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Free Things to Do in Costa Rica

Costa Rica, the retirement and travel destination of choice for many foreigners, is not the bargain basement value that it used to be.

The prices of homes, land, lodging and entertainment venues have risen along with its popularity. However, there are still a number of fun and interesting places that visitors and locals alike can enjoy for a song.

Check out the list below to get some ideas!

Walking Tours in San Jose

In the center of the capital of San Jose are numerous colonial architectural gems that lure tourists. The National Theater, next to the San Jose Hotel, is one of those destinations. The symphony of Costa Rica plays here, and while those performances will set you back a bit, the facility and guided tours of such are free. A perfect morning could include hanging out at the Gran Hotel and having coffee and then ambling over to the National Theater to take in some culture.

Tortuguero National Park

Nature lovers come to Costa Rica for the rainforests, volcanoes, beautiful beaches and unique wildlife experience. While most of the numerous national parks do require a nominal entrance fee, the Caribbean Conservation Corporation’s Natural History Center in Tortuguero National Park offers free entrance and a fascinating look into the conservation efforts of this tiny country. Learn about the efforts being made to save the turtles, monkeys and other animals that live in this fragile environment.

The National Archives

The National Archives, also in downtown San Jose, is a splendid depository of important documents and interesting historical papers. For history buffs, or anyone interested in Central America’s past, this building houses fascinating glimpses into the Spanish conquest and the development of the modern day country.

El Pueblo

Costa Rica is well known for its artwork and native handicrafts. In San Jose, a great place to spend the day is in “El Pueblo”. This area is a fun neighborhood of more than fifty cafes, bars, art galleries and shops. Window shopping and stopping in for a home grown coffee in one of the charming restaurants lining the cobblestone streets is a true Costa Rican experience. Coming away without buying something would be the finest example of restraint.

Concerts and Events

For entertainment opportunities in Costa Rica, pick up the latest English language version of the Tico Times. It lists various venues and free performances that occur nightly in San Jose and the outlying areas. The latest edition offered free admission to a cultural night of dancing at the Melico Salazar Theater and to an improvisational theater performance at Torres del Colegio de Costa Rica. These provide a great opportunity to experience Costa Rican culture and mingle with the locals.

Check out our list of festivals in Costa Rica.

Metropolitan Cathedral

A walking tour of San Jose should include a stop at the Metropolitan Cathedral. This expansive cathedral, located on Parque Central, is the country’s largest church and was rebuilt after an earthquake in 1871. The inside is adorned with carved wooden pillars and intricate relief work. El Correo, the post office, is another baroque building (on Calle 2, between Av 1 & 3) that is worth a visit. Inside is a fun stamp museum that is free to visit. West of downtown lies La Sabana, a terrific family park that has kite flying, sporting events and picnickers. It also is home to the Costa Rican Museum of Art that is free to the public on Sundays.

Driving on the Beach

Few travelers to Costa Rica leave without taking a dip in either the Caribbean or Pacific waters on her shore. The beaches on the Pacific side are much more user-friendly and some of the best are Tamarindo Beach in Guanacaste, and Jacó in Puntarenas. Cars are charged a nominal fee for passage into some of the beach areas, while beachgoers walking in are allowed free entrance.

Zarcero Gardens

Gardening lovers are in for a thrill when they visit the highland town of Zarcero, in Alajuela Province. Outside the charming pink church are a great number of topiary characters, archways and formations. From dinosaurs to giant rabbits, this is a virtual Alice in Wonderland experience that has been tended for forty years by Don Evangelista Blanco. Be sure that your camera is full of film because this is the photographic experience of a lifetime.

Village of Guatil

A trip to one of the smaller villages that dot the Costa Rican countryside can provide a day’s worth of entertainment, absorbing the lifestyle of a native people that is in the midst of rapid change. The village of Guatil on the Nicoya Peninsula is famous for its pottery, made from natural clay in the Chorotega Indian tradition. Small workshops and galleries can be found throughout the village and visitors can admire the many sizes and forms of the pottery works.

Parismina Sea Turtle Commission

If your trip to Costa Rica has an altruistic bent, then consider joining the Parismina Sea Turtle Commission. Parsimina is a small town on the Caribbean coast, south of Tortuguero, which provides visitors an opportunity to help patrol the beaches at night and protect nesting sea turtles from poachers. A small donation allows you to join a local guide for a hike on the beach at night, taking care of turtles and contributing to the success of the species.

Although the list of free things to do in Costa Rica is rapidly dwindling, be aware that most tourist destinations here charge nominal fees. The museums in San Jose not listed here such as the Jade Museum, the National Musuem and the Gold Museum charge around $5 for entrance for adults and children are often offered free admission. Likewise, the National Parks just recently began charging a $10 entrance fee to non-resident visitors. While not free, certainly still a bargain in tourist destination prices.