We love finding new free things to do in Costa Rica! I think that discovering something amazing and realizing that you didn’t have to spend any money to do it is sometimes the best way to travel. We have compiled this list over our years of living in Costa Rica of our favorite things to do for free.
Alright, let’s get to our 20 free things to do in Costa Rica that you’ll love!
1. Enjoy a beach day
Hey, guess what? By law in Costa Rica, all of the beaches need to have public access. That means free beaches for everyone! Hell to the yea! Find a beach. Bring your stuff and enjoy a nice beach day. We love the beaches on the Pacific coast for their white sands and big waves. If you want a really cool rasta vibe head to the Caribbean. 🙂 For a little beach guidance, head on over to our post about our favorite beaches in Costa Rica.
2. Watch the sunrise on the Caribbean
Are you more of a sunrise or sunset fan? I’m all about sunrises. There’s something so magical about waking up early to see the start of a new day. It always makes me really want to get the most out of the day after.
3. Watch the sunset on the Pacific
One of my goals this year is to watch the sunrise on the Caribbean and head to the Pacific coast for the sunset. Growing up in Boston, it amazes me that it is possible to drive across all of Costa Rica in 4 hours. Like seriously, how cool is that?
Anyway, there are plenty of places you can enjoy a great sunset view. In fact, the whole Pacific coast is prime sunset real estate. If you want to really spice things up, find a nice beachfront restaurant or a place on the cliffs for dinner. Get there between 5 and 5:15 pm and you’ll be able to watch the sunset as you eat. Just a tip though, bring a lot of bug spray. The second the sun goes down the mosquitos tend to come out in full force.
4. Go stargazing
No matter where you are in the country (except for the cities obviously) you can get a nice view of the stars when it is not cloudy. Our favorite place to do some stargazing is on the beaches on the Pacific coast. There is something that is just so beautiful about watching the night sky while waves crash in front of you.
5. Go hiking
Most of the national parks in Costa Rica require an entrance fee, but there are places you can hike without paying anything. Our favorite free hiking spot is the woods in San Gerardo de Dota.
6. Climb inside a tree
Alright, how cool is this? ↑ This tree is located in the woods in Monteverde.
I have to preface this by saying, we took a friend of ours all around the country for two weeks, showed him a lot of amazing things, and this is the thing he loved most in this entire country. Basically, this is a large ficus tree that you can climb up from the inside. Thomas and I didn’t make it too far up, because we both got a little freaked out, but our friend went all the way to the top. He said the view was amazing!
To get here, just put “Monteverde Cloud Forest Lodge” into your GPS. Park your car on the side of the road opposite the lodge and you will see a few trails going into the woods. Just follow one of the trails and they all converge at the amazing tree. It’s the perfect free thing to do in Monteverde, Costa Rica!
7. Enjoy a free hot spring
In La Fortuna, there are several hot springs that are pretty expensive. We like to go to the ones the locals go to which are cheaper, but if you want the ultimate local discounted experience, head to the free natural hot spring.
Just pull your car off to the side of the road next to Tabacon Spa. Someone will probably approach you offering to watch your car for a few dollars. Pay them (they really will watch your car and it’s better to be safe than sorry). Ask them and they will show you where to go. It is a short walk down a hill to the bank of the river. Then just hop on in and enjoy the natural hot spring!
We suggest wearing some type of water shoes such as Keens because there are some wet rocks you have to walk over. Also, it can be busy during the day, but if you go around sunset it will be virtually empty. Bring a few beers and enjoy!
8. Search for wildlife
There is wildlife everywhere in Costa Rica, from interesting insects ↑ to sloths, jaguars (don’t worry you probably won’t see one), monkeys, and more! Spending some time searching for cool wildlife is one of our favorite things to do. Thomas recently bought these fancy binoculars so he can attach his phone to them and take great close up pictures of animals. It is a really cool idea, but I will admit it now takes us foreverrrr to walk anywhere because he is always stopping to look in the binoculars and take pictures. 😉
9. Visit Cabuya Cemetery
I know you are probably thinking, “Why would I want to visit a cemetery on my vacation” but Cabuya Cemetery is no ordinary cemetery. The Cabuya cemetery is located on an island near the town of Montezuma. It is only possible to walk out here during low tide. We have a complete guide to visiting Cabuya cemetery which will tell you everything you need to know about this unique free thing to do in Costa Rica.
10. Walk around downtown San Jose
San Jose, Costa Rica is not the world’s most beautiful city, but it does have its charms. The downtown area has some interesting historical buildings that are worth checking out. I like to walk and find the coolest graffiti. In fact, that’s a great idea for a post! Stay tuned for the ultimate graffiti walking tour of San Jose, coming soon to a Costa Rica Vibes blog near you. 🙂 Anyway, while you are walking around downtown, there are plenty of free things to do in San Jose. You can check out all of the shops, visit Mercado Central, stop at the parks, and more!
We have a complete guide to San Jose, Costa Rica if you want some more ideas of things to do in the city.
