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Things to Do in Costa Rica

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica spans just 170 miles (274 kilometers) coast-to-coast, yet contains six percent of the world's biodiversity. Postcard-perfect beaches; lush, protected rainforests; and a proud history of promoting conservation and eco-tourism have helped make the country a veritable paradise for active travelers and nature lovers—as well as Central America's top travel destination. Many tours begin in Costa Rica's "Golden Triangle" and string together the most popular destinations: Arenal Volcano National Park and nearby La Fortuna, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and Manuel Antonio National Park. In this region alone, there are enough outdoor activities to fill several vacations, ranging from ziplining through the rainforest canopy, to whitewater rafting, to rainforest safaris, and perhaps even a glimpse of the Arenal volcano in action. Many tours offer family-friendly options, and proximity to the Pacific coast makes it easy to include plenty of beach time. Off the beaten path, consider a private tour of Tortuguero National Park, a protected wilderness reserve and seasonal sea-turtle nesting ground that's home to monkeys, crocodiles, and more than 300 species of birds. If you have some time in San Jose, the capital offers a wealth of museums, including the National Museum, the Gold Museum, the Jade Museum, and the Children's Museum. Or tour the lively Central Market to shop for handicrafts. Everywhere you go, Costa Rica casts its spell—don't be surprised if you fall in love with the "pura vida" lifestyle and never want to leave.
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Selvatura Park
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12 Tours and Activities
Selvatura Park is a popular nature-adventure park in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. Located just outside Monteverde, the park contains over 850 acres (344 hectares) of ecologically diverse forest. Attractions include zipline and suspension bridge tours, hummingbird and butterfly gardens, natural history walks, and reptile exhibitions.
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Tamarindo Beach
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73 Tours and Activities
Once the site of a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo Beach has become one of Costa Rica's most popular stretches of golden sand. Surfers travel from across the globe to ride Tamarindo's waves, but you don’t need to be a pro to hang 10 here. There are spots nearby that are calm enough for first-time wave riders to learn.
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Rincon de la Vieja National Park
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44 Tours and Activities

Rincon de La Vieja National Park is one of the country’s most diverse ecological areas. Surrounding two volcanoes, Rincon (active) and Santa Maria (dormant), the park is also home to an extraordinary display of local flora and fauna, while being a part of the Area de Conservacion Guanacaste World Heritage site.

While the plant life is impressive on its own, especially considering the enormous concentration of purple orchids here, it’s the concentration of volcanoes that really wows visitors. The Rincon de La Vieja volcano gave rise to the park’s name and contains nine separate but contiguous craters. It is one of the largest of the five volcanoes in the Guanacaste region and is believed to be over a million years old. Despite being considered active, it has not erupted since the early 1980s. The park does see a lot of volcanic activity, including vents, fumaroles and boiling mud pots and has at least 32 rivers that flow down its sides.

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Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
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71 Tours and Activities

While zip-line tours that take you swishing through the treetops at squeal-inducing speeds certainly have their charm, there are other ways to appreciate Costa Rica’s wondrous wilderness. Unbeknownst to most tourists, the life of the rain forest largely takes place overhead, in the thick jungle canopy of sunlight and opportunity.

Most of Costa Rica’s birds, monkeys, giant anteaters, sloths, snakes and amphibians spend the better part of their lives in the distant treetops, far from the snapping cameras of junior photographers. The key to seeing these creatures (and getting the best shots) is ascending into the trees yourself.

Hence these 16 elegantly constructed Arenal Hanging Bridges—some suspended high above gorges and others stretching far across jungle floors—that line the winding paths of this epic Costa Rican hike and stretch a total of 2.6 km (1.6 miles) across the steeply pitched landscape.

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La Paz Waterfall Gardens
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This popular jungle oasis is the number one ecological attraction in Costa Rica. With incredible hiking that’s easily accessible from the capital city, as well as stunning waterfalls and indigenous wildlife, it’s a destination that’s truly worthy of a visit. Travelers can explore the 3.5 kilometers of rugged trails and 10 animal exhibits on site to gain a deeper appreciation of Costa Rica’s famed biodiversity and natural beauty. Whether it’s hiking to the five waterfalls that give this garden its name, wandering through the cloud forest or venturing into the aviary, there’s plenty to do, see and discover at La Paz Waterfall Gardens.

The grounds are easy to navigate, and most visitors choose to self-guide their tours. But travelers looking to gain a deeper understanding of conservation efforts, as well as to learn more about the unique flora and fauna here can also opt for a guided tour.

