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Highlights of Costa Rica

Get ready for an unforgettable Costa Rica Holiday and dive into one of Earth's most biodiverse wonders in this region-by-region breakdown of Costa Rica's best activities.

Amanda

Amanda

Latin America Specialist
Published on

04 Sept 2023

Updated on

03 Jan 2024

Costa Rica Puntarenas Manuel Antonio

Planning a Costa Rica Holiday? Read our summary of the best things to do in each area of Costa Rica from Arenal to Corcovado!

Why visit Costa Rica?

  • One of the most biodiverse places on earth, Costa Rica is a paradise for any nature lover.
  • Beaches, coral reefs, tropical rainforests, and volcanoes are staples you can’t miss experiencing.
  • San José is a cultural hub full of museums and art galleries for any city lover to enjoy.
  • According to the 2020 Global Peace Index, in Central America and The Caribbean, Costa Rica is ranked the number one most peaceful country in the region out of 12.

Costa Rica is a country divided into seven provinces (Guanacaste, Puntarenas, Alajuela, Heredia, San José, Cartago and Limón) and 4 mountain ranges (Cordillera de Guanacaste, Cordillera de Tilarán, Cordillera Volcánica Central and Cordillera de Talamanca) that perfectly divide the Pacific and the Caribbean sides of the country by the middle.

Central Valley Costa Rica Map

Central Valley

  • Located in the middle of Costa Rica, the region covers four of the seven provinces of the country.
  • Explore stunning volcanoes and indulge in amazing coffee tour adventures within charming mountain communities.

Top three activities

1. La Paz Waterfall

As you arrive at La Paz, only 20 minutes from San Jose, you will walk through a trail, leading to a spectacular waterfall in the middle of the rainforest. Inside the park, you can also visit the hummingbird gallery, the birdhouse, the butterfly garden, and the frog exhibit.

2. Rainforest Aerial Tram

Float silently through the canopy of the forest and open your senses to view the forest from a unique perspective, gazing down at the star pattern of a palm tree from above, whilst noticing the scent of treetop flowers and the mellow song of a nearby trogon. The tram gives you a holistic view of one of nature's most complex creations and provides an excellent introduction to Costa Rica's incredible biodiversity.

3. Birdwatching

Bird watching is one of the fastest-growing pastimes with more and more enthusiasts around the world. At that San Gerardo de Dota, you arrive at a place that can offer superlative birding, so much so that it is included in the book: Fifty Places to Go Birding Before You Die: Experts Share the World's Greatest Destinations.

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Quetzal Costa Rica min
Resplendant queztal in Costa Rica
Catarata de la Paz Alajuela Costa Rica min
A Waterfall in La Paz in Costa Rica
Carribean Coast Map

Caribbean Coast

  • The Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica is known for its exuberant canals and its abundant mangroves.
  • Discover some of the best beaches the country has to offer, hidden inside breathtaking rainforests.
  • Travel throughout the canals just like the communities in the region and embrace their culture.

Top Three Activities

1. Cahuita Snorkeling and Rainforest Hike

The Cahuita National Park has the largest coral reef system in Costa Rica, featuring six species of coral, a wide variety of colourful tropical fish, and the occasional encounter with the reef shark or the manta ray. This beach is shaped like a horseshoe, with the park entrance at one end and the beautiful Punta Cahuita at the other end.

2. Pacuare River Rafting

Pacuare River is famous for its scenic beauty and thrilling rapids. A true river gorge, flanked by natural green cliffs and thick foliage.

3. Kayak Tour in Tortuguero

Kayaking around Tortuguero is perhaps the most intimate way to view the area's wildlife. The relative silence of travelling by kayak, sliding smoothly over the colourful water channels, means you're less likely to spook the more skittish members of the animal world.

Cahuita National Park South Caribbean
Cahuita National Park
Tortuguero National Park Kayak Tour
Tortuguero Kayak Tour
Northern Plains

Northern Plains

  • A region that hosts the incredible Arenal Volcano, amongst others as well as many relaxing hot springs.
  • The Northern plains offer a wealth of community-related activities, including spending time with, and learning from, the indigenous Maleku community, or sampling local home-cooked cuisine at family-run restaurants.
  • Experience high-adrenaline activities like ziplining in some of the highest and fastest canopies in the country or rafting down some beautiful rivers.

Top three activities

1. Arenal Volcano Hike

Enjoy the most extraordinary view on a gentle hike along the base of the marvellous Arenal volcano, admire the lava fields, Arenal Lake, and the beautiful surrounding rainforest.

2. Celeste River Hike: Tenorio Volcano

Mysterious and imposing, in the very centre of the Tenorio Volcano, manifestations of hidden power transform the union of the Buena Vista and Roble rivers into a sky-blue stream, giving birth to an extraordinary natural phenomenon: Light Blue River.

