These Are Our Choices For Must See Destinations in Beautiful Costa Rica
Located on the eastern tip of the southern end of the Nicoya Peninsula, Gigante Bay is home more islands than any other place in all of Costa Rica.
San Lucas (1,482 acres) is the largest of the islands in the area. Prior to 1992, it was a prison with a reputation for being the roughest in the country. The overgrown remains of the prison cells (some over 100 years old) can now be toured.
Tortuga Island is the best known and most frequented in the area. Tortuga is in fact two uninhabited islands, which are known for their beautiful beaches and serene swimming and snorkelling opportunities.
Founded in 1737, this cosmopolitan national capital is now a great mix of traditional and modern Spanish architecture. A number of parks and museums keep the visitor intrigued, with the mountains creating an attractive backdrop beyond the city.
San José offers many interesting attractions, in particular several excellent museums, fine restaurants, good nightlife and an eternal spring-like climate. Highlights include the Parque Central (east of which is the Cathedral), the Legislative Assembly building, the Teatro Nacional and the National Museum. Also worth a visit is the Museo de Jade, which houses the world’s largest collection of American jade along with ceramics, stonework and gold exhibits. The museum is also known for its excellent views of San José from its 11th floor windows. The Pre-Columbian Gold Museum is home to one of the largest collections of pre-Columbian gold pieces in the Americas. More than 2,000 objects are found in the museum complex, which also offers stamp and coin collections as well as a display of Costa Rican art.
Not far from the city is the crater of Irazir. Not only can you see from here to the Caribbean on a clear day, but the scenery surrounding the crater is akin to a lunar landscape, and is thought of as one of Costa Rica’s most stirring sights.
The Costa Rican authorities have set aside a large proportion of the country (around 26% of the total land area) as national parks and protected areas. There is good road access to most of these areas, and public transport is available.
Arenal Volcano National Park
The Arenal Volcano National Park can be found in the rugged Cordillera de TilarÃ¡n. The main attraction in the park is the Arenal Volcano, one of eight active volcanoes. It reaches a height of 1,633 m (5,356 ft), and visitors may hike along its lower slopes. However, conditions can be dangerous, and rocks, gases and emissions have maimed and even killed some climbers. The volcano may be best seen at night, when red hot lava runs down its slopes. Mud pools bubble permanently among the foothills.
There is a wide range of biodiversity in the park, and an approximate half of all Costa Rican mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles can be found within its boundaries.
Braulio Carrillo National Park
Established in 1978, Braulio Carrillo National Park is located in the central region of the country just 23 km (14 miles) north of San José. It covers an area of 80,000 acres, and is home to five kinds of forest, some with characteristic rainforest vegetation. The terrain features rugged mountains, waterfalls, canyons, dormant volcanoes and montane rainforest. Due to the variety of elevation, which ranges from the top of the Barva Volcano (2,906 m) to less than 50 m in the Caribbean lowlands, many different habitats exist in the park, with wildlife including jaguars, ocelots, the Baird tapir, pumas, the Quetzal (national bird), toucans, eagles and umbrella birds.
There are also many species of plants including several varieties of orchids, palms, ferns and mosses. The huge leaves of the Gunnera plant can protect hikers from sudden downpours, earning the plant the nickname of the ‘poor folks umbrella’.
Cahuita National Park
Cahuita National Park is visited for its combination of coastal rainforest, attractive white-sand beaches and coral reef. The reef is located about 200-500 m off Punta Cahuita, and is the largest living coral reef in Costa Rica, comprised of at least 35 coral species. This habitat is home to over 120 species of fish and several species of crustaceans and molluscs. Although the reef can be reached by swimming, it is recommended to snorkel from a hired boat.
A long trail offers observation of various species of animals and bird, including howler and white-faced monkeys, and racoons.
Chirripó National Park
Chirripó National Park is Costa Rica’s most popular mountain park and is home to the country’s highest mountain, Chirripó, which stands at 3,828 m (12,533 ft). The Chirripó massif is part of the Cordillera de Talamanca, and the park also contains a number of other high peaks over 3,800 m. This park features hiking trails that are easy to follow but offer very steep climbs. It is a 16 km (10 mi) climb to the summit of Chirripó Mountain from the ranger station, and it can take 7 and 16 hours (depending on climbing ability) to reach the El Paramo hostel, which is 4 km (2.5mi) from the summit. From this location, other trails lead to the summits of other mountains in this massif.
