When visiting Costa Rica you most likely want to take advantage of all the fun outdoor activities that the country has to offer. One of the best ways to do this is by participating in day tours during your travels.
We created this guide to Costa Rica excursions to give you insight on some of the best day trips, how to organize them, what you need to watch out for when booking activities, and more!
Popular Day Tour Activities in Costa Rica
Zip lining – Some of our favorite zip lining places are in La Fortuna and Monteverde. We love Monteverde for the dense cloud forest and La Fortuna for the impressive views of Arenal Volcano and the La Fortuna waterfall.
White water rafting – There are places for white water rafting for all skill levels in Costa Rica. We like to go from La Fortuna and Puerto Viejo.
Fishing – It is possible to do inshore and offshore fishing tours. Usually, you will catch plenty of fish which you can take with you to make a tasty meal.
We like to book our fishing trips on the FishingBooker website.
Surf lessons – No matter your skill level you can find waves and lessons on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts.
Wildlife tours – Usually wildlife tours are done in national parks or private reserves. Typically, guides carry a microscopic lens with them so you can get a close-up view of the wildlife.
Snorkeling tours – Snorkeling tours are usually part of a fun day on a catamaran with food, drinks, and lots of swimming
Diving tours – If you are an experienced diver there are tours for you but don’t worry, it is also to get PATI certified or find diving for less experienced divers as well.
Tours to Isla Tortuga – Tortuga Island is an uninhabited island off the Pacific coast. It is a fun day trip from Jaco, Manuel Antonio, or Montezuma.
Sunset catamaran tours – Enjoy some drinks and maybe a meal while looking out at the sun setting on the Pacific coast.
Coffee tours – Learn how coffee is made from planting all the way to roasting. Plus, most tours include a ton of free coffee to try
Cacao Tours – A fun activity for all ages which usually includes eating as much chocolate as you want.
Ok…this list is getting long. Clearly there are so many opportunities to try fun excursions in Costa Rica!
I suggest checking out our destination guides for each of the places you are planning to visit for a more narrowed-down list. Each guide features all of our favorite activities and how to book them.
Taking a Guided Day Tour
We like guided day tours for several reasons:
– Sometimes they include transportation from your hotel or rental. This is nice because you can just sit back and relax and don’t need to worry about driving somewhere
– The tour guides do this activity almost every single day. That means they know all the best places to see wildlife, all the facts about an area, etc.
– Guided tours are usually stress-free. You don’t need to think about where to get lunch or where to go next. Your tour guide will lead you along. Personally, I’m all about thinking as little as possible during my vacations.
Combo tours is the concept of combining several activities in one fun adventure tour. This type of tour is very common in Costa Rica and we think they are (usually) great!
We like that it takes the stress off of you to organize several activities.
Also, usually, this comes out cheaper per person than booking each activity individually.
Plus, often it gives you the opportunity to try something you maybe otherwise wouldn’t have gone out of your way to book on your own.
Some good examples of combo tours are:
A transfer tour is a really interesting concept. Basically, if you are staying in La Fortuna and want to get to Puerto Viejo you could take a transfer tour. This means you might leave early in the morning from La Fortuna in a shared shuttle.
Along the way, your shuttle with a guide will stop for a fun experience such as white water rafting. Your tour might also include lunch.
At the end of the day, you will arrive at your next destination, Puerto Viejo.
I think this is great because in Costa Rica you can easily lose a day of just driving and sometimes you don’t want to stop because you are worried about leaving your luggage in the car (or at least we always are). With a transfer tour, you can rest assured that the driver is watching the vehicle and you can enjoy a fun activity.
Booking Direct vs. Third Party Site
We are a small Costa Rican business so we like to promote other local businesses whenever possible. That being said, lately, we have been booking more day tours through third-party sites, particularly Viator.
There are a few reasons for this:
Cancellation policies – We are all living in a time in which travel is so in flux. I personally get really nervous about booking anything that doesn’t have free cancellation. The nice thing about sites like Viator is usually they have great cancellation policies. You will need to check each listing individually for their policy, but I’ve experienced a lot of activities that allow you to cancel for free up to 24 hours before an activity.
Ease of finding activities that can be booked online – In Costa Rica, a lot of companies don’t have an easy system to book online. Most of the bigger companies have online booking, but smaller ones don’t. Personally, I just appreciate the ease of booking online and knowing exactly what I’m getting.
Still supports local companies – All tours on Viator are still run by local Costa Rican companies and guides.
Honest reviews – I don’t know about you, but I am big into reading reviews before I book anything. I like that on Viator it is easy to see exactly what other people have thought about a tour. And, sometimes these reviews are really detailed with tons of helpful tips.
Helps support us – We will always keep the Costa Rica Vibes website free for you all, but it is a career and full-time job for me. That means I need to make money somehow. It is just too difficult to partner with every tour company in Costa Rica, but joining an affiliate program like Viator makes it easy for me to let you know about great tours while getting a small commission at no extra cost to you. So, any tour you book with Viator through our links helps keep Costa Rica Vibes alive. Thank you!
