The tropical rainforests, pristine beaches, and incredible eco adventures are what draw most people to Costa Rica. However, for people who prefer to get off the beaten path, this country offers a number of unexpected gems.
San Lucas Island
At one time, this was a penal island, similar to New York’s Alcatraz only in Costa Rica. However, San Lucas Island has been completely transformed into a stunning wildlife refuge. Today, it is home to snakes, pheasants, howler monkeys, deer, several species of bats, and an abundance of marine life. Although the island is breathtakingly beautiful, it has a sordid history. Initially, the island was used by Spanish conquistadors who imprisoned and killed literally hundreds of local Chara people on their own sacred ground. Over time, the island became a barbaric prison where anyone imprisoned had no hope of every getting out alive. Even now, you will find remnants of buildings, including a church, infirmary, and actual cells covered with graffiti. While a tour may not be for the faint of heart, it is exciting for people who want a unique adventure.
Waterfalls and Cave Sleeping
Visiting the Diamante Waterfalls is an experience on its own but while there, you can sleep in a cave. These 26-meter twin waterfalls, similar to others in Costa Rica, sit on private land. For that reason, you can only visit them through a local guide. Keep in mind that reaching these waterfalls takes roughly three hours of traveling over slippery clay, loose stones, and stairs made out of dirt. Therefore, it is only recommended for people who are physically fit. While making your way to the waterfalls, you will be educated on medicinal plants, enjoy a lunch consisting of bananas, sweet lemons, and other things grown naturally in the jungle, and even snack on termites. However, behind the waterfalls is an unexpected surprise, a cave that comes complete with elevated sleeping platforms, a kitchen, and bathrooms.
Finca Sanatoria Duran
While traveling to the Irazu Volcano, you might consider stopping by this pastoral location on the Cartago mountainside. Said to be the most haunted building in Costa Rica, many people mistakenly believe this to be a former farm when in reality, it was a hospital that treated patients with tuberculosis and mental health issues. After the hospital closed in the 1960s, it remained abandoned until just recently. Today, you have the opportunity to walk the property and explore the buildings. However, legend has it that the hallways are covered with children’s handprints and that even on hot summer days, cold breezes suddenly come out of nowhere, so be prepared.
At Cabo Blanco Park, you will discover yet another unique gem in the form of Cabuya Island. What makes this particular island so interesting is that the entire area is a cemetery. Although this island is one of the most isolated areas in Costa Rica, it is a great place for hiking. In fact, during low tide, you can walk from the mainland to the island while splashing in just a few inches of water. Cabuya Island also provides some of the best snorkeling around. You will see lobsters, puffer fish, and if lucky enough, seahorses. For a unique destination with a sad history that is now a tropical paradise, you definitely want to add this island to your travel itinerary.
Sleeping in a Plane’s Fuselage
While it might seem odd to find an airplane fuselage in the middle of a jungle, this is exactly what you will find in Costa Rica. The bright red-colored vintage plane has now become one of the most unusual hotels in the world. Resting in the rainforest canopy of Costa Verde, the fuselage provides guests with mesmerizing ocean views. The Boeing 727 plane has been turned into two amazing suites, which tend to sell out quickly. Therefore, if you cannot reserve a room, consider El Avion. This too is a plane’s fuselage that was converted into a trendy restaurant and bar. An interesting fact about El Avion is that it is the CIA sister plane to the C-123 that was shot down in the 1980s during the Iran-Contra affair.
If part of your itinerary includes a trip to the Arenal Volcano area, you definitely want to spend time at Zarcero’s topiary gardens. While there, visit the church, a Gothic Renaissance style structure that is embellished with greenery shaped into various things, including an ox-driven cart, money, arches, helicopter, motorcycle, and as expected, Christ on the cross. As a gift to the town, Evangelista Blanco Brenes performed all of the work. The gardens boast roadside stands, which are easy to find by looking for the large white balls that hang outside. There are also several small stores that sell homemade cheeses and caramel candy.
Although this island is only accessible by boat or plane, it is a gorgeous place where unique wildlife lives. In fact, this is one of the most vital of all turtle nesting beaches in the world, known for endangered green sea turtles, along with loggerhead, hawksbill, and leatherback turtles. Typically, the turtles arrive at night, which is why the beach opens after 6:00 pm. However, to protect the turtles, you must have an official guide. While seeing individual turtles throughout the year is common, watching them during nesting season is an entirely different experience. For green sea and hawksbill turtles, nesting season starts in July and ends in October, with the peak period being in August. For leatherback turtles, the nesting period occurs from February to April.