More and more Americans travel to Costa Rica in Central America every year. The reason becomes clear after your first visit. It has 5 percent of the planet’s biodiversity. The top five attractions for most travelers are all natural wonders. If you are an outdoors person, Costa Rica is one of the musts to see.
It’s easy to fly to the main city and capital, San Jose. Most western travelers fly from Los Angeles direct to San Jose. Your flight will probably make a stop in Mexico City on your way south.
San Jose is the largest city in Costa Rica and is located in the hills in the center of the country. It’s about a two-hour drive to both the east and west coasts. The climate is mild here all year around with temperatures similar to Los Angeles, Calif.
There is an abundance of hotels in and around the city. I can recommend the Aurala Holiday Inn located downtown; and in the suburbs, the airport area, the Marriot Hotel where it is much quieter.
The city was founded in 1738 and is one of the youngest capitals in Latin America. It was named the capital in 1823. It is a modern city with approximately a third of the country’s population and home to 346,800 people. San Jose offers some of the most important institutions in the country such as museums, theatres, churches, and an opera house.
People watching is always good around the central plaza and shopping is best on Avenida Central.
Here you will find educated people and some will speak English with you. Most are friendly and have a desire to help tourists.
The taxis are clean and drivers also speak English. You won’t see beggars on the streets as you do in Mexico and children selling chewing gum. After a day or two you say to yourself, this isn’t like Mexico. You feel much safer.
The government is a true democracy, unlike Mexico, and the populace seems content.
You can rent a car in San Jose and get a map of the country and decide where you would like to visit. You can join a tour or do your own thing. The leading tourist attractions include the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve, known as one of the most diverse wildlife refuges in the world. The range of animals that call Monteverde home include more than 100 mammalian species, 400 species of birds and thousands upon thousands of insect species. The plant kingdom is also well represented, featuring 2,500 species, 420 of which are orchid variations.
Ecotourism is strong here, so you will find organizations and guides who are first and foremost interested in educating and preserving their beautiful wonderland. The reserve is a not-for-profit organization and runs the Tropical Science Center. Here, you can hike, horseback ride, zip line and do a lot of photography. The vegetation can be very thick in parts of this forest.
The Arenal Volcano National Park is another must-see. It is currently active, last erupting in 1968. There are hotels you may stay in situated so as to provide magnificent views of the volcano. When in an automobile there are also good viewing areas just off the road.
Within the volcano National Park there are fantastic flora and fauna examples, some of which are seen nowhere else on Earth. You will find many marked hiking trails that wind through the park and lead to lookout locations. Very near the volcano there is a visitor center with an exhibition hall.
On the east coast is the entrance to Tortuguero National Park and only reachable by boat or aircraft. It is still one of the most visited parks in Costa Rica. The village here is the beginning point for visitors. There are hotels here that can accommodate you and this is probably the best place to join a tour group. If you do not join a tour, travel through the park can be quite complicated.
The main reason for visiting Tortuguero National Park is the turtles. Hawksbill, Leatherback and Green Sea turtles nest and lay their eggs on the beaches in the area. The majority of egg laying happens at night, and since the park closes at 6 p.m., you will have to arrange a night visit with a tour guide in order to experience this unforgettable phenomenon.
Also be sure to visit Barra Honda National Park. The cave systems in this park are amongst the best in the world. The small mountains of the park have been cut by water to form an amazing system of more than 40 limestone caverns. The tropical dry forest surrounding the caves is one of the most rare ecosystems on the planet. Here, you will find hiking trails to navigate this tropical dry forest region.
Be sure to visit the ranger station to arrange a tour. Camping is allowed near the ranger station and there are also a few rustic cabins available for rental.
Another high point is the Poas Volcano National Park. It is far from dormant and only 29 miles from San Jose.
The best way to see this park is from its hiking trails. The crater area features exotic birds, the Poas squirrels and the pagoda-shaped Escalonia tree. You can also see and visit the lake.
Many tourists arrange to ride a sky tram over Arenal Volcano and also spend some time in a nice hotel located on the Pacific coastal area. Costa Rican rivers offer tour boats to see the wildlife and birds. It is indeed a birders paradise. A few years ago I was with a friend and we took one of the boat tours on a river and she stated that she spotted more birds in an hour than she had experienced on an official birder tour prior. Costa Rica is loaded with natural experiences. And again, its safe and you don’t have to worry about being mugged or robbed.
You may also wish to tour a coffee farm and see how it is grown, see the various beans that are used for the best flavors and tour the buildings where the coffee is prepared for shipping.
If you want to go to the beaches, remember some feature regular sand, such as what we are accustomed to elsewhere, and some are black volcanic ash. Research the area you wish to visit and you will discover which beaches are sand and those with volcanic ash.
Plan to spend at least 10 days here so as not to miss the highlights. The food is good and the water is safe. Have fun!