It’s a challenging task to come up with a list of just 5 awesome ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica. Why? Because there are dozens of equally different and amazing places to choose from!
Costa Rica has been the poster child for ecotourism since the early 90s and is the key to its exponential economic development. While still a developing nation, Costa Rica’s standard of living is much higher than the surrounding areas and its close proximity to the United States makes it the perfect destination for an eco-getaway. Significantly, tourist numbers are continuing to increase rapidly – exceeding two million visitors in 2012 and continuing to rise annually. To put that in context, numbers have more than doubled in the last decade! For the most part, Costa Rica done well to attain sustainable development and protect its unspoiled landscapes from the dangers of purposefully destructive agricultural practices.
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, plenty for that matter. Misty cloud forests, black sand beaches, thick rain forests and rushing river rapids offer outdoor activities for active travelers and nature enthusiasts. Boasting a dazzling array of creatures, including monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, jaguars, sea turtles and poison dart frogs that live in Costa Rica’s many national parks.
The following list will detail 5 of our favourite ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica that truly deliver an experience centred around the heart of ecotourism – visiting fragile, pristine, and relatively undisturbed natural areas, intended as a low-impact and often small scale alternative to standard commercial tourism.
Awesome Ecotourism Attractions in Costa Rica
Manuel Antonio is one of the country’s most popular tourist destinations and arguably put Costa Rica on the map for International travellers looking for an eco-adventure. Offering a unique and stunning fusion of mountainous beauty and an active lifestyle. You’ll find hiking, rafting, canopying, kayaking, bird watching, sport fishing and even championship surf tournaments here – something for everyone!
It’s worth making the trip out to one of the area’s most well known beaches, Playa Espadilla – a plus being that it is one of the only beaches with lifeguards on duty. If you’re feeling bold enough, you could trek beyond the rocky headland at the far end of Playa Espadilla and get nude on one of Costa Rica’s most famous gay beaches, La Playita. If that doesn’t tickle your fancy, perhaps witnessing something truly beautiful by visiting the private rainforest and butterfly garden reserve, Fincas Naturales that breeds over three dozen species of butterfly.
Photo: Playa Espadilla
One of the things that make this area so special is the Manuel Antonio National Park. A small biological peninsula is that it can be found within an area dedicated to different productive and helpful activities such as agriculture, cattle and high tourism development. It is undoubtedly one of the country’s most scenic and breathtaking national parks. We had no qualms allowing it to take out the first spot on our list of ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica!
Monteverde, Costa Rica is a small town in Puntarenas, Costa Rica, located in the Cordillera de Tilaran. Monteverde is partly responsible for Costa Rica’s international fame as an ecotourism hot spot. A place where you can be inspired by the possibilities of organic farming and alternative energy sources. Despite its small size, it manages to bring in 250,000 tourists annually.
One of the main draws of the area is the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve which alone, brings in around 70,000 tourists annually. And it’s no wonder why – National Geographic recently described the Reserve “the jewel in the crown of cloud forest reserves”. This iconic cloud forest has an extremely high biodiversity consisting of over 2,500 plant species, 100 species of mammals, 400 bird species, 120 reptilian and amphibian species, and thousands of insects, has drawn scientists and tourists since. Certainly, a place to visit, discover and explore… again and again.
Photo: Monteverde Cloud Forest
Another drawcard is The University of Georgia Costa Rica (UGA). The University adds to Monteverde’s ecotourism efforts as it focuses on ecological and forestry research, as well as ecotourism via its on-campus lodging. It is responsible for various conservation and sustainability initiatives in the San Luis Valley, namely its Carbon Offset Program and its reforestation efforts throughout the Pájaro Campana Biological Corridor.
So we figure Monteverde deserves the number 2 spot on our list of awesome ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica, wouldn’t you agree?
Arenal, famous for the Arenal Volcano, may not have made the list if it weren’t for its drawcard’s fairly recent activity. Situated in Costa Rica’s fertile northern lowlands, Arenal was just another dormant volcano from about AD 1500 until 29 July 29, 1968, and then… BOOM. Huge explosions triggered lava flows that destroyed three villages and killed about 80 people and 45,000 cattle. Although it occasionally quietened down for a few weeks or even months, Arenal produced menacing ash columns, massive explosions, and streams of glowing molten rock almost daily from 1968 until it all quite abruptly ended in 2010. Until then it was Costa Rica’s most active volcano.
