Ecotourism In Costa Rica: A Complete Guide With Hotels, Tips & More
Costa Rica is one of the most biodiverse, lush places in the world. The Central American country is nestled between the Caribbean and Pacific Oceans; the landscape makes for several unique microclimates throughout the country, including cool cloud forests, tropical rain forests, dry jungles, and coastal beaches. It's a nature lover's paradise.
And Costa Rica has committed to keeping its idyllic slice of earth as such. As the United Nations Environment Program puts it, "[The country] has long punched above its weight as a global green pioneer with a strong social conscience." Some ways they've done this? Renewable energy accounts for more than 98% of its energy source, it has worked forest cover up to more than 53% (reversing the damage done by deforestation), and about 25% of the total land has been transformed into protected areas. The most astonishing of all: The government has laid out a detailed plan to decarbonize its economy by 2050.
Because of the country's commitment to sustainability and community, it has blossomed into a thriving destination for eco-activists and, therefore, eco-tourism. And travelers who are as committed to the ethos of "leaving it better than you found it" will fit right in.
Here, how to make the most of your trip—for you and the planet.
There's so much to explore in Costa Rica. Here's a small snapshot of some of the best hotels in the most adventurous areas.
This luxury escape features 20 awe-inspiring suites in the middle of a rain forest on the banks of the Pacuare River, one of the most famous white water rafting rivers in the world. Speaking of: That's actually how you get to the lodge. The enclave is so remote in the dense forest that white water rafting to and from the hotel is the most efficient point of entry. And that's not the only adventure you'll have access to. As part of the stay, you are able to experience night hiking, zip-lining, bird-watching, rappelling, swimming in waterfalls, and learning about local Indigenous communities. The hotel actively engages in conservation efforts in the surrounding area, uses renewable resources and energy, and keeps waste to a minimum.
- Price point: $$$$
- Area: Limón. Easiest to fly into SJO.
- Amenities: Pool, farm-to-table eating, fresh juices daily, spa, prepackaged excursions
- Book now: https://www.pacuarelodge.com/
Four Seasons Resort Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo
For pure luxury accommodations, the Four Seasons Costa Rican locale is world-renowned. The resort sits on the Papagayo peninsula on the Pacific Coast (so it's sandwiched between Chelubra Bay and the Gulf of Papagayo). And you'll have plenty of access to the waters, with SUP, fishing, snorkeling, and more. They also have a partnership with local charities, so you can volunteer some of your time during your stay—for example, you can help with landscaping at local schools or provide essentials for nearby families.
- Price point: $$$
- Area: Peninsula Papagayo on the Pacific Coast. Best to fly into LIR.
- Amenities: 4 outdoor pools; private beach access; tennis; beach yoga; restaurants with fresh, healthy menus; spa; water sports; jungle tour; suites and private residences; fitness center; wellness consultations; guided meditation classes
- Book now: https://www.fourseasons.com/costarica/
There's so much incredible nature to experience while in Costa Rica, but the white sand beaches on the Nicoya Peninsula should not be overlooked. This beach resort is a touch harder to get to, but it's worth it for this oasis. While there, spend your time luxuriating at the spa, moving with their daily yoga sessions, practicing Pilates, surfing the waves, zip-lining through the canopy, and riding horses.
- Price point: $$$
- Area: Santa Taresa on the Nicoya Peninsula. Fly into San José and arrange a domestic flight to Tambor.
- Amenities: Pool, open-air yoga, Shala Beach access, Pilates, surfing, SUP, fishing, zip-lining, horseback riding, access to volunteer work, farm-to-table restaurants
- Book now: https://florblanca.com/
There's a lot to cover in the country, so you may not be able to do it all depending on the duration of your stay, but here are a few activities that should be on the list of considerations:
Water sports—there's plenty to choose from.
Whether you're on one of the coasts or further inland, there's usually some water activity to explore. The most famous option is surfing, and the best spots are found on the Pacific Coast: Tamarindo hosts several international surfing competitions per year. For those who want a calmer but no less productive endeavor, stand-up paddle-boarding (SUP) offers the water scenery, with a hefty side of core work. When inland, you may enjoy white water rafting or kayaking on one of the country’s rivers: Pacuare River is the most scenic and gets up to class 4 rapids.
Hike, hike, and hike.
Since so much of the country's land is protected federally, there's ample opportunity to hike. Some of the most beloved National Parks are Arenal (one of the most trafficked and popular—and has an active volcano), Santa Rosa (on the northern Pacific Coast, it offers both tropical dry forests and sand beaches), and Tenorio (much more challenging but stunning scenery). For beginners or those who don't hike often, we recommend booking a guided tour where available—not only is it the safer option, but you'll likely learn a lot about the surrounding ecosystem during it.
