Costa Rica, a “land bridge” between North and South America, features an incredible diversity of ecological zones from cloud forests, to mangrove swamps, rain forests, marshes, and coral reefs.
You can explore volcanoes, raft rivers, and hikes through the through rain forests to see scarlet macaws, parrots, and monkeys.
At Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (pictured, above), the winds create clouds that envelop the mountain peaks. That means you hike through mist-shrouded woods, lush with ferns, mosses, vines, and orchids dangling from tree limbs. The forest shelters more than 400 species of birds and such exotic wildlife as jaguars, ocelots, and quetzals, although these are rarely encountered. Book a guide ahead of time to get the most out of your visit and to take you beyond basic areas. For added thrills, you can also glide through lush tree canopy on zip lines and walk across bridges suspended in the forest.
San José, Costa Rica’s capital, is within an easy day trip of two volcanoes. The minerals in one of Irazu’s two craters make the lake appear green or even red. The drive to Poas offer scenic valley views of coffee plantations whose dark green bushy fields are outlined by willowy palms. Poas’ wide crater steams and bubbles with sulfurous waters.
Arenal, the country’s most active volcano, still erupts. The red hot lava tubes snaking down the slopes look the most impressive at night, but clouds frequently enshroud the slopes. Even if you miss the fiery show, during the day you can bike on the gravel and dirt roads that ring the volcano and then soak in the region’s soothing mineral springs.
The swift-moving Pacuare River is designated one of the top whitewater runs in the world for its combination of easy access, cascading rapids, and wilderness scenery. You paddle past tall ceiba trees, swirl by waterfalls and boulders.
Although often crowded, Manuel Antonio National Park (pictured, above) is worth a visit for its wildlife and beautiful beaches. Troops of white-throated capuchin monkeys swing from tree branch to tree branch and sloths (difficult to spot) nestle on tree limbs. There’s good snorkeling off Playa Manuel Antonio, one of the stretches of sand.
Beach Resort: Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
This resort draws deep pocketed eco-adventurers who want five-star service in the midst of a tropical dry forest where howler monkeys still troop through the tamarind trees and Ridley turtles still lumber from the surf to lay their eggs in the sand.
With two beaches, a spa, pools, a golf course, and an activities desk that arranges river float trips, canopy zip line outings, and hikes through the volcano national park, there’s much to do. Plus, the resort offers a complimentary Kids For All Seasons program for ages 4-12.