Best Kept Secrets
Last Updated: Apr 30, 2012
From a celestial blue waterfall to limestone caves, Costa Rica’s best-kept secrets are rarely visited but richly featured. We’ve chosen a few of our favorite hidden gems and hope they’ll become your favorite discoveries, too.
Barra Honda National Park
Barra Honda National Park, Home to myriad caverns carved from soft limestone, Is Costa Rica's only subterranean park. The caves were shaped over a period of 70 million years; To date, only 42 of the park’s caves have been partially explored and 19 are fully explored. Unlike many cave parks throughout the world; Barra Honda has not been developed for wide-scale tourism, so guests are treated to a genuine caving experience. The park’s hidden riches continue above ground, where you’ll find some of the world’s last remaining tropical dry forest. Barra Honda’s ranger station is ideal for overnights; it’s one of only a handful throughout Costa Rica that can be reached without a long hike.
The Rio Celeste, located in Tenorio Volcano National Park, Is a freshwater ribbon dyed teal and baby blue. Within the park, the colorful river spills over a cliff and down into a waiting pool, forming the famed Celeste Waterfall. The stunning cascade and milky blue river get their unique hue from a chemical combination of sulfur and calcium carbonate. Don’t worry, the river doesn’t smell like sulfur, but the natural chemicals do add a milky blue luster! The park sits at the base of quiet Tenorio Volcano and is also home to restorative hot springs. A four-to-five-hour loop trail takes you on a best-of hike through all of the Celeste hotspots.
Towering 12,533 feet above sea level, Chirripo Mountain is the highest point in Costa Rica. The picturesque peak is located within Chirripo National Park, a diverse area home to high-altitude microclimates including mountain paramo, lush forest, marsh and fern groves. Several years ago, the park opened a second route to the summit; though it’s almost twice as long as the original path, the Herradura trail allows camping and lodging at its backcountry lodge. The three-day trek is one of Costa Rica’s most stunning hikes, and the final, early-morning climb is worth the effort – sunrise from Cerro Chirripo is spectacular. If you plan to hike during the dry season (December-April), make early reservations, as the lodge quickly reaches its 60-person maximum occupancy.
Just south of Jaco, Bejuco’s secluded beach is the perfect place to relax and unwind. Isolated and undeveloped, Bejuco is known for its excellent surf, untouched beauty and miles of dark sands. Often there won’t be another soul in sight, so feel free to spread out and enjoy your own “private” shoreline. Keep in mind that Bejuco has strong riptides, so the beach is best for boogie boarding and surfing, or just lounging under the sun. Bejuco village has a couple of hotels with restaurants, a mini-supermarket and a small cafe that serves inexpensive and tasty local cuisine.
San Gerardo de Dota
The emerald valley of San Gerardo de Dota Sits in the highlands of the Southern Zone, about 50 miles along Cerro de la Muerte. Cool mountain temperatures transform the surrounding landscape; peach trees and strawberry patches take the place of coconut palms and hibiscus flowers. The region’s biggest attractions are hiking, trout fishing and birdwatching – especially for hummingbirds and the dazzling resplendent quetzal. The small hamlet has no supermarkets, banks or gas stations, and only a handful of family-run cabins and lodges accomodate visitors. For a slice of the real Costa Rica and a truly peaceful getaway, we recommend at least a weekend in this tiny mountain town.
Palo Verde National Park
Situated at the mouth of the Tempisque River, Palo Verde National Park Is a true nature lover’s delight. The park boasts a mosaic of 15 different habitats, including mangrove swamps, grassy savannahs, marshes, pastures and evergreen forest, all bordered by sloping limestone hills. The 45,500-acre wetland sanctuary is one of the best birding spots in Costa Rica – try to visit Palo Verde during the dry season (December-April), when most of the 300 resident bird species are in abundance. Day trips along the Tempisque River are a great way to spot birds and other wildlife; common sightings include herons, storks, howler monkeys, American crocodiles, spoonbills, and coatimundis.