Adventure travel in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is one of the best places in the world to get lost outdoors and explore the wild.
Home to jungle waterfalls, cloud forests and incredible wildlife, Costa Rica also has plenty of opportunities to get active.
Adventure travel in Costa Rica has virtually no limits: kayak on Lake Arenal, horse ride along the Guanacaste coast or swing on a human pendulum in Rio Perdido. This is our guide to luxury adventure tours in Costa Rica.
The Pacuare region of Costa Rica has been named as one of the world’s top 10 river trip destinations by National Geographic, and it’s easy to see why. The billowing Pacuare River flows through a magnificent 25,000 acres of primary, virgin rainforest. Stretching from the Talamanca Cordillera to the eastern Caribbean lowlands, this is a landscape of cascading waterfalls, serene banks and exotic wildlife. It’s the perfect retreat for nature-lovers, thrill-seekers and adventurers.
The secluded Pacuare Lodge is the perfect place from which to explore – the surrounding 740 acres of primary rainforest offer an unrivalled opportunity to get active. You can even opt to travel to this remote lodge by rafting to it. After a safety briefing, guests will experience the exhilaration of battling through waves over a one and a half hour journey.
Once at the lodge, those who don’t suffer from vertigo can get closer to their adventurous side on a canopy ziplining tour. Flying from tree to tree rewards you with gorgeous views and magnificent scenery, as well as an adrenaline rush. Other highlights include canyoning, birdwatching and meeting a Cabécar tribe.
Located captivatingly close to a now dormant volcano, Arenal is Costa Rica’s largest draw for outdoor activities. Covering an area of over 120 square kilometres (46 square miles), Arenal Volcano National Park lies on the southern shores of Lake Arenal, with the conical peak of the volcano at its heart. This rugged area is prime volcano trekking territory, and also great for watersports. The volcano’s last eruption was in 1968 and geologists are constantly keeping a close eye on it, so adventurous travellers needn’t worry.
There are activities in Arenal for those who live for a thrill, and the area can also be explored at a leisurely pace. Adrenaline junkies can try their hand at rappelling down a waterfall, but descending into the depths of a tropical rainforest canyon is not for the faint-hearted. There are five rappels, ranging in height from 13 metres (25 feet) to 55 metres (165 feet), so travellers can choose how daring they wish to be.
For those who like to stay closer to ground, hiking the Arenal volcano takes you through forest, over lava flows and the area that was destroyed by the 1968 eruption. This area is now in the process of regeneration, so walking through it gives you an insight into how the region is rebuilding itself. You’ll also be able to spot the forest’s activity and unique flora, as well as the reserve’s varied wildlife.
Watersports enthusiasts can kayak on Lake Arenal or get their hearts racing on a white water rafting excursion. Costa Rica’s biggest lake is a kayaker’s paradise. Novices can give the sport a try too, as paddlers are suited up with a life jacket and paddle and are talked through basic kayaking techniques. As you make your way across the lake, you’ll be able to observe bird species such as great blue herons, and you may even hear howler monkeys call.
For a more adventurous way to navigate the waters, travellers can white water raft through an isolated rainforest river canyon. Once you’ve had a safety briefing and your guide has talked you through paddling instructions, you’ll be able to wind your way through heart-pounding rapids and peaceful river pools.
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park houses a network of suspension bridges that wind through primary rainforest. Walking through them with a guide offers a photogenic way of learning about the surrounding environment. Costa Rica currently makes up 5% of the world’s biodiversity and its forests are teeming with wildlife. Many species come to life after dark, so a night walk through the hanging bridges is great for wildlife enthusiasts. There are so many different types of wildlife here, including around 2,000 species of butterflies, as well as amphibians, reptiles, mammals and some exotic flowers that only bloom at night.
The best of the rest
The Guanacaste Coast
Costa Rica’s northern Pacific coastline is an eclectic mix of golden beaches, wildlife reserves and great surfing spots. Nicknamed the Gold Coast, the Guanacaste coast stretches south from the Nicaragua border to the Nicoya Peninsula. The dry and steady warm weather in the region attracts visitors year-round, with white-sand beaches and the Rincón de la Vieja National Park providing a haven for adventure travellers. The emerald waters here are home to a plethora of marine wildlife, so it’s a great spot for snorkelling – keep your eyes peeled for dolphins and turtles. To dry off, travellers can then enjoy picturesque trails on a horse riding tour through beautiful vistas.
A must-visit for sea life lovers, Tortuguero literally translates as ‘Land of the Turtles.’ Only accessible by boat or small aircraft, Tortuguero is home to 19,000 acres filled with extraordinary biological diversity. As well as green sea turtles, leatherbacks, hawksbills and loggerheads, Tortuguero is a vital habitat for spoonbills, herons, parrots, toucans and cormorants. Exploring the myriad of waterways and nature trails with expert guides is an incredible way to explore this nature’s paradise. Kayaking, fishing, walking and more specialist wildlife excursions are also on offer here. The best time to go is from July to October, as this is turtle nesting season
Hiking the National Parks
Costa Rica’s incredible landscapes are admirably protected, making it a land of national parks and wildlife reserves. One of the country’s most stunning national parks is the Manuel Antonio National Park. Created in 1972 to preserve the richness of Costa Rica’s rainforest and the area’s idyllic beaches, Manuel Antonio is home to many of the country’s endangered species. Despite being one of Costa Rica’s smallest national parks, it is widely regarded as one of the best. Hiking through here with an experienced guide allows travellers to spot an array of wonderful wildlife, including monkeys, sloths and coatimundis amongst others.
Hidden gem Rio Celeste in the north of Costa Rica is home to the striking Tenorio Volcano National Park. Hiking through this ecosystem offers the perfect opportunity to get up close to Costa Rica’s colourful flora and fauna. Along the walk, you’ll come across the spectacular Rio Celeste waterfall. According to legend, when God finished painting the sky, he washed his brushes in the Rio Celeste river. At the waterfall, the river looks like a watercolour painting – the river gains its amazing light blue colour here alongside the natural hot springs.
Also firmly off the tourist trail, Rio Perdido is a haven for hikers and bikers and offers the opportunity for canyoning and white water tubing. On a canyoning tour, daring travellers can head from deep within the narrow canyon into the convergence. Here, the hot waters of Rio Perdido and the Yurro Waterfall meet the cool waters of the White Canyon. You can then continue ascending to get magnificent views over Costa Rica’s only dwarf forest and the Miravalles Volcano’s rocky lowlands. If you’re seeking even more of a thrill, you can round off the excursion by ziplining along carbon fire cables and swinging on a human pendulum before crossing a wobbly bridge to your descent.
White water tubing allows travellers to view the canyon from an entirely different perspective. It’s a surreal experience to sail through areas where the rock walls are narrow, daylight is scarce and echoes get continually louder. Eventually, though, you’ll be astounded by the calls of monkeys, birds and other mammals. Rio Perdido is known for its thermal hot springs, so you’ll enjoy full access to them, as well as canyons, pools, decks and hiking trails.
The Central Cloud Forests
For any active traveller, Costa Rica’s Central Cloud Forests are a don’t-miss destination. The area’s one hundred percent humidity levels mean that it is always shrouded in mist, so it’s an ethereal place to adventure through. El Silencio offers an array of exciting activities – volcano tours, horseback riding, river rafting, mountain biking and canopy zip-lining are all excellent ways to get your heart racing. A real highlight is hiking the stunning El Silencio, El Misterio and La Promesa waterfalls.