However, there are some times when we do not book our activities online….
– Sometimes you just find an activity at the last minute. We have definitely driven by things and thought “let’s just stop and check out if we can zip line today.”
– If you don’t need transportation you can often arrange an activity on your own and save money. For example, you can always drive to any national park on your own and explore if you don’t need a ride there.
Pre Booking Tours vs. Last Minute Booking
Usually it is possible to book excursions somewhat last minute. However, during peak tourism season (mid-December through late-April). It is best to book things at least a bit in advance because activities often will book out.
Arranging Costa Rica Day Tours Yourself
If you are not interested in going with a group or guide, you can always arrange your own fun day activities. Just keep in mind that this becomes much easier if you have a rental car to easily get places.
We work with Adobe, a local car rental company that we highly suggest. If you book through us you will save 10% plus get many other great perks.
Some of the places we frequently visit on our own are:
Beaches – All beaches in Costa Rica need to have free public access by law.
Waterfalls – Most waterfalls do have an admission fee, but you can park and explore on your own.
National Parks – In the section below this I discuss hiring a guide for your visit to a national park, but it is also definitely possible to visit national parks on your own without a guide as well.
Volcanoes – Most volcanoes in Costa Rica are national parks. You can easily visit on your own.
Guided Tours in National Parks
In most national parks you are able to explore on your own without a guide. However, keep in mind that if you visit Corcovado National Park you will need to hire a guide.
That being said, one of the most common questions we get asked is if it is worth it to take a guided tour of a national park in Costa Rica.
In our experience, it is worth it if you really want to make sure you see a lot of wildlife. Most guides carry telescopic lenses and know exactly where the wildlife usually hangs out (did you like my pun?…hangs…because there are a lot of sloths and monkeys…ok I’ll carry on now).
This will allow you to see animals that are far away up close. For example, this picture was taken on my cell phone through the lens of a guide during a wildlife tour at Manuel Antonio National Park.
So, if your main focus is the hike, I say skip the guides at national parks. If your main focus is the animals and learning some history, it might be a good idea to hire a guide.
At most national parks you can just show up and hire a guide on the day of. However, if you feel more secure booking a guide ahead of time you can do that as well.
Our Experience with Costa Rica Tours
We have taken so many day tours! Some have been great and some not so great.
A few of our favorites have been:
Zip Lining in Monteverde – Monteverde is a unique zip-lining destination because it is a dense cloud forest. There are zip-line experiences for all thrill levels.
Corcovado National Park – It is possible to tour Corcovado on a day, two-day, or three-day tour. This is a nice way to see a lot of wildlife and enjoy the dense flora of the southern Pacific coast.
Zip Lining in La Fortuna – La Fortuna is a fun zip line destination because you will most likely get to enjoy insane views of Arenal Volcano or the La Fortuna waterfall.
A few of the most reputable companies are: SkyTrek which offers zip lining and a tram with amazing views. Ecoglide which has great volcano views and a Tarzan swing. And Arenal Mundo which has nice views of the La Fortuna waterfall to zip over.
Wildlife Night Tour in Monteverde – There are several companies which offer night tours in Monteverde and they are so fun. If you are traveling with kids I bet they will love this. Basically, you are given a headlamp and you walk around a private reserve looking for night active wildlife with a guide.
Tortuguero National Park Canoe Tour – This tour starts at 6 am and can either be done as a canoe or kayak trip along the small river waterways near Tortuguero. We have always seen a ton of wildlife on these excursions.
Our Final Costa Rica Excursion Tips
Keep in Mind There Are No Addresses
I say this because often when you book a tour with transportation it will ask where you are staying. You will either need to enter your hotel name, rental name, or GPS coordinates.
You Need to Pura Vida
In Costa Rica the life motto is “Pura Vida.” Directly translated it means “pure life,” but here it is used to mean “chill out. Everything is good.” And people here really live their life that way.
The reason I am telling you this is because, hopefully, your tour goes smoothly and everything happens on time, but that is not always the case here. Sometimes you might get stuck in bad traffic, or your tour guide may be a few minutes late, or it might rain and plans need to be changed at the last minute.
I get that it can be frustrating and definitely say something to the tour company if you have a bad experience, but at the same time try to take things in stride and remember to Pura Vida!
Read the Reviews
Before booking anything definitely try to read some reviews. I don’t want you to get stuck on a tour that turns out to be horrible!
In general, you should tip in Costa Rica if you have a good experience. It is not required, but we usually at least give a few dollars per person (or more) after a good day tour.
Leave a Review
Help out your future travelers and leave an online review of any tours you take.
So, what do you think? Are you going to take a guided tour on your trip to Costa Rica? We hope you have an amazing experience!
Do you have any questions about planning your excursions in Costa Rica? Just leave them in the comment section below! We are always happy to help you out.