When I first traveled to Costa Rica, I was in awe. Landing in the capital city of San Jose, I could travel easily and relatively quickly to the Pacific Ocean or the Caribbean Sea. The biodiversity was incredible and the wildlife was amazing. Costa Rica is a must-see destination. When the land was noticed by Christopher Columbus in 1502, there were four native tribes already living in the area. The following Spanish explorers noted the heavy gold jewelry the local natives wore and dubbed the land “Costa Rica” (meaning rich coast). The story of the country of Costa Rica is rich with explorers, natives, and the attempt at settling an otherwise land not particularly rich in other resources. Silver and gold were mined by Spanish settlers but where the land became valuable for the Spanish Empire was its location. Sandwiched in Central America, Costa Rica offered easy passage for other expeditions going to either North or South America, and by 1562 there was some semblance of an organization of cities and European society. In 1821, Costa Rica declared independence from Spain and by 1949 the country abolished its army bringing in its era of peace and neutrality.
The country of Costa Rica is one of the most interesting places. It offers plenty of fauna and flora as well as being bordered by the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific on the other. Despite being only 0.3% of the world’s landmass the country contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity and almost a quarter of the country is dedicated to nature preservation. With so much of the country’s space dedicated to nature, ecotourism is a huge part of why people travel to this Central American country. Along with making a difference in ethical travel and “green” accommodations, Costa Rica is a beautiful tropical country that packs a lot of fun into such a small space. Here are some of the best things to check out in Costa Rica.
Explore Arenal Volcano National Park
Strap on your hiking shoes and head to one of the most picturesque places in the country. The park is one of the most popular and is one of the most beautiful which is saying a lot because there are a lot of parks in Costa Rica. As you might have guessed with the name, Arenal Volcano National Park is home to a large volcano. Almost reminiscent of Mount Fuji in Japan sticking out towards the sky and surrounded by lush green space below, Arenal Volcano is visible above the tree line at a distance, emerging from the tropical treetops.
The volcano is a perfectly cylindrical shape making it a pretty interesting sight as you get closer and closer to it. Arenal Volcano National Park offers more than just sights of the famous volcano however, there are also a few waterfalls, hot springs, hanging bridges, and even zipline tracks to check out.
Speed through the Jungle
For the adrenaline seekers out there checking out of Costa Rica’s many zipline spots is practically a must-do. For anyone on the fence about safety, there’s nothing to worry about. Activities like zip lining through the jungle have been a part of the tourism of the country for decades and the safety equipment has only gotten better with time. In fact, Costa Rica is practically known as one of the best zip lining places in the world with several different areas to zip through that offers views of the jungle, the ocean, the beaches, and more. There’s even extreme zipline for the extra adventurous.
Go Surfing at Tamarindo Beach
Tamarindo Beach is one of the more popular beaches in the country and is known as one of the best surfing spots around. The area is big on surfing and surf culture so whether you have experience or not, the vibe at Tamarindo Beach is also fun and relaxing. Because the place is so popular with surfers there are surf schools for people who want to learn and places to rent boards in case you don’t have your own and just want to try it out. Of course, since it’s a beach you don’t have to do any of that and can just hang out in the sun and swim in the aqua blue waters. Check out the nearby town of Tamarindo and grab a bite to eat or stay for the nightlife and have a couple of drinks.
Cruise the waters at Sunset
A beach vacation in Costa Rica is a must and if you’re traveling with a partner and you’re looking to make it a little romantic then definitely try out a water cruise at sunset. A lot of the popular beaches will offer small boat or catamaran cruises around the bay or the beaches for a pretty small price and you can spend your evening hanging out on the water, getting views of the beach from out on the coast and admiring the sunset over the horizon. Of course, since the sun sets in the west if you’re looking for optimal sunset over the beach or water head to the Pacific side of the country.
Go Snorkeling and Scuba Diving
Whether you’re going to either the Caribbean side or the Pacific side there is no shortage of amazing scuba diving opportunities in Costa Rica. The country makes a large effort at nature conservation and that includes the beaches and coasts along with marine life. Dedicated snorkeling tours know all the hot spots around either coast or even further out to sea like the Las Catalinas Islands or the (spookily named) Bat Islands. Many coastal towns will also offer tourists some type of cruising tour as well which might be a little cheaper. This type of activity is a must-do for anyone interested in marine and aquatic life as the tours are generally very eco-friendly and offer some of the best glimpses into the colorful and vibrant life of sea plants and creatures.
