Costa Rica is an outdoor adventurer’s dream with rivers, beaches, mountains, and tropical rain forest packed into a relatively small country of which over 27% is protected. It is such a perfect eco-friendly destination that it is almost a tourism cliche. After a three-week family vacation to CR however, I can vouch for it’s ever-growing appeal and offer some tips on how to take full advantage of this rich vacation spot.
There’s a reason Costa Rica is called “The Rich Coast” and the real appeal of this tiny, Central American nation is the miles and miles of beautiful beach. Add to that the ease of travel, variety of flora and fauna, and abundant accommodation and it’s easy to understand why Costa Rica is a favorite with gringos looking for adventure.
Costa Rica has the best year-round surf in the land, with the north coast and Caribbean side breaking in the dry season, and the south coast in the wet. Somewhere along the coast, you’ll find every kind of wave for every kind of surfer. Though the supply of uncrowded waves has been drastically reduced in recent years, there are still plenty of low-population lineups around.
Schools and camps at nearly every beach cater to surfers of all ages and abilities. Along the popular Guanacaste coast you’ll find Tamarindo’s Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, Samara Beach Surf School and Safari Surf School in Nosara.
The closest breaks to the capitol city of San Jose can be found near Jaco and Playa Hermosa. There, check out Vista Guapa Surf Camp, Del Mar Girls Surf Camp or Third World Surf Camp.
Along the south coast, Playa Dominical offers good surf and Pavones has a legendary left point break that can deliver rides almost 3/4 mile long on a good swell. Surf options here include Domincal Surf School and Venus Surf Adventures
Pretty Tough Tip: Many of these schools and camps offer all-girls sessions so inquire if, and when, these special sessions take place.
Ride into primary rainforest or along the beach, learn about exotic and medicinal plants, and swim at private beaches or a pristine pool fed by a waterfall. Horseback riding is popular all around the country but particulary in the Monte Verde Cloud Forest, around Lake Arenal and along the coast.
Near Manual Antonio Park, we rode with Los Tucanes Tours and enjoyed a three-hour ride along well-groomed trails deep into the mountainous rainforest. We forded numerous streams, spotted toucans overhead and finally arrived at a natural pool fed by the waterfalls of Quebrada Arroyo. Upon our return, we were treated to a typical Costa Rican meal at a newly constructed homestead topping off an exquisite day.
Pretty Tough Tip: If you’re an experienced rider, let the stable where you’ll be riding know well in advance so they can match you with an appropriate animal.
Costa Rica offers some of the finest whitewater rafting and kayaking rivers. These rivers plunge through spectacularly beautiful, largely unexplored tropical wilderness. Whether an expert or beginner, nature lover or thrill seeker, rafting enthusiast or active kayaker, there is an unforgettable experience awaiting you.
The Pacuare River’s 32 miles of Class III-IV whitewater weave through the densest section of Costa Rica’s rainforest making it one of the top five rafting rivers in the world for its scenery and rapids. Other rivers popular with paddlers include the Rio Sarapiqui, Rio Sevegre, and Rio Reventazón which curves eastward through the narrow country, rolling toward the Caribbean Sea.
We chose a trip down the Naranjo River near Manual Antonio. Normally a Class III / IV challenge, during the dry season the Naranjo is suitable for paddlers of all levels. The river drops from the mountains above Quepos, though a beautiful jungle gorge and takes you on a ride to sea level passing nearby farmlands and palm plantations. The guides were a lot of fun as they steered us through rapids with names like “La Pinata” and “Gringo Eater.”
For those looking for the most difficult and challenging rapids in the country, Rio Chirrip� is it. Flowing down from the second highest mountain in all of Central America, Rio Chirrip� is a difficult class five and runnable only at the height of the rainy season.
There are many reputable outfitters including Iguana Tours and Rio Tropicales.
With 635 miles of shoreline along the Pacific coast and 132 miles on the Caribbean, and both oceans fed by literally hundreds of rivers, Costa Rica offers unequaled opportunity to enjoy sea kayaking. There are also numerous estuary tours providing up close views of mangrove forests and wildlife. Most river outfitters also offer kayak tours.
Pretty Tough Tip: Watch out for crocs, especially in the estuaries.
Soccer (or futbol) is a passion for the Costa Rican people and the most popular sports pastime among youths and adults. Even towns of 200 people have a soccer field in the central plaza. During the season, you can catch the National Team (men’s and women’s) playing tournaments. Off season, just go to any beach and you’ll find a pick-up game. Ask if you can play and chances are you’ll make some new “amigos.”
The Lake Arenal area of Costa Rica is a paradise for windsurfers. The northwest corner of the lake has some of the most constant highwind windsurfing and the area is considered one of the top five windsurfing sites in the world . Warm water, predictably high winds, and moderate temperatures all add to the appeal. Check out the Tilawa Marina & Windsurf Center or TicoWind to take advantage of this once in a lifetime experience.
Pretty Tough Tip: The area is also great for mountain biking. The Rock River Lodge is a great base from which to explore.
More Pretty Tough Tips
- If you’re going to rent a car, try one of the local companies (e.g. Tricolor or Advantage). Rates can be much better than those offered by the big guys but be sure you get a written quote in advance. Also check their insurance requirements and check with your credit card company before traveling to see if you’re covered. When you return the car, get a signed statement verifying there was no damage.
- Paved roads are relatively well-maintained but there are many gravel and dirt roads filled with pot-holes that can make driving slow. Don’t be surprised if it takes two hours to drive 60 kms.
- Surf guest houses abound. Many offer packages with surf lessons, meals, etc. In addition to the many camps and schools marketed as surf vacations, check out these options as well.
- Sunscreen, sunscreen and more sunscreen. Don’t ruin your vacation with a sunburn or worse.
- Bug repellent, bug repellent and more bug repellent. Mosquitos are plentiful. For sand and black flies try Avon Skin So Soft.
(3109 – j. schonberger)