Costa Rica Guide 2017

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Your 2017 guide to discovery...

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7 ©2016. PUBLISHED BY BMI PUBLISHING LTD, SUFFOLK HOUSE, GEORGE ST, CROYDON, SURREY, UK, CR9 1SR T: 020 8649 7233 E: ENQUIRIES@BMIPUBLISHING.CO.UK • W: BMIPUBLISHING.CO.UK • Whilst every effort is made to ensure accuracy, BMI Publishing cannot be held responsible for any errors or omissions. Images courtesy of Costa Rica Tourism Board and writer: Stuart Forster, Publisher: Steven Thompson, editorial Director: Steve Hartridge, editor: Julie Baxter, Creative Director: Matt Bonner, Designer: Louisa Horton, Production Manager: Clare Hunter, Circulation Manager: Cheryl Staniforth, Managing Director: Martin Steady


Costa Ricans developed the term ‘tuanis’ after hearing visiting Americans utter ‘too nice’ in enthralled appreciation of aspects of their country!

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stuart forster, travel writer

osta Rica is a year-round travel destination blessed by a tropical climate. Encompassing rugged mountain ranges, dense rainforests and sandy beaches washed by the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, the country offers travellers relaxation, adventure and an exciting array of wildlife.



Spanish settlers were so impressed by the wealth of plants, animals and birds that they named this part of Latin America after its ‘rich coast’. Despite being just two and a half times the size of Wales, Costa Rica is home to five per cent of the planet’s biodiversity. Environmental awareness is strong and more than a quarter of the landmass is protected by national parks and nature reserves. Ecotourism is established and Costa Rica has set the goal of being carbon neutral by 2021 – some 90 per cent of the country’s energy already comes from renewable sources. Stable and peaceful, Costa Rica disbanded its army in 1949, investing instead in education and welfare. The country regularly polls highly in happiness surveys and topped the 2016 Happy Planet Index which measured well-being and environmental impact. Pura Vida is a phrase Costa Ricans use to express they’re living life to the full. It’s easier than ever to reach Costa Rica from the UK. A number of operators fly via their hubs in Europe and North America, and in April 2016 British Airways started operating direct flights between London Gatwick and San Jose’s Juan Santamaría International Airport.

Safe to explore independently, the country’s road network makes self-drive tours a rewarding way of sightseeing. Driving makes it possible to view a diversity of landscapes, including volcanic peaks, palm-fringed beaches and lush coffee plantations. Adventure lovers can trek, take to horseback or view vistas suspended from zip-lines. Anyone enamoured by water has opportunities to go whitewater rafting on rivers, paddle boarding or kayaking in the sea, or to experience world-class surfing. Importantly, there’s accommodation in all price brackets, from budget rooms for backpackers to luxury resorts. Travellers can take their pick between boutique bed and breakfast-style properties, eco-lodges or chic hotels operated by international hotel chains. Despite the compact size of Costa Rica it has a smattering of varied micro-climates. Driving from the coast into the highlands and the verdant cloud forest can mean experiencing several climate zones in a single day. Costa Ricans developed the term ‘tuanis’ after hearing visiting Americans utter ‘too nice’ in enthralled appreciation of aspects of their country. There’s much to give visitors a sense of Pura Vida while in Costa Rica.


Grab the opportunity to eyeball tropical birds from the 3km trail of hanging bridges close to Arenal Volcano



THE EXOTIC CHARMS OF FLORA AND FAUNA ature lovers will find plenty to keep them busy in Costa Rica. Despite occupying just 0.03 per cent of the planet’s surface the country holds more than five per cent of its biodiversity. Dense forestation covers more than half of the narrow land bridge running between North and South America, meaning species associated with both continents can be spotted here. Endemic animals and birds thrive, adapting to local micro-climates, while seasonal migrations lead to sightings of whales and turtles.


BIRD LOVERS’ PARADISE In excess of 900 bird species have been recorded in Costa Rica, including 52 types of humming birds. As many as 450 different birds find habitat within the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, including queztals, whose boldly-coloured feathers were long ago treasured by the Mayans. The clay-coloured thrush is the national bird yet toucans dominate popular culture and souvenirs.



Natural bea

More than 500 types of orchid grow in the country, whose climate supports 90 per cent of Central America’s butterfly species, including resplendent blue morphos. Brightly coloured red-eyed tree frogs and tiny poison dart frogs hop among the ferns of the rainforest.

