Lush rainforests, tropical beaches, enchanting mountains, and an abundance of exotic wildlife await you in beautiful Costa Rica. Known for pura vida, or the pure life, Costa Rica is filled with people who know how to enjoy life and invite you to experience the natural peace and beautiful adventures this country has to offer. Choose to spend your days hiking through the jungles of Manuel Antonio, relaxing on the sandy beaches of Puerto Viejo, zip lining above the cloud forests of Monteverde, or kayaking in the shadow of Volcán Arenal in La Fortuna; with a seemingly endless list of adventure activities, Costa Rica is the adventure junkie travel destination that cannot be missed.
Located in Central America between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica is home to over five percent of the entire world's biodiversity. Costa Rica has a population of 4.4 million Ticos (the name Costa Ricans lovingly call themselves) and plays host to approximately 1.7 million tourists each year. With a focus on sustainable and socially responsible travel, Costa Rica is known as the birthplace of ecotourism. Costa Rica offers travelers 20 natural parks, eight biological reserves, and many protected areas making it a key player in the global ecotourism community. The laid back lifestyle of the Costa Rican people lends a harmonious balance between conservation and travel, making it an ideal location for adventure travel programs.
La Fortuna. A small town located at the base of Volcán Arenal, La Fortuna is the gateway to adventure travel in Costa Rica. Travelers can choose from a variety of activities, including hiking the side of the volcano, rafting the Balsa River, canyoning in the Lost Canyon, kayaking or stand-up paddle boarding on Lake Arenal, and relaxing in the natural hot springs heated by the activity of the volcano. Catching a glimpse of the volcano's peak is often a rare accomplishment as it is typically shrouded by misty clouds. Although Volcán Arenal hasn't been active in recent years, this mysterious and sometimes illusive volcano inspires travelers from all walks of life. You'll be hard pressed to find a spot in La Fortuna which doesn't offer a stunning view of this sleeping giant.
Monteverde. Nestled between two cloud forests, you'll know you've arrived in Monteverde by the dramatic temperature shift and a change in scenery. Surrounded by lush flora and fauna of a misty rainforest, Monteverde is home to a complex ecosystem of over 100 species of mammals, 400 species of birds, and thousands of insects and plant life. Located over 4,000 feet above sea level, this small town provides a home base for travelers as they explore the canopies and mountains of Costa Rica's continental divide. The cool atmosphere and steady supply of moisture is the perfect setting for many of the country's coffee plantations. Visitors can tour and sample some of the world’s best coffee grown along the mountain sides of the region. Travelers can also opt to brave Central America's longest canopy tour, zip lining over the tree-tops like a bird.
Other adventure travel opportunities in Monteverde include traversing the hanging bridges suspended high in the canopy and surrounded by clouds or ride horseback along the rocky cliffs of the majestic mountains. Bird watching and night tours are also popular activities, offering visitors unique opportunities to glimpse several species of animals, some which exist only within Costa Rica's enchanting cloud forests.
Manuel Antonio. Home to Manuel Antonio National Park, this Pacific Coast town is your best bet for spotting curious spider monkeys and sleepy sloths. Rustling sounds in the trees of Manuel Antonio often means a colorful toucan or a hungry iguana is nearby. A visit to Manuel Antonio National Park grants travelers access to world-class beaches and hiking trails. If you want to learn to surf, Manuel Antonio's coastal beaches are known for being some of the best places in the world to learn. Lined with swaying palm trees, fresh coconuts for sale, and gently crashing waves, the beaches of Manuel Antonio provide plenty of soft sand to find carve out your own piece of paradise.
Puerto Viejo Warm Caribbean breezes and cool Rastafarian beats fill the air in Puerto Viejo. Seemingly a world away from the monkey-filled jungles of Manuel Antonio and the cool cloud forests of Monteverde, Puerto Viejo lies on the eastern coast of Costa Rica along the Caribbean Sea. Once visited only by the adventurous surfer en route to the epic waves of Salsa Brava, Puerto Viejo is rapidly becoming a rocking town with a party atmosphere and the easy life. Reggaetón and salsa dancing can be found among the local bars on any given night. Puerto Viejo also features a global variety of restaurants and street vendors selling everything from the typical Caribbean spicy jerk chicken dishes to Bob Marley merchandise. Puerto Viejo is best explored by bike and offers travelers access to chocolate plantations, sloth and jaguar rescue centers, hidden black sand beaches, memorable snorkeling spots, and hiking trails leading to that perfect photo-opp.
