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Things to Do in Costa Rica

Bordered by the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, Costa Rica spans just 170 miles (274 kilometers) coast-to-coast, yet contains six percent of the world's biodiversity. Postcard-perfect beaches; lush, protected rainforests; and a proud history of promoting conservation and eco-tourism have helped make the country a veritable paradise for active travelers and nature lovers—as well as Central America's top travel destination. Many tours begin in Costa Rica's "Golden Triangle" and string together the most popular destinations: Arenal Volcano National Park and nearby La Fortuna, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, and Manuel Antonio National Park. In this region alone, there are enough outdoor activities to fill several vacations, ranging from ziplining through the rainforest canopy, to whitewater rafting, to rainforest safaris, and perhaps even a glimpse of the Arenal volcano in action. Many tours offer family-friendly options, and proximity to the Pacific coast makes it easy to include plenty of beach time. Off the beaten path, consider a private tour of Tortuguero National Park, a protected wilderness reserve and seasonal sea-turtle nesting ground that's home to monkeys, crocodiles, and more than 300 species of birds. If you have some time in San Jose, the capital offers a wealth of museums, including the National Museum, the Gold Museum, the Jade Museum, and the Children's Museum. Or tour the lively Central Market to shop for handicrafts. Everywhere you go, Costa Rica casts its spell—don't be surprised if you fall in love with the "pura vida" lifestyle and never want to leave.
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Selvatura Park
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Selvatura Park is a popular nature-adventure park in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. Located just outside Monteverde, the park contains over 850 acres (344 hectares) of ecologically diverse forest. Attractions include zipline and suspension bridge tours, hummingbird and butterfly gardens, natural history walks, and reptile exhibitions.

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Tamarindo Beach
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Once the site of a quiet fishing village, Tamarindo Beach has become one of Costa Rica's most popular stretches of golden sand. Surfers travel from across the globe to ride Tamarindo's waves, but you don’t need to be a pro to hang 10 here. There are spots nearby that are calm enough for first-time wave riders to learn.

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Rincon de la Vieja National Park
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Rincon de la Vieja National Park is the ultimate “one-stop shop” for Costa Rica’s natural attractions. Expect fuming volcanoes, gushing waterfalls, sky-high ziplines, natural hot springs, and more—all within just a couple of hours of the popular Guanacaste coast.

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Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park
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The 16 hanging bridges that line the paths of Costa Rica’s Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park stretch a total of 1.6 miles (2.6 kilometers) across the steep landscape. See the birds, monkeys, sloths, snakes, and frogs that call the forest canopy home by ascending these spans, suspended above gorges and stretched across jungle floors.

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Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve
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Perched on the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, Cabo Blanco Absolute Natural Reserve is considered one of Costa Rica’s first natural reserves, and thus spurred a trend that resulted in more than 30 national parks and reserves. Inside the park, you can explore lush forests and white-sand beaches, and go on the lookout for exoitc wildlife on a hike.

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Tortuguero National Park (Parque Nacional Tortuguero)
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With its incredible biodiversity, Tortuguero National Park (Parque Nacional Tortuguero) is among Costa Rica’s most visited attractions. Home to monkeys and caimans as well, the park is best known for its sea turtles. Clusters of green, hawksbill, leatherback, and loggerhead turtles lay their eggs in the sand of remote Caribbean beaches.

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Rainmaker Park
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Brimming with lush forest, wildlife, and waterfalls, Rainmaker Park provides a quieter alternative to the often-crowded Manuel Antonio National Park. As well as being home to animals such as dart frogs, snakes, and butterflies, the off-the-beaten-path attraction offers great forest views from a set of swinging bridges.

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La Paz Waterfall Gardens
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From jaguars to capuchin monkeys, more than 100 animal species reside at this scenic nature park. Stop by to take in the animal exhibits, dine at the restaurant, and walk the 2.2 miles (3.5 kilometers) of well-maintained trails, which take you past five waterfalls scattered throughout the rain forest and cloud forest.

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La Fortuna Waterfall
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La Fortuna Waterfall cascades 200 feet (61 meters) down the sheer cliff face of Cerro Chato, the Arenal Volcano’s dormant and thickly forested twin. One of the most impressive and accessible waterfalls in Costa Rica, La Fortuna is a great place to picnic, swim, and photograph the waterfall’s perpetual mists and nearby exotic vegetation.

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Jaco Beach
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Jaco is a lively beach town known for its water sports and party atmosphere. Located on some of Costa Rica’s most developed coastline, within two hours of the capital, it’s a favorite escape for San José residents, as well as backpackers, snowbirds, and North American retirees.

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More Things to Do in Costa Rica

Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga)

Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga)

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A postcard-perfect paradise of white-sand beaches, swaying coconut palms, and sapphire-blue water rife with marine life, Tortuga Island (Isla Tortuga) is an ideal spot to swim, snorkel, or bask in the sunshine. The island is only accessible from Costa Rica’s main cities via a scenic boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya—an extra perk for your vacation.

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Celeste River (Río Celeste)

Celeste River (Río Celeste)

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The dazzling centerpiece of Costa Rica’s Tenorio Volcano National Park, theCeleste River (Río Celeste) is most famous for its shockingly bright blue color. The river’s hue results from a natural reaction of volcanic sulfur and calcium carbonate, which tints the clear waters.

