Costa Rica

Main attractions

Arenal volcano in night, Costa Rica
Arenal volcano in night / Photo Courtesy of

This small Central American country offers numerous beautiful natural monuments as well as some exciting archaeological monuments.

Highlights of Costa Rica are:

  • Natural monuments related to volcanism - several very active volcanoes, highly unusual crater lakes, hot springs and bubbling mud pools.
  • Extremely high biological diversity coupled with wonderful tourism infrastructure made with high environmental consciousness.
  • Diverse archaeological monuments including the mysterious stone balls in the southern part of country.

Natural landmarks

Volcanoes and related monuments

  • Arenal Volcano - Alajuela. 1,670 m high volcano with perfect conical form. One of the most active volcanos in the world, very often offering a beautiful sight of red-glowing lava flowing down its slopes.
  • Diego de La Haya crater lake, Irazú Volcano - Cartago. Bright green-yellow lake colored by the minerals dissolved along the crater walls. Sometimes though the lake color changes to rust-red.
  • Las Hornillas - Guanacaste. Geothermal field at Miravalles Volcano with fumaroles and pools of boiling mud in different colors. Often it is mentioned that here are located also small geysers, but there is no proof to it.
  • Poás volcano - Alajuela. 2,708 m high, very active and unusual volcano. Contains Laguna Caliente - lake of extreme acidity reaching up to 0.0 of pH, filled with acid-sulphate-chloride brine of light green color. Lake is up to 50 m deep, 300 m wide, temperature: 22 - 94 °C. Frequent phreatic eruptions may eject this acid up to 1 kilometre high. Sometimes this effect is considered to be a kind of geyser activity but the mechanism behind this phenomenon is different than in true geysers. Another unique phenomenon linked to this monument is acid clouds of Poás Volcano. Around the Laguna Caliente and for several kilometres down from it all the vegetation is stunted brown and black by the extremely acid clouds coming from this lake. As a result here exists one of the most weird "elfin forests" of the world, often adorned with beautiful flowers.

Biotopes and ecosystems

Hammerhead shark at Cocos Island, Costa Rica
Hammerhead shark at Cocos Island / Barry Peters, Flickr. CC BY 2.0
  • Hammerhead shark schools of Cocos Island - Cocos Island, Puntarenas. Cocos Island is one of the most impressive dive sites of the world. This is unique site for observation of large pelagic fishes and especially famous are the largest hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini) schools of the world constantly seen here. Divers have a possibility to see hundreds of these weird, large fishes. Sharks come here to "cleaning stations".
  • Monteverde cloud forest - Puntarenas. Cloud forest with extremely high biological diversity. Nature reserve Bosque Nuboso Monteverde has the highest diversity of orchids in the world with more than 500 species, 34 new species were discovered in this forest. Here are found more than 2,500 plant species, 400 bird species and numerous other organisms.
  • Rainforest of Cocos Island - Puntarenas. Very picturesque, 24 km² large island with high number of endemic species of plants and animals. The only island rainforest in the eastern part of Pacific Ocean. At higher elevations grow even cloud forests. Forests contain 70 endemic species of flowering plants, 65 endemic insects, two endemic lizards, three endemic birds and numerous other endemic organisms.


Rio Celeste falls, Costa Rica
Rio Celeste falls / Photo Courtesy of
  • Waffer Bay Falls - Cocos Island, Puntarenas. One of more than 200 waterfalls on island, approximately 60 m tall.
  • Waterfalls of Rio Celeste - Guanacaste. Unique waterfall formed by thermal waters containing much lime and sulphur. The pool below the fall is sky blue, while the background of the approximately 30 m tall falls is colored orange by travertine and iron salts. Sometimes even the falling water is colored in glowing blue color what is an amazing sight.

Other natural landmarks

  • Gabinarraca Cave (Venado Cave) - Alajuela. Large cave with known length - 2,741 m. Contains beautiful cave formations including rimstone basins.
  • Kapok in Corcovado National Park - Puntarenas. Giant ceiba tree (Ceiba pentandra (L.) Gaertn.), reportedly - 77 m tall - although it is not known whether this has been really measured. As it is common with many trees of tropical forests, the base part of this giant tree has pyramidal form and thus the usual way to measure the girth of tree at 1.2 - 1.4 m height here can not be applied.
  • Puente de la Piedra of Grecia - Alajuela. Beautiful natural arch over Poró river.
  • Terciopelo Cave and Barra Honda rimstone formations - Guanacaste. Terciopelo is rather small, 41 m deep and 92 m long cave, very rich with speleothems. Earlier, when caves were not yet discovered in Barra Honda, local people thought that this mountain is volcano: numerous bats living in the caves created weird noise and their movement rised the smell of guano, resembling pungent smells of volcanoes. Lime rich streams have formed amazing rimstone formations on the west slope of Barra Honda mountain.