ANIMAL MAGIC Mantled howlers and white-headed capuchins are among Costa Rica’s four monkey species. They share the jungle with sloths, while jaguars, pumas and ocelots make the national parks exciting places to explore.


Booking clients on a trip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, close to San José, for the chance to see pumas, jaguars, toucans and butterflies.



TOP TIP Arrange nature tours

with expert local guides to maximise sightings and gain insights into local flora and fauna.

TURTLES Olive ridley sea turtles lay their eggs in the white sand of Santa Rosa National Park. From July until October green turtles can be viewed laying eggs by moonlight in Tortuguero National Park.

WHALE-WATCHING Costa Rica provides fantastic opportunities for whalewatching tours. Migrating humpbacks can be seen off Uvita (July to April) where a sandy bridge extends to a rocky islet in the Pacific Ocean. December to March they can be seen in the Caribbean Sea too.

Sample itinerary TUCAN TRAVEL The 14-day ‘Costa Rica Encompassed’ tour includes the Manual Antonio National Park, Monteverde, hiking the Arenal Volcano from La Fortuna, turtle nesting in Tortuguero National Park and snorkelling in the reefs of Cahuita National Park. The tours start from £1,189pp, excluding international flights. 0800 804 8435;

Costa Rica’s diverse mix of nature, beaches, outdoor activities and stunning scenery means it has something to offer everyone!



A LANDSCAPE WHERE ADVENTURE IS JUST WAITING TO HAPPEN n spite of its small size Costa Rica is one of the most biologically diverse countries in the world and its varied landscape prove a colourful and exciting backdrop for activities and adventure. Adventure travellers can enjoy a range of established, well-regulated activities from exploring the volcanoes to trekking through the rainforests. Add in time at the beach for all kinds of watersports and the adventure playground is complete. Rica’s wildlife and environment. Corcovado National Park, on the Osa Peninsula, is recognised as having The Pacific coastline has spectacular scuba diving. some of the region’s most rewarding remote treks. Off the Bat Islands divers can experience the thrill of being in warm water with good visibility in close A network of 14 gushing rivers provides white-water proximity to bull sharks. The Tortuga Islands are a rafters with options, from gentle Class I rapids to must for fans of wreck diving. Tropical fish dart in extreme Class VI rides that test even professionals. shallows between two former coast guard vessels. Guided day trips mix wildlife and paddling through churning rapids. The Sarapiqui and Pacuare rivers are The inlets and bays of the lush Papagayo Peninsula, renowned for their world-class rafting. which can be explored by kayak, are ideal for snorkelers. Cahuita National Park offers colourful Multi-platform zip-lining tours of Sarapiqui and Sky Caribbean coral reefs and vibrant tropical fish. Trek, in the Monteverde Hills, guarantee bursts of adrenalin and vistas of the lush landscapes. The Nicoya Peninsula is reputed to have some of the world’s best surf. There are surf schools for beginners Walking on the trail of hanging bridges through the and camps at Santa Teresa and Tamarindo where tree canopy near the Arenal Volcano is thrilling. The visitors can meet locals who know the tides. walkway hangs as high as 22m above the jungle floor, providing a bird’s eye view of the swaying foliage and Guided nature treks are a way of learning about Costa opportunities to see colourful birds.


Getting activ









TOP TIPS Sky Limit is a new attraction combining canyoning,

zip lining, rappelling and other activities near the Arenal Volcano. • Turrialba provides opportunities for white water rafting near San José. • Sit on an inner-tube and try out tubing in the Blue River.


Sample itinerary ABERCROMBIE & KENT A tailored 14-day ‘Active Costa Rica’ holiday features white-water rafting, time with the Cabecar community, jungle zip-lining, hiking, rappelling the Catarata del Toro waterfall and surfing the Nicoya Peninsula. Starting at £3,195pp, including international flights. 01242 547701;


During the daytime, visit a soda (a small, traditional restaurant) where you can try typical dishes alongside locals for very reasonable prices

Inside story





isits to museums, galleries and theatres provide insights into all aspects of the history and artistic heritage of this land. Chatting with friendly locals is another way to discover tips on the best things to do and see.