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La Fortuna Waterfall
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72 Tours and Activities

Plunging down the side of Cerro Chato, Volcan Arenal’s dormant and thickly forested twin, is one of the most impressive, and easily accessible, waterfalls in all Costa Rica. Cascada La Fortuna pours some 65m (200ft) down a sheer, volcanic gray cliff face, perpetually bathed in mists and carpeted in abundant and exotic vegetation.

The trailhead for the falls is located just 5.5km (3mi) from La Fortuna proper, a popular bike ride or horseback trek. The descent from the parking lot to the jungle floor isn’t a long or difficult hike; it’s about 20 minutes down, and generally a bit longer climbing back back up. Just keep in mind that the staircase is steep, and sometimes slippery. A the mirador, or viewpoint, allows almost anyone to appreciate this natural wonder no matter what their fitness level.

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Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga)
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13 Tours and Activities

Just off the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, close to beautiful Curu Wildlife Refuge, lies idyllic Isla Tortuga, Costa Rica’s most popular island escape. It actually comprises two islands, Alcatraz and Tolinga, but just about everyone refers to them as just “Isla Tortuga,” or Turtle Island.

A postcard-perfect paradise of white sand beaches, gently swaying coconut palms, and sapphire blue water, this is the perfect spot to swim, snorkel, or simply enjoy the sunshine.

While there’s plenty to do on land—eat, drink, take a canopy tour, play volleyball, or even hike a short but lovely little nature trail through the heart of the island—most people come to snorkel or dive. The volcanic reef, featuring three shipwrecks, which surrounds the island, shelters spinner dolphins, angelfish, porcupine fish, octopi, eagle rays, moray eels, and if you’re lucky, the sea turtles for which the island is named.

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More Things to Do in Costa Rica

Jaco Beach

Jaco Beach

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Jaco Beach is known for its black sand beaches and close proximity to Costa Rica’s capital city. But it’s also widely recognized for its diverse landscapes, breathtaking beauty and endless options for outdoor fun. The vast shores and crystal blue waters attract as many out of town travelers as they do locals.

Travelers can learn to surf, snorkel and swim in the clear ocean waters off the coast of Jaco. And those who want to experience the diversity of Coast Rica’s ecological landscapes can tour nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, the Carara biological reserve or the Damas Island Estuary. There are rain forest canopy tours, whale watching trips and beach side horseback riding adventures, too. Whether visitors are looking to unwind or eager to explore the shores of Jaco Beach offer the best of both worlds to travelers.

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Celeste River (Río Celeste)

Celeste River (Río Celeste)

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48 Tours and Activities

The dazzling centrepiece of the Tenorio Volcano National Park, the Rio Celeste is most famous for its shockingly bright blue color, the result of a natural reaction of volcanic sulfur and calcium carbonate, which turns the clear waters a powder-blue shade. Reached by hiking through the surrounding rainforest, there are a number of sights of interest located along the Rio Celeste, most notably the Rio Celeste Waterfall, a favorite photo spot where the river tumbles into a striking blue lagoon; the Tenideros, where two rivers merge in the Celeste; and the Poza Azul, the most renowned "dye pool," where the reaction is most noticeable.

The river’s startling color change is best viewed during the dry season (December to April), as excess rainfall can dilute the reactive chemicals leaving the waters with a less-appealing muddy hue.

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Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park

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104 Tours and Activities

The most famous national park in Costa Rica, Arenal Volcano National Park protects the still sizzling Arenal Volcano, one of the world’s 10 most active volcanoes. The park also encompasses 16 reserves and an amazing dozen different ecological zones, proof of Costa Rica’s incredible biodiversity.

A visit to the national park reveals an active cone topped with flows of red lava, belching columns of ash. As you’d expect it’s an unforgettably dramatic sight, especially if you take a visit to the park at night. Arenal’s 140-metre (460-foot) wide crater was dormant for centuries until catastrophically blowing its top in 1968. The most recent major eruption occurred in 1998.

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San Jose Central Market (Mercado Central)

San Jose Central Market (Mercado Central)

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The lively San Jose Central Market was founded in 1880. For free entertainment and a real taste of the local atmosphere, there’s no better place in the city! The market has more than 200 stalls, selling everything under the sun from souvenirs and cowboy boots to herbal remedies and handicrafts. Inside you’ll also find cafes and bars for a welcome break between browsing. Pick up some coffee beans for a tasty souvenir.

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Rio Negro Hot Springs

Rio Negro Hot Springs

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Nestled in the lush interior of Rincon de la Vieja National Park, these rustic hot springs are fed by a naturally heated river that flows from a nearby volcanic peak. Slather on the mineral-rich mud, and then soak it off in a variety of steam pools, all while surrounded by the untamed Costa Rican rain forest.
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Poas Volcano National Park

Poas Volcano National Park

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There aren’t too many places in the world where you can almost touch the rim of an active volcano, but at Poas Volcano National Park you can get up close to the smoking crater.

