The Best Costa Rica Experiences


Best of Costa Rica

For such a tiny country, Costa Rica sure crams in a lot. Equivalent in size to West Virginia, this rain forest-swaddled Central American country is home to more than 500,000 different species -- about 4 percent of all plant, insect and wildlife species on Earth. Astounding!Having established itself in the 1990's as the "it" destination for ecotourists -- think zip-lining, whitewater rafting and trekking -- you'd imagine that every inch of Costa Rica has been explored and every activity invented. Yet it is still possible to stray off the beaten path in Costa Rica and experience nature and culture that others let pass them by.
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  1. Stay in a Jungle Ecolodge
  2. Stare into the Eyes of a Jaguar
  3. Rappel Down a Waterfall
  4. Watch Chocolate Being Made
  5. Soak in a Hot Spring
  6. Hike Near an Active Volcano at Night
  7. Study the Mystery of the Stone Spheres
  8. Be a Surf Bum
  9. Go in Search of the Resplendent Quetzal
  10. Buy Pottery -- or Make Your Own
  11. Help Protect Sea Turtle Hatchlings
  12. Learn How Coffee Is Made

The Best Way to Visit Costa Rica

nayara arenal costa ricaFrom jungle-locked lodges and beachside resorts, Costa Rica offers just about every type of accommodation you can imagine.
Before we explore all the options, I want to tell you what has become by far the most popular Costa Rica experience with Latitudes Travel customers.  It is a customized vacation experience where you get to experience a combination of all that is great with visiting  Costa Rica.  The itinerary can be adjusted for length of stay and departure dates, but generally is something like this:
  • Arrive in San Jose, Costa Rica. Stay over 1 or 2 nights to explore the historic city.
  • Transfer to the Arenal area and stay at a resort in the Jungle/Rain Forest at the base of an ACTIVE volcano.  Enjoy hiking near the volcano and experiencing the hot springs in the area. This is usually a 3 or 4 night stay.  ( these resorts are not all-inclusive )
  • Transfer to an All-Inclusive resort near the Guanacaste Coast.  There are many to choose from and your length of stay here is flexible. Be pampered while you enjoy the beach.
  • Spend your time here experiencing the rain forest, seeing the wildlife, hanging bridges, zip-lines and white water rafting.
  • Return home from the airport in Liberia.
The beauty of this itinerary, besides the obvious, is usually your transfer between the resort area is a private one and you get to see great views on the mountain road.    You also don't waste 3 hours transferring in each direction just to take a day trip to the Arenal area, which makes for a very long day.  Many Latitudes customers have taken this trip and none have been disappointed.  Of course this itinerary can be reversed as well. The choice is yours.

Other Costa Rica Accommodations Options

Most travelers equate Costa Rica with its ecolodges, which are properties that are committed to conservation, financially supporting nearby communities, educating clients and treading gently on their surroundings. For the most part, lodges tend to be in natural settings, resorts are along the beach and hotels are the cities, though the terms are often used interchangeably.Here's a rundown of lodging choices in Costa Rica.Ecolodges
Just because your hotel is near a tree or two, calling it is an ecolodge doth not make it so.

Many small inns, hotels and lodges around the world have adopted the buzzword, but few actually are ecolodges in the truest sense. It's different in Costa Rica. This is one of the few nations that has a certification program in place; since 1997, lodges have had to meet certain standards enforced by the Costa Rica Tourism Board to receive one to five stars.

Costa Rica Eco Hotel Mountain Paradise Aernel

Mountain Paradise - Arenal Volcano Hotel & Resort

One of the most luxurious and sustainable of the bunch is Lapa Rios, which the certification board calls "a model ecotourism project." The five-star lodge has 16 low-impact bungalows on a private tropical rain forest reserve and emphasizes the importance of sustainability to both guests and employees. (Check out our Lapa Rios review.)

The ultimate way to arrive at another five-star-certified ecolodge is by whitewater rafting in. That's how you access the Pacuare Lodge, which sits on the banks of a river of the same name in the Talamanca Mountains. Local Cabecar Indians crafted the lodge's 13 cabins, and the lodge supports monkey reintroduction work in the surrounding rain forests, among many examples of its commitment to sustainability.

Arenal Observatory Lodge is a particularly famous ecolodge in Costa Rica. It sits on a ridge 1.7 miles from Arenal, one of the most active volcanoes in the world. (Since 1998 there have only been two evacuations from the region because of one-day eruptions -- so while there is some risk in being that close to an active volcano, recent history has proved it to be minimal.)

Beyond the big-name lodges, there are many more where locals are trying to make a positive impact on their communities and environment. They may not have the resources to pump into big initiatives like the larger lodges, but they are still worthy of your tourism dollars.

Note: A lodge's star rating will tell you its sustainability score, not the level of amenities the property offers. For example, the Four Seasons Resort at Papagayo is rated two stars for sustainability, but clearly we know that resort offers the best of the best in terms of service, food, amenities and activities.

Global chain brands, such as Marriott, Radisson, Crowne Plaza and Hyatt, have standard hotels in and around the city of San Jose. Essentially, these hotels accommodate travelers for the nights before or after a flight from the second-busiest airport in Central America, Juan Santamaria International Airport. Unless they're there on business, most travelers don't stay for more than a night. Near Liberia Airport, there's a Hilton and a Hilton Garden Inn.

There are locally owned hotels, too. The Hotel Grano de Oro is one; it's close to downtown San Jose but distant enough to avoid the city noise. The 40-room Victorian mansion has lovely tropical nuances, including landscaped courtyards and pretty balconies, and is close to restaurants. It's frequently voted among the top five hotels in all of Central America. (Check rates at the Hotel Grano de Oro.)

Boutique hotels are the latest trend in Costa Rica; the tourist board has even started highlighting them on its website. Villa Caletas, for example, is nestled in a lush, cliffside rain forest overlooking the Central Pacific Coast. Nayara Hotel, Spa and Gardens in La Fortuna overlooks the famous Arenal Volcano. (See our review of Nayara Hotel, Spa and and Gardens.)

RIU Palace guanacaste Costa Rica

The Riu Palace in Guanacaste, Costa Rica

Beach Resorts
If being pampered at a posh beachside resort is in order for your vacation, you can stay at one of Costa Rica's resorts. Many specialize in golf, spa treatments or family activities; some even have casinos.

The regions of Guanacaste and Puntarenas are best known for their resort hotels, including nearly a dozen all-inclusives operated by such brands as Barcelo, Occidental, Doubletree and Hotel Rui. The Four Seasons Resort at Peninsula Papagayo in Guanacaste is one of the most luxurious. But beachside resorts don't need to be over the top. and there are many to choose from

Form more information please call a Latitudes Concierge Agent at  (414) 433-4873, toll free (855) 433-4870.  You can also E-mail an Agent or use the contact form below.

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