On September 15 1821 Costa Rica declared independence from Spain. Over the past two centuries the country has placed emphasis on finding peaceful solutions to disputes and in 1949 abolished its armed forces. The United Nations University for Peace is based in San José, along with the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Situated 550km off Costa Rica’s Pacific shore, Cocos Island is a protected national park, thanks mainly to its rich marine life. But the island is famed for its other treasures too - namely buried gold! A host of legends say pirates used hid their spoils there, though none has ever been found.


Remains of pre-Colombian settlements, around 1,500 to 5,000 years old, exist in southern Costa Rica’s Diquis Delta. Along with mysterious stone spheres, some with a diameter of more than 2.5m, they form a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Tuck into gallo pinto, beans with rice, often served with eggs and meat. Variations on the national dish are served all day. Join a cooking class, held around La Fortuna and Puerto Viejo, for fun and social opportunities to learn how to create the cuisine for yourself.

LIVE MUSIC Feel the Pura Vida spirit while swaying and shuffling to live Latino beats in beachfront shacks and clubs. One of the biggest regional celebrations of jazz, classical and Latin music is the Monteverde Music Festival, held each springtime in Santa Elena.


INDIGENOUS HERITAGE More than 20 territories for indigenous people are dotted across the country. Some tribal groups welcome contact with travellers. The zutkia (shaman) of the Cabécar community will discuss their traditional lifestyle with outsiders. Likewise, women of the Bribri tribe, in the Talamanca Mountains, sit with visitors by a campfire to provide cultural insights.

Sample itinerary

TOP TIPS Hike through rainforest from Pacuare Lodge

to visit an isolated Cabécar family, gaining insights into traditional tribal ways of life • Ask permission before taking photos of members of indigenous communities.



TRAVELSPHERE The 17-day tour of Costa Rica and neighbouring Nicaragua includes a tour of San José, a visit to a coffee farm at Monteverde, the ecological research centre of Carara National Park plus Tortuguero National Park. Starting at £2,399pp, including international flights and transfers. 01858 898755;

Pura Vida is the order of the day – visitors will find Costa Ricans to be very relaxed, friendly and willing to help out




osta Rica’s peace and stability, plus the natural warmth and friendliness of its peoples, make the country a safe, inviting destination for family holidays. Soft, sandy beaches lapped by tropical water and a choice of year-round destinations mean Costa Rica is an up-and-coming family holiday destination. Offering great value, the country’s wildlife and jungle landscapes provide backdrops for a memorable time together.



Time togethe


Families can join experienced guides for white-water rafting on the Sarapiqui River, learning how to paddle and feeling the thrill of riding the rapids together. Zip-lining is another activity many children love, though some lines require participants to be at least 120cm tall. At Rincón de la Vieja National Park 10 interconnected slides give guests the chance to view green iguana and sloths in the jungle canopy.

SLOTHS The Sloth Sanctuary near Cahuita informs visitors about sloths’ biology and challenges faced by the animals. Rescued sloths populate the sanctuary and a guided canoe trip into the rainforest is one of the highlights of a visit.


The white sand of Papagayo Bay is a favourite for families who enjoy relaxing in the sun and taking to the water. Children of all ages enjoy paddle boarding, kayaking and pulling on a snorkel to view the tropical fish. Playa de Matapalo, hemmed in by mountains, is a great place to sprawl by the shore.


Some hotels offer child-minding so adults can head off on adrenalin activities or to enjoy a romantic few hours.



Boogie board rentals, at a number of Pacific resorts, give children the thrill of experiencing the waves.

FAMILY WALKS Trek together on jungle trails where children can spot tiny tree frogs or mantled howler and Central American squirrel monkeys as they go. The 3km marked trail in Arenal National Park can be followed at their own pace, discovering fascinating snippets about the environment.

Sample itinerary EXODUS TRAVELS The 16-day Costa Rica Family Adventure holiday includes 14 nights’ accommodation in hotels and lodges, beginning and ending in San José. It includes a visit to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, a boat tour of Tortguero National Park, time on the Caribbean beach at Cahuita, a visit to the Sloth Sanctuary, a night walk in Tirimbina Biological Reserve at Sarapiqui, time in and around Arenal Volcano National Park plus tours of the trails and beaches of Manuel Antonio National Park. Starts from £2,765pp, excluding international flights. 0203 131 7159;


Pacuare Lodge has everything from white -water rafting to zip lining to hiking to relaxing plunge pools. Jaguar Villa is one of my favourite for suites in all of Central America





ungle eco-lodges and boutique beachfront properties are among the upscale offerings making Costa Rica attractive to discerning travellers. The destination is fast winning a reputation as a land luxury lovers will adore.

