Ecotourism: Costa Rica

Costa Rica only takes up .03 percent of the Earth’s surface, but it possesses an astonishing four percent of the world’s biodiversity. Roughly the size of West Virginia with a mountainous spine that includes four major mountain ranges, Costa Rica has a breathtaking variety of ecotourism and adventure travel experiences. It is bordered by Nicaragua on the north, the Pacific Ocean on the west, the Caribbean Sea on the east and Panama on the southeast.


Plan Your Trip. This seven-day guide lists details on lodging, restaurants, sports & recreation and sights described in Costa Rica: Nature’s Highs.

Use the websites, phone numbers and information to plan your trip. The plan covers a night in San Jose, two nights in the coastal province of Guanacaste, two nights in Turrialba, one night at a rafting camp on the Picuare River, and one night at an airport hotel. Pack for all kinds of weather.

Learn More. Visit the Costa Rica tourism for listings on recreation, lodging, restaurants, and sights for Costa Rica. The national currency is the colon, but U.S. dollars are accepted throughout the country as are credit cards. Gratuities are included at restaurants and taxi drivers do not expect gratuities because they negotiate their fares prior to departure.

Average temperatures range from 85 degrees fahrenheit in the lowlands to 75 degrees in the mountains.The dry season is from December to April and the rainy season from May to November when the mornings are warm and sunny mornings and the afternoons cool and moist.

The national dish of rice and beans (gallo pinto) is often served with sea bass (corvina), hearts of palm and ceviche. Fruit is abundant: look for passionfruit (granadillas), starfruit (carambola); guava (guayaba) and pineapple and papayas.

DAY 1  Juan Santamaria International Airport. San José, Costa Rica.

Fly from your gateway to Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO) San José.

Air Canada, American Airlines, United, Jet Blue are the major airlines that fly from North America to Costa Rica. United has the best connections from North American gateways. I flew on American from San Francisco to Dallas, Texas (DFW), a 3.5-hour flight. Then took a 4-hour flight to San José, Costa Rica.

Getting There
Air Canada
888.247.2262 option 4
Jet Blue 
Check into Hotel Sleep Inn for one night.

This hotel has everything you want after a long flight; clean, comfortable rooms. When you wake up, refreshed, you’ll be glad it’s only a few blocks to the central pedestrian walkway. Breakfast is included and the lobby has free internet.

Hotel Sleep Inn
Avenida 3. San José.
+(506) 2521-6500 local


DAY 2  San José. Puntarenas. North Guanacaste.


Visit the Central Market

After breakfast, have the desk clerk pencil in the route on a map. easy walking distance to the central pedestrian walkway. Browse the souvenir stalls and farmer’s market. A popular morning beverage in the cuisine of Costa Rica is the agua dulce, this is a warm drink that is made from melted sugar cane and served with either milk, lemon or plain. It is a unique delight.

Central Market (Mercado Central)
Bordered by Central Avenue, 1, 6 and 8.
Drive to Guanacaste in northwest Costa Rica. Have lunch at Restaurante Leda.

Rent a four-wheel drive. Leave San Jose and head north then west on the Pan American highway.

Stop for a late lunch at Restaurante Leda on the Gulf of Nicoya

On the 165-mile drive, you will probably be hungry when you arrive at the Gulf of Nicoya. The trip is more than half-way over. The fish at the seafood market is served in the restaurant. The whole fish is priced according to weight. We were handed the English menu and went with the recommendations of one of the Rodriquez brothers who own the restaurant. The fish ceviche, clams in garlic sauce and grilled fish was moist with a fresh clean taste. We shared each dish and watched the tide roll out of the estuary. A man and his children walked onto the mud flats with buckets to dig for clams.

Leda restaurant and seafood market
Mata Limón, Puerto Caldera, Puntarenas
Check into Hotel Hacienda Guachipelín for two nights 

This cattle and horse ranch in Rincón de la Vieja National Park is 13.5 miles northeast of Liberia. It is another 8 miles on a dirt road to the village of Curubande, then a half mile to the hacienda’s gate. We arrived at the hotel reception our nerves frayed from the washboard road. Ask for a room with a view of the volcano. The rooms are in long ranch-style buildings with hammocks tied to porch posts. All meals are in an open-air pavilion, close to the sounds of nature and the river rushing through the canyon.

Hotel Hacienda Guachipelín
888.730.3840 toll free from North America
506.2666.8075 hotel Reception


DAY 3  Rincón de la Vieja National Park


Have breakfast in the open-air pavilion. Take the canopy tour.

The Canyon Canopy Tour is the main attraction. zip lines. Rappeling, Rock Climbing, zip lining through the canopy, Tarzan Swings, Via Ferrata, (may be when you hang upside down). Hanging Bridges, all set in the majestic canyon cut by the Blanco River over millions of years. Tours have been approved by the ICT tourism institute since 2004.

