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Costa Rica Ecotourism: The Ultimate Nature-Lover Guide

Costa Rica is now at the forefront of “World Ecotourism”. The government and the people are making a huge effort to preserve their natural beauty. That is why more than 25% of the country’s territory is protected in national parks or private reserves.

It’s only in Costa Rica that lush rainforests and vibrant wildlife are so accessible to travelers—you can enjoy the country’s landscape and biodiversity while also supporting its rich history of conservation, which has made Costa Rica a global model for sustainable travel.

woman in front of arenal volcano in costa rica
This National Park is home to one of the most active volcanoes in Costa Rica for the last 40 years, but Arenal in its resting phase right now.

Located in the heart of Central America, Costa Rica is talked about internationally for its commitment to eco-tourism. I lived in Costa Rica for years, and also spend a number of years organizing tours for those visiting the country, so I have my finger on the pulse of exactly what travelers are looking for when they want a sustainable travel adventure.

History of Costa Rica and Ecotourism

Costa Rica’s history is deeply intertwined with its remarkable protected natural resources. Long before the term “ecotourism” was coined, this small nation was laying the foundation for a sustainable and responsible approach to tourism.

In the mid-20th century, the country began to set aside large tracts of land for national parks and reserves

The vision was to conserve Costa Rica’s unparalleled biodiversity while creating a haven for travelers who wanted to experience its natural wonders. Today, this visionary approach to conservation has made Costa Rica a global leader in ecotourism.

I traveled through this enchanted country and stopped at six places that, each with its special charm and offerings, best represent Costa Rican ecotourism. 

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

Situated in the Tilarán Mountains, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a favorite for all travelers. Whenever I hike through the misty forest, I’m just always amazed by the sheer scale of biodiversity, from elusive jaguars and gorgeous quetzals and even down to delicate orchids on many trees you see as you hike.

The reserve’s history dates back to the 1950s when Quaker settlers sought refuge in Costa Rica. They recognized the value of preserving the lush cloud forests and their delicate ecosystems, setting the stage for the eco-tourism movement we see today.

Costa Rica Ecotourism - Nature Lover's Paradise
There are tons of cloud forests in Costa Rica, but by far the most popular is Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, with towering trees and misty canopies

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Manuel Antonio National Park

Costa Rica’s coastal treasures are just as remarkable as its forests. Manuel Antonio National Park, located on the Pacific coast, offers pristine beaches and vibrant coral reefs.

This park, established in 1972, was crucial in raising awareness about the need for marine and coastal conservation. Today, it continues to be a haven for beach lovers, hikers, and wildlife enthusiasts.

The park’s success in balancing conservation and recreation is a testament to Costa Rica’s commitment to eco-tourism.

This park may be small but it’s mighty. The vibrant rainforest, Manuel Antonio National Park welcomes more than 100,000 visitors each year.

Tortuguero National Park

This is a unique place is on the Caribbean (Atlantic) side of Costa Rica. The place is great and beautiful, filled with wildlife which makes it a great wildlife destination. Tortuguero National Park will capture your heart and many of the people on my tours count this among their favorite places. This remote place is a critical nesting area for endangered sea turtles. It has a long history of conservationists working to protect these gentle giants.

Visiting Tortuguero during nesting season allowed me to witness giant sea turtles making their nests and laying their eggs on the beach—it’s straight up memorable.

tortuguero beach costa rica
While most parks in the country are suitable for observing Costa Rica’s Wildlife, Tortuguero stands out due to the number of birds you can spot there, from toucans and parrots to parakeets and kingfishers.

Poas Volcano National Park

This place is situated in the central valley of Costa Rica, about 15 miles north of Alajuela. The Paos volcano is inactive at the moment. It has a very large and beautiful geyser. If you look down on it, you can see a large blue-green gurgling pool of hot steam.

poas volcano crater
The beauty of Poas volcano is outstanding it has two craters and is surrounded by lush tropical rainforests and the bigger crater has a lake that goes by the name of Laguna Caliente.

Doka Plantation Four Generations Coffee Tour, Costa Rica

If you are in the Poas Volcano area, just drive five miles outside of Alajuela for a must-see eco-friendly site that sustainable travelers just love. You can see the place and learn all about Costa Rican coffee—which is exported around the world.

You can see how it is handpicked, processed, and packaged according to quality before it is exported. You can also taste the different varieties of coffee here, and of course, they give you some of it as a souvenir!

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Arenal Volcano National Park

The Arenal Volcano was once the most active in Costa Rica. Its fiery history contrasts with the serene landscapes surrounding it. In the 1960s, the sleepy town of La Fortuna transformed into a bustling eco-tourism hub, attracting travelers seeking adventure and relaxation.

The Arenal region has become a model for sustainable development, with accommodations designed to blend seamlessly with the environment. It’s one of the most day-trippable locations for ecotourism in all of Costa Rica.

Rincon de la Vieja National Park

Rincon de la Vieja is one of the best places an ecotourist can be! It is situated in the southwestern Pacific and is one of the most remote national parks in Costa Rica. This is a great place to visit stunning waterfalls. It also encompasses two volcanoes. This means that there are endless tours available, including camping, swimming, and hiking.

rincon de la vieja costa rica
Rincon de la Vieja is home to several different landscapes, including a mighty volcano, fumaroles, small geysers, hot springs, and waterfalls with ponds.

Corcovado National Park

Deep in the Osa Peninsula, Corcovado National Park is the crown jewel of Costa Rica’s ecotourism efforts. The park is well-known for having a rocky landscape, thriving biodiversity, and the biggest primary forest on the American Pacific coast.

