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Adventures in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica is officially the happiest place on earth, according to the Happy Planet Index. To anyone who has been here, this should come as no surprise. With the greatest density of biodiversity in the world and a focus on environmental conservation, it is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful and enriching places to be. Its focus on tourism further provides an unmatched landscape for travelers seeking outdoor adventures. There is nothing quite like Costa Rican adventure travel.

From pristine cloud forests and dense tropical jungles to monumental volcanoes and gorgeous beaches, adventures in Costa Rica will take your breath away. Get the most out of your trip by considering these exciting activities while planning your Costa Rican adventure vacation.

Rafting

Rafting in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, you can enjoy whitewater rafting on a range of rivers offering class I–IV rapids.

World class rapids await those seeking thrills on an extreme adventure. Truly though, with a range of rivers offering anywhere from class I–IV rapids, any traveler can enjoy a float downstream.

  • Location & difficulty: Many rivers set the scene for rafting and offer varying levels of difficulty.
    • Easy: Penas Blancas River in Arenal offers a gentle, family-friendly float great for wildlife viewing (class I, ages 5+).
    • Easy to moderate: The Naranjo River outside of Manuel Antonio provides a good mix of gentle floating with some exciting, but manageable rapids (class II–III, ages 8+).
    • Moderate to difficult: Pacuare is one of the top rafting destinations in the world. Pristine water flows through rock canyons, lush forest and cascading waterfalls. Some rapids may leave you white-knuckling.(Class III–IV, ages 12+)
  • Best time: June through October for fast and furious rapids, November through May for a milder experience
  • Family-friendly: Yes, with age limits depending on intensity of rapids

Volcano trekking

Arenal Volcan in Costa Rica is one of the most popular locations to visit.
The Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations in the country.

Don’t leave Costa Rica without venturing to at least one of these quintessential giants. With a total of 67 volcanos in the country, only 6 are active — some of which can still be visited if you dare to take the risk.

  • Location & difficulty:
    • Easy: Irazu Volcano offers a unique experience to peer down into two craters of an active volcano. It has been quiet since 1996 and is an easy walk from the parking area.
    • Easy to moderate: Arenal Volcano is an iconic wonder in Costa Rica. The national park offers several hiking trails, it is possible to walk over and climb over old lava rock and enjoy the sight of regenerating forests. Interesting fauna can be seen along the walks.
  • Best time: December through February (Irazu Volcano), February through April (Arenal Volcano)
  • Family-friendly: Yes

Hiking

Couple hiking through the jungle in Costa Rica
Hiking in Costa Rica is the best way to discover the country's rich landscape and wildlife.

No matter what region you explore in Costa Rica, hiking will give you the best opportunity to immerse in the natural landscape, learn about local wildlife and habitats, and enjoy spectacular views. Some of Costa Rica’s greatest treasures are only accessible by foot.

  • Location & difficulty: A variety of hikes are available and range in degree of difficulty.
    • Easy: Manuel Antonio National Park’s main trail is excellent for spotting monkeys, toucans, and iguanas (1 hour, flat terrain).
    • Easy to moderate: Monteverde Cloud Forest offers a 13 km network of trails. Hike along the continental divide or walk suspended bridges through the tree canopy.
    • Difficult: Cerro Chirripó is the highest peak in Costa Rica where hikers can enjoy coast to coast views at its summit of 3820 meters.
  • Tip: When hiking in the rainforests, do expect mud and intense humidity that can make even a short hike challenging.
  • Best time: December to April
  • Family-friendly: Yes, though long hikes such as those in Corcovado National Park are better suited for adults.

Horseback riding

Horseback riding in Costa Rica
You can ride on horses to remote areas of Costa Rica or simply take a stroll on the beach.

Trek further into wilderness by taking a horseback ride through the countryside, mountains, or along the beach. Tours can range from a few hours to a few days and will help you get to some of Costa Rica’s more remote attractions.

