Costa Rica Travel Guide


Costa Rica Adventure Travel Guide: Ideas and Inspiration

PureTravel Says: “The Republic of Costa Rica is on the Central American isthmus. It is bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south and east. It also borders the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean and has 1,290km (802 miles) of beautiful coastline on the Caribbean coast and 1,016km (631 miles) on the Pacific coast. The name Costa Rica means Rich Coast and it certainly is. The Cerro Chirripo is the highest point of this mountainous volcanic country. It is at an elevation of 3,820 meters (12,532 feet) above sea level. The highest volcano is Irazi Volcano and the largest lake is Lake Arenal.”

Travel Overview

The capital city of Costa Rica is San Jose, which is a major airport hub for Central American countries. The official language is Spanish and the currency is the Colon. US dollars are widely accepted in tourist areas. The recent estimated population was 4.1 million.

History

Costa Rica was the first country to abolish its army in 1948. It has a remarkably high quality of life and is ranked top in all the Americas on the Environmental Performance index. This is one of the reasons it has become a sought after place for retirees to live. It has also been the leading country in eco-tourism for many years. It uniquely possesses the greatest density of species in the world.

Costa Rica is a developing country and its main issues are inflation, and a lack of investment and maintenance in infrastructure. Costa Rica does consider itself to be a leading welfare state and its spending is as high as some Scandinavian countries on welfare for its inhabitants. The standard of education is excellent, with a 96% literacy rate and high schools in almost every community. A common motto in Costa Rica is “Pura Vida!” which translates “This is living!” or “Pure Life”.

To encourage new business and tourism the Government is offering tax benefits and many large companies are producing goods for export. Electronics, pharmaceuticals and software are the main industries, along with ecotourism. Bananas, pineapples and coffee are also produced for export. Costa Rica is strategically situated for easy access to the American markets via the coast and it is on the Central Time zone.

Costa Rica is the most popular tourist destination in Central America. It had 1.9 million visitors in 2007, mainly from the USA, Canada and Europe. Costa Rica has accommodation for backpackers, five star hotel seekers and everything in between. Visitors are encouraged to visit for the beautiful beaches, surfing waves, tropical rainforests and National Parks. The wildlife is unrivalled and is well protected.

Culture

Music is enjoyed within the culture. It includes American and British pop music, reggae and dance music such as salsa, bachata, meringue and the Costa Rican Swing. The guitar is the most popular instrument and it is played as an accompaniment to folk dancing.

This is considered to be an extremely safe and politically stable country. It has invested heavily in education including a high school in almost every community. It also has many public and private universities for further education. It is a leading welfare state in Central America with good standards of health care.

Food is diverse and varies from region to region. Seafood is popular along with chicken, beans and rice.

When to Go

The climate is consistently warm year-round with daily highs in the 80sF. The dry season is from November through May when the trees turn beautiful shades of gold and brown. This is known as the ‘Gold season’. The ‘Green season’ is from June to October with tropical showers in the afternoon. The lush vegetation thrives once again during these months.

Humidity is at its lowest from January through April and these months also enjoy the most sunshine.

The most popular months for travelers to visit are from late November through May. It is the most pleasant time of year, but it also coincides with the colder winter months in the northern USA, Europe and Canada, making it a great snowbird retreat.

Holidays In Focus

Culture and History

Museums - Surprisingly there are a number of museums throughout Costa Rica. The best known are the Juan SantaMaria Museum in Alajuela, the Cartago Museums, Guanacaste Museums, Limon Museums, San Jose National Museum and the Living Museums. There is also a Museum of Gold (Museo de Oro) in San Jose with over 20,000 Troy ounces of interesting pre-Colombian gold figures and other exhibits.

In San Jose there is an art museum in the old airport building in the Sabana Metropolitan Park. The Entomological Museum has an extensive display of insects and is on the University campus in San Pedro de Montes de Oca. There is also a Jade Museum, which showcases the best Jade collection in the country along with ceramics and gold miniatures. This museum is in the national Insurance Institute in downtown San Jose.

National Parks

Corcovado National Park - Corcovado National Park is on the Osa Peninsula in the south west of Costa Rica. It was established in 1975 and is considered the very best of all the National Parks. It has a wealth of biodiversity with an abundance of wildlife. It is a lowland tropical rainforest and is home to the endangered Baird’s tapir and Harpy Eagle. Bull sharks, crocodiles and spectacled caiman populate the rivers and lagoons. Jaguar, ocelot, margay, and puma inhabit the dense undergrowth along with many species of monkeys and mammals.

Camping is permitted within the National Park and there are several ranger stations with bunk accommodation. Travelers may visit the Park individually or join one of the organized tours within the Park.

Tortuguero National Park - Tortuguero National Park includes an area of wetlands called the Humedal Caribe Noreste. It can only be reached by small airplane or boat as there are no roads, but it remains one of the most visited Parks in Costa Rica. Tortuguero National Park includes rainforest, swamps, beaches and lagoons. It has a tropical climate with high rainfall reaching 250 inches or 6,300mm each year. Monkeys, sloths, birds and reptiles inhabit the Park. It is also the nesting site of many turtles. The endangered green turtle, the leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles all nest there.

Wildlife and Nature

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve - The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is home to about 2,000 different plant species including many orchids. For bird watchers, over 400 bird species have been spotted as well as many mammals. The Cloud Forest is the area of tropical rainforest which is actually above the clouds. This area is considered to be one of the most outstanding wildlife refuges in the world. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has a rich variety of insects, birds, butterflies and thousands of plants. The Resplendent Quetzal may be seen here in the nesting season during March and April.

