Costa Rica has been on my travel wish list for years. In fact it was so high on the list that we’d considered moving to the country even though we’d never visited. What’s so special about Costa Rica? Read about this beautiful country and our reasons to visit Costa Rica and you’ll understand…
Costa Rica has almost 6% of the world’s biodiversity despite only occupying .03% of Earth’s landmass. In this country, roughly the size of Denmark (or West Virginia in the U.S.), there are 12 very different microclimates. And if this wasn’t enough to draw a nature lover like myself, Costa Rica is also known for its gorgeous beaches, outdoor activities, and very friendly people. But if you’re not yet convinced you should plan a holiday in Costa Rica, read on.
Why visit Costa Rica?
If you ask someone, “what is Costa Rica known for?” they will most likely answer its natural beauty and abundant wildlife. The country’s wildlife refuges support jaguars, tapirs, sloths, green and leatherback sea turtles, and four varieties of monkey. There are bats, insects, and lots of amphibian species. And almost 10% of the world’s bird species can be found in Costa Rica. But before we get into the amazing wildlife found on an ecotourism trip, let’s take a look at the other reasons to visit Costa Rica.
1. Costa Rica is a world leader in Sustainable Tourism.
Costa Rica has long been recognized as a leader in sustainability. It has made energy independence, quality of life, and the environment its priorities. The success of their work has made Costa Rica one of the top ecotourism destinations in the Americas. To ensure that increased tourism didn’t negatively affect the work done, the Costa Rica tourism board put together a sustainability certification program in 1997. This is a plus for both the country and the traveler to Costa Rica.
The Certification of Sustainable Tourism (CST) program encourages any businesses involved in tourism to plan best practices for the local communities, and the environment. Businesses – lodging and tour operators – are ranked with how well they meet the needs of sustainability. They receive rankings from 1 to 5 ‘leaves’ This is currently an optional program, so if you find a lodging that doesn’t display a badge, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a sustainable lodging or company.
When we organized our trip, we asked our Costa Rica tour coordinator (Absolute Experts Costa Rica) to choose sustainable lodging whenever possible. She booked us in the Hotel Belmar for our time in Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. It was a fabulous experience made better by knowing that it had won 5 leaves from the tourism board.
We’ve shared more about sustainability at Hotel Belmar on Instagram.
Another community-based program that encourages sustainability is the Blue Flag Ecological Award. A Blue Flag award is given to beach areas, and communities that have taken steps to improve, or maintain, their environment. Look for a Blue Flag when booking your Costa Rica destination.
And in 2021- Costa Rica wins the Earthshot Prize
In 2021 the very first Earthshot Prize was awarded to Costa Rica in recognition to the remarkable work the country has done to recover from deforestation. . In 1996 it became illegal to cut forest without approval and in 1997 they established the Payments for Environmental Services program which rewarded farmers for replanting and preserving forests. Since the 1990s when Costa Rica began prioritizing the environment, the forested areas have doubled in size. wildlife thrived, and the resultant ecotourism contributed to economic recovery and social support. These three factors – environment, economy, and social justice – are the definition of sustainability.
Taking inspiration from President John F. Kennedy’s Moonshot which united millions of people around an organising goal to put man on the moon and catalysed the development of new technology in the 1960s, The Earthshot Prize is centred around five ‘Earthshots’ – simple but ambitious goals for our planet which if achieved by 2030 will improve life for us all, for generations to come.
The Prize aims to turn the current pessimism surrounding environmental issues into optimism, by highlighting the ability of human ingenuity to bring about change, and inspiring collective action.earthshotprize.org
The country has made sustainability a priority and as a result, ecotourism is a large part of the economy. We think this is one of the most important reasons to visit Costa Rica.
2. Why travel to Costa Rica? There’s something for everyone!
Like many couples, we try to balance activities when we travel. I’d be happy spending all day on nature walks, but my husband can only take so many birds before he’s ready for a relaxing day on the beach, and an evening of live music. In some areas it’s tough to find this balance, but Costa Rica gave us so many choices!
You can get even more in touch with nature and yourself by joining a yoga retreat.
The resorts along the coast offer stunning views, beautiful pools, and many recreation options, including golf courses and opportunities for horseback riding. One resort we visited, Marriott Los Suenos, would be wonderful for a Costa Rica family vacation. In addition to the Pacific Ocean beach and beautifully designed pool, they offered a kid’s club, mini golf, and a children’s pool.
With 6 active volcanoes in Costa Rica, there are lots of opportunities for enjoying hot springs on your trip. Many of the lodges in the area of the Arenal Volcano have tapped into hot springs to create bathing opportunities for their guests. But for a really unique experience, try the natural hot springs in the area.
