1. The Wildlife
Toucans and sloths, monkeys, turtles and more, Costa Rica is an absolute haven for wildlife lovers. A visit to the rainforest is your best chance of seeing the richest variety of wildlife, but howler monkeys, iguanas, hummingbirds and others can be easily seen along the coast. If you’ve never heard the unworldly growl of a howler monkey before, it’s a sound that takes some getting used to (especially outside your window at 5am), but the memory will stay with you long after you return home. To make the most of your animal-spotting excursions, consider hiring a private guide for the day who will know just where and when you’ll see the most variety, and remember, early to bed; most wildlife tours start at sunrise.
2. The Beaches
Are you looking for soft white sands or pounding waves to test your surf skills? In Costa Rica you can enjoy both, on the same day. Guanacaste’s secluded fine sand Playa Conchal is off the beaten path and perfect for floating lazily around, while a few miles down the (sometimes dirt) road, you’ll find Playa Negra, one of the best surf beaches in the country. Further south, Manuel Antonio National Park has a host of beautiful beaches, as well as tidal pools that are great for snorkeling.
3. The Eco-Love
Costa Rica is one of the most bio-diverse countries in the world. Taking up less than 0.5% of the world’s landmass, it boasts of 5% of the world’s species. From the forests to animal and marine life, the richness and abundance of life here is a wonderful thing to behold. Even more wonderful is the country’s commitment to preserving this unique environment. It was one of the first countries to embrace eco tourism wholeheartedly, and in fact Costa Rica as a nation aims to be carbon neutral by 2021. Many of the vacation homes and hotels are built from local, replenishable materials, and harness renewable energy sources, so you can rest assured during your stay that you’re helping to maintain the country’s beauty for future generations.
4. The Adventure
If you’re looking for ways to get your heart racing, you’ll find plenty of them here. Treetop walks through the breathtaking Monteverde cloud forest will have you wondering if you’re awake or dreaming, while zip lines through the rainforest canopy will bring you into close proximity with monkeys and colorful birds. Back at ground level, horseback rides through the hills or along the beach allow you to catch your thrill at a more leisurely pace.
5. The Volcanoes
Wherever you roam, chances are you’ll run across an active volcano. The country has six of them, the most famous of which is Arenal, where you’ll find all manner of outdoor activities, from treks to windsurfing on the nearby lake. While Arenal is undoubtedly the most spectacular of the volcanoes, with its almost symmetrical shape rising above the forest, it’s a little harder to reach from the coast. If you’re short on time and staying in the Guanacaste region, two other great volcano experiences are Miravalles and el Ricon de la Vieja. At both you’ll be able to bathe in mineral rich pools, hike the trails, or try your hand at the ubiquitous zip lining.
6. The Hot Springs
Imagine soaking up the healing properties of naturally mineral-rich hot springs as you gaze at the outline of a gently smoking volcano… feels pretty good doesn’t it? At Tabacon Hot Springs near Arenal, the underground Tabacon river feeds into five different pools at different temperatures. You can sit under a crashing waterfall or float down the stream, enjoy a relaxing massage then head to the swim-up bar for a different type of refreshment.
7. The Lifestyle
One of the first things you’ll hear when you arrive is ‘Pura Vida!’ Used as a greeting, an affirmation and a philosophy, it translates literally as ‘pure life’ and encompasses the outlook of the locals. In fact, Costa Rica was recently rated the World’s Happiest Country. Life moves at a slower pace here compared to North American cities, and most visitors agree that it’s a good thing. Laid back, relaxed and happy to share their time and knowledge, simple tasks like filling out rental car paperwork may take longer here, but you’re guaranteed service with a truly genuine smile.
Ready to go? Here’s where to stay in Costa Rica