Want the essentials in a hurry? If you’re thinking about a trip to Costa Rica, here’s our quick round-up of the country’s can’t-miss sights and activities, and where to stay for them.
There’s ziplining – and there’s ziplining
Hiking, kayaking, snorkelling, canyoning, and rafting are all pretty much mandatory in Costa Rica’s national parks, but the country has made an entire industry of ziplining, and if there’s one must-do here, this is it. It’s almost reached cliché status, but don’t let that put you off – flying through and above jungle canopy is truly exhilarating and it gives you seriously memorable views you just can’t get any other way. In Monteverde you can see the region’s enormous cloud forest from overhead, and feel like you could be soaring over a prehistoric wilderness a million years ago.
Nature is the star of the show in Costa Rica – the jungles, ravines, mountains, volcanoes and waterways of the national parks are fantastic for outdoor adventure, but they’re also teeming with some amazing wildlife. Monteverde gives you the chance to see some colourful birdlife, including the resplendent quetzal (which is spectacular enough to be included on Guatemala’s flag); you can also see the birds in Arenal Volcano National Park, which is home to white-headed capuchin monkeys. However, perhaps the country’s wildest area is Corcovado National Park – its biodiversity ranges from bull sharks and crocodiles in its rivers to endangered monkeys, jaguars, and other cats in the forests and humpback whales off the coast.
Go diving off Cocos Island
Like the on-land natural sights, it’s tough to pick a winner for dive sites along Costa Rica’s considerable coastline. Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific coast gives you the chance to dive with turtles, while Cahuita on the Caribbean side has a beautiful coral reef and wreck-diving. Actually, our pick is 300 miles off the coast in the Pacific, almost equidistant between the Costa Rican mainland and the Galapagos. And Cocos Island probably shares more in common with the wildlife haven that had such an influence on Charles Darwin. Its biodiversity is extraordinary and Cocos Island is a great place to see marlin, various sharks, manta rays and schools of tuna, and it’s home to nearly 30 endemic species of fish, including the bizarrely human-looking rosy-lipped batfish.
Where to stay: You can’t stay on Cocos Island, so you’ll need to join a dive trip sailing from Puntarenas. There are plenty of hotels in Puntarenas, such as Hotel Alamar, but some dive operators will also pick you up from hotels in San Jose, where there’s the broadest selection, from budget places like Casa 69 to upmarket ones such as Grano de Oro.
Essential surf spots
Whether you’re experienced or you’ve never surfed before, you can’t miss the varied and excellent surfing opportunities on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Playa Tamarindo is probably the best-known break in the country and best-set-up for beginners; consequently it is also one of the busiest. Nearby Playa Grande can be a better option for more advanced surfers, often breaking head-high, but Playa Guiones further south is a mixed reef-and-beach break that’s great fun for intermediates and works at all tides.
Where to stay: There are several hotels in Tamarindo right near the main beach, such as Hotel Tamarindo Diria Beach Resort. For Playa Guiones there’s a range of surf-oriented hostels and hotels in Nosara nearby, such as Surf Bikini Retreat, a couple of miles from the break.
Have you been to Costa Rica, or would you like to go?