I had the impression of a contemporary explorer as I hiked through the uninhabited wilderness of Corcovado. The history of this park is a testament to Costa Rica’s commitment to protecting its natural heritage, as it was established in 1975 amidst growing concerns about deforestation.

beach in corcovado national park costa rica
One of the most untouched parks in the country, a gem for tourists looking to experience the true and wild essence of Costa Rica ecotourism.

Osa Peninsula and Drake Bay

On the southwestern tip of Costa Rica, the Osa Peninsula and Drake Bay offer a remote and breathtaking escape. Wildlife abounds in the lush rainforests here, including the elusive jaguars and tapirs. 

I was impressed by the local communities’ dedication to environmental preservation as I traveled the peninsula. 

Drake Bay, in particular, serves as a gateway to the stunning Corcovado National Park, and it was inspiring to see how residents have embraced eco-tourism to support their communities while protecting their pristine surroundings.

During your visit to different spots in Costa Rica, you can find comfortable accommodations by exploring options for convenience.

beach, trees and people doing snorkeling in drake bay costa rica
Osa Peninsula and Drake Bay are the top places to go for a sport fishing experience, and also for scuba diving and snorkeling.

Best 1 and 2-day Ecotours in Costa Rica

Rancho Margot, Arenal Volcano, Lake Arenal

If you want to see all the food growing organically, electricity-driven by water-powered generators, a unique setting allowing you to see the beauty of Lake Arenal and a mighty river that runs through the middle of the property, this self-sustaining ranch (learning center) is the place for you.

This is another nature lover’s paradise that allows you to have a guided tour of the ranch or horseback rides to the peak with a view of Lake Arenal you will never find anywhere else.

The ranch also offers several beautiful bungalows for its guests and the food in the restaurant is awesome. You can also find a yoga center on the banks of the river there.

horseback riding arenal costa rica
A recommended activity in most national parks for ecotourism is horseback raiding, but it just hit differently in Arenal and completely changes the experience.

Sloth refuge, Aviarios del Caribe

The Sloth refuge is located around 19 miles south of Limon on the Caribbean coast. This is an excellent place for the treatment of the injured sloths. The injured ones are taken here, and then after that, they are nursed back into the wild. Judy and her husband Larry built up this refugee camp and will charge around $25 for a tour.

You will be able to see the learning of the baby sloths firsthand and also will be able to learn about this strange creature’s lifestyle. The main attraction of this place is Buttercup, who was the first to be rescued from the highway when she was only a few months old, and thus, the journey of the refugee camp had begun.

sloth sleeping in a basket at aviarios del caribe costa rica
One of the best ways to learn more about wildlife and sloth is at Aviarios del Caribe. You’ll get to know them better, and learn about the work done by their caregivers.

Ecotourist Activities in Costa Rica

  • Bird Watching: During my time in Costa Rica, I’ve observed a variety of bird species, such as the quetzal and scarlet macaw. Travelers on these tours used binoculars to view these birds in their natural settings.
  • Canopy Tours: My family and I most loved ziplining through forest canopies for a unique ecosystem perspective. Visitors doing this enjoyed seeing the forest from above, noting the dense foliage and wildlife encounters.
  • Hiking and Trekking: I’ve walked so many of Costa Rica’s ecotourist trails, from volcanic routes to forest paths. The people who went on my eco tours noticed the changing landscapes and encountered local wildlife that they talked about for years.
  • River Rafting: We went down Costa Rica’s rivers, ranging from calm waters to intense rapids. Participants in these activities appreciated the scenic views combined with thrilling moments.
  • Horseback Riding: I explored the countryside on horseback, reaching less accessible areas. Those joining these rides experienced the tranquility of moving through forests and along beaches.
  • Night Tours and Wildlife Observation: I participated in night tours to see nocturnal animals like frogs and sloths. The travelers on these types of tours were intrigued by the various animals active at night.
  • Cultural Experiences: I interacted with local communities to understand their sustainable practices. Visitors doing this participated in activities like attending indigenous ceremonies and visiting eco-friendly farms.
  • Snorkeling and Scuba Diving: I dove into the waters along Costa Rica’s shores to see the marine life. The people on these tours were excited to observe the coral reefs and fish in the clear waters.
  • Botanical Garden Tours: I visited botanical gardens for insight into the country’s plant variety. Those on the tour appreciated learning about different medicinal and aromatic plants.
  • Volunteer Programs: I joined conservation-focused volunteer programs. Participants found contributing to wildlife rehabilitation, reforestation, and marine conservation efforts fulfilling.
Pros Cons
Supports the preservation of Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity.Local communities might not receive benefits in an equitable manner.
Increasing the country’s economy through tourism revenueThis could lead to infrastructure damage, which is harmful to the environment.
Creates employment opportunities, particularly in rural areas.This could result in the commodification of local cultures.
Encourages cultural exchange and understanding.Popular destinations may suffer from overtourism.
Promotes environmentally responsible travel and tourism.Can still harm natural ecosystems if not properly managed.

Why You Should Focus on Ecotourism

My journey through Costa Rica’s top ecotourism destinations was a revelation. The country’s rich history of environmental preservation, from its early dedication to protecting its natural treasures to the development of sustainable tourism practices, has created a unique and compelling travel experience.

Costa Rica’s commitment to eco-tourism goes beyond attracting visitors; it’s about safeguarding the environment, nurturing local communities, and inspiring the world. 

Looking for More Inspiration?

I have been traveling and living in Costa Rica for over 25 years
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Tips

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Places

For more travel ideas to add to your bucket list, check out a complete guide to all the best places to visit in Costa Rica.

Food

Costa Rica has a huge variety of food, check out the guide to the top 13 Costa Rican food and dishes.

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Costa Rica Ecotourism - Nature Lover's Paradise

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Last Updated on March 20, 2024

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