Three walking adventures in Costa Rica
For a relatively small country, Costa Rica packs a big punch. From cloudforests to volcanoes, mangrove swamps to sweeping beaches, it’s home to an incredible diversity of habitats – plus some of Central America’s best luxury hotels. It’s no wonder Costa Rica is also one of the happiest countries on the planet. Here’s our top pick of three outdoor adventure hotspots that are certain to put a smile on your face.
ARENAL: VOLCANOES AND ZIP-WIRES
There are more than a dozen volcanoes in Costa Rica. But for sheer drama and Jurassic-Park-esque adventure, it has to be Arenal. Rising to 5358-ft and ringed by forest, it has the archetypal volcano silhouette, complete with the occasional puff of smoke from the crater. Of course, it’s when you get up close that the drama really begins.
For a quick taste of what it’s all about, join the trails of Sendero Colada 1968 and Tucanes. At 3.4 and 2 kilometres respectively, these paths wind through the secondary forest to rocky, rugged lava fields. You may spot toucans and parrots and even hear a faint rumble from the crater above.
You can safely hike these trails independently – provided you stick to the paths and follow the signs. However, for a truly unique experience there are numerous guides who can take you to some of the lesser-known viewpoints. As well as the volcano itself, there are hot springs, waterfalls, hanging bridges and zip-wires to discover.
Put your feet up
To make your visit as indulgent as it is intrepid, stay at Nayara Hotel Spa and Gardens. This eco-luxury hotel overlooks the rainforest and the volcano and offers spectacular views, not to mention sublime spa treatments.
PENINSULA PAPAGAYO: PRIVATE PARADISE
Head up to north-west Costa Rica and you’ll arrive at one of Latin America’s most exclusive retreats: Peninsula Papagayo. It’s a dreamland of secluded coves, emerald rainforest and sapphire seas. You could happily while away days, weeks or months on the beaches such as Playa Nacascolo. But – when adventure calls – there are plenty hikes on your doorstep. Join a guided tour and you could be serenaded by howler monkeys, entranced by iguanas and bewitched by butterflies. Or book onto a nocturnal tour into the jungle for the chance to see creatures such as porcupines and the elusive three-toed sloth.
Live the dream
Peninsula Papagayo is home to some of Costa Rica’s best hotels, including the heavenly El Alma Soul Retreat. Peacefully located in gorgeous tropical gardens, this is ‘Pura Vida’ perfection.
OJOCHAL: SURF SAFARI
For another slice of paradise, head south along the Pacific coast – which gives almost five times more space to play with than Costa Rica’s Caribbean side.
One of our favourite off-the-beaten-track destinations is around the small hamlet of Ojochal – and, more specifically, the beach of Playa Tortuga. Here you’ll find breath-taking views of mountains, rainforest and sparkling blue seas. Kick off your shoes (or flip-flops) and feel the sand between your toes. You may even spot dolphins and whales just off the coast.
If you can tear yourself away from the waterside, there are more adventures to be had just inland at the majestic Nauyaca Waterfalls. An exciting (and sweaty) 3km hike from the car park brings you to these beautiful pools. Refresh yourself with a dip in the crisp, clear waters. Just remember to bring water and a snack as, once you’re there, you won’t want to leave.
Take it all in
As refreshing as the waterfalls is the spellbinding Hotel Three Sixty. Perched above the rainforest with views across the Pacific, it’s a paradise of infinity pools and endless pampering.