Walk on the Wild Side: Nature Tourism in Costa Rica

Corcovado National Park photo by Miguel Vieira.

The Rich Coast nation has long prided itself on its ecotourism, reflecting its determination to preserve the country’s abundant natural splendors,  Containing the world’s highest density of biodiversity, Costa Rica also has the highest percentage of protected areas. Just by stepping out of the city, you will be able to see long, green stretches of beautiful forests. Almost 25 per cent of the land is organized into protected national parks, where an extraordinary diversity of wildlife can be observed, photographed and generally appreciated.

One must-visit national park is Corcovado. Among its natural riches, the park contains  Costa Rica’s largest population of scarlet macaws (colorful South American parrots). In fact, a remarkable number of endangered species inhabit its space, including the  Resplendent Quetzal (a spectacular green bird featured on the flag of Guatemala) and Baird’s tapirs (large mammals known as “mountain cows” in Belize).


The rivers of the park are the natural habitat of  caimans, crocodiles and sometimes even bull sharks. Hikes on the beach are possible, but be careful to avoid the large crocodiles frequenting the estuaries in high tide. And keep an eye out for the park’s most elusive predator: a wild jaguar. (Don’t worry, jaguars are generally not inclined to eat humans.) While sightings are rare, they do make for a good story when they happen. Mike Boston of Osa Aventura tells a dramatic account of a jaguar encounter in the jungle.

Volcano hiking is also good for a few thrills, leaving you with awe-inspiring photographs and dinner stories of some of nature’s great geological spectacles. The three best-known volcanoes in Costa Rica are Irazu, Arenal and Tenorio. The very active Irazu is located in the Central Highlands and is known for unexpectedly erupting on the day of President John F. Kennedy’s state visit. About 60 km east of San Jose and 39 km north of Cartago, the volcano craters are located in a national park that covers more than 2,300 hectares of protected cloud forests.


The Tenorio and Arenal Volcano National Parks are located northwest of San Jose. The Tenorio  park contains the Rio Celeste, a fast-current river with waterfalls and hot springs. At Arenal you can often see live lava streams at night, allowing for great pictures of bright red burning strips flowing down the volcano sides. Have a gander at this blog post by Freya Renders,  at Holiday Nomad, chronicling her trip to Arenal. Both volcanoes are located in designated conservation areas, so you can expect to observe great biodiversity along the hike.

With many of these ecotourism destinations scattered around the country, it makes sense to have a base camp, where you can come back and charge your batteries for your next day’s adventure.

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