Mother Nature has a soft spot for Costa Rica. Small it may be, but this peaceful Central American nation astounds in scenic beauty and sheer volume of wildlife. No wonder the country virtually invented and wrote the book on ecotourism. But wait… there’s more!
You can surf Hawaiian-like waves, get covered in mud on an exhilarating ATV off-road adventure, or shoot through the forest canopy on an even more thrilling zipline ride… then soothe the pain away at a luxurious alfresco zen spa. Mountain biking. Whitewater rafting. You name it. Costa Rica is an adrenalin rush that never ends.
This politically serene darling of hip tourism is a kind of microcontinent in itself. Set off walking inland from either coast and you’ll pass from Amazonian rainforest through lush wetlands to open savanna, dry deciduous forests, and montane forests swathed in clouds atop Costa Rica’s volcanic spine.
Plus, its twelve distinct ecological zones are home to a bewildering A-Z of exotic fauna: Approximately 5 percent of all the known species of creatures on earth crawl, flit, and fly here, including more than twice the number of bird species as North America. Best yet, Costa Rica is nature’s live theater. Sloths move languidly amid the high branches. Scarlet macaws fly squawking overhead. And be careful that white-faced monkey doesn’t pee on you from overhead!
And OMG… the beaches! From frost-white to chocolate, palm-fringed stunners run the length of the Caribbean and Pacific coasts.
True, Costa Rica’s oceans don’t boast great coral reefs. But scuba divers are delirious about swimming with giant groupers, manta rays, and whale sharks.
You don’t have to rough it in Central America’s most stable democracy (it has no standing army). Costa Rica is a world-leader in boutique hotels. In fact, there’s something for everyone, from backpackers surf camps and budget cabinas to deluxe wilderness lodges and Swiss-style mountain hotels.
Stunningly framed by volcanoes, San José—the capital city—studs the fertile Meseta Central (Central Highlands), in the heart of the country. Concentrated around pocket-size plazas, its sights can be fully seen in two days. The two biggest draws, the Teatro Nacional and Museo de Oro Precolumbino, are must-sees, and don’t miss the splendid Museo de Jade and Museo Nacional before leaving town.
The fertile Central Highlands—home to two-thirds of the nation—has so many great sites that it’s dizzying. This is coffee country par excellence. For “Coffee 101” visit Café Britt. “Whooooa!” to the crater views at Poás Volcano National Park, then hike the volcano’s flanks at La Paz Waterfall Gardens, with its multiple wildlife attractions. And the drive up the crater at Irazú Volcano Nacional Park is a scenic mind-blower. A visit to Fábrica de Carretas Eloy Alfaro (in the crafts-town of Sarchí) to view traditional ox-carts being handmade is a time-warp experience; so too the pre-Columbian ruins at Monumento Nacional Guayabo National.
A beach maven’s paradise, the dry Pacific Northwest—cowboy culture rules!—is flanked by volcanoes such as Rincón de la Vieja and Miravalles: The settings for several cattle ranches turned activity centers. Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, with its cloud forests, is ground zero for the quest to view the resplendent quetzal; and the Palo Verde National Park wetlands for aquatic birdlife.
The bulk of Costa Rica’s hotels are here, concentrated at popular resorts such as Playas del Coco and surfing meccas Tamarindo and Malpaís. A surfing Nirvana, the Nicoya Peninsula beaches also draw marine turtles to Playa Grande and Ostional. Further south along the Central Pacific, Manuel Antonio National Park is so wildlife rich and heavily-visited the animals appear virtually tame.
Down on the Northern Lowlands fruit farms merge into wetlands and remnant rainforest. The stellar draw is Arenal Volcano, soaring above Lake Arenal. The plains merge east into the Caribbean wetlands of Tortuguero National Park—teeming with wildlife wonders Southward, the colorful, lively villages of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo define off-beat, luring surfers and a tie-dyed crowd.
For the ultimate rainforest experience, head to Corcovado National Park, on the remote Osa Peninsula. And the hike to 3,189 m elevation in Chirripó National Park guarantees a sensational high.
Prices often fluctuate dynamically depending on capacity, seasonality and deals. We don’t want to lead you astray by quoting exact prices that quickly become wrong. To give you a rough idea for budgetary planning purposes, though, we have indicated general price ranges for all points of interest.
Price ranges are quoted in $US.
See & Do
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $10 per person
$$ => Tickets $20 per person
$$$ => Tickets $25 per person
$ => Rooms less than $75 for a double
$$ => Rooms $75-150 for a double
$$$ => Rooms $200 for a double
$ => $10 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$ => $25 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
$$$ => $50 per person for a meal (without alcohol, tax, tip)
N/A => Not applicable
$ => Tickets less than $75 per person
$$ => Tickets $75-125 per person
$$$ => Tickets $125 per person