One of the world’s most accessible volcanoes, Poas Volcano is filled with an amazing aquamarine lagoon, blanketed in ferns and ringed with hiking trails leading to panoramic lookouts and picnic areas.

The park is filled with wildlife to spot, including the famous quetzal, toucans and hummingbirds.

The best visibility is December to April, and especially in the early morning.

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Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Hot Springs

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In this well-watered rainforest pierced by the perfect gray cone of Volcan Arenal, it is not only lava that wells up from the depths of the Earth. Steaming hot springs pour like a river from the great mountain’s barren flanks, coursing through the lush tropical grounds of famed Tabacón Grand Spa.

Mineral-rich waters, fresh from the earth, cascade with picturesque through a lavishly landscaped setting. Costa Rica’s most beautiful flowers are woven through a world of quiet pathways and wooden bridges that connect the different pools. Some are warmer, others more isolated; the main pool, with fantastic views of the volcano, has a fabulous bar and water slide. A cold spring hidden away in a shady corner of this marvelous spot is the perfect place to recharge.

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Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio National Park

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Named by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s most beautiful parks, Manuel Antonio National Park is a tiny gem of a destination for travelers searching for the sun, sand and incredible natural beauty Costa Rica is known for.

Stationed on the country’s Pacific Coast, Manuel Antonio attracts roughly 150,000 visitors each year. Numerous hiking trails wind through scenic jungle and mountain landscapes, and an impressive coral reef makes this park a perfect stop for divers and snorkelers who want to experience some Costa Rica’s unique (and beautiful!) biodiversity.

Manuel Antonio is home to four beaches: Teloro and Playita, both known for their epic white sands and crystal blue waters, as well as Manuel Antonio and Espadilla Sur, whose tide pools offer travelers some of the best snorkeling in the park.

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Lake Arenal

Lake Arenal

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36 Tours and Activities

Covering almost 86 square kilometers and reaching depths of up to 200 feet (60 meters), Lake Arenal takes the title of Costa Rica’s biggest lake, and it’s also one of its most picturesque natural assets, a shimmering expanse of blue water stretching west of the mighty Arenal Volcano. Once a small crater lagoon lying within the boundaries of the Arenal Volcano National Park, Lake Arenal was expanded in 1979 and now serves as a hydroelectric dam providing up to 12 percent of Costa Rica’s electricity.

The vast lake is also a popular recreational ground with steady winds offering the ideal environment for windsurfing, sailboarding and sailing, and an abundance of rainbow bass and machaca fish making it a top choice for fishing. Visitors can also cruise the lake by boat or kayak; spot hummingbirds, quetzal, tapir and jaguar in the Arenal Volcano National Park; or enjoy hiking, horseback riding or mountain biking through the lakeside rainforest.

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Palo Verde National Park

Palo Verde National Park

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30 Tours and Activities
Set on the banks of the Tempisque River, Palo Verde National Park (Parque Nacional Palo Verde) contains more than 15 topographical zones, including mangrove swamps, evergreen forests, and tropical dry forests. The park is a haven for migratory birds, bats, and 250 species of bees, plus mammals like jaguarundis (cat) and howler monkeys.
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Baldi Hot Springs

Baldi Hot Springs

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36 Tours and Activities

Located at the base of the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, San Carlos, Baldi Hot Springs features thermo-mineral hot water pools with great views of the volcano. It’s the biggest hot springs facility in the region and the perfect way to relax after hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park.

Located within the Baldi Hot Springs Hotel and Spa, there are day-use options as well as availability for hotel guests. The 25 pools range in temperature from 93 to 152 degrees Fahrenheit and get hotter as the elevation rises. It's recommended that you balance your time between pools, as your core temperature will begin to rise after about 20 minutes in a hot pool. The minerality and temperature of the water is believed to rid the body of germs and viruses while increasing blood circulation and releasing harmful toxins.

For the adventurous, Baldi Hot Springs also has extreme water slides that send you bumping and sliding before landing in the natural hot springs pool.

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Braulio Carrillo National Park

Braulio Carrillo National Park

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The vast protected forest of Braulio Carrillo National Park may be divided by one of the nation’s busiest highways, but this just means easy access for travelers, as well as the possibility of picturesque views without ever having to leave the car.

Lazy travelers can traverse the highway snapping photos of lush landscapes from the comfort of their car seats, while those eager to get back to nature can embark on one of the miles of trails leading to the waterfalls, open pastures and mountain stations that dot the rainforest. An Aerial tram on the eastern side of the park offers open gondola rides through the dense understory and canopy of the woods, where its possible to spot the sloth and other forest creatures that call Braulio Carrillo National Park home.

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