A country brimming with biodiversity, stunning cloud forests, untouched beaches along the Caribbean and Pacific coasts, majestic active volcanoes and breathtaking river valleys, it’s understandable why thousands of visitors flock to Costa Rica every year to experience some of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world. Here are 10 of the most breathtaking spots you should visit in the wonderful Central American country.
Poás Volcano National Park
Poás Volcano National Park
Poás Volcano National Park is considered to be one of the most astonishing places in Costa Rica, and it’s certainly easy to see why. Home to an active volcano that sits above 14,000 acres of parkland, the crater remains a powerful symbol of the geothermal forces that once formed the country’s landscape that we recognize today. The most recent major eruption took place in 1910, when the volcano committed immense columns of smoke and millions of tons of ash into the atmosphere. Today though, it is a popular tourist destination — the national park offers visitors a myriad of hiking trails and spectacular viewpoints over an area dense with vegetation and wildlife. Located at just one and a half hours from San Joe, Poás serves as the perfect day trip.
The La Fortuna Waterfall can be found in a rainforest near the edge of the majestic Arenal Volcano, which can be reached by an hour long walk from downtown Fortuna. Those determined enough to brave the hike down the canyon will be truly rewarded by one of the most stunning waterfalls in the country. Dropping a colossal 75 meters, the fall is fed by the Arenal River that meanders through the surrounding mountain range before plummeting into a pool of clear blue water. Once visitors pay the minor admission fee, they are encouraged to swim in the stream and the small rapids directly below the cascading torrent.
Corcovado National Park is Costa Rica’s largest park and is greatly considered the crown jewel of the extensive national park system. Encompassing a huge area of over 400 square kilometers, it is a popular area with ecologists, as well as enthusiastic travelers yearning to discover what the coastline and the tropical rainforest has to offer. In particular, many are attracted to the phenomenal range of wildlife calling this park home — particularly notable are the small populations of American crocodiles, anteaters, two-toed and three-toed sloths and jaguars. Unsurprisingly, on numerous occasions, the National Geographic has called Corcovado ‘the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity.’
The Guanacaste Beaches are the ultimate tropical paradises in Costa Rica, offering a perfect combination of lush scenery, pristine beaches and clear waters that are perfect for fishing, swimming, diving and surfing. Spanning the northwestern point of the country, there are many places to choose from — yet, when in doubt, a commendable choice would be Tamarindo, a prime spot for all of the above, but also worth visiting as one of the major nesting areas for Leatherback turtles. The endangered creatures take over the beach from November to April, digging their nest up to one meter deep, laying their eggs, before returning to the sea.
Tortuguero National Park can only be reached by airplane or boat, but the effort is definitely worth it as it is an area of incredible biodiversity due to the existence of eleven different habitats here — rainforests, mangroves, swamps, beaches and lagoons, amongst many others. Once an archipelago of volcanic islands, the national park is also a prime nesting area for Green Sea Turtles, Leatherbacks and Hawksbill turtles. Going inland along the extensive network of freshwater creeks and lagoons, visitors may also spot one of the seven species of river turtles, or even the endangered West Indian Manatee. As there are no roads leading to Tortuguero, consider visiting with an organized tour for ease of access.
A quaint ocean-side village, Manuel Antonio is most famous for its national park, spanning several natural habitats and a plethora of endangered species — in particular, the squirrel monkey that calls this park its home. Yet, when hiking through the lush undergrowth of the jungle takes its toll on weary souls, the bustling town provides a wonderful place to relax and kick back. Consider staying at one of the luxury condos along the white sand beaches, or a cozy hideaway hotel in town for an immersive experience into Costa Rican culture. In the warm evenings, take a dip in the refreshing waters of the public beaches such as Playa Espadilla and La Playita.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest biological reserve prides itself for being one of the best examples of sustainable tourism in the world, housing an impressive 2.5% of the worldwide diversity within 10,500 hectares. The forest is home to over 2,500 plant species, 100 mammal species, 400 bird species (including the famous Quetzal) and 120 reptilian species, all visited by over 70,000 people each year. Embark on one of the many guided tours or go solo on a hiking trail to come face-to-face with the outstanding natural beauty Monteverde has to offer.
Located on the edge of the Nicoya Peninsula, Santa Teresa is another small fishing village that is considered one of the most beautiful in the country. Although it is a booming travel destination for thrill-seekers, it has managed to hold onto its tranquil charm. These days, the town is not only known for being a haven for surfers of all levels, but it also offers fantastic hiking, horse-back riding and even canopy tours. Additionally, for those looking for their rainforest fix, the Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve is a mere five kilometers away — as the country’s first protected area, it remains an integral part of Costa Rica’s wildlife conservation programs and serves as an important seabird sanctuary in this part of the world.
The Arenal Volcano’s most recent eruption was in 1968, which has ironically boosted its appeal to visitors every since. Today, it is considered to be one the most important volcanoes in the country, drawing thousands of visitors each year who marvel at the regular lava flows being omitted from its majestic mouth. A perfect cone-shape, it is no wonder that the Arenal is named one of the most beautiful natural wonders of the world — so much so, that even tribes thousands of years ago considered it as such. Today, those visiting the area are welcome to walk through the humid rainforest of the Arenal Volcano National Park, observing the old lava trails and exceptional wildlife hiding within.
Located 550 kilometers off the coast of Costa Rica, Cocos Island is known as the only eastern Pacific island with a tropical rainforest. Coincidentally, it is also made famous as the island that greatly inspired the Jurassic Park movie franchise — in fact, some of the film’s most evocative scenes were filmed here. Surrounded by deep waters and counter-currents, it is a mecca for scuba divers, who travel the globe to visit one of the twenty dive sites and to come face-to-face with the ocean’s population of scalloped hammerhead sharks, rays, moray eels and dolphins. As nobody is allowed to stay on the remote island, except for a few chosen Costa Rican Park Rangers, visitors can only explore the island aboard a professional Costa Rican live-aboard dive boat.