3. Farmers Tour & Tree Planting

After a 35-minute journey, you will arrive at a beautiful reforestation area surrounded by the mountains of the Children's Eternal Rainforest. On this site, you will go on a small path where you will see the typical forest of this region, as well as some of the local wildlife.

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Emerald Basilisk Arenal Costa Rica min
Emerald Basilisk in the Rainforest
Tenorio Lake Arenal Northern Plains Costa Rica min
Light Blue River, Tenorio
Arenal Volcano
Arenal Volcano

Arenal Volcano

  • Arenal's landscape is an adventure playground, from hiking through lush rainforests to rappelling through canopy forests and navigating white-water rapids.
  • Relaxation takes center stage with rejuvenating hot springs like Tabacón and the intimate EcoTermales, providing blissful havens after a day of thrilling escapades.
  • The bustling town of La Fortuna, located at the volcano's base, serves as a lively hub offering a mix of local markets, hotels, bars, and restaurants, providing an exciting starting point for your Arenal adventure.

Top three activities

1. Volcanic Hot Springs

Unwind at Arenal's soothing hot springs - Tabacon or EcoTermales - surrounded on all sides by the sights and sounds of the rainforest surroundings; an indulgent relaxation experience with a scenic view of the volcano.

2. La Fortuna Waterfall

Swim under this majestic 70-meter cascade, nestled within a lush 210-acre biological reserve in the Arenal Volcano National Park. Accessible through a secure forest path, revel in the beauty of native trees and the breathtaking waters of La Fortuna River, as you consider how your visit supports the sustainable growth of the La Fortuna community.

3. Hanging Bridges Tour

Take an expertly guided tour from the floor to the canopy of the rainforest along the suspended hanging walkways where you will see an impressive array of flowers, trees, birds, monkeys, and lizards. Bring a camera for yet another amazing view of the Arenal Volcano.

Hanging Bridges Northern Plains
Hanging Bridges Arenal National Park
La Fortuna Waterfall Arenal Volcano Costa Rica min
La Fortuna Waterfall, Arenal National Park
Guanacaste

North Pacific

  • The North Pacific boasts one of the most unique forests in the country - the tropical dry forest.
  • Visit Nicoya Peninsula, Guanacaste, home of one of the few blue zones found all over the planet. The term 'blue zone' refers to geographic areas in which people have low rates of chronic disease and live longer than anywhere else.
  • Discover Nosara, renowned for its vibrant surfing and yoga scene. Upon arrival, the allure becomes evident – stunning beaches, proximity to nature – earning its reputation as a top global destination, epitomizing health and wellness.
  • The region also has one of the most culturally important places in the country, the Santa Rosa sector, where an American Confederate Union invasion was thwarted by locals.

Top Three Activities

1. Santa Rosa National Park Tour

This park is the most important monument for the protection of the dry forest and freedom after the independence. You will visit La Casona where in 1856 the Costa Rican army compound by countrymen, beat a group of filibusters that tried to conquer the whole Central American territory.

2. Coastal kayak Tamarindo

Take a kayak tour from Tamarindo beach to Captain Island where for approximately one hour you can enjoy the calm waters and an immense variety of colourful fish, octopus, rays, coral, and with some luck, sea turtles.

3. Rafting at Tenorio River

Located in the heart of Guanacaste, the Tenorio River will test your courage and challenge your skills in its incredible rapids.

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Santa Rosa National Park Guanacaste 2
Santa Rosa National Park
Hacienda Guachipelin Guanacaste 3
CR Central Pacific map

Central Pacific

  • Discover two of the most biodiverse, representative, and important parks in the country: Monteverde Cloud Forest and Manuel Antonio National Park.
  • If you get the chance, try to find the beautiful quetzal, a truly unique bird that inhabits the region
  • Enjoy some of the most popular beaches by the locals and eat a cool ¨churchi´´ at the port, an icy treat named after the British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill.

Top Three Activities

1. Monteverde Reserve

Created in 1972, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is one of the most famous in the world and one of the most important private protected areas in Costa Rica, with an area of 3,500 hectares. It was chosen in 2007 as one of the Seven Wonders of Costa Rica.

2. Sky Tram, Trek & Walk Adventure

The complete combination of adventure and nature. Begin with the Sky Walk, which is a combination of trails and suspension bridges, some up to a length of 100 metres, and heights that exceed the forest canopy. The tour allows us to appreciate the richness and diversity of flora and fauna of this beautiful region.

3. Don Juan Coffee Tour

Monteverde is one of the best areas to learn about the coffee growing processes, which is so representative of Costa Rica. Consequently, the Don Juan estate has been developed in a way that stands out as authentic and representative of the local culture.

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Extreme Canopy Tour Monteverde Costa Rica
Canopy Tour in Monteverde
Costa Rica Rainforest walkway Jaco
Rainforest Walkway in Jaco, Costa Rica
CR South Pacific map

South Pacific

  • Inside the South Pacific region lies the Corcovado National Park, widely considered to be one of the most intensely biodiverse places on Earth.
  • The region also has incredible mangroves and canals, including the Sierpe River.
  • The region is a perfect place for wildlife and birdwatching activities. You can encounter animals such as tapirs, sloths, monkeys, or even jaguars on the rare occasion.

