Costa Rica's Best Tours and Excursions: Whitewater Rapids, Rainforest Ziplines, Cacao Trails

While some places may offer similar tours and excursions, nowhere else in the world can match Costa Rica's adventure-filled expeditions. From the farthest reaches of the Caribbean coast to the rainforest covered mountain tops to the chaos of the capital city, there are so many areas to explore on a visit to this inviting country. Slip beneath the surface and spot sea horses on the great barrier reef with Reef Runner Divers, where experienced divers lead underwater tours of the Caribbean's secret colorful treasures. Follow in the footsteps of the ancient peoples and learn how they grew and made chocolate from the tree to the bean to the cup on the Cacao Trails tour, which includes a kid-friendly canoe ride and chocolate tasting. Whet your thirst for adrenaline on a whitewater rafting excursion down the Rio Pacuare, one of Central America's most challenging and rewarding rapids, where you'll also spot wildlife up close along the lush banks.  Boost your spirits beyond happy at the Jaguar Rescue Center, where baby monkeys and sloths play with human visitors before being released into the nearby jungle. For a different perspective on things, embark on Costa Rica's signature experience, a canopy zipline tour, a rush unlike any other.


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.

Ranario Monteverde
Photo courtesy of Sophia LaMonica

Frog spotting can be a fun past time in Costa Rica, especially since some species, like the exquisite and now Missing Golden Toad, are disappearing fast as more and more humans begin to visit their terrain. At the Monteverde Ranario, or Frog Pond, you'll have a chance to observe all kinds of frogs, from the exotic to the everyday, including salamanders and toads. Take a guided tour through the terraria, or frog gallery. Like many of their insect neighbors, frogs of different feathers come out at night, and the price of admission allows you to come back within the same day, so why not make it a frog day afternoon and frog night, to boot.

Cacao Trails is one very cool place to get acquainted with Costa Rica's cacao, from the important role of the fruit in local indigenous communities to the process it goes through from the bean to the bar, complete with a traditional chocolate factory exhibit that produces real chocolate that you can purchase for souvenirs after the tour. The tour includes a walking trail through an active cacao forest and a canoe ride, all of which is kid-friendly. Find Cacao Trails along the main road between Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. No reservations needed, just show up between 8 and 4 pm.


The Lankester Botanical Gardens (Jard�n Bot�nico 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.

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.

Experience the rush of whitewater rafting on some of Central America's best rapids on Costa Rica's 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 spot wildlife in the rainforest along the river banks. 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.

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. Buy coffee, chocolate, and souvenirs from the Cafe Britt shop after the tour. 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.

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.

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.

At the Jaguar Rescue Center in Playa Chiquita, a few kilometers south of Puerto Viejo de Limon, Costa Rica a primatologist and her herpatologist husband are a couple of passionate animal lovers who created the Jaguar Rescue Center in response to the community need for a place for the rescue of orphaned or injured animals, who are cared for and raised with a goal of releasing the animals 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