Costa Rica

Costa Rica Sightseeing: Top 5 Attractions

Despite the fact that Costa Rica makes up only about 0.1% of the landmass of the world, the small Central American country has 5% of the planet's biodiversity. It's no surprise, then, that all of the top five attractions in Costa Rica are natural wonders. No matter how hard you try, you're not going to find a wax museum on this list.

The Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve

Known undisputedly as one of the most diverse wildlife refuges in the world, the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is one of the most touristed areas in the country of Costa Rica. The ranges of animals that call Monteverde home include over 100 mammalian species, 400 species of birds and thousands upon thousands of insect species. The plant kingdom is also well represented, featuring 2,500 species, 420 of which are orchid variations.

Ecotourism is strong in the Monteverde area, so you will find organizations and guides who are first and foremost interested in educating and preserving their beautiful wonderland. The reserve is a not-for-profit organization that is run by the Tropical Science Center. Activities offered in and around Monteverde include hikes, horseback rides, canopy tours and thrilling zip line experiences.

Costa Rica's Arenal Volcano National Park

Long thought to be a dormant volcano, the Arenal Volcano erupted in 1968 and has been active since then. Arenal is today the most active volcano in the country of Costa Rica. A number of Costa Rica hotels in the area are situated so as to provide magnificent views of the volcano.

Rainforest and cloud forest cover most of the Arenal Volcano National Park, offering fantastic flora and fauna examples, some of which are seen nowhere else on Earth. There are a number of marked hiking trails that wind through the park and lead to lookout spots and different points of interest. Near the volcano there is a visitor center where restrooms, a souvenir store, an auditorium and an exhibition hall can be found.

Tortuguero National Park

Only reachable by boat or airplane, the Tortuguero National Park is still one of the most visited parks in Costa Rica. The village of Tortuguero is the starting point for visitors who wish to visit the park. Here, you will find lodging and food, along with the tour operating companies that will help you with your arrangements to see the park. Even lone travelers should consider entering the park with a group tour, since the arrangements necessary for entrance can be rather complicated. Additionally, it is better to share the costs of a tour operator with others than to absorb the costs individually.

The main reason for visiting Tortuguero National Park is the turtles. Hawksbill, leatherback and Green Sea turtles nest and lay their eggs on the beaches in the area. The majority of egg laying happens at night, and since the park closes at 6:00 p.m., you will have to arrange a night visit with a tour guide in order to experience this unforgettable phenomenon.

Barra Honda National Park

The cave systems in the Barra Honda National Park are amongst the best in the world. Unlike the rest of northern Costa Rica, which primarily has a volcanic rock foundation, the rock under and around Barra Honda is limestone. The small mountains of the park have been cut by water to form an amazing system of more than 40 limestone caverns.

The tropical dry forest surrounding the caves is one of the most rare ecosystems on the planet. Thankfully, a complex network of hiking trails navigates this tropical dry forest region, allowing visitors the chance to experience the uniqueness of the area.

To experience and explore the caves during your Costa Rica travel, visit the ranger station in the park between 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to arrange a tour. Camping is allowed near the ranger station, or there are a few rustic cabins available for rental.

Poás Volcano National Park

While not as active as the Arenal Volcano, Poás is far from dormant. Only 47 kilometers (29 miles) from San Jose, the park attracts many foreign and local visitors, especially on weekends.

The trails that provide visitors with a chance to experience the volcano and the surrounding park are well maintained and have fairly low difficulty levels. The crater overlook trail starts at the visitor center and is only about a 15-minute walk in each direction. The Escalonia cloud forest trail will take visitors near all of the exotic birds that live in the park, as well as show off two species that are prevalent in the area -- the Poás squirrel and the pagoda-shaped Escalonia tree. To see the lake, take the Botos trail, which forks from the crater overlook trail just before the viewing platform.

These five Costa Rica vacation attractions are extremely popular with tourists, but they are by no means the best or only choices. Costa Rica is a country filled with natural wonder, so keep an open mind, and along with enjoying these five, do your best to take in some of the other magnificent attractions that Costa Rica has to offer.

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