You will get more out of your time in Costa Rica by taking a tour rather than trying to find birds on your own. Bring your own binoculars, but don't worry about a spotting scope; if you go with a company that specializes in birding tours, your guide will have one. Expect to see about 300 species during a weeklong tour. Many U.S. travel companies subcontract with Costa Rican tour operators. By arranging your tour directly with local companies, you save money.
Birdwatching Costa Rica. Comprehensive multiday birding tours are offered by this company, with eight options in various regions of Costa Rica as well as tours customized to your own requirements. 2771–4582; www.birdwatchingcostarica.com. From $1,288.
Costa Rica's remote Cocos Island—one of the world's best dive spots—can be visited only on multiday scuba safaris, but Guanacaste, the South Pacific, and, to a lesser extent, the Caribbean offer some respectable underwater adventures. Also in the south lies Caño Island, a good alternative to Cocos Island, particularly in the rainy season, when dive sites closer to shore are clouded by river runoff.
Aggressor. The Okeanos Aggressor I and II visit Cocos Island several times throughout the year on multiday diving excursions, in which you live on board and explore waters that are home to some exciting species. Hiking trips ashore are also included, weather permitting. 800/348–2628; www.aggressor.com. From $2,795.
Bill Beard's Costa Rica. This Gulf of Papagayo outfitter pioneered Costa Rican diving tours and offers several Pacific-coast options. 877/853–0538; www.billbeardcostarica.com. From $1,463 for three full diving days in multi-day packages.
Costa Rica Adventure Divers. In the South Pacific, Costa Rica Adventure Divers arranges multiday diving trips in the Drake Bay area, as well as offering the full range of PADI courses. 2231–5806; 866/553–7073; www.costaricadiving.com. Dives from $115.
Sirenas Diving Costa Rica. Based in Playa Hermosa, Sirenas Diving has trips to all the dive sites in Guanacaste and the North Pacific coast, as well as the complete range of PADI courses. 8387–4710; www.sirenasdivingcostarica.com. From $125.
Undersea Hunter. The Argo, Sea Hunter, and Undersea Hunter make 10-day, 9-night excursions several times a year to Cocos Island, with six full days of diving. 2228–6613; 800/203–2120; www.underseahunter.com. From $5,645.
If fishing is your primary objective in Costa Rica, you are best off booking a package. During peak season you may not even be able to find a hotel room in the hot fishing spots, let alone one of the top boats and skippers. The major fish populations move along the Pacific coast through the year, and tarpon and snook fishing on the Caribbean is subject to the vagaries of seasonal wind and weather but viable year-round.
Costa Rica Outdoors. San José–based Costa Rica Outdoors is one of the best bets for full service and honest advice about where to go and works with the widest range of operators around the country. 2231–0306; 800/308–3394; www.costaricaoutdoors.com.
J.P. Sportfishing Tours. This longtime operator is the place to get hooked up for fishing in Quepos and the Central Pacific coast. Experienced skippers are fluent in English and, depending on the season, offer the chance to catch marlin, dorado, Pacific sailfish, snapper, yellowfin, or roosterfish. You'll need to obtain your own fishing license. 2777–1613; 866/620–4188; www.jpsportfishing.com. From $675 for 1–4 anglers for half day.
Kingfisher Sportfishing. Anglers in the know recommend Kingfisher Sportfishing in Playa Carrillo, Guanacaste. Trips to suit experienced anglers and novices of all ages are available. 2656–0091; 800/783–3817; www.costaricabillfishing.com. From $900 for 2–4 anglers for half day.
Río Colorado Lodge. This is the best known of the fishing lodges in Barra del Colorado, north of Tortuguero on the northern Caribbean coast, specializing in tarpon, snook, and light-tackle game fish. Accommodations are in an air-conditioned lodge with good amenities. 2232–4063; 800/243–9777; www.riocoloradolodge.com. From $2,500 for 6 days, 5 nights, with 3 full days of fishing.
