Fun Things to Do in Costa Rica’s Southern Zone

We love to share this area and all of the fun things to do in Costa Rica with our friends and family. We love the Southern Zone in particular and might be a little biased. What we can tell you is that we have traveled most of Costa Rica, and the Southern Zone is still our favorite area by far. This area is dramatically beautiful, with so much wildlife and nature. It is the only place in Central America where steep mountains thousands of feet high meet the ocean. The landscape is full of incredible long distance ocean views of the rugged southern coastline and exotic beaches. It is green year round here, with lush and biodiverse jungle that is full of life.  There are endless reasons to love this area. Here is our running list of fun things to do in Costa Rica. There are so many options, and it would be hard to experience all of them in just one trip, let alone a lifetime!

Visit the Whale’s Tail Beach at Playa Ballena in Uvita 

things to do in Costa Rica Whale's Tail

The whale’s tail beach is a unique natural phenomenon created over millennia of meeting ocean currents from the north and south, shaping this area into a whale’s tail formation.  Whales follow these currents to this location during their migration.  It’s a short walk out to the end of the whale’s tail formation, and a 1.5 hour to 3 hour trip all in, depending on how much time you want to spend out there. It’s beautiful, with views of the beach, mountains, whales, and waves. There are a bunch of tide pools at the end of the whales tail to explore and see fish and sea life. There are a lot of sea shells, sand dollars, and other cool stuff washed up on the shores.  There’s also a reef within 100 yards of the beach where you can snorkel.

Visit the Waterfalls

nauyaca waterfalls fun things to do in costa rica

At Nauyaca Waterfalls, there is a 100 ft waterfall, and another 175 ft waterfall there. There’s a lot of natural beauty there.  It feels like you are in Jurassic Park or Avatar.  You can hike to the waterfalls (1.5 hours there, and 1.5 hours back).  You can also take a safari truck ride or go on horseback.  You can then walk an easy path to the Nauyaca Waterfalls, and swim in the pool at the bottom, and sometimes swim behind the waterfall. It’s in the jungle, and there are beautiful views. There’s also a pool at the top of the first waterfall (we like to call it the top of the world), with amazing views. You can relax in the sun, swim, hike around, or boulder around at the base of the top waterfall. Diamante Waterfalls and Eco Chontales Waterfalls are also incredible places to visit.

Go Whale Watching From a Boat

things to do in costa rica whale watching

You can get on a whale watching tour boat in Uvita at the entrance to the Whale’s Tail Beach.  They cruise around within 2 miles of shore, and get close to the whales (some more than 40 feet long) that are jumping out of the water.  Sometimes there are mothers and calves swimming together.  They show you dolphins swimming next to the boat also.  Sometimes you see sea turtles.  The area they cruise is beautiful, and includes amazing views of the coastline and mountains and exotic beaches, touring around islands, caves in the side of rocky sections of coastline, etc.  Sometimes they add an hour for snorkeling at whale rock island.

Tour Cano Island

Go by boat to explore, snorkel, or scuba dive.  This beautiful island located off of the tip of the Osa Peninsula is a national park with pristine nature.  It is also said to be high energy, and the place in the world that is struck most by lightening every year.

Surf and Learn How to Surf

things to do in costa rica surf

Dominical beach is one of the best and most consistent beach breaks in the country.  There is also a point break that works well on big swells.  There are many beginner breaks for learning. The right and left point breaks at Cabo Matapalo and Pavones have world class surf for experienced surfers.

Practice Yoga in a Spiritual Environment

There are many beautiful locations with great views to do yoga.  There is an abundance of yoga instructors and educational trainings available in this area.

Hike in Some of the Most Beautiful Places

The Southern Zone is home to some of the most amazing coastline views, jungle environments, exotic beaches, waterfalls, etc.  There are endless hiking trails.  You can see and hear howler monkeys, white face monkeys, toucans and other tropical birds, etc. There are also some cool night hiking tours to see the wildlife at night.

Go Snorkeling

There are many places to snorkel, including boat tours to islands and reefs, and places you can walk to like the reef at the end of the whale’s tail beach.  Manuel Antonio National Park also has a beautiful beach where you can snorkel.

Discover Beautiful Beaches

things to do in costa rica discover beaches

There are numerous beautiful and exotic beaches in Costa Ballena like Dominical Beach, Roca Verde Beach, Dominicalito, Playa Hermosa, Playa Ballena, Whale’s Tail Beach, Playa Chaman, Playa Arco, and Playa Ventanas.

Explore the Caves at Playa Ventanas

Playa Ventanas beach has windows/caves at the north end that go all the way from the beach to the open ocean.  You can go in the caves at low tide and walk/swim out to the ocean.  The sounds and sensations in there are unique and amazing, and hard to describe with words.  This is one of the most beautiful beaches in the region, and a great place to watch a sunset.

