For nature lovers, Costa Rica is (rightly so) a paradise. The country is known for its biodiversity and includes twelve different vegetation zones, including mangrove and wetlands, rain forest, cloud forest and dry forest as well as the páramo, an alpine plateau at over 3,000 meters altitude. With a land area that is over a quarter under nature protection and an occurrence of around 5% of all known species, Costa Rica is one of the most species-rich countries on earth. In addition, one tenth of all bird species live here.
The country owes this abundance of species to its location at the transition between two continents. On the coasts and estuaries you will find brackish water areas where mangroves thrive. These plants offer numerous animal species an ideal habitat – even if they don’t look particularly attractive. Crocodiles, numerous birds, reptiles and amphibians as well as small mammals can be found here. Numerous birds, crocodiles, monkeys and many other animals live in the wetlands of Costa Rica. During the rainy season, the wetlands are regularly flooded, but in the dry season they represent huge tidal flats. The most complex ecosystem on earth is the rainforest. Over 50 percent of all species known worldwide live in the rainforest.
There are 13 types of rainforest, including the classic, the tropical lowland rainforest. The tropical lowland rainforest consists of several floors. Only a small percentage of the sun, about 10 percent, reaches the jungle floor. For this reason only frugal plants live here, this floor is also called the soil layer. The next floor, the so-called undergrowth, is inhabited by low and young trees. In the middle layer you will find medium-high trees of five to 20 meters. The upper floor is characterized by gigantic trees that reach 20 to 40 m in height and unfold huge leaf crowns. These form a dense green roof, from which isolated jungle giants, so-called “overhangs”, protrude. These gigantic trees can reach heights of 60 meters and more. The real lowland rainforest can best be admired in the region around the Golfo Dulce.
In addition to the lowland rainforest, there are also mountain and cloud rainforests. Apart from that, there are still dry forests in northern Costa Rica. Here the species population is significantly lower, the trees are usually no higher than 15 meters. Dry forests consist of three tiers, the ground consisting of shrubbery and grass, the lower tier consisting of small trees and shrubs and the upper tier with large, open canopy. As already mentioned, the fauna of Costa Rica is very rich in species. Most animal species live in the tropical rainforest: monkeys, birds, insects, reptiles and amphibians – but also large and small mammals.
Costa Rica offers an incredibly diverse program for those looking for sports and relaxation alike. However, if you expect a raked, white sandy beach a la Maldives, you will be disappointed, here you will find mostly natural dream beaches that are suitable for all kinds of water activities. You can swim equally on the Caribbean or Pacific side, the water is actually always pleasantly warm. There are dangerous currents in some places, so please be sure to find out where it is safe to swim.
Surfing is also possible almost everywhere – best on the Pacific coast (popular in the north: Malpaís/Santa Teresa, Jacó, Tamarindo, Hermosa, in the south: Dominical, but there are also very good spots south of Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean side. Recommended for windsurfers Lake Arenal, but it is not suitable for beginners. Sailing and motor boating? No problem, as well as deep sea fishing. For deep sea fishing, the Pacific side is better suited, and here especially the Bay of Nicoya and the Golfo Dulce. The Golfo Dulce is relatively deep , here you can find a lot of deep sea fish like blue marlin, sailfish etc. Apart from that there are many dolphins and the big, harmless whale sharks.
Costa Rica is not the great diving paradise. On the other hand, there are some good diving and snorkeling spots on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. However, two world-class dive sites should not go unmentioned: Isla del Coco (Coconut Island), which is almost 500 kilometers away in the Pacific, and Isla del Cano off Drake Bay.
You can kayak almost anywhere with a coastal kayak. Again, the Golfo Dulce with its calm water and its fantastic nature is ideal. Of course you can also go kayaking on the numerous rivers in Costa Rica. River rafting is a little adventure. Here you can go on a more or less wild river in a rubber dinghy, which is also suitable for beginners.
Hiking and mountaineering can be found anywhere in Costa Rica. On the one hand there are the various mountains and volcanoes, on the other hand you have the choice between savannas in the northwest, cloud forests in Monteverde, tropical rainforests on the Caribbean side and the gigantic lowland rainforest in the Golfo Dulce region. Over a quarter of the small country is national parks and protected areas. Rain, sun and mosquito protection are important, as well as calf-high, comfortable hiking shoes and, if possible, binoculars. The highest mountain in Costa Rica is Cerro Chirripó, a lesser-known peak in southern Costa Rica is Cerro Cabécar.
Horseback riding is also available throughout the country, with or without a guide. Tennis and golf are not as common, unlike canopy. With the canopy you float on a steel cable between the treetops of the rain or cloud forest – it is doubtful whether you can still enjoy the flora and fauna there – because of too much marketing. Cycling is widespread in Costa Rica, and you can rent bikes in many places. But be careful: Avoid busy roads after dark – risk of accidents.
Tourists are not allowed to hunt in Costa Rica, weapons are not allowed to be imported. Fishing is possible with a license, which you can get from your lodge or tour operator.