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Arenal Volcano National Park

Arenal Volcano National Park

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Although visitors once flocked to Arenal Volcano for its impressive lava shows, the 5,437-foot (1,657-meter) volcano has stayed quiet since its last eruption in 2010. However, Arenal and the surrounding Arenal Volcano National Park remain a hot spot for visitors to Costa Rica, and is especially popular among those seeking hiking trails, swimming holes, hot springs, bird- and wildlife-watching, and sweeping views of the tropical rain forest.

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Irazu Volcano National Park

Irazu Volcano National Park

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Home to the highest active volcano in Costa Rica, Irazu Volcano National Park serves up some extraordinary panoramas. Think lush tangles of forest, gnarly cliffs of volcanic rock, and emerald-green crater lakes, all beneath an ethereal canopy of clouds.

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Rio Negro Hot Springs

Rio Negro Hot Springs

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Nestled in the lush interior of Rincon de la Vieja National Park, these rustic hot springs are fed by a naturally heated river that flows from a nearby volcanic peak. Slather on the mineral-rich mud, and then soak it off in a variety of steam pools, all while surrounded by the untamed Costa Rican rain forest.

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Conchal Beach (Playa Conchal)

Conchal Beach (Playa Conchal)

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A hidden beach, Playa Conchal brings a South Pacific feel to Guanacaste, with turquoise water lapping against pink-hued sand composed of seashell fragments. Relax at this largely undeveloped bach (there's just one luxury resort on the northern end), and enjoy a welcome break from the crowds at neighboring Tamarindo and Flamingo.

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Curi-Cancha Reserve

Curi-Cancha Reserve

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The cloud forest of Curi-Cancha Reserve creates a habitat for flora and fauna such as colorful quetzals and monkeys. Visitors can explore the private reserve via several nature trails. Plus, the private reserve’s daily 50 person cap means you’ll see more wildlife without having to battle the crowds.

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Lake Arenal

Lake Arenal

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A shimmering expanse of blue water stretching west of the active Arenal Volcano, Lake Arenal is Costa Rica’s biggest lake and one of its most picturesque. Beyond its striking beauty, the human-made reservoir serves an important function as a hydroelectric dam, providing sustainable power for Costa Rican residents.

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Baldi Hot Springs

Baldi Hot Springs

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Located at the base of the Arenal Volcano in La Fortuna, San Carlos, Baldi Hot Springs features thermo-mineral hot water pools with great views of the volcano. It’s the biggest hot springs facility in the region and the perfect way to relax after hiking in Arenal Volcano National Park.

Located within the Baldi Hot Springs Hotel and Spa, there are day-use options as well as availability for hotel guests. The 25 pools range in temperature from 93 to 152 degrees Fahrenheit and get hotter as the elevation rises. It's recommended that you balance your time between pools, as your core temperature will begin to rise after about 20 minutes in a hot pool. The minerality and temperature of the water is believed to rid the body of germs and viruses while increasing blood circulation and releasing harmful toxins.

For the adventurous, Baldi Hot Springs also has extreme water slides that send you bumping and sliding before landing in the natural hot springs pool. Have children? his site is family friendly and features specially designed secure shallow pools with slides and a continuous stream of water that will keep kids thoroughly entertained.

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Gold Museum

Gold Museum

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More than 1600 pre-Columbian artifacts, including Costa Rica’s very first coin, handmade ceramics and a life-sized warrior, are housed in this museum that was opened in 1985. The museum’s collection displays indigenous works dating from 500 AD to 1500 AD, including traditional jewelry and culturally relevant pieces from other Latin American countries. Displays on the second floor explore the influence of these artifacts on the social and cultural development of the nation, as well as a history of Costa Rica’s currency. Signs in both Spanish and English easily guide guests through hallways filled with rich history.

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Poas Volcano National Park

Poas Volcano National Park

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Poas Volcano National Park houses one of the more popular volcanoes in Costa Rica—a telling superlative for a country with world-famous geothermal activity. But with its spectacular wildlife, informative museum, and variety of hiking trails, the accolade comes as no surprise.

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Sarapiqui River (Rio Sarapiquí)

Sarapiqui River (Rio Sarapiquí)

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In 1856 this iconic Costa Rican river transported weapons, soldiers and food during the war against the filibusters. Today, Sarapiqui River (Rio Sarapiquí) has been named a national monument and is one of the country’s top destinations. Adventurous travelers can navigate the raging rapids of level III and IV white waters, while laid back visitors and families searching for fun can opt for a relaxing day tour or rive safari.

The surrounding mountains, as well as the La Selva Biological Reserve are home to scenic landscapes and plenty of wildlife. During a river safari, keep eyes peeled for turtles, sloths, monkeys and iguanas, as well as colorful tropical birds found only here! And travelers who prefer to keep their feet on land can still catch their share of rugged beauty on hikes on the reserve’s epic trails.

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Tenorio Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio)

Tenorio Volcano National Park (Parque Nacional Volcán Tenorio)

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Once undiscovered in Costa Rica’s northwest, Tenorio Volcano National Park is now a destination thanks to its valley and mountain landscapes teeming with biodiversity. The park’s star attractions include its twin volcanoes (Tenorio and Miravalles), and the otherworldly Rio Celeste and waterfall, which runs a luminous shade of blue.

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Tabacon Hot Springs

Tabacon Hot Springs

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Tumbling waterfalls, luxury spa and dining options, and the dramatic backdrop of Arenal Volcano set Tabacon Hot Springs apart from Costa Rica’s many thermal springs. Numerous pools dotting the Tabacon River create a completely natural hot spring experience on a private rain forest reserve, perfect for a day of pure relaxation.

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