Costa Rica should be primed on the radars of every eco-savvy traveler hoping their next trip will include days spent soaring through treetops à la Tarzan and nights spent ogling rare rainforest species.
This verdant, mountainous country with miles of coastline is a veritable adventure traveler's Mecca, offering up all manner of outdoor activities: whitewater rafting, hiking, mountain biking, canopy tours, surfing, swimming, snorkeling and fishing. Costa Rica even lures less adventurous folks with its enchanting natural hot springs and gorgeous beaches.
As you plan your visit to Costa Rica, put these can't-miss, unique outdoor experiences on your must-do list:
Fly Through the Forest
Soaring over the jungle on Costa Rica's famed zip-lines is one of the most exhilarating -- and to some, terrifying -- experiences around. This top tourist attraction, advertised as a canopy tour, features platforms connected by thick cables stretching across tree-laden ravines, hillsides and valleys. Participants are strapped into harnesses, clipped onto the cables and sent flying from one platform to another.
While other countries have similar attractions, Costa Rica's are some of the best in terms of length, speed, height and views.
Canopy tours are ubiquitous across the country; make sure you do some research first to find a reputable tour operator. Recommendations include Selvatura Park, The Original Canopy Tour and The Canopy Adventure Tour.
Explore the Rainforest, Day or Night
If you visit Costa Rica and somehow don't make it to a rainforest, you've missed the whole point. Big time.
The country's lush forests are some of the most tranquil and beautiful in the world. Here you'll find crashing waterfalls, gentle streams and unusual wildlife galore, including three-toed sloths and howler monkeys.
But don't limit yourself to daylight hours. Take an organized night walk, where you can glimpse nocturnal species you won't see during the day -- including sloths, snakes, frogs, bats, spiders and a wide variety of insects -- illuminated only by the beam of your flashlight.
Your best bets for exploration are to head to Corcovado National Park or the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, where clouds literally float through the treetops.
Scale or View a Volcano
Costa Rica is part of the infamous Pacific Ring of Fire, a belt of volcanic activity that includes parts of the Americas, Antarctica, Asia and the Philippines.
As a result, it has a wealth of volcanoes, five of which are active and another dozen of which are dormant but could awaken in the future.
In many cases, you can climb, drive or ride horses to the top of these volcanoes such as Poas, one of the country's most popular attractions, where you can peer over the edge into massive craters.
The most dramatic viewing experience, though, won't put you anywhere near a volcano's top, as it would be far too dangerous -- even for adventure seekers. In the tiny town of La Fortuna you can glimpse Arenal, the most active and unpredictable volcano in Costa Rica. If the clouds break, you'll be able to see tendrils of lava slinking down Arenal's cone. You can book guided hikes around the volcano, and even a package tour that combines a trip to the area's hot springs and dinner, through tour operators such as Desafio Adventure Company.
Ride the Rapids
Costa Rica is considered one of the world's best places to ride rapids, offering enough white water to appease even the most experienced rafters. But you don't have to be an expert to enjoy Costa Rica's rivers. The country offers plenty of opportunities for all skill levels, including those with no rafting skills at all.
Families and novices can take leisurely paddles down tame rivers such as the Sarapiqui and Corobici. Both offer a great way to see the country and an ample opportunity for wildlife viewing, so don't be surprised to see an otter frolicking in the water or an iguana basking in the sun.
More experienced rafters can try to tame the Reventazon river, which means "bursting waves," or the Pacuare, regarded as one of the world's best rafting rivers.
Soak in a Hot Spring
After tromping around rainforests and hiking volcanoes, you'll need to unwind, and the best place to relax is at one of Costa Rica's famous hot springs, with water heated from volcanic rock underground.
The mineral-infused waters, which vary in temperature from 80 to 105 degrees, are said to be a panacea for a variety of ailments, including arthritis and skin conditions.
It's worth a visit to the hot springs resorts of Baldi and Tabacon in La Fortuna. Both include numerous pools, ponds and waterfalls set amid lush gardens. You can also grab dinner, sip a cocktail, or get a massage or mud wrap while you're there. For a more intimate experience head to Eco Termales, which allows only 100 visitors at a time. You can also ask the locals where to find the free hot springs, which don't have the amenities of the larger ones but are much closer to nature.