A Tale of Two Coasts: Costa Rica's Caribbean Side

For those anxious to escape the swelling crowds that overpopulate Costa Rica's Pacific coast—especially during the peak tourist season from December to April—the country has one glorious, often-overlooked asset: its eastern coast. Costa Rica's Caribbean flank remains remote and singularly unscathed, with dense rainforest protecting miles of sandy beaches, offering both hardcore adventure options and gloriously self-indulgent sun bathing.
A network of jungle rivers branch toward the Caribbean from the capital city of San José and, for the whitewater pilgrim, make for an ideal way to explore the country's jungle heartland before reaching the white sands of the coast. Ríos Tortuguero and Pacuare offer Class I to III thrills and phenomenal exposure to a rainforest bustling with toucans, ocelots, sloths, howler monkeys, and hundreds of exotic species. The rivers take you into Limón Province, 81 miles east of San José, where coconut palms cut across a periwinkle sky and lazily hang over the Caribbean Sea, whose waters shelter Cahuita National Park's 1,483-acres of coral reef. South of Cahuita, and directly north of the mouth of Río Perezosa, the wreck of a late-18th century slave ship is a reminder of the region's buccaneering past. A short distance away, the endangered West Indian manatee makes its home in Gandoca Estuary. The northern end of Tortuguero National Park, central Puerto Limón, and Puerto Viejo are other prime coastal attractions.
An extensive swath of green jungle awaits in the backyard of these white beaches. Costa Rica's rainforest has survived years of slash-and-burn cultivation, and the dense forest that remains is a testament to the country-wide dedication to eco-sensitive tourism. Paddling along the rivers offers a glimpse into this complex ecosystem, but rainforest hikes or horseback rides into the heart of this jungle will truly introduce you to Costa Rica's diverse wildlife population. Riding expeditions through La Amistad International Park, north of the Ríos Pacuare and Tortuguero, run at about $30 per hour. La Amistad, an enormous 479,692-acre park, protects more than 15 endangered species and will help you appreciate your place in the natural scheme of things.

Published: 7 Oct 2002 | Last Updated: 14 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

Best Hotels in Costa Rica

$83
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Volcano Lodge and Springs
$193
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Costa Rica Marriott Hotel San Jose
$105
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Pumilio Mountain and Ocean Hotel

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