While Costa Rica makes up only .03% of the Earth’s surface, it contains 5% of the world’s biodiversity – making it an extremely diverse place in a really small space!
Because of this biodiversity in both flora and fauna, Costa Rica is a major ecotourism hotspot, attracting wildlife-loving visitors from all over the globe. In fact, according to the Costa Rica Tourism Board, approximately half of all tourists in Costa Rica participate in ecotourism.
On my first visit to the country last month, I was one of the many trying my hand at all kinds of eco-adventures!
My 5 favorite picks from two weeks of nonstop fun?
Hanging bridge walking
Hanging bridges can be found throughout Costa Rica, but especially in the towns of Monteverde and La Fortuna. I tried both!
Because the rainforest trees grow so tall, as the higher trees try to out-compete one another for sunlight, one of the only ways to see treetop animals is from an elevated viewpoint. Unless you’ve got super vision (or are better at handling binoculars than me, which wouldn’t be hard to do), it’s really tough to see monkeys, birds, and sloths from the forest ground.
Knowing that tourists are super excited about catching glimpses of wildlife, entrepreneurial landowners have combined business with environmental protection. Eco parks like Mistico have established protected areas of forest and built hanging bridges to avoid disturbing the trees and the wildlife – while generating income and making happy tourists!
Many forest animals sleep during the day and become active at night (more simply named: nocturnal). For visitors interested in seeing really big spiders, monkeys, bats, raccoons, opposums, and more – night is your best bet. But it’s definitely not smart to go traipsing through the forest in the middle of night, so joining up with one of the many night hikes is an awesome option.
A night hike in any of the Costa Rican towns will be led by an educated guide (the vast majority of Costa Rican guides have a university degree in some type of naturalist studies), who will help you spot animals and identify them.
Remember that thick-bottomed shoes are essential, as you don’t want to be stepping on any creepy crawlies that you can’t see.
If you’re afraid of heights, waterfall rappelling is the perfect time to challenge your fears. Although available almost anywhere in Costa Rica (as waterfalls are super common), Jaco is particularly popular for organizing rappelling tours.
The ultimate opportunity to get up close and personal with a waterfall, you’ll rappell (literally, lower yourself using a rope and carabiners down the face of a raging waterfall) with the assistance of your guide down one after another. It’s common to see fish in the pools, in addition to birds above, during your tour. While hiking up to the top of the waterfall, you’ll be able to see many different kinds of Costa Rican flora (including ficus), and probably leaf cutter ants as well!
Perhaps the most ubiquitous Costa Rican eco-adventure activity, ziplining is fun for all ages. With serious safety equipment and instruction, you’ll be flying above the canopy with carefree ease, enjoying a birds-eye view of the trees and maybe even animals below.
Flying on a zip line is a true adrenaline rush, and the activity is available all over Costa Rica. Like the other eco-adventures, it is particularly popular in Monteverde and La Fortuna, but even beach towns like Mal Pais will have it on offer.
Night safari floating
A twist on the typical night hiking, night safari floats are only available in areas with calm rivers.
The Penas Blancas River in La Fortuna is a particularly great choice, and monkeys, sloths, bats, poisonous frogs, and birds are commonly sited.
For a night safari, your guide will pick you up shortly before sunset, and take you to the river. You and the rest of the group will pile onto an inflatable, paddle-powered boat (remember, the goal is NOT to disturb the wildlife, so a motor isn’t an option) and set off down the river.
The sun will slowly sink away, and you’ll be left with nothing but your guide’s flashlight for light. The light will attract bugs, which then attract bats, which will swoop overhead throughout your journey. A bit creepy, a bit spooky, but REALLY cool! How many people can say they’ve floated down a forest river in the middle of the night?