Travel and Leisure — September 4, 2014 at 5:00 am

The Top 5 Non-Touristy Places to See in Costa Rica

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Costa Rica is no longer a diamond in the rough, it is a diamond that has been placed on display for all to enjoy. Last year alone 2.4 million people vacationed in Costa Rica, a country roughly the size of West Virginia. The secret is out, “The Rich Coast” (Costa Rica translated into English) has been discovered by the masses. Even though the country is very small, it’s jungles are dense, and it’s rugged topography has allowed towns to remain mostly unaffected by the masses. Below are five gems that still exude an untouched authentic vibe.

Uvita & the Whale’s Tail
Most people don’t venture as far south as Uvita. Before the costañera (coastal road) was paved the journey was an all grueling experience for your body and car with constant holes, rocks and ruts. Today the road is one of the best in Costa Rica. There are numerous empty, picture perfect beaches along the drive. Many are dotted with volcanic reef, adding esthetic appeal. Marino Ballena National Park crosses through Uvita, and is named after the humpback whales that are known to migrate in large numbers along the coast in July through October and again in December through March. This spot has the longest whale season in the world.

In addition to whale watching Uvita is home to a waterfall that acts as a natural water-slide. You can literally sit in the water above the fall and ride it down a 35 foot drop!  After you have had your adrenaline fix head up the whale and dolphin tail hotel for dinner, cocktails and the best ocean view of the “Whale’s Tail.” There is a sand bar at low tide that looks exactly like a huge whale’s tail. While it’s a great sight from a bird’s eye view, walking on the sand bar is an experience in and of itself.

Zarcero
I discovered this town after my 1980 CJ7 Jeep broke down. It’s among some of the most gorgeous green hills and mountains. Rainbow Eucalyptus flank the entrance to this peaceful mountain town. While Zarcero is far from the foreigner’s tourist circuit, it is known by Costa Ricans. Bringing the town together is an enormous blue medieval styled church and a courtyard filled with topiaries. Make sure and try the queso palmito (a ball of cheese that is similar to string cheese made by hand locally).

Tenorio Volcano National Park
This park will not remain a secret long. It feels like something out of Jurassic Park, filled with volcanos, jungle, streams, waterfalls, and bubbling hot springs. A surreal phenomenon occurs inside this magical park. There is a line in the river where the water changes from crystal clear to a brilliant, almost luminescent, blue. Here the hiking, swimming, and nature observing are top notch.

Cavernas el Venado & Secret Free Hot Springs
While Cavernas de Venado is located just 45 minutes from tourist hub La Fortuna, it remains relatively unknown. To venture in the caves a guide is required. Since they are not well known you very well may have a monolingual Spanish speaking guide. You will spend two and half hours of crawling and wading through underground rivers and will even cross under a sub-terrain waterfall! There was natural quartz, limestone, and a variety of other rock creating stalagmites, and stalactites, or pointy icicle looking structures.

Free Hot Springs
After exiting the caves you will certainly be primed for a visit to the free hot springs in La Fortuna. Take the main road into La Fortuna. When you see the Tabacon Hotel park. There will be a yellow cross bar blocking off a small road that dips downhill. This is the access to the public river that also happens to feel like bathwater! It’s the same water that traverses through the expensive Tabacon Hot Springs resort, only it’s free. Soaking in the warm river was a clear thank you to our bodies for getting us through each hole, tunnel, and narrow passage in Cavernas de Venado.

Manzanillo
This idyllic beach is located 20 minutes south of Puerto Viejo. Its crystal clear water, vast emptiness, and calm conditions lend it to be excellent for kayaking, snorkeling, swimming or “chilling out.” This is my favorite place to kayak and swim. The beach receives waves a few times a year, so the vibe does change depending on the time of year.

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