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Best Road Trips: Costa Rica
In Costa Rica, lodges are ranked by their level of environmental impact, outfitters compete over what portion of their proceeds go to conservation, and plans are under way to make the nation carbon-neutral by 2030. 
Text by Christopher Percy Collier   Map by Computer Terrain Mapping

Illustration: Map of Costa Rica

Coast to Coast  |  Costa Rica  |  Southwest  |  South Africa

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The Costa Rican Eco-Trail: 8 Days
Sometimes it's easy being green. In Costa Rica, lodges are ranked by their level of environmental impact, outfitters compete over what portion of their proceeds go to conservation, and plans are under way to make the nation carbon-neutral by 2030. Set out on a cross-country route and get ready to drive into the heart of eco-consciousness.  

Driving Tips

Surprise Attack:
In Costa Rica roads can be so good you think you're in the U.S.—then you hit a crater that looks like it was made by a howitzer. Be aware of potholes and get a vehicle with 4WD. The dirt and gravel roads around Monteverde are especially treacherous.

Rental Info:

Hybrid SUVs have yet to hit the San José rental market, so go for the fuel-efficient Daihatsu Terios ($70 a day, including insurance and unlimited miles; www.adobecar.com). The four-seater 4X4 gets 38.5 miles (62 kilometers) to the gallon.


Day 1
Learn the Jungle
If there is one virtue of San José, Costa Rica's capital, it's that in a mere two hours you can leave it behind for the glories of the Tirimbina Rainforest Center. On a three-hour naturalist-led tour ($18; www.tirimbina.org), you'll cross two elevated canopy bridges to ogle bright red poisonous dart frogs (whose venom comes from a diet of fire ants), white-faced bats (who bivvy under heliconia leaves), and butterfly traps (placed in the canopy by Tirimbina rangers). Follow the tour with a 60-minute hike to your room for the night: Tirimbina's solar-powered research station ($33, including cook).
 
Day 2
Zip Through the Canopy
You've heard and read about it, but there's no going to Costa Rica without taking a canopy tour. From Tirimbina, motor five hours over mediocre roads to the town of Monteverde (ground zero for tree-top zip-lining) and set aside two and a half hours for the Original Canopy Tour ($45; www.canopytour.com). More than many area trips, OCT exemplifies the conservation ideals it strives to teach. Nails aren't pounded into trees, and guides create routes that scarcely intrude upon the soaring, bromeliad-clad forest. Make nine canopy traverses, climb through a hollow fig tree, and perform rappels in the company of capuchin monkeys. That evening, check into the Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort ($215; www.tabacon.com), where spring water is heated from the nearby Volcán Arenal.
 
Day 3-6
Spot Sea Turtles
To reach Tortuguero National Park, prepare for a full day's drive: You'll need eight hours to drop from the mist-covered Cordillera de Guanacaste to the Caribbean city of Limón, then another three to boat up the mangrove-lined coast. But once there, as a member of the Turtles of Tortuguero Research Participant Program ($400 for Adventure readers; www.cccturtle.org), you'll spend three days counting eggs, tagging green sea turtles (up to four feet [1 meter] in length), and recording nesting data. Over the park's 21 miles (34 kilometers) of coastline, some 3,000 nests can be laid in a night; expect to cover up to seven miles (11 kilometers) per four-hour shift before crashing out in the Mawamba Lodge near the Caribbean Conservation Corporation's Field Station.
 
Day 7-8
Paddle Into Camp
There is only one acceptable way to reach the Pacuare Jungle Lodge—a thatch-roof, candlelit eco-base tucked into the foothills of the Cordillera—and that's via world-class white water ($289 for one night and two days of rafting; www.junglelodgecostarica.com). En route, you'll run a 20-mile (32-kilometer) stretch of the Class III-IV Pacuare River, which is accessed from the town of Turrialba. You'll pass wooded banks peopled with indigenous tribes, 50-foot (15-meter) waterfalls, and Jesus Christ lizards (they walk on water). The next morning, after breakfast and a cup of shade-grown coffee, raft through a 50-foot-high (15-meter-high) canyon no wider than a logging road, but far more Earth-friendly.

Coast to Coast  |  Costa Rica  |  Southwest  |  South Africa

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