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Costa Rica is a terrific place with a plethora of natural attractions including cloud forests, volcanoes, beaches, and unique flora and fauna. This is a nation that brings in a wide variety of tourists and visitors including bird watchers, luxury travelers, backpackers, and those interested in water-based activities such as swimming, surfing, and snorkeling. San Jose, the capital city, is historically very significant and has some of the finest museums in the nation. However, the charm of the nation can only be felt as one moves away from the capital city into the villages and forests of Costa Rica. Here is a list of some of the most fascinating places to visit and things to do while you are planning a trip to Costa Rica.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Manuel Antonio National Park is an amalgamation of a bit of all the things that Costa Rica has to offer. Lush green forests are ending in pristine beaches and the region features terrific wildlife activity. The moment you step into the national park area you will be gifted by wondrous and vibrant sights that include brightly colored butterflies and birds. Some other wildlife forms that you are most likely to see while you are exploring through the area are different kinds of monkeys (squirrel monkeys and howler monkeys), sloths, and capuchins. You could also join one of the guided tours arranged by the locals to get a more informative and thrilling experience as you explore the park. The idea of getting a guide is that they are well-versed with the region and sometimes know well which points are the popular haunts to look out for various animals and birds.
The beach washed by the ocean is the most active region in the entire town. From soccer matches to adventurous surfers, you get to see all kinds of activities happening on the beach during the daytime. The waves in this region are very gentle allowing beginner surfers to enjoy a gala time in the ocean waters. As you move away from the beach towards the mountainous regions, you will find many hillside restaurants as well as stores where you can shop for souvenirs. Even within the national park, many beaches are calm, quiet, and away from the tourists that crowd the main beach in the town.
Volcan Arenal and the surrounding national park area is one of the top volcano attractions in Costa Rica. The volcano is situated in the Cordillera de Tilarán, a rugged, mountainous area hiding away some mesmerizing views. The Arenal Volcano is the main attraction of the place- it is a magnificent sight, seeing the huge, singular, cone-shaped mountain wherefrom huge ash columns are often spewing out from the crater. The Arenal Volcano has been dormant for over 400 years between the 1500s and the 1900s. On a sad July day in 1968, the volcano had a massive explosion that had taken the lives of 82 residents and devastated two villages in the vicinity. Since that time, the volcano has been very active and lucky visitors might also get to see a line of lava flowing out of the volcano instead of the regular ash columns.
Another impressive feature of the park is the terrific biodiversity available here. You’d get to see almost half the fauna species available in Costa Rica in the form of vibrant birds, lazy reptiles, amphibians, and even mammalian life forms. There is only one lodge that provides housing within the Arenal Volcano National Park area- the Arenal Observatory Lodge. It was established in 1987 and is located within a farm specializing in the cultivation of macadamia nuts towards the southern fringes of the volcano. The lodge provides an excellent view of the magnanimous volcano and the nearby lake; you'd also find many hiking trails in the surrounding regions that could take you to unexplored waterfalls and even recent lava flow areas.
Monteverde is an attractive and unmissable location and has to be on your itinerary as you are traveling through Costa Rica. This is home to the famed Cloud Forests which spreads out over Monteverde and the nearby Santa Elena and is one of the prime locations to visit in this country. This is the place to be if you are a nature lover and want to see unique and exotic species of flora and fauna without moving too far off the known paths.
This area is perpetually covered in clouds which provide the desired moisture to sustain the many unique habitats available throughout the region. Birding s a very common activity in this region since many exotic bird species frequent this area. You'll also get to see all kinds of reptilian, amphibian, and mammalian animal forms in the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve as well as the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve. Among the amphibians, you'll get to see a wide range of brilliantly colored frogs as you explore the region- just don't get too close to them since some of them could be fatally poisonous! Among the mammals, you'd get to see jaguars as well as pumas if you are lucky enough. There are many scheduled organized hikes in this region and that is one of the best ways to explore through the forests.
The Monteverde and Santa Elena regions are located about 4 hours by road towards the northern side of the capital San Jose. These two are the prime locations in the cloud forest region and also offer brilliant restaurants, art galleries, and so on.
If you are a tropical backpacker, there is no other place in Costa Rica for you to be better than Dominical! This place has its all- cheap accommodations, dirt streets, open-air restaurants featuring a casual ambiance, striking beaches, and an overall energetic and friendly vibe. It is also a terrific spot for surfers and offers amazing surfing opportunities in the cool blue waters. It is also a popular destination for the crowd seeking a luxury tour and has many luxury inns and BnBs in the outskirts or amongst the hills. These points are often set up in remote locations and thus offer visitors a chance to interact with the wildlife of the region. Along the beaches, you will find many vendors who have set up small shops in the shaded areas of the beach. Here, you'll find tons of handiwork that you could take home as souvenirs from the trip. There are less popular, quieter beaches towards the outskirts of the main town if you are looking for some quiet time away from the maddening crowd.
