Jaco Beach is known for its black sand beaches and close proximity to Costa Rica’s capital city. But it’s also widely recognized for its diverse landscapes, breathtaking beauty and endless options for outdoor fun. The vast shores and crystal blue waters attract as many out of town travelers as they do locals.
Travelers can learn to surf, snorkel and swim in the clear ocean waters off the coast of Jaco. And those who want to experience the diversity of Coast Rica’s ecological landscapes can tour nearby Manuel Antonio National Park, the Carara biological reserve or the Damas Island Estuary. There are rain forest canopy tours, whale watching trips and beach side horseback riding adventures, too. Whether visitors are looking to unwind or eager to explore the shores of Jaco Beach offer the best of both worlds to travelers.
Just off the tip of the Nicoya Peninsula, close to beautiful Curu Wildlife Refuge, lies idyllic Isla Tortuga, Costa Rica’s most popular island escape. It actually comprises two islands, Alcatraz and Tolinga, but just about everyone refers to them as just “Isla Tortuga,” or Turtle Island.
A postcard-perfect paradise of white sand beaches, gently swaying coconut palms, and sapphire blue water, this is the perfect spot to swim, snorkel, or simply enjoy the sunshine.
While there’s plenty to do on land—eat, drink, take a canopy tour, play volleyball, or even hike a short but lovely little nature trail through the heart of the island—most people come to snorkel or dive. The volcanic reef, featuring three shipwrecks, which surrounds the island, shelters spinner dolphins, angelfish, porcupine fish, octopi, eagle rays, moray eels, and if you’re lucky, the sea turtles for which the island is named.
At the confluence of two important Costa Rican ecosystems—the wet and wild Pacific Rainforest that characterizes the southern coast, and the dry tropical forest for which Guanacaste is known—this small, popular national park packs a lot of wildlife into a 5240-hectare (12,950-acre) package.
Most notably, Carara is home to one of Costa Rica’s last remaining populations of scarlet macaws, who you’ll likely see gossiping and preening in small groups throughout the park. The Rio Tarcoles, which forms the park’s northern border, is well known for its enormous population of huge crocodiles.
There are two short, 1km (.6mi) interpretive trails through the wilderness and waterfalls, perfect for families and less active travelers. A longer, 4.5km (2.7mi) trail follows the Rio Tarcoles and mangrove marshes, where both the crocodiles and scarlet macaws settle in for the evening.
The Children’s Eternal Rainforest (Bosque Eterno de los Niños) encompasses 55,600 acres (22,500 hectares) of protected forest, making it the largest private reserve in Costa Rica. The park was born from a classroom fundraising project that began in 1987 in Sweden and the United States, known as the Children’s Rainforest Movement. To date, students from 44 countries around the world have contributed to the purchase of rainforest near Monteverde for the purpose of protection. The Children’s Eternal Rainforest is among the last of Costa Rica’s reserves to house jaguars, who live alongside 120 other species of mammals, 440 species of birds and 700 species of butterflies — three percent of the world’s butterfly population. Bajo del Tigre, one of the park’s most popular trails, takes visitors on a 2-mile (3.5-kilometer) walk through the park’s secondary forest. Nightly twilight walks give a glimpse into the nocturnal fauna of the park.
Sitting on a narrow peninsula in the Gulf of Nicoya, Puntarenas is a gateway to exploring the best of Costa Rica’s natural beauty and ecological diversity. It is also the country’s most important fishing port and a popular holiday destination for Costa Ricans.
If you are lucky, your ship will dock right in Puntarenas; other cruise ships may dock at Puerto Caldera, which is 20 minutes away from Puntarenas by taxi. In Puntarenas, you will arrive at the base of the Paseo de las Turistas, the main tourist drag. Without much to see in Puntarenas itself, you will most likely spend your day on an excursion. The Monteverde Cloud Forest, Poas Volcano National Park and the Carara National Park are all popular day trip destinations and possible activities include horseback riding or hiking through the rainforest, kayaking, whitewater rafting, birdwatching and ziplining.