Costa Rica is one of the most-visited countries in Central America, and it’s not particularly surprising as to why. The country is abundant with mostly untouched natural areas, from waterfalls to national parks. There are natural hot springs, huge caves, and no shortage of places to relax on lush, tropical beaches. There’s a lot to love.

That makes it even more surprising that so many travelers tend to overlook the nearly 200 miles of coastline on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica. Not considering a visit to the Caribbean coast means missing out on some of the best nature experiences in the country, like Tortuguero National Park, famous for its sea turtle hatchlings. Limón, Costa Rica, is home to centuries of rich Afro-Caribbean culture, and good music and better food aren’t hard to find.

How to get to Limón, Costa Rica

Limón isn’t difficult to reach, as it’s only three hours from the capital city of San Jose. You can fly into the Limón, Costa Rica airport, or arrange a car to make the drive. You can also take the scenic route by renting a car and making the drive along Highway 32.

However you choose to get there, there’s an abundance of outdoorsy things to do in Limón. From bean-to-bar chocolate making with the Indigenous community to hiking a volcano in Tortuguero, these are the six best outdoor experiences to have in Limón, Costa Rica.

What is Limón, Costa Rica known for?

limon costa rica - sloth sanctuary close up

Photo: Jeroen Mikkers/Shutterstock

Costa Rica has coastline on both the Pacific and Atlantic (or, more specifically, Caribbean) coasts. And Limón, Costa Rica is the biggest city on the Caribbean side, which generally has warmer and calmer water as it’s bit more protected. That makes Limón an ideal basecamp for travelers who want to fish, snorkel, or relax in the usually gentle surf of the area’s top beaches. But because it is the largest city in the area, plenty of companies offer everything from national park tours to guided jungle hikes to canal and boat tours.

In general, Costa Rica’s west coast is more developed than the east coast, which gives Limón, Costa Rica, a good blend of tourist infrastructure and offerings while still retaining a laid-back, semi-traditional feeling.

And yes, Limón is near the large Costa Rica Sloth Sanctuary, which cares for injured and abandoned sloths while advocating for habitat protection and conservation.

Six outdoorsy things to do in Limón, Costa Rica

1. Visit the BriBri Indigenous community

The Bri Bri community near Limon, Costa Rica, is known for producing caaco

Photo: Joseph Jacobs/Shutterstock

There’s a lot of history in Limón, and you don’t want to overlook it. Visiting an indigenous community and learning about their sacred plants (including the ceremony and processing of cacao) is a must-do in the region. The BriBri community lies in the foothills of the Talamanca Mountains and dates to pre-Columbian Costa Rica. Today, visiting their community is a complete sensory experience, with the scent of chocolate in the air.

At the Watsi reservation near Limón, Costa Rica, generations of BriBri live together, sustaining their livelihoods solely off of the cacao plant. The visitor experience begins with a medicinal plant tour through their garden, where every plant grown is used either in sacred ceremonies or for cooking and crafting. Tree fibers become necklaces and whistling instruments, and the palmito (heart of palm) plant is mixed with coffee and boiled to make a snack most often paired with coffee. When someone dies in the BriBri culture, the Palmito plant is eaten during the ceremony without any salt. They believe that salt came to their land with colonization, so eating it in a traditional way is a small way to reject the influence of the Spanish.

Cacao, of course, takes up most of the space in the gardens. It’s bitter when plucked straight from the tree and goes through a multi-step process to become edible. The process — which only women are allowed to do — begins with roasting the cocoa beans over a wood-fire stove for about ten minutes. After roasting, the beans are cooled and crushed by hand with a large boulder. Women then remove the shells and grind the beans before melting them into a thick paste. They then add boiling water and sugar to make a hot chocolate-like drink. For centuries, the BriBri have been consuming cacao and using it for body-care products — you’ll walk away from the Watsi Reservation with a solid understanding of its importance.

2. Plan a beach day In Puerto Viejo

A beach near Puerto Viejo

Photo: Costa Rica Tourism Board

Visiting the Caribbean side of Costa Rica wouldn’t be complete without planning a beach day. And Puerto Viejo, a laid-back town near Limón, has some of the area’s best beaches. You’ll feel the Afro-Caribbean influence right away, thanks to the frequent sounds of reggaeton playing in the streets and the many bars and restaurants serving authentic Caribbean dishes. Be sure to try rondon (pronounced like “run down”), a coconut milk-based soup with fresh Panamanian chili, whole veggies, and seafood.

One of the best beaches near Limón, Costa Rica, is Playa Negra, a black-sand beach with calm water and small waves. Surfers (or avid people-watchers) should head to Playa Cocles, a white-sand beach with consistent swells for intermediate surfers. Playa Punta Uva has crystal-clear water and tall palms, and Cahuita National Park is the area’s best spot for snorkeling.

If you’re looking for a private retreat, Aguas Claras may be a perfect choice. The popular boutique hotel sits just beyond a lovely, unspoiled stretch of beach loved by locals and runs Da Lime, a hip beachfront club.

