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.
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.
Chill on the beach: Jaco beach is perfect if you want a large open beach. If you’d like a bit more privacy head to the northern part of the beach. It tends to be pretty empty there.
Go partying: If you are into the nightlife scene, Jaco is where it’s at. Because this area is pretty saturated wth backpackers there are tons of clubs and bars along the main stretch downtown.
Take a surfing lesson: There are tons of companies that offer surfing lessons in Jaco. We have not personally tried out any of these companies, so we can’t give you a good recommendation, but check here on TripAdvisor for the top companies.
Try SUP: Carton Surfboards in Jaco has stand up paddle boards you can rent. They cost $25 per hour or $35 for a half day. Just ask at Carton and they will direct you to some good spots to explore on your SUP.
Walk the beach: Jaco beach may not be the most beautiful beach in the world, but it is long and is a great place for a long beach stroll.
Watch the sunset: Grab a beer at one of the many convenience stores and sit on the beach for sunset. We’ve never had a bad sunset view in Jaco.
Check out Playa Hermosa: If you are looking for a more relaxed vibe head a few minutes south of Jaco to Playa Hermosa. This little seaside village is the perfect getaway from the action in Jaco.
Hike Miro’s Mountain: A secret hidden gem in Jaco is the hike up Miro’s Mountain. Search for “El Miro” on your gps or in Google Maps and it should come up. The trail head is not marked, but it is located directly across from the gas station at the south part of town. If you can’t find it just ask someone for help. The hike is a little over a mile one way. Make sure to walk far enough to get to the abandoned restaurant. It’s super cool! Plus you’ll get a great view of Jaco.
Check out the farmers market: Every Friday from 7am to 2pm next to the soccer field in the center of Jaco there is a farmers market. We love the farmer’s markets in Costa Rica because you can find tons of exotic fruits you’ve probably never seen before.
Go surfing: There are plenty of places which offer surfing lessons rentals in Samara, but our personal fave is Pato’s Surfing because they offer a good rate for lessons and with each lesson you get five days of board rentals for FREE! Plus, they are just an all around wonderful company. They also offer amazing rates on SUP boards and kayaks.
Explore nearby beaches: There are several beaches nearby you can check out. Our personal favorite is Playa Carillo because we love how it is lined with palm trees and it is almost always empty.
Check out a waterfall: Near Samara is a waterfall called Belen. It is pretty difficult to find and you will need a 4×4 to get there, but it is a fun off the beaten path adventure. If you want more info check out the TripAdvisor page here.
Take a yoga class: We are big fans of yoga classes at Samara Massage because they are well done and are taught in the shade on the beach! Classes are only $10 for a drop in and include use of a yoga mat. You can find out the class schedule and other details here.
Walk the beach: Playa Samara is really long. It’s the perfect beach for a long relaxing walk to clear your head.
Walk the downtown: There are tons of nice shops lining the streets of downtown Tamarindo. We usually don’t buy much because it can be expensive, but there are some really cute shops that are definitely worth checking out.
Go surfing: There are tons of surf shops in Tamarindo that offer lessons and board rentals. We have not personally tried out any of these shops so we can not suggest any to you. Instead, we think you should ask at your hotel if they have a place they suggest. Sometimes they partner with local surf shops and can get you a discount.
Visit Playa Avellana: A little bit south of Tamarindo is this quiet gem of a beach. It’s best to have a car that can handle some dirt roads if you plan to visit. It’s the perfect spot to spend a relaxing afternoon. If you’re looking for a good meal or cocktails definitely check out Lola’srestaurant on the beach.
Besides Playa Avellana there are plenty of quiet beaches nearby. If you have a car which can handle some unpaved road driving, just pick a few beaches from Google maps that you’d like to check out and go for it!
Visit the farmers market: Every Saturday morning from 8:00 am until 1:00 pm there is a nice farmers market located next to Restaurant Pescador. Definitely check this out if you are interested in trying unusual exotic fruits that you probably have never seen before.
Go partying: Tamarindo has a serious nightlife scene. If you are into partying, just walk the downtown area and you will find plenty of cool bars and clubs.
Rent a SUP board: If you’d like to do some stand-up paddle boarding, Kelly’s Surf Shop has boards for rent at $25 for two hours or $40 for a full day. If you are new to SUP you can also take lessons (but I think you can figure it out on your own without paying the extra money).
Visit Marino Las Baulas National Park: This national park is located slightly north of Tamarindo. The beach here is absolutely beautiful and undisturbed. People may tell you that you need to go there with a tour, but that is simply not true. You are welcome to walk the beach on your own. However, it is a turtle nesting site (so if you are lucky you’ll see some little babies hatching or mommas laying their eggs) and if you disturb the turtles you may get in some trouble. Although, I know none of you would do that anyway.
PLAYAS DEL COCO
Visit Playa Penca: Playa Penca is a seriously beautiful “secret” beach. Just look it up on Google maps to see exactly where it’s located. As you drive there you might think you are in the wrong spot because you’ll drive higher and higher into a residential neighborhood. Just keep going. When the road ends you’ll see other cars parked. Park your car (make sure you don’t leave anything of value) and walk down the path to the beach. It is a little steep so wear sturdy shoes. You’ll be rewarded by an absolutely amazing beach.
Check out Playa Hermosa: Close to Coco is a nice expansive beach called Playa Hermosa. We like this beach because t is much cleaner than Coco. It is also nice and long, which makes it a great place to walk.
Enjoy the nightlife: Playas de Coco may seem calm enough during the day, but at night you can walk the main strip and enjoy lots of bars and clubs.
Visit an amazing waterfall: About 45 minutes from Playas del Coco is a waterfall called Catarata Llanos del Cortez. Last time we were there we only paid about $2 for parking. The waterfall is seriously amazing and definitely worth a visit. You can swim under it and if you are feeling really adventurous you can hike up behind the waterfall for an overhead view.
Visit Rincon de la Vieja: Rincon de la Vieja national park is located close to Coco and is a great place to spend a day hiking. You can go with a guide, but you are also able to pay to enter the park and hike on your own.