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.
Go to the butterfly garden: For $15 this place is totally worth it. You get to see so many cool butterflies and the guides are extremely knowledgeable. Find out more here.
Take a coffee tour: There are several great coffee tours in Monteverde, but we suggest going to Cafe de Monteverde. Their tour is the most detailed and interesting, in our opinion. We like this place because they are very eco-friendly and we love supporting small local businesses which are amazing.
Visit some art galleries: There are a ton of really cool art galleries in the Monteverde area. To start you off we suggest visiting Sarah’s Gallery. Sarah is absolutely the cutest and her art is amazing. It is a bit of a jjourney to get here, but you can walk the access road to her house from the Monteverde Cheese Factory. Ignore the map on TripAdvisor to Sarah’s Gallery. It’s completely wrong.
Take an archery lesson: Total off the beaten path fun activity. Still Water Journeys is a retreat center that also provides archery lessons. For $20 per person, you can take a 1.5-hour archery lesson which goes through the proper techniques of shooting. The property here is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. I highly recommend this activity. It’s unique, relaxing, and not filled with tourists.
Go hiking in the cloud forest: There are several reserves you can hike at in Monteverde. We have only visited Reserve Bosque Nuboso Sante Elena, and we loved it. We paid $14 per person, which is a lot for a hike, but we took the time to hike pretty much every trail (we were there for about three hours) and I don’t regret paying the steep price. The cloud forest is seriously beautiful and something I think you’ll all enjoy experiencing.
Swim under a waterfall: Check out La Fortuna waterfall if you want a nice half day trip that is not too expensive. It costs $15 for entry. This waterfall is seriously impressive and if there hasn’t been too much rain recently you can swim under it. If not, there is a nice stream you can swim in next to the waterfall. Just as a warning, be prepared to walk down over 400 steps to get there, which means walking back up 400 steps after. 😉 There is free parking, a bathroom with changing rooms, and a cafe on site.
Go caving: About 45 minutes from downtown La Fortuna there is a place called Venado Caves. It’s $25 per person for a tour of the caves which lasts about 1.5 hours. It’s seriously intense and if you don’t do well with tight spaces this is not an activity for you. I thought I would freak out, but once the adrenaline kicked in I was good to go.
Relax in a hot spring: There are tons of hot springs in La Fortuna, but most are expensive and really touristy. We like to go to the places the locals go to. Our faves are Termales Los Laureles and Termalitas del Arenal.
If you want a free hot springs experience drive to the bridge ear Tabacon resort. You can pull your car over to the side of the road and walk to the river below the bridge. It’s crazy warm and a fun experience.
Learn how chocolate is made: I did a chocolate tour with my mom at Rainforest Chocolate Tours and we both loved it! Plus it includes all the chocolate you can eat! ) This is something you should book ahead of time because the tours tend to fill up. You can just email them and they’ll reserve a spot for you. This place is located down the street from La Fortuna and you could easily combine both activities for a fun day.
Go kayaking: There are many tour companies who will offer to take you kayaking on Lake Arenal, but these tend to be expensive. Instead, just drive to the lake and see if you can find some locals renting kayaks. They are not always there, but when they are they will give you a much more reasonable rate and you can paddle around for an hour or so.
Go hiking: There are a few hiking spots in La Fortuna, but we’ve only done the Arenal 1968 trail. It costs about $12 for entry and will take you a few hours. It’s somewhat strenuous in places, but doable. I wasn’t overly impressed with this hike because you are never rewarded with great views, but if you just want to get some hiking in, go for it!
Visit a butterfly sanctuary: The Butterfly Conservatory near Lake Arenal is a really nice place to spend a couple of hours. You’ll see some really cool butterflies and reptiles, take a nice nature walk and meet some very knowledgeable people who work there. You could combine this with a hike on the Arenal 1968 trail or a kayak trip around the lake. They are all located close together.
Go swimming: 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. If you need to search for it on your GPS just type in “El Salto”
Visit playa Biesanz and go sea kayaking /snorkeling: Playa Biesanz is not the most beautiful beach you’ve ever seen, but it has a charm about it which we love. You can park on the side of the road and have an attendant watch your car for under $5. Then walk down the path to the beach (check for howler monkeys in the trees). The beach is filled with locals selling everything you need. You can rent sea kayaks, snorkel gear, stand up paddle boards, buy cocktails, buy food, rent beach chairs, and more! All of this is at a very reasonable rate. Plus it’s usually not very full with tourists.
Visit the national park: The main reason you are probably in Manuel Antonio is probably to go to the national park. You can read our full post with tips for the park here.
Go to the Quepos farmers market: The nearby town of Quepos has a farmers market every Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. It is located along the sea wall in Quepos. We suggest picking up some unusual fruits you’ve never seen before and trying them out.
Head to La Playita: This beach is located at the very end of Playa Espadilla. It used to be known as the gay scene beach and there were a lot of nude sunbathers. Last time we were there I didn’t see any of this cool scene. It was mostly just couples who wanted a quieter beach experience away from the action of Playa Espadilla.
Watch the sunset: Please don’t miss the sunset while you are here. It’s amazing! We suggest getting dinner on the cliffs for a good view (we have suggestions in the restaurant section) or watching it from Playa Espadilla.
SAN GERARDO DE DOTA
Hike to a nice waterfall: We absolutely loved the hike to Rio Savegre Waterfall. It is definitely intense in spots (there are random stairs missing and stuff) but it was so fun! Plus the waterfall is pretty cool.
Go birding: Most people who visit San Gerardo de Dota are there to try to see the famous quetzal. Bring your binoculars and set out for a hike. We hiked the trails behind Hotel Savegre and saw a lot of birds. If you are not staying at that hotel you can pay $10 for entry or they will allow you free entry if you eat a meal there (and their food is tasty).
Go fishing: Last time we were here Thomas was on a serious mission to fish some trout. We talked to some locals and they told us that although it is technically illegal to fish the trout in the streams there, you can try to do it secretly. If you have your fishing pole with you, head to the river, find a good hiding spot and do some fishing, but shhh, you didn’t hear it from us. 😉
Go to the spa: Sometimes you just have to splurge and get a massage. The whole atmosphere in San Gerardo is so relaxing and cozy that I feel like a massage here just fits in perfectly with the overall feeling of the area. There is a nice spa called Del Rio Spa on the hotel Savegre property.