Top Three Activities:

1. Gold Tour

The artisanal gold mining tour is a highly cultural experience regarding gold's traditional extraction from the streams and rivers at Peninsula de Osa.

2. Caño Island Tour

Snorkel the clear waters of Caño Island Biological Reserve, a utopia of coral and rock formations, filled with schools of vibrant tropical fish.

3. Kayak Tour Golfo Dulce

Take amazing kayak tours across the mangroves and through the Golfo Dulce waters at sunrise for incredible views. If you are lucky, you will get the chance to see a huge variety of marine flora and fauna, including dolphins and whales.

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Stingray at Cano Island Reserve Costa Rica
A stingray at Caño Island Biological Reserve
Kayaking Osa Peninsula Costa Rica
Kayaking in the Osa Peninsula

Wildlife of Costa Rica

Being one of the most biodiverse countries in the world, you can expect to find many different species of animals you may have never encountered before. From small monkeys to big felines, some of these animals are:

Tapirs

Baird's Tapirs, scientifically known as Tapirus bairdii, are sizable herbivorous creatures with a distinctive appearance. Their prehensile snouts and pointed ears give them an intriguing blend of features reminiscent of both a pig and a pack mule.

Although various tapir species inhabit regions of South America and Southeast Asia, Baird's Tapir is predominantly found within the confines of Costa Rica. Within Costa Rican territory, these animals are referred to as "dantas."

Tapir Costa Rica
Tapir, Costa Rica

Turtles

During sea turtle nesting season, visit places like Tortuguero National Park, the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, or Gandoca-Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge to watch them. There are seven types of sea turtles in the world, and Costa Rica is home to five of them. It is estimated that over 500,000 turtles from the Caribbean Sea and Atlantic Ocean arrive during each nesting season.

Turtle nesting Playa del ostional Guanacaste Costa Rica min
Nesting mother turtle, Playa Ostional
Baby turtle Costa Rica
Baby turtle, Costa Rica

Sloths

There are six distinct species of sloths, and they are exclusively found in the lush tropical rainforests of Central and South America, spanning from Honduras in the north to Bolivia and Brazil in the south. Costa Rica emerges as an exceptional destination for observing sloths due to its rich variety of species and the dedicated conservation efforts the country offers for their protection. Within Costa Rica's borders, two particular types can be found: the Hoffman’s Two-Toed Sloth (Choloepus hoffmanni) and the Brown-throated Three-fingered sloth (Bradypus variegatus).

For those eager to witness these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat, the ideal approach is to engage a knowledgeable naturalist guide or pay a visit to a wildlife refuge or rescue center. These options greatly enhance the chances of encountering sloths in the wild.

Sloth Puerto Viejo Costa Rica
Sloth at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca

Poison Dart Frog

The seven species of Costa Rican poison dart frogs have some level of toxins but not lethal for humans. Poison Dart Frogs are tiny frogs in radiant colors in the humid lowlands. Their name stems from poison contained in their skin that native Colombian tribes used for poison on their arrows.

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Strawberry poison dart frog
Tree climber dart frog costa rica
Tree climber poison dart frog

Jaguar

The Jaguar is the third largest member of the cat family in the world. It can grow to over two metres in length and weigh up to 250 pounds. As apex predators indigenous to Costa Rica, they play a crucial ecological role in maintaining balanced ecosystems.

While their elusive nature makes sightings rare, camera traps have captured their presence in protected areas like Corcovado National Park and La Amistad International Park. Conservation efforts, such as establishing wildlife corridors, aim to safeguard their habitat. Despite challenges from habitat loss and poaching, jaguars stand as a symbol of Costa Rica's biodiversity.

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Jaguar, Costa Rica

Howler Monkeys

Howler monkeys are a common sight in Costa Rica. Their distinctive loud calls, especially in the early morning, add a unique vibe to the forests. These monkeys are recognized for their strong vocalizations that play a crucial role in the forest's communication network. With their robust appearance, long tails, and thick fur, they're easily spotted in different parts of the country, moving through the trees. Observing howler monkeys offers an interesting way to connect with Costa Rica's diverse wildlife.

Howler Monkey Puerto Viejo de Talamanca Costa Rica min
A howler monkey in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca
Howler Monkey Corcovado National Park Costa Rica min
A howler monkey in Corcovado National Park

If you're interested in organising a Costa Rica Holidays then give our experts a call today on 01768 305715 or fill in our enquiry form. All of our holidays are tailored exactly to your specifications so we can create the perfect Costa Rica getaway for you, or for more inspiration, take a look at our Costa Rica trip ideas.

Cloud forest Costa Rica min
Cloud Forest in Costa Rica

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