This tiny Central American nation country is blessed beyond measure with remarkable bio-diversity, panoramic beauty and friendly people. It’s exotic but easily accessible. It’s well suited to travelers in search of enriching natural and cultural experience. And - perhaps most important of all - its tourism leaders well understand that Costa Rica’s resources must be conserved for future generations. Costa Rica’s incredible growth in popularity over the past decade increases to tremendously for last two years. In 1997, the 808,000 tourists entered the country, the largest number from the United States. Most visitors arrive at San Jose’s Juan Santamaria International Airport; others arrive by sea at Costa Rica’s busy cruise ports.
Who goes there?
Gardening hobbyists and expert botanists. Families with kids who want to see a real volcano and couples seeking to get away. Skilled whitewater rafters and first-time surfers. Bird-watches and beach lovers. Sport-fishing aficionados and turtle taggers. Riders atop horses and Harleys. Simply, Costa Rica is a destination for all kinds of travelers of all interests and ages. "No artificial ingredients", the Costa Rica’s Tourist Boards’s slogan, is apt. The natural experience is unmatched. With a dozen distinct life zones, Costa Rica harbors an astonishing variety of natural habitats and climatic zones. Its wonders includes several forests - tropical rain, dry and cloud - jungles, mountain ranges, inactive and active volcanoes and beaches on two coasts. Visitors can swim in the warm, tropical water of isolated beaches, stare into the crater of an active volcano, run challenging whitewater rivers, ride an aerial rainforest tram, and watch giant leatherback turtles nest nightly on the beach.
No other country in the world has so much protected area per capita: 20 national parks, 13 biological reserves and a national monument, plus 25 protected areas, 12 forests and 9 wildlife sanctuaries. Together, these areas protect many species of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fresh and saltwater fish and other flora and fauna. It is estimated that this tiny nation is endowed with as much as five percent of all life forms on earth.
Costa Rica’s climate is idyllic. Daytime temperature in the lowlands range from the 80’s to 90F, and the 40-50F in the mountains. The Northwest has a fairly defined dry season from November to April, while rainfall on the Caribbean side is more evenly distributed, with dry period from May to June and September - October.
So much in so little space
Tiny in size but large in diversity, Costa Rica can be divided into distinct vacation regions. Most tours begin and end in the Capital city of San Jose, in the country’s central valley. This bustling city features large Central Market; the neo-classic National Theater, built in 1890; and the National Museum with its collection of pre-Columbian artifacts. Handicrafts are plentiful in San Jose, including pottery, oxcarts, animal and spirit sculptures, masks and all kinds of items fashioned from tropical woods. Day trips can be easily taken from San Jose to nearby volcanoes, rainforest reserves and river rafting locations. The nearby village of Sarchi, the crafts capital of Costa Rica known for its intricate hand painted objects, is another charming place to visit.
Costa Rica’s two coastlines differ considerably. On the Pacific side, the Province of Guanacaste, covering most of Nicoya Peninsula in the Northwest, calls itself "the sunny side of Costa Rica". With more than 200 miles of coastline and more than 70 different beaches, and a third of the country’s national parks and wildlife reserves, Guanacaste offers visitors water and wilderness in one compact region. Turtle nesting sites, refuges for migrating birds, stunning caves and the largest protected tropical dry forest in the world are all located here. Great fishing, windsurfing and diving spots, plus a wide range of hotels, make this a top destination for adventure travelers.
Manuel Antonio Park, located south of Guanacaste, is only 1700 acres, but its exquisite beaches, abundant wildlife and easy access make it one of the most visited national parks. Three-toed sloths, white-nosed agoutis and troops of monkeys live in the park, and there is an impressive concentration of birds: frigates, scarlet-rumped tanagers, and black-bellied wrens, to name a few.
Here, visitors can bask on white sand beaches or take up surfing, snorkeling, sport fishing, scuba diving, white water rafting, sea kayaking, rainforest expeditions and other activities. Nearby, the sleepy fishing town of Quepos is the center of sport fishing in the central part of the coast. At the Southern Pacific coast is the Osa Peninsula, edged with scenic beaches, rocky headlands and virgin tropical wet forest, rushing streams and waterfalls. Corcovado National Park contains 13 distinct habitats and more than 300 species of birds. Other wildlife includes jaguar, tapir and ocelot and a stunning assortment of butterflies and other insects.
Steamy and tropical, the Caribbean coastal lowlands reveal marvels of the tropical rainforests and sea turtle nesting beaches that are protected in Tortuguero National Park and the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge. Waterways provide an entrance to the vine-draped forests, home to three species of monkeys, bats, sloths and hundreds of species of birds.
Down the coast, the province of Limon is one of the most culturally distinctive parts of Costa Rica. Populated by native Americans from the Bribri and Cabecar tribes and Afro-Americans that came to Costa Rica a century ago, Limon possesses a unique rhythm and charm reminiscent of Caribbean Islands. Water-based activities here are: the Pacuare River is a favorite for whitewater rafters and Cahuita National Park protects and underwater area of coral reefs and sea grasses.
Meet the Ticos
The hospitality of the warmhearted Costa Rican people, known as ticos, is itself a major draw. Cosat Ricans are proud of their devotion to education and environment, their culture and their family values. Some may say ticos are product of their freedom. Costa Rica abolished its army in 1948 and the government spends money that would have been used for military purposes on education and medical services instead. The government is deservedly proud that its school teaches outnumber police officers, its literacy rate is 93%, and that its longstanding political stability and steady democracy are models for the world. While Costa Rica is known for its civilized way of life and for all its remarkable natural assets, peace is the most valuable feature.
There is a steadily increasing supply of hotels and lodges throughout Costa Rica - more than 27,000 hotel rooms, many of each are located in small inns in fewer than 50 rooms. The hotels offer everything from jungle lodges and rustic accommodations to sophisticated inns and boutique hotels to world class five-star resorts with top-notch golf courses. More resorts and spas are built to draw more upscale clientele. There seemed to be a big trend now for more pampering, more amenities. Such resorts as Melia El Tucano Resort and Spa - an hour from Arenal Volcano, The Tara Resort near San Jose are just to name a few. El Parador Hotel and Beach Club is a luxury property perched on a point overlooking Manuel Antonio National Park already has a reputation as a celebrity hangout.
Getting around is easy here. The country’s sudden increase in tourism means most vehicles have come online in a past few years. Costa Rica has a selection of major car rental firms offering regular cars and 4WD vehicles for secondary roads; a large fleet of late-model highway coaches and vans; and limousine service. Two domestic airlines and a number of charter services, including helicopters, provide service to nearly every part of the country.
Food - exotic but comfortable.
You will find eating a delight here. Costa Ricans trace their heritage to many European and Asian countries, resulting in culinary melting pot that reveals itself in a proliferation of restaurants. The country’s cuisine is tasty, too - tico fare is built around rice, beans, corn, vegetables, meat, chicken or fish and is usually served with corn tortillas. Breakfast typically features a dish called gallo pinto, a mixture of rice and black beans which may be accompanied by eggs, corn tortillas and sour cream. There are regional specialties, such as the Caribbean-flavored cuisine of Limon and the many corn dishes of Guanacaste. And Costa Rican coffee is considered among the finest in the world.