Sandwiched between two oceans at the narrow southern tip of Central America, Costa Rica boasts an impressive range of attractive vacation experiences, mostly centered on its rich ecology. With two pristine coastlines bathed in year-round warm water which offer plentiful surf breaks, lush tropical rainforests running along the volcanic spine in its middle, and a biodiversity matched only in a handful of countries, Costa Rica gives travelers a bevy of prime travel experiences. Add with an ease of travel within the country (aided by stable economic and political systems, constantly improving infrastructure, and a friendly and hospitable local population), it’s no wonder that over 2 million tourists visit Costa Rica annually.
One of the most popular things to do is to tour the Arenal Volcano. 55 miles to the northwest of the capital of San Jose, the active conical giant stands at over 5,000 feet (1,600 meters), looming large over the lush countryside below. Its fertile soils, a result of the 7,000 years of Arenal’s formation, along with the tropical climate have created the lush rainforest that is now home to millions of organisms, humans included.
But the big draw is the volcano itself. Active since 1968, the nightly view of the fire-spewing behemoth is a sight to behold, with florescent red lava creating a dramatic scene against the black backdrop of the Costa Rican night sky. And even though the last eruption occurred in 2010 and many scientists indicate the volcano has gone into a dormant stage, the glowing streams of lava still flow regularly. The volcano itself sits inside the Arenal Volcano National Park which gives visitors plenty of opportunities to explore the protected environment within its confines.
Another one of the area’s attractive features is the temperate climate. Enjoying temperatures that range between 70-80 Fahrenheit (22-27 Celsius), travelers will not experience any extremes here, other than a heavy dose of precipitation during the rainy season (May-January). Yet even when the rains come, Mother Nature usually allocates 30 minutes or so for the rainclouds to do their bidding before sunshine take its place. In this environment there are plenty of activities to enjoy. Here are the best of the best.
Hanging Bridges Walking Tour
The Hanging Bridges Walking Tour in Arenal is part nature hike, part ecology class, part Indiana Jones adventure, as guided by a local expert, you explore the rainforest through the canopy via hanging bridges. While learning about the various ecosystems within the rainforest, you will come face to face with abundant wildlife. What kind of animals live in the jungle you ask? White-faced monkeys, howler monkeys, sloths, toucans, parrots, deer, tapir, snakes, and butterflies just to name a few. Grab a fedora and whip and head out on an adventure of a lifetime.
Tabacon Hot Springs
For those looking for a more relaxed tropical experience, the mineral-rich waters which course through the grounds at Tabacon Grand Spa in nearby La Fortuna may be more to your speed. While hot springs abound in the area, the hotel has gone to great lengths to enhance the atmosphere and take care of its visitors. Set amidst numerous gardens with lush plant life surrounding guests, the hot springs are divided between several pools which vary in temperature and isolation. The main pool not only frames Arenal Volcano quite nicely but also provides a nearby bar to help you enjoy the view. And if you are in the mood for pampering, the spa will be more than happy to arrange massages, facials, manicures, and several other treatments.
Read more about the Hot Springs of Arenal Volcano
La Fortuna Waterfall
On the east side of Arenal Volcano National Park lays one of the area’s most dramatic and accessible waterfalls. Cascada La Fortuna is actually run-off from Arenal’s smaller twin sister, Cerro Chato. Falling approximately 200 feet from the jungle overhead, the water forms cool pools in which travelers can bathe, which is a perfect reward for the short hike down from the parking lot. Just be sure to save some energy for the steep hike back up, or opt for another form of transport – reaching La Fortuna Waterfall on horseback.
Kayaking Tour on Lake Arenal
Those eager for aquatic pursuits without the demand for an adrenaline rush will surely be pleased with a leisurely kayaking tour on Lake Arenal. The largest lake in Costa Rica, Lake Arenal supplies around 20% of the country’s electricity through the massive hydro-electric dam at its southern end. The lake not only provides tranquil waters to kayak on but a clear view of Arenal Volcano. Paddling will be rewarded with a picnic lunch on the lake’s shore where wildlife may try to join you for a bite.
Finca Luna Nueva
As the only organic and biodynamic farm in Costa Rica, Finca Luna Nueva gives guests a unique look at where our food comes from as well as the biodiversity of the local eco-systems. Just south of La Fortuna, the farm is a 15-20 minute drive along a well-paved road. Established in 1994 as a ginger and turmeric farm, Finca Luna has significantly expanded to include a variety of tours through its farm and the adjacent rainforest. Those tours not only showcase the bounty of Costa Rican farmland but challenge guests to consider their relationships with what they put into their bodies. Tour guides encourage picking leaves of edible plants and herbs along the way, establishing a comfortable rapport with the various greens guests encounter. Parents may even be able to get their kids to eat some.
Peñas Blancas Safari Boat Tour
For those looking for a bit of adrenaline mixed with an appreciation for nature, a boat tour from Peñas Blancas may fit the bill. The all-day excursion takes guests along the meandering river as it works its way through the jungle. Aside from occasional white water rapids which will pick up the heart rate, the tour generally sails on smooth currents as the local guide points out the indigenous flora and fauna. Wildlife will certainly make appearances, with curious monkeys poking their heads out of the dense foliage on the river’s banks.
- Michael Cavanagh