At only 19,370 square miles, Costa Rica only occupies a third of a percent of the total landmass of the planet. But, within that third of a percent, Costa Rica has some of the most stunning natural features in its twelve climactic zones which feature coastline on both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, tropical rainforests, deciduous forests and cloud forests. The most amazing statistic about Costa Rica’s area, however, is that within that third of a percent of the earth’s total landmass is four percent of the total species of the planet. If all of this wasn’t impressive enough, hundreds of these species in Costa Rica are endemic to the region – meaning they exist nowhere else on the planet. While there are a huge number of ways to experience the diversity of Costa Rica if you travel there, one of the best ways in my book is to hike it, because over twenty-seven percent (27%) of the country is protected in National Parks. Assuming you have the time, starting in San Jose, one can traverse a hiker’s loop around the country, starting on the Atlantic Coast, and ending on the Pacific Coast before returning back to the capital. If you don’t have the time to do the whole loop listed herein, this list also serves as a great starting place for whatever area you are visiting, or could provide you with ideas on where you want to go.
While all of Costa Rica is stunning, one of the more popular regions in the country is the Arenal/La Fortuna Region. With a nearby lake, a national park, and many adventure opportunities the area truly has something for just about every adventure traveler. Without a question, however, the high point of the area is Arenal Volcano, both literally and figuratively. Although the volcano has not been active since 2010, and climbers and hikers are not allowed on its slopes, it is a must-see location in the area. One of the best locations with unobstructed views of the volcano is also one of the area’s historic sites, the trails at Arenal 1968.
Tortuguero is a town and a National Park on the Caribbean coastline of Costa Rica; and it is also one of the best destinations to visit in the country, as it provides a plethora of unique wilderness experiences for all levels of visitors. While all of Costa Rica’s national parks are stunning, Tortuguero National Park is perhaps the country’s most pristine national park. Tortuguero National Park has an enormous amount of biodiversity including mangrove forests, beaches, swamps, lagoons, and of course, tropical rainforests. While the park protects many species of animals and plants, the main species (and attraction) that is protected is the Green Sea Turtle, which nests on the beaches of the park from July to October.
Arenal Volcano National Park in Costa Rica contains a number of fantastic hikes for tourists, both in, and around the park. While Arenal Volcano cannot be climbed, it remains a destination for regular tourists and bird-watchers alike to visit. One of the hardest hikes in the region, Cerro Chato, allows visitors to climb a nearby inactive volcano with a crater lake. Even though Cerro Chato is a great hike, views of Arenal Volcano are obscured from it, due to the extensive coverage from primary tropical forest in the region. In contrast, the hike to the Danta Waterfall provides great views of the tropical forest, the volcano, a waterfall, Arenal Volcano, allows for wildlife viewing, and is accessible for most hikers.
Bordered by both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, Costa Rica is a country that offers excellent adventure opportunities on both land and water. The best location for adventure on the Caribbean coast is Tortuguero National Park, whose beaches are famous in and out of Costa Rica for innumerable reasons. The best location for adventure on the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica is Manuel Antonio National Park. Located on the Southwestern side of Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s smallest national park; however, despite its size, Manuel Antonio National Park is Costa Rica’s most famous national park.
When Christopher Columbus explored Costa Rica’s eastern Coast in 1502, he re-named the area Costa Rica – or “rich coast” because he believed the area contained large amounts of valuable minerals. Although Europeans never found the large amounts of valuable minerals that they had envisioned, today Costa Rica lives up to its name because of the large – and rich amount of biodiversity present in the country. While there are many areas of Costa Rica that have incredible amounts of biodiversity, and great hiking, the area with the most biodiversity – and accessible biodiversity is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.
Costa Rica is a land of innumerable wonders, from the popular (Monteverde Cloud Forest) to the remote (Tortuguero National Park). With so many amazing natural features to choose from, it is nearly impossible to pick the “top” or “best” feature of the country. Having placed that disclaimer first, let me say that if I was forced to pick the most amazing feature of Costa Rica, I would pick the Rio Celeste. The Rio Celeste is an awe-inspiring river that is located in the remote northern reaches of Costa Rica in Tenorio National Park.