Beaches, rich rainforests and incredible marine life – Costa Rica is a nature lover’s oasis.
This Central American country is tucked between Nicaragua and Panama and is famous for its unspoiled coastlines, virgin rainforest and breath-taking biodiversity. It’s believed that five percent of all the Earth’s plant and animal life can be found in this tropical paradise, making it a popular destination for travellers passionate about eco-tourism, and experiencing life off-the-beaten-track.
But despite the obvious back-to-nature appeal (this country remains relatively untouched, compared to other popular tourist spots) you can still enjoy touches of luxury during your stay. Explore the rugged jungle by day, but return to your beachside villa to watch the sunset from your bubbling hot tub – the very best of both worlds. Explore the huge range of Costa Rica home rentals to find your perfect holiday accommodation.
Costa Rica isn’t just a postcard-pretty holiday spot, it’s a country that will surprise and delight you with eco-activities and memories you’ll treasure forever.
Visit the Ostional Wildlife Refuge, in the Guanacaste Province, to see the Olive Ridley turtles come home to nest. The refuge includes 180 acres of beachfront and is a major hatching ground for the turtles, which flood the beach in their tens of thousands during peak nesting season (which is the last quarter moon of each month during rainy season).
The turtles make their determined trek in the evening, so make sure you time your visit for after dusk. Better still, book a guide to ensure you find the best hatching areas.
THE ISLAND OF THE DEAD
Twice a day the waters of the Gulf of Nicoya recede, revealing a spit of land leading to Isle Cabuya (Cabuya Island). At these times you can walk over the island, which has served as a cemetery for locals for hundreds of years.
As well as visiting the gravesites and exploring the exposed rockpools, the island is a picturesque spot for snorkelling. Keep your eyes peeled, and you could spot puffer fish, lobsters, octopus and sea turtles.
SCALE THE TREETOPS
Take a short hike through untouched rainforest to arrive at The Amazing Treehouse and Nature Observatorio.
Here, you’ll ascend by rope to a unique eco-hideaway, suspended eight storeys high in a Nispero tree. Once on the platform -suspended from nylon straps, so as not to damage the living tree – relax in a gently-swaying hammock, or just admire the 360-degree views across the lush forest and out to the Caribbean Sea.
If you look closely, you might even spot some of the local wildlife – which includes toucans, monkeys and sloths. You can even opt to stay overnight in the treetop eco-hideaway, which includes a toilet and rainwater shower, and an upper level with two queen-sized beds.
The jewel-coloured water of the Rio Celeste river, in the Tenorio Volcano National Park, attracts curious crowds from all over the world. The river is quite a trek to get to, but the almost-luminescent blue-green hue – believed to be due to the mix of minerals – makes it worth the effort.
Complete your visit by descending down the base of the stunning Rio Celeste waterfall, where rushing white waters crash into a turquoise lagoon. You can’t swim within the national park borders, but a sight this stunning can’t be missed.
NATURE BY NIGHT
As the sun sets in Costa Rica, the jungle comes alive. Armed with flashlights and a guide, explore this fascinating nocturnal world with a night hike through the Monteverde Wildlife Refuge, where you could find everything from tree snakes to tarantulas, sleeping toucans to fluffy kinkajous. You start off in one party, but then break up into smaller groups for some night time exploring – the guides carry walkie-talkies to alert each other to their exciting finds.
TOUCH THE CLOUDS
Next door is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – 26,000 acres of mostly-virgin Central American jungle that is teeming with life, including 100 species of mammal, 400 types of birds and the world’s largest selection of orchids. Called a cloud forest due to the low humid mist that often hovers between the treetops, this truly is a magical sight to see.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
With their cumbersome gaits and sweetly-benevolent expressions, how can you not love with sloths? At the Costa Rica Animal Rescue Center you can volunteer to help with injured and vulnerable animals, including sloths, monkeys and kinkajous.
Get up close to some of Costa Rica’s most endearing and endangered creatures, and truly put something back into the community.
HEAT IT UP
Costa Rica is part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and has five currently active volcanoes that draw tourists and volcanologists from all over the globe. In fact, it’s these geothermal reserves and mineral-rich soils that have helped to create the country’s lush, fertile landscape and its incredible variety of plants and wildlife.
You can tour or hike the volcanoes, then ease those aching muscles with a dip in one of Costa Rica’s natural hot springs, such as the Eco Termales Fortuna, in San Carlos.
Really get a sense of Costa Rican life by spending time with the indigenous Bribri people of the Yorkin River. Travel by dugout canoe along the river – which separates Costa Rica from its Panamanian neighbour – to the traditional village, where the villagers demonstrate how they grow bananas and organic cocoa. There are several companies who can organise your guided eco-tour, including Visit.Org.
We’ve barely scraped the surface of what this wild, natural paradise has to offer: for an eco-holiday that will truly touch your soul, Costa Rica has everything you could wish for, and so much more.
• images: Catarata del Toro rainforest, Costa Rica; Sloth Three-Toe Juvenile Playful in Tree; Cloud Forest in Costa Rica; Kinkajou; Olive Ridley Turtle Going Out of Sea to Lay Eggs; Toucan Perched on Branch on Rainy Day; Cloud Forest in Costa Rica; Rio Tscui Near the Indigenous Town of Yorkin, in Talamanca, Costa Rica; Smoke Emerging from the Main Crater of the Volcano; Majestic Waterfall Rainforest Jungle of Costa Rica.