Costa Rica is sometimes overlooked when considering a Central American vacation in favor of Mexico and the islands of the Caribbean. But while the country may be quite small, it has a rich landscape and history that means there are some amazing places to see. Here are some of the very best.
Visiting Costa Rica
Costa Rica has a coastline on both the Pacific and the Caribbean Sea meaning there are plenty of stunning Costa Rica vacation rentals with coastal locations to choose as a base for your stay. The Caribbean coast is the smaller at just 132 miles while the Pacific coastline runs the length of the country at over 600 miles. The country has a tropical climate all year round, though the geography does affect this. The ‘summer’ or dry season runs from December to April while the ‘winter’ or rainy season runs from May to November.
For fans of wildlife, the country is bountiful. Despite having a landmass of only 0.1% of the planet, it contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity. In fact, a quarter of the country is protected in the form of national parks and protected areas, the highest percentage of any country in the world.
The National Parks
Corcovado National Park
Corcovado National park is part of the larger Osa Conservation Area is the largest national park in the country. It is one of the best national parks in terms of the ecological diversity – it protects the largest primary forest on the Pacific coast of the American continent and is one of the few lowland tropical forest areas anywhere in the world. There are daily visits to the park but you must be with a certified guide and there are various trails to follow. Highlights include big cats such as puma and ocelot, all four of the country’s monkey species and even poisonous dart frogs.
Poas Volcano National Park
The Poas Volcano National Park ranks as the most visited attracted in the country, partly because of it close to San Jose and its international airport. The crater of the volcano is one of the largest in the world and you can hike to the rim – but always go with a knowledgeable guide as this is an active volcano! It is a very lush and green area but is prone to rainfall at all times of the year so make sure you pack wet weather gear.
Arenal Volcano National Park
This volcano is in what is called a ‘resting phase’ so isn’t active at the moment but isn’t dormant either. While the volcano itself is the highlight of the visit, there is a lot to do in this park. Whitewater rafting, zip line tours and even hanging bridges are all available if you are brave enough. Or if you are looking for something a little more relaxing, there are hot spring pools with amazing views of the volcano and offering hot stone massages or volcanic mud wraps in the associated spas. Temperatures here are a little higher than at Poas but rain can still come at any time.
Tortugero National Park
Despite being to the far north-east of the country, this is the third most visited of the country’s national parks and can only be reached by airplane or boat. There are eleven different habitats in the park ranging from the rainforest and mangrove forest to beaches and lagoons. It is a very humid area with high annual rainfall. One of its biggest attractions gives the park its name – tortugas means ‘turtle’ and this where a number of species lay their eggs. There are also jaguars, monkeys, sloths and over 350 species of bird in the park.
As well as the stunning National Parks, there are many natural wonders across Costa Rica that are worth visiting. La Fortuna Waterfall is one example – it can only be reached by car ride or on horseback but isn’t far from the Arenal Volcano national park. The waterfall is 200 feet high and you can swim in the pool at the bottom or have a picnic on the edges.
Celeste River is famous for the color of the water – a light turquoise blue that is quite unusual. While looking artificial, the color is entirely natural. This one is a challenge to reach and there is a hike of around three hours through the rainforest to reach it but if you like the exertion, the view when you reach it is worth it.
With its long Pacific coast and short but significant Caribbean coast, there are lots of beaches around Costa Rica that offer the balance of relaxation and great activities.
Tamarindo is a regional hub that has a lot of activities to do including scuba diving, snorkeling, swimming and even horseback riding. It is a short distance from San Jose and the Tamarindo National Wildlife Refuge is just a short distance away, with its mangrove forests and estuaries.
Santa Teresa is a surfer’s paradise that is also a wide, long beach that is perfect to relax. Nearby is the Cabo Blanco National Park as well as Mapais, the beach hamlet that is a popular tourist spot on the Nicoya Peninsula. Santa Teresa is also known for its international cuisine with many high-quality restaurants and daily yoga classes on the beach.
While the natural landscape of Costa Rica is definitely the draw for many visitors, there are also cities to visit. Top of the list is San Jose, the capital, the seat of government and the economic center of the country. Despite being one of the youngest capitals in Central America, the city still has plenty of historic sites to visit and is undergoing a modernization program including a new transport system.
Variety and beautiful
Costa Rica offers a great place to visit for people who like everything from surfing and relaxing on the beach to hikes through the rainforest and visits to volcanos. The country is a very progressive one with the highest rating on the Human Development Index of any Latin America country and is also known for its environmental policies, with the national parks being the centerpiece. All of this makes it a variety and beautiful place for a vacation.