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Costa rica travel blog green motion w640

Holiday guide to Costa Rica: beaches and adventures

This small country is perhaps the best in Latin America for a tropical adventure, thanks to its mysterious jungles, incredible wildlife, active volcanoes and glorious deserted beaches.

We have defined the essential itinerary for Costa Rica: Manuel Antonio for the beach, Monteverde for cloud forest, Tortuguero for turtles, and Arenal volcano for outdoor adventure. Add in the sandy beachfront in Guanacaste and you have the perfect holiday.

There is plenty of adventure on offer. From pelicans flying over your hammock, lightning over a silver sea, pink orchids against turquoise houses, a passing cowboy with silver stirrups, the white sand and deep blue sea that stay in your memory.

San José

Old San José has its sights, from Museo de Jade (Plaza de la Democracía) and Museo del Oro (beneath Plaza de la Cultura), both with unrivalled but unsung pre-Colombian treasures, to the warren of the Mercado Central, and the pay-to-view grandeur of the Teatro Nacional.

Start at the city’s western edge with a visit to Museo de Arte Costarricense in the old air traffic control building of what used to be the airport, then head down Paseo Colon.

Corcovado rainforest

A quarter of Costa Rica is protected parks and reserve, but the crown jewel is Corcovado national park, 164 square miles of rainforest in the Osa peninsula, fringed by empty Pacific beach. Remote and largely impenetrable, it’s home to five species of cat (jaguar, puma, ocelot, margay and jaguarundi) plus tapir, sloth, monkeys, boas (there are lots of snakes: wear boots) and almost 400 bird species. Here’s your best chance of spotting Costa Rican wildlife – and the waters are rich with dolphins and, seasonally, pods of whales.

Access is with guides only, and reservations need to be made well in advance. Hikes range from easy day trips, mainly around San Pedrillo, to multi-day treks with overnights at Sirena, a magical, ultra-basic ranger station.

Cloud forests

Monteverde is the classic cloud forest choice, and the most child-friendly, with sky tram, sky walk and, for over-eights, canopy zip lines. If you are travelling south, San Gerardo de Dota, 46 miles from the capital and 2,200 metres above sea level, makes a top stopover. The (heated) wooden cabins at Trogon Lodge lie inside the country’s newest national park, Los Quetzales, a vast birdwatchers’ paradise, home to flame-throated warblers, emerald toucanets, green violetear hummingbirds and motmots, turquoise cotingas as well as trogons and quetzals.

Worth noting that Central America’s foremost ornithologist, the late Alexander Skutch, chose to live just down the road.

Costa Ballena beaches

Costa Rica has two coasts and more than 300 beaches, some the domain of turtles. But there are two areas that have everything, from surfer bars to top-end retreats, party beaches to silent jungle. The first is the jungly Costa Ballena on the Central Pacific, extending 18 miles down Highway 34 from the grey-sand surfer town of Dominical to mini gastroville Ojochal.

Southern Caribbean beaches

The second beach area is the more laid-back eight-mile stretch of Caribbean coast between lively Puerto Viejo and sleepy Manzanillo. All the palm-fringed white-sand beaches, turquoise sea, parrots, jungle cabins, nightlife, surf camps, gingerbread beach cottages, and pancake breakfast joints a person could possibly need are here. This coast, settled by West Indian fishermen in the 19th century, is English-speaking, and that vibe still dominates, despite a steady influx of more excitable jungle lovers. The obvious thing to do is read in a hammock and visit a beach cafe.

Arenal, the essential volcano

Volcán Poás is easier to visit (it’s virtually a drive-in) and Volcán Rincón de la Vieja is wilder, but Arenal is unmissable. Only one thing beats the thrill of seeing Arenal erupt, and that’s seeing it erupt while you’re sitting in a hot spring. The hot spring industry sprang up as a way of entertaining frustrated visitors who arrived to find the perfect cone shrouded in cloud.