Why visit Costa Rica?
Costa Rica vacations offer first class jungle /rainforest experiences with a
huge diversity of flora and fauna - particularly flowers and birds
- in a lush, peaceful environment (national slogan: 'teachers
Nature trips range from jungle wire-slides, canoe rides and easy
walks on well-serviced gravel tracks to seriously sweaty off-piste
hikes, but with bubbling hot spas and mud baths to end the day with.
There are also some good sporting options including horse riding,
white water rafting, surfing, fishing and catching a tan on pleasant
The world's liveliest volcano - Arenal, pictured above right - is
a stunning sight, cloud permitting.
Costa Rica is inexpensive.
- The biggest disappointment is the lack of colourful human
culture compared to Guatemala or even Mexico.
- Towns are pretty dull, while ancient sites are elsewhere.
- Crime is catching on here too, though not as bad as some other
Central American countries.
Costa Rica Weather:
December-April. Cool, dry but crowded season.
Good: November, May. A little damp but far fewer visitors.
Worst: May to mid-November is the wet season, though it usually only
rains for part of the day and waterfalls are spectacular.
n.b. The coasts are both hot and humid, 68F- 86F (20C - 33C).
Inland temperatures range from 59F-81F (15C - 27C).
Minimum worthwhile stay, not incl. flights: a week would enable
a pre-organised wildlife tour with a couple of days of other activities. Recommended: 2-3 weeks to have a serious look, especially considering
the poor roads.
Things to Do in Costa Rica:
***Naturally nature comes first, with about 70 great parks
featuring all kinds of wild things. Pick your park according to
desired sights and time available though beware that the most easily
accessible parks are getting a LOT of visitors. See Safari
Wildlife for National Park details.
***Arenal Volcano, near la Fortuna:
climbing is forbidden, but the live lava views can be spectacular.
**Rincon de la Vieja, a satanically
misshapen volcanic landscape of craters and pools and bubbling mud.
Good for hiking, riding and simmering in hot springs.
José, Costa Rica's capital,
is dull but unavoidable as it's en route to the main airport and
within a day trip of **Poas and Irazu volcanoes, as well as ***white
water rafting and other activities. It has a couple of OK museums
though not of the zoological/botanical sort.
***Costa Rica Beaches - many are near to nature
reserves so beach/wildlife combos (e.g. Manuel Antonio Beach) are a good
The Pacific side offers the best selection of beaches though some
- like Playa Jaco - are overdeveloped while Puntarenas is unpleasantly
The NW Nicoya Peninsula is hard to reach (fly to Liberia?) but
has some superb beaches with laid back village support, including Tamarindo, Samara and Montezuma.
Hiking: mostly through the
jungle/ rainforest, with or without a guide, long or
short, easy or blistering, take your pick...Corcovado National Park (SW) has the most serious hikes, tho' sticky. Santa Rosa (NW) is drier, while
Chirripo (centre east) offers highland hiking.
Volcano viewing: Arenal Volcano is currently
the liveliest cone in the world and has mini-eruptions hourly while
the neighbouring town of La Fortuna offers loads of activities,
including Arenal treks.
Biking: not a common form of transport
but possible, with some first class mountain bikes for rent. Roads
can be crude but empty and interesting, tho' avoid the wet season
unless you enjoy mud wading. Prime targets are the Orosi Valley
near San José or trails around Lake Arenal. Serious bikers
may care to tackle the Ruta de los Conquistadores from
the Pacific to the Caribbean.
Caving: Barra Honda National Park has
the best, NW in Peninsula de Nicoya.
Wildlife Parks: birding is the biggest attraction
here, with monkeys, iguanas and frogs slithering behind. Like the
Amazon, rainforest wildlife is tricky to see because a) the forest
is dense b) many of the mammals and reptiles hunt at night. See Safari Wildlife pages for details on best parks and what to see in them.
Canopy tours: Get to see the rainforest
from a monkey's viewpoint. Platforms, wire slides and suspension
bridges high in the trees.
River/sea kayaks: There's plenty of white water
rafting and kayaking from lightweight to serious in really picturesque
surroundings around San José, on the coasts and in many national parks.
Windsurfing: on the Laguna (lake) de
Arenal and some beaches.
Swimming and snorkelling: See Beaches
Scuba Diving: Costly. OK on the Pacific side
from Playa del Coco, Playa Octal and Playa Hermosa on the Peninsula
de Nicoya (NW). Caño Island, off the South Pacific coast
is better while the long haul out to Cocos Island gets the best
Costa Rica dive of all.
Surfing: there are often good waves
on the Pacific side at Pavones (South), Boca Barranca, Playa Jaco
and Doña Ana (centre) and Playa Tamarindo (NW, Peninsula
de Nicoya) and on the Caribbean at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Boards
are available to rent.
Deep Sea Fishing: excellent boats and
skippers can be found on both coasts but prime areas in the best
seasons get fully booked so consider booking a package.
Buses are fine in Costa Rica but watch out for pickpockets.
Choose official taxis with a light on top and a yellow triangle.
Others often fiddle their fares.
If you've got a rental car keep a close eye on the pump counter
when you're filling with gas - another fiddle!
Jan 14, Santo Cristo de Esquipulas day, San José and
other places. Religious activities, fairs, dances, games.
March, International Arts Festival, San José.
1st week of Dec, Light Festival, San José. Parade of decorated
carts and festive lighting.
Costa Rica cuisine is on the solid side, featuring traditional Central
American staples like rice, black beans, corn, beef and chicken.
Otherwise some Mexican-style food is on offer, such as tortillas,
or the usual North American suspects - pizzas and burgers.
ATMs are picky over cards they pay out to. Visa cards are the only
safe bet. Also take some cash $ for emergencies, but buy some local
currency (colones) too for little purchases out of town.
If you shop/eat/drink using your credit card you may find an absurd
(up to 10%?) surcharge on the bill.
Don't use either credit card phones or special 'Call
USA/Anywhere' phones. Prices are outrageous. Buy a phone card
120v, flat 2 pins.
Just about everyone is OK for a 30 day tourist visa on arrival,
while citizens of most of Europe and South America, USA, Canada,
Japan are fine for 90 days. But things change...check
Costa Rica Safety:
Pick-pocketing or bag snatching is quite commonplace - especially
in San José and beaches along the Nicoya Peninsula - and
mugging also happens but rarely.
Do not wear backpacks on your back or shoulder bags on your shoulder
(put them across your chest); keep most of your money in a safe
in the hotel, the rest in a zipped/ buttoned or velcroed pocket;
do not take your eyes off your bags/ cases for a second, unless
you put an arm/leg through a strap first, de-baggers are
inconspicuous and sooo fast!
Do not wear expensive jewellery/watches, nor even gold earrings.
Travel in pairs, avoid empty streets and night walks.
But the easiest way to avoid trouble is - choke - take a tour package
and let your guide sweat.
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