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Costa Rica: Places to See

Costa Rica is filled with lush rainforests, imposing volcanoes, sandy beaches, intriguing wildlife and plenty of opportunities for adventure -- there’s something here for every travel enthusiast to enjoy.

The capital city of San Jose is a typical starting point for many tour itineraries, and if time permits, you can explore the plethora of museums it has to offer, including the National Museum built inside Bellavista Fortress or the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum and its display of ancient Latin American gold artifacts. Arts lovers can catch a dance performance or concert at The National Theater, Melico Salazar Theatre or Teatro Variedades, San Jose’s oldest theater. On the outskirts of town, enjoy the floral displays at the serene Lankester Botanical Garden, home to more than 3,000 species of plants with a heavy emphasis on orchids.

Head east over breathtaking mountains toward Tortuguero, a coastal village situated on the Caribbean Sea and a key nesting ground for endangered sea turtles. Set sail on the rivers of nearby Tortuguero National Park for a peek at manatees, caimans and crocodiles, or keep an eye on native monkeys swinging through the treetops. Jaguars, three-toed sloths, poisonous frogs, basilisk lizards and roughly 375 bird species live in the park’s forests. This haven of biodiversity also nurtures 400 varieties of trees and approximately 2,200 species of other plants.

A trip to the scenic rainforest village of Sarapiqui will offer a firsthand look into the daily operations of a coffee, pineapple or banana plantation. For adventurous travelers, whitewater rafting and kayaking can be enjoyed on the Sarapiqui River, or you can opt for mountain biking and horseback riding to behold the gorgeous surrounding vistas by land.

A highlight of visiting La Fortuna is seeing the fiery Arenal Volcano billow smoke by day and ooze red lava by night. More than 5,000 feet tall, the conical volcano is one of the world’s most active and located at the Arenal Volcano National Park, which also is home to Costa Rica’s largest lake, Lake Arenal, and the Chato Volcano with a lagoon in its crater. Enjoy a dip at La Fortuna Waterfall, plunging from the base of Chato, or soak away stress in idyllic hot springs nearby. There’s never a dull moment in La Fortuna, with activities such as sky-tram tours, ziplining, bungee jumping, whitewater rafting and butterfly farm visits.

Nested in the Cordillera de Tilaran mountain range is the ecotourism hub of Monteverde, acclaimed for its tropical rainforests and misty cloud forests. Traverse the trails and suspension bridges of Monteverde Biological Cloud Forest Reserve to get up close to the native flora and fauna -- more than 2,500 different varieties of plants and animals, 400 bird species and 400 types of orchids are here. Lucky visitors might catch a glimpse of the sacred, resplendent quetzal, the reserve’s most prized feathered resident. Nearby is the less crowded but equally mesmerizing Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve with hiking paths that get you even higher into the clouds. A visit to one of the many coffee and sugar cane plantations in the area will provide insider knowledge on the entire process of cultivating these staple resources plus a chance to sample the finished products.

Along the picturesque Pacific coast is Manuel Antonio National Park, a unique destination that harmoniously harbors diverse wildlife amid beautiful beaches and impressive hiking trails. Activities abound in the nation’s smallest park, with options like hiking, scuba diving, ziplining, snorkeling, kayaking and relaxing at four pristine beaches. The park’s forest is crawling with wildlife -- 109 animal species to be exact -- so you’re likely to encounter monkeys, iguanas, snakes, bats, sloths and about 184 types of birds including toucans, parakeets and hawks.

Beach visitors to Costa Rica tend to soak up the sun and surf in the Guanacaste area on the Pacific coast. The spectacular Playa Tamarindo and Playa Hermosa draw huge tourist crowds to these white-sand shores, while surfers prefer the challenging waves at Playa Grande. The hulking leatherback turtle also chooses Playa Grande, using it as a nesting site. Spend a few hours strolling narrow streets and admiring colonial homes in Liberia, the charming capital of the Guanacaste province.