Updated: Mar 9
1. Learn how to surf
You can surf on either coast of Costa Rica, but finding the best waves for you will require some research. If you're a beginner, you'll probably want to avoid the "swells" (giant waves). I found this awesome guide to help you find all the information you need, whether you're a pro or a beginner.
I recently took a surf lesson (with my mom) at The Surfer Factory in Jaco Beach, and it could not have been better. My mother and I have never surfed before, and I have hypothyroidism, so physical activities can be rough. Especially like surfing, which requires you to use all of your muscles. We had a two-hour lesson and it seemed like it was just enough time for the two of us to get comfortable in the water and have a few good runs where we actually felt like we knew what we were doing. At the hour-and-a-half mark, we had to take a break to get some water and catch our breath. It was February, so the waves weren't too big, but those currents will wear you out. Make sure you bring water, sunscreen, and towels with you. Oh, and if you own sand socks, bring those too. The sand on Jaco Beach gets hot. And I mean, HOT. Like, burn-through-cotton-socks hot.
2. Go see some animals
The wildlife in Costa Rica is one of the country's greatest draws for international travelers. Many have heard of the Sloth Sanctuary, which offers tours to educate visitors about sloths, and you may even see a few. A common misunderstanding about the Sloth Sanctuary is thinking you'll be able to hold a sloth -- they can only be handled by employees because sloths get scared around unfamiliar people.
"Land of the Strays" is another popular destination for animal lovers. Territorio De Zaguates (Land of the Strays) is an animal shelter that holds around 1,300 dogs, which are all available for adoption. Or, for only $36 USD, you can sponsor a dog. It is currently closed to the public, but they do plan on re-opening for visitors and volunteers in the near future.
Other popular animals to look for in Costa Rica are birds, monkeys, crocodiles, anteaters, and jungle cats.
We arrived at San Jose Airport around 2:30 pm and had a private transfer to our hotel, the Los Suenos Marriott, which is an hour and a half drive. On our way, our driver pulled over so we could get out and walk along a bridge that's known for crocodiles. We were able to see 6 and even a few Macaws. We found out later during our trip that some people pay tour companies around $65 to go to that bridge. If you're interested, I highly recommend just getting a ride there and exploring on your own. It's a small area and there's no guarantee animals will be there, so save yourself some money and just go check it out.
Going on other tours allowed us to see animals that we were considering paying to see. For example, when we went ziplining, we saw monkeys and anteaters. Keep in mind while traveling to Costa Rica that wildlife is everywhere.
3. Get active
Ziplining, hiking waterfalls, climbing volcanos, snorkeling -- Costa Rica has it all. For ziplining, we went through the Vista Los Suenos Adventure Park. 10 ziplines were included and they teach you some tricks as you get comfortable, like how to go upside down. I'm terrified of heights so I had to actively avoid looking down, but it was so much fun. After the second or third zipline, I had the hang of it. As long as you're listening to your guides instruction, you should be fine. For perspective, I met a 6-year-old boy who went by himself on all 10.
As for hiking, there are plenty of options. You can hike bridges, a volcano, a national park, waterfalls, etc. If you do not hike, be careful selecting one. We chose a "moderate" level waterfall hike and I would have to strongly disagree that it was moderate. I don't know about you, but I've never pulled myself up a 20 meter (66 ft) waterfall with only a rope. No protection, no place for our feet, wet slippery rocks -- and once you go up, there's no coming down until the end.
4. Get into the culture
If you're a foodie, take a local cooking class or a chocolate tour. Or if you're like my mom, and can't function without coffee in the morning, learn about how it's made on a coffee tour.
Whatever you're looking to do, Costa Rica has something for you. Pura Vida!