Let’s visit Costa Rica that small Central American country sandwiched between Nicaragua on the north and Panama on the south and the two bodies of water: the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. Do not be fooled into lumping this tourist destination into the same category as all the other countries in the region. Costa Rica is the most popular place to vacation and there are many reasons why.
Reasons to Vacation in Costa Rica
- It is the most biodiverse country in the world. Here you will find beach areas, rain forests, cloud forests, volcanoes, and more – each with their own ecosystems. To protect this special aspect of the country, Costa Rica has devoted over a quarter of its land mass to protected wildlife areas and national parks and is a world leader in ecotourism.
- Because it is such a popular destination you can find all types of accommodation from B&B’s to luxury resorts. The country has worked on maintaining a safe environment for travelers.
- Whether you are looking for chill time on an endless white sand beach, a chance to experience nature, or get out there and participate in active sports, this is the place to be. There are over 300 beaches between the two coasts, over 100 wildlife areas, and active adventures available such as hiking, biking, ATV’s, horseback riding, climbing, rappelling, white water rafting, kayaking, sport fishing, surfing, and more.
- It is open all year! Costa Rica has two seasons: the drier, hotter and more expensive one from December to April (though it may rain a bit every day) and the rainy, “green” season (avoid September and October for the rainiest days). Obviously, the latter has cooler temperatures and lower pricing. You can pick your best time and go with no hesitation.
- Costa Ricans or ticas (women) and ticos (men) are friendly. The culture is diverse ranging from predominantly Spanish on the west coast to that of a Spanish-African mix on the east coast. The food is delicious, and the water is potable. It is pura vida – the simple life.
Three Areas of Attraction, Out of Many
You will find lots to interest you on your visit but Arenal, the region of Guanacaste, and Monteverde Cloud Forest are recommended. The Arenal Volcano National Park in the northern inland region of the country contains a volcano and a lake of the same name plus a second inactive volcano, Chato, whose crater is now a beautiful blue-water lagoon. Arenal on the other hand is one of the most active volcanoes in the world though it has been dormant for nearly a decade. The last major eruption in 1968 destroyed a nearby town. Its hot springs are the big draw and tourists flock to experience the warm rivers that flow down the mountain side.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve treats over seventy thousand visitors a year to its unique environment. Cloud forests are largely alpine forests versus tropical as they exist at higher altitudes, but they have that 100% humidity that make people think they are in the clouds. Rain jackets are a must. Here live over a hundred animal species, ditto reptiles and amphibians, hundreds of different types of birds, thousands of plants, and unfortunately (unless you are an insect lover), thousands of those pesky creatures too.
Guanacaste (named after the national tree) is one of the seven regions of Costa Rica and borders the Pacific below Nicaragua. Here you will find the fabulous beaches, tourist towns such as Tamarindo and Liberia with nightlife and restaurants, and Guanacaste and Santa Rosa National Parks, both protected areas of high biodiversity. You will also find this region contains cattle-growing and sugar cane plantations and as such, has a cowboy vibe.
Conchal Beach is where you will find a beach made entirely of small fragments of sea shells! But check out these other great beaches as well: Flamingo (pink sand), Mansita, Del Coco, Playa Hermosa (diving), Ocotal, Langosta (swimming), Matapolo (brown sand beach) and more. Or check out the beach at Playa Grande for the annual migration of the baby leatherback turtles from sandy nests to the sea (by tour only at specific times of the year). Leave beach life behind to hike or kayak in the many smaller national parks with magnificent volcano trails, waterfalls such as the Rio Celeste, and variety of wildlife.
Some Quick Tips & Odd Facts
- Costa Rica is home to over 50 types of humming birds, ten percent of the world’s butterflies and over twenty thousand species of spiders. Luckily, only a few spiders are poisonous but it does have the banana spider, the most toxic in the world.
- Mosquitoes are prevalent in the lower altitudes so take mosquito repellent with you and use it to prevent malaria or dengue fever. Locally, it may be very expensive to buy.
- Spanish is the official language. Do not expect English to be spoken everywhere so brush up on your Spanish, learn a few vital phrases, or take a guidebook of translations.
- The official currency is the colone but the US dollar is accepted most places (as well as credit cards). Tax is 13%. There is a small departure fee when leaving the country.
- Tipping is included in the price at most restaurants. It is set at 10%.
- No flushing of toilet paper!
- Costa Rica is known for its coffee. Take a coffee tasting tour for a treat to something special.
- Rent a car if you want to explore off the beaten track as public transportation is not widely available. Be sure to buy the insurance as the roads are narrow and windy and the locals drive with abandon.
- The national animal is – out of all the species available in this most biodiverse country – the white-tailed deer.
- Look for the Doors of the Sun in Liberia and area. These are two corner doors designed to let in the sun – quite unique to the area.
- Check out the weekly rodeos when in Guanacaste – especially the dare devil bull riders which can include children!
If you are heading south for sun, sand and surf be sure to consider this great destination. Costa Rica may be a little more expensive, especially in the touristy areas, but you certainly get you money’s worth. Consult with your travel professional to determine where to stay to get the most out of your pura vida vacation.