From coast to coast, the enchanting, verdant landscape of Costa Rica is rich with wildlife, diverse ecosystems, and unique activities to do.
Famous as one of the most biodiverse places on the planet, exploring the natural world is one of the best things to do in Costa Rica. A comprehensive network of national parks and protected areas exhibit raw, undisturbed nature—old-growth coastal forests surround breathtaking sandy beaches, long-simmering volcanoes bubble gases across the landscape, and sea turtles emerge from sandy nests on dramatic rocky coastlines.
As the most popular tourist destination in Central America, Costa Rica offers a slew of heart-pumping activities embedded within the natural world, from soaring above the treetops on a zipline to rappelling down a jungle waterfall to surfing the perfect wave.
Set within a culture that embodies a relax-and-enjoy attitude, moments of tranquility within nature can be found in droves. Rustic, remote ecolodges combine nature with comfort, steamy thermal baths supply a natural spa experience, and fresh, cool waterfalls delight the senses. Curious about how to get the most out of this wild and wondrous Central American paradise? Here are the 30 best things to see and do in Costa Rica.
WHEN IS THE BEST TIME TO VISIT COSTA RICA?The best months to visit depend on the region and the activities. The high travel season is December through March, known as the dry season or summer. The skies are clear, and the weather is hot, so prices are higher, and people are plentiful. April through November is the Costa Rica rainy season, which is the best time for lush green environments, lower prices, and fewer tourists.
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Behold Extraordinary Biodiversity
As one of the most biodiverse places on the planet—the country is home to half a million species—Costa Rica’s variety of ecosystems, favorable tropical microclimates, and pristine habitats attract visitors to the country. Observing wildlife happens often and easily, but if you are not blessed with wild encounters, there are many nature reserves and conservatories all around the country that deliver close-up views.
While it is possible to see wildlife in every region of the country, there are some particularly active locations where the chances are better. Tortuguero National Park is ideal for observing sea turtles, sloths, monkeys, crocodiles, frogs, and birds. Manuel Antonio has an abundance of monkeys, toucans, coatis, and iguanas. Monteverde is known for orchids, many species of hummingbirds, and the beautiful blue Quetzal. Marino Ballena National Park is optimal for viewing humpback whales and dolphins before or after taking a dip in a sweet water swimming pool.
Zip-line Through the Forest Canopy
Costa Rica gave the world the zipline canopy tour, a contraption that lets you glide from tree to tree, courtesy of a series of cables, a helmet, and a secure harness. While such operations are found around the world these days, they remain, arguably, Costa Rica’s signature tourist activity, with about 100 zipline tours around the country. The tours are billed as a means to view wildlife in the rainforest canopy, but truthfully, with your screams of delight, you’ll likely scare away the birds and monkeys. If you’re apprehensive of this thrill ride, Rainforest Adventures, with operations near both coasts, provides you with an easier, quieter option as it glides you slowly in a six-seater gondola car through the canopy.
Experience Nature at its Most Adventurous in Arenal
Arenal, a stunning 30,000-acre rainforest with a pleasurably-symmetrical cone volcano at its center, is where nature meets adventure through an array of high-flying, adrenaline-inducing activities.
Adventure parks, such as Sky Adventures Arenal, infuse fun into the rainforest experience. Visitors can zipline through the jungle canopy, test their mettle on hanging bridges, or mountain bike over challenging terrain. Outside of adventure parks, there are plenty of tour companies offering half-day or full-day trips for kayaking, repelling, rafting, horseback riding, and more.
Arenal is also enjoyable for more relaxed traveling styles. Hot thermal baths simmer across the landscape, offering a satisfying soak in jungle surroundings. Butterfly gardens and zoo conservatories bring the creatures into close proximity, and there are plenty of fine dining options to end the day with a meal to remember. There is a range of accommodations for all budgets, but Arenal is known for its strong supply of splurge-worthy hotels with luxurious spas or relaxing ecolodges with an immersive nature experience.
