Costa Rica's Best Attractions and Activities: Get Happy in Nature

Costa Rica may be a tiny Central American country but it's anything but short of exciting things to do. From coast to coast, Costa Rica is bursting with natural assets, interesting attractions, and adventurous activities. On the Pacific coast, most hotels are happy to arrange excursions to nearby highlights, and on the Caribbean coast it's more D-I-Y. Play hands-on with howler monkeys and three-toed sloths at the Jaguar Rescue Center, where they hang out before being released back into the jungle a few feet away. On the Crazy Monkey Canopy Tour, you'll whiz along the treetops suspended from cables on Costa Rica's signature tourist attraction. For foodies, there's the  Chocolate Forest Experience, an off-the-beaten track trek through a real cacao farm, where organic chocolate is made the old-fashioned way. Discover the colorful underwater world thriving along the Caribbean coast with a dive to the still pristine eco-system of the barrier reef, where nurse sharks, lion fish and sea horses live. Explore the Volcan Irazu, soak in the thermal hot springs beneath Volcan Arenal, and cool off on a whitewater rafting trip down the Rio Pacuare, where the journey is one wet and wild destination. Welcome to la pura vida.


Experience the rush of Costa Rica's world-class whitewater rafting on some of Central America's best rapids on the Pacuare River. If the ride doesn't take your breath away, the scenery will. A one-day trip includes class III and IV rapids and can be a most exhilarating way to spend a morning in Costa Rica. Exploradores Outdoors is a Costa Rican owned and operated company that has been arranging trips down the Rio Pacuare for more than ten years, and even amateur rafters have been known to become white water enthusiasts after experiencing the adrenaline of whizzing down the Rio Pacuare.

Caribeans Chocolate Forest Experience
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Chocolate lovers, nature enthusiasts, and those looking to learn more about Costa Rica's rich history of cacao should indulge in the Chocolate Forest Experience, but if you can't spare the time, there's the Chocolate Tasting Lounge to relax and indulge in. The Experience is an in-depth exploration of chocolate from the cacao seed to the to the fruit from the tree to the bean, and then, to the bar, and it's a real treat for all the senses. The experience begins with a guided tour through the varied areas of cacao, from the cacao jungle to the cacao forest and managed cacao restoration zones. Following the tour, stick around for a professional chocolate tasting with organic wine. The Chocolate Forest Experience costs $26 per person and includes all the chocolate you can eat. Regular excursions are Tuesday and Thursday at 10:30am and 3:00pm, no reservations, and private tours are available at other times with a reservation.

Cafe Britt Coffee Tour
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

After a warm introduction and a brief history of coffee in Costa Rica, the tour begins with a stroll through the plantation of coffee, cacao, and many other tropical trees. A charismatic bi-lingual guide explains the growing cycles from the cranberry red fruit to the brown bean. The roastery is a real working factory where Café Britt is roasted and packaged; large rooms with twenty foot tall machines are filled with the aroma of beans in various stages. Duration: 1.5 hours Price:$20 Transportation available from most major hotels in San Jose. Coming from San Jose, follow Route 2 through General Canas Highway in Heredia. Available: 9:30am and 11:00am year round.


The Corcovado National Park is widely recognized as Costa Rica's "crown jewel" of natural preserves; the National Geographic cals it "the most biologically intense place on Earth in terms of biodiversity." Located in Costa Rica's southwestern-most corner, the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado may be visited on a day trip, or with a little advance planning, overnight camping inside may be arranged. The most popular route is a long coastal path that may be accessed from Puerto Jimenez. Encompassing thirteen vegetation types including montane and cloud forests and palm and mangrove swamps, Corcovado is home to more than 500 tree species, and an astonishing host of wildlife, such as: two and three toed sloths, the endangered squirrel monkey, white faced capuchin and mantled howler monkeys, and several jungle felines, including jaguar and puma. The greatest number of Scarlet Macaws also live in Corcovado, their bright feathers are often spotted flying overhead.

INBio Park
Photo courtesy of Dave McCracken

InBio Park is Costa Rica's national institute for biodiversity and conservation, and it's main attraction is a theme park for all ages that introduce's Costa Rica and many of its natural wonders to the public. InBio collaborates with government agencies, universities, and other public and private entities to provide the most cutting-edge technologies and advanced science, and the result is a comprehensive park that leaves few, if any, stones unturned. A collection of more than 3 million insects, an expansive mushroom exhibit, a Climate Change expose, and a Sustainable Trail are only some of the attractions in store at InBio Park.

The Monteverde Cloud forest is a lush preserve that remains largely intact despite a recent boom in tourism. Most of the wildlife is rare and much of it is nocturnal, which is why a night hike of the preserve makes for such a stimulating attraction. Hire a guide after you pay your entrance fee, or wander around alone by day and splurge for the guided nocturnal stroll. The reserve is open daily from 7am to 4pm, and the entrance fee is $17, discounts available for children and students. Since there is a limit to how many people are allowed into the reserve at any one time, there is a chance you'll have to wait in line, but it's well worth it.

Reef Runner Divers is a one-stop dive shop located in a prime beachfront spot in Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica. With a staff of experienced divers and a trusty panga boat named "The Reefer" this long-standing outfit has access to the most pristine, untouched parts of the Caribbean eco-system. Visit "The Holes" and swim through sun filled waters over the great barrier reef, and scale the Seahorse Wall, where yellow, green and brown sea horses can be seen up close on the Reef Runner Divers Fun Dive. Get your PADI certification or stay closer to the surface with a Snorkeling Safari. Find Reef Runner Divers on the water's edge at El Chino Beach.

The Lankester Botanical Gardens (Jardín Botánico Lankester) was created in 1973 as a center for the exhibition, conservation and research of tropical air plants, with an empahsis on orchids. Recognized worldwide for its stunning collections of bromeliads, orchids, and other air plants, the Lankester Botanical Garden takes up 11 hectares , hosting more than 3,000 species of plants. On the walking trail, look for sloths eating in the trees above the extra large leaves of the Cecropia tree. Hours: 9:00 a.m. with last entry at 3:30 p.m. every day except for the Easter holiday week, Christmas and New Years day. Entrance fee is approximately $3, with discounts for students.

Yes, it is the quintessential Costa Rican adventure, and yes it is a must-do experience, if you enjoy the great outdoors, that is. You'll feel the adrenaline in your veins and the wind in your hair as you whiz from platform to platform (there are twenty platforms!) suspended by cables just above the tree tops in the jungle outside of Puerto Viejo de Limon. If you're lucky, you may spot monkeys and sloths swinging on branches beside you, and there are always birds and iguanas at play above and below. For the affordable price of $55 per person, everything is included from pick-up at your hotel, a snack, and all the equipment- round trip is 3.5 hours.

At the Jaguar Rescue Center in Playa Chiquita, a few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica a primatologist (monkey expert) and her herpatologist (reptile expert) husband are a couple of passionate animal lovers who created the center in response to the community need for a place for the rescue of orphaned or injured animals. At this beautiful sanctuary, animals are cared for and raised with a goal of release back into the wild once rehabilitated. The Jaguar Rescue Center accepts visitors every day except Sunday at 9:30 am or 11:30 am for 1.5 hour tours. There is a $15 suggested donation.


Meet Sophia LaMonica

On Sophia's first trip to Costa Rica, she came face to face with white-faced monkeys, gasped at the sight of giant purple crabs, and rode horseback through plunging waterfalls. Costa Rica...  More About Sophia