RESPONSIBLE TOURISM There’s no need to feel guilty about enjoying wildlife and nature while staying at Costa Rica’s rustic-chic eco-lodges. The lodges are designed to minimise the environmental impact made by visitors but maximise on comfort and the authenticity of the experiences at nature reserves and national parks.

High class


bath near Rincon de la Vieja National Park then soak in a hot spring.

Ecole Chocolate offers a six-day, expert-led tour of estates where cacao is farmed. Guests enjoy an overview of the chocolate manufacturing process. Alternatively, half-day tasting tours give a speedier insight into how chocolate is produced.




For intimate honeymoon moments, Costa Rica offers plenty of opportunities for barefooted beach strolls and memorable shared moments, including looking into the crater of the Poás Volcano! Private beachfront properties such as Tango Mar on the Nicoya Peninsula provide romantic getaways for newly-weds seeking secluded bliss.

Scuba diving at Cocos Island’s Bajo Alcyone offers the chance to swim with hammerhead sharks and manta rays. The island has 20 dive sites. At Everest, a submerged mountain, a submersible vessel plunges to depths of 90 metres. All dive trips must be booked in advance through approved operators

Silver sand and tropical sunshine means the wedding packages offered at beachfront resort hotels are in constant demand. Planners can arrange catering and the location of ceremonies, allowing guests to relax.

Sample itinerary


Tamarindo is a quality beach resort known for classy restaurants serving freshly landed seafood • Private guided driving tours are a great way of gaining personalised insights into Costa Rican culture.


TOP TIP Take a mud


HANDS UP HOLIDAYS A 10-day tailor-made tour, includes a visit to a Fair Trade coffee estate, Poás Volcano, relaxing in the hot springs at Arenal, adventure activities around Arenal Volcano and Pacuare Lodge, a visit to an indigenous village, wildlife viewing, plus a tour of San José. Starting at $6,650pp, based on two sharing five-star accommodation throughout, excluding flights. 0207 193 1062;

Costa Rica SAN JOSE

Hot Spot





round 1.17 million people live in San José, the national capital. It’s a vibrant hub for cultural activities and the chief point of entry for international travellers: Juan Santamaría International Airport is just a 30-minute drive from the heart of the city.

The Central Valley is the most populated part of Costa Rica, with around 70 per cent of the country’s population in this region. Yet within just a few minutes’ drive of the capital the hills begin to roll and coffee plantations dominate the landscape before turning into misty rainforest.

of cloud forest and virgin forest in which jaguars hunt. Walkers can hike to waterfalls or trek 60km to La Selva. An 80-minute tour by aerial tram, a route covering 2.5km, provides encounters with sloths and some of the 450 avian species living here.

HOT STUFF Four volcanoes rise in this central region. Irazú, close to Cartago, last erupted in the 1960s. The steaming, sulphuric-smelling fumaroles of Poás count among the region’s best-loved attractions. The crater and nearby Botos Lagoon are the key draws of Poás Volcano National Park. Hummingbirds flit around the verdant park, which has a compact volcano interpretation centre.


Plan an outing to San José’s underground Pre-Columbian Gold Museum • Stop at the Doka Estate to view a coffee plantation.



La Paz Waterfall Gardens, located less than a 90-minute drive from San José, is a wildlife refuge with expansive enclosures holding jaguars and pumas, some of the country’s many butterflies, and has feeds where hummingbirds hover. Five waterfalls cascade, providing picturesque subject matter for keen photographers.

For two weeks each January the town of Palmares, an hour north-west of San José, comes alive as it hosts one of the country’s biggest festivals. Palmares Fiestas sees horses being paraded, firework displays and live music. The programme is very popular with Costa Ricans and visitors. Zapote, on the eastern fringes of the capital, also pulls the crowds during its annual festival in December and January. Rodeo events and a vast funfair draw people in and the dancing continues until late.

GO WEST Further west, land within Braulio Carrillo National Park includes several ecoregions, including swathes

Gaze down into a steaming crater, the bubbling cauldron of Volcano Poás 2,704m above sea level, just 40km from San José LAURA RENDELL-DUNN, JOURNEY LATIN AMERICA



Costa Rica



esorts, idyllic beaches and nature reserves speckle Costa Rica’s west coast. Rich in marine life, the Pacific Ocean attracts surfers from around the world while the clarity of the warm water ensures scuba divers can explore wrecks and marine life in quiet coves.

