Bordered by Nicaragua, Panama, and Ecuador, Costa Rica has been named one of the greenest countries in the world. Its year-round tropical climate, rich soil, and an annual rainfall of over five meters make it ideal for growing many crops, including coffee. With numerous natural parks, it's apparent that this Central American nation is an ecologically-conscious country that takes conservation seriously. For travelers who are looking for a temperate climate with countless options for entertainment, Costa Rica is a viable vacation option.
Located within the Arenal Conservation that protects 16 reserves, Arenal Volcano National Park is home to two volcanoes: Arenal, which stands at 5,350 feet, and Chato, 3,750 feet. Chato has been inactive for more than three millennia and has a picturesque lagoon in its crater. Arenal, however, is consistently active with lava and pyroclastic flows. Its lake supplies a portion of Costa Rica's hydroelectric energy. In addition to that, visitors can hike, raft and explore the history of the park while checking out its wildlife.
Low hanging clouds hover and provide trees and plants with much-needed sustenance. Monteverde Cloud Forest is a biodiverse ecosystem that was established in 1972. It covers over 35,000 acres with has over 1,600 animals living inside, including jaguars, ocelots, and quetzals. There are over eight miles of trails for visitors to explore alone or with a guide.
With its climate, high altitudes, and volcanic soil, Costa Rican coffee, called el grano de oro, the golden grain, has become the destination's main crop. There are several plantations where visitors can not only experience the history but can also participate in the harvesting process. Hacienda Espíritu Santo plantation is located in Naranjo right outside the country's capital, San Jose. Their plantation is over 600 acres, and visitors get a detailed education on the process of harvesting and roasting. At Finca Rosa Blanca, those who visit from October to January can participate in picking and learning how experts test and rate gourmet coffee.
Located in the Central Valley region, Poás Volcano is an active demonstration of geothermal power. Its crater has a rain-fed lake that's surrounded by the steam that rises from water seeping through cracks in the hot rock. When the pressure is just right, 820-foot geysers stream up, reminding visitors why it's one of the world's largest active craters.
Cahuita National Park was established in 1970 and, unfortunately, a 1991 earthquake devastated a large part of its coral. The run-off from farming into the waters has also left the ecosystem fragile. Despite this, visitors can still explore underwater wildlife with guided tours of the coral reefs and the more than 500 species of fish. Cahuita's forests are home to some diverse animals, including herons, toucans, and pacas.
Costa Rica sits between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea and has more than 20 rivers running through it, so there are plenty of kayaking opportunities. The Damas Island Estuary in Manuel Antonio National Park allows visitors to navigate narrow channels while keeping an eye out for monkeys, pumas and thousands of flocking birds. The Osa Peninsula provides opportunities for kayakers to view dolphins, manatees, and other marine creatures while admiring the tangled jungle mangroves. Anyone looking for more challenging outings can do multi-day tours, such as Curu Sea Kayaking, which includes camping on Playa Quesera.
While Costa Rica has tons of natural beauty and conservation, there are times when vacationing is more than sand and swimming. Microbreweries in Costa Rica that incorporate tropical flavors, such a mango, and cacao, attract many tourists. The Costa Rica Craft Brewing Company was one of the first legal microbreweries. Now, there are the Lake Arenal Brewery, Monteverde Beer House and others that have added their own tastes to the mix. Taking a tour of the different breweries and exploring the variety of different flavors is a culture trip on its own.
Whale-watchers will appreciate Marino Ballena National Park. Established in 1990, the park covers over 12,000 acres of beaches, rainforest, estuaries, mangroves, and marine life. It's named after Humpback Whales who migrate there to mate between December and April. There is also another set of whales that come from July to November. Vacationers can enjoy white and golden sand beaches as well as sunbathing marine iguanas. Ballena island is also the centerpiece of the largest coral reef on Central America's Pacific Coast, so it's great for snorkeling at low tide.
Just outside of Cartago is the Lankester Botanical Gardens. It was founded in 1917 by Charles Lankester West. His family later donated the plants and lands to the University of Costa Rica for research and the public. Those who love flowers will appreciate that nearly 3,000 species are blooming year-round. Across 26 acres, visitors can expect to see epiphytic orchids, bromeliads, heliconias and the wildlife they attract.
Puerto Viejo de Talamanca in Limón Province is the place for beach lovers and vactationers who enjoy a vibrant nightlife. It's also become a top location for surfers from around the world to ride the Salsa Brava waves. In addition to being a lively shopping location, it's also got a unique mix of Caribbean and indigenous cultures. From Puerto Viejo, visitors can check out Cahuita National Park, Manzanillo Wildlife Refuge and other national attractions.
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