Costa Rica is the country on everyone’s lips at the moment. Direct flights from London to Costa Rica are just around the corner, so whether you’re trying to beat the rush or take advantage of the direct service, this laid-back Central American country has something for everyone.
When Tucan Travel asked me to write about the highlights of my experience on their Costa Rica Encompassed tour, I jumped at the chance. Read on and find out the top things you shouldn’t miss when (not if, when!) you visit this beautiful country.
1. Zip-lining through the Forest
I love adrenaline, so if you want to feel the blood rushing through your veins, then I can’t recommend zip-lining enough. You can zip line all over Costa Rica, but Monteverde Cloud Forest is the original and the best place to give it a try. Selvatura offers you 18 lines, ranging from 25m to 1 kilometre, all adorning the primary forest.
Trust me, there’s nothing like feeling the breeze as you fly through the trees. I also opted to go one step further and do the Tarzan swing and the Superman zip-line: both are as amazing and terrifying as they sound!
2. Seeing sloths in unexpected places
Sloths are always asleep, right? Well, not when I was in Costa Rica!
My tour group and I were VERY lucky and virtually every sloth we saw was moving. We spotted one trying to cross the road near Arenal Volcano, another eating in Manual Antonio and countless others in the trees of National Parks. The sleepy sloths we saw were also exceptionally cute too, of course.
The sloths in the video below, are a mother and her baby who was holding on tight, as she climbed a tree in a supermarket car park. Look up as you walk around, you never know what you could be missing!
3. Spotting the elusive Jaguar
The chance of seeing a Jaguar in the wild is virtually nonexistent. They’re nocturnal, live deep in the jungle and there aren’t that many of them in the wild these days. AND I SAW ONE IN TORTUGUERO ON THE WAY TO LUNCH?!?
Our Tucan Travel tour guide, Franklin, spotted some howler monkeys kicking up a fuss, so we stopped the boat the take some photos. Then, we realised the monkeys were looking at something… and two jaguars appeared by the water’s edge. We must have been no more than ten metres away from them, with a perfect view of this one for about ten seconds. This photo was taken by another guy on my tour, John McAuthur, as I gazed on, stunned. If luck is on your side, then you could be fortunate as we were.
4. Hiking Arenal Volcano
Central American is prime volcano location, with a number of volcanoes in Costa Rica still very much active. Although Volcán Arenal hasn’t erupted since 2010, it’s still considered active… which makes hiking it a safe, but still very fun, experience.We hiked to the 1992 lava trail, which offers spectacular views of the Arenal Volano and the surrounding area. There are lots of very reassuring DANGER signs, but it’s honestly an easy, safe hike – if you want more of a challenge you can head to the neighbouring Chato Volcano which has a beautiful lake in the crater to greet you.
5. Snorkelling at the Cahuita Coral Reef
Cahuita is on the Caribbean side of Costa Rica and offers all kinds of paradise including Playa Negra (a black sand beach), reggae music everywhere and a coral reef just off the shore of Cahuita National Park.
I’d never been snorkelling before, so I figured the Caribbean was a pretty epic place to give it a try. The sail to the coral reef is beautiful (you might even spot dolphins) and the reef itself is stunning. The sea is clear too, with a guide on hand to spot things for you; I swam with multicoloured fish, lobsters and even sharks. Be sure you head to Playa Negra (pictured in the below photo) afterwards to relax and continue to make the most of the Caribbean sea.
6. Sampling the fresh, delicious food
When it comes to Tico cuisine there’s more on offer than just gallo pinto (rice and beans)!
Bananas are big business in Costa Rica (you drive through endless banana plantations on the Caribbean side of the country) so make sure you try a plantain dish. Mexican food is a staple on restaurant menus and the quesadillas at Cafe De Le Deseos in San Jose are incredible.
La Fortuna is also full of amazing places to eat: try the strawberry pancakes for breakfast at the Rainforest Cafe and at lunch stop by Soda Viquez for their tasty coconut/pineapple milkshake .
7. Bird-watching in Monteverde Cloud Forest
Understatement of the century: there are a lot of birds in Costa Rica. The National Parks are teeming with them and Monteverde is especially great for bird-spotting.
The birds of Costa Rica are amazing; they’re noisy, colourful and many are elusive. I was very lucky to see the Quetzal on a guided tour but also when I was wandering around Monteverde National Park on my own! However, going on a guided tour means you’ll not only see the birds, but you’ll learn about the different calls too. You’ll also see plenty of other birds that, true, may not be as famous or brightly coloured as the Quetzal, Toucan or Scarlet Macaws, but are just as beautiful.
8. Experiencing the very best of nature
Costa Rica is famed for its eco-tourism, which comes as no surprise once you’ve seen just how beautiful the country is. Why wouldn’t you want to protect and champion the exotic views and plentiful wildlife?
From beautiful beaches and sunsets, to the canals and jungle of Tortuguero, there’s a little bit of nature for everyone in Costa Rica. Be sure to look up at night as you stroll to the sounds of the rainforest too – you don’t want to miss the crystal clear night sky.