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Costa Rican Adventures

Hike a Volcano
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 visits to several into a single vacation.
Photo by Héctor Calderón
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    Hike a Volcano
    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 Héctor Calderón
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    Kayak Rivers and Oceans
    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, you can touch down at San José's Juan Santamaría International Airport and be on your 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 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. And don’t miss visiting Río Celeste, or Prusia Forest, home of the majestic Reventazón River. Numerous outfitters lead half-day or multiday kayaking trips organized by skill level.
    Photo courtesy of Río Celeste
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    Horseback Riding from the Mountains to the Sea
    Horseback Riding from the Mountains to the Sea
    Taking in the view from atop 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, as well as in the beautiful Fraijanes region. Experienced riders can challenge themselves on more intense terrain that requires log jumping and river fording or on multiday 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 1,300-foot waterslide.
    Photo by María José Flores
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    Climbing and Canyoneering in Costa Rica
    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 tour packages feature multiple waterfall rappels or hikes, for example, around the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, the Cavernas del Venado in Alajuela, or at Cataratas La Paz, in Heredia. 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 courtesy of Cataratas La Paz
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    Zip Through the Trees
    Zip Through the Trees
    Costa Rica might have the most diverse array of zip lines on earth. With the country’s many different kinds of terrain, habitat, and flora and fauna, its 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 Monteverde, Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, or Manzanillo’s Nature Observatorio.
    Photo courtesy of Nature Observatorio
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    Beaches of the Pacific
    Beaches of the Pacific
    The Pacific coast runs the length of the country’s western edge. The landscape here is more varied and rugged than on the Caribbean side. For surfers, water sports aficionados, and beach bums, the Pacific is filled with riches. Malpaís, Montezuma, and Tamarindo are all popular among surfers, and expats, and each has a lively atmosphere. In Guanacaste, Conchal is a bit more laid-back, and Flamingo is quite developed—some say overdeveloped. Manuel Antonio is another beloved Pacific beach, though it’s not the off-the-beaten-path spot it was 20 years ago. The remote beaches of the southern Pacific coast await adventurous travelers. But even those who don’t want to travel far from San José can enjoy amazing surfing conditions in Jacó.
    Photo by Camilo Christen