Guide to Costa RicaTravel Edit


Hammerhead shark in Cocos Island, Costa Rica


1. Diving In Cocos Island

Diving seasons in Costa Rica can be split into the rainy season (May to November) and the dry season (December to April). Each season brings its own advantages. Depending on the area, visibility usually ranges from 15-30 metres. June through September generally brings the best visibility. Keep in mind Caribbean diving is best from August to December when you’ll find little wind and calm seas. If you’re an inexperienced diver this is the best time for calmer seas and visibility reaching 30 metres. December to April is the best time to dive on the Pacific Coast in locations like Guanacaste and Quepos.

Cocos Island is a virgin island in the Pacific Ocean, south-west of the Costa Rican mainland. It’s the least visited of all national parks and a world-class diving destination, particularly for the more advanced diver. Divers are attracted by shark spotting opportunities. June to November is the best time to dive there. At this time, nutrient upwellings attract the large number of hammerhead sharks that Cocos Island is famous for. Manta rays and whale sharks are also more frequently spotted during this time. And dolphins and tiger sharks are quite often seen up close too. Galapagos sharks, which can be aggressive, are not as common but they do sometimes appear, and dozens of white-tip sharks are usually seen on every dive in Cocos Island. Also, good news for treasure seekers: as legend has it, “The Treasure of Lima”, which is buried treasure (reputedly removed from Lima, Peru, in 1820) has never been recovered. Today, it’s estimated to be worth up to $208 million.

2. Hiking In Corcovado National Park

According to National Geographic, this park on the Osa Peninsula in southwest Costa Rica is “the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity” – famous for holding 3 per cent of the biodiversity and being the largest national park. Established in 1975, it protects the largest expanse of primary rainforest and one of the largest lowland tropical rainforests on the Pacific coast of Central America. Visiting Corcovado is a treat for nature lovers because it’s the best place in Costa Rica for wildlife watching. Hike through untouched primary rainforest and rivers. The list of adventures goes on! Known for being the Amazon of Costa Rica, the Corcovado National Park is the largest stronghold of primary forest on a Pacific coastline. The area holds thousands of species of flora and fauna, many unique to the area. Some species have disappeared from other regions or they are in danger of extinction. The waters off the surrounding Osa Peninsula is also a great spot for dolphin sightings and whale watching.

Arenal Volcano National Park

3. Touring Arenal Volcano National Park And Lake Arenal

Located in northern Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano National Park and Lake Arenal has become the adventure capital of Costa Rica. Last time the volcano erupted was in 2010 and it’s still considered active. Park rangers keep a watchful eye on any volcanic activity, so rest assured, they won’t hesitate to close areas of the park if they feel it’s unsafe. We recommend going for a whole day. Not only is it good for adventure junkies but it’s a great place to relax because of its thermal water springs, swimming holes (which lie beneath a stunning waterfall) and bountiful rainforest. You can hike unaccompanied or book a tour that includes transportation, park fees and a guide. There are short trails (3.4 km and 2 km) that pass through both secondary forest and lava fields from previous eruptions. Whilst hiking you may spot deer, jaguars, tapir, howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys and snakes. There are many birds like parrots, orioles and brown magpies too.

Lake Arenal sits at the base of the Arenal Volcano and it supplies 12 per cent of the country’s hydroelectric energy. It’s currently the largest lake in Costa Rica at 85-square-kilometre. You can swim in the lake, but it’s particularly popular for sailing, windsurfing and fishing. In the lake’s shores, there’s a charming Swiss-made hotel called Hotel Los Heroes, train and train track, and a revolving restaurant with turning panoramic views. There’s also an off the grid eco-sustainable farm community called Rancho Margot.

4. Zip Line In Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Those seeking high adrenaline experiences should visit Monteverde. It’s the best chance to discover magical cloud forests up close. The cloud forests are incredibly unique; they may disappear this century so it’s worth making the trip to see them. There are more than 100 species of mammals that live in the park, including howler and capuchin monkeys, all five species of cats, deer, tapir and sloths. A total of 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles live in the reserve, such as venomous and non-venomous snakes, frogs and toads. Try some of the world-famous zip lines that are arguably the best in the world – these include: Sky Trek and Extreme Canopy, which has two Superman cables, one of which is 1.2 miles (2 km) long, making it the longest and highest in Latin America. The Tarzan Swing also takes you 148 feet (45 metres) in the air, right above the forest’s lush canopy. You can also try the Selvatura hanging bridges, the aerial tram and horseback riding all in the area. It’s worth spending two nights to experience it all.

5. Tortuga Island Catamaran Tour

The pristine uninhabited island of Tortuga is located in the Gulf of Nicoya and can be easily reached by a boat from Jaco Beach, Los Suenos, and San José. You can hop on a deluxe catamaran from Jaco Beach and enjoy the stunning vistas along the way. It looks exactly like a postcard of a tropical paradise. Tortuga is a great spot for hiking, kayaking, snorkelling and diving. It’s one of the most scenic islands off of Costa Rica and ranks as one of the best places to visit because of its powder-white sands that meet turquoise waters against a backdrop of soaring palm trees amid an expanse of tropical foliage.

