Beaches, volcanoes, jungles, cloud forests and a focus on sustainability.
It’s not often you find a destination that makes you feel almost virtuous for visiting – but Costa Rica may be that place. Striving to be the world’s first carbon-neutral country by 2050, this Central American nation of five million already generates virtually all its electricity from renewable sources.
One-quarter of the country is protected within the National System of Conservation Areas, helping to protect an astonishing five per cent of the planet’s biodiversity, and sustainability is woven into Costa Ricans’ everyday life. To help tourists make choices that minimize their impact on the environment, the Costa Rica Tourism Board rewards businesses that sustainably manage natural, cultural and social resources with a BASIC or ELITE Certificate of Sustainable Tourism.
But, of course, Costa Rica is much more than an eco-tourism hot spot. It’s a land of beaches, volcanoes, jungles and cloud forests, offering a wide range of activities for those seeking relaxation, adventure, natural experiences and everything in between.
Nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is ridged by three mountain ranges (the Guanacaste, Central and Talamanca) featuring active volcanoes. The country’s highest point, Cerro Chirripó, rises more than 3,800 metres above sea level.
Sun worshippers can choose from about 600 beaches curving along more than 1,200 kilometres of Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea coastline, with white sand or black sand, and opportunities to surf the waves or dive beneath them.
Birdwatchers appreciate that five million birds visit Costa Rica every year, migrating from as far away as the Arctic Circle. Exotic animal spotters love that the country is hospitable to sea turtles, crocodiles, a wide assortment of frogs and toads, coyotes, jaguars, coatis and squirrel monkeys.
Ocean enthusiasts get excited by the offshore coral reefs and underwater mountains teeming with life, including 90 marine species that can be found only in these waters. In December and January, there’s even a chance to spot humpback whales, dolphins and devil rays swimming off the Costa Rican coasts.
Meanwhile, the adventurous leap at the chance to cross a suspension bridge through the tree canopy, rappel down a waterfall, zip-line across a river canyon or go whitewater rafting and sea kayaking. Or, for a change of pace, to canoe peacefully across placid lakes.
Here are some not-to-miss experiences in Costa Rica.
Follow a naturalist into the rainforest. Go smaller-scale at compact Manuel Antonio National Park, where a naturalist guide will help you spot rainforest flora and fauna. Stay to watch the sun set from one of the park’s two beaches.
Step into history. The Museos Banco Central de Costa Rica in San José display archaeological artifacts, historical coins and Costa Rican art. Two other museums to consider while you’re in the capital city include the Museo del Jade and the Museo Nacional.
Ride a horse to a waterfall. Family-run Cataratas Nauyaca provides horseback riding tours through a tropical rainforest to sparkling waterfalls. No horseback riding experience is necessary, but you can also get there by pickup truck or on foot.
Visit a volcano. Arenal Volcano National Park offers much more beyond the iconic volcano, quiet since 2010, at its heart. Explore trails and hot springs while you keep an eye out for sloths, howler monkeys and white-faced capuchins.
Touch the clouds. Up in the mountains, the Monteverde Cloud Forest is home to about half of Costa Rica’s biodiversity (2.5 per cent of the world’s), including birds, mammals, amphibians, reptiles, butterflies, dragonflies and more than 3,200 plant species.
Zipline with an ocean view. At Diamante Eco Adventure Park, zip-line for almost a mile on a dual line (so you can share the experience with someone else) down to the beach. If zip-lining isn’t everyone’s speed, the park also boasts a botanical garden and an animal sanctuary.
Relax in a beach town. Stroll along golden sand beaches at Tamarindo, take a surfing lesson or check out the underwater scene with scuba or snorkelling gear. If you’re there between October and April, sign up for a sunset tour to watch sea turtles lay their eggs.
If you are interested and excited about travelling to a unique destination, consider Costa Rica. There’s lots of information available at www.visitcostarica.com.
Flights to Costa Rica land in San José (the capital) or Liberia and take about five hours from Toronto or Montreal and about seven hours from Vancouver. Accommodation options range from all-inclusive resorts to luxury hotels, mountain lodges and beach cabins. Although Costa Rica is relatively small, there’s so much to see that it’s easy to fill a 10- to 14-day itinerary.
Costa Rica has lifted many of the COVID-19 measures that once applied to tourists, including the requirement for a negative test. However, at the time of writing the government continues to require masks in many settings. In addition, tourists must follow private companies’ health protocols, which may include vaccination requirements.