Costa Rica’s most extreme adventure is on offer at Monteverde Extremo Park ★★★ ((tel) 2645-6058; www.monteverdeextremopark.com). 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, but for $73, how could you resist?
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 and 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 ★ ((tel) 2280-8054; www.coastocoastadventures.com).
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 ★ ((tel) 908/545-3242 in the U.S. and 8950-8676 in Costa Rica; www.paraglidecostarica.com). This place caters to paragliders and offers lessons and tandem flights. Lessons cost around $60 per day, including equipment, while a 20-minute tandem flight with an experienced pilot will run you around $95.
Serendipity Adventures ★ ((tel) 888/226-5050 in the U.S. and Canada, or 2556-2222 in Costa Rica; www.serendipityadventures.com) 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.
Visiting bikers can either cruise the highways or try some off-road biking around Costa Rica. All the caveats about driving conditions and driving customs in Costa Rica apply equally for bikers. If you want to rent a Harley-Davidson for cruising around the country, María Alexandra Tours (tel. 2289-5552; www.mariaalexandra.com) conducts guided bike tours and rents well-equipped late-model Harleys by the day or the week. If your tastes run to off-road riding, MotoAdventures (tel. 440/256-8508 in the U.S., or 2228-8494 in Costa Rica; www.motoadventuring.com) runs guided multiday tours on Honda dirt bikes. Bike rental rates run between $70 and $150 per day. To rent a street bike, you will need a Costa Rican motorcycle license or foreign equivalent; no special motorcycle license is required for the off-road bikes. In both instances, the rental company will want you to show sufficient experience and proficiency before letting you take off on their bike.
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.
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, Malpaís, and Witch’s Rock.
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 $40 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 down 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 $85 per day, while lessons can cost between $50 to $100 for a half-day private lesson.
Canyoning 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.
Costa Rica has a genuine claim to fame as birthplace of both the jungle canopy zipline (invented by U.S. biology student Donald Perry in 1979 at Finca La Selva) and the jungle canopy zipline tour (invented by Canadian entrepreneur Darren Hreniuk in 1997 in Monteverde). From these modest beginnings, ziplining exploded worldwide into one of the most popular forms of extreme adventure there is.
It’s a simple concept: String a cable from a high place to a low, clip some weight to it, and watch what happens. You never know what the weather will be like, but you can always count on gravity.
For its size, Costa Rica has a staggering number of canopy tours. The designers of these courses became geniuses at stringing together multiple trees and platforms over broad valleys and rivers, giving guests the heart-fluttering sensation of flying, often at alarming speeds. Many tours include terrifying “Tarzan swings,” face-down “Superman flights,” controlled rappels, scary suspended bridges, and sometimes rock climbing.
See chapters on your chosen destination for recommendations on canopy tours, and expect to pay somewhere between $40 and $75.
Top Canopy Tours
100% Aventura, Monteverde
Canopy Safari, Manuel Antonio
Cartagena Canopy Tour, Northern beach area, Guanacaste
Chiclets Tree Tour, Playa Hermosa
Congo Trail Canopy Tour, Northern Guanacaste
Hacienda Guachipelín, Rincón de la Vieja
Hacienda Pozo Azul, Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges, Arenal
Monteverdo Extremo Park, Monteverde,
Rainforest Aerial Tram Atlantic, en route to Puerto Viejo de Sarapiquí
Río Perdido, Bagaces area, near the Miravalles Volcano
Selvatura Park, Monteverde
Sky Adventures, Arenal and Monteverde
Vista Los Sueños Canopy Tour, Playa Herradura
Sun Trails Waterfall Canopy Tour, Montezuma
Witch’s Rock Canopy Tour, Papagayo Peninsula, Guanacaste
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.