For those more adventurous (and younger) than us, there’s plenty of thrilling activities to enjoy. Try zip-lining through the rainforest, or whitewater rafting. Hike around the volcanoes, parasail, or learn to surf. Some of the world’s best surfing spots in Costa Rica, particularly in the central Pacific coast towns of Hermosa and Jaco. [visit Veggtravel’s 10 Day Costa Rica Itinerary for more adventurous ideas and a budget itinerary for Costa Rica]
3. Great Options for Family Trips to Costa Rica
We were accompanied on our trip by a 9-year-old and loved seeing the country through her eyes. The nature guides all included her in the discussions and adjusted the scopes so she could observe the wildlife.
Costa Rica has so much to recommend it for a family vacation. It’s a safe country with many things for the kids to enjoy. Learning about nature in an country that values its environment will (hopefully) lead children to prioritize sustainability in their lives and their future travel.
Travel tips for your Costa Rica family vacation.
- Take a night hike in the cloud forests.
- Take a float safari down a peaceful river or in the mangrove swamps along the coast (or white water raft with the older kids visiting Costa Rica)
- Visit the San José Mercado Central and enjoy lunch served on a banana leaf.
- Walk the hanging bridges in La Fortuna
- Watch (from a distance) as sea turtles hatch in Tortuguero National Park
- Visit a local school if they’re in session when you’re there
- Opt for one nature walk a day and chose one that’s well reviewed for kids. Some of the bird walks we did were great for us but would have left kids bored to tears.
- Stay at a family friendly resort for a few nights to give the whole family a chance to relax.
Whatever you chose, there’s so much in Costa Rica for kids to enjoy.
4. Costa Rica Ecotourism, a nature lover’s paradise
Finally… the natural beauty and wildlife of Costa Rica! Ecotourism is one of the top reasons to visit Costa Rica and it was definitely what drew us to the country.
When you begin to design your Costa Rica itinerary, research where the wildlife that interest your most live. Many of the most sought after animals , the jaguar and the tapir, can be found on the Osa peninsula in biological reserves around Corcovado National Park. But if you’re interested in sea turtles, go to the Caribbean side, to Tortuguera National Park. As this was our first visit to Costa Rica our itinerary included some of the big tourist destinations – the Arenal Volcano, the city of San José, and Monteverde Cloud Reserve- and a week on the central Pacific coast.
Photo Gallery: The Animals of Costa Rica
Sloths. Two species of sloth live in Costa Rica, the two-toed and the three-toed.
Monkeys. There are four types of monkeys in Costa Rica. The squirrel monkey (center below) can be found in Costa Rica only in the canopy layer of Manuel Antonio National Park.
Fun facts: Costa Rica supports an amazingly rich biodiversity. There are reported to be 240 mammal species in Costa Rica, with 109 of these bats! There are also 225 species of reptiles and over 2000 species of butterflies. Our grandsons at home had us hunting for the dangerous animals of Costa Rica, but fortunately for us we didn’t see a single snake!
Our Reasons to Visit Costa Rica: The Birds of Costa Rica
With over 900 species of birds living in Costa Rica, this is a birdwatcher’s dream destination. (FYI that’s 10% of the total number of bird species worldwide and as many as can be found in the entire continental US)
You don’t have to go far to see some lovely birds in La Fortuna! These birds were all photographed on the grounds of the Silencio del Campo. This lodge put out fruit feeders each morning right beside the dining area. What a treat to watch these birds while we drank our Costa Rican coffee.
And a few of our more unusual bird watching images.
From left: An emerald Toucanet seen on our night tour in Monteverde – the Common Potoo showing off its camoflage skills – (almost a sharp picture of) the extraordinarily beautiful Scarlet Macaw.
The Hummingbirds of Costa Rica
These birds deserve a category of their own. There are 50 known species of hummingbird in Costa Rica! They are like little jewels darting among the flowers, lovely to observe but difficult to photograph. We were able to capture a few pictures at the hummingbird feeders in Monteverde Cloud Forest reserve.
5. Pura Vida – the Costa Rican people
What can we say? The people of this country have figured out how to enjoy life. Is it that they’ve abolished their army and directed the funds toward quality of life for its residents? Is it the free health care and education? Or is it just that they live in this gorgeous part of the world? I don’t know, but when you’re with the people here you will also begin to relax and enjoy the Pura Vida.
Photo: bird caller extraordinaire and one of the best local guides for Arenal Volcano National Park, Giovanni Bogarin of La Fortuna!
A Quick Introduction to Costa Rica
Costa Rica is located on the Panama Isthmus of Central America with both Pacific and Caribbean coasts. The area has been inhabited since before 7000 BC. Today Costa Rica is a democratic republic with a president, two vice-presidents, and a 15 member cabinet.
More interesting facts about Costa Rica
- Costa Rica has been so successful in generating renewable energy that in 2019 99% of its energy came from renewable sources, and it earned $180 million from sales of its renewable energy to other nations.
- The Nicoya Peninsula is a ‘Blue Zone’, meaning its people often live active, healthy lives past 100 years old.
- Despite have some of the most colorful birds in the world, the clay-colored thrush is the national bird of Costa Rica
- Costa Rica is ranked as one of the happiest countries on Earth.
