Edged by the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, this tiny Central American nation is renowned for a wonderfully diverse landscape of cloud forest, volcanoes, jungle and tropical beaches. Costa Rica is home to over half a million species of plant and wildlife, an astonishing 5% of our planet’s biodiversity. Here are six unmissable experiences for when you visit.
Walk through Cloud Forest
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is a vast tract of mountainous tropical forest, and considered one of Costa Rica’s ‘seven wonders’. Situated at 5000 feet above sea level, the forest’s tree canopy is routinely shrouded in cloud. This unique ecosystem plays host to a vast diversity of mammals, reptiles, insects and birds, along with spectacular plant life.
Explore the forest via a series of well-marked hiking trails, which pass waterfalls, deep gorges, rivers and observation points. Join an early morning bird watching excursion, where you’ll spot endangered bellbirds, umbrella birds, and flamboyantly coloured quetzals. For an exhilarating aerial view, opt to fly above the tree canopy on a zip line, or take the Sky Walk, a series of suspension bridges high above the forest floor. To experience the forest after dark, join a highly atmospheric night walk through the evergreen undergrowth and encounter Monteverde’s nocturnal residents.
Immerse in Nature in Corcovado National Park
Corcovado is Costa Rica’s largest national park and a must for nature lovers. The park lies off the main tourist trail in the secluded south western Osa Peninsula. This gloriously untouched region is home to all four of Costa Rica’s monkey species (howler, squirrel, capuchin and spider) along with pumas, jaguars, tapirs, toucans and macaws.
Explore an Active Volcano
Located in Costa Rica’s northwest, Arenal National Park is the location of the majestic Arenal volcano. Soaring 5,400 feet above the landscape, its distinctive conical peak dominates the skyline. Arenal is one of the ten most active volcanoes on the planet. From 1968 to 2011 its crater emitted lava and ash clouds on a daily basis, though activity has subsided over the last decade. For safety reasons the summit is out of bounds, however visitors can explore the base of the peak, and hike the rugged trails that crisscross the old lava fields. For a bird’s eye perspective, take a ride in an aerial tram and enjoy superb views of the volcano and surrounding terrain.
Relax in Hot Springs
The small town of La Fortuna lies a short drive from Arenal Volcano. The town is famed for dozens of naturally occurring hot springs, the result of Arenal’s major eruption in 1968, when an underground river became geothermally heated. Today La Fortuna boasts numerous hotels and spas, where you can take a relaxing soak in the springs. Upmarket Tabacon Thermal Resort and Spa offers a series of waterfalls and elegant pools nestled within leafy tropical gardens. It’s a popular bet, and you’ll need to book in advance. Another option is Eco Termales where you have a choice of eight pools, whose temperatures vary from a balmy 90 to 106 degrees F.
Spot Wildlife in Tortuguero National Park
Tortuguero National Park is a 19,000 acre meandering network of waterways and canals located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast. Accessed only by plane or boat, this stunning, remote area is a draw for wildlife lovers. Take a guided hike or boat excursion and encounter howler monkeys, iguanas, sloths, and crocodiles. Visit between June and October and witness thousands of nesting green sea turtles, which emerge from the sea to lay their eggs on the sandy shores. From March to July smaller numbers of the huge leatherback turtle perform a similar nesting ritual. Observing these mighty creatures up close as they lumber across the sands is an incredible experience.
Hit the Surf at Tamarindo
Fringed by jungle, Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coastline boasts miles of unspoilt beaches including the laid back resort of Tamarindo. Renowned for spectacular sunsets, this former fishing village boasts a two mile enticing stretch of white sand beach edged with bars, shops and excellent restaurants and nightlife. Tamarindo’s reliable waters provide great conditions for both novices and more skilled surfers, and several surf schools operate in the resort. Enjoy snorkelling, kayaking and diving in the warm waters, and spot manta rays, turtles and dolphins. Tamarindo beaches are part of Las Baulas National Park, a prime breeding ground for large leatherback turtles between November and April.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com