What was so great about this volcano? Much to the enjoyment of its visitors, Arenal spewed enormous amounts of lava, gas and ash on a regular basis. While the molten night views are gone for now this mighty mountain is still worthy of your time – its perfectly symmetrical shape makes it a sightseer’s dream.
Photo: Arenal Volcano
Despite the volcano’s current inactivity, travelers to Arenal can still expect and amazing time! As an awesome ecotourism location, the land boasts bountiful sights, sounds, activities— there are mountains to be hiked, lakes to be fished and rivers to be floated. As one of the country’s most scenic and accessible areas, it is a requisite stop on any tour of Costa Rica. In the shadow of Arenal, there’s something for everybody including luxurious hotels, romantic restaurants and Tabacón Hot Springs man’s recreation of the Garden of Eden.
The number 4 spot on the list of awesome ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica goes to the permanently chilled-out beach town of Dominical. Dominical’s charm is it’s unspoiled beaches, underdeveloped and largely untouched surrounding forests and abundance of nature and wildlife for all to witness and enjoy.
Photo: Dominical Beach
The slow pace of island life is as ever present as the gnarly surf and brazen sun. Whether you’re there to surf of any range of outdoor activities – Dominical will have you sorted!
On a recent trip, I was pleasantly surprised to see the lack of intrusion that construction and building development has had on the beaches. This leaves plenty of space for visitors to roam the coastline and enjoy the sights on offer.
It really is a small town that has stuck to its roots. Eco-touristic activities include treks to nearby waterfalls including the Nauyaca Waterfalls, canopy tours, horseback riding, deep sea fishing, sea kayaking, scuba diving and snorkeling. The beauty of Dominical is its close proximity to surrounding attractions, with easy access to Chirripó National Park (31 miles), Manuel Antonio (23 miles) and Golfito’s Corcovado National Park (95 miles).
While it’s certainly not the most famous of Costa Rica’s ecotourism destinations, we feel it deserves a spot on our list. This awesome yet small beach town offers what many small towns don’t, maintaining its raw authenticity and we at Blue Osa certainly hope it will continue to for many years to come!
Corcovado – Osa Peninsula
We’re proud to round out or top 5 ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica on our own turf – Corcovado National Park situated on the Osa Peninsula (and only a short 15-minute drive from Blue Osa!) Central America’s largest prehistoric rainforest – the Osa Peninsula is undoubtedly one of the most stunning and biologically diverse locations on earth. With few entry points, this jewel of Costa Rica remains relatively isolated, and receives fewer visitors than many other parts of the country. Miles of uninhabited beach and the vast Corcovado National Park make this southern tip one of Costa Rica’s most stunning regions. Friendly people, amazing flora and fauna, and active rain forests all contribute to the South Pacific experience.
The crown jewel of Costa Rica’s national park system, Corcovado National Park comprises a massive 103,290 acres of tropical rainforest. The largest of Costa Rica’s parks, it covers about a third of the Osa Peninsula and contains an impressive amount of its biodiversity. Corcovado Park represents an expansive and diverse population of flora and fauna, including 10% of the mammals found in the Americas.
Photo: Corcovado National Park
Corcovado is believed to have the largest concentration of macaws and virgin lowland rainforest in Central America and is one of the very few locations in Costa Rica that harbors the endangered squirrel monkey (the other most prominent being Manuel Antonio National Park).
So there it is – 5 of Costa Rica’s many ecotourism attractions that you simply must see to believe. If you’ve been to any of these places or are planning to go soon, we’d love to hear from you!
Have you experienced the awesome ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica? What are your favorite ecotourism attractions in Costa Rica? Share your experience with us in the comments below.
About the Author
Robbie Allison-Young is a drummer, writer and thrill seeker. It’s these passions that have seen him tour the world with his band, Atlantis Awaits, and more recently, trek to Costa Rica and volunteer as a writer at Blue Osa. His search is endless and destinations boundless.