Costa Rica in December: What to See & What to Do

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Advisor - Bria Rosenberg
Curated By

Bria Rosenberg

  • International Travel

  • Costa Rica

  • Nature Escapes

  • Mountains

  • Coastal

  • Costa Rica in December

people swimming in a beach surrounded by trees in Costa Rica in December
Curator’s statement

Costa Rica is absolutely magnificent! From lush jungles to unique flora and fauna, to stunning tropical beaches, Costa Rica is the perfect destination for nature and adventure lovers, especially its Pacific Coast. Some of my favorite Costa Rican coastal towns include Tamarindo, Manuel Antonio, Playa Herradura and Papagayo. I personally think December is the best time of year to visit. December marks the beginning of Costa Rica’s dry season, so you’ll get warm weather and not too much rain. Especially if you’re coming from somewhere with cold winters, Costa Rica is the perfect December escape to warm up!

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Best things to do in Costa Rica in December

ocean next to green mountain during daytime


Costa Rica is known for having some of the absolute best beaches in Central America, especially on its Pacific Coast. Manuel Antonio Beach is the most famous and is located inside a spectacular national park (more on the park below). However, it's hard to go wrong visiting any beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast. Some of my other favorites include Playa Herradura, Tamarindo and Papagayo. Just watch out for saltwater crocodiles! (I wish I was kidding). Visiting Costa Rica in December is sure to give you some great beach and sun-tanning weather.

Manuel Antonio National Park

It’s hard to find the words to describe how gorgeous Manuel Antonio National Park is. It is an absolute must-visit while you’re in Costa Rica! With lush rainforests, the most stunning white sand beaches and incredible biodiversity, this national park has it all. It is great for hiking, bird watching (if you’re lucky, you’ll see a toucan), relaxing on the beach and seeing monkeys, frogs, sloths and more.


Ziplining through the canopies of a rainforest? Yes, please! Ziplining is the perfect activity to combine adrenaline and nature, soaring through the treetops and looking down into the vast and beautiful jungle below. There’s no shortage of zipline tours in Costa Rica, so wherever you’re staying on the Pacific Coast, a zipline excursion won’t be far.

Coffee Farm

Costa Rica is famous for its gourmet coffee! If you’re a coffee lover (and even if you’re not, like me), touring a coffee farm in Costa Rica is such a unique experience. I specifically recommend visiting Doka Estate Plantation, where you will get an in-depth tour of how coffee is grown, harvested, fermented, roasted and made into the beverage we all know (spoiler alert: coffee beans actually come from berries). The best part is of course the taste test at the end! It’s also great to visit the coffee farms in Costa Rica in December, because December is right in the middle of peak harvesting season, so you’ll actually get to pick your own coffee berries, too.


Along with spectacular rainforests and beaches on the Pacific Coast, Costa Rica is also known for its many volcanoes, both active and dormant. While there are many choices of volcanoes to visit, Arenal is the most famous and recognizable. Depending on where you stay on the coast, it might be a 4 or 5-hour drive up to Arenal, but if you have the time, it is definitely worth the trek! Another amazing and unique volcano much closer to San Jose, and my personal favorite, is Poás, which most recently erupted in April 2017.

Jet Skiing

There is something so special and freeing about taking a jet ski out on the open ocean, especially when you are in a tropical paradise. There are lots of islands on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, and you can go island hopping via jet ski! It’s so beautiful to ride along the coast, next to the gorgeous white sand beaches and jungle-covered mountains towering above. Many jet ski tours also come with snorkeling gear, so you can take a swim in the warm waters and see lots of beautiful tropical fish!

Chocolate Farm

Along with coffee, Costa Rica is also known for its amazing chocolate! Similar to the coffee farm tour, you can also take a chocolate farm tour and try the cacao fruit straight from the tree. It is fascinating to learn the history of how chocolate, as we know it today, was invented and created from a tropical fruit. We got to try the cacao fruit, straight chocolate (pre-sugar and milk), fresh dark and milk chocolates, Costa Rican hot chocolate and bananas dipped in chocolate. Chocolate heaven! Similar to coffee, December in Costa Rica is the peak harvest season for cacao, making it the perfect time to visit.


Another activity for you adventure lovers, make sure to take an ATV ride through the rainforest. This was one of my favorite activities we did! We rode through the lush green jungle, splashing through mud puddles, and followed a river upstream to a gorgeous waterfall! Not every ATV ride will have a waterfall, but it will still be an exhilarating and gorgeous ride nonetheless. We did our ATV ride at Vista Los Suenos Adventure Park near Jacó.

Butterfly Sanctuary

Costa Rica also has tons of butterfly sanctuaries and conservatories, typically full of stunning bright blue butterflies. You can learn about the lifecycle of a butterfly from caterpillar to cocoon to butterfly, and see them majestically flying around. Butterflies typically thrive in the wet season, so while December is not peak butterfly season in Costa Rica, it is right at the end of the rainy season and the beginning of the dry season, so there are still many opportunities to see the butterflies.

Day Trips

San Jose, Grecia and Sarchí make great day trips in Costa Rica.

Outside of some day trips to visit volcanoes or a national park, I do recommend including at least one city sightseeing day amid your adventure-packed nature vacation.

