Even if Belinda Carlisle was wrong and heaven isn’t really a place on Earth, Costa Rica still comes pretty damn close.
After almost single-handedly transforming Central America’s reputation as a tourist no-go zone, the West Virginia-sized lump of joy is now setting the standard for tourism around the world. As other countries scramble to present some semblance of sustainability, Costa Rica’s decades-old eco-blueprint allows it to enjoy 92% renewable energy and protected status for over a quarter of its land.
More than half of the country is blanketed by lush rainforests home to five hundred thousand species, while the unadulterated paradise of its coast is kissed by some of the finest surf on the planet. And although nature is at the heart of everything, Costa Ricans know how to party — with one of the highest life expectancies on the planet, they’ve got every reason to celebrate.
Welcome to Costa Rica.
5 things you can’t miss in Costa Rica
Put your head in the cloud (forest)
Costa Rica is best known for its abundance of rainforest, the most iconic area of which is the Monteverde Cloud Forest. A glance at the stunning ecosystem is worth the three-hour trip from San Jose alone, but there are a number of other adventurous ways to enjoy the forest.
The simplest, and maybe most immersive way, is to hike through the reserve. Designated paths have been created, including some dramatically placed hangings bridges and lookout points, which can be explored alone or with a guide. Grabbing someone to explain the rich diversity surrounding you can elevate the experience. Early morning trips are recommended.
On the other hand, night exploration opens a completely new avenue to the cloud forest. Again, a guide is likely to find you an array of nocturnal creatures — think two-toed sloths, armadillos, or even tarantulas. It may not be for the faint hearted, but it’ll be a night to remember.
For those seeking a little more adrenaline, strap into one of the many zipline courses on offer and fly through the canopy to see the forest from a completely different angle.
Grab some surf
Costa Rica is a world renowned surf spot, famed for its consistent, predictable wave patterns. This makes it the perfect place for a beginner to dip their toes in the water, although there are some things to know before you try getting tubular.
If you’re all an out beginner, grab some classes. Some of the beaches in Costa Rica are suited for new surfers thanks to their gentler waves, like Playa Santa Teresa and Playa Avellanas. Finding a local surf coach won’t be tough in these areas, but do some research and ask around to see what you should be paying. You won’t need to bring your own board. Some coaches will have rental included in their rates, and there are plenty of stores offering surf rentals at any beach known for the sport. There are even some surf coaching resorts.
The Pacific coast as a whole is better for surf, but there are still some areas on the Caribbean side where it’s possible. December through March is the best time for beginners thanks to the relatively sedate waves, but it will be busier. The rest of the year, weather can be temperamental, but good coaches or guides can help find sheltered places to learn, so don’t fret.
Embrace your adventurous side
Any trip to this spectacular country should be viewed as a chance to push your adventurous side to the limits.
Get down and dirty, face your claustrophobic fears, and explore the Venado Caves, a six million year old formation consisting of almost 2700m of underground tunnels, waterfalls, and ravines. You’re going to get wet and dirty, so dress appropriately.
Once you emerge, hike around the lava flows of Arenal National Park. While you can’t hike to the top of the volcano itself, several hikes in the park allow stunning views of conical wonder. Once you’re done, have a soak in the hot springs, or try your hand at white water rafting down the Balsa River.
Wander the capital
Though Costa Rica is known for its rich natural beauty, their capital is just as easy on the eyes. Enjoy the rich heritage you’ll find within museum walls to the roaring energy of their nightlife, all in San José.
Take a stroll through downtown to enjoy all the beautiful colonial-era architecture. There you might see extravagant buildings that could be anything from an elementary school to an opulent National Theater. A tour inside the theater is a can’t miss if you love intricate ceilings and opulent interior design.
After marveling at all the wonders outside, head inside to either the Jade Museum or the Gold Museum to see Pre-Columbian era artifacts. There you’ll find everything from gold alligators to five floors of intricately designed jade pieces.
Once you’ve had a full day of sightseeing, shoot back some guaro and hit the town. San José has a rich nightlife scene where you can party all night (seriously, until 6am) at spots like Club Vertigo or relax to some live music at El Observatorio. Though it’s also a movie theater and restaurant they have epic live music events that fill the dance floor.
Keep it traditional
What better way to enjoy the rich history and culture of Costa Rica than with dinner and a show?
Not only that, but the restaurant, which is a bit outside of San Jose in the mountains of Escazú, also offers one of the most stunning views in Costa Rica.
Get your fill on gallo pinto and enjoy the view.