Zip-lining and canopy tours are some of the most thrilling ways to explore the lush scenery, as long as you can deal with heights. There are several options out there, depending on what area of Costa Rica you're in, and each has its own unique touch. A quick highlight: If you're on the north Pacific Coast (around Liberia in the Guanacaste region), the best is The Diamante Superman zip line, which is one the longest zip lines in the world.
Explore city life.
If you fly into or out of San José, be sure to spend some time checking out the city's cultural institutions. There are museums aplenty: Stop by Museo del Jade to learn about Costa Rica's archaeological and artistic heritage, Pre-Columbian Gold Museum for stunning artifacts, and the National Museum for history. And don't miss the San José Central Market, which features local vendors for artisan keepsakes.
Here are some local favorites that fuel your trip.
A stunning gastrointestinal experience from chef Santiago Fernández Benedetto. He has worked all over the world—in some of the best restaurants and most luxurious hotels—and has taken this expertise in sophistication to the country's capital city. The dishes are inspired by his family recipes and pay homage to his own heritage through artisanal, local sources. In fact, the tasting menu is made with 99% Costa Rican products.
- Price point: $$$
- City: San José
- Dietary consideration options: locally sourced ingredients, organic, pescatarian
- Setting: Elevated casual
- Menu & info: https://www.restaurantesilvestre.com/
HiR Fine Dining
A once-in-a-lifetime experience from founder and chef Noam Mercedes Kostucki. Each dinner serves about 12 people and takes place in her home. It lasts from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.—and there's a logistical reason for this, according to the website, as the home is remote and difficult to find in the dark. To secure your spot, you need to fill out a form on the website and look out for a call from Noam. Yes, she curates the guest list, cooks the seven-course meal, and hosts all by herself. As for the main event? "I use as many ingredients from my own garden as possible (mostly herbs and leaves), and as much as possible, I only cook with local ingredients," she says. "All dishes are, however, inspired by my travels around 40-plus countries, and with every dish, I share a story of what inspired it and what is its deeper meaning in my life."
- Price point: $$$
- City: Tamarindo
- Dietary consideration options: A seven-course seasonal menu that is crafted by the chef unique to each experience. Please notify Noam of your dietary restrictions in advance.
- Setting: Elevated casual
- Menu & info: http://elmundodenoam.com/hirfinedining
El Mercadito De Tamarindo
Described as a "food and cocktail market," this hot spot in the beachtown of Tamarindo offers a relaxed setting to drink with friends and sample globally inspired dishes (with a Costa Rican flare, of course).
- Price point: $
- City: Tamarindo
- Dietary consideration options: vegetarian, pescatarian, dairy-free
- Setting: very casual—market style
- Menu & info: https://www.mercaditotama.com/
What to bring along to make sure you're well suited for serious adventures.
Thrive Natural Care Natural Mineral Face Sunscreen for Sensitive Skin SPF 30
- Mineral formula with antioxidants
- Ingredients grown through regenerative agriculture
- UVA & UVB protection
This beauty brand creates natural, clean products for body, face, and sun care—all through the power of regenerative farming. Take this face sunscreen, for example: Not only does it use zinc oxide for sun protection, but it's bolstered by Fierrillo and Coralillo extracts. These botanicals (unique to both Costa Rica and the brand itself) are grown via a regenerative business model, by restoring soil health to the land and supporting local farmers and their communities.
Belroy Lite Sling
- 3 colorways
- 3-year warranty
- Several smaller compartments for organization
- Padded paneling for comfort
You never know where the adventures might take you; it's best to have your essential belongings packed securely against the elements. This lightweight cross-body sling has a magnetic strap clasp for easy maneuvering and expandable storage, so you can add more or less as needed. It's also made with water-resistant materials, made from 100% recycled PET plastic bottles.
Astral Loyak Water Shoes
- 2 neutral colorways that go with most outfits
- The sole has excellent grip
Whether it's for rappelling, swimming, kayaking, or hiking to a waterfall, water shoes will come in handy. Check out this well-reviewed pair: The water-repelling canvas will help keep your feet dry while out and about, and the high-quality materials are sturdy enough to keep up with your excursions. We also love that they're self-draining and very flexible. A not-so-small bonus: They're sleek enough for wearing and walking around the city.
There's no shortage of reasons to visit Costa Rica. The country has become a vacationer's hot spot thanks to the deluxe accommodations, heart-thumping adventure, and rich culture. But while you're a guest, remember to care for the land as well as the residents. Costa Rica has shown itself to be a beacon of living environmentally friendly, and it's important to respect that ethos while there.