The Zancudo Lodge. Near Golfito on the South Pacific coast, this lodge mixes sportfishing with upscale accommodations and a variety of other activities. 2776–0008; 800/854–8791; www.zancudolodge.com. From $2,795 for 3 days fishing, accommodations, and meals.
Most nature-tour companies include hiking as part of their itineraries, but these hikes may not be strenuous enough for serious hikers. Ask many questions about hike lengths and difficulty levels before booking the tour or you may be disappointed with the amount of time you get to spend on the trails. Serendipity Adventures is one that caters to both moderate and serious hikers.
Serendipity Adventures. Customized multiday excursions include camping in areas not normally open to the public. 877/507–1358; 2556–2222; www.serendipityadventures.com. Multiday tours from $2,180.
Most Costa Rican travel agencies have packages that ferry both veterans and newcomers between the country's famed bicoastal breaks.
Del Mar Surf Camp. With branches in Jacó and Nosara, this company offers a variety of surf lessons, including women-only classes, and seven-day packages with daily surfing sessions and accommodations. 2643–3197; 855/833–5627; www.delmarsurfcamp.com. From $1,350 for 7 days.
Thousands of people travel to Costa Rica every year to study Spanish. Dozens of schools in and around San José offer professional instruction and homestays, and there are several smaller schools outside the capital. Bundling a homestay with a local family into the course is always a way to increase your progress.
Conversa. This school in Santa Ana, in the west Central Valley, offers hourly classes as well as "Intense" (4 hours a day) and "Super Intense" (5½ hours per day) programs ranging from a week to a month (with further add-on weeks available). 4001–2497; 888/669–1664; www.conversa.com. From $815 for 1 wk.
CPI Spanish Immersion School. You can sign up for four or five hours per day of study at CPI's schools in Heredia, Monteverde, and Playa Flamingo. 2265–6306; 877/373–3116; www.cpi-edu.com. From $460 (1 wk).
ILISA. Cultural immersion classes are based in San Pedro, San José's preeminent eastside suburb. 2280–0700; 800/454–7248; www.ilisa.com. From $440 (1 wk).
Institute for Central American Development Studies. Language programs here include optional academic seminars in English about Central America's political, social, and economic conditions. 2225–0508; www.icads.org. From $1,790 (4 wks).
La Academia de Español d'Amore. In beautiful Manuel Antonio, this is one of Costa Rica's prime places to combine language study and beach time. 2777–0233; 877/434–7290; www.academiadamore.com. From $850 (2 wks).
In recent years more and more Costa Ricans have realized the need to preserve their country's precious biodiversity. Both Ticos and far-flung environmentalists have founded volunteer and educational concerns to this end.
Volunteer opportunities span a range of diverse interests. You can tag sea turtles as part of a research project, build trails in a national park, or volunteer at an orphanage. Many of the organizations require at least rudimentary Spanish. Beach cleanups, recycling, and some wildlife projects don't require proficiency in Spanish.
Costa Rican Humanitarian Foundation. Volunteer opportunities include working with indigenous communities, women, street kids, community-based clinics, and education centers. 8390–4192; www.crhf.org. From $500.
Earthwatch Institute. Science-based trips led by Earthwatch include studying monkeys, turtles, dolphins, rain forests, and climate change. 800/776–0188; www.earthwatch.org. From $1,950.
Institute for Central American Development Studies. The Institute delves into development and social justice in a variety of volunteer programs that let you work with schools and disadvantaged communities. 2225–0508; www.icads.org. From $1,990 (4 wks).
Sea Turtle Conservancy. This conservancy, in Tortuguero on the northern Caribbean coast, is devoted to the preservation of endangered sea turtles. You can sign up as an eco-volunteer for one, two, or three weeks, with all-inclusive accommodations, and take part in nighttime turtle patrols and hands-on conservation projects. 352/373–6441; www.conserveturtles.org. From $1,508.
Talamancan Association of Ecotourism and Conservation. As well as designing short group and individual outings centered on Costa Rican wildlife and indigenous culture, ATEC keeps an updated list of up to 30 Caribbean-based organizations that welcome volunteers. A two-month commitment is required. 2750–0398; www.ateccr.org.