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Beyond Zip Lines: 5 Can't-Miss Adventures in Costa Rica

Admire striking landscapes and spectacular biodiversity on an action-packed trip.

U.S. News & World Report

Beyond Zip Lines: 5 Can't-Miss Adventures in Costa Rica

High angle view of crater emitting smoke at sunset, Poas volcano, Costa Rica

Take in dramatic waterfalls, hike Poas Volcano and soak in the area's rich flora and fauna on a nature tour or wildlife expedition. (Getty Images).

When you picture a Costa Rica vacation, zip lining through thick jungles may spring to mind. While zip lining is incredibly popular and a worthwhile pastime for adventure seekers looking to experience the area's lush rainforests, there are a number of other must-do activities you won't want to miss. From exploring coffee plantations to snapping selfies at beautiful waterfalls to hiking a volcano to getting to know local wildlife at picturesque national parks, this Latin American country offers many ways to experience the "pura vida" (pure life). And given Costa Rica's size, it's easy to spend time both at tropical rainforests and lovely beaches without spending loads of time in the car or aboard a shuttle bus. Here are five can't-miss adventures on your next Costa Rica getaway.

Tour a Coffee Plantation

Colombia and Peru may be best known for their top-notch java, but in Costa Rica, coffee is deeply ingrained in the culture. Coffee is such a staple that taking a coffee plantation tour and delighting in gourmet coffee at top places like Doka Estate is a must. The interactive plantation tour takes guests through the life of the coffee bean, from planting to harvesting to roasting. Sample multiple coffees and explore the property, including on-site butterfly and bonsai gardens. Coffee producer Britt also offers tours, including a visit to their coffee nursery and coffee roasting facilities.

Hike Multiple Volcanoes

The Arenal Volcano may be the most well-known, but there are other volcanoes, like Poas Volcano in Alajuela and the Irazu Volcano in Cartago, that are begging to be explored. Poas Volcano is an easy daytrip from San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, and is a must for incredible hikes and views of the crater lake. Go early in the morning before clouds cover up the views. Irazu Volcano is also a short drive from San Jose and is best known for its green lake and views from the summit of both the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

Take a Waterfall Hike

There are multiple waterfalls across Costa Rica, but two of the most popular are the La Fortuna Waterfall near Arenal Volcano and La Paz Waterfall Gardens, which is home to five dramatic waterfalls. Book a guided hike to learn more about the waterfalls or simply bring your swimsuit and plan for a dip at the base of the waterfalls. The La Paz Waterfalls are part of a privately-owned eco park, allowing visitors to combine a waterfall hike with wildlife explorations by way of a Butterfly Observatory and a serpentarium.

Walk Across Hanging Bridges

Another must-do experience when in Costa Rica is a walking tour of hanging bridges, which can be done on its own or as part of a package that also includes tubing, biking, a tram ride or zip lining. Outfitter Costa Rica Sky Adventures offers multiple tours at both Arenal Volcano National Park and Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve in northwest Costa Rica. The Sky Walk in Monteverde takes you across five hanging bridges and two observation decks, enabling you to experience the striking natural beauty of the tropical reserve, including its plentiful flora and fauna.

Explore Top National Parks

There is an abundance of parks across Costa Rica, with each featuring its own distinctive attributes and personality. Manuel Antonio National Park on the central Pacific coast is by far the most well-known green space. Sign up for a guided hike to spot wildlife, such as howler monkeys, two-toed sloths and red-eyed tree frogs, before splashing around lovely beaches. Or, head to Tortuguero National Park on the Caribbean coast. Only accessible by boat, Tortuguero is known for its turtle nesting beaches, dense rainforest and wide array of birds, including toucans and parrots.

While there are plenty of quintessential experiences scattered across Costa Rica, it's easy to book a shuttle service to see a variety of points of interest within a one- or two-week vacation. These services take travelers between many popular points in Costa Rica and are a preferred way to get around, rather than renting a car during your stay.

About En Route

Practical advice on the art of traveling smarter with tips, tricks and intel from En Route's panel of experts.

Contributors have experience in areas ranging from family travel, adventure travel, experiential travel and budget travel to hotels, cruises and travel rewards and include Amy Whitley, Claire Volkman, Holly Johnson, Marsha Dubrow, Lyn Mettler, Sery Kim, Kyle McCarthy, Erica Lamberg, Jess Moss, Sheryl Nance-Nash, Sherry Laskin, Katie Jackson, Erin Gifford, Roger Sands, Steve Larese, Gwen Pratesi, Erin Block, Dave Parfitt, Kacey Mya, Kimberly Wilson, Susan Portnoy, Donna Tabbert Long and Kitty Bean Yancey.

Edited by Liz Weiss.

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