Hot Spot




The Golfo Dulce, in the country’s south, has evolved into a popular destination with a plentiful supply of hotels and upmarket resorts. The Osa Peninsula, which sweeps south-east to form the gulf, is home to Corcovado National Park. The area — whose markedly varied landscape features rainforest, swamp and palm groves — is fast becoming one of Costa Rica’s tourism hotspots. For all that, Corcovado feels remote. Not all of the properties on the Osa Peninsula are accessible via sealed roads, making it an exciting choice for people who enjoy journeys by four-wheel-drive, boat or even light aircraft. It’s a wilderness that’s home to more than 140 mammalian species, including margays and armadillos. Hiking trails snake into the rainforest from the town of Puerto Jiminez. The gateway to the region has kayak and bicycle rentals, and experienced fishermen act as guides on boat trips in Pacific waters.

TOP SPOTS Anyone wishing to immerse themselves in evergreen rainforest can do so between the mossy trunks of trees in the rolling Piedras Blancas National Park. More than 50 species of bats flutter

TOP TIP Humpback

whales spend eight months of the year in Costa Rican waters, offering great whalewatching opportunities.

between branches along with scarlet macaws. Uvita Beach, whose shape resembles the fluke of a breaching humpback whale — a creature that can be seen for real in the region’s coastal waters — is popular with family holidaymakers and adrenalin junkies. For those who want adventure activities or water sports there’s plenty to choose from, including paddleboarding and, of course, surfing. Beginners can take lessons on beaches around Manuel Antonio National Park, 130km from San José. The country’s smallest national park is widely regarded as one of its most beautiful and has a smattering of islets and colourful coral reefs. Jacó Beach is known for relatively gentle waves, that are ideal for learning to surf, and dark sand. Popular with sun-seekers, it’s a resort that many

For the best rainforest wildlife viewing go to the Osa Peninsula and Corcovado area in the Pacific south. There are far fewer visitors here so the wildlife viewing is more private AMANDA MARKS, COSTA RICA SPECIALISTS



Manuel Antonio is by far the most visited national park in Costa Rica. It is incredibly picturesque and offers some genuinely stunning beaches and an abundance of wildlife ROSANNA NEOPHYTOU, TUCAN TRAVEL

people visit for a classic beach holiday during which topping up a tan is the only work on people’s minds.

TIME FOR TEE Golfers can play rounds on a handful of welltended courses along the Pacific coast. La Iguana Golf Course, near Herradura, is designed to championship standards and has ocean views. There are a smattering of courses around Guanacaste and the Papagayo Peninsula has an Arnold Palmer-designed course, whose signature sixth hole involves playing towards a uniquely scenic clifftop green.

ALL OF A TWITTER For birders, staring into the foliage of Carara National Park is likely to bring the reward of spotting scarlet macaws, parrots and kingfishers. Similarly, Palo Verde National Park is rich in birdlife and one of the most comfortable means of gaining impressions involves relaxing on a boat trip along the Tempisque River.

SECLUDED SPACES The Nicoya Peninsula is dotted with coves and beaches. They offer secluded places to spend sunny days, either rocking in a hammock or stretched on the sand, and represent romantic spots to view a Pacific sunset. Booking private surfing lessons or yoga sessions means holidaymakers can go home with new skills. Jutting into the ocean, north of the Gulf of Papagayo, Santa Rosa National Park was the first to be established in Costa Rica and features rare tropical dry forest. Its diversity – including beaches where turtles lay eggs – means it forms part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and conservation area.

Sample itinerary PURA ADVENTURE The 14-night ‘Pacific Uncovered’ tour is a self-drive holiday exploring Costa Rica’s west coast. The highlights include San Gerardo, the Golfo Dulce, the Nicoya Peninsula and activities on the Perdido River. Starting at £1,940pp, for four sharing, B&B and car. 01273 676712;


Boat tours from Playa Flamingo are a great way of viewing whales and dolphins • Palo Verde National Park can be explored on rented mountain bicycles.




