Costa Rica

By Diana Hechler,


Have you noticed how many of your friends have visited Costa Rica in the past few years?  It seems like everyone knows someone who just got back.

Unlike its neighbors, Costa Rica does not suffer from political instability. Instead, thrills come from six active volcanos, of which the most widely visited is Arenal, in the center of this small country.  Although the last eruption was many years ago, you’ll see signs clearly stating that the hotels will absolve themselves of any responsibility in case of your demise. The warnings don’t seem to dissuade anyone from visiting, enjoying hikes up to the observatory, ziplining on a canopy tour, floating up quiet rivers with wildlife on every side, and frolicking in the lush, tropical hot springs. Prepare to become a wet noodle.

You can also park you and your family at some very nice beaches in Costa Rica.  Everything from the Four Seasons to rustic cold-water-only jungle havens dot the Pacific Coast, serving all tastes and budgets with beautiful water, sandy beaches, and a jaguar or two – depending on which establishment you’ve chosen. (In truth, the jaguars don’t like people much and you probably won’t see one.)

Manuel Antonio, about 3 hours south of San Jose, perches high above the ocean with myriad hotels nestled in and among the jungle.  Iguanas abound and you might even cross paths with one on the way to breakfast.  The truly intrepid can sign up for a nighttime jungle walk to get up close and personal with all manners of reptiles and fauna.  (My son declined to go, noting that “everything I would see would be trying to kill me.”  Made sense to me!)

You can opt instead for the 4-hour day-time excursion into the national park and encounters with black-faced monkeys, 2 and 3-toed sloths, myriad birds, iguanas, lizards, and even an agouti. For more encounters with monkeys, try the boat trip into the Damas estuary and mangrove swamps.  You’ll feel like you have entered the jungle.

If all of this still seems a bit “tame”, consider:

  • the Arenal Skytrek Canopy Tour.  Not exactly a leisurely saunter through the top level of the rainforest, the canopy tour will find you strapped into a harness, launched along a cable, and zipping through the open space between the mountains at speeds up to 50 m.p.h. Thrilling indeed!
  • Class III and IV river rafting on a variety of rivers
  • Canyoning (rapelling) down steep cliffs up at Arenal