Costa Rica has few rivals when it comes to spectacular scenery. Flanked by two vast bodies of water, its dramatic geography is studded with majestic volcanoes, vast wetlands, pristine tropical forests, and breathtaking waterfalls plunging into turquoise pools.
t A river winding a lazy path through endless miles of verdant rainforest
Thrumming with life, Costa Rica’s celebrated rainforests are a major draw for wildlife lovers. Commune with monkeys on a treetop platform at Hacienda Barú one day, then follow a local guide the next through the undergrowth in Parque Nacional Corcovado to spot shy baird’s tapirs and still shier spotted cats.
From ash-spewing peaks to silent giants, a series of volcanoes trace a spine down Costa Rica’s core. Ringed by bubbling hot springs, passive Volcán Arenal is the most famous, but not the only one worth visiting. Climb its active cousin Volcán Poás to the summit to peek into its simmering crater. Alternatively, dive into the mud pools at Rincón de la Viejo for a bit of thermal therapy after a hike.
Mountainous terrain and high rainfall combine in stupendous cascades across the country, reached by trails through gorgeous forest. Bring a raincoat to towering La Paz Waterfall Garden: the spray is intense. Take a swimsuit to others, like those tumbling through Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio, where crystal-clear pools are ideal for a dip. For a different perspective, rappel into Cavernas de Venado to marvel at cascades deep beneath the earth.
Tall grasses and clusters of vibrant flowering trees rustle with wildlife in Guanacaste’s savanna-like tropical dry forests. Take to the short Indio Desnudo trail in Parque Nacional Santa Rosa and peer through peeling guanacaste trees and the powder-puff flowers of the rosy trumpet tree to see anteaters, iguanas, and black vultures, as well as petroglyphs carved into the rock.
Across Costa Rica, wetlands teem with life and there are lots of ways to see it. Join local tour operator Tortuguero Adventures (www.tortuguero-adventures.com) to kayak Parque Nacional Tortuguero’s languid lagoons and get eye-to-eye with the crocodiles and manatees that live there. On the Pacific side, putt-putt across El Viejo’s wetlands (www.elviejowetlands.com) past flocks of jabirus.
DISCOVER Costa Rica Your Way
This perfectly conical, dormant volcano is Costa Rica’s defining landmark.
Barra Honda Caves
Vast limestone caverns full of eerie stone formations.
Costa Rica’s highest peak is a must for intrepid hikers.
A seemingly endless panorama of lush living canopy.