Hike Playa Arco

This is more adventurous and remote.  A great and memorable day trip.   You can have breakfast or lunch at Aracari Restaurant at Cusinga Lodge in Uvita, with views of whale rock island.  Then, you can hike a beautiful jungle path for an hour or so to get to Playa Arco.  This beach is so beautiful and empty (hard to access) that it has been the site where a few popular movies have been filmed, including Pirates of The Caribbean.  You can walk on this secluded beach and explore or swim.  Then, you can rinse off at the fresh water waterfall next to the beach.  Then you can hike through the rocks and caves and come out on the other side.  Finish the trip by going back the way you came in.

Tour the Mountain Roads with 4×4 and Seek Out Dramatic Views

You can drive around to see the Costa Ballena area, and drive up some mountain roads to get awesome views of the southern coastline.  You can drive to some locations within 10 to 20 minutes of the main highway, and get to 2,000 – 5,000 ft elevation with dramatic views.  Sometimes you are in or above the clouds at these elevations.  There are unique settings of huge steep mountainsides with jungle that overlook the ocean and beaches.  This creates long distance ocean views of the rugged coastline from Manuel Antonio to the North all the way to the tip of the Osa Peninsula to the South.  These views often include the whale’s tail formation and multiple islands.

Visit Manuel Antonio National Park

It’s a 30 minute drive from Costa Ballena to Manuel Antonio National Park.  This is a great place to go to see a lot of wildlife, including 3 types of monkeys, sloths, tropical birds, etc. There’s an exotic white sand beach along the hike, where you can stop and hang out, and snorkel if you want. The walk is easy, and family friendly. Getting a wildlife site seeing guide is advised, as you will see a lot more wildlife during your trip there.  You can also walk it without a guide.

Visit the Local Farmer’s Markets

You can go to the local farmer’s markets in Dominical, Uvita or Tinamastes to get fresh produce, great food, local goodies, artisan chocolate, healthy teas, people watch, see arts and crafts, etc.  These farmer’s markets/ferias are plentiful and great places to interact with friends.  You can buy some of the most fresh local foods.

Splash around in Nature’s Jacuzzi.

We found a spot on the beach at Roca Verde where the rock formation causes a natural jacuzzi to form.  It happens at some tides, and water flows in and out from the ocean.

Dine at Rancho Cielo Alto (Jazmin’s Place)

rancho cielo alto

Adventurous farm to table dining.  Unique and enjoyable dining experience.  One of the few restaurants in this region of Costa Rica that brings together gourmet cooking with the amazing variety of local produce available. An intimate private dining experience. This is the most authentic Costa Rican farm to table dining that we have found. Jazmin is an awesome host, and is extremely caring and knowledgeable. Jazmin and her team are very accommodating with eating restrictions such as gluten free, dairy free, and shellfish allergies. They customize each person’s meal according to their preferences and dietary restrictions. You will enjoy Jazmin’s thoughtful and loving approach, and her detailed description of each course. You can learn a lot about unique vegetables and herbs and their medicinal properties. How amazing to have your food lovingly prepared on site where it was sourced!

Enjoy the Area’s Many Amazing Restaurants

Restaurants with wonderful food and ingredients like fresh tropical fruits, vegetables from organic farms in the mountains nearby, fresh seafood, local coffee and cacao, etc. There are a growing number of restaurants in Costa Ballena that focus on healthy, fresh meals. Places in Dominical like Fuego, Mama Toucan’s Organic Market Deli, Mono Congo Cafe, Pescado Loco Fish Tacos, and Sol smoothies and smoothie bowls.   Places between Dominical and Uvita like Por Que No, La Parcela, Villas Alturas, Cuna Del Angel, and Jolly Roger.  Places in Uvita like Rancho Cielo Alto (Jazmin’s Place), The Beehive, Burrito Hub, Mosaic, Sibu, Sol Smoothies, The Dome, Al Chili Que Si, and Retro Cafe.  Places in Ojochal (some of the best international dining in Costa Rica) like Ballena Bistro, Asian Fusion, Citrus, Exotica, Castillo and Kua Kua at Hotel 360.

Do a Horseback Riding Tour

fun things to do in costa rica horseback riding tours

There is horseback riding on the beach, and in the mountains. Here is a unique riding experience through the jungle and beach designed to elevate your awareness of mind, body, and soul.

Watch the Sunset at La Parcela

You can watch the sunset over the water at La Parcela Restaurant.  You often times see families of white face monkeys there near sunset. This unique location has views of rocky and rugged coastline (and a good point break) to the left, and a beautiful Caribbean style bay to the right.  There is a platform down the path to the right for watching the sunset over a small island with one tree (Corona commercial style).  There’s a tree along the path that looks like the “Tree Of Life” in Avatar.  They have great fresh seafood.  A unique and memorable experience!