Sports & Recreation
Canyon Tour
Go tubing on the Rio Negro

The Rio Negro has class III and IV rapids. At the end of the tour there is a changing room. you have to pack a set of dry clothes and shoes.

Sports & Recreation
Rio Negro Tubing


Spend a few hours wallowing in the mud at Simbiosis Spa.

As part of the Adventure pass, you can use the thermal volcanic mud water pools. It’s fun to paint yourself with natural mud from a clay pot then wash off in the thermal pools. If you decide to get a massage, Simbiosis Spa uses natural essential oils of plants, roots and flowers in the Swedish massage.

Simbiosis Spa

DAY 4  Rincón de la Vieja National Park. Turrialba.


Ride with the Sabaneros, then hike to a waterfall.

On this tour, you ride beautiful horses on a scenic trail under the watchful eyes of Costa Rican cowboys. The hike leads through a jungle canyon to a 82-foot-high waterfall that drops into an emerald green pool. Wear your bathing suit and bring a towel. You’ll want to dive in.

Sports & Recreation
Horseback Ride/waterfall tour


Check out and drive to Turrialba. Have an early dinner at La Casita del Café.

Under the broad canopy of the Guanacaste trees, roadside vendors sell purple passion fruit (granadillas). You can crack it open with your teeth and suck the pulp off the seeds. The taste is a medley of lemon, guava and pineapple. Since this is a 160-mile trip, here is a good place to stop for dinner.

La Casita del Café
Route 3, Atenas


Check into Espino Blanco Lodge for two nights.

Owned by Wagelia Corp, this ecolodge is in a forest reserve five miles north of Turrialba. The road winds up to 3,600 feet above sea level. The cabins are on raised stilts in the forest and spaced apart for privacy.

Espino Blanco Lodge
506.2556.0616 or 8330.2357


DAY 5  Espino Blanco Biological Reserve. Turrialba.


Hike in the Espino Blanco biological reserve.

The dining pavilion is one of the most magical places you’ll ever eat breakfast. The guides from Explornatura will meet you there for the hike through the reserve. They explain the life in the rainforest. The trees are covered with a rich, vibrant coat of lichen, mosses and fungi. Our guide identified birds from their song and discovered a red-eyed tree frog on a bromeliad leaf.

Sports & Recreation
Espino Blanco Biological Reserve Tour 
Take a canyoning tour.

Canyoning is rappelling down waterfalls. Just what you’ve always wanted: total contact with nature. It does take a certain amount of fitness but if you follow the safety instructions, you’ll make it down in one piece. You wade through the river from one waterfall to the next.

Sports & Recreation
Canyoning Tour Espino Blanco Biological Reserve
866.571-2443 toll free in U.S. and Canada
Have dinner at a mountainside lodge.

Try to arrive before dark. The open dining room allows for views of the Talamanca Mountain Range and the gardens where orchids bloom year-round. The Garcia Lopez family expanded the large farmhouse and decorated the dining room with artifacts from ranching days and historic photographs of downtown Turrialba in the 1930s. The menu has innovative Costa Rican meals: meat with vegetables, yuca or plantains, and stuffed corn tortillas filled with meat or cheese.

Turrialtico Restaurant
+(506) 2538-1111


DAY 6  Pacuare River

Go white water rafting on the Pacuare River. 

The Pacuare river tumbles down from the Talamanca mountains and empties into the Caribbbean. It is ranked as one of the best ten rivers in the world to enjoy rafting. The two-day rafting trip takes you into the heart of virgin jungle and through steep, forested canyons. Explornatura has top of the line equipment and maintains its own rafting camp on a ridge above the river. The tents have comfortable mattresses, functional bathrooms.

Sports & Recreation
Pacuare River Rafting
866.571.2443 U.S. toll free


DAY 7  Pacuare River. Alajuela

Visit Nairi Aguari village. Raft the rest of the 14-miles section of the river. Check into the Holiday Inn Express.

After breakfast on the second morning, you hike into the rainforest to the Nairi Aguari village of the Cabecar tribe and meet the community. Paddle the rest of river for a total of 14 miles. You can shower and change in changing room at the end of the tour.

Sports & Recreation
Pacuare River Rafting (Overnight)
866.571.2443 U.S. toll free 
Check into the Holiday Inn Express for one night.

Many visitors have early-morning departures, so pick a hotel next to Juan Santamaria International Airport. The rooms are small but clean. The Airport shuttle runs every 15 minutes, 24/7.

Holiday Inn Express
1000 Airport Boulevard


DAY 7  Juan Santamaria International Airport

Fly home.

At the airport, there is a departure fee. If you have time, browse in the souvenir shops. I found a beautiful handmade wooden bowl. It turned out to be a ten-hour travel day for us.


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