Costa Rica is often defined by its unspoiled nature and wildlife – an image bolstered by the country’s significant conservation and sustainability efforts. The country generates around 90% of its electricity from renewable sources and over 25% of its land is protected as parks and reserves. That leaves a lot of room for animals and birds such as monkeys, sloths, anteaters, toucans, macaws, quetzals, sea turtles and crocodiles, to roam across the country’s diverse habitats. The relatively small size of Costa Rica also makes it an easy place to maximize flora and fauna sightings – the country has the highest density of unique species in the world.
Most visits to Costa Rica start in the capital, San José, in the Central Highlands. The city is a good place to grab a coffee brewed from beans grown in the surrounding farmlands or better yet as a jumping off point to explore the Poás or Irazú volcanoes.
Northwest from the capital is the Northern Lowlands, a region punctuated by the fiery Arenal Volcano – Costa Rica’s most active. The region’s pastoral hills lend themselves to horseback riding while its enveloping rainforests hide waterfall hikes and rushing rapids. One of the highlights of the area is the misty Montverde Cloud Forest Reserve which lies at an altitude of around 4,700 ft., collecting moisture from clouds which drips down the forest canopies to support an abundance of life. For a more remote experience, the wetlands of the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge, on the northern border with Nicaragua, are ideal for spotting seabirds, caimans, turtles, and other wildlife on an aquatic tour of its forest-lined waterways.
Along the Pacific Coast, the Guanacaste region in the northwest is home to some of the country’s best beaches, as well as cattle towns further inland with a distinct cowboy culture. On the central coast, Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s smallest parks but also one of its most spectacular. The park’s verdant rainforests serve as the backdrop for hiking with howler monkeys and its aqua waters are inviting for snorkelers and surfers. Continuing south, the Osa Peninsula retains a wild and secluded spirit that is not found in the more developed parts of the country. The peninsula is dotted with eco-lodges immersed in the natural environment, as well as the massive Corcovado National Park which offers rugged hiking trails and a chance to see elusive tapirs.
Costa Rica’s east coast is filled with beaches and an Afro-Caribbean culture brought from migrants who came to build the railway from Limón to San José toward the end of the 1800s. One of the region’s gems is Tortuguero National Park, on the northern end of the coast. The park is a haven for paddlers who traverse lagoons while watching for caimans, river otters, and of course turtles. The real action starts after sunset, when leatherback, Hawksbill, and green sea turtles shuffle up the shore to nest.
While temperatures are nice year round, the dry season in Costa Rica is from mid-November to April. The months of December and January are ideal for their dry skies but still green landscapes.
How to get there?
There are two international airports in Costa Rica – Juan Santamaria Airport (SJO) north of San Jose in the Central Valley and Daniel Oduber Airport (LIR) in Liberia with access to the Guanacaste region. Many major US cities have direct connections to the country including flights to San Jose from New York City (5 hours and 20 minutes), Atlanta (4 hours), and Los Angeles (6 hours).
How much time?
Costa Rica is a relatively small country and a week is enough to get a taste of the local Tico life. However, additional days are recommended for getting to more remote destinations or building in extra beach time.
Who is it for?
Travelers up for eco-conscious beach bumming, wildlife spotting from sky to sea, gliding through the forest canopy on a zip-line, surf-hopping the coast, or taking some heat from active volcanoes.
Passport holders from the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand are able to visit Costa Rica for 90 days without a visa. Passports must be valid for six months after the date of entry in Costa Rica.
How to get around?
Nature Air and Sansa Air offer affordable flights throughout the country with most travel times under or around an hour from San Jose. Car rental is available but can be harrowing and expensive. Better options are taking advantage of the country’s extensive bus network or hiring a car and driver.
Nayara Hotel, Spa & Gardens
Shrouded in the forests near Arenal Volcano National Park, Nayara Hotel’s romantic setting features magnificent views of the billowing volcano on clear days. The location also serves as a great base for experiencing nearby nature and adventures such as zip-lining, canyoning, white-water rafting, touring the forest canopies, and kayaking in the Caño Negro National Wildlife Refuge. All of the hotel’s rooms are freestanding bungalows, designed to blend harmoniously with the surrounding nature while delivering on modern amenities. After a day of adventures, the spa is a great place to unwind with treatments using local volcanic mud and organic chocolate clay rich in restoring minerals.
Lapa Rios Eco-Lodge
Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, on the wild Osa Peninsula, this exclusive eco-lodge is comprised of only 16 private bungalows, each with inviting private decks and canopy beds. Nature lovers hardly have to leave the lodge as monkeys and macaws frequent the grounds and surrounding private reserve, but nearby Corvocado National Park offers the opportunity for deep and diverse natural immersion across its 13 major ecosystems. The hotel also takes sustainability seriously and was the first to be awarded five-leaf status from the Costa Rica Tourism Board’s (ICT) Certification for Sustainable Tourism.
Deep in the heart of the rainforest, daring guests can reach this lodge by whitewater rafting the rapids of the scenic Pacuare River. Whether arriving by road or river, the sustainably-built, wood and palm-thatched bungalows offer an alluring retreat in an exotic jungle environment. From the lodge guests can repel down waterfalls, embark on guided naturalist hikes through the forest, and experience the culture of the indigenous Cabecar tribe. Even meals at the lodge can come with a side of thrills – dinner at the “Nest” is a private, candlelit culinary experience held on a 60 ft. high platform in the treetops.
Arenas Del Mar
Set in a private nature reserve with access to two beautiful beaches and views of nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, Arenas Del Mar is ideal for both exploration and relaxation. The carbon-neutral resort is a great for bird-watching, surfing, sailing, horseback riding or sunbathing. For a break from more active pursuits, guests can savor ocean vistas and fresh Costa Rican seafood at the resort’s restaurants or cool down in one of its two chlorine-free pools.