Costa Rica’s northern zone is a fabulous destination for all manner of adventurers, naturalists, and down-to-earth travelers. The region is home to several prime ecotourist destinations, including the majestic Arenal Volcano ★★ and the misty Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve ★★★. Changes in elevation create unique microclimates and ecosystems throughout the region. You’ll find rainforests and cloud forests, jungle rivers and waterfalls, mountain lakes, lowland marshes, and an unbelievable wealth of birds and other wildlife. In addition to these natural wonders, this region also provides an intimate glimpse into the rural heart and soul of Costa Rica. Small, isolated lodges flourish, and towns and villages remain predominantly small agricultural communities.
This area is also a must for adventure travelers. The northern zone has one of the best windsurfing spots in the world, on Lake Arenal ★, as well as excellent opportunities for mountain biking, hiking, canyoning, and river rafting. Zip-line canopy tours and suspended forest bridges abound. And if you partake in any number of adventure activities, you’ll also find several soothing natural hot springs in the area where you can soak your tired muscles.
The Best Northern Zone Travel Experiences
* Soaking in a Hot Spring at the Foot of Arenal Volcano: Although the eruptions have subsided, Arenal Volcano remains the source of several natural hot springs, ranging from the over-the-top splendor of Tabacón Grand Spa Thermal Resort, to the simple forest enshrouded pools at the family-run Eco Termales.
* Rappelling Down the Face of a Rainforest Waterfall: Canyoning is a wet and wild adventure sport that is thriving in Costa Rica’s northern zone. A mix of hiking, river wading, and rappelling, these tours are offered in La Fortuna and Monteverde.
* Hiking the Trails of a Cloud Forest: The well-groomed network of trails at the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve reveals its rich mysteries with stunning regularity. Walk through gray mist and peer up at the dense tangle of epiphytes and vines, looking for exotic birds and troops of monkeys.
* Climbing Over Cooled-off Lava at Arenal National Park: This area has tons of great hiking, but I especially like scrambling over the volcano’s old lava flows. Most are on the relatively flat flanks of the volcano, so there’s not too much climbing involved.
* Riding a Horse or Mountain Bike along a Rural Back Road: The dirt roads and ox-trails of this rural zone provide a wealth of great opportunities for mountain biking and horseback riding.