There is so much to love about Costa Rica. It is a small Central American country, about the size of West Virginia. The population is around 5 million, and most people live in the Central Valley area. Costa Rica is the most visited country in Central America with more than 3 million visitors annually.
Costa Rica stretches from the Caribbean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. It is tropical with many microclimates ranging from rainforest with rainfall 200 inches/ year, to semi-desert. The locals will joke that there are 2 seasons in Costa Rica – the wet season and the dry season – and the dry season means “less rain” not “no rain”. We certainly encountered some rain during our November stay but we were prepared for it.
Costa Rica has 112 volcanoes – 6 of which are active and feed a number of the lovely hot springs found at several resorts. The most active volcano is Mount Arenal located in the district of La Fortuna. A visit to the Mount Arenal region is an absolute must!
Costa Rica contains about 6% of the world’s biodiversity, which is extraordinary for such a small nation.
Costa Rica has been successful in stopping deforestation and has designated 25% of the land protected. Moreover, Costa Rica has banned plastic – there are no straws anywhere. Their goal is to be single-use plastic free by 2021!
The people are very friendly and very educated – in fact two-thirds of every tax dollar collected goes into the school system. It has a prosperous high-tech sector and tourism is also important, contributing 6% to GDP. Costa Rica proudly abolished their army in 1948.
The principal language is Spanish, but English is widely spoken. The Spanish in Costa Rica has its own unique flavour . The most common expression you will hear is “PURA VIDA” (pronounced: poora beeda) literally meaning “PURE LIFE”. It is unique to Costa Rica and they use it to mean every thing from “no worries” to “I’m fine/cool/great” to “It’s all good” to “you’re welcome”.
The currency is the colon (pl. colones); however, the US dollar is accepted everywhere and change is given in the same currency.
The food is tasty and fresh and focuses on all the produce, meats and dairy that are produced locally – including mountain-grown coffee, goat cheese, pineapple, plantain, bananas, fish, seafood, and meats. The flavours here are subtle – not a lot of spice. A typical meal served in Costa Rica is called “Casado” meaning “married man”. It consists of rice, beans, plantains, veggies, salad and either fish, meat or chicken with tortillas. It is thought that the term originated when men came to a restaurant and asked to be treated as “casados” to get the same type of food as they enjoyed at home.
Our recent 14 day visit was the second opportunity we have had to explore Costa Rica. I have been working on my Spanish for the last couple of years, so it was fun to read all of the signs and test out my accent with the local denizens. (Apparently, my Spanish comes across with a French accent!) Back to Duolingo I go! (Duolingo is one of your best free resources for learning any language.)
We stayed in a variety of hotels right across the country including the areas of San Jose, Kioro, Alajuela, Lake Arenal, Monteverde, Guanacaste, and Tortuguero National Park.
Zacero, Alajuela, Costa Rica
Zarcero is the a charming little town famous for its topiary gardens located in front of the Iglesia de San Rafael. The Parque Francisco Alvarado was created by Evangelisto Blanco in the 1960’s who trimmed the bushes into whimsical shapes of animals.
The Topiary Garden
Now, the beautifully sculpted shrubs draw visitors who pass through the town. It’s a great area for a photo shoot, strolling through the arches. The topiary is not what I’d call “life-like” – more exaggerated and quirky.
Some of the other highlights of our trip included:
- Cruising down the Cano Negro Wildlife Reserve in a boat in search of crocodiles, sloths, river turtles, exotic birds and rare butterflies.
- Visiting a coffee plantation (Doka Estate Plantation)
- Having a soak in one of several hot springs located at the Hotel Arenal Kioro with a spectacular view of the volcano from our hotel room
- Drinks poolside at Nammbu Beachfront Bungalow Resort in awe of the technicolor sunset
- Body-surfing the waves in the Pacific Ocean
- The hummingbird garden, butterfly garden, zip-lining and hanging bridges canopy walk at Selvatura Park in Monteverde
- The jungle at Tortuguero National Park – exploring the region’s wildlife by boat and learning about turtle hatchlings
Some of the bridges in the cloud forest at Selvatura are 180 feet above the forest floor! The zip-lining tour has 13 different platforms!
Our tour was with Collette. We were a group of 30 that traveled across the country in an air-conditioned coach. We spent 2 nights in each location with plenty of free time to relax by the pool or go to the spa. This was a great way to see the diversity of Costa Rica. Oddly, it was our second bus tour in less than 4 months. We are a bit “bussed out” now!
Butterfly Garden at Selvatura Park
If you plan a trip to Costa Rica, I highly recommend the following itinerary (on your own or drop Collette Tours a line).
- San Jose Double Tree Cariari Hotel is a lovely place to stay that exudes Costa Rican charm
- Hotel Arenal Kioro – our favourite hotel with magnificent views of the Arenal Volcano right outside your hotel window and a hot tub in your room.
- Nammbu Beachfront Bungalows – this property was lovely but the rooms were sparse (read: no art on the walls, no USB connectors, no furniture to put your things and awful pillows!) You are a 5 minute walk down to the beach here.
- El Establo Monteverde – the Monteverde area is charming – so much to do and see. This resort was located in hills and golf carts are necessary in order for some guests who are less mobile to get around from room to the dining facility, etc.
- Evergreen Lodge in Tortuguero National Park – set in a tropical rainforest, this eco-lodge was a great base camp from which to explore the park. Be prepared: the humidity is very high – nothing dries!
- Or, if you want to just “chill” at an all-incisive resort on the West Coast – we loved The Westin Playa Concha when were there in 2004.
Finally, I can’t say enough about our extremely knowledgable Collette guide, Ricardo. He has been with the company for almost 30 years and knows every bird, mammal, tree, plant and insect in the area. Be sure to ask for him when visiting Costa Rica. Tell him Shannon & Colin said “Pura Vida!”
Other blog posts on Costa Rica: