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Things to do in Costa Rica

Whale watching

Humpback whales spend more time in the waters off Costa Rica than in any other location on the globe.  And here’s why!  Californian humpback whales depart their US west coast homes when winter sets in and head due south.  In the warm Pacific waters around the Osa Peninsula and Marino Ballena National Park they have their babies and generally splash around enjoying their Central American vacation before returning northwards once Spring starts in California.

At just about this time, their Southern cousins, the Antarctic humpback whales, start their migration from the Antarctic just as Winter is setting in.  They, in turn, spend a number of months having their babies and enjoying the warm waters off Costa Rica before leaving in December to travel back to Antarctica for Spring.

The tail of a humpbacked whale emrges langourously from the ocean's waves

Consequently, there is only a very small window in May and June when the waters off Costa Rica are whale free.  To offset any disappointment though, there are numerous pods of dolphin that live year round off the coast of Costa Rica.  These playful and curious mammals will accompanying most of the boats that make trips offshore.  Bottlenose, Spinner, Spotted and Common are all variety of dolphins that are waiting to dazzle you with their aqua acrobatics!

The majority of whale watching tours operate off the Pacific Coastline.  There are strict guidelines about interacting with the whales and dolphins and the tour guides are very respectful about ensuring the interests of these wonderful mammals are always a priority.


Wildlife Watching

If you are interesting in seeing monkeys or sloths in their natural habitat then an early hike through some forested areas in the Manuel Antonio area will reward you.  The best tips for any of these hikes is to take a local guide.  At Exceptional Villas we can get you a wonderfully informed local guide who can unlock the magic and mystery of the forests of Costa Rica. Seeing and hearing animals in their natural habitat is really exciting and younger family members are so excited to catch a glimpse of the Macaws or Toucans as they pass through the canopy of green.

A Toucan sporting a wickedly sharp beak

The sleepy and slow moving sloth is exactly as one imagines – a gentle and unexcitable chap. With more bird species in Costa Rica than in USA and Canada combined, it is a veritable bird watchers paradise. But don’t worry if you don’t know your Fiery-throated Hummingbird from a Golden Browed Chlorophonia, it’s the spectacular colours and calls they make that will mesmerise you. The concept of ‘Tweeting’ will take on a whole new meaning.


River Adventures

The hinterland of Costa Rica is a paradise of rivers, mountains, forests, volcanos and pastureland plains.  If you want to have an exciting and active day, then kayaking or the more bracing white water rafting is truly recommended.  The well established H2O company can arrange a professionally conducted day of fun activities on the waterways of Costa Rica.  With expertise in running hikes and nature tours, you and your family will return to your gorgeous villa stimulated and relaxed after a day of exploration.

Inflatable boats meander down a river in Costa Rica taking their passengers on a river adventure


Coffee Plantations

Sitting on the volcanic highlands both north and south of San Jose are the coffee plantations that produce the aromatic arabica coffee beans.  Taking a tour of one of these fabulous plantations is the equivalent of going on a wine tour through the Bordeaux region of France.  As you walk through the plantations and learn how the beans are grown, harvested and turned into the rich beverage we seem to take for granted, you will be informed and entertained.  The tours are designed to appeal to everyone with fun facts, plenty of wildlife to watch while you wander around. Each tour completed with a lovely coffee tasting experience.

A coffee grower looks on to his coffee plantation

The drive through the countryside around the Central Valley is really breath-taking with volcanic mountains and lush green hills at every turn.  You can end your tour with a fabulous dinner in San Jose before making the trip back to your villa refuge!


Food, Glorious Food

It’s very easy to wax lyrical about restaurants in Costa Rica as the abundance of delicious food ingredients the country has to offer helps create fresh, organic, delicious cuisine.  A few important points to consider is that some of the foods have a look and feel of dishes we might be familiar with from Mexico. Except, Costa Rica offers the palate a flavourful but less spicy experience. For instances, the Costa Rican Tamal is very similar to the Tamale but much milder and wrapped and served in banana leaves.

A pile of hugely appetizing banana-wrapped Costa Rican Tamal

The national dish of the country is Gallo Pinto (rice and beans) and is usually served at breakfast with eggs and sour cream.  Be prepared for beans and rice to appear as an addition to most of the lovely meat and fish offerings around the country.  Desserts too use rice and the creamy dreamy rice pudding, Arroz con Leche is a delicious conclusion to any dinner.

The number of international visitors to Costa Rica has seen a very cosmopolitan restaurant culture develop and the local cuisines are now infused with very modern twists and flavours.

Read more about our Top 10 things to do in Costa Rica


Best Restaurants in Costa Rica


San Jose

Park Café

Address: Av. de Las Americas, Calle 48, San Jose, Costa Rica

Tel: +506 2290 6324

Based in a unique setting within an antique store, this restaurant in Costa Rica’s capital San Jose offers guests a fabulous tasting menu that bring together the concept of tapas and modern flare.

A light and refreshing lunch of mushrooms and salad served at the Park Cafe in San Jose

Restaurante Silvestre

Calle 3A - Ave. 11 - 955 | Downtown, San Jose 10101, Costa Rica

Tel: +506 2221 2465

Restaurante Silvestre offers Costa Rican fine dining in a grand house in San Jose.  The different rooms and outdoor area offer a very attractive backdrop to delicious and beautifully presented dishes.


Guanacaste

Abbocato

Address:Hacienda Del Mar, Golfo de Papagayo

Tel: +506 2672-0073

A delightful menu awaits in this sophisticated family run restaurant, Abbocato. The views across the Pacific are divine. A romantic setting for that special dinner.

The dining area at Abbocato restaurant in San Jose

Black Stallion Café and Surf Saloon

Address:The Black Stallion Hills Ranch, Tamarindo 50309, Costa Rica

Tel: +506 8869 9765

Dining with a difference. Become a cowboy for a day and take to the saddle at the Black Stallion Eco Park. There are zip lining adventures, hikes and 360 degree ocean views all followed by a traditional BBQ. Work up your appetite and enjoy ribs and burgers in the traditional Saloon environment. Yee-ha!


Osa Peninsula

Briza Azul / Lapa Rios

Address: Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park, Costa Rica

Tel: +506 2735 5130

Meat and Fish offerings but plenty for the plant only diners too, this lovely restaurant has fabulous views and delicious cocktails!

A customer reclines comfortably at the balcony dining area awaiting the delicious fare from Briza Azul

Drake’s Kitchen

Address: Main Road, Drake Bay 00000, Costa Rica

Tel: +506 6161 3193

A cute, out of the way restaurant that opens very early for breakfast and runs all the way through to dinner.  The freshest fish, fruit and vegetables are prepared in an uncomplicated and delicious way.  The views over the river are lovely.  A special place worth a visit.


Manuel Antonio

La Luna Restaurant at Gaia Hotel and Reserve

Address: Manuel Antonio 6350, Costa Rica

Tel: +506 2777 9797

Beautiful views out over the lush canopy of trees to the ocean in the distance makes this restaurant a lovely location at sunset.  The open terrace is a pretty place to relax with delicious foods and some refreshing drinks.

Epic views from the balcony at La Luna restaurant


Beaches in Coasta Rica

When a country has almost 800 miles of coastline bordering both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea you can be assured of a huge array of beaches for the water enthusiast.  300 beaches to be exact!

The common features of these beautiful beaches is crystal clear warm waters, turquoise and sparkling.  These different features offer beaches calm conditions for paddle-boarding and kayaking.  Other beaches have intense waves for surfing.

Spectacular offshore coral and marine life for the snorkelling enthusiast as well as beaches that are skirted by wild tropical forests that can offer you a hike and swim combo.  There is even a beach with soft pink sand that creates the prettiest backdrop for those romantic strolls.  The diversity of the beaches will definitely have something for everyone – regardless of age or activity level.

Here is a brief introduction to some of the majestic beaches on both the east and west coasts of Costa Rica.


Manuel Antonio Beach, Manuel Antonio National Park

Hike through the tropical rainforests of the magnificent National Park and visit the glorious and unspoiled Manuel Antonio Beach.  The lush forests that shelter this gorgeous beach are home to lots of interesting wildlife – birds, monkeys and shy wild cats.  With other lovely beaches accessible through forest trails, this is an amazing beach destination for the active explorer.

Beach at Manuel Antonio national park


Conchal Beach, Guanacaste

Beautiful white sand unfurled like a ribbon against the turquoise ocean.  The underwater coral and sea life makes this beach a quiet place to do some snorkelling and gentle splashing in the shallows.

Aerial view of Conchal Beach, Guanacaste


Dominical Beach, South Pacific

If you want to enjoy the rush of surfing, this is the ideal beach location for you. On the South Pacific coast, Dominical Beach has lively breakers that will give you a wonderful rush.

Waves soaring towards Dominical Beach, South Pacific


Costa Ballena (Whale Coast), South Pacific

From the air, this marine park on the South Pacific coast has a sandbar in the shape of a whale’s tail.  How appropriate because from August to October and December to April humpback whales return to these coastal waters each year to have their young and socialise.  Sea turtles do their nesting from May to November along this coast too.  Book a tour with one of the whale watching companies and you will enjoy the most memorable holiday!

Uvita Beach and Hermosa Beach border the Marino Ballena National Park.  A fabulous place to rent paddle boards and kayaks.

Coasta Ballena beach in the South Pacific is shaped like a whales tail


Ostional Beach, Nicoya Peninsula

The sparkling black volcanic sand of the Ostional Beach is home to the sea turtles who make their annual pilgrimage to nest between July and October. This peaceful beach sits within the Ostional Wildlife Refuge on the resplendent Nicoya Peninsula of the Pacific coastline.  Night tours can be booked where you will get an opportunity to quietly observe these ancient creatures perform the arribada or mass annual nesting. This age old ritual takes place up to 10 times per year so you might be very lucky to have your vacation coincide with this amazing event.

Turles emerge from the water at Ostional Beach at Nicoya Peninsula


Manzanillo Beach, Southern Caribbean Coast

The Caribbean coastline offers a quieter beach vibe than the Pacific coast.  Visit the laidback Manzanillo Beach of the Southern Caribbean coastline for the coral reefs and tropical rainforests.  A wonderful place to swim or explore by kayak.

Big waves crashing onto the beach at Manzanillo Beach on the Souther Caribbean Coast


Santa Teresa & Malpais Beach, Nicoya Peninsula

Two other wonderful beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula are Santa Teresa Beach and Malpais Beach.  Rocky tidal pools sit side by side with stretches of pure white sand.  With numerous yoga studios dotted around this wonderful peninsula, it’s the perfect location to get your Zen on!

A girl stares off towards the sea at Santa Theresa


Flamingo Beach, Guanacaste

This beach has earned its name due to the beautiful pinkish sand that fringes the warm waters of the Pacific.  Sitting within the popular destination of the Guanacaste region, Flamingo Beach has a dramatic cliff backdrop.  Pretty and romantic.

Pinkinsh sand at the epic Flamingo Beach in Guanacaste

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