Tamarindo is situated on the Nicoya Peninsula and is a prime location for exclusive beach-related activities. It used to be a fishing village at one time but nowadays it has grown to become a tourist hotspot in Costa Rica. This place features a wide range of accommodations for budget as well as luxury travelers and some of the finest, most delectable food that Costa Rica has to offer! The Tamarindo Beach spans over 1.5 km and the town is built around this beach. It is an ideal place for surfing and there are places where experienced as well as beginner surfers can enjoy a fun time. The November and December months see the biggest waves! Other fun activities that you partake in while in Tamarindo are snorkeling and diving, ziplining, horseback riding, and the elusive turtle watching in the right season. Nearby the Playa Grande beach, between October to March, hundreds of leatherback turtles flock to the place to nest and lay eggs making it one of the most important nesting grounds in Costa Rica.
Mal Pais & Santa Teresa
While you are in the Nicoya Peninsula area, you should also visit Mal Pais, especially if you are an adventurous surfer and looking for big waves. This is a very popular area among surfers and attracts them from all around the world. Santa Teresa is the main town in this region and the hub of all activities. There are even small villages lining Mal Pais such as the village of mal Pais itself and Manzanillo!
The city of San Jose offers all kinds of amenities but the huge crowd of tourists and locals alike could make it tiring. Jaco is the best bet if you are looking forward to staying in a big town with all the amenities available while avoiding the crowds of tourists and locals. The beaches in this region are good- they are spacious and you will have a pleasant time walking along the coastline during sunset. However, compared to the other beaches spread throughout Costa Rica, these could only be regarded as average beach destinations.
The waves of the sea are smaller allowing for pleasant surfing and swimming activities. However, Jaco is very well-developed and there are many modern apartments for accommodation in the area. You will also find modernistic stores that have everything that you could be looking for. There are also many impressive restaurants as well as hotels in the region serving delectable food and great stay options. This makes it a great place for retirees and ex-pats- however, there is not much to see or do here if you are a tourist.
Tortugero National Park
The Tortuguero National Park area is situated towards the Caribbean coast of Costa Rica and is accessible only through the water on boats or through planes. It is one of the wettest regions in the entire country and has something out-of-the-box in store for you. It is an important area for breeding amongst the green sea turtles and thus the national park area offers plenty of opportunities to watch these impressive creatures. As you can understand, turtle watching is the main activity in this area!
There are so many attractive beaches in this area. However, it is advised that you do not go and take a dip in the sea in this area or go for surfing activities- the waves, as well as the currents, are very rough in this region and if you are not experienced enough, it could be very fatal for you. The waters are also frequented by sharks making surfing and swimming activities even more perilous. Thousands of green sea and leatherback turtles flock to this island to lay their eggs and you are allowed to watch them only on guided tours. Many efforts at enhancing conservation practices have been adopted which has further added to the number of turtles that come to this impressive nesting ground.
There are also many hiking trails and boat ride options available in this region. While on such an expedition you could see sloths, monkeys, and kinkajous in this region. If you are lucky enough, you might also get a chance to see such wildlife as peccaries and tapirs. Other reptilian forms that you will find in this region are freshwater turtles, snakes, and lizards while amphibians such as toads and frogs are also available in plenty.
Irazu Volcano National Park
At a height of 3,432 m, the Irazu Volcano in Costa Rica is the highest amongst the active volcanoes of the nation! The top of the volcano has a moon-like landscape and there are many craters spread here and there. The main crater of the Irazu Volcano has a diameter of 1,050 meters and goes as deep as 300 meters. The Diego de la Haya Crater is another one of the famous craters in the region- it is considerably much smaller, though it is covered by a lake that showcases a lime-green hue. At times, the water on this crater might also appear red. There are marked trails in the national park area that will take you to these two main craters. Some trails take you to two other smaller craters in the area, one of which contains another small lake. Another significant natural feature to look out for is a pyroclastic cone that has been created over the years from fragmented igneous rocks. On a clear day, you will get a terrific view of the Pacific Ocean as well as the Caribbean Sea from the top of the volcano.
Rincón de la Vieja National Park
The Rincón de la Vieja National Park is a vibrant area to find yourself in offering some exciting hiking trails. the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano is the prime attraction that the National Park has to offer. The most popular activity in this region would be to take the 9.6 km hike to the top of the volcano. The trail starts at Las Pailas and you'd have to pass through different kinds of ecosystems as you slowly traipse your way to the top. If you are lucky to be on the summit on a clear day, you will have a fine view of the Nicoya Peninsula all the way up to Nicaragua. There are other trails too in this region that are shorter and less strenuous. These would lead you to various waterfalls in this region as well as hot springs. Tapirs, monkeys, sloths, pumas, jaguars, and ocelots are some of the active wildlife that you get to see in this region.
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