San Jose is the capital of Costa Rica (and is likely where you will fly into). It is a wonderful city, filled with some of the best restaurants in the whole country, parks, and museums and is a great place to learn more about Costa Rican history and culture.

Grecia and Sarchí are not too far outside of San Jose, and are pretty close to Poás Volcano as well, in the Alajuela Province of Costa Rica. Grecia is famous for being the “cleanest town” in all of Latin America, and I will say, it is immaculate! One of the coolest and most notable sites there is their church: Iglesia de la Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes. What makes it unique is that it is made entirely from sheet metal.

A fun fact about Costa Rica: one of their national symbols is the ox cart, representing hard work, the spirit and vitality of the Costa Rican people. But, these are no ordinary ox carts. Costa Rican ox carts are all handmade and hand painted with beautiful bright colored designs. The best place to see them? Sarchí, which is the arts and crafts capital of Costa Rica. You can tour an ox cart factory and see how they are painstakingly crafted and painted. This was one of the most unique and memorable experiences of my trip to Costa Rica, and I highly recommend taking the time to visit.

Advisor - Bria Rosenberg

A note from Bria

Costa Rica has two main international airports - San Jose (SJO) in its capital in central Costa Rica and Liberia (LIR) in the north. If you’re going to the northwest coast, and if you want to be closer to Arenal, I’d recommend flying into Liberia. LIR is ideal for beach towns like Papagayo and Tamarindo. However, SJO is much more accessible to the majority of Costa Rica, including most of the Pacific Coast, and destinations like Playa Herradura and Manuel Antonio.

Places to eat & drink in Costa Rica

wooden table with bowls of guacamole and salsas

Before suggesting some restaurants, I do want to point out some must-try foods while in Costa Rica.

  1. Casado - A very traditional and delicious Costa Rican meal. This is a plate served with a little bit of everything: rice, beans, plantains, salad, tortillas and some sort of protein. It is typical to eat casado for lunch, as lunch is typically the largest portioned meal of the day in Costa Rica.

  2. Gallo Pinto - Traditional Central American rice and beans dish. While simple, it is absolutely delicious and has a lot of cultural significance to the Costa Rican people.

  3. Fresh Seafood - Having so much coast on both sides of the country, Costa Rica is definitely known for having fresh seafood. There are tons of seafood dishes to try, but my favorite is Costa Rican ceviche.

  4. Coffee and Chocolate - As mentioned above, Costa Rica is famous for its luxurious coffee and chocolate. If you can’t tour the farms and taste it fresh from the source, there are still tons of places to try Costa Rican chocolate and coffee around the country!

Restaurants Near Manuel Antonio National Park

After a day of adventuring through Manuel Antonio, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Here are two wonderful restaurants not too far from the national park:

Agua Azul Café is very close to the national park, and you can sit outside on their patio overlooking the Pacific Ocean! Great for breakfast, lunch, or dinner, with a variety of Latin American dishes. Pro tip: Ask to try all of their salsas.

Restaurante La Costa is a little bit farther from the park, but not unreasonable to get to. It’s one of the highest-rated restaurants in the area. It is also right on the water, and is the perfect spot to try traditional Costa Rican foods including ceviche and gallo pinto, two of my favorites!

Restaurants Near Jacó and Playa Herradura

This is where we stayed when I visited, so we spent the most time eating at restaurants in this area, and they did not disappoint!

My personal favorite was Hacienda Kitchen, another great restaurant for traditional Costa Rican food. They’re open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, and this was my favorite spot for a Costa Rican breakfast. Along with rice and beans, we were served some gorgeous and delectable tropical fruits, a great way to start the day and fuel up before an adventure!

Los Sueños Marina Village also has tons of great restaurants if you are staying in that area. I really liked Bambú Sushi and Asian Cuisine, an Asian fusion restaurant. Costa Rica is known for having delicious and fresh seafood, so the sushi was pretty high quality and a lot of the rolls had a Costa Rican flare.

Restaurants Near Tamarindo

If you’re staying in Tamarindo, start your day off at NOI Bistro. They have Costa Rican breakfast plates, American breakfasts, fresh smoothies and acai bowls. They also serve lunch and dinner, with a variety of foreign and local cuisines, including casado!

Another great beach-front restaurant is Nogui’s. They have lots of great seafood, and are famous for their sunset cocktails! It’s a spot frequented by locals and a great place to experience local culture while soaking in the beautiful views of the Pacific Ocean.

Restaurants Near Papagayo

Poro Poro Restaurant is a favorite on the Papagayo Peninsula, and definitely a great destination for foodies! Their menu is constantly changing, as the head chef loves to innovate and personalize his customer’s culinary experience.

If you’re looking for a high-end steakhouse, Nemare is the place to go. You can try their 6-course tasting menu, or order a la carte, all paired with creative craft cocktails.

Need to Know

While Costa Rica is certainly known for its nature, I do recommend taking some time to visit the cities as well and learn more about the history and culture. Speaking with local guides is a great way to immerse yourself. Costa Ricans are all about pura vida, and you’ll definitely feel it wherever you go in the country.

Advisor - Bria Rosenberg

Travel Advisor

Bria Rosenberg

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Costa Rica, and our continuing series on nature escapes.