6. Hiking Around Rio Celeste

Rio Celeste, in Tenorio Volcano National Park, is undoubtedly Costa Rica’s most enchanting river. It’s a 14 km stretch of magical blue waters. Unless you have a private plane, the journey to Rio Celeste is a long hike. The river also borders several hot springs, known as the Borbollones, small geysers, lagoons and a large waterfall. It takes about an hour to hike to the waterfall from the park’s entrance. If hiking seems too much of a mission it may be easier to reach Rio Celeste on horseback. Either way, you will be rewarded with stunning panoramic nature views and sublime memories that will last a lifetime.

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7. Eco Adventures At Tortuguero National Park

A must see for true National Geographic experience lovers! It’s a protected wilderness area on Costa Rica’s northern Caribbean coast, within the Tortuguero Conservation Area. Tortuguero National Park can be reached only by airplane or boat. This is where James Cameron got inspired to create the out-of-this-world reality of Avatar, the movie. Explore the park by foot or go kayaking and you’ll be immersed by the beauty of nature and its animal kingdom, from sloths, monkeys, reptiles, hundreds of birds, turtles and other animals who have made this small area their sanctuary. Its beaches are famous nesting grounds for sea turtles, including endangered green turtles. Watch out for four different species that nest there and lay their eggs from March to October.

Turtle Watching in Ostional National Wildlife Refuge

8. Turtle Watching At Ostional Beach

The Ostional National Wildlife Refuge on the Pacific coast of the Nicoya peninsula is the only beach in the world that hosts three turtle species to lay eggs. It’s a spectacular nature show. This natural reserve was created in 1985 to stop poachers from stealing the sea turtle eggs. Millions of sea turtles lumber onto the beaches of Ostional National Wildlife Refuge. It’s a 200-metre beach strip; the refuge also extends three miles out to sea and includes the tiny village of Ostional. Not only does this refuge protect the millions of turtles that nest there every year, but it also looks after and safeguards the marine wildlife and birds in the area.

9. Surfing At Pavones Beach

Costa Rica is one of the best countries to surf in the world. We recommend surfing at Pavones Beach, a quiet and eco-friendly destination, which is hard to get to, but well worth it if you really love surfing. Pavones is a small community located along the southern Pacific Coast and it’s known as a surfer’s haven. In fact, the waves in Pavones are legendary. It has the world’s largest wave breaks, attracting surfers from all over the world. A typical length of a wave is between 400-900 metres. But as Pavones is incredibly remote, when the swell hits, the town may get crowded attracting an array of international cultures which gives it a truly cosmopolitan vibe.

10. White Water Rafting In Rio Pacuare

Rio Pacuare is a river that’s a white water rafting playground. There are rapids as rough as Class V as the river rushes through gorges and untouched tropical forest toward the Caribbean. You’ll find large waves and twisting rapids – ideal of any adrenaline junkie. National Geographic named it one of the top spots in the world for white water rafting. Be sure to make a pit stop at the beautiful San Gerardo Waterfall – also known as Rio Savegre Waterfall. And after a long day, relax at Pacuare Lodge, a luxury eco-hotel, at night.

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Humpback Whales Reach Costa Rica Shores

11. Whale Watching In Osa Peninsula And Uvita

Costa Rica is a great place to go humpback whale watching. This is because it happens to be located in the intersection of two whale migrations, so you have a chance to spot these gentle giants nine months out of the year. There aren’t any whales from mid-April to mid-July, so bear that in mind when you plan your trip. Humpbacks from the north start making their way to warmer waters once the northern hemisphere’s winter chill arrives. They stay in the waters near Costa Rica for a few months (from December to April) to breed and raise their young. Also, whales from the southern hemisphere make their way to Costa Rica in mid-July and stay until the beginning of November. This is the season that you’ll have the best chance of spotting one. The best places to see the whales are in Osa Peninsula in Corcovado National Park and Uvita, on the coastline known as the Costa Ballena on the Pacific Ocean. It’s part of the Marino Ballena National Park.

Poás Volcano Alajuela Province Alajuela Costa Rica
Source: Manfred Madrigal on Unsplash

12. Explore Poas Volcano National Park

Poas Volcano National Park is located in the forests of the Central Mountain Range, which boasts magnificent natural landscapes. Poas sits about 2,700 metres (8,000 feet) above sea level so at that altitude you’re almost certain to feel a chill – make sure you pack a jacket when you go! Poas is known for being particularly cloudy because of converging winds from the Pacific and Caribbean slopes and for this reason it’s best to visit during the dry season (from December to April). Although the park has some trails, it’s a leisurely walk to the volcano. We suggest you visit the main crater early in the day, before you go on a long hike. The crater is 300 metres deep and it has a diameter of approximately 1.7 km. In fact, it’s the largest geyser crater and one of the biggest in the world, with small emissions of gases and an acid lagoon. The crater lake is one of the most acidic in the planet, with a pH of around zero. This makes the lake toxic, but it also gives it an intense blue colour. 

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