Embrace the Pura Vida of the Pacific Coast
Sand, surf, and healthy living on the Pacific Coast attract many visitors to this hotter and drier corner of Costa Rica. The Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces coastlines host an abundance of tranquil beach communities, lively tourist towns, and all-inclusive beachfront resorts. Swimming holes, mountaintop coffee farms, and pristine national parks await not too far inland.
Designated as a blue zone, the Nicoya peninsula in Guanacaste is one of only five places in the world where people extraordinarily thrive—physically and psychologically—in the confluence of a soul-satisfying natural environment and the subsequent peace of mind it generates. This above-average living situation attracts people worldwide to visit and, often, to stay permanently. The Pacific Coast has a high population of ex-pats which lends a North American familiarity to the region that can be more or less alluring.
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If you’re visiting this part of the country exclusively, forget about flying into San José at all. Opt instead for Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport outside the northwestern hub city of Liberia. (The airport code is LIR.) Fares to Liberia run a bit higher than those to San José, but you’ll save precious time and miles overland. Regarding transportation, no single road traces the perimeter of the coast up here. Bopping from beach to beach often means jaunts a few miles back inland.
Get Wet and Wild in Corcovado National Park
Called “the most biologically intense place on earth” by National Geographic magazine, Corcovado National Park is set within the only old-growth wet forest on Central America’s Pacific coast, encompassing 13 major ecosystems across one-third of the Osa Peninsula.
The park is home to Costa Rica’s highest concentration of wildlife and endangered species. Tapirs, sloths, jaguars, peccaries, and all four of the country’s monkey species thrive here, along with anteaters, crocodiles, ocelots, poison dart frogs, and scarlet macaws. The remote location and impenetrable vegetation are both the appeal and the challenge for visitors—a combination of planes, buses, boats, and hiking is necessary to reach Corcovado.
The park is explored on foot over a network of rugged yet adequate trails, so visitors must come prepared and properly outfitted for all weather and terrains. Booking in advance is recommended, especially during the high season, as a permit and a registered guide are required in order to enter the park. Lodging is available in the nearby towns of Drake Bay and Puerto Jimenez, with many boutique ecolodges ranging from rustic to luxurious. Although there are restrictions, camping inside the park is also an option for those daring enough to stay the night.
Bask in the Pristine Jungles and Vibrant Culture of the Caribbean Coast
Unlike the Pacific Coast’s high population and considerable development, the Caribbean Coast is wild—undisturbed jungle sits at the edge of uninhabited beaches, giving wildlife spaces to thrive. Tortuguero National Park, known as “Little Amazon” and accessible only by plane or boat, is hospitable to creatures that can be rare to find, such as leatherback turtles and the endangered West Indian manatee.
Without large-scale resorts or high concentrations of people, this coast attracts adventurous types to pristine landscapes and chilled-out beach towns. Puerto Viejo is a popular small town where people come to enjoy the festive nightlife, beautiful beaches, and the surrounding national parks. The small, chill coastal town of Cahuita is known for its coral reef, making it popular with snorkelers and divers.
The vibe on the Caribbean coast is heavily influenced by Afro-Caribbean culture, resulting in a laid-back, colorful, beach-centric lifestyle where it is easy to find friendly people, sumptuous curry dishes, and rowdy reggae nights.
Ascend the Cloud Forests of Monteverde
Settled in the 1950s by American Quakers, Monteverde is a remote, mountaintop paradise surrounded by a lush, mossy cloud forest. Spread across the forest are three national parks with ample trails for exploring the area. Animal encounters abound in the cloud forest, and the cool, wet air supports a wealth of plant life, from large overgrown ferns to tiny treetop orchids. The least crowded and highest in elevation (read: cloudy) is Santa Elena National Park.
Monteverde’s adventure parks can be a genuinely fun and educational experience. Selvatura Park invites visitors to dangle over jungle ravines while clinging to hanging bridges, soar on ziplines, and marvel at buzzy hummingbirds and sleepy sloths. Unique perspectives of nature can be found in the hills around Monteverde—the canyoning tour at Finca Modelo sends rappelers down a series of increasingly larger waterfalls straight into a rush of adrenaline and cool, clean water.
