When it comes to Central American travel, Costa Rica seems to offer the best of all worlds. Exotic landscapes, rainforest that melts into picturesque beaches, wildlife in otherworldly tones and colors, fruits that us North Americans will find deliciously novel, and a tourism infrastructure that offers a litany of national parks and local tiendas along with eco-lodges and tourism packages where the Ticos are happy to cater to their English-speaking guests. What the backpackers, holiday travelers, expats and locals all have in common is the shared time in the rich outdoor ecosystems and parks throughout the country.
For those who may need a nudge in considering a trip out to the tropical environment, or for those looking for some adventure ideas to pencil into their Costa Rican itinerary, let us a suggest a few of our favorites for you...
Costa Rica possesses nearly 70 volcanoes, both active and dormant! And it's possible to hike from iconic views from the base of their mountainous masses to points looking into the fumarole cores. Parque Nacional Volcán Poás is near enough to the country's capital of San Jose that it can be reached by bus from the city. While Sendero Arenal 1968 Trail heads to the peak of Arenal Volcano not far from the tourist town of La Fortuna.
Costa Rica's mountainous topography and rainforest ecology create a richness of waterfalls. Rio Celeste, which translates to Turquoise River, lies within another volcanic national park and leads to a nearly 300-foot waterfall colored in spectacular emerald tones. If the rainforest's wet and potentially muddy hikes don't appeal to you, the Velo de Novia Waterfall hike in the country's dry northwestern Nicoya Peninsula provides the opportunity to swim in the sunny pools at the base of a series of tall cascades.
Costa Rica's tropical climate has graced the country not only with an abundant and diverse community of wildlife, but also balmy air that infuses visitors with the urge to jump into every body of water that one passes. Travelers will quickly learn that water is often at the center of one's wanderings here. Those wanting to interact with it at a distance can venture into parks like Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge and view the wildlife such as sloths, spider and howler monkies, and Jesus lizards (so named for their abilities to race across the surface of water!).
For those looking to get into the water, there are the relaxing hot springs resorts such as Tabacon Hot Springs that offer every amenity imaginable in a terraced paradisiacal atmosphere. Those who may wince at the resorts' pricey admission fees can opt for the surreal hot spring-heated river at Río Chollín Free Hot Springs adjacent to the resorts.
And finally, the truly adventurous can plan on outings that include the country's zipline canopy tours or a visit to a rope swing perched 15 feet above waterfall-fed pools such as at the El Salto swimming hole.
Unlike North American lodging options that tend to revolve around camping and hotels, Costa Rica offers an abundance of eco-lodges. This is lodging where the outdoor environment is not only its main draw but an influence on the design of the lodging environment. One great example is the Cerro Escondido Lodge on the Nicoya Peninsula, which is the central lodging for the Karen Mogensen Nature Reserve. The lodge offers guests meals in a covered kitchen without walls and a dining area with food and frescas prepared fresh throughout the day. Guests here are paired with a guide - a for-hire option at many of the parks and trails throughout the country - who acts as an interpreter of the area's flora, fauna and features, as well as a wildlife-whisperer whose immense knowledge leads to many more wildlife sightings and encounters than simply going for a hike on one's own!
In short, Costa Rica encompasses the challenge of a new and foreign environment with a landscape and economy that welcomes travelers and adventurers to many of their parks and towns. In a country roughly the size of the state of West Virginia, there is so much to see and experience. We hope that some of the ideas above will point you in the right direction of creating your ideal adventures in this tropical land.