For a country the size of West Virginia, Costa Rica never fails to impress visitors with its diverse ecosystems, microclimates and stunning terrain. From rolling green mountains and misty cloud forests to sultry beaches lined with coconut palms – there’s no lack of options when it comes to planning your ultimate family vacation or romantic escape. And while there’s nothing wrong with sticking to popular beach destinations like Manuel Antonio, Jaco and Tamarindo, the more intrepid traveler may enjoy some lesser-known locales that are “off the tourist trail.” Here’s a short round-up of some of the country’s best kept secrets.
Birding Paradise on the Cerro de la Muerte
Dive into a bygone era – a time when Costa Rica was but a mere blip on the eco tourism map. The lush vale of San Gerardo de Dota is tucked away on the country’s interior highlands: a place where feathered species outnumber people ten to one. Other than world-class birdwatching, the hamlet’s most notable attraction is trout fishing in the crystalline waters of the Savegre River. On any given day, you’re likely to spot trogons, motmots, hummingbirds and the jewel-toned resplendent quetzal. Costa Rica is a great destination for your family vacation.
Tenorio Volcano National Park
The highlight of any visit to this national park is a spirited hike to the otherworldly blue waters of the Rio Celeste (the Celeste River). Travelers are rewarded with one of Mother Nature’s most spectacular visions – a river and thunderous waterfall dyed celestial blue from natural minerals. The park is situated a mere 25 miles northeast of the famous Arenal Volcano, and is easily accessed for a fun-filled day of wildlife watching, hiking and swimming beneath the glorious falls. Numerous tour operators in the La Fortuna and Arenal region offer day trips to this pristine and lightly tread reserve.
Sun & Surf at Playa Esterillos
If tourist crowds are not your cup of tea but you don’t want to give up access to entertainment and nightlife, look no further than the lovely string of central Pacific beaches known as Playa Esterillos. This prime stretch of coastline is just 15 miles south of Jaco, which means visitors are just minutes away from gourmet dining and an eclectic selection of trendy lounges and all-night discos. Known for its breathtaking sunsets and steady waves, the town is divided into three beaches: East (Este), Esterillos West (Oeste) and Esterillos Center (Centro).
Colonial Charms of the Orosi Valley
Less than a two-hour drive from San Jose, the Orosi Valley delights with its lush countryside and colonial church that dates back to 1735. Enjoy the provincial ambiance of this quaint town, which is flanked by emerald green mountains and the picturesque Cachi Lake. Sample some of Costa Rica’s tastiest coffee on a local tour, or relax in one of Orosi’s hot springs – a great place to meet and interact with residents! Take a tour of the adjacent Ujarras Ruins – a church built by Spanish missionaries more than 300 years ago.