Frolic With Monkeys at Manuel Antonio National Park
Three distinct and energetic species of monkeys can be found in Manuel Antonio Park, Costa Rica’s most popular destination for tourists and Ticos alike. The park’s lowland rainforest ecosystem is hospitable to an incredible number of species of birds, mammals, insects, and the most popular attraction of the park, monkeys.
The three resident monkey species—capuchin, howler, and squirrel—can be seen springing through the trees, aided by hanging ropes and bridges that increase their mobility in and around the park. Spider monkeys are the most agile and get their name from their long limbs and tails that seem out of proportion to their bodies.
The park’s other main draws are three beautiful light sand beaches accessible by an easy-to-navigate network of trails meandering within the rainforest. The nearby town of Quepos is a good base from which to explore the park and where to find basic services and budget-friendly accommodations. Newer development migrates upward on the mountainside, and glorious coastal sunsets can be enjoyed on the terraces of boutique ecolodges or bustling restaurants.
Discover the Charms of the San José
San José is not one of the draws to Costa Rica, but as the capital and largest city, many people find themselves here for a day or two. San José can be perplexing to those who are unfamiliar—it is not readily obvious where to go or what to do while in town.
A reliable method for exploring any city is to find an appealing neighborhood and get to stepping. Commonly described as San José’s coolest neighborhood, Barrio Escalante is a hotspot for bars and restaurants serving eclectic cuisine on terraces overlooking lively streets. Near Barrio Escalante on Saturday mornings, residents head to Feria Verde, a farmer’s market with food, coffee, live music, and plenty of produce. Barrio Amon is where to find the city’s more elegant architecture, and in Barrio La California, nightclubbers spill out into the street on the weekends.
To dip into the culture and art scene, visit the Pre-Colombian Gold Museum, the Jade Museum, or the National Museum of Costa Rica. Galeria Talentum is a small gallery showcasing Costa Rica’s emerging artists.
Asking friendly Costa Ricans for assistance is also an option. Wander the streets with Barrio Bird Walking Tours to find out what’s new in the city’s food, art, and trends. For more cardio, hop on a bicycle with ChepeCletas, a group of enthusiastic young people who are eager to share the people, places, and flavors that make their city unique.
INSIDER TIPSan José has a reputation as a dangerous city, so a rule worth following is that if you do not know where you are at night, get out of there.
Venture Into the Dark to See How the Nocturnal Half Lives
Stumbling cluelessly into a thick jungle under the darkness of night could be a questionable choice, but alongside an experienced guide and with a flashlight clenched in the fist, a night jungle hike is a fascinating and frightening adventure.
The guide’s ability to locate animals in this wild nighttime environment is impressive. Their intimate relationship with the jungle is fully on display as they find a lime-green viper tangled in the top of a tree, a colony of bats shuttling to and fro or a tiny colorful frog stuck under a leaf. Not every creature stays fully under cover of night. Shining a flashlight into pure darkness may yield a set of glowing eyes as raccoons, bats, and grey foxes emerge from their slumber to find out what’s on the menu that evening. The bulbous, hard bodies of scorpions glow brightly under UV light, undoubtedly the most beautiful perspective in which to experience a scorpion.
Cultivate a Deeper Connection to Nature
As the number of hours spent indoors and behind screens has increased, the interest in creating meaningful connections to nature is growing. Costa Rica offers a combination of abundant biodiversity, indigenous cultural traditions, and diverse communities as resources for cultivating and contextualizing relationships with the natural world.
Ceremonies involving plants, such as cacao or tobacco utilize plants’ medicinal properties to produce meditative states of mind. Intimate interactions with animals, such as horses, can be a deeply therapeutic experience. A full moon ceremony acknowledges the cycles of nature and how dependent humans are on the reliability of those rhythms. Self-connection through yoga or sound healing can strengthen the body and mind. In Costa Rica, the farther along one travels down this path, the more they are likely to find.