Unique Costa Rica Treats and Goodies

Our favorite treats in Costa Rica are local artisan dark chocolates and drinking fresh coconut water with a straw in the coconut straight from the tree.  A cup of good CostaRica coffee is always tasty.  You can find these treats and goodies at places like Mama Toucans Organic Market and local farmer’s markets.

Ceviche with fresh local seafood is amazing here!  You can make ceviche yourself with fish you get from the fishing boats when they come in.  You can also find ceviche at many local restaurants.

Living a Healthy Lifestyle With The Abundance of Unique Costa Rica Ingredients

You can choose to live a natural and healthy lifestyle while you are in Costa Rica, and there is an abundance of healthy and organic food options.  You can get fruits, vegetables, coconuts to drink coconut water, and other goodies.  You can shop for some of the best natural and organic foods in the world.  Mama Toucans in Dominical has daily shopping of certified organic and all natural foods (more than 5000 items). Sur Organico is a daily vendor of organic produce in Uvita. Emana Zero Waste has organic bulk foods and zero waste products.  You can also participate in and learn about health and wellness in this area.

Tour an Organic Fruit Farm

You can tour biodynamic and organic fruit farms (a few options) and medicinal plant farms (Ed Bernhardt’s farm and others) that our friends own.  These are less touristy experiences with people that live and breathe this stuff.

Soak in the Hot Springs

You can go to hot springs to relax and absorb minerals naturally.  You can ask us about options if you are looking to do this.

Visit a Wildlife Sanctuary

There are tours of wildlife sanctuaries like Villas Alturas wildlife sanctuary and Baru wildlife sanctuary.

Walk on the Beach at Sunset

You can pick a beautiful beach and walk on the beach and watch a sunset.

Explore the Surf Town of Dominical

You can walk the town of Dominical, and see the sights including a local market of artisan goods along the beachfront where you can see ocean waves.  We like to show people the cafes, restaurants, shops, hotels, yoga studios, organic market, places to get coconut water and chocolate, surf breaks, river views, etc.  It’s fun to share this knowledge with people, and then they know where everything is in town.

Off Road Adventure

More adventurous, and only safe to do during certain times of the year and with us guiding you.  You can off-road and see amazing ocean and waterfall views to get to the area near the Nauyaca waterfalls. You can see the valley behind the mountains, farms, rivers, a huge cliff that is from Pangea times when the earth was moving and the tectonic plate shifted upward, and the diamanté waterfall that flows down it and cascades multiple times before the last 600 foot section.

Visit Drake Bay by Boat

You can see the beautiful beaches at Drake Bay, and some times you can make arrangements to see the bioluminescence at night.

Visit the Local Nature Reserves

There are volunteer organized shelters, sanctuaries, and reserves that have programs that educate kids and adults in the local community about protection of species and environment.  You can have great educational experiences at places like Playa Reserva Tortuga in Ojochal.

Book a Tour

Uvita Information Center is a great resource for formal tours, and here is a list of the types of tours that you can do in this region. Their website has more details and pictures for each tour.  They stay on top of vetting and reviewing the tour operators.

We (Emily & Chris) can also help book tours with reputable tour operators. Just send us a message through our contact page if you’d like to know more.

  • Tour the Corcovado National Park- This is one of the most biodiverse places in the world.  The natural beauty and wildlife there will have you in awe and amazed!

  • Tour the Mangroves by Boat in the Sierpe River
  • Kayak and Standup Paddleboard in the Mangroves
  • Go Ziplining
  • Explore the Jungle Canopy
  • Canyon Tours
  • Tour Around on an ATV
  • Go White Water Rafting
  • Go Fishing- charter a boat to go inshore or offshore fishing.  This part of Costa Rica has some of the best fishing in the world.  You can go locally on a small boat, or get big boats out of Pez Vela Marina in Quepos (30 minute drive from Costa Ballena)
  • River Tubing
  • Birdwatching tours at places like Oro Verde
  • Tour a Coffee Plantation
  • Tour a Chocolate Farm
  • Go on a Medicinal Plants Tour
  • Cultural Tours
  • Cooking Classes
  • Go Paragliding- with Boulder Paragliding.  We can book this for you if you want, as we know the person that does personal paragliding tours on a regular basis.
  • Go on a Night Tour to see wildlife


There are many options for retreats in Costa Rica.  There are many retreats that are not marketed very well online, and you might not be aware of them.  You can contact us and tell us what you are looking for, and we can help connect you with options for retreats that are a good fit.

Travel Gear and Accessories
Want to have fun and gear up for your trip to Costa Rica?  Learn more about our favorite travel accessories and gear for Costa Rica.  

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About Emily & Chris

We met at a little beach cafe in Dominical, Costa Rica. Chris was checking the surf and I was working away online. Chris abandoned the surf to order a smoothie and sit down next to me and that’s the beginning of our beautiful journey together!

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