Costa Rica, tourist attractions, photos, maps, ideas for your next trip !
Costa Rica, tourist attractions
Introducing Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal
Arenal was just another dormant volcano surrounded by fertile farmland from about AD 1500 until July 29, 1968, when huge explosions triggered lava flows that destroyed three villages, killing about 80 people and 45,000 cattle. The area was evacuated and roads throughout the region were closed. Eventually, the lava subsided to a relatively predictable flow and life got back to normal. Sort of.
Although it occasionally quieted down for a few weeks or even months, Arenal produced menacing ash columns, massive explosions and streams of glowing molten rock almost daily from 1968 until it all quite abruptly ended in 2010, leaving the alarmed local tourist industry to gasp and spew in its place. Still, any obituary on the Arenal area is quite premature given the fact that the volcano has retained its picture-perfect conical shape despite the volcanic activity, and there is still plenty of forest on its lower slopes and in the nearby foothills.
While the molten night views are gone for now (one never knows what lies beneath or beyond), this mighty mountain is still worthy of your time. Though clouds may shroud her at any time, there are several beautiful trails to explore, and even if it does rain and there is a chill in the air, you are just a short drive away from hot springs.
Manuel Antonio National Park
A place of swaying palms and playful monkeys, spakling blue water and riotous tropical birds, Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio embodies Costa Rica’s postcard charms. It was declared a national park in 1972, preserving it (with just minutes to spare) from being bulldozed and razed to make room for a coastal development project. Although Manuel Antonio was enlarged to its present-day size of 16 sq km in 2000, it is still the country’s smallest national park. Space remains a premium, and as this is one of Central America’s top tourist destinations, you’re going to have to break free from the camera-clicking tour groups and actively seek out your own idyllic spot of sand.
That said, Manuel Antonio is absolutely stunning, and on a good day, at the right time, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ve died and gone to a coconut-filled paradise. The park’s clearly marked trail system winds through rainforest-backed tropical beaches and rocky headlands, and the views across the bay to the pristine outer islands are unforgettable. As if this wasn’t enough, add a ubiquitous population of iguanas, howlers, capuchins, sloths and squirrel monkeys.
Introducing Parque Nacional Corcovado
Famously labeled by National Geographic as ‘the most biologically intense place on earth,’ this national park is the last great original tract of tropical rainforest in Pacific Central America. The bastion of biological diversity is home to Costa Rica’s largest population of scarlet macaws, as well as countless other endangered species, including Baird’s tapir, the giant anteater and the world’s largest bird of prey, the harpy eagle. Corcovado’s amazing biodiversity has long attracted a devoted stream of visitors who descend from Bahía Drake and Puerto Jiménez to explore the remote location and spy on a wide array of wildlife.
Montezuma is an immediately endearing beach town that demands you abandon the car, stroll, swim and, if you are willing to stroll even further, surf. The warm and wild ocean, and that remnant, ever-audible jungle, has helped this rocky nook cultivate an inviting, boho vibe. Typical tourist offerings, such as canopy tours, do a brisk trade here, but you’ll also bump up against Montezuma’s internationally inflected, artsy-rootsy beach culture in yoga classes, volunteer corps, festivals, veggie-friendly dining rooms, and neo-Rastas hawking uplifting herbs. No wonder locals lovingly call this town ‘Montefuma.’ It’s not perfect. The lodging is particularly poor value, and the eateries can be that way too (though there are some absolute gems). But in this barefoot pueblo, which unfurls along several kilometers of rugged coastline, you’re never far from the rhythm and sound of the sea, and that is a beautiful thing.
Introducing Monteverde & Santa Elena
Strung between two lovingly preserved cloud forests is this slim corridor of civilization, which consists of the Tico village of Santa Elena and the Quaker settlement of Monteverde. A 1983 feature article in National Geographic described this unique landscape and subsequently billed the area as the place to view one of Central America’s most famous birds – the resplendent quetzal. Suddenly, hordes of tourists armed with tripods and telephoto lenses started braving Monteverde’s notoriously awful access roads, which came as a huge shock to the then-established Quaker community. In an effort to stem the tourist flow, local communities lobbied to stop developers from paving the roads. And it worked. Today, the dirt roads leading to Monteverde and Santa Elena have effectively created a moat around this precious experiment in sustainable ecotourism.
The cloud forests near Monteverde and Santa Elena are one of Costa Rica’s premier destinations for everyone from budget backpackers to well-heeled retirees. On a good day, Monteverde is a place where you can be inspired about the possibility of a world in which organic farming and alternative energy sources are the norm. On a bad day, Monteverde can feel like Disneyland in Birkenstocks and a zip-line harness. Take heart in the fact that the local community continues to fight to maintain the fragile balance of nature and commerce.
Driving from either of the Interamericana’s first two turnoffs to the region, you’ll first arrive in Santa Elena, a bustling community of budget hotels, restaurants and attractions. A road beginning at the northern point of the triangle leads to Juntas and Tilarán, with a turnoff to Reserva Santa Elena. From the westernmost point of the triangle (to the right as you enter town) you can access a scenic and heavily rutted 6km road to the Monteverde reserve. About 2km from Santa Elena, the neighborhood of Cerro Plano has a nucleus of cute businesses centered on Casem and the Monteverde Cheese Factory. Almost 5km from town, a turnoff leads down a steep 3km to the epic Ecolodge San Luis and the San Luis Waterfall.
Monteverde – Canopy
The newest player on the Monteverde canopy scene, this outfit runs small groups through secondary forest, and doesn’t bother with extraneous attractions if all you really want to do is fly down the zip lines. There’s a Superman canopy ride, allowing you to fly Superman-style through the air; the highest and most adrenaline-addled Tarzan swing in the area; and a bungee jump. One way or another, you will scream.
Introducing Parque Nacional Tortuguero
‘Humid’ is the driest word that could truthfully be used to describe Tortuguero, a 311-sq-km coastal park that serves as the most important breeding ground of the green sea turtle. With an annual rainfall of up to 6000mm in the northern part of the park, it is one of the wettest areas in the country. In addition, the protected area extends into the Caribbean Sea, covering about 5200 sq km of marine habitat. In other words, plan on spending quality time in a boat.
The famed Canales de Tortuguero are the introduction to this park. A north–south waterway created to connect a series of lagoons and meandering rivers in 1974, this engineering marvel allowed inland navigation between Limón and coastal villages in something sturdier than a dugout canoe. Regular flights service the village of Tortuguero – but if you fly, you’ll be missing half the fun. The leisurely taxi-boat ride, through banana plantations and wild jungle, is equal parts recreation and transportation.
Most visitors come to watch sea turtles lay eggs on the wild beaches. The area attracts four of the world’s eight species of sea turtle, making it a crucial habitat for these massive reptiles. It will come as little surprise, then, that these hatching grounds gave birth to the sea-turtle-conservation movement. The Caribbean Conservation Corporation, the first program of its kind in the world, has continuously monitored turtle populations here since 1955. Today green sea turtles are increasing in numbers along this coast, but the leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead are in decline.
The area, however, is more than just turtles: Tortuguero teems with wildlife. You’ll find sloths and howler monkeys in the treetops, tiny frogs and green iguanas scurrying among buttress roots, and mighty tarpons and endangered manatees swimming in the waters.
Pavones, a destination for surfing