Celebrate Carnaval in Limón
In Costa Rica, a hike through thick, misty jungle often leads to the invigorating waters, fresh, clean air, and soothing sounds of a pristine, breathtaking waterfall. Landscapes across the country are inundated with waterfalls of all shapes and sizes, from tall and dramatic, best enjoyed from a distance to gentle cascades flowing into small rock pools for blissful swimming or soaking.
Catarata del Toro, found on an ecological preserve near Bajos del Toro, is a 300-foot waterfall that flows between lava-scarred rocks into the crater of an extinct volcano. La Leone waterfall near Rincon de la Vieja is accessed by venturing upriver through a canyon and climbing over smaller waterfalls before reaching La Leone, a spectacular waterfall hurling itself through orange rocks into a pool of calm blue waters.
The largest waterfalls in Costa Rica can be found alongside various active volcanic landforms in Juan Castro Blanco National Park in the northern part of the country. To find small, less visited falls unknown to all, keep your eyes and ears open.
INSIDER TIPVisiting waterfalls in the dry season is the prime time for beautiful blue or clear water; however, some waterfalls can slow to a trickle after months without rain. The normally blue waterfalls can be flooded with extra water during the rainy season, turning them muddy and brown. Ask around to find out the current state of the waterfall before setting out.
Relish the Flavors of the Tropics
Relish the rich flavors and juicy textures of edible tropical treasures in the environment from which they came. Stop at a street vendor for a pipa, a freshly hacked open coconut that yields coconut waters in a range of tastes–less sweet, sweet, and very sweet. Sink your teeth into bold yellow mangoes so velvety and flavorful that all previously consumed mangoes are called into question. Slice open fragrant pineapples that take tastebuds to the edge with the first bite. Find fish so fresh it can be eaten sashimi-style right then and there on the beach. Breathe in the earthy scents of freshly brewed beans on a mountaintop coffee plantation. Savor smooth dark cacao that went from Costa Rica to Europe and found its way back again.
A visit to the tropics also presents opportunities to try fruits that are mostly unknown to residents of temperate climates. A grenadilla is a hollow yellow fruit that contains a sack of sweet, crunchy seeds, eaten by sucking them out. Passion fruit, or maracuyá, is a popular flavor all over the world, but the fruit itself is not as common. Available in a range of colors from deep reddish-purple to yellow, the fruit contains slippery orange seeds with a mouth-twisting tang.
Float Like a Butterfly
When strolling through a rainforest or botanical garden in Costa Rica, it is almost certain that delicate, colorful butterflies will be fluttering alongside. Costa Rica is home to 1,500 butterfly species, accounting for 18% of the world’s total butterfly population. Most famous is the blue morpho, a sizable, floppy butterfly with brilliant blue wings.
Several enclosed, netted gardens around the country offer the opportunity to commune with these insects. The Butterfly Conservatory in El Castillo in Arenal is part of a nature regeneration project. The La Paz Waterfall Gardens outside San José is home to 4,000 specimens and a garden pollinated by these exquisite creatures.
INSIDER TIPSunny mornings bring out the most butterfly activity. For the best photo opportunities, visit during the rainy season from June to November.
Peer Into a Smoldering Volcano
Although the majority of Costa Rica’s sixty volcanoes are dormant or extinct, five remain active, simmering the surrounding landscape with over 200 volcanic formations.
The Poás volcano, the most active volcano in Costa Rica, residing about an hour outside San José, gives visitors a peek into a crater-top lake steaming with sulfur. Irazú, the highest volcano in the country, is similarly accessible from San José. The scenery at the summit appears otherworldly—the rocky terrain is sparse with twisted, burned-out trees, fumaroles leak toxic gases, and mineral-rich pools display a rainbow of colors. The landscape is remarkable in its desolation, a stark departure from the biological bounty found in most other places in Costa Rica.
The remaining active volcanoes—Turrialba, Arenal, and Rincon de la Vieja—regularly register volcanic activity and are not always accessible to the public. The last eruption took place in January 2022 in Turrialba.