Costa Rica orth American tourists have long enjoyed holidays on the sandy, palm-fringed beaches of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast. Increasingly, travellers from the UK are now also discovering the laid-back charm of this area offering activity seekers rainforest hiking and snorkelling in clear water.

Hot Spot




PICK YOUR SPOT The region around Puerto Viejo is a year-round beacon for surfers and anglers, while Cahuita National Park has a rustic feel. The fishing village of Manzanillo typifies the area: turquoise water, golden sand and angled palm trees look the archetypal definition of a picture-postcard pretty tropical holiday destination.

FEEL THE VIBE Calypso and reggae are played just as much as Latino music in this ethnically mixed part of the country. The African-Caribbean culture means beach-goers can snack on the likes of delicious coconut rice, spiced chicken and empanadas filled with plantain. Nothing slakes thirst after a dip in the warm seawater quite like the cool water from a coconut deftly opened for you by a beach vendor with a machete.

KEEP IT REAL Beach shacks and jungle eco-resorts, just a couple of minutes’ walk from the shoreline, provide unpretentious alternatives to luxury resorts and hotels set beneath the Talamanca Mountains. Barracuda and tarpon count among catches

TOP TIP Get into the Caribbean

spirit with a shot of guaro, an alcoholic drink made by distilling liquid pressed from sugar canes.

recorded by anglers during chartered fishing trips off the coast. Dolphins and whales are among the creatures spotted during boat tours.

LIMON CARNIVAL Limón is the main port of entry for cruise ships visiting this part of Costa Rica and the city’s carnival, usually held in October, is one to watch out for. It commemorates the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in 1502 and features a colourful celebration with live music, floats and parades. Participants don exuberant costumes and stalls sell Afro-Caribbean cuisine, whose mouth-watering aromas waft onto the busy streets.

HEAD NORTH The northern part of Costa Rica’s Caribbean coastline has much for lovers of nature and

November to April is the most popular time to visit and in August visitors have a very good chance of seeing turtles nesting at Tortuguero CHRISTOPHER HILL, HANDS UP HOLIDAYS


Tourism is the main source of income for the Tontugueno village. It is an interesting mix of indigenous origins and modern services ANDREA LOVERING, THE VILLA COLLECTION

wildlife. Driving north from Limón means being able to pause at stalls selling fresh fruit grown in local plantations. Few travellers venture as far as the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge, which covers a 99 square kilometre corner of the country’s sparsely settled north-east. Caiman and crocodiles count among the creatures inhabiting the creeks and lagoons of this wetland region. Boat trips are the most effective way of exploring waterways that also provide a habitat to bull sharks. Tortuguero National Park is named after the turtles that return each year to lay their eggs. Hawksbill and green turtles lay their eggs

during July and August while leatherbacks do so from February Hiring a kayak or a to April. Individual turtles, including loggerheads, can be spotted all canoe gives visitors the thrill year round. of exploring Tortuguero’s Elusive jaguars are occasionally waterways at their own pace. seen in the rainforest, where visitors can walk on a network of trails. One of the most rewarding hikes is to the top of Tortuguero Hill, 119 metres above sea level – it provides memorable views over the waterways and greenery of the national park below. Tortuguero’s tourism infrastructure means it can cope with large numbers of visitors, across all price categories, without feeling overrun. Quiet beaches give tourists plenty of space to stretch out but it is wildlife that is the key draw to the region. Boat tours, accompanied by naturalists, are a rewarding way of spending time gliding along verdant channels.


VERAGUA RAINFOREST A popular excursion among cruise travellers, Veragua Rainforest Eco-Adventure is a multifaceted attraction nestled in the Talamanca Mountains, close to Puerto Limón. A canopy gondola ride, zip-lining and walking trails make the jungle accessible to visitors. Conservationists undertake research at the reserve, where people can view frogs, butterflies and other creatures within enclosures.


Visiting the Barra del Colorado Wildlife Refuge from February to April maximises the chance of spotting sloths, toucans and macaws.




Costa Rica

Hot Spot




ead to the north of Costa Rica and stunning adventures await among lush rainforests and rugged landscapes. The Tilarán mountain range divides the country and one of the region’s best known natural landmarks is in north, the Arenal Volcano.

