Costa Rica’s most extreme adventure is on offer at Monteverde Extremo Park (www.monteverdeextremopark.com; 2645-6058). Here you can leap to what looks like certain death from a moving aerial tram 143m (469 ft.) above the ground in one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever seen. You’ll fall 80–100m (260–360 ft.) depending on your body weight before your bungee cord arrests your plunge. This may be the most terrifying thing you’ve ever done for $75.
Heavy rains, difficult access, and limited facilities make camping a challenge in Costa Rica. Nevertheless, a backpack and tent will get you far from the crowds and into some of the most pristine and undeveloped parts of the country.
Undoubtedly the country’s best camping adventure is Corcovado National Park, a wild and rugged place teeming with animals, where you can camp at Sirena Ranger Station, pitching a tent on the wooden platforms or on the grass (but watch out for snakes), or you could just rent a cabina. Corcovado is an expensive place to visit because you have to hire a guide, but it’s unforgettable.
You could also pitch a tent at Santa Rosa National Park or Ballena Marine National Park. At both spots you’re likely to have miles of unspoiled beach and very few fellow campers around. But in such isolated environments, avoid camping alone, and ask park rangers if there is a risk of being targeted by criminals.
To inquire about organized camping trips, contact Coast to Coast Adventures (www.coastocoastadventures.com; 2280-8054).
Canyoning ToursCanyoning means exploring a fast river by rappelling, climbing, swimming, scrambling, and rock-climbing, and it’s an exhilarating adventure. The word “rappel” here typically means a fast descent controlled by a guide, while “waterfall rappelling” puts adrenaline junkies in charge of their own ropes. One of Costa Rica’s best canyoning operators is Hacienda Guachipelín in Rincón de la Vieja, where you rappel into a big river and then grab gigantic staples in the side of a vertical cliff and climb back to safety. After that comes a Tarzan swing in which you’re bashed (safely) into a waterfall, but it’s all in good fun.
Waterfall rappelling is a perfected art at Everyday Adventures, also known as Psycho Tours, in Matapalo de Osa, where you can rappel down two big waterfalls and also climb a giant matapalo strangler fig, all in the same day.
Other canyoning operators in Costa Rica are Pure Trek Canyoning and Desafío Expeditions, both in La Fortuna, and Explornatura, in Turrialba.
Paragliding & Ballooning
If you spend much time in Costa Rica, you’ll be surprised how often you look up and see someone hanging from a parachute or standing in a balloon. Paragliding is a popular diversion in the cliff areas around Caldera, just south of Puntarenas, as well as other spots along the Central Pacific coast. Check in with Tandem Paraglide Costa Rica (www.paraglidecostarica.com; 908/545-3242 in the U.S. and 8950-8676 in Costa Rica). This place caters to paragliders and offers lessons and tandem flights. Lessons cost around $80 per hour, including equipment, while a 20-minute tandem flight with an experienced pilot will run you around $120.
Serendipity Adventures (www.serendipityadventures.com; 888/226-5050 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2556-2222 in Costa Rica) will take you up, up, and away in a hot-air balloon near Arenal Volcano. A basic flight costs around $385 per passenger, with a two-person minimum and a five-person or 800-pound maximum.
Although this is a nascent sport in Costa Rica, the possibilities are promising, with several challenging rock formations close to San José and along the Cerro de la Muerte, as well as great climbing opportunities on Mount Chirripó, the Uruca River Canyon, and Aserrí Rock. You can find information on climbing in Costa Rica on the country page of The Crag (www.thecrag.com).
Significant sections of the movie “Endless Summer II” (1994), the sequel to the all-time surf classic, were filmed in Costa Rica. All along Costa Rica’s immense coastline are point and beach breaks that work year-round. Playas Hermosa, Jacó, and Dominical, on the Central Pacific coast, and Tamarindo and Playa Guiones, in Guanacaste, are mini surf meccas. Salsa Brava in Puerto Viejo is a steep and fast wave that peels off both right and left over shallow coral. It has a habit of breaking boards, but the daredevils keep coming back. Beginners should stick to the mellower sections of Jacó and Tamarindo—surf lessons are offered at both beaches. Crowds are starting to gather at the more popular breaks, but you can still stumble onto secret spots on the Osa and Nicoya peninsulas and along the northern Guanacaste coast. Costa Rica’s signature wave is still at Pavones, said to have the second-longest left in the world. Surfers also swear by Playa Grande, Playa Negra, Guiones, Matapalo, and Malpaís.
Witch’s Rock Surf Camp, based out of a surf shop and hotel in Tamarindo, opened in 2001 and is one of the centers of surf culture in Costa Rica. They offer a range of beginner to advanced surf courses and surf tours to the area’s best swells. In Dominical on the Central Pacific Coast, Kalon Surf Resort is an all-inclusive surf school and luxury hotel.
For swell reports, general surf information, live wave-cams, and great links pages, point your browser to www.surfline.com or www.crsurf.com. Although killer sets are possible at any particular spot at any time of the year—depending upon swell direction, local winds, and distant storms—in broad terms, the northern coast of Guanacaste works best from December to April; the central and southern Pacific coasts from April to November; and the Caribbean coast’s short big-wave season is December through March. Surf lessons, usually private or in a small group, will run you anywhere from $20 to $960 per hour, including the board.
Windsurfing & Kiteboarding
Windsurfing is not very popular on the high seas here, where winds are fickle and rental options are limited, even at beach hotels. However, Lake Arenal is considered one of the top spots in the world for high-wind boardsailing. During the winter months, many of the regulars from Washington’s Columbia River Gorge take up residence around the nearby town of Tilarán. Small boards, water starts, and fancy gibes are the norm. The best time for windsurfing on Lake Arenal is between December and March. The same winds that buffet Lake Arenal make their way to Bahía Salinas (also known as Bolaños Bay), near La Cruz, Guanacaste, where you can get in some good windsurfing. Both spots also have operations offering lessons and equipment rentals in the high-action sport of kiteboarding. Board rentals run around $55 to $90 per day, while lessons can cost between $50 to $150 for a half-day private lesson.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.