  • Location & difficulty: 
    • Easy to moderate: Monteverde offers a perfect backdrop for day and multi-day treks through mountains, farms, and cloud forest; beginners are well supported on day tours.
    • Easy to moderate: 
    • Easy to difficult: Paraiso is a perfect location for tours or in-depth lessons in the jungle or on the beach. Costa Rica Equestrian Vacations offers overnight Costa Rica adventure vacation packages for experienced riders.
  • Best time: December to April
  • Family-friendly: Yes

Wildlife viewing

Toucan is a popular icon of Costa Rica
Chestnut-mandibled toucan
Macaws in the wild in Costa Rica
Scarlet macaw (left) and blue and yellow macaw (right)
Red Eyed Tree Frog
Red eyed tree frog
Brown-throated sloth in Costa Rica
Brown-throated, three-toed sloth

It only makes sense that if you made it to one of the most biologically diverse places in the planet, that it may be the best time to take in the wilderness around you. The rich ecosystems of Costa Rica are incredibly unique and with that comes spectacular wildlife.

  • Location & difficulty:
    • Easy to moderate: Tortuguero National Park is a real gym, accessible via boat travel through a long canal system. While it is the third most visited park in Costa Rica, traveling there requires some planning. Once there, spotting cayman, monkeys, sloths, and rare birds along the way is easy! Spend the evening walking the beach on a guided tour in sight of nesting sea turtles.
    • Difficult: Corcovado National Park was named by National Geographic as the “most biologically intense place on the planet,” hosting tapir, ocelot, jaguar, monkeys, crocodiles and anteaters to name a few. The opportunities for wildlife viewing are immense, but so is the hike as the primary area is only accessible by foot via a 20 km trail through virgin rainforest.
  • Best time: February, April, November for Tortuguero National Park to coincide with turtle nesting season, December to April for Corcovado National Park 
  • Family-friendly: Yes 

Ziplining

Ziplining in Costa Rica
Ziplining is a thrilling adventure and a rite of passage on a Costa Rican holiday.

Ziplining is basically a rite of passage for any Costa Rican adventure holiday. You must do it before you leave. It promises to be an unforgettable, awe-inspiring experience as you coast speedily through the pristine tree canopy. Thrilling too, as sometimes you may be unsure of where you will land as the cables stretch far across the sky. You will land though!

  • Location & difficulty: 
    • Easy to moderate: Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve is a system of 3 km worth of cables, with the longest being 770 meters long and 139 meters high. Enjoy views from the observation canopy tower and walk the suspension bridges through the cloud forest too!
    • Easy to moderate: Guanacaste is home to Diamante Eco Adventure Park where you can soar through the sky like superman on Central America’s longest dual action zipline allowing couples and friends to soar side by side. An added bonus is the panoramic coastal and jungle views.
  • Best time: November to April
  • Family-friendly: Yes, ages 8+ suggested though some operators permit ages 5+

Surfing

Costa Rica is considered one of the best places to surf
Surf waves in Costa Rica are suited for beginners to advanced surfers.

Widely regarded as one of the best surf destinations in the world, Costa Rica’s beaches offer a great range of breaks and swells. Plan a trip focused exclusively on testing the waters throughout Costa Rica’s Pacific coastline or simply incorporate a lesson or two into your itinerary by enrolling in one of the numerous great surf camps.

  • Location & difficulty: Surf conditions vary depending on location and can range from beginner to expert level. True beginners should seek guided instruction.
    • Easy: Playa Tamarindo is a surfer haven and offers many smaller, calmer waves perfect for beginners.
    • Easy to difficult: Playa Jaco has a world-famous reputation for its excellent breaks. Beginners should surf only in low tide while experts will find themselves equally fulfilled by daring waters during high tide.
    • Difficult: Playa Hermosa is not for the faint of heart and should be enjoyed by intermediate to advanced level surfers. A definite plus of this beach is the more secluded, gorgeous location.
  • Best time: Surf can be enjoyed year around; for bigger waves visit in summer
  • Family-friendly: Yes, surf classes are also available for both kids and adults. Kids can also try body boarding

Snorkeling and Diving

A woman snorkeling in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is home to abundant marine life. It's numerous beaches and islands provide many places to go diving.

Costa Rica is well known for it’s gorgeous coastlines and inviting, warm waters. The ocean here is home to abundant marine life and provides rich opportunities for underwater exploration. Scuba divers will enjoy visibility between 30 to 100 feet throughout snorkeling destinations in Costa Rica, while snorkelers can float atop passing by sea turtles, manta rays, dolphins, and even whale sharks.