Explore the City of San Jose
While the country of Costa Rica is almost 25% green park space one of the only major cities in the country is its capital San Jose. Most of the population of the country lives here and in comparison to a lot of other Latin American cities of similar size, it enjoys a pretty high quality of life and security. Founded in 1736 the city sits on an elevated plateau 3,700 feet surrounded by valleys and lush vegetation. The population of the city rose in the 18th century due to its strategic position and colonial planning and its because of this that the city has a very old-school colonial feel to it with a lot of original architecture and Spanish-style colonial era buildings making an iconic backdrop to the city’s thriving cultural landscape. It’s in San Jose where you can get a real feel for the culture of the country and enjoy things like its national cuisine, art scene, and other events. While many locals speak English as a second language it obviously doesn’t hurt to brush up on your Spanish if you plan on visiting. Since this is a large capitol city after all, there are a ton of options for things to do. Explore local museums, join a walking tour of the city, hit up the casino or check out some of the local restaurants and bars.
Hike to La Fortuna Waterfall
The La Fortuna Waterfall is one of the most popular ones in the country and considering there are plenty of waterfalls throughout the country, that is saying something. The hike to La Fortuna Waterfall is not exactly the most challenging or difficult and in fact there are a few ways to get there. If you’re not into doing the legwork yourself you can always get there by horseback. The trail to the waterfall takes hikers along a path where little by little you’ll hear the roaring rush of the waterfall as you get closer and closer. Eventually you will reach a point where you’ll be at the top of the waterfall and can then take the staircase down to the basin. La Fortuna is 230 feet high and once you get to the bottom you can dive right into the basin and swim under the waterfall. It’s a pretty incredible experience and along with the sights and sounds of La Fortuna, there is also tons of wildlife in the area so be on the watch for monkeys, toucans, butterflies, and sloths.
Relax those Muscles at Tabacon Hot Springs
After a long day of hiking through the jungles or trekking the many paths and trails of Costa Rica’s national parks, why not relax a bit and hit up the biggest hot springs in the country, Tabacon Hot Springs. The hot springs are part of the Trabazon Thermal Resort which is itself also part of a private rainforest reserve. The water is naturally heated from geothermal sources and is mineralized naturally flowing to the on-site pools. Some of the pools vary in temperature so hop in a few and find one that works for you. It is an all natural and eco-friendly way to relax while you soothe those muscles in a tropical rainforest setting.
Explore the Mysterious Cocos Island
Located about 340 miles off the coast of Costa Rica, Cocos Island is a place that has since become a bit of a place of legend. The island operates an official National Park with people visiting often to scuba dive off the coast due its deep waters. But Cocos Island is also said to be the inspiration for the island in Robinson Crusoe, the island in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island, and the inspiration for Michael Chriton’s Jurassic Park. So suffice it to say, Cocos Island has a little bit of notoriety. But the history of the island’s mysteries go even further back. In 1897 a German treasure hunter named August Gissler petitioned the Costa Rican government to allow him to stay on the island in search of buried treasure. Gissler was looking for the famed “Treasure of Lima” which is said to be a “ a solid gold, gem-encrusted, life-size image of the Virgin Mary” that was buried there by pirate Captain William Thompson in 1820. Gissler had two maps from independent sources and he along with his wife and few other settlers lived on the island. Because of the island’s remoteness and harsh conditions the colony was short-lived with Gissler himself leaving the island after 10 years of living on it. The only “treasure” he found being a few gold coins. Over the years over 300 different expeditions have tried to find the treasure including one from American gangster Bugsy Seigel.
In the 21st century the only people on the island are a handful of park rangers but tourism around the island is a hot commodity as few tourists are allowed on the island itself. But the waters of the coast of the island are very popular for scuba diving and deep sea diving as there is a plethora of marine life from hammerhead sharks to dolphins, and manta rays.
Our Last Word
Costa Rica is the rich coast for a reason. It’s rich with plant life, animal and marine life, cultural life, and rich with amazing experiences to see and discover. From the jungle canopy to the white sand beaches there’s something to discover and love in Costa Rica. We recommend, when you are able, to put Costa Rica on your must-see list.