), the Cartago region (Irazu Volcano), or the Miravalles region (Miravalles Volcano)||instead of the La Fortuna/Arenal region (Arenal Volcano), the Alajuela region (Poas Volcano), or the Rincon de la Vieja region (Rincon de la Vieja Volcano),|
|If you want to explore the rainforest, the dry forest, or other lowland ecosystems||choose the Bijagua region, the Sarapiqui region, the Cano Negro region, the Boca Tapada region, the Curu region, the Sierpe region, or the Golfito region||instead of the La Fortuna/Arenal region, the Rincon de la Vieja region, the Jaco region, or the Manuel Antonio region|
|If you want to explore the cloud forest||choose the San Gerardo de Dota region, the San Ramon region, or the Zarcero region||instead of the Monteverde region|
|If you want to center yourself in a town with many expats||choose Grecia or Atenas||instead of Playas del Coco or Tamarindo|
|If you want to surf||choose breaks off Playa Camaronal, Playa Naranjo (Guanacaste), Playa Negra (Guanacaste), or Playa Hermosa (Central Pacific)||instead of breaks off Playa Tamarindo, Playa Grande (Guanacaste), Playa Guiones, Playa Santa Teresa, or Playa Puerto Viejo (Caribbean)|
Our guide to Costa Rica activities that are off the beaten path or authentic Costa Rican experiences
Visit a Waterfall
Picture a paradisiacal scene in your mind. Does it include a waterfall? If so, Costa Rica may just be the paradise of your dreams. There are many waterfalls worth visiting here, and since they’re spread out around the country, there’s a good chance you’ll be in close proximity to at least one during your visit. Note that some waterfalls have pools that are safe to swim in and others do not so plan your visit accordingly.
Costa Rica waterfalls that are off the beaten path
For recommendations for popular waterfalls that you may prefer to visit, see our related blog post 30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them.
|Waterfall Name||Region||City / Town|
|Gemelas Waterfalls (Cataratas Las Gemelas)
*though the pool at the waterfall’s base is rough, swimming is permitted
|Central Valley||Bajos del Toro|
|Toro Waterfall (Catarata del Toro)
*swimming is not permitted
|Central Valley||Bajos del Toro|
*swimming is not permitted
|Northern Zone||El Castillo (outside La Fortuna / Arenal)|
|Waterfalls inside the Valle Escondido Reserve
*swimming is not permitted
|Las Chorreras Waterfalls (Cataratas Las Chorreras)
*swimming is permitted
|Guanacaste||Rincon de la Vieja|
|El Chorro Waterfall (Catarata El Chorror)
*swimming is not permitted
|King Louis Waterfall (Catarata King Louis)
*swimming is permitted
Picnic or take photos at a scenic lookout
Seeking respite from Costa Rica’s endless adventures? Why not escape to a tranquil lookout spot where you can take in a beautiful view in silence? With time to kill, you can picnic at a few of the lookout spots listed below. Others are positioned along the side of roads or hiking trails, so if you plan to road-trip and/or hike around Costa Rica, you can make brief stops along the way.
Non-touristy lookout spots
|Lookout Name||View||Region||City / Town|
|Unnamed (inside the Barra Honda National Park)||Nicoya Inlands||Nicoya Peninsula||Barra Honda|
|Orosi Lookout (Mirador Orosi)||Orosi Valley||Central Valley||Orosi|
|Ujarras Lookout (Mirador Ujarras)||Lake Cachi||Central Valley||Ujarras|
|Unnamed (on the way to Playa Virador)||Tip of the Papagayo Peninsula||Guanacaste||Papagayo|
|Unnamed (halfway between Playa Danta and Playa Dantita)||Playa Dantita||Guanacaste||Las Catalinas|
|Miro’s Mountain||Playa Jaco||Central Pacific||Jaco|
|Unnamed (in Golfito center)||Town of Golfito||Southern Pacific||Golfito|
|Unnamed (on the way to Purto Jimenez)||Golfo Dulce||Osa Peninsula||Chacarita/Rincon|
Soak in less frequented hot springs
Looking to spoil yourself while on vacation? The best way to do so is with a soak in Costa Rica’s many hot springs. Arguably, Costa Rica’s best hot springs are located in the Northern Zone, and they don’t include the hot spring properties listed below. If you want to hang out at a hot springs attraction that either attracts more locals than tourists or simply isn’t as busy as Costa Rica’s top hot spring properties, the below options will do.
