A trip to Costa Rica can be a sensory adventure. Visitors to the country describe its glorious sights–its beaches, volcanoes and tropical forests–and its delicious flavors–gallo pinto, fresh tortillas and exotic fruits. Northerners rave about Costa Rica’s balmy tropical climate–the warmth of its oceans, its pleasant tropical breezes and its near-constant sunshine. And others are thrilled to hear Spanish spoken all around them, when they aren’t listening to the thunder of a tropical rainstorm or to exotic birdcalls on a walk through the jungle. However, few tourists ever really describe the wondrous smells they encounter on a trip to Costa Rica. But we believe that the scent of a Costa Rican trip is something to savor.

During the rainy season, visitors to Costa Rica can experience the complex smell of a tropical rainstorm. At the beach, the rain carries with it the green, vegetal smell of tropical undergrowth; the scent of clean, wet sand and the salty undercurrent of the storm-tossed sea. In San José, the rain has the distinctly urban smell of wet paving stones and the steamy scent wafting from outdoor food stalls, but it still has within it a baseline of the tropical Costa Rican wilderness–a smell of dark soil and wet leaves.

The beaches of Costa Rica have their own smells. The harsh, raw smell of the inside of a green coconut, or “pipa,” mixes with the briny scent of the sea and a pleasant underlying smell of sea life. All give an outdoor meal of ceviche and a fruit drink, or “fresco,” a layer of flavor they don’t have anywhere else in the country.

The volcanoes of Costa Rica have a distinctive ashy, sulfuric smell that reminds visitors of the geological tumult before them. Poás has the smell of rich, black earth, damp under the thick vegetation that grows right near the volcano’s sulfur-filled crater. Irazú, the volcano that looks most like a lunar landscape, has a dry, burnt smell that blows in cool, damp gusts across the black fields of ash. Arenal smells of fresh eruptions and the steamy warmth of the hot springs at its base.

As much as Costa Rica is a pleasure for the eyes, ears and taste buds, it is a marvelous destination for the intrepid visitor with a scent for adventure.

Read more about cas, the best tropical fruit drink in Costa Rica.

Read more about visiting Costa Rica during the rainy season.

Read more about Costa Rica’s volcanoes.

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