Man made landmarks

Archaeological monuments

Spheres on Isla del Caño, Costa Rica
Stone spheres on Isla del Caño, Boruca cemetery / Photo Courtesy of
  • Diquis Valley Spheres and Spheres on Isla del Caño - Puntarenas. Very unusual monument - perfectly round stone (granite) spheres, some up to 16 tons heavy. This is an ancient monument, although exact timing and culture are unknown. Many spheres in Isla del Caño are still in their original place - some are located in an ancient cemetery of Boruca people. Spheres have been found also in some remote parts of Osa Peninsula.
  • Guayabo de Turrialba - Cartago. Most impressive archaeological monument in Costa Rica: city or ceremonial centre (size - 218 ha) which was inhabited in 1000 BC - 1400 AD. It is estimated that roughly in 800 AD here lived some 10,000 poeople. Site contains remnants of stone structures, paved streets and plazas, complex aqueducts, bridges. Here are located also the mysterious round stone balls characteristic for this region. Here have been found numerous petroglyphs which show animals, geometric figures and possible conceptual signs of proto-writing. Found also numerous golden items.
  • Nicoa Cave - Guanacaste. One of many caves of Barro Honda. Here have been found human remnants and artefacts including jewelry, dating back to 300 BC.
  • Megalithic monuments at Rivas - San José. Archaeological site of Chiriquí period, AD 750-1500. In the fields around Rivas town are found house foundations: rings of large stones as well as separate standing stones, causeways, stairways. Archaeological excavations have yielded over 600,000 sherds of pottery, some clay figurines depicting women, ceramic musical instruments - rattle and whistles.
  • Petroglyphs at Volcan Cacao - Guanacaste. Several hundreds of petroglyphs near Maritza Biological Station, possibly made by Chirigua people. Petroglyphs are found in different regions of Costa Rica.
  • Piedra del Indio - San José. Cliff with interesting petroglyphs including a possible map of Talamanca Mountain range.

Other man made landmarks

  • Museo de Jade - San José. World's largest collection of American jade, contains numerous items of high archaeological and artistic value.
  • Treasure of Cocos Island - Cocos Island, Puntarenas. One of the most renowned legend sites where more than 300 expeditions have loooked for hidden treasure left by Spaniards (Loot of Lima) or pirates (Devonshire Treasure). The beauty of the rainforest covered island creates appropriate backdrop to this legend and occasional finds of golden items add fuel to the flames in imagination of treasure hunters.

List of described attractions by provinces

Costa Rica is divided into 7 provinces.

ArrowPoás volcanoVolcanoes, Ecosystems, Sites of meteorological phenomena
San José

Map of Costa Rica

Featured: Poás Volcano and Laguna Caliente

Laguna Caliente in Poas crater, Costa Rica
Laguna Caliente in Poas crater / Carlos Reusser Monsalvez, Flickr. CC BY 2.0

There are many interesting volcanos around the world but few are as interesting as Poás volcano in Costa Rica. Judge yourselves:

  • Volcano is active nearly continuously;
  • Main crater contains one of the most acidic lakes of the world - Laguna Caliente - which often changes color;
  • Laguna Caliente often throws up the acid like a geyser - even hundreds of metres high!
  • Laguna Caliente and surrounding fumaroles produce acid fogs and rains which have wiped out the vegetation near the summit.
  • Part of the summit is covered with unusual, stunted forest, containing numerous rare and often visually impressive plants and animals including an extremely rare squirrel.

Recommended books:

Living in and Visiting Costa Rica: 100 Tips, Tricks, Traps, and Facts

Finally, a book on Costa Rica that gives a “slice of life” view of this tropical, Central American country. Real world examples of what to expect at: the bank, the grocery store, the restaurant, the restroom, when driving, and more. The book is written in a lighthearted, humorous way.

Fodor's Costa Rica 2016

Costa Rica is one of the most popular destinations for travelers in search of natural beauty, outdoor adventure, and sun. In full-color and with helpful magazine-style illustrated features, Fodor's Costa Rica shows off the splendor of the country's stunning natural landscapes and its varied flora and fauna like no other guide.

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