Check out the city park: In downtown Alajuela, there is a cute city park which is the happening spot on the weekends. You probably won’t spend more than an hour there, but there is a nice church there that you can go in. There are also plenty of vendors selling snacks. Grab a bunch, get a snack, and do some people watching.
Watch the planes take off: If you want a fun/ unique evening experience, check when the next planes are taking off and head on over to the airport. If you are coming from the downtown area of Alajuela, drive past the airport on the highway and you’ll see parking spots on the side of the road. You can pull off here or turn right on the street at the end of the runway. There aren’t any parking spot there, but you can just pull your car off the side of the road. You’ll probably see many families with picnics set up in the grass. This is (in my opinion) the best spot to watch the planes, but I’ll warn you, it’s absolutely terrifying to have planes flying literally right above your head. We like to go out night to get the full effect. There are also usually vendors here selling food.
Do some shopping: If you’re coming from the US, the prices in Costa Rica will be a bit higher than what you are used to, but if you are coming from Europe they are pretty comparable to what you are used to. In Alajuela, there is a city mall, which has a ton of stores which you’ll love. If you want an even crazier experience, head to MultiPlaza. MultiPlaza is not in Alajuela, but it’s still close by in Escazu. That mall is crazy even by US standards. It is the largest mall in Central America and is super modern.
Catch a film: Not really the optimal thing to do on your vacation, but if you are visiting during rainy season, you might be out of luck finding something else to do on a rainy afternoon. Both malls that I listed above have nice movie theaters in them which show films in English with Spanish subtitles. If you’d like to see what is showing, you can check that out here. Just click MultiPlaza Escazu or City Mall, depending on where you’d like to go.
Take a drive through the Central Valley: From the city of Alajuela, head north and check out the amazing views of the valley. I always feel like I’m in Switzerland while driving through here. There are tons of little places selling fresh strawberries and cheese along the way. If you would like to see a nice waterfall, type in “Catarata de la Paz” into your GPS. This waterfall is free (just on the side of the road) and it’s a beautiful drive to this spot. It is really close to Poas Volcano, but unfortunately, Poas is currently closed indefinitely due to eruptions 🙁
Catch your lunch: From downtown Alajuela, you can take a 40-minute drive to a trucha called Los Arroyos. Now, I’m sure you have no idea what I’m talking about, but this is a super popular activity with locals. It’s a totally unique experience that most tourists aren’t lucky enough to have. At this place, they will give you a piece of fishing line with bait on the end and send you over to their little pond. It doesn’t look like much, but it is stocked with trout. Catch a trout for each person in your group and then they will cook it up for you on site with great side dishes. For about $10 you can have a fun half day activity and a really tasty meal. It’s one of our absolute favorite things to do with visitors.
Play with hundreds of dogs: You may have seen a video of this place that has been going viral recently. Territorio de Zaguates (land of the strays) is located in the valley in Alajuela and is home to hundreds of stray dogs. It is possible to visit this beautiful place and play with the dogs, but only on certain days. They usually do one open day a month on a Saturday or Sunday. Check out their Facebook page to stay up to date on their next open day.
Walk the miles of beaches: The beach in Tortuguero is not the best in Costa Rica, but it is decent. Plus, you can walk for a really long time along it.
Rent kayaks: There are a few places in town where you can rent kayaks. Compare rates and try some haggling. Renting kayaks for half a day is a great way to explore the little streams near the island and see wildlife.
Go on a canoe tour: On Tortuguero, there are a few different wildlife tour options but we think that the 6 am canoe tour is definitely the best. It’s not cheap (it’s about $30 per person plus you need to pay for national park admission) but the guides are really knowledgeable. You will see lots of cool wildlife and it is completely peaceful. Ask at your hotel and they will arrange it for you.
Explore the national park: On the same day as your canoe tour you should explore the national park because you have already paid for it. I don’t think the national park is overly special, but it is a nice walk through the woods next to the beach.
Check out the turtle museum: On the north side of the island there is a small museum about the turtles. It costs a few dollars to enter but this money goes towards funding work with the turtles. You will probably spend about 45 minutes here.
Go on a night time turtle egg hatching tour: Between July and November, there are evening turtle tours on the beach. After 6 pm you are actually not allowed on the beach without a guide so as to protect the turtles. For $20 you can take a tour which I promise you will be one of the coolest things you’ve ever experienced in your life. Get ready to see massive turtles waddle up from the ocean, lay their eggs, and go back down into the water. Ask at your hotel and they will arrange a tour for you.
