Spotlight on Costa Rica

by eons contributor on April 25, 2008

Costa Rica with its carefully preserved rain forests and extraordinary coastlines is a tropical paradise and ecological wonderland. Below are ten of the top travel experiences in the land of Pura Vida.

Whitewater Rafting

Whether you’re a novice or a river rat, whitewater rafting is one of Costa Rica’s most exciting experiences. For those who prefer smooth sailing, try a float trip down Class II rapids on the Reventazón River offered by Rios Tropicales. The two-hour tour, great for paddlers of all ages, will keep you safely in your boat with little oar work necessary. The bird watching alone is worth the price of admission.

High-spirited travelers might want to opt for an all-day adventure on the Pacuare River offered by Aventuras Naturales. The Pacuare, which begins on the Caribbean side of the country and cuts through the rainforest, is an officially designated Wild and Scenic River. Expect to see a variety of vegetation and wildlife including jaguars, ocelots, monkeys and sloths as well as a plethora of birds and butterflies. When I last took this trip it rained all day, yet I still rank it as my favorite adventure trip of all time.

Sport Fishing

Since I’m not a fisherman, I’m not qualified to argue about where to find the biggest, best or most fish in Costa Rica. I can tell you that every flight I take from St. Louis to Costa Rica has a group of guys coming down for a fishing trip. The Caribbean waters off the villages of Barro del Colorado and Tortugero in the northeast part of Costa Rica are reputed to be home to the best snook and tarpon fishing in the world. On the Pacific coast near the town of Quepos, rumor has it that it’s possible to catch up to nine different species of fish in one day. No matter where you choose to drop your hook, the best source of fishing information is Quepos Sailfishing Charters.

Spotting the Elusive Quetzal

Even if you’re not a birdwatcher, there’s no thrill like spotting the nearly extinct Quetzal bird high in Costa Rica’s cloud-forested mountains. The best place to catch a glimpse of one is in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve run by the Tropical Science Center, the first nonprofit ecological organization in Costa Rica. The iridescent beauty of the Quetzal’s plumage distinguishes it as one of the most beautiful birds in the Americas. Sadly, its natural habitat is being destroyed as land is cleared for agriculture. Costa Rica, however, has a well developed and managed national park system to protect the Quetzal and other wildlife threatened with extinction.

Arenal Volcano

One of my most memorable experiences in Costa Rica was lying in my bed at Los Lagos Resort listening to the rumbling of the Arenal Volcano, which I could’ve sworn was right outside my door. At 5,437 feet, Arenal is the youngest and most active of Costa Rica’s five active volcanoes. Its largest eruption in 1968 wiped out two towns and everything else within 15 kilometers. Three to 20 new eruptions occur daily, so in 2001 the government established a 5.5-kilometer buffer zone around the crater to restrict construction of homes and tourist attractions. While you’re there, take a day to relax at either the Tabacon or Baldi hot springs. My son and his wife honeymooned in Costa Rica and reported their daytrip to Tabacón was the highlight of their trip.

Coffee Plantations

A visit to Costa Rica is not complete without a tour to one of the country’s many coffee plantations. One of the most beautiful scenic drives in Costa Rica is the mountain route from Santa Elena and the Monteverde Cloud Forest to the coffee plantations where the rich earth colors of the soil contrast with the bright green coffee plants. Coffee is one of Costa Rica’s primary exports, but the growers also work hard to protect the environment in the process. Take a day tour from San Jose to the coffee farms of Café Britt or Doka Estate. My favorite coffee is Monteverde Cloud Forest, not only because of its rich taste but also because a portion of every sale goes to support the protection of the fragile ecosystems of the cloud forest.

Rainforest Aerial Tram and Canopy Tour

In 1994, a visionary nature lover opened the Rainforest Aerial Tram to educate tourists about the rainforest and its ecosystems from high above the tree canopy without compromising the fragile ecosystem down below. Hang with the monkeys and your family and friends in a gondola or ride solo on the zip line. Either way, you’ll gather lots of educational information about the rainforest and its inhabitants. Check out other canopy tours at The Original Canopy Tour or Dream Forest Canopy.

Visit the Bri Bri in the Jungle

This is one of the richest cultural experiences in Costa Rica. The Bri Bri indigenous tribe of the village of Yorkin in the south Caribbean rainforest near the Panamanian border welcomes you for a day, a week, or as long as you’d like to stay. Getting there is not easy, but once you’ve arrived, you’ll hear the story of how the women of Yorkin saved their village and their people by creating an eco-tourism business consistent with the culture that has sustained them for thousands of years. The tribe doesn’t have a website, but you can get more information by e-mailing me. Or you can e-mail Marcelo Ruiz at Hotel La Diosa in Cahuita. The Kekoldi tribe in the same general region offer shorter and more easily accessible tours. Visit them at

Turtle Watching

My daughter worked for a turtle conservation and community development organization in Costa Rica for a year or so, which gave me my first opportunity to see a giant Leatherback sea turtle lay its eggs on the beach. I could write an entire article about that amazing experience. The Leatherback, Hawksbill and Green turtles primarily nest on the beaches around Tortugero in the northeast and Gandoca in the southeast near Panama. The nonprofit association ANAI, which operates a field station in Gandoca, has great information on its website.
More info: Lodging, volunteer opportunities, guides and more in Tortugero

Beaches, Beaches, Beaches

There’s nothing like lying on the beach with a good book, and Costa Rica is the perfect place to do just that. With two coasts, there’s a beach within reach no matter where you are. On the Pacific side, I like Manuel Antonio near the town of Quepos. Although this area is fairly developed, it has managed to keep its beaches pristine. Manuel Antonio National Park runs from the beach to high in the jungle and has a breathtaking lookout. For surfing on the Pacific, try the beaches at Dominical and Jacó. On the Caribbean side, all the beaches south of Limón are exquisite. The beaches at Cahuita National Park, Punta Uva, Playa Cocles and Manzanillo with their white sand and coral reefs rival any in the Caribbean. Both Costa Rica Link and Go Visit Costa Rica provide good information.

Snorkeling and Scuba Diving

The giant barrier reef off the southern Caribbean coast offers some of the best diving and snorkeling in the world. The warm Caribbean waters of Cahuita National Park and Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge provide 150-foot visibility and an abundance of marine life. Aquamor Talamanca Adventures in Manzanillo is the place to go. On the Pacific side, Isla del Cano in the Southern Pacific region and Isla del Coco off the northwest Pacific coast are also noteworthy. Costa Rica Uncovered offers information on the best diving spots along with tour information.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Wilfried Wagner April 25, 2008 at 10:42 am

I like to submit my web page to you. If you have any questions about the Bri-Bri Indios, I`m the person to ask. I been doing tours there for many years and I also living with them.

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