The reigning eco-tourism darling in Central America, Costa Rica features beautiful beaches, along with volcanoes, mountains, rivers and lakes. Thanks to its established tourism infrastructure, adventurers can spot wildlife in the cloud forests one day, hike an active volcano or zipline through the the forest canopy the next and end by relaxing on a beach.
Costa Rica has a network of well-established national parks and protected areas that cover over 20% of the country’s landmass. Its biodiversity – spanning rainforests, cloud forests and dry forests – include an impressive array of flora (including 1,500 species of orchids) and fauna (like the jaguar, Margay and about 800 species of birds). Eco-lodges abound in Costa Rica, providing sustainable hospitality and protecting neighbouring preserves.
Famous for its biodiveristy, Costa Rica’s nature reserves are great places to catch a glimpse of classic Central American wildlife like sloths, pumas, tapirs and anteaters, as well as hundreds of species of colourful birds like the exotic quetzal. The Tortuguero Conservation Area is especially famous for nesting sea turtles, while the abundant natural canals and beach ecosystems house protected species like manatees and otters, as well as tapir, puma, ocelots, jaguarundi and the three-toed sloth.
Corcovado National Park, the last original tract of tropical rainforest in Central America, is home to Costa Rica’s largest scarlet macaw colony, along with tapirs, giant anteaters and the harpy eagle. The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is renowned for its amphibians and reptiles, especially the Golden Toad (which supposedly disappeared in 1989). The tiny Manuel Antonio National Park attracts visitors to its beautiful beaches and hiking trails dotted with coves, and its forest is home to both two- and three-toed sloths, along with a variety of monkeys (howler, squirrel and capuchin).
Sluiced by plentiful rivers, Costa Rica is a haven for whitewater rafting and boating. A boat trip down the lowland rivers like the Sarapiquí and Tempisque is an excellent way to observe wildlife like monkeys and fishing birds that lounge along the banks. For more action, whitewater rafting can be had along Pacuare, Tenorio and Savegre rivers (all Class III-IV), or head to the wilder Chorro Section (Class IV+) of the Naranjo River, which runs from December to May.
Costa Rica is famous for its number of canopy tours which offer a monkey’s-eye view of the rainforest canopy where you can easily spot tree frogs, vine snakes and hundreds of bird species. These are often set within national parks throughout the country, with the best in Monteverde, Arenal and Manuel Antonio. Canopy tours at several private reserves involve strapping on harnesses and pulling yourself along suspended cables to a series of treetop wooden platforms. Plenty more have zip-line options, allowing you to fly through the canopy. An easier option is an aerial tram – a modified ski lift that offers wildlife commentaries. There are also canopy walks which are essentially suspension bridges that span the treetops.