Ten Ways to See Costa Rica

Adventure travelers who want to experience the pura vida of this Central American country can choose from zip lines, scuba diving, horseback excursions, and more

Just a quarter the size of another outdoor playground, the state of Colorado, little Costa Rica packs a huge punch when it comes to adventure travel. With both Pacific and Caribbean coasts and an interior filled with volcanoes and thick cloud forests, as well as a remarkable diversity of animals—there are six different types of toucans alone—Costa Rica promises pura vida for adrenaline-loving visitors in all seasons.

Zip-lining as we know it was developed in Costa Rica. The first zip lines were created by biologists who wanted to figure out how to travel efficiently and zoom over the forest canopy to collect specimens. Today, zip runs can be found throughout the country, including in the popular Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve.

Alongside Costa Rica’s dense forests, the country has been home to farms and ranches for centuries. With horses a countryside mainstay, leisure riders can head out on horseback excursions and gallop on beaches and meander along deep forest trails over several-day pack rides.

Mountain bikers zoom down tropical paths and splash through creeks in the shadow of iconic Arenal volcano, an area with plenty of hot springs to soak in afterward. Known for its breaks that are a favorite of surfers, the Nicoya Peninsula also features an inviting inland terrain for pedalers.

Whipping winds on man-made Arenal Lake entice windsurfers from around the world who are treated to imposing views of the currently dormant Arenal volcano.

Whitewater rafting aficionados head to Costa Rica for a handful of top rivers that cater to their sport. On a journey that can last for days down the Pacuare River to the Caribbean rafters tumble along varied class levels. Along the way, tropical birds, monkeys, and elusive big cats (you may not see them, even if they are there) are your riverbank companions. Dropping several thousand feet down to the Pacific, the Naranjo River is carved by the deep El Chorro canyon whose rock walls make for a thrilling descent.
Outside of Manuel Antonio National Park, the town of Quepos is a launch site for sport fishing trips in pursuit of Pacific marlin, yellow fin tuna, and more. This region of African palm plantations and cattle ranches is also popular with ATV enthusiasts who careen down dirt roads and trails. The mountains out the colonial town of Cartago (not far from the capital, San José) provide another challenging arena for cross-country motor sports.

Just off the Osa Peninsula, Caño island bio-reserve sits in nutrient-rich thermal waters that attract sea turtles, manta rays and humpback and pilot whales, and where scuba divers delight at vibrant parrotfish and are wowed by enormous schools of barracuda.

Several hundred miles off the Pacific coast, Cocos Island National Park is a former pirate hideout. Today, it’s known for its world-class scuba diving and snorkeling in waters that are home to dolphins, sharks, and rays. As a biodiverse hotspot, its broader marine zone is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However you choose to explore Costa Rica during the day, the adventure continues into the evening. From tent camps and treehouses to pampering resorts, Costa Rica’s lodging is as diverse as its terrain, while its spas are the perfect place to work out the kinks of your extreme adventures.

Plan your Costa Rica adventure here.