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Discover Costa Rica: What To Do And Where To Stay (PHOTOS)

Posted: 09/06/2012 7:00 am

Costa Rica's popularity with tourists is ever-growing and it's easy to see why.

This lush Central American country is home to a wealth of natural wonders from misty cloud forests to white-sand beaches to active volcanoes. The wildlife here is incredibly rich, and most visitors will spot monkeys, toucans and more.

The variety can be a little overwhelming, so to make it easier, we've shared some of our top activity picks and let you know where to stay nearby.

-- Kelsey Blodget,

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  • Do: Soak in Thermal Hot Springs

    The area near the active Arenal Volcano is home to natural thermal springs, which can be enjoyed surrounded by natural vegetation and stunning volcano views. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="" target="_hplink">Arenal Kioro</a> </strong></em> Arenal Kioro Suites and Spa takes full advantage of its natural setting: The rooms, restaurants and pool all offer stunning views of Arenal Volcano, and there are natural thermal springs on-site. Big suites all come with large Jacuzzis and two terraces, but the tube TVs and floral bedding make them feel slightly less luxe than those at the nearby Arenal Nayara.

  • Do: Visit Manuel Antonio National Park

    Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the country's most popular parks and offers excellent wildlife spotting; species that make their homes here include howler monkeys, white-faced capuchin monkeys, toucans and iguanas. The park also has four stunning white-sand beaches. There is a daily per person entrance fee. <strong><em><a href="" target="_hplink">Stay: Arenas Del Mar Beach and Nature Resort</a></em></strong> Arenas Del Mar is within walking distance of the park and has direct access to the beautiful Playitas Beach and Playa Espadilla. Wildlife spotting is superb right on the property -- Arenas del Mar went to great lengths not to disrupt the surrounding ecosystem during the hotel's construction. Arenas del Mar is proof that staying at an eco-resort doesn't mean roughing it: The resort embodies rustic luxury.

  • Do: Go Kayaking

    Both sea and whitewater kayaking are popular in Costa Rica, and there are numerous spots for it throughout the country. In the popular tourist area of Manuel Antonio, visitors can spot wildlife and learn about the coastal mangrove ecosystem through guided kayaking tours of Damas Island. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="" target="_hplink">Buena Vista Luxury Villas</a> </em></strong> Buena Vista Luxury Villas is one of the few properties in Manuel Antonio with direct beach access (though the sand at Tulemar Beach is littered with small rocks). Free kayak rentals are available from the beach attendant. There's a lot to like about this hotel, including the beautiful, sprawling 33-acre grounds, beach bar and big rooms.

  • Do: View Crocodiles at a Wildlife Sanctuary

    Crocodiles can be observed at numerous wildlife sanctuaries throughout Costa Rica, including the Tempisque Conservation Area (the river here has the highest concentration of crocodiles in the country). Visitors should exercise extreme caution, even when with a guide. <strong><em>Stay: <a href="" target="_hplink">Si Como No Resort, Spa and Wildlife Refuge</a></em></strong> A wildlife refuge with a crocodile and alligator habitat is located right across the street from the hotel. A staple in the beautiful Manuel Antonio resort area, the 58-room Si Como No is carefully built into a lush hillside, which means great views and winding paths surrounded by colorful flowers and wildlife. The amenities are a main pull here: two pools, two restaurants, a spa and a movie theater.

  • Do: Hike in Arenal National Volcano Park

    The active Arenal Volcano is a draw for many tourists, and hiking trails in the national park pass by lookout spots and lava beds, as well as through lush forest that's rich with wildlife. <em><strong><a href="" target="_hplink">Stay: Royal Corin Resort & Loto Spa</a></strong></em> For a small hotel, this 54-room boutique has a lot to offer: A beautiful hot springs pool complex with natural thermal waters, great views of Arenal volcano, a lovely spa, a bar with an outdoor terrace and an on-site restaurant. Contemporary rooms all have volcano views.

  • Do: Play some golf

    Many may think of Hawaii or Florida whent they think of golf destinations, but Costa Rica has an increasingly impressive offering of courses. <em><strong>Stay: <a href="" target="_hplink">Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagay</a>o </strong></em> The Four Seasons' 18-hole, par-72 golf course was designed by pro golfer Arnold Palmer and has panoramic ocean views from several holes. It's also more environmentally friendly than your typical golf course. Easily among the most luxurious resorts in Central America, The Four Seasons also has two beautiful beaches and ocean views from each one of the sumptuous rooms -- which are decorated in materials including wood, bamboo and stone.


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