VOLCANIC ATTRACTIONS The peaks of the Arenal Volcano, which from 1968 until 2010 spewed smoke and lava down its symmetrical slopes, and the extinct Chato Volcano, whose water-filled crater is now a popular (strenuous) day trek, stand within the Arenal Volcano National Park. Rainforest hikes are also accessible in the region and horse riding, from bases around the small city of La Fortuna, is another way of covering ground within the national park. The dense vegetation is a by-product of volcanic soil, heat and high rainfall. Spectacularly, the rainfall drains off the mountainside, tumbling more than 70m from Chato, in the form of the La Fortuna waterfall. Visitors can walk to the base of the falls and look up at the view.

RAPPELLING Children as young as five can participate in the family-friendly rappelling tours down waterfalls and rock faces around Arenal. Spray from the cascading falls means getting wet is part of the adventure.

LAKE ARENAL Covering 85 square kilometres, Lake Arenal, which plunges to depths of 60m, is Costa Rica’s


Soft adventure options include paddleboarding, hiking, mountain biking and rafting.

largest body of fresh water. The lake is a hub for waterborne activities and tourism. Brisk winds make it a world-class windsurfing destination and kayaking is popular. Anglers can join guided fishing trips—rainbow bass, known locally as guapote, are among the prized catches. Boat tours give fine views of the volcano.

HOT SPRINGS Geothermal energy heats several hot springs around La Fortuna and soaking in a pool while enjoying the jungle vista and views of Arenal Volcano is certain to be memorable. The springs vary from the compact Tabacon to the expansive Springs Resort.

ADVENTURE BASE To the east, the area around Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui is evolving into a family-friendly base for adventure activities including white-water rafting

A hike through the Monteverde cloud forest takes you to a landscape that time forgot, with tinkling streams, waterfalls, butterflies, huge plants and humming birds RAFE STONE, PRODUCT MANAGER, JOURNEY LATIN AMERICA


El Silencio, in the mountains of Bajos del Toro, plays host to a plethora of cultural, gastronomic and adventure activities CHRISTOPHER HILL, HANDS UP HOLIDAYS

on the Sarapiqui River and zip-lining through the forest canopy. The abundance of wildlife means green iguanas, sloths and monkeys can be seen among the trees. Naturalists share their knowledge during walking tours.

CANO NEGRO Mineral-rich rivers spill down from the uplands and also feed the wetlands of the remote Caño Negro Wildlife Refuge. Caiman count among the predators that inhabit the Frio River. In excess of 300 species of birds, including black-bellied whistling ducks, northern jacanas and roseate spoonbills, can be spotted during boat and kayak tours.

MONTEVERDE Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is widely recognised as one of the most biodiverse areas of this nature-rich land. Visiting is a way of contributing to ongoing scientific research and viewing some of the many endemic species that thrive. Volunteer tourism is growing, involving people from around the world in conservation projects. The multifaceted Selvatura Park, an adventure centre sprawling over 850 acres, holds hummingbird and butterfly gardens, making the highland wildlife accessible to visitors of all ages. Keen trail runners might be tempted by the challenge of the Monteverde Moon Run. The December event is limited to 500 participants. The Fun Trail is a 6km run while the ultra option covers more than 60km and a vertical differential of 2,850m.Hiking trails, branching out from Santa Elena, offer a more sedate pace.

Sample itinerary KUDU TRAVEL The 16-night ‘Costa Rica: a Walking Tour Exploring a Natural Paradise’ includes up to three hours of walking a day and includes the Arenal Volcano National Park. Starting at £4,890pp, based on two sharing, including a driver and transport in an air-conditioned vehicle, Englishspeaking local naturalist guide and entry to national parks. Excludes international flights. 01225 436 115;


For an overview of Costa Rica’s many colourful amphibians visit Frogs Heaven at Sarapiqui • Ride by horse to the San Luis Waterfall at Monteverde then dive into the cool water of the pool below the spray.



Santa Rosa National Park Papagayo Bay

Arenal Volcano


Tortuguero National Park


Playa Hermosa Cloud forest


Sarapiqui River


Poas Volcano


Juan Santa Maria


Irazu Volcano


Limon Pacuare River


Manuel Antonio National Park Quepos


Corcovado National Park






Snorkelling/ Diving

Flight time from the UK


National Parks Birds


Rafting Zip line

SAN JOSÉ Population 4.8 MILLION Capital city






Time difference


Currency Visa


travelling for up to three months

COSTA RICAN COLONES (US dollars are widely used).


Map key Country dialling code

+506 Coastline


Playa Cocles