11. Watch the planes take off
OK, this terrifies me, but it’s so cool. At the San Jose airport planes take off right over the fence at the end of the runway. What I mean is the runway ends, there is a fence, some grass, and then a road. So you can literally have planes taking off right over your head. We like to go here around sunset and sit at the end of the runway in the grass. It’s actually a pretty popular activity with locals here. It’s a terrifying crazy rush to watch planes go right over your head. Bring some earplugs. It gets pretty loud.
12. Find a swimming hole
Wherever there is an easy flowing river you can find people lounging on the rocks and swimming. One of the coolest spots to do this is in La Fortuna.
A bit out of the downtown (like 5 minutes) you will find a bridge. Walk down the embankment (it can be a bit slippery) and you will come to a pool with a rope swing. Now, all you have to do is jump! It’s definitely not for kids or the faint of heart. In fact, it’s a bit terrifying. Make sure you have travel insurance. No, it’s not that scary and you don’t HAVE to try the rope swing. You can just enjoy swimming.
13. Do some bird watching
The bird watching in Costa Rica is on point. We are not really big bird watchers, but popular areas are San Gerardo de Dota and Monteverde. You may also get lucky and find birds in random places. For example, we always see parrots at the beach in Jaco. Bring your binoculars and you’ll be good to go!
14. Explore a farmers market
We love farmers markets in this country. In fact, we go every Saturday morning to the one near our house. We are always able to pick up quality produce directly from farmers at rock bottom prices.
You can ask at your hotel when and where the local farmer’s markets are. Also, be sure to try some new fruits or veggies. There are so many unusual items here that you likely have never seen before. We try to buy an unusual new fruit every week just to try something new. We wrote a guide to unusual fruits in Costa Rica if you’d like some ideas of cool things you should try.
15. Go on a secret beach quest
Because every beach needs to have public access that means the entire Pacific and Caribbean coast are fair game or beach chilling. We love going on secret beach searches! Our favorite secret beach area is Guanacaste. There are so many of them!
If you are feeling adventurous you can just hop in your rental car and start looking. If you want a little more guidance you can ask at your hotel if they know of any secret beaches in the area. They may help you out, but sometimes they might be hesitant about sharing their secrets with you.
16. Go snorkeling
Often locals try to make a little money by renting snorkeling equipment on the beach. It is usually relatively cheap and so worth it! We love snorkeling here. If you want to save even more money we suggest packing your own snorkel mask so you can snorkel anytime, anywhere! I recently bought Thomas this snorkel mask ↓and he absolutely loves it!
17. Go fishing
Most people wrongly assume that to go fishing in Costa Rica you need to go with an expensive tour. That is fortunately not true. Instead, do as the locals do. You can buy a spool of fishing line at almost any store near the beach. We like to put a little piece of raw chicken on the hook and stand on the rocks with the locals for fishing. Thomas also recently bought a rod the folds up so he can easily bring it in his luggage. You can find out more about how we fish on a budget here.
18. Check out some crocodiles
If you are heading to Jaco, Manuel Antonio, Uvita etc. from San Jose you will pass over a river called Rio Tarcoles about 1.5 hours into your drive. You will know you are there by the number of people lined up on the bridge taking pictures. Just pull over on the side of the road, make sure there is nothing valuable left visible and walk back onto the bridge. You’ll get a nice view of some huge crocodiles chilling in the sun.
It’s not something you will likely spend too much time at, but it is still something neat to see for free.
19. Find a free waterfall
A lot of the waterfalls in Costa Rica cost money to visit, but there are definitely plenty of free options as well. We have the most luck finding free waterfalls on private properties. No, I don’t mean to just go wandering on people’s private property, but when you are booking a hotel or Airbnb see if they mention anything about a waterfall on site. There are several listings which have them.
Anyway, the picture above is from a waterfall near Poas Volcano. It will take you about an hour from San Jose to get here. It seems like a long drive just to view a waterfall, but along the way, you will have several opportunities to pull off the side of the road for nice views of the Central Valley. There are also many tiny markets along the way selling fresh fruits and cheeses. Whenever I come to this area all I can think of is Switzerland. It’s so beautiful.
We like this waterfall because you can just park on the side of the road. There is a path that goes behind the waterfall so you can capture cool shots. Just a warning it is usually pretty muddy and wet so wear shoes that you feel confident in.
If you would like something else to do in the area there is also the La Paz Waterfall Gardens, but it is kind of expensive and we prefer to just enjoy the free one. 🙂
20. Do some beach yoga
Costa Rica is filled with excellent yoga studios where you can take a great yoga class, but sometimes it is nice to just practice yoga on your own. We think that the peacefulness of the beach at sunrise or sunset is the perfect backdrop for a little yoga session. The sound of the waves crashing on the shore is just the cherry on top!
Well, there you have it! Now you know 20 free things to do in Costa Rica for your vacation!What do you think? Did you find some great things to do for free in Costa Rica during your trip?
If you have any questions about any of these activities you can do in Costa Rica, just leave them in the comment section below. We are happy to help you out! Also, if you have any free things to do in Costa Rica that you’d like to share with us, please let us know. We are always looking for fun new activity ideas!
Want more activity ideas? Check out our mega list of our favorite budget activities!
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