Costa Rica - La Pura Vida

Overview

Volcano ArenalCosta Rica, despite its small size, is one of the most diverse countries in Central America. It stretches for no more than 200 miles from north to south or east to west. It borders with Nicaragua in the north and Panama to the south. To the east and to the west it is only confined by the oceans. Yet, within its small confines, it has so much to offer: sandy, palm-fringed beaches, steamy lowland rainforest, mountain peaks and volcanoes, grassy savannahs, montane rainforest, and temperate highlands. This incredible geographical diversity naturally gives rise to an equally incredible natural diversity. In fact, Costa Rica is considered to be a biodiversity ‘hot spot’ and has long been an eco-traveler’s dream.

Ethnographically, the largest population group consists of mestizos, but there are also Garifuna and indigenous minorities. The indigenous population consists of various tribes that live in small groups, mainly in remote areas scattered across the country.

The great natural and geographical diversity offers a wealth of exciting travel adventures, whatever one’s ‘special thing’ might be: lazing around on a tropical paradise beach, hiking through the rainforests and learning about the incredible wildlife and ecology, exploring the underwater world, climbing mountains and volcanoes, or pursuing high-adrenaline adventure sports, such as white water rafting, or mountain biking. Costa Rica is generally regarded as one of the safest countries in Central America – for solo travelers as well as for families.

 

Where to stay

There are many wonderful hotels and lodges in Costa Rica, both simple and luxurious, and everything in between. We work predominantly with properties that have been certified or that have a strong track record as far as their ecological operation is concerned. The main question is, where do you want to go?

Spa PoolThe Central Valley

San José, the capital of Costa Rica is located in the Central Valley. Although the name suggests a lowland region, nothing could be further from the truth. This ‘Valley’ is more like a plateau, situated between coastal mountain ranges. The area enjoys moderate temperatures all year – what locals call a climate of ‘eternal spring’. This region forms the rural heartland of Costa Rica, and is the center of its coffee cultivation. Here you will find volcanoes, some extinct, some still active, draped in montane forest, beautiful haciendas and lodges sprinkled around the rural communities. Although often overlooked, it is well worth spending a couple of days here to discover the everyday life of Costa Rica’s rural population, as well as the country’s history and traditions.

You can find a selection of eco-conscious hotels in this area here: Eco-Hotels in San José and the Central Valley

Cariblue Beach and Jungle Resort BeachCaribbean Coast

About 3h drive from San José will take you to the Caribbean. This region is characterized by its laid-back lifestyle and Garifuna culture. It is a relatively sparsely settled region with a number of hotels dotted along the coast, especially around Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, which offer the perfect Caribbean retreat, with palm-fringed beaches and all. However, beware that the Caribbean Sea can be deceptively dangerous due to strong rip-tides. There are a couple protected areas, the Cahuita National Park and the Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife Reserve, and there are also a couple of wildlife rescue places that can be visited, a sloth refuge and a jaguar rescue center. From here it is not far to the Panamanian border and the beautiful Bocas del Toro region just beyond.

The northern Caribbean coast is almost entirely taken up by the wildlife-rich Tortuguero National Park, characterized by lowland rainforest that is crisscrossed by waterways and canals. There are a few little hotels within the park and just outside of it, that specialize in nature and wildlife observation – usually by boat as this is the only way to get around. Tortuguero is one of the most important sea-turtle breeding areas, which is why it is protected. From March to May the Leatherback sea-turtles arrive on the beaches to lay their eggs. Hawksbill Turtles come in smaller numbers from March to October, while the Green sea-turtles have their nesting season from July to October.

As one can’t visit Tortuguero by car, we offer 3d/2n packages with several of the little hotels in the park. These vary in comfort level and price range.

Here you can find our selection of eco-friendly hotels in southern as well as the northern section of the Caribbean Coast: Eco-hotels on the Caribbean Coast and Tortuguero Packages

Pedacito De Cielo White Nosed CoatiNorthern Caribbean Lowlands, Arenal, and Monteverde

To the north, all the way to the border with Nicaragua stretches an interesting and varied region. Partly it forms the agricultural heartland with numerous plantations, but there are also protected areas that form part of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor. Similar to Tortuguero, there are many waterways crisscrossing the lowland rainforest, which is a particularly good habitat for wildlife watching.

The center of this region is dominated by Arenal, one of the most active volcanoes of Costa Rica, towering above Arenal Lake, and on the northern end of this lake, more volcanoes with pretty active geothermal fields on the slopes of La Vieja. Just across from Arenal/La Fortuna, on the other side of Arenal Lake lies the Monteverde cloud forest, which forms part of another coastal mountain range. This is a great place to experience the cloud forest, which is partly protected by the Monteverde cloud forest reserve.

This whole region is very exciting for those in pursuit of active adventures. There is a well-developed infrastructure and there are lots of things to do, from zip line adventures and hanging bridges to horseback riding, birdwatching, and chocolate tours and much, much more. And, there are lots of hot springs in the area which many hotels in the Arenal area incorporate in pool designs.