Realize the Dream of Being a Surfer
While the country may not have access to the famous monster waves of Hawaii or Portugal, Costa Rica is a highly-regarded surfing destination that attracts surfers of all skill levels. For beginners, it is ideal—the water is warm, the waves are small, and there is a strong surfing culture that makes it easy to find a board and an instructor.
Surf schools are prevalent at beaches with gentle, consistent waves, and one-on-one private instruction increases the likelihood of surfing success. A person who is relatively fit and comfortable in the ocean has a good chance of standing up on the board and riding the small white water waves their first time out. Many surf schools provide the option to snap photos during the lesson, so those few precious seconds of wave riding will be frozen in time.
Get to Know Costa Rican Culture
Cultural exchanges and social interactions with the citizens of a country are one of the most rewarding aspects of travel. The Costa Rican people, who refer to themselves as Ticos or Ticas, have a welcoming and kind reputation. Ticos often work as nature and wildlife guides, so hiring a guide to explore a place is a great way to learn about the surroundings and make a friend. A Spanish language class can help with learning the basics or expanding on existing vocabulary, and the teacher is often eager to share their culture with curious foreigners. Taking a dance class to learn salsa or bachata can be a fun way to learn a new skill that can help in making friends later at the dance party in the bar.
One way to adopt a uniquely Costa Rican attitude is by saying, Pura Vida. The sentiment of this statement is a relaxed approach toward life. In the event of a negative situation, Pura Vida has the power to right the ship back on its course to lighthearted optimism and positivity. Pura Vida can also be used to substitute many commonly exchanged words. Hello, how are you, I am well, thank you, and goodbye can be replaced at any time with “Pura Vida,” so feel free to use it liberally.
Learn Skills for Alternative Living
As our conventional way of living becomes less and less sustainable for the environment and our own quality of life, interest in alternative lifestyles is growing. Practical knowledge of how to design and build sustainable systems are quickly becoming highly-valued skills. For those interested in learning more about self-sustainability, there are many organizations in Costa Rica that offer courses, workshops, and apprenticeships across a range of topics—permaculture, food medicine, natural building, wilderness medicine, community connection, renewable energy, and more.
Living off the grid in the jungle isn’t necessary to practice alternative living styles. Learning the basics about health, skills for managing a home, conserving energy, reducing waste, or being a better steward of the planet are practices that can benefit individuals and communities anywhere in the world.
Savor the Specialties of Costa Rican Cuisine
Costa Rica may not be considered to be a world-renown food destination, but there are many specialties particular to Costa Rica that, when fresh and well-prepared, can be a delicious experience.
Typical Costa Rican food is found at a soda, a casual, diner-style restaurant that is common everywhere throughout the country. The iconic Tico meal is called a casado, consisting of rice, beans, salad, plantains, and a meat or fish. It is common to see gallo pinto, a mixture of rice and beans together with vegetables and spices, often served with eggs and a mild white cheese for breakfast. Sometimes on the table will be chilero, a homemade mix of peppers, onions, and carrots soaking in vinegar that can liven up any dish. A popular street snack is a caldosa, a ceviche simply prepared with fresh fish or shrimp, lime, onions, and peppers and then served inside a small bag of toasted corn chips.
A relatively recent addition to Costa Rican drinking culture is chiliguaro. This shot contains guaro, a sugarcane liquor, mixed with spicy tomato juice and served with a spicy salt rim.
Find the Right Beach for Your Vacation Style
Costa Rica hosts a bounty of beaches across its 910 miles of Pacific and Caribbean coastline, each one offering its own particular aesthetic, activities, or accommodations that appeal to a range of travel styles.
White sand, turquoise water, and tranquil vibes can be found on the Caribbean coast, and beaches such as Playa Cocles near Puerto Viejo or Punta Uva are not only visually remarkable but also feel remote and undisturbed thanks to the surrounding jungle environment.
Surfing beaches often overlap with party towns, and Tamarindo on the Pacific coast is famous for its daily surf and party nightlife. Santa Teresa is a slightly more upscale Pacific coast locale, with parties in private mountainside villas and a vibrant restaurant scene. Head to Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side for surfing, beach parties, and rasta vibes.
All-inclusive resorts are not common in Costa Rica but can be found in the Gulf of Papagayo. For exceptionally beautiful beaches, visit the white shell beach of Playa Conchal, the peaceful mangroves and gorgeous views of Playa Flamingo, or San Juanillo, a sleepy fishing village flanked by stunning, tranquil beaches.
Ponder the Life Cycle of Sea Turtles
The nesting and hatching of sea turtles is a remarkable natural event to observe first-hand, as it is both a wondrous and strangely intimate experience. Neither the babies nor the mothers appear to be properly equipped to handle the earth-bound tasks of digging through sand or racing toward the ocean using only their flippers, but they get it done somehow and in large numbers.
Overall, September and October are the prime times to observe the turtles, but it is possible to catch them laying their eggs or hatching from the sand many times throughout the year. Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast and Ostional Wildlife Refuge on the Pacific Coast are the prime nesting sites in the country.
INSIDER TIPProtect the turtles! Only visit the nesting sites with a licensed guide who knows how to view the turtles safely without disturbing or harming them.
Soak in Thermal Baths
Rejuvenating, mineral-rich thermal waters in steamy jungle pools await in Arenal, powered by the geothermal activity of the nearby volcano. The most popular baths have been developed as part of hotel complexes, each offering a different style of soaking experience.
Set in a private rainforest reserve, Tabacon is a luxurious spa with a network of pools and waterfalls that look straight out of a fantasy. Baldi Hot Springs has an energetic vibe and is good for groups of people who want to socialize during their soak. The springs at Eco Termales are designed to replicate a natural aesthetic for those who prefer a calm, relaxing environment. Los Perdidos Hot Springs are peaceful and clean, with a restaurant serving delicious food and drinks, and Titoku Hot Springs is one of the smallest and quietest bathing experiences. For the opposite of quiet, head to Kalambu Hot Springs for a complete water park.
For a more organic ambiance, follow the river outside of Tabacon Resort and sink into the springs in their natural state, free and open to the public.
Fill Up on Costa Rican Microbrews
Good news for beer guzzlers, Costa Ricans are brewing their own styles of tasty, unique craft beers. Breweries are popping up across the country to pour their own special pints by incorporating homegrown ingredients such as cacao, mango, and coconut. San José is the epicenter of the microbrew movement, and popular brews like Treintaycinco and Costa Rica Craft Brewing Company get a lot of attention from beer aficionados. Started by a surf camp that wanted to create high-quality beers for their guests, Volcano Brewing Company in Tamarindo was so successful that the resort now boasts 45 taps. Lake Arenal Brewery is situated on a 15-acre organic farm where guests can enjoy beautiful views of the lake and volcano in between sips. Beyond craft beer, the Costa Rica Meadery in Heredia produces honey wines made with hibiscus and passionflower, internationally recognized for their quality.
Revel in the Abundance of Rivers
Although the beaches often get top billing, an extensive network of rivers distributing the country’s bounty of rainfall makes Costa Rica the verdant paradise that it is. There are numerous activities to find on these fresh and energizing rivers. Dense and labyrinthine mangrove forests flourish where the rivers meet the ocean. It is easy to maneuver a kayak or stand-up paddleboard in the calm waters, and the movement does not greatly disrupt the birds and animals. Costa Rica is a world-class rafting destination, and the difficulty levels vary considerably. Whitewater experts can find a range of intense runs, while more relaxed rafters can find calmer waters on the Corobicí, Peñas Blancas, and Savegre rivers for low-stakes tubing adventures or picturesque river floats.
Dance the Night Away at a Jungle Rave
Secret parties are popping up in the jungles of Costa Rica, many of which are impressive in their ability to transform wild spaces into a next-level dance party. Lineups include DJs from all over the world, dropping sensual beats through top-tier sound systems. Elaborate light displays pulse through the trees while fire dancers and aerialists show off their extraordinary skills.
