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Internationally renowned for its commitment to eco-tourism, Costa Rica is a true Central American paradise and one of our favorite travel destinations. With the exception of hardcore urbanites, Costa Rica has something to satisfy just about every kind of traveler. Over the years we have covered several such Tico hotspots, but as we get asked so often about this, we thought this destination guide of some top adventure picks could help focus outdoor and adventure tourists on the right Costa Rican vacation.
It’s not difficult to see why this volcano is one of Costa Rica’s most-visited attractions. Towering above the lush forests near the little town La Fortuna, Arenal is a perfect example of nature at its most majestic. When the volcano does erupt, the bright orange rivers of lava spurting out the top and streaking down all sides is an unparalleled experience. There is plenty of hiking and trekking to be done in the area, plus waterfalls and incredibly relaxing hot springs to visit. After some long hikes, we soaked our tight muscles for a day at the best in town, the Tabacon Hot Springs resort, and left entirely relaxed.
This town just outside of the capital, San Jose, is nestled near the base of the sky-high Irazu Volcano, Visitors can marvel at the teal blue water in the crater, but also from the top you can see both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans on a clear day. Cartago itself is most famous for its stunning Basilica de Nuestra Semora de Los Angeles, a massive, ornate church which thousands of pilgrims flock to each year. The church is home to ‘La Negrita’, a black Madonna steeped in folklore and legend.
Looking for a something a touch more relaxed? Kick back in the tropical paradise of Tortuga Island. Perched in the Gulf of Nicoya, this archipelago boasts powdery beaches and glittering azure waters. Tortuga Island is also an ideal spot for snorkeling and kayaking. You can easily combine a trip out to Tortuga Island with a Nicoya vacation with stops in Montezuma, Santa Teresa and up to our personal favorite beach, Samara Beach.
Manuel Antonio National Park
Combining beach and forest into one breathtaking destination, Manuel Antonio National Park is among Costa Rica’s most beautiful natural wonders. Although this is easily one of the most heavily touristed of Costa Rica’s destinations, there is just something about Manuel Antonio that makes us truly love it here. You can hike through the park’s trails and get up close and personal with monkeys, sloths and iguanas (and some very grabby raccoons!), or simply unwind near the coral-fringed bay, which, despite reminding us of a busy beach on Spain’s Costa del Sol, was still one of the most relaxing spots to hang out for the day.
Tortuguero National Park
If you prefer jungle to beach, head out to the exotic wonderland of Tortuguero National Park in the Limon province. The biological diversity here is, even by Costa Rican standards, incredible. There are eleven different habitats – beaches, swamps, lagoons, mangroves, etc, with specific wildlife living in each one. Bring a rain jacket (and galoshes, and lots of dry socks). This region gets hit with over 250 inch (640cm) of rain each year! The lush forests, winding rivers, spectacular waterfalls make it so worth it, and you might even see a few green sea turtles wandering the black-sand shores.
An easy day trip from San Jose, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiqui’s tropical rainforest is loaded with ways for a quick wildlife and adventure fix. You can explore the area on a two-hour riverboat trip and watch toucans, monkeys and crocodiles in their natural habitats, and/or catch a few thrills with a specially designed treetop-jumping experience.
Costa Rica is an easy, safe destination to travel through, whether you prefer independent buses or arranging local flights and car hires through companies like American Express Travel. While we always prefer to hit the road and take our chances, American Express travelers are privy to many members-only rewards and perks that make it even easier, and possibly cheaper to explore Costa Rica.