The Rainforest of Costa Rica
Let me introduce you to one of my favorite tropical destinations so far—Costa Rica. This tiny country in Central America is sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, with the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Caribbean Sea on the other. But don’t let its small size fool you – Costa Rica is a true gem of biodiversity. With more than a quarter of its land area protected by national parks and reserves, this place is an eco-tourism paradise. Over 500,000 species call Costa Rica home, so be sure to pack your binoculars and bug spray!
Costa Rica boasts over 1,200 miles of stunning beaches along the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Whether you’re a surfer or a sunbather, there’s a beach for everyone. And if you’re feeling adventurous, check out the country’s active volcanoes, Arenal and Poas. These fiery mountains are popular tourist attractions and definitely worth a visit.
Did you know that Costa Rica is the only country in the world without an army? Instead, they invest in education and environmental protection – pretty cool, right? The country’s tropical climate means that it’s warm and sunny year-round, with a rainy season from May to November and a dry season from December to April. So, pack your swimsuit, your hiking shoes, and your sense of adventure – Costa Rica is waiting for you!
My husband and I took my mom to Costa Rica this past January for her birthday and we already cannot wait to go back. The highlight of the trip was hands-down visiting the rainforest. We only did a single-day excursion, but if we had to do it over, we would have gone back for multiple days.
After much research on Trip Advisor, we chose an all-day tour with Native’s Way (booked through Viator), and it was an absolute blast. The thing to this specific tour is at the end of this post. Our guide was like a walking encyclopedia of rainforest knowledge – seriously, we were blown away.
We saw monkeys swinging from tree to tree, and the lush plants on the forest floor were like something out of a movie. It was a day we’ll never forget – we were surrounded by so much natural beauty that it was hard to keep track of it all.
We had an unforgettable experience on our rainforest tour thanks to Santos, the incredible naturalist guide. We were able to ask as many questions as we wanted and our guide was happy to tailor the tour to our interests. It felt like we were getting a personalized rainforest education. He completed his naturalist guide training and had to undergo over 300 hours of field experience with a biologist. We were all so impressed that we wanted to take him home with us and make him our personal rainforest guide for life. He knew more about the flora and fauna of the rainforest than the plants themselves! He was able to identify every plant and animal we came across and shared fascinating insights about the rainforest’s ecology and conservation efforts. The scenery was breathtaking, but it was our guide’s infectious sense of humor that really made the tour memorable. Whether he was regaling us with tales of his own misadventures or cracking clever one-liners, he had us all in stitches.
When it comes to getting around Costa Rica, we figured out the best way was a sightseeing cruise down their section of the Pan-American Highway – and boy did time fly. We cruised down a section of the Pan-American Highway, which starts in Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in the United States and treks all the way to Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego in Argentina, at the southern tip of South America. Let’s just say, we saw more of Costa Rica than a sloth sees in a lifetime. Santos kept us entertained with his jokes and stories. As we wound our way through the lush, green hills of Costa Rica Santos pointed out everything from tropical fruit stands to exotic wildlife, and we found ourselves laughing along with his jokes and stories.
We started our day trip to Llanos de Cortes Waterfall. The waterfall is located in the province of Guanacaste, just a short drive from Liberia, and is a popular spot for tourists and locals alike. As you approach the waterfall, you’ll hear the sound of rushing water getting louder and louder. And then, suddenly, you’ll emerge from the forest to be greeted by the breathtaking sight of Llanos de Cortes Waterfall. The waterfall is a beautiful curtain of water cascading down from a height of about 12 meters (40 feet) into a large, turquoise pool below. It was like a scene from a movie, except there were no handsome actors, only us sweaty and out-of-breath tourists.
While we were there, Santos pointed out all sorts of fascinating things, like the best spots to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes, and how to identify the difference between a poisonous snake and a harmless one. (Not that it matters, because either way, I’m running in the other direction!) That didn’t stop us from enjoying the refreshing pool at the base of the waterfall. The water was so cool, it was like swimming in a giant ice bucket.
After we trudged back to our van, we were off to Tenorio Volcano National Park. It’s like a magical kingdom straight out of a fairytale, except instead of a castle, you’ve got a giant, steaming volcano as the centerpiece. And instead of knights in shining armor, you’ve got adventurous hikers with backpacks and walking sticks. We didn’t get to make it all the way to Tenorio Volcano this time, but it is absolutely on the bucket list for next time! The park’s entrance is the starting point for a moderately challenging hike that takes you through the lush rainforest. You’ll traverse the rainforest along the mesmerizing Celeste River, and to the mystical Rio Celeste, where clear water turns into a brilliant shade of turquoise. It’s like someone spilled a giant bottle of blue Kool-Aid into the river! This magical transformation is all thanks to the volcanic minerals in the area. After all that hiking, you can cool off by taking a dip in the refreshing blue waters of the river, just outside the park. Sadly, there is no swimming within the National Park itself.
By the time we finished our hike, we were starving. We were like a pack of wild animals ready to pounce on any food that came our way. The thought of lunch was the only thing that kept us going during that hike. We were able to enjoy some superbly authentic Costa Rican cuisine called chifrijo.
Chifrijo is a popular Costa Rican dish that is a staple in many local restaurants and food stands. It is a hearty and flavorful dish that is perfect for satisfying hunger after a long hike or adventure. The dish typically consists of a bed of rice topped with beans, chicharrones (fried pork), diced tomatoes, and avocado. A splash of Lizano sauce, a Costa Rican condiment made from vegetables and spices, is often added to give the dish a tangy and slightly sweet flavor.
The dish is believed to have originated in the town of San Jose in the 1990s and has since become a beloved dish throughout the country. It is often served with tortilla chips on the side for scooping up the delicious mix of ingredients. Chifrijo is a great representation of Costa Rican cuisine, which is known for its use of fresh and simple ingredients. It is a filling and satisfying meal that is perfect for a quick lunch or dinner on the go. Trying chifrijo is a must for anyone visiting Costa Rica who wants to experience authentic local cuisine. It was our best meal of the trip.
After lunch, we made our last leg of the day trip to Finca Verde, a sloth and frog sanctuary located in the town of La Fortuna. The sanctuary is dedicated to the conservation of sloths and frogs, two of Costa Rica’s most fascinating and unique species. It is situated on a beautiful property that spans over 80 acres of primary and secondary rainforest. We took a guided tour of the sanctuary to learn about the sloths and frogs that live there and the conservation efforts that are being made to protect them.
One of the highlights of a visit to Finca Verde is the opportunity to see sloths up close. These slow-moving creatures spend most of their time sleeping in trees, but the sanctuary provides a safe and comfortable environment for them to thrive. The sanctuary is also home to a wide variety of frog species, including the iconic red-eyed tree frog. Visitors can learn about the different species of frogs that live in the area and their unique behaviors and characteristics.
After a long day of hiking, exploring, swimming, and driving we were exhausted, but grateful for being able to see such beautify all day long. We got to ask all the questions we wanted, and Santos was able to tailor the tour to our interests. It was like having our own personal rainforest professor. We may have even learned more than we did in all of high school combined. I could go on for pages and pages about Costa Rica (and I probably will eventually), but for now, I just had to share this tropical paradise rainforest adventure. If you find yourself in Costa Rica, booking a privately guided tour with Native’s Way was the way to go.
Adventure Awaits! Wander on!