La Amistad National Park - Together with the Talamanca Range and the rich La Amistad Reserves, this trio of sites forms one UNESCO World Heritage listing - one of only three in the country. The location of this unique wildlife site within Central America has allowed the rich fauna and flora of both North and South America to intermingle, resulting in a truly diverse habitat for endemic wildlife. Lush tropical rainforests cover much of the area, which is also home to four different traditional Indian tribes.

Visit a Coffee Plantation - Costa Rica has a reputation for good quality coffee beans and there are several coffee plantations in the Central Valley region near the capital of San Jose. Coffee bushes need cooler conditions with regular rainfall to thrive and there are several areas, which suit its production.

Tours of a coffee plantation generally start with a walk around the plantation with a guide. You will see the small bushes and the Arabica beans forming along the branches. The coffee beans are dried and roasted in the mill. Beans are still selected and picked by hand, but as the country has such high employment, immigrants often do this manual work from Nicaragua. Many of the plantations now grow organic coffee.

Cocos Island National Park - The second of the three World Heritage Sites is the Cocos Island National Park, which lies some 550 km off the Pacific coast. It is in fact the only island in the tropical eastern Pacific to boast a tropical rainforest. The area is an important research base as scientists look to study the northern equatorial counter-current and its impact on the delicate marine ecosystem. Cocos Island is well-known amongst keen divers who regard the site as one of the very best sites in the world to spot sharks, rays, tuna and dolphins.

Butterfly Farm - There are more species of butterflies in tiny Costa Rica than in the whole of the continent of Africa. Huge colorful butterflies can be seen at one of the many Butterfly Farms in Costa Rica. It is a very relaxing and colorful way to spend an afternoon watching them flit from one exotic flower to the next. You will also see plenty of butterflies in everyday life and in the National Parks.

Canopy Tours - These tours take visitors through the rainforest canopy on aerial pathways and suspension bridges. They give breathtaking views and a unique bird’s eye view of the forest. The excellent guides are all profession and help you get the most from your experience. Many companies offer canopy tours. There is an excellent skywalk at the Monteverde Forest Reserve.

Bird Watching - There are over 800 species of birds recorded in Costa Rica, which makes it a wonderful place for bird watching. The endangered Harpy Eagle and the Resplendent Quetzal are still seen in the National Parks.

Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve has a rich variety of insects, birds, butterflies and thousands of plants. The Resplendant Quetzal may be seen here in the nesting season during March and April.

Area de Conservación Guanacaste - And the final UNESCO natural site is the unrivalled Area de Conservación Guanacaste which was inscribed in 1999. The site also includes St Elena and provides an important natural habitat and conservation site of biological diversity. In particular Guanacaste is home to the very best dry forest habitat within Central America. It supports a myriad of wildlife and important habitats for both endangered and rare animals and plants and animal species.

Adventure and Activities

Water Sports - All along the coast the hotels and resorts offer a host of water sports. Kayaking, windsurfing and snorkelling are all popular and readily available.

River Rafting - There are a number of trips available on the Corobici River which includes floating down the River on a raft. The waters are calm and take you effortlessly past some beautiful scenery with egrets, herons, motmots, monkeys, iguanas and lizards all within close reach of the raft.

Horseback Riding - Horseback riding is an easy way to trek through the rainforest on narrow trails. Some tours take riders to La Chorrera waterfall for a refreshing dip in the sparkling waters. There are hummingbirds and exotic birdlife such as toucans everywhere.

Walking Trails - Rincon de la Vieja Volcano National Park has several miles of well-laid paths. They wind between the steaming pools of bubbling mud with sulphur rising from them.

Walking & Hiking - Walking trails and hiking is also popular in the National Parks. There are many animals and birds to be seen. Walks may be enjoyed individually or on a tour with a professional guide who will point out the various plants, insects, flora and fauna along the way.

Mud Baths - Visit Borinquen and enjoy a truly natural spa experience. You can bathe in the hot thermal springs created by the volcanic activity beneath the pools. The mud is particularly therapeutic, as it is full of natural minerals.

Camping - Camping and accommodation in bunks at several ranger stations is available at Corcovado National Park.

Top Tips

- Clean all your camping gear and boots before visiting a naturally sensitive area to avoid introducing non-native seeds.
- US dollars are acceptable in most places, in small denominations. Traveller’s checks and ATM machines are a good and safe way to carry and obtain currency.
- Always wear a sun hat and sunscreen. The sun is very intense even in the highland areas.
- Carry a Spotter’s Guide to identify the many animals and birds you will see.
- Never hike, climb or trek by yourself.
- Always use an insect repellent when hiking and in the evenings near water.
- Wear loose cotton clothing, and cover your arms and legs to avoid insect bites if you are hiking.

UNESCO World Heritage Sites

There are three UNESCO sites in Costa Rica, all natural sites;

- Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves / La Amistad National Park *
- Cocos Island National Park
- Area de Conservación Guanacaste

Travel Resources

By Julie Bowman

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PureTravel Costa Rica

At PureTravel, we offer hundreds of holidays from around the world.

Costa Rica Articles

Explore Costa Rica's National Parks


Corcovado National Park - Corcovado National Park is on the Osa Peninsula in the south west of Costa Rica. It was established in 1975 and is considered the best of the the National Parks.

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