Feel the rush
Ziplining in Costa Rica is extra special because the adrenaline-pumping sport was born here. Introduced in the 1990s to promote reforestation and conservation efforts in the country, ziplining combines the rush of an aerial adventure with unbelievably scenic backdrops. For a high-elevation experience, zip through the mystical Monteverde Cloud Forest canopy at Sky Adventures Monteverde Park.
The park’s multi-cable Sky Trek circuit begins with an open-air tramway ride up more than 2,600 feet into the mist-shrouded forest. From here, zigzag across canyons and between treetops on an exhilarating trip down to the base. To soar headfirst over the forest canopy and through a tunnel, visit Monteverde Extremo Park, home of the high-flying Aerial Superman and Subterranean Superman tours.
Explore “Little Amazon”
Accessible only by boat or small plane, wild and watery Tortuguero National Park is aptly called Costa Rica’s “Little Amazon.” Located on the swampy northeastern Caribbean coast, remote Tortuguero (“place of the turtles”) is considered the Western Hemisphere’s most important nesting site and refuge for the endangered green sea turtle. From July to early October, witness the natural wonder of turtle nesting season on a guided night tour.
Giant leatherback, hawksbill, and loggerhead turtles also nest in the park, which brims with amazing wildlife, including gentle-giant manatees, white-headed capuchin monkeys, sloths, and hundreds of bird species. Travel the labyrinth of waterways on a guided boat tour or kayaking expedition to spot cool creatures in the lagoons, mangroves, rainforest, and swamps.
Embrace the beach life
With more than 760 miles of combined Pacific and Caribbean coastline, Costa Rica is nature-made for beach lovers. There are some 600 beaches and an extraordinary range of options, including palm-fringed resorts, secluded spots bordered by rainforest, and black, tan, or white sands. The sun-splashed Gold Coast—the northwestern Pacific province of Guanacaste—boasts 400 miles of shoreline and a variety of beaches, including Playa Conchal with its distinctive sand crushed-seashell sand.
For a more off-the-beaten-track beach day, visit the jungle-cloaked coves of Manuel Antonio National Park in the central Pacific province of Puntarenas. Or, venture east to Costa Rica’s less-developed, southeastern Caribbean coast. Neighboring Punta Uva and Punta Uva Arrecife, named for the wild uva, or sea grape, growing along the beachfront, are favorite beaches with snorkelers due to the clear and warm, turquoise waters and vibrant coral reef.
Costa Rican canyoning ticks several big-thrill boxes: rappelling down waterfalls, scrambling over rocks, and tackling obstacles like Tarzan swings, suspension bridges, and extreme zipline courses. In the country’s north-central adventure hub, ignite your inner superhero on the Sky Limit course at Sky Adventures Arenal Park or on guided canyoning tours with experienced outfitters like Pure Trek and Desafio Adventure Company.
Closer to the Caribbean coast in the Turrialba Valley, descend canyon cliffs and waterfalls, cross a hanging bridge, and zipline through the jungle on the Explornatura Canyoneering and Canopy Tour. No matter which canyoning adventure you choose, you’ll likely enjoy multiple rappels and opportunities to spot exotic wildlife like toucans and monkeys.
Hanging bridges take walking through the forest to new heights. Stroll treetop walkways in the Monteverde Cloud Forest for a canopy-to-ground look at the mind-boggling mix of plant, animal, and insect life that make compact Costa Rica a biodiversity hotspot.
Covering an area only half the size of Kentucky, Costa Rica is home to nearly half a million species—about six percent of the world’s flora and fauna. See and hear some of the country’s most colorful rainforest creatures, such as the the teacup-sized red-eyed tree frog and the spotted margay cat, on a magical night walk along the trails and hanging bridges at Mistico Park.
Catch a wave
Consistent swells and offshore winds create year-round waves along Costa Rica’s Pacific coast. Surf pros craving one of the world’s longest rides—up to three-quarters of a mile or more—hit no-frills Pavones, a rugged, rainforest-fringed beach on the South Pacific coast. The more accessible Central Pacific coast serves up dependable breaks in places like Boca Barranca, a narrow river inlet popular with longboarders, and legendary Playa Hermosa, the celebrated surf hotspot named a World Surfing Reserve in 2020.
On the Nicoya Peninsula, the consistent break at Nosara’s Playa Guiones makes it possible to surf nearly 365 days a year. Whether you’re a first-timer or seasoned surfer ready to tube ride a monster tunnel, Del Mar Adventures can help you find your perfect wave. The local, family-owned tour operator offers customized Surf & Stay packages, including lodging near the beach, surf lessons, and rental gear.
Let dreams take flight
From its lowland coastal jungles to its high-elevation cloud forests, Costa Rica is teeming with colorful birds. Some 930 bird species can be spotted here thanks to an exceptional system of protected areas, such as Los Quetzales National Park, conveniently located about 50 miles south of the capital, San José. The park is named for its most illustrious winged resident, the near-threatened resplendent quetzal.
Follow the northern Costa Rican Bird Route to visit 18 avian-rich nature refuges, including Selva Verde, an eco-lodge and 500-acre private rainforest reserve offering guided birdwatching walks and safaris. Avid birders flock to route to see brilliantly-hued bird life like the rainbow-bright keel-billed toucan, endangered great green macaw, and a dazzling array of hummingbirds.
Paddle through paradise
Rainforest views, riverside waterfalls, and routes ranging from rumbling rapids to relaxing floats make Costa Rica one of best places on the planet to ride a river. For white-knuckle, rollercoaster drops, tackle challenging Class III to Class IV rapids on a Pacuare River whitewater adventure. Flowing northeast from the Talamanca Mountains to the Caribbean, the Pacuare winds through dense jungle and carved gorges and is considered one of the world’s top whitewater runs.
Take a tamer family float or beginner rafting trip on the Sarapiqui River north of San José. Aventuras del Sarapiqui offers rafting and river kayaking courses and tours on all manner of water—from flat and calm to wild and churning.
Explore the underworld
Adventure runs deep in Costa Rica, where powerful forces of nature—including underground rivers and lava flows—have carved hidden, underground networks of passages and caverns. Prepare to get wet and muddy while exploring Venado Caves north of Arenal Volcano National Park on a guided spelunking, or caving, tour. The natural caverns contain stalactites, stalagmites, and a host of subterranean critters like bats, frogs, and spiders.
For a more extreme caving adventure, rappel 56 feet straight down into spectacular Terciopelo Cave, the only cave open to the public in Barra Honda National Park. Located in western Costa Rica, Barra Honda is a remote park riddled with more than 40 known caverns. Spelunking here is a wild, all-body workout; worth the effort to explore hidden chambers formed millions of years ago.
Go off the beaten path
Soak up the natural beauty of Costa Rica one step at a time on a multi-day trek. Hike through the cloud forest and farming towns by day and stay overnight in rustic guesthouses on a guided trek through the Savegre River Valley. The sky-to-sea trekking route, which takes about a week to complete, begins in the southern Cerro de la Muerte mountains and follows the Savegre River to the Pacific coast at Manuel Antonio National Park.
To conquer Costa Rica’s highest peak, 12,533-foot Cerro Chirripó, embark on a rugged two-day trek in remote Chirripó National Park. The steep hike leads through five ecosystems, including the country’s lesser-known paramo, or highland tundra. Reach the summit on a clear day and you could be rewarded with Pacific and Atlantic Ocean views.