No matter which beach you choose, cycling around Puerto Viejo is an easy way to get around. It’s easy to find bike rentals along the main street.

3. Travel through an old-growth forest

Old growth forest near Limon Costa Rica

Photo: Marianna Ianovska/Shutterstock

What was once land for logging is now a haven for sustainable travelers. Selva Bananito Lodge is a third-generation, family-run eco-lodge tucked in the jungle at the foot of Limón’s Cerro Muchilla (Muchilla Mountains). The Wi-Fi is weak and the no-frills rooms are understated. For some, those may be cons, but for nature lovers, thrill-seekers, and those who prioritize sustainable travel, it’s a haven.

Staying at this eco-lodge means being surrounded by nature. You can expect to wake up in the mornings to the sound of birdsong as a crisp breeze passes through your open-air, reclaimed-wood cabin. The lodge is an island in the wilderness, surrounded by 300,000 acres of primary (never-logged) forest.

One of the best ways to experience it all is to take a day hike through the forest with resort guides. You’ll see the forest’s biodiversity first-hand during the three-hour treks passing by sacred trees and likely having a few exotic snake sightings. You can also opt to horseback ride through former banana plantations, passing grazing livestock before reaching a stunning view of the water source for the people of Limon, Costa Rica. Most activities are included in the cost of a stay.

At Selva Bananito, tourism is a conservation tool. In addition to practicing sustainable and regenerative farming, the lodge avoids single-use plastic and styrofoam and is powered by solar. Guides use tours as ways to monitor the forest’s health. While guests are hiking, rappelling, climbing, ziplining, or otherwise recreating, guides are observing the forest.

4. Ride in a gyroplane

A gyrocopter is a great way to get a view of the jungle

Photo: Selva Air

If you’ve never heard of a gyroplane, you’re not alone. It’s like a smaller, simpler version of a helicopter. And on a ride with Selva Air, Selva Bananito Lodge’s private gyrocopter fleet, visitors can experience the beauty of looking down on the jungle canopy while flying above.

After a quick safety briefing, guests will take to the skies for 360-degree views of Limón’s lush vegetation along the Caribbean coastline. Pilots will usually dip over the river and just above the primary forest, pointing out areas like Isla Uvita (where Christopher Columbus once landed) and Catarata Roja (the highest waterfall in Central America). While guests get the thrill of flying in what feels like a toy plane, the pilot is using it as another way to observe and measure the environment.

You don’t need to stay at the lodge to book a flight, but you will need to get yourself to the lodge. Flights start at 20 minutes and $120 per person.

5. Wildlife watch in Tortuguero National Park

People exploring a wild nature area by rowing boat. Ecotourism concept. Tortuguero national park. Limon, Costa Rica.

Photo: Marco Lissoni/Shutterstock

Just outside Limón is Moin Port, where boats leave daily for Tortuguero National Park and cost about $35 per person. You’ll be surrounded by nature for the entirety of the three-hour cruise; wildlife-spotting opportunities begin well before you reach the park.

Most people choose to spend at least a night near the park to take advantage of opportunities like sunrise canal tours, which require waking up around 5 AM. Guests can hop in a canoe, kayak, or larger boat for a rich wildlife-spotting experience as the jungle wakes up.

Bird-watching is also a popular activity best early in the morning, and you’ll have the chance to spot more than 300 species of birds that call Tortuguero home, including the majestic great blue heron. Three-toed sloths, lizards, and poison dart frogs are common, too.

Most people visiting stay in the village of Tortuguero. Pachira Lodge is one of the most popular as it’s just a five-minute boat ride from the national park. Beyond accessibility, the lodge itself mirrors its natural surroundings and looks at home in the jungle.

On-property, you may spot spider monkeys swinging from the treetops or crocodiles lazing on the riverbank. Keep an out for green turtles, too — their mating season is between July and October, and thousands of turtles go there annually as it’s a protected nesting site. Like nearly all tourist destinations near Limón, this park is all about sustainable tourism, so come prepared for a close connection with nature.

6. Hike Cerro Del Tortuguero

Wildlife spotting paddle near Limon, Costa Rica

Photo: Costa Rica Tourism Board

With your extra time in the national park, consider hiking to one of the best views near Limón, Costa Rica. Tours pick guests up from the various hotel docks to make the 15-minute ride to Cerro Tortuguero, the park’s inactive volcano. For a $2 entry fee, you can climb the 400 steps to the top, flanked by trees and foliage for most of the way up. It’s a lot of steps, but there are platforms to stop, catch your breath, and take in the views. Don’t forget to look up to spot the howler monkeys that hang around the trail.

At the volcano’s peak, hikers will have incredible views of the Caribbean Sea, the park’s lagoon and jungle, and the town of Tortuguero. Be sure to bring lots of water, sunscreen, and eco-friendly bug spray.