When I first considered booking a trip to Costa Rica, I imagined a beach vacation with an excursion to a rainforest. Like many first-timers, I didn’t grasp the complexity of Costa Rica’s rich geographical treasures.

Even though Costa Rica is slightly smaller than West Virginia, it has five mountain ranges, 800 miles of Caribbean and Pacific coastlines, six active volcanoes, 14 major rivers, and is home to a diverse assortment of fauna and flora. Yep, Costa Rica is a mecca for nature lovers—young and old. It’s also a destination filled with outdoor adventures. To avoid becoming overwhelmed by the overabundance of options, it’s best to plan ahead. Use the following information as a guide to your Costa Rica outdoor adventures.

First, locate the regions that you’re most interested in visiting and then choose your favorite adventures. Keep in mind that some activities may be available in multiple locations while others may be limited to just one region. Likewise, some wildlife and vegetation are only indigenous to certain ecosystems. Other things to consider are your ability to cope with bountiful rainfalls and excessive heat and humidity. Here’s a sampling of five outdoor adventures to get you started.

Poás Volcano National Park

Poas Volcano Park by Sandy Bornstein

Location: Central Valley in the Alajuela Province

I enjoyed this place because it had well-defined trails that led to two inactive craters. The forested walkway had numerous informative signs. We were lucky, because weather conditions cooperated the day we visited the volcano. We saw the 1,320-meter wide Principal Crater produce small geysers and lava eruptions and then walked a short distance to see the extinct crater, Laguna Botos that is filled with rainwater. The sites along the trail offer spectacular photo opportunities. The proceeds from the park’s gift shop fund conservation efforts.

The River Frio

Howler Monkey on the River Frio by Sandy Borstein

Howler Monkey on the River Frio by Sandy Borstein

Location: La Fortuna near the Arenal Volcano

During this relaxing river cruise, I got a taste of life along the river. The driver and our knowledgeable guide pointed out indigenous birds, reptiles, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, sloths, and caimans. We also stopped to take pictures at the Nicaragua border. If you’re interested in wildlife, be sure to add this to your list.

Horseback Riding

Horseback Riding in Costa Rica by Sandy Borstein

Horseback Riding in Costa Rica by Sandy Borstein

Location: Buena Vista Lodge in Guanacaste

One way to enjoy the geothermal activity and natural beauty of Rincon de La Vieja is to take a horseback ride to the warm springs and mud pools. While I braved the stiff winds that partially obscured my vision, the mellow horses pranced eagerly to their destination. After a brief indulgence at the spa, I took an unmarked trail to a waterfall.

Manuel Antonio National Park

Manuel Antonio State Park by Sandy Borstein

Manuel Antonio State Park by Sandy Borstein

Location: South of Quepos on the Pacific Ocean

Instead of sitting on the crowded beach, I hiked the Sendero Punta Cathedral Trail. I observed one of Mother Nature’s wonders— a tombolo— a place where sediment caused an island to join the coast. White-faced monkeys enthusiastically greeted us along this less traveled path that netted outstanding pictures.

Outrigger Canoeing


Location: Kayak Jaco at Playa Agujas, a protective cove along the Pacific Ocean coastline

As tiny waves rocked the canoe, I observed the steep cliffs and caves that lined the sandy beach of this protected cove. After an hour and a half of paddling, we were treated to a peaceful lunch on the beach.

While this list of places is limited, it provides a starting point for your Costa Rican nature adventure. Are there any places or attractions that you’d like to share? I’m looking forward to reading about your favorite Costa Rica activities in the comments section.

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About The Author

Sandy Bornstein lived as an expat in India. Her award-winning memoir, May This Be the Best Year of Your Life, highlights what she learned as the only American teacher at an international Bangalore school. After living abroad, Sandy continues to explore the world and write about her travels. You can follow Sandy's adventures at www.sandrabornstein.com.