Whenever you imagine Costa Rica, you automatically think about waterfalls, exotic birds, sloths, crocodiles, snakes, and those cute (but deadly) frogs. You may wonder where the best place and time is to go see these things. While we were in Costa Rica, we went on two canopy tours and there were so many others we did not have a chance to see. Here are some helpful tips based on our time there.
Best Time to Go
When we went to Costa Rica, we stayed there at the beginning of the wet season in late May (wet season is from May through December). This is a great time to go if you want to avoid large crowds, but you will likely get wet. I was not prepared for the downpours and our guide was kind enough to let me share her umbrella. Brianna was smart enough to have a jacket with a hood. If you go this time of year, be prepared for rain.
Another issue was the time of day. The best viewing time is first thing in the morning. This is when all of the birds and other animals are out an about, making noise and getting their day started. Having an accommodation near one of the tours would be helpful as we drove between 2-3 hours for each of them. Next time we will stay in several places closer to my activities to avoid this. Be early, avoid the crowds and you will get more out of the experience.
Places to Go
We went to Arenal Sky Adventures and Rainmaker for canopy tours. Each of these were completely different experiences.
Arenal Sky Adventures – After a morning of doing zip-lining, we had lunch and then went on a canopy tour. It was quite a bit of hiking but we are used to that sort of thing. We were alone with our tour guide since it was the off season. The downside is we got WET! This is where I had no umbrella and it was pouring. Luckily we had a great tour seeing waterfalls, cute insects, salamanders, and little snakes that looked like poop. There were many hanging bridges with nice views of waterfalls and the rain forest. It was a nice tour.
Rainmaker – This tour was incredible! There were many hanging bridges, waterfalls, wildlife and trees. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable and taught us a lot about the conservation efforts in Costa Rica. He would easily point out where different animals were hiding or just simply blending in with their surroundings. We saw a lizard that melded himself in with ground debris and we could have stepped on him accidentally as he was the same color. Much of what we saw was small, like the poisonous Dart Frog. We got there early so we were the only ones on the tour with the guide. That allowed us to ask more questions and get much more out of the tour since we didn’t have a large group to contend with. As I said, it is best to get there early. Here are some places we would like to check out but did not have a chance to see.
Monteverde Sky Adventures – This is owned by the same group as Arenal Sky Adventures but has a nice 3 hour tour through the canopy with similar hanging bridges and wildlife. We may go here on our next trip to get a different perspective.
Manuel Antonio – This is on the western coast and this is where you will see sloths. We regret missing out on this, but you can only fit so much into an 8 day trip. This place can get pretty crowded as it is Costa Rica’s most popular national park. Unlike the others, this one can be done on your own without a guide. It offers much of the same as Monteverde and Arenal, with both zip-lining and canopy tours, among other things. We recommend Sky Adventures for Zip-lining so go to Manuel Antonio for the wildlife. While you are here, you will see more birds and larger animals that are easier to spot, just look up. We can not wait to go back and see this place!
Should you have a guided tour or go on your own?
If you are an expert at finding things and are used to the Costa Rica jungle, then you can go on your own. I think if you are not, you will miss out on many opportunities to see the smallest but most interesting creatures. We were glad to have a guide for this part even though we dislike them. Look into the tour to see how many poisonous snakes there are and that will also help you decide. As I mentioned before, Manuel Antonio is quite a bit different and you can do this on your own.
Are the tours and bridges safe?
One of the benefits of having a guide is their ability to find the venomous snakes and poisonous frogs so you do not get hurt. But even without them, the trails are continuously monitored by staff members that look out for these things. It will be very unlikely you will have any mishaps as it occurs very rarely but a little common sense will go a long way. Generally, animals are just as afraid of you as you are of them and do not want to mess with you.
As for the bridges any reputable place will have the highest standards of safety on its bridges and zip-lines. Read the reviews on each place and do your homework before going. Some places are much more reputable than others.
Is it safe to park a car at these places?
As a general rule of thumb, do not leave anything valuable in the car. You can usually rent a locker if you need to store valuables while you are doing adventurous activities. Also, be aware of parking scams. Some places will try to waive you into a lot that is not the official lot of the location and they will charge you a lot more by claiming the parking ahead is full. Go see for yourself before falling for the scam.
What clothes should I wear?
Costa Rica is very warm throughout the year, but there are many nano climates on a canopy tour as well as the ever present threat of rain. You can wear light summer clothes but we recommend you carry a poncho or other lightweight rain jacket just in case.
Is my camera equipment safe in the humidity and heat?
If you have cameras, make sure you have the ability to protect them from getting wet. We had a rain cover on our backpacks as well as zip-lock bags with silica packs (stock up on these beforehand!) to keep cameras and lenses dry from the humidity. If you have a camera rain cover for while you are taking pictures, it will be helpful. This one is on Amazon and is pretty popular for DSLR cameras.
Do you have any questions you would like answered? Leave them in the comments section and we will do our best to answer them.