Costa Rican Adventures

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Costa Rican Adventures
From hiking and kayaking to watching volcanoes erupt, Costa Rica's outdoor adventures suit nearly every type of interest. Its 10 national conservation areas are all easily reached from the capital, so you can fit several into a single vacation.
By Julie Schwietert Collazo, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Robert Harding/age fotostock
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    Hike a Volcano
    Costa Rica's most-visited volcano is Arenal, but the country is home to several other active volcanoes—including Irazú, Poás, Rincón de la Vieja, and Turrialba—and more than 60 dormant ones. The active volcanoes can be explored on foot; hiking trails of varying difficulty lead to summits with spectacular views of dwarf cloud forests, craters, and occasional geysers. Each volcano lies within a national park or protected area. If you're not keen to explore on your own, plenty of outfitters offer guides ready to lead the way.
    Photo by Robert Harding/age fotostock
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    Kayak Rivers and Oceans
    Costa Rica has enough rivers, lakes, and ocean to keep paddlers busy for at least a dozen vacations. Whether you come with your own gear or rent a kayak here, you can touch down at San José's Juan Santamaría International Airport and be on a chosen body of water in under an hour. If you're a novice, paddling through the calm waters of a tunnel of mangroves might be your speed; if you're an expert, you'll have a tough time choosing between the Class IV and Class V rapids that require honed technical skills. The Upper Balsa, the Pacuare, and the Toro are among the most challenging rivers; the Sarapiquí River and Lake Arenal are good for first-timers. Numerous outfitters lead half-day or multi-day kayaking trips organized by skill level.
    Photo by Ronald Naar/age fotostock
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    Take a Dive
    Experienced divers agree that scuba trips in Costa Rica tend to be more rewarding on the Pacific coast rather than the Caribbean side, because runoff from banana plantations has muddied Caribbean waters. Some of the best diving spots are around the offshore islands—Isla del Caño, Las Islas Catalinas, and Isla del Coco. Diving near Caño is particularly spectacular since the water here is protected by the government as a reserve. Common marine species include rays, turtles, and white tip reef sharks. Isla del Coco is for serious divers who don't mind a 300-mile haul off the west coast to this pristine site. Several operators lead multi-day trips, during which guests see moray eels and hammerhead sharks.
    Photo by Ethan Daniels/age fotostock
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    Biking in Costa Rica
    Hiking a volcano is one thing. Biking around one is another story, and it's just one of many different types of cycling experiences you can have in Costa Rica. Whether you choose to explore on two wheels independently or with a guided tour, Costa Rica's mountain trails wind past mountains, volcanoes, waterfalls, and beaches. While cycling in Arenal Volcano National Park is prohibited, a favorite intermediate ride involves wheeling in the volcano's shadow. Once you're done, you can soak your muscles in the thermal springs at Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort.
    Photo by Saddle Skedaddle Cycling Holidays
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    Horseback Riding from the Mountains to the Sea
    Taking in the view from the back of a horse is a memorable way to travel around Costa Rica. Outfitters offer guided horseback tours to the beach in Limón, up mountains in Monteverde, and around the base of Arenal Volcano. Experienced riders can challenge themselves on more intense terrain that requires log jumping and river fording or on multi-day rides. Some tour companies amp up the adrenaline with package excursions that pair horseback riding with such activities as zip-lining, rappelling, crossing hanging bridges, or slipping down a 400-meter waterslide.
    Photo by Rob Francis/age fotostock
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    Climbing and Canyoneering in Costa Rica
    Rain forests, volcanoes, and waterfalls all make pretty spectacular backdrops for climbing, rappelling, and canyoneering in Costa Rica. The rugged mountains around Arenal Volcano are among the most popular and accessible for canyoneering in the country. They hold big thrills, including the opportunity to rappel down 150- to 200-foot waterfalls. Many canyoneering tour packages feature multiple waterfall rappels. If you go to La Fortuna, keep your eyes peeled for monkeys, sloths, and parrots. Rock climbing is a newer sport in Costa Rica, but it's catching on along the Nicoya Peninsula. Popular routes, many of which were bolted by a California expat, range from grade 5.6 to 5.11a.
    Photo by age fotostock
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    Wind Sports in Costa Rica
    With so many different bodies of water, windsurfers and kiteboarders can find a variety of conditions in which to try out their sails. Some spots are great for beginners, while others are considered the exclusive territory of experienced athletes. Lake Arenal, Bahía Salinas, and Puerto Soley are among the country's top spots for the two water sports. Lake Arenal should be tackled by experts only as wind speeds can reach more than 30 miles per hour. If you're still learning, head to the Gulf of Papagayo, where both wind and water tend to be calm. A number of outfitters throughout the country rent gear, offer lessons, and provide tips about where and when to go.
    Photo by Ben Welsh/age fotostock
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    Zip Through the Trees
    Costa Rica might have the most diverse array of zip lines on earth. With so many different kinds of terrain, habitat, and flora and fauna, Costa Rica's cloud forests, rain forests, volcanic mountain chains, lakes, and beaches can best be seen from the air. There are also different types of zip-line courses, ranging from multi-platform to high speed. If zipping through the trees sounds exciting to you, look for canopy tours in the following areas: Drake Bay, Herradura Beach, Manuel Antonio, Monteverde, Pacuare River, Tabacón Springs, and Turrubares.
    Photo by Jayms Ramirez