Costa Rica hot springs that are off the beaten path
For recommendations for popular hot springs that you may prefer to visit, see our related blog post 30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them.
|Hot Springs Property Name||Region||City / Town|
|Los Laureles Hot Springs||Northern Zone||La Fortuna / Arenal|
|Titoku Hot Springs||Northern Zone||La Fortuna / Arenal|
|Talitas del Arenal Hot Springs||Northern Zone||La Fortuna / Arenal|
|Kalambu Hot Springs||Northern Zone||La Fortuna / Arenal|
|Termo Arenal Hot Springs||Northern Zone||La Fortuna / Arenal|
|Free Hot Springs (Rio Chollin)
*See our related blog post Local Free Hot Springs In La Fortuna/Arenal for more information
|Northern Zone||La Fortuna / Arenal|
|Vandara Hot Springs||Guanacaste||Rincon de la Vieja|
|Orosi Hot Springs||Central Valley||Orosi|
Want to learn about and compare La Fortuna / Arenal’s various hot springs? Don’t miss our related blog post:
Have questions about hot springs in Costa Rica? See our related blog post:
Visit a turtle hatchery
Sea turtles are known to nest on several Costa Rican beaches, including a few that fall within national park territory. But they also nest on smaller, less popular beaches. Some of these beaches have informal turtle hatcheries where turtle eggs are protected from predators. Visiting a turtle hatchery is typically as easy as taking a stroll along the beach where the hatchery is located.
Turtle hatcheries that are off the beaten path
|Beach Name||Region||City / Town|
|Junquillal Beach (Playa Junquillal)||Guanacaste||Junquillal|
|Carmen Beach (Playa Carmen)||Nicoya Peninsula||Santa Teresa/Mal Pais|
|Rio Claro||Osa Peninsula||Rio Claro|
If you like roaming around town centers, check out one or more of Costa Rica’s beautiful churches; they’ll impress you with their unique construction, ornate finishes, and interesting stories.
Costa Rica churches that are off the beaten path
For recommendations for churches that are located in more popular regions, see our related blog post 30 Popular Things To Do In Costa Rica And Where To Do Them.
Visit art studios, workshops, cooperatives
A great way to support local artists and woodworkers is to visit their studios/workshops and buy their products directly. This is also a fantastic way to score unique souvenirs, and usually for less money than you’ll pay for the same item in a popular souvenir store. If you choose to visit a cooperative and either dine or purchase souvenirs on-site, you can help many local artists (mainly women) at once.
Costa Rica art studios and workshops
|Woodshop / Studio / Cooperative Name||Region||City / Town|
|Taller Eloy Alfaro e Hijos (woodshop)||Central Valley||Sarchi|
|Rosewood Licho’s Shop (woodshop)||Northern Zone||Monteverde|
|CASEM (cooperative)||Northern Zone||Monteverde|
|The Monteverde Art House (art studio)||Northern Zone||Monteverde|
|Glass Art (artstudio)||Northern Zone||Monteverde|
|Foresta Arte Local (art studio)||Northern Zone||Monteverde|
Admire local sculptures, statues, street art, and historical artifacts
Costa Rica’s history, character, and traditional charm appear in town centers as statues, sculptures, street art, and artifacts. Though there are too many to list below, the photos above depict a few. Several monuments are stationed in central parks; most are free to visit.
Shop at a market
Skip the grocery chains and souvenir stores in favor of shopping at ferias (farmer’s markets). Farmer’s markets, which exist in nearly every medium-sized beach town, are great places to try new fruits and fruit drinks or to purchase artisan creations. Most products are grown or made locally, so your purchase not only supports the local economy but the environment as well.
Try street food or beach food
Some of Costa Rica’s most delicious food comes from informal carts, stalls, and stands positioned along roadsides, in central parks, and on beaches. You can get everything from refreshing copos and churchills to filling vigorones and empanadas to sweet churros and pan bon, all without ever stepping foot in a restaurant. Also for sale is ice-cold pipa fria, raw-fish ceviche, locally made ice cream, and balls of stringy queso palmito. For more information about these foods and more, don’t miss our related blog post Costa Rica Food Guide: 30 Things To Eat In Costa Rica And When To Eat Them.
Practice speaking Spanish with locals
Once upon a time, I was a non-Spanish-speaking traveler. Every word and phrase that I now understand in Spanish (save for “hola,” “hasta la vista,” “cerveza,” “por favor,” and “adios“) I originally learned by speaking with locals, including my Costa Rican husband and his family. Reading the local newspapers and watching the local newscasts helped, too. If you’d really like to immerse yourself in the full, authentic Costa Rica experience, try speaking a little Spanish during your trip. Even if you can’t form complete, grammatical sentences and you’re staring at a Spanish dictionary the whole time, give it a try. If in doubt, say “pura vida!” and you’ll fit right in.
Volunteer or donate and do good!
In general, Costa Ricans are kind, humble people. They give to others regularly, so it’s fitting that incorporating travel philanthropy into your trip is one way you can embody the Costa Rican spirit while abroad. Costa Rica is home to a variety of volunteer-based projects and initiatives where you can donate your time. If you don’t have time to give, consider bringing items with you from home to donate while you’re in the country. Assisting with donation logistics is the organization Pack For A Purpose. They work with several companies in various regions of Costa Rica; see their website for a partner list (https://www.packforapurpose.org/destinations/central-america/costa-rica/). If you click on the name of a Costa Rican business, it will show you their donation “needs,” which are items they ask travelers to bring from home. Items range from school and reference materials, art/music items, and toys to first aid and personal grooming supplies. Sadly, the “needs” lists are endless.
To learn more about our personal donation efforts, check out our related blog posts:
QUESTION TO COMMENT ON: What are your favorite things to do in Costa Rica off the beaten path?