Lagarta Lodge Playa DesiertaNorthern and Central Pacific

In this area, the humid tropical forest has given way to dry tropical forest, which provides a completely different ecosystem in the hinterland of the Pacific coast. This area is characterized by horse and cattle ranches. The coast, however, is one of the most popular destinations for beach vacations. As a result, some parts are quite built up. But there are still hidden coves and beaches that are less developed, especially in the southern parts of the Nicoya Peninsula.

South of Puntarenas is another very popular beach destination around Quepos and the Manuel Antonio National Park. This area is also very popular with Ticos from San José, as it is very easy to reach from the capital.

You can find a selection of eco-hotels in these parts here: Eco-hotels Northern and Central Pacific

 

Los Quetzales National ParkSouthern Pacific and Southern Highlands

South of Quepos, the wild side of Costa Rica begins. The further south you go the wilder it gets, with Corcovado National Park on the Osa Peninsula, being the biologically most diverse area in Costa Rica. Thanks to the Peninsula jutting out into the Pacific, the Golfo Dulce is formed on the other side, a very calm body of water is formed. Some of the lodges in this very remote and inaccessible area can only be reached by boat.

Rising behind the Pacific is another mountain range, the Talamanca mountains, which are home to some of the country’s highest peaks. Here you will find another very special cloud forest reserve, an elfin forest clad in mosses and epiphytes, in the region of San Gerardo de Dota. This area is not on the tourist main trail, but well-known among birders as one of the few places where the beautiful Resplendent Quetzal birds can be seen.  From here the road leads back up to the Central Valley and the Central Mountain range, dominated by Turrialba and Irazú volcano.

You can find a selection of Eco-hotels for both the Southern Pacific and the southern highlands here: Eco-Hotels in the Southern Pacific and Southern Highlands Region

 

Practicalities

Getting there

Costa Rica’s capital is San José and its international airport is Juan Santamaria Airport, located in Alajuela province, just outside the capital, in the Central Valley. Most journeys in this country start and finish in San José. However, Liberia Airport in the North Pacific region of Costa Rica is another option as an international arrival and/or departure point, for travelers coming from the US or Canada.

There are quite a few airlines that fly to San Jose:

And some that fly to Liberia

Getting Around

San José is located pretty centrally within the country’s topography and makes a good starting point to access any region. There are several options for getting around.

By air: All areas are serviced by short and inexpensive hopper flights, however, except for Osa, in most cases, it is easy and much less expensive to get there by other means

Domestic Flights are handled by Nature Air and Sansa.

Luggage weight limitations apply. Excess baggage is charged by weight-Surfboards will be charged extra.

By car: Self-Drives is a popular option for visitors to Costa Rica. Having your own wheels offers maximum flexibility for getting around, but it also presents some challenges. Some roads are not in good conditions and there is not much street lighting so after dark driving becomes quite dangerous. The Costa Rican Tourist board offers a good leaflet with safety tips for driving in Costa Rica. We offer a number of self-drive itineraries to all parts of Costa Rica, which take in the highlights of each reason. However, we are more than happy to customize a self-drive itinerary tailored to your preferences.

Getting to Tortuguero: Since there are no roads in Tortuguero, it is best to visit this area with an organised tour. Such tours include transfers from San José. It is also possible to continue on from there (or nearby Siquerres) with another transfer to a different region or to pick up your rental car there. You can find the Tortuguero packages in the ‘Short Round-Trip – Nature and Culture‘ section

Shuttle buses: An inexpensive and easy way to get around Costa Rica is to use the tourist shuttle buses. These are usually small and run on a fixed schedule to connect practically all parts of Costa Rica. If there are 5 or more people in your group it would also be worth considering private transfers. These are a bit more expensive (though much cheaper for small groups than for individuals or couples), but also offer more flexibility as you can schedule them at times that suit your itinerary.

By bus: There are also basic bus services that run throughout the country, but schedules change frequently, so always ask locally for up to date information.

 

Money:

Costa Rica uses the Colon

Time:

CST, -7 hours of GMT

Language:

Spanish is the official language. In tourist areas, English is also widely understood and spoken. In remoter areas, however, it can’t be assumed that anything but Spanish will be understood.

Electricity:

Costa Rica uses 110V for regular appliances and 220V for major appliances. US appliances can be plugged straight into the outlets, but European travelers will need to bring an adapter.

National Parks & Protected Areas

Jaguar, Belize

National Parks

Costa Rica has 24 National Parks but only a few are ‘tourist destinations’.

Tortuguero, Arenal Volcano, Monteverde, Poas Volcano, Braulio Carillo, Irazu Volcano, Manuel Antonio and Corcovado National Parks are the most visited.

 

Wildlife Watching

Costa Rica has a rich presence of wildlife and you may be able to observe many birds and animals even from the terrace or garden of your hotel. But undoubtedly, the best way to observe nