Costa Rica Pictures Guide

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Arenal Volcano and swimming pool, Costa Rica

Arenal Volcano and swimming pool.

Costa Rica Pictures: Why Vacation here?

Outside its tedious and tacky urban zones Costa Rica is a delightful melange of volcanoes, beaches and vast, eco-friendly rainforests offering well-organised walks, long or short, buzzing with critters – particularly exotic birds (870 species, so they say), frogs, butterflies, iguanas, monkeys (200 species of mammal), turtles and varied boggling insects embraced by deep, damp greenery perfectly offset with frequent splashes of floral colour (9, 000 species of flowering plants.)

• The biggest disappointment is the lack of colourful human culture compared to Guatemala or even Mexico.

• Towns are pretty dull and ancient sites are in neighbouring countries.

• Crime is catching on here too, though not as bad as some other Central American countries. Tourist hotels out of town are usually delightful and often efficient too, while local people are friendly and welcoming, except of course, for the ones who go for your wallet with some determination.

See Costa Rica Safety

Where is Costa Rica?

a fat iguana in Costa Rica

A Mantled Howler monitoring action on Playa Grande beach. Photo by Cephas.

North of Costa Rica lies Nicaragua and to the south Panama. Neither region offers much in the way of tourism interest though slightly further north are Mexico and Guatemala, both diverse and loaded with attractions, while serious wildlife watchers with fat wallets could head down to Ecuador and cruise out to the magnificent Galapagos Islands.

It’s not difficult to get to CR overland from North America though Texas is 2500 miles north; Peñas Blancas on the west coast is the main border crossing from Nicaragua.

Which coast is best?

A Toucan in Costa Rica

Chestnut Mandibled Toucan by Marinezilla.

Costa Rica has two coastlines, one on the Caribbean Sea and one on the Pacific Ocean.
The Caribbean is much less visited as it’s much shorter than the pacific side, more difficult to reach by road, hosts less good dive spots and offers only one major wildlife reserve, Cahuita National Park. The region is called Limón and is known for mosquitoes, excellent white water rafting, white sand beaches, turtle watching and surfing.
On the long and winding Pacific side the northerly Nicoya Peninsula (Guanacaste region) hosts many of the country’s most famous beaches while the three most famous wildlife reserves of Corcovado, Manuel Antonio and Monteverde stretch their green wings along the Pacific mainland and offer good diving offshore.
The Central Pacific region is probably the busiest as it embraces not only some terrific wildlife parks such as Manuel Antonio, but also great beaches and is reasonably near to the capital city, San José.
The most spectacular volcanoes and hot springs are in the north of Costa Rica near or in the Guanacaste region. Costa Rica Map

A Passion Flower, Costa Rica, Central America

A Passion Flower by Natox.

Weather

Arenal volcano, smoking, Costa Rica

Arenal, like many Central Americans, hasn’t given up smoking. Photo by Javier Losa

The best time to visit Costa Rica is from December to May when it’s cooler and drier, unless you’re a committed surfer in which case the big stuff appears on the Pacific side from April-October. The rest of the year is a variably wet season, though it doesn’t usually rain all day, mostly a heavy hour or two in the afternoon.

The coasts – both Pacific and Caribbean sides – are pretty much always hot, ranging from the low 20Cs (70F) to high 30Cs (90F+), with high humidity (which is more tiring than the heat). San José, the less-than-inspiring capital has a much more comfortable climate due to its altitude of 1100m (3770ft) with temperatures ranging from 15C (60F) to 26C (80F).

Things to Do

 white water rafting, Costa Rica

Taking a rainforest hike.

There are dozens of possible adventures and activities including high-anxiety rainforest tree-top wire slides, canopy tours, volcanoes to scout, rivers to raft, kayak or tube, golf balls to smack on manicured courses, big and consistent waves to ride off wild surf beaches or deep sea fishing and scuba diving if your pockets are deep.

Alternatively just simmer on the sand of some spacious, wild beaches Hot springs, mud baths and a cool one are a perfect way to end a sweaty day.

Towns in this impoverished Central American country are sadly disorganised and dilapidated, packed with style-free cinder block buildings splashed with eye-busting colours and gaily festooned with sagging cables.

But you don’t go to there for urban action, do you? We sincerely hope not. Head for the green amigo.

2 guys on Manuel Antonio beach, Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio beach by Eric Gunther.

Playa Tamarindo beach soccer, Costa Rica

Playa Tamarindo.

Safety

A Costa Rica fishing cabin

A Costa Rica fishing cabin. Photo by Javier Losa

Pick-pocketing or bag snatching is quite commonplace – especially in San José and beaches along the Nicoya Peninsula. 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.

Festivals

January 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 December, Light Festival, San José. Parade of decorated carts and festive lighting.

Food

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.

Money

A crab-eating racoon on a Manuel Antonio NP beach, Costa Rica

A crab-eating racoon on a Manuel Antonio NP beach. Photo by Christophe Meneboeuf

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.

Accommodation

Good value hotels can be found especially if you travel as a private group rather than a tour, though there are also many spectacular upmarket hotels in magnificently scenic locations if the budget permits.

Transport

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!

An extraorinarily colorful butterfly, Costa Rica.

An extraorinarily colorful butterfly/thing (? ). Hmm. wtf? Photo by Geoff Gallice.

Phones

Don’t use either credit card phones or special ‘Call USA/Anywhere’ phones. Prices are outrageous. Buy a phone card instead.

Visas

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 it!

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