Travel Tips for Your Vacation in Costa Rica
For information on best times for travel, entry requirements, health testing, etc., I recommend you visit the official website of the Costa Rica Tourism bureau –Visit Costa Rica. But here are a few tips from our trip that might help you plan your trip.
The official currency of Costa Rica is the colón, but we found everyone preferred U.S. dollars. Bring a lot of small bills $5s and $10s if you can.
Learning a few key Spanish phrases will go a long way. Your local library might offer online language classes which will give you the basics. Check it out!
As everywhere, it’s essential travelers make wise choices when visiting a new city or country. But in general, Costa Rica is a very safe country.
Petty thefts are not uncommon, however. Our guide made sure our car was watched if we’d left luggage or anything else valuable inside. And it’s not just humans who will steal from unguarded bags. The white face capuchin on Manuel Antonio beach were quite bold!
A Basic Packing Light for Costa Rica List for 10-14 days – If you’re traveling longer than a week you should plan to do laundry.
(I’ve added affiliate links to items we’ve used and recommend. We may earn a small commission if you order through the links. BUT no need to buy anything! Sustainability begins with using what you have before purchasing new!)
- 1 quick-dry long (or convertible) pants
- 2 shorts
- 3 tee-shirts (merino wool recommended)
- 1 long sleeve ‘adventure style’ shirt
- 1 fleece or sweater
- lightweight rain jacket
- swim suit
- sneakers or lightweight hiking boots
- sun hat
- undergarments, socks (merino preferred!)
- DOCUMENTS & GEAR
- passport (and photocopy)
- COVID vaccination card
- water bottle
- dry bag (I like my dry bag backpack)
- phone & chargers
- insect repellent
- sunscreen (reef safe preferred)
- camera & batteries
- external charger
This is a very basic list. Add to this depending on your travel itinerary. I added capris, one nice top, a chiffon cover-up for the pool AND to dress up my outfits, and another swim suit. You do you!
PRO TIP – A fun way to pack light:
- Put all the items you’re considering packing in the middle of your bed.
- Move to the left (or in a laundry basket) everything you absolutely need. Not everything you want to bring, but only what you could manage with if you did laundry.
- Put everything else on the right.
- Now, pack the pile on the left, the necessary things, in the hand luggage you’ve chosen to carry.
- If you have room, add pieces from the right pile until your bag is full.
Distances in Costa Rica are deceiving. The roads in Costa Rica are challenging. What looks like an hour drive on a map, may actually take several hours of switchbacks, washouts, and generally poor roads. There are a few major highways, but these can get very congested. For these reasons, don’t overfill your itinerary. For a week’s stay, plan on only two destinations.
How long to plan on visiting Costa Rica?
How long you visit Costa Rica depends completely on you. You can zip away for a long weekend if you’re just looking for beach time, or you can spend more than a month exploring the 30 national parks. We visited for 10 days and only saw a fraction of the country. We hope to return and explore the Osa Peninsula and Tortuguera on the Caribbean coast. Oh… and the Guanacaste province… So much to see for such a small nation! Maybe we will have to move there!
Familiarize yourself with the wildlife of Costa Rica: Monkeys Are Made of Chocolate by Jack Ewing
Don’t feed the iguanas!
Hoping to take a vacation in Costa Rica? Pin this post for later!
14 thoughts on “5 Best Reasons to Visit Costa Rica: Pura Vida Ecotourism”
We had a one day stop in Costa Rica and vowed to return for a longer stay. The outdoor beauty was stunning. You sure got some great wildlife sightings! Good tip about not overplaying a stay if we think we are moving on the roads from place to place.
Costa Rica seems incredible! it looks like a place where you go to rest your mind and having fun!
I’ve often read about Costa Rica and its sustainability efforts and always wanted to go there one day. So after reading your article, I’m ready to book myself on the next flight. Ok, maybe in a month or two. Costa Rica is my kind of country.
Thanks for this excellent guide and the packing list? It’s brilliant.
Oh my, what a wonderful post and your photos are incredible – I want to go there now! My husband and I were actually talking about maybe doing a trip to Costa Rica next year so this came at the right moment to allow us to dip our toes into what to do and where to stay.
I really hope you can get there! It was more beautiful than my pictures show!
Oh wow I loved Costa Rica and am chuckling at the shared experience of the daring monkeys (the coati, too, in Manuel Antonio, who stole someone’s backpack!) and I watched a tourist feed an iguana and get his finger bitten, not good. Great post!
I was NOT a fan of the monkeys in Manuel Antonio! Pretty brazen…
They were incredibly brazen!!
Costa Rica is definitely on my bucket list. I love seeing and photographing animals in their natural environment.
Then you will LOVE Costa Rica!
I absolutely LOVE Costa Rica! I had no idea they were a world leader in sustainable tourism, that has made me love the country even more. Thanks for sharing.
So many people I know have recently traveled to CR..I think it’s a sign that I need to go! Great advice and recs..pinning it for a future trip!