The Top 9 Ecotourism Experiences in Costa Rica

Ecotourism is big business in Costa Rica, the Central American gem thousands of tourists flock to each year. Up to 25% of the country’s territory is reserved for the conservation of Costa Rica’s unique ecosystem.

Located on the Panama Isthmus, Costa Rica has one coastline along the Pacific Ocean and another along the Caribbean Sea. The country’s capital, San José, is centrally located which makes travel around the country easy. Costa Rica is one of the safest countries in Central and South America.

Costa Rica’s ecotourism vision

The government of Costa Rica recognizes the importance of preserving its distinct environment. The participation of private organizations and NGOs has allowed the ecotourism dream to flourish. Tourism that has minimal impact on the country’s ecology is required. The reasons for this are manifold:

  • Preservation of the environment for future tourists and generations of inhabitants. Sustainability and maintaining the country’s world-renowned biodiversity is the key to ecotourism.
  • Stimulation of the economy to allow citizens access to job opportunities in the tourism sector.
  • Through ecotourism, encouraging visitors to immerse themselves in the country’s culture.

Here are some unforgettable ecotourism experiences Costa Rica has to offer:

1.   Cloud forest expeditions

The magic of the cloud forest is something only a few countries around the world have to offer visitors. The low-level clouds that form a tablecloth above the canopy of trees provide moisture that the indigenous species of fauna and flora need for survival.  

One of the most popular destinations is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Preserve. Visitors can visit the skywalk, sky tram, and sky trek zipline to gain an unforgettable perspective of the area from above the canopy. There is also a guided cloud forest nature hike with an experienced guide.

The extent of the forest’s biodiversity emerges together with its exotic fauna and flora. The best hiking trails are featured in the tour and it offers several outstanding vantage points. These include a treetop lookout.

Other cloud forest destinations include Bajos Del Toro Cloud Forest and Los Angeles Cloud Forest.

2.   Rainforest rendezvous

There is a large area of rainforest in Costa Rica. Unlike other Central and South American countries, Costa Rica is actively protecting its rainforests. The country’s government has gone as far as implementing reforestation projects, restoring the glory of rainforests previously plundered for wood.

The Corcovado National Park, located on the Osa Peninsula, is a favorite rainforest destination for tourists. The area has been described by National Geographic as the world’s most biologically dense area. The rainforests rival those of the Amazon Basin.

A visit to Corcovado offers the tourist the chance to experience 13 different ecosystems at once. These include an area of cloud forest, lowland rainforests, mangrove swamps, and coastal habitats. The area is well-preserved with virtually no evidence of human habitation.

Other national parks in Costa Rica’s rainforests include Manuel Antonio National Park and Carara National Park.

3.   Animal spotting and bird watching sorties

Each of Costa Rica’s natural conservation areas contains iconic animals indigenous to the country. These include big cats like the jaguar and puma. They also include tiny creatures such as rare butterflies. At the Osa Peninsula, the visitor can see all four of Costa Rica’s native species of monkeys. Visit the Piedras National Park for monkey spotting.

Los Quetzales National Park is the best place to find the eponymous quetzal bird. This near-endangered species is magnificent. For the very adventurous tourist, there is a crocodile safari on the Tarcoles River. Crocs as long as four meters live here. These American crocodiles are fierce hunters and it’s very likely the visitor will get a ‘snap’ of one on the hunt.

Costa Rica has several sloth sanctuaries where these fascinating creatures are cared for if they have been injured, orphaned, or abandoned. Visitors may not touch the sloths as the sloths might become distressed by the contact. However, there are tours and information sharing sessions to give the visitor an insight into the lives of sloths.

4.   Death by chocolate followed by a jug of java

In terms of agriculture, Costa Rica is well-known for coffee and chocolate plantations. Arabica beans are grown on massive plantations in Costa Rica. Many plantations offer tours and coffee tasting. Cacao, the main ingredient in chocolate is grown on plantations alongside the coffee plantations. Tours of the plantations show how coffee and chocolate are produced from the bean to the final product. Traditional chocolate making is a popular activity on these tours.

Monteverde is a popular destination for chocolate and coffee lovers seeking a taste adventure. There are also plantations to visit just outside the capital, San José. Several plantations operate in the country’s northernmost regions, alongside the coast of the Pacific Ocean.

