Want the Best Costa Rica Travel Tips from Locals?
Hola y pura vida! If you’re interested in Costa Rica travel and want to learn more, you’re in the right place. Costa Rica has some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen, the people are nice, the food is good, and it’s pretty affordable (depending on what you do). If you’re looking for a mix of relaxing beaches and hot springs, as well as gorgeous hikes and national parks, then Costa Rica will be perfect for you.
As always, I made a point of talking to locals during my trip and put together all their advice for you! I only made it to Manuel Antonio and Uvita, so I’ll start with a mix of recommendations based on my experiences and advice from locals in that area. Then I’ll finish up with some general thoughts that locals expressed about other parts of Costa Rica and which cities are worth your time.
Here’s what’s included in my Costa Rica travel guide:
- Get drinks with a view in Manuel Antonio
- Drive to Playa Biesanz
- Go on a Catamaran tour
- Watch the sunset at Nahomi Park in Quepos
- Slide down natural water-slide at Uvita Waterfall
- Go surfing at Uvita Beach
- Skip Jaco for Manuel Antonio
- Hike Costa Rica’s highest peak: Cerro Chirripo
- Go to Maleku indigenous reserve
- Other cities worth seeing
Get drinks with a view in Manuel Antonio
Head over to Agua Azul or Rico Tico Jungle Grill for food and drinks with a gorgeous view. They’re only about a five-minute walk apart so you can check out both if you have the time. I thought it was a great activity for a rainy day but I’m sure the view is even better when it’s sunny! I’d recommend Agua Azul for food and the Rico Tico Jungle Grill for drinks.
Drive to Playa Biesanz
Costa Rica travel wouldn’t be complete without a trip to the beach.
This beach was recommended to me time and time again by locals, and it’s definitely worth it! It’s much calmer than the main beach and you won’t be pestered by all the people trying to sell you something like you will on bigger beaches.
Extra tip: everyone told me this beach was within walking distance from the main part of town but it’s a LONG walk and then a bit of a hike down to the beach. I’d recommend driving or finding a ride if you can.
Go on a Catamaran tour
Although this is definitely more of an activity you’ll see tourists doing, it’s something a couple locals said would be well worth the money. And after going on a catamaran ride with Ocean King (the company that waiter Anthony at Agua Azul recommended), I absolutely agree. The tour lasted about four hours and included whale and dolphin watching, snorkeling, a full meal, and more than enough drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.
The price was $70 USD and was worth every penny. To make the most bang for my buck, I tried to reach the allotted number of eight drinks within those four hours and nearly did! But being in the sun and having seven strong drinks was not my best idea to date. I do NOT recommend trying it…please learn from my mistakes, guys.
Watch the sunset at Nahomi Park in Quepos
I didn’t end up having enough time to do this one myself, but according to Manuel Antonio store employee Sebastian, that’s where local families go to watch the sunset. Do a quick Google search of the park and you’ll see why it’s such a hot-spot!
Slide down natural water-slide at Uvita Waterfall
Uvita Waterfall was one of my favorite locations in Costa Rica. You won’t find it in many Costa Rica travel guides though. That’s because it just isn’t as well-known as other waterfalls which meant that there weren’t many people around when I was there. It’s about a 25-minute drive from the town of Uvita, so you’ll need a car or taxi to get there.
My favorite part about this waterfall was that it seemed like more of a spot where Costa Ricans would go. It felt less touristy for that reason.
I’d recommend starting at the waterfall to take in its’ beauty, and then make your way downstream. There you’ll find a rocky pool area with a natural water-slide! Just be careful when you go down the slide because it’s completely surrounded by rocks. The pool area makes a great spot for a picnic and when I was there, a family from Guanacaste vacationing in the area was doing just that.
Down the road from the waterfall you’ll also find a restaurant called “Tilapia Restaurant” and, not surprisingly, they make great fish. Don’t forget to stop there if you have the time!
Go surfing at Uvita Beach
Uvita is a pretty small town with a really nice beach. Surfers are always out and about, and the beach itself isn’t so overcrowded like it will be in more touristy cities. Especially in the morning, I mostly had the beach to myself since all the surfers were in the water. It’s a great place to lay down with a good book and has lots of trees right on the beach to offer some shade. You also won’t have to worry about people pestering you to buy things there and don’t need to buy a beach chair or anything.
Generally, tourists have to pay for admission to the beach, but for some reason no one was guarding the entrance when I went and I never had to pay! Don’t let the fee stop you though, it’s the equivalent of about $2 USD.
Skip Jaco for Manuel Antonio
Pretty much every Costa Rican I talked to said that they don’t like Jaco. Most recommended going to Manuel Antonio instead because it’s much calmer and prettier. Take that for what you will and keep in mind that Jaco is just more of a tourist destination.
If you want to find crazy parties and clubs, then Jaco will be perfect for you. The town itself and the beaches definitely won’t be as nice as the ones you’ll find in Manuel Antonio or Uvita, but I met plenty of other tourists who really enjoyed Jaco. It just depends what kind of experience you’re looking for.
Hike Costa Rica’s highest peak: Cerro Chirripo
Costa Rican local Sebastian told me that when he wants to see gorgeous scenery and be immersed in nature in Costa Rica, he takes a hike on Cerro Chirripo. Cerro, or Mount, Chirripo is the highest peak in Costa Rica at 3,820 meters. According to Sebastian, you can even see both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea from the top.
Go to Maleku indigenous reserve
While exploring the beach in Manuel Antonio, I found a little artisanal shop where everything from bracelets to paintings to wood carvings were made by Noel, a member of the indigenous Maleku group (pictured above). There are only about 600 members left in the reserve and they are known for their artisanal products. Noel explained that they are extremely proud to be Maleku and they are working hard to preserve their language. There are only around 300 people who still speak it. If you want to be immersed in culture and meet people from the Maleku tribe, visit their reserve in the northern region of Costa Rica. Here’s a link to their website to find out more. It’ll definitely be a unique Costa Rica travel experience!
You can even surprise them by saying “hello” in their language: kapi kapi. It also means “goodbye.”
Other cities worth seeing
1. Osa, Costa Rica to see Playa Ventanas. Anthony from Agua Azul recommends going to Ventanas Beach to see the cave. He also says to be careful of jellyfish in that area.
2. La Fortuna and Arenal Volcano for relaxing hot springs.
3. Monteverde for gorgeous scenery.
4. Limon and Puerto Viejo. Anthony says to try the Gallo Pinto in Limon. Puerto Viejo was recommended by many locals for its’ beaches and laid-back vibe.
And that’s all I’ve got for you this time. Costa Rica travel left a great impression on me and I fully plan on returning one day to find all the best spots for you to explore. But this should at least give you a good start!
Comment below with your favorite location in Costa Rica. And as always, don’t forget to share if you liked this post.
Not sure what to pack in Costa Rica? Check out my Costa Rica wardrobe post for tips and inspiration.