Tours, Activities, Excursions, and Day Trips in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a rugged, rainforested Central American country with coastlines on the Caribbean and Pacific. Roughly a quarter of its area is made up of protected jungle. Such wildlife abounds in Costa Rica as to seem almost cartoonish: keel-billed toucans ogle you from treetops and scarlet macaws raucously announce their flight plans. A keen eye will discern a sloth on a branch or the eyes of a caiman breaking the surface of a mangrove swamp, while alert ears will catch rustling leaves signaling a troop of white-faced capuchins or the haunting call of a howler monkey. Blue morpho butterflies flit amid orchid-festooned trees, while colorful tropical fish, sharks, rays, dolphins and whales thrive offshore. Costa Rica is world famous for having an incredibly high level of biodiversity throughout its tropical forests, which includes rain forests, cloud forests, and dry forests. Just like anywhere, the farther you get off the beaten path, the more likely you are to see a wide variety of flora and fauna.
Though its capital, San Jose, is home to cultural institutions like the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, Costa Rica is known for its beaches, volcanoes, and adventure. Costa Rica offers a dizzying suite of outdoor adventures in every shape and size. National parks allow visitors to glimpse life in both rainforest and cloud forest, simmering volcanoes offer otherworldly vistas, and reliable surf breaks are suited to beginners and experts alike. And you don't even have to choose only one option. Because of the country's size, you can plan a relatively short trip that includes it all.
Costa Rica offers some great rafting opportunities. It is one of the countries with more rivers per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world. Nearly anywhere you go you will find some kind of river trip to enjoy nature from a very unique point of view. For many years, the rafting Mecca of Costa Rica was Turrialba, a large town embedded in the mountains near the Reventazon and Pacuare Rivers, on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica. However, the Arenal Volcano area is now an increasingly-popular whitewater rafting destination.
Costa Rica is also home to some of the best scuba diving in Central America. With diving on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts as well as the world famous Cocos Island, there is something for all scuba enthusiasts.
The country is also a great surfing destination, with many surfing hotspots. The best time of year to surf is from November - August. The Pacific coast, particularly in the Central Pacific and Guanacaste, has some of the best surfing in Central America. In the Guanacaste there are several beaches to choose from if you intend to go surfing. Among them, Playa Negra and Playa Grande are two stand out breaks. Playa Negra breaks over a shallow lava reef producing fast hollow waves for advanced surfers only. Playa Grande is the most consistent break in the area with surfable conditions most days of the year. It breaks over a sandy bottom and is good for beginner and experienced surfers.
Costa Rica also has great mountain biking routes, particularly near Irazu, Turrialba and Arenal Volcanoes. The area around Lake Arenal is a great spot to bike. You can circle the lake in one long day, or break up the ride in two sleeping in Tilaran or Nuevo Arenal. The use of mountain bikes is a must, since the southern shore of the lake is unpaved.
"Canopy tours" or zip-lines are very popular tourist activities and are found all over Costa Rica. These use a series of zip-lines to travel between platforms attached to the trees, through and over the forest canopy and over rivers. The person is secured with harnesses to the metal cords, as some go very high off the ground. Be sure to ask about the zip-line certification before booking and be sure to take part in the safety briefing before participating.
Another form of canopy tour is via an aerial tram which are ski lifts modified for the rainforest. These trams are slower allowing the visitor to view wildlife in the canopy. Each tram has a guide who will explain the flora and fauna. The trams exist at adventure parks near Jaco Beach and just outside Braulio Carrillo National Park and are appropriate for all ages. The trams may be combined with ziplining and often have other attractions.
Costa Rica is a country with an extraordinary wealth of things to do, but regardless of your travel interests, you're going to want to spend time at one of the country's great beaches. The lion's share of beach tourism is concentrated on the Pacific side, in the Central Pacific region near San Jose, the Nicoya Peninsula, and in the dry tropical forests of Guanacaste. Less touristed, but no less beautiful are the beaches in the tropical rainforest of the southern Pacific coast near Corcovado National Park, or on the exotic, rastafarian, eco-tourism paradise of the Caribbean side.
If marketing experts could draw up an ideal destination, Costa Rica might be it. The 'rich coast' has earned its name and stands apart from its Central American neighbors on the cutting edge of so many trends: surfing, farm-to-table restaurants, and sustainable tourism. A visit to Costa Rica will let you experience the pure life or "pura vida" as the locals say, where you can just relax and enjoy the ride.