Different types of vegetation are seen while ascending the mountains. The lower slopes are home to montane rainforest, and tall oak trees can be seen emerging above the main canopy. Walking at these lower elevations offers good birding and butterfly observation and excellent vistas. The rainforest also harbours monkeys, sloths, armadillos, crocodiles, and birds such as parrots, toucans and macaws. However, these rainforests are best visited in the company of an experienced guide – partly because it is so easy to get lost.
The upper slopes of the mountains are often covered by cloudforest, characterised by algae, lichens and mosses on the permanently wet surfaces. The cloudforest’s most notable inhabitant is the Resplendent Quetzal (said to be Latin America’s most beautiful bird).
Corcovado National Park
The virgin rainforest in Corcovado National Park encompasses great biological diversity and is home to many endangered species. The park has two sections; one section covers 31,495 acres and is found on the north-eastern side of the Dulce Gulf, whilst the majority of it is found on the south-western corner of the Osa Peninsula.
Corcovado is of great interest to ecologists as it protects 8 distinct types of habitat. The rainforest vegetation includes cloud forest, montane forest, swamp forest and alluvial plains forest. There are at least 500 species of trees in the park, including the silk cotton tree (ceibo), which can grow to 70 m (230 ft) high. The park is also to a diverse amount of wildlife; in total, there are 140 species of mammals (tapirs, anteaters, crocodiles, sloths and monkeys) and 400 species of birds, such as the scarlet macaw.
The park has the most extensive trail system of any national park and is excellent for those looking for long-distance hikes. Travellers should note this is a very rainy area, receiving 550 cm of rain a year.
Ostional National Wildlife Refuge
The Ostional National Wildlife Refuge is located in the counties of Santa Cruz and Nicoya in the province of Guanacaste. It was created to protect one of the world’s most important nesting beaches of the marine turtle Lepidochelys olivacea (Olive Ridley). Arribadas (mass nestings) at this beach are considered the largest in the world, with as many as a million sea turtle eggs laid in the beach each year. The best time to visit Ostional is just before and during an Arribadas; these occur, as a general rule, at the start of the last quarter moon. The best months are between July and December.
Poas Volcano National Park
One of the oldest and best known national parks in Costa Rica, PoÃ¡s Volcano National Park covers 13,830 acres and is home to the smouldering Poas Volcano (2,704 m). The crater of the volcano is 1.5km (1 mile) wide and contains a boiling sulphurous lake that changes colour from grey to green to turquoise.
There are various hiking trails in the park, with most of the trails leading to the active crater being relatively easy. The bubbling, steaming crater can only be viewed from the top, as current volcanic activity prevents descending any further.
Near the crater is Costa Rica’s only dwarf cloud forest, including bromeliads, lichens and moss-covered twisted trees. Several species of birds can be spotted, including some species that are often only found at high altitudes such as the red-throated hummingbird. A steeper trail leads through the cloud forest to an extinct crater that has formed the Botos Lagoon.
Santa Rosa National Park
Established in 1971, Santa Rosa National Park is one of the oldest in Costa Rica, and is home to the last large strand of tropical dry forest in Central America. The park covers an area of over 91,000 acres on almost the entire Santa Elena Peninsula, which juts into the Pacific Ocean at the far north-western corner of the country. In addition to its abundant wildlife of monkeys, snakes and iguanas, it is also home to the nesting sites of several sea turtles and includes some attractive beaches. There are 4,000 species of moths and butterflies alone.
The park has ten habitats, including extensive savannahs and deciduous and non-deciduous forests.
Tortuguero National Park
The coastal Tortuguero National Park protects 47,451 acres of land along with 128,440 acres of the adjoining sea, and is the most important breeding ground for the green sea turtle in the entire Caribbean. Whilst there are many beaches in the park, the area is not suitable for swimming as the surf and currents strong; sharks are also common. However, most people come to the park for wildlife spotting – especially turtle watching. Hundreds (and sometimes thousands) of leatherback and green turtles can be viewed nesting and laying eggs on the beaches overnight during November and January. Guides are necessary.