The parties are advertised via word of mouth and Instagram, but the location is a secret until it’s time to go. Now that pandemic restrictions are easing, these gatherings are not quite as illicit as they were in the recent past, but the nature of a jungle rave is inherently undercover. Most parties go until the sun comes up, and the experience of a misty jungle sunrise is worth the hike home.
Hop Aboard for Seaside Excursions
In a country with deep connections to water and access to both the Pacific and Caribbean, excursions of all kinds are waiting in the waves. Fishing trips motor both amateurs and experts alike a few miles offshore to catch tuna, mahi-mahi, and sea bass. Professional fishermen reel in the catch when necessary and clean the fish on the boat, ensuring everyone departs with ready-to-eat filets. Catamarans whisk guests out into the water for pleasure cruises of all kinds—group outings with friends or strangers, sloshy parties with food and drinks, or romantic sunset cruises. Snorkeling and diving trips are also popular, and wildlife tours seek out whales, dolphins, and manta rays. Day trips to Isla Tortuga near the Nicoya Peninsula sail away to the idyllic white sandy beaches, clear blue water, and the swaying palms of small coastal islands.
Go Off the Grid at an Ecolodge
The “eco” prefix gets bandied about quite loosely in Costa Rica. No one has ever patented the term or clearly defined standards for its application. While anyone can set up a cabin out in the wilderness and take in visitors, a handful of lodgings really do walk the walk in addition to talking the talk. Cabo Matapalo’s Lapa Ríos is arguably, Costa Rica’s premier eco-lodge. It offers secluded comfort in its own private nature reserve. Rancho Naturalista, near Turrialba, has become one of Costa Rica’s preeminent birding destinations. Ecolodges aren’t only in the middle of nowhere, though. Finca Rosa Blanca anchors a working coffee plantation in the Central Valley and incorporates stringent environmental practices into its operations. “Sustainable tourism” has become the watchword these days, expanding on the traditional ecotourism model. Will the product conserve natural, financial, and human resources rather than depleting them? We like the Costa Rica Tourist Board’s Certification for Sustainable Tourism. The Spanish/English/French/German website rates tourism businesses with one to five leaves and is regarded as the authority in the field.
Support Animal Rescue Efforts
The world gives Costa Rica high marks for its environmental consciousness. While deserved, that masks the reality of segments of animal populations that are in trouble due to neglect or abuse, human or natural, active or passive. A small army of good-hearted souls around the country works in the field of animal rescue and rehabilitation. (Rehabilitation is not always possible; the condition of some animals remains too fragile for them to return to the wild.) Proyecto Asis in La Fortuna and the Jaguar Rescue Center—despite the name, no jaguars here—in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca both work toward these goals. Inquire in advance about short- or long-term volunteer work at any of the facilities engaged in animal rescue. Your admission supports these worthwhile projects, and further financial donations are always welcome too.
Some 900 resident and migratory bird species make Costa Rica one of the world’s premier birding destinations. The country counts hummingbirds, toucans, tanagers, macaws, and motmots among its population. The birdwatchers’ Holy Grail is the brightly plumed, elusive resplendent quetzal. Consider yourself fortunate if you spot one. You’ll have no trouble spotting the national bird, the much-more-subdued clay-colored thrush, known here as the yigüirro. You need not travel to some remote national park to engage in bird-watching. Occasionally, even a glance out your urban hotel window lets you add to your list.
INSIDER TIPThe knowledgeable folks at La Selva Biological Station in northern Costa Rica offer a day-long Bird Watching 101 course geared toward total beginners in the field.
Discover the Mysteries of the Deep
Two oceans and 910 miles of coastline make Costa Rica a popular stop for divers and snorkelers. With its manta rays, hammerhead sharks, and moray eels, the North Pacific’s Gulf of Papagayo has the country’s highest concentration of dive shops. You’ll see smaller, less spectacular marine life on the south Caribbean coast.
Let the calendar guide you in deciding where to dive in Costa Rica. The Caribbean side offers calmer waters in September and October (and not-too-bad waters in April and May) but choppy, cloudy seas the rest of the year. The north Pacific coast serves up the best conditions from May through July. January through April provides the best diving off the southern Osa Peninsula.