Go on a fishing tour: If you are interested in fishing, don’t pay a ton of money to go on a fishing trip with an established company. We asked our guide from the turtle tour if he knew of anyone that did fishing tours. He called a friend who was happy to take us out the next morning for two hours in his boat for far less than we were originally quoted. It wasn’t as fancy as a professional fishing tour would have been, but we all had a really good time and caught a few fish. Just ask some locals (everyone knows everyone here) and they’ll likely help you out.
Explore Cahuita National Park: The Cahuita National park is our favorite national park in all of Costa Rica. It is seriously amazing! You can read our full post about it here.
Watch the sunrise: Wake up at 5 am and head to the beach for a beautiful and peaceful sunrise experience.
Check out the shops in downtown Cahuita: Downtown Cahuita is small, but there are some cute artsy shops you can explore.
Visit the Sloth Sanctuary: The Sloth Sanctuary is not cheap (about $30 per person) but if you’ve ever wanted a close-up encounter with sloths, this is your chance! They are a great sanctuary that are working hard to help sloths.
Check out Puerto Viejo: Puerto Viejo is really close to Cahuita and also has a very Rasta feel to it. If you’d like to know about Puerto Viejo, head on over to our Puerto Viejo page.
Visit a wildlife sanctuary: Tree of Life Sanctuary is a great animal sanctuary located in Cahuita. Entry is $15 for the guided tours. They have very limited hours and tours so be sure to check their website for updated info.
Go to Punta Uva: Playa Punta Uva is an easy drive from Puerto Viejo and it is seriously beautiful. The water is super clear and the sand is a perfectly fine white. Just note that there are occasional incidents of petty theft so always keep any valuables near you.
Take a yoga class: Cashew Hill has walk in yoga classes for 6,000 colones (about $12). You can check out their schedule here.
Go snorkeling: We suggest packing your own snorkel mask so you don’t always have to rent one. Playa Punta Uva is the perfect place to snorkel.
Visit the Jaguar Rescue Center: The Jaguar Rescue Center has awesome tours which put you in close contact with amazing wildlife. The tours cost $20 per person for adults. You can find out more on their website.
Check out the nightlife: Puerto Viejo is the perfect party town for some late night bar hopping.
Take a coco tour: Caribeans Chocolate tour is a bit on the pricey side ($28 per person) but it is a super detailed chocolate tour that takes you through the whole process from tree to bar. Plus you get to try chocolate at the end!
Go surfing: There are plenty of surf schools in Puerto Viejo or if you are more experienced you can just rent a board. We have not personally surfed in Puerto Viejo so I can not recommend a place to you. I suggest asking at your hotel. Sometimes the local hotels partner with local companies and they may be able to get you a discount.
Do some shopping: Along the beach in Puerto Viejo, you can find some amazing local artists selling handmade products such as jewelry. Usually, they are out there in the evenings.
BOCAS DEL TORO
Go kayaking: The waters around Isla Colon (the main area in Bocas) are calm enough to kayak in. We rented kayaks from our hotel, but if your hotel does not have kayaks just ask at the front desk. I’m sure they can direct you to a good place to rent one. We paid $10 for a few hours. The water is so incredibly clear that you can see huge starfish just chilling on the ground.
Go snorkeling: I always suggest bringing your own snorkeling gear while traveling in Central America, Bocas is no different. Because the water is so clear you can just jump in and swim around to see starfish and amazing fishies.
Take a day tour: The highlight of our trip in Bocas del Toro was taking a day tour which included snorkeling and visiting the various undisturbed beaches. We paid $30 per person for a tour that left at 9 am and returned at 4 pm. There are plenty of shops in downtown Isa Colon that run tours but, also ask at your hotel. Sometimes the hotels partner with local companies and you can get a discount.
Go daytime bar hopping: Guys, I’ve never enjoyed bar hopping as much as I did in Bocas del Toro. We went with a tour (which was amazing, but I don’t think it’s running anymore 🙁 ), but you can easily create your own tour. Definitely go to Aqua Lounge, Bibi’s, Boca’s Brewery and The Blue Coconut. Oh and don’t forget to wear your bathing suit!
Take a yoga class: Bocas Yoga Studio has walk in yoga classes for only $6 per hour class. These classes include mat and props usage. You can check out their schedule here.
Go partying: The nightlife scene in Bocas del Toro is on point. Isla Colon is the perfect place to bar/club hop at night.
Rent an e-bike: Bocas Bikes has e-bikes for rent for $40 for a full day (9am-6pm). They are a super great company and will help you out so that everything is adjusted properly. They can also give you tips on where to go, but I say definitely head to Playa Bluff.