  • Location & Difficulty: Snorkeling is a great option for any level.
    • Easy: Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge sports coral reef, inlets and bays for easy access to great snorkeling. 
    • Easy: Cahuita National Park is home to one of Costa Rica’s largest living coral reefs. The water is shallow and perfect for a snorkeling exploration.
    • Easy to difficult: Cocos Island is the most exclusive destination for snorkeling and diving in Costa Rica. The waters and wildlife viewing opportunities here are unmatched, but it does require a lengthy private boat trip to reach it.
    • Moderate to difficult: Caño Island offers a unique variety of 5 scuba diving sites and is known for hosting sharks and large numbers of schooling fish.
  • Best time: November to May for plentiful marine life
  • Family-Friendly: Yes

Canyoning

Trekking to Costa Rica’s gorgeous waterfalls is certainly an enjoyable way to spend the day. But if you’re looking for a thrill, consider a multi-sport canyoning adventure. Climb through the natural obstacle course of the canyons, then test your mettle with a rappel or many, down waterfalls.

  • Location & Difficulty: 
    • Easy: Arenal canyoning is both iconic and diverse. There are several options in the area and many tours include a variety of obstacles including waterfall rappels, hanging bridges and zip-lines.
    • Easy to moderate: Manuel Antonio is home to some of Costa Rica’s most popular terrain for canyoning. In addition to rappels, it’s not uncommon to zip-line past the falls into natural plunge pools.
    • Moderate to difficult: Monteverde is home to several waterfalls with lengthy rappels. Tours may include multiple rappels and can be challenging and intimidating.
  • Best time: Year-round
  • Family-Friendly: Yes, typically with age restrictions of 8+

Exploring National Parks

Hanging bridge in the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica
Enjoy the nature of Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve from the hanging bridges.

National Parks are quintessential to Costa Rica’s famed reputation of natural beauty and outdoor adventuring. The country is home to an impressive variety of national parks that encompass vast jungles, coastlines, and volcanic territories serving as excellent bases for bona fide adventuring.

  • Location & Difficulty:
    • Easy: Arenal Volcano National Park is a notable park for its hallmark conical volcano. The experience of trekking the lava fields at the base of this giant is impressive in itself, but other nearby hikes, rivers, wildlife habitats, and a lake keep the adventure going.
    • Easy: Manuel Antonio National Park is an excellent destination where you’ll find the jungle meets the coast. This park is home to a good network of trails, spectacular wildlife, and endless adventure tour activities.
    • Easy to moderate: Tortuguero National Park is one of Costa Rica’s true gems. Situated in an authentic Costa Rican village, visitors can enjoy natural hikes through coastal rainforest, boat rides through jungle canals, and walks along the beach in spot of frequent nesting sea turtles.
    • Difficult: Corcovado National Park is considered one of the most biodiverse places in the world and is preserved largely due to its remote location. The wildlife sightings here are impressive, but with few options to access the park, be prepared for extensive hiking and limited facilities.
  • Best time: December to April
  • Family-Friendly: Yes

Mountain Biking

While hiking remains one of the top activities in Costa Rica, mountain biking takes you further into the wild and rewards with excellent vistas and refreshing breezes. Whether you’re into the climbing hills or seeking a more leisurely ride along the rugged coastline, Costa Rica serves up a great variety of rides through majestic landscapes.

  • Location & Difficulty:
    • Easy to moderate: Arenal area offers varied opportunities for biking including a moderately challenging single-track route at Volcano Arenal and more leisurely routes through farmlands and countryside. 
    • Moderate: Las Catalinas is a mostly downhill ride on a world-class 22 km track following the coastline. This may be Costa Rica’s most scenic ride.
    • Moderate to difficult: Rincón de la Vieja National Park hosts the only active volcano in Costa Rica that permits mountain biking. There are many downhill sections, following some tough climbs.
  • Best time: December to April
  • Family-Friendly: Yes

If Costa Rica wasn’t already on your bucket list, add it now. With an incredible variety of terrains, biology, and activities, it is a top destination for any traveler seeking wonder, thrill, or unimaginable beauty. After partaking in some Costa Rican adventures, you might just find that the magic of this happy place rubs off on you too!

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