Most visitors only see the dense foliage of Braulio Carrillo National Park from the window of a tour bus that zips by. Instead, I chose to hire a private guide and explore on foot. This is the closest national park to San Jose, Costa Rica's capital. But Braulio Carrillo has few maintained trails and those that are navigable are steep, often muddy, and require a guide who'll lead you to refreshing streams and tumbling waterfalls and, most importantly, keep you at a distance from one of the most venomous snakes in the world, the fer-de-lance. (Luckily, I didn't see the latter.) But this tropical expanse is also a birdwatchers paradise, considering over 500 bird species can be found here, including the magnificent quetzal that I did spot.
You certainly can't hike down the active Poas Volcano crater filled with teal-hued waters. But on the periphery trails wind through an otherworldly landscape of miniature bonsai-type trees and sizzling steam vents. In this crater-hugging cloud forest, one path wanders through a forest of twisted dwarf trees and leads to Laguna Botos, a lake formed from an extinct volcano where you may even see the fiery-throated hummingbird.
Puffy white masses meet the trees and the world becomes enveloped in mist. Welcome to the world of Costa Rica's cloud forests, include the most notable: the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. Trails snake through a wilderness dominated by bromeliads, orchids and other epiphytes, 200 types of ferns and hundreds of butterfly species. Birdwatchers who get up very early can spy the resplendent quetzal, a bird that's noted for its iridescent green and ruby red coloration. Dozens of hummingbird species are also a major draw.
A visit to Manuel Antonio National Park offers a cross-training adventure, where you could choose a different activity every day for a week. Among the options:
• horseback ride through the rainforest-coated interior.
• white water raft on the Sevengre River with its Class II and III rapids
• scuba dive where you're likely to spot giant manta rays and white tip reef sharks.
• ocean kayak along the coastline rimmed with white sand beaches or through the nearby mangrove forests around Damas Island where sloths, howler monkeys and anteaters can be seen
Sounds and looks like promised land. Maybe really is...
Costa Rica has a lot to offer, especially nature-based activities.
I have long wanted to go to Costa Rica and this just makes me want to go even more!
I've never been to Costa Rica, but it looks and sounds like a fabulous place to visit.
I'd love to visit. Do you think one needs to be an avid outdoorsperson to enjoy it/really experience it? I love to see new places but I'm kind of a wimpy traveler!
This is so beautiful! I've heard of the fer-de-lance, but didn't know it was native to Costa Rica.
Pinning this to my travel board right now. Beautiful!
Hi Brette, If you need any travel advise, let me know. Hope you make it there.
Hi Sheryl, Costa Rica had long been on my list. I spent several weeks and found that I could've used more time.
Hi merr, You absolutely don't have to be an adventurer or outdoors person. You can have a vacation that revolves around yoga, spas, hot springs, beach, that sort of thing and never have to bike or hike at all. It can be completely relaxing and adventure-free.
Hi Bella, Most people I met never heard of that poisonous snake. Yes, Costa Rica has plenty of 'em. Luckily, as I said, I didn't run into anything venomous.
Hi Roxanne, Thanks so much!
I've never been, but your blog post makes me want to go even more. Lovely!
Beautiful. Your photos are SO gorgeous.
Hi Living Large, There are so many activity options in Costa Rica that appeal to all sorts of interests, whether adventure-driven or not. You're bound to find something you'd enjoy.
Hi Jane, Much thanks. Glad you enjoyed my photos.
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