One of the best ways to discover Costa Rica is through its incredible nature tours. Taking a tour allows you to access underrated aspects of the country and discover new depths that would otherwise go unnoticed by most tourists. Here are five of the best off-the-beaten-path tours, perfect for all types of travelers, including families.
Leaf Cutter Ants
The dense rainforest is home to thousands of species that play an essential role in the ecosystem, including an abundance of insects. With all of Costa Rica’s incredible animal life, it’s too easy to overlook the tiniest of creatures, but leafcutter ants are some of the most fascinating animals you can find in Costa Rica. These ants live in their own complex society, growing mushrooms underground using mulch chewed from leaves stripped from specific plants and trees. In the Sarapiquí region, a unique town and river area in the province of Heredia with incredible biodiversity, guided tours give visitors an up-close look at active leafcutter colonies. Participants learn about caste divisions in colonies, see how ants cut and transport leaves, and even see the ant queen – none of which can normally be seen without the help of an expert.
The rainforests near the equator have some of the highest fungal biodiversity on Earth. The rainforests of Costa Rica are an ecotourist’s dream and are teeming with fungal kingdoms. Guided excursions to see the fungi of Costa Rica’s rainforests allow you to explore areas that are still being actively researched by scientists, and aid in rainforest conservation. Tours take place all year round, but are best enjoyed during the country’s rainy season. There are a wealth of fungal realms to explore, including day-long trails to see the fungi clinging to the oak trees of the Grecia Forest Reserve “Bosque del Niño” or bioluminescent fungi growing in the Monteverde cloud forest.
Those staying in San Jose can even embark on these trails in La Cangreja National Park, which is just 20 miles outside of downtown. Costa Rica’s wild mushroom trails are aimed at nature lovers and travelers get the chance to find, identify, photograph and in some cases even taste some of the world’s rarest mushrooms. The trails offer recreational and educational activities curated to promote wild mushroom conservation at the local level through responsible and sustainable tourism, engaging and integrating local communities and indigenous knowledge throughout the experience.
Cocoa is grown in the Caribbean and South America, but is especially important in Costa Rica. It was a highly prized and sacred crop among the indigenous Chorotega and Bribri communities and was used as currency by the Chorotega until the 1930s. With the creation and popularization of chocolate, the cocoa bean became the cash crop of Costa Rica. The provinces of Guanacaste, Alajuela, Limón, Cartago and Puntarenas all contain thriving cocoa plantations, perfect for any chocolate lover. These plantations offer expert-led experiences who will detail the history, culture, and traditions of chocolate and cocoa, as well as the hidden secrets of bean fermentation and sun-drying. Travelers can personally roast and grind cocoa beans and create their own chocolate treats, including traditional Bribri ceremonial drinks.
More than just a source of natural beauty, plants growing in Costa Rica have long been sources of traditional remedies. Indigenous peoples across the country know how to identify the medicinal properties of the surrounding flora, and much of this knowledge has been passed down through the generations. To discover the diversity of plant life in different regions of Costa Rica, travelers can visit the foothills of the Rincón de la Vieja Volcano, La Fortuna, and the South Zone, where the indigenous people have preserved the integrity of their traditional villages preserve. Local experts offer walks and nature walks through forests and fields where they identify the healing powers of trees, herbs, roots and vines. Guides will educate visitors about the medicinal properties of plants such as ginger, moringa or chaya leaves, and tell the stories of the locals who cultivate them. The Medicinal Plants tours are interactive experiences where participants can feel and smell the plants to identify their texture and scent. At the same time, guides explain how plants can prevent diseases such as cancer, diabetes, allergies and stress.
Costa Rica has over 116 species of bats. These mammals control pest populations in crops, such as bananas and mangoes, and pollinate various plant species. In the Monteverde cloud forest or the Sarapiquí region, travelers can find interactive and educational tours led by highly trained and experienced guides that offer a whole new appreciation for these often misunderstood creatures of the night. Travelers will learn about the diversity and abundance of Costa Rica’s bats, their natural history, classification, adaptations, reproduction, threats and more. During these tours, visitors often have a safe opportunity to observe some of the bats captured in the evening for research projects. Guests will leave the experience with a better understanding of the importance and environmental benefits of bat conservation.