Adventure Travel in Costa Rica
Adventure opportunities in Costa Rica lure people of all ages to create their perfect vacation, whether it be enjoying a relaxing stay on a picturesque beach or an adrenaline-pumping tour through the mysterious mountains. From bungee jumping over the edge of a bridge to exploring deep inside the tight spaces of a cave, there is no shortage of adventure in this small Central American country. Of all the adventure activities in Costa Rica, the most popular adventures are zip lining through the jungle trees and surfing the endless waves along the coast.
As a country with a large reliance on tourism, there is heavy competition among tour providers. Most tour companies partner travelers with friendly and knowledgeable guides who have a firm grasp of the English language. Tour companies will often include more than just your adventure activity; fresh tropical fruit, cold beverages, and transportation are also typically provided. Eco-tours in Costa Rica will vary from adrenaline-packed activities, like extreme hiking and whitewater rafting to the more relaxing options, like night tours through the jungle and sunset catamaran cruises on the open waters of the Pacific Ocean.
Costa Rica operates on two seasons, rainy and dry. Beginning in December and running through April, the dry season is the busiest time for the tourist industry. With summer weather and significantly less rain, travelers find themselves unrestricted in terms of activities, not having to worry about the day's weather forecast. These seasons also mean higher prices on everything from flights to accommodations and tours. Following the dry season and running from May till November, the rainy season is a quieter time of year. Prices are cheaper, the crowds are gone, and the country's flora show a deeper green with heavy rain showers typically rolling through the regions at least once a day.
Costs & Affordability
Costa Rica is one of the more expensive counties in Central America, but can easily be traveled to on a budget. Both the local currency, called colones, and the U.S. dollar are widely accepted and dispensed via ATMs throughout the country. Be mindful of the current exchange rate though as Ticos tend to use a standard 500 colones to $1 regardless of the actual market rate. It may, therefore, not work in your favor to spend U.S. dollars; although it can be significantly more convenient and often preferred by the locals.
Cheaper meals can be found at sodas, a common inexpensive local eatery. A typical casado dish, consisting of rice, beans, plantains, salad, and your choice of meat, will likely set you back $5 to 10. Tipping is not common in Costa Rica, unless you receive excellent service.
Adventure travel activities in Costa Rica will generally cost between $40 and $50, including transportation, a snack, beverages, and a guide. Public transportation is cheap, with an average bus ride within town costing less than $1. It is common for travelers to use public bus transportation to travel throughout the country, although renting a car is often preferred as it allows for more autonomy to explore all that Costa Rica has to offer.
Accommodations & Visas
With an average of almost 2 million visitors a year, Costa Rica is a country which caters to tourists well. Visitors will find a wide variety of accommodations for any budget, many of which will help plan daily adventures without ever leaving the reception desk. Choose from budget-friendly backpacking hostels and eco-friendly lodges in many of the towns, or upscale hotels in the country's capital, San Jose. Most accommodations offer clean rooms with free wifi and hot running water. Air conditioning can be harder to come by in smaller towns or rural areas, but are not always necessary depending on the time of year (fans are also typically provided).
Visas are not required for many travelers to enter the country, and travelers can legally remain in the country for up to 90 days. Expect to pay an exit tax when leaving Costa Rica. Check out GoAbroad’s Embassy Directory to find a Costa Rican embassy near you.
Benefits & Challenges
Costa Rica offers travelers the best of both worlds with its rich biodiversity and range of thrills. Travelers can spend one day relaxing beachside with a warm Caribbean breeze blowing through their hair, fresh coconut in hand, and the next day ziplining through the canopies, soaring above the trees with epic bird's-eye views. There aren't many other countries that can offer you quite the same range and beauty as Costa Rica.
Instagram photos and traveler stories often paint an idyllic picture of Costa Rica, but the country does have its challenges. One unexpected challenge for all accommodations is the poor plumbing throughout the country. Visitors and locals alike are expected to dispose of any used toilet paper in the bathroom wastebasket rather than the toilet, a habit that is hard break when not accustomed to it. Costa Rica is not a rich country and travelers are reminded to be vigilant while visiting. Petty theft is common in many of the popular tourist areas, particularly on the Caribbean side of the country. Exercising common sense is typically all that is needed to enjoy any type of adventure travel in Costa Rica.
With an ambitious goal of being carbon neutral by 2021, Costa Rica has raised the bar for global ecotourism and is the ideal destination for eco-friendly adventure travel. The unique biodiversity and vast variety of adventure activity options within this small Central American country provide the perfect backdrop for your next international adventure.