5.   Volcano exploring

Costa Rica is home to approximately 54 extinct volcanoes. There are six active volcanoes. The country’s volcanoes are popular tourist destinations. The dense, fertile soil on the slopes of the volcanoes make for areas of rich biodiversity. The volcanoes themselves are spectacular. They are often only reachable on foot. However, getting to marvel at the power of Mother Nature makes the hike worth the effort.

The Arenal Volcano National Park is in northwest Costa Rica. This is an active volcano estimated to be 7,000 years old.  It is a stratovolcano which has been dormant since 2010. The stratovolcano takes on the shape of a mountain, formed by layers of lava and ash. Its eruptions are characterized by lava flow down the slopes and massive amounts of ash shooting out of the top.

The Irazú Volcano National Park is home to the Irazú volcano which is the tallest volcano in Costa Rica. At its highest point, both the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea are visible. At Irazú’s summit, there are many craters. One of these is the Diego de la Haya, a green crater lake.

6.   Ecolodge living

Choosing accommodation in Costa Rica is another way to emphasize the desire to experience ecotourism. There are many ecolodges across the country with something to offer everyone.  Ecolodges are designed for comfort with the least possible impact on the environment.

Hotel Belmar offers its guests sweeping views of the cloud forest. It is a Swiss-style chalet establishment. The nearby Curi-Cancha Reserve has many hiking trails. The area is extremely biodiverse. At night, the frogs and insects create a symphonic harmony for the visitor’s enjoyment. Birdwatchers favor the reserve which has several rare species living there.

Visitors cannot reach the Rara Avis Rainforest Lodge and Reserve in regular motor vehicles. Guests must take a three-hour tractor drive to reach their destination. The lodge borders on the Braulio Carrillo National Park where patience will reward the visitor with sightings of jaguars and tapirs.

7.   Take a load off at the spa

There are those skeptics who can’t draw the line between spa treatments and ecotourism. Costa Rica makes it perfectly clear that the two can and do go hand-in-hand.

The Tabacón Hot Springs is home to one of Costa Rica’s best spas. The nearby Arenal Volcano heats the thermal springs. The streams of hot water flow around the area, with one leading to a picturesque waterfall. Sitting under it will allow for a powerful neck massage guaranteed to alleviate any muscle tension. Local, indigenous resources are used to make spa products.

Another of Costa Rica’s best spas is the Onda Spa at the Andaz Papagayo Resort. The spa’s nine rooms are situated in the forest and the sounds of nature add to the relaxing experience.

8.   Go coastal

The marine areas of Costa Rica offer as much biodiversity as the cloud forests and rainforests. Many tourists take advantage of the country’s whale-watching seasons which take place from mid-July to late October and mid-December to late February. All whale-watching activities are undertaken under strict safety regulations with a minimal impact on the environment and the graceful giants which inhabit it.

Off the coast of the renowned Osa Peninsula lies Cañéo Island. Since, 1978, the island has been a nature preservation area. Coral reefs surround the island, making it an ideal destination for scuba diving fanatics.

The Tortuguero National Park, situated along the Caribbean coast, is home to several species of turtles, and they lay their eggs on the park’s beaches. Green, Hawksbill, Leatherback, and Loggerhead turtles lay their eggs. Night tours allow the visitor to experience the magic of these intriguing creatures.

Costa Rica has strict ecotourism regulations when it comes to its beaches. Visitors may not pick up shells from the beaches. Instead, they should visit local markets to buy souvenirs.

9.   Travel in style, indulge in the cuisine and give something back

While the international flight to reach Costa Rica may not be carbon neutral, visitors are encouraged to pay for a carbon offset. Once on the island, the majority of travel is carbon-neutral. The domestic airline planes and rental cars are carbon-neutral. Public transport is the same.

There are many eateries in Costa Rica that allow the tourist to sample the local cuisine. The Latin-influenced traditional dishes include Casado and Gallo Pinto. San José’s Mercado Central is the place to be when it comes to Costa Rican food. There are 200 vendors selling their delectable wares there.

Many wildlife sanctuaries and centers appreciate the help of volunteers. Taking an afternoon out of a busy vacation to help the animals of Costa Rica is a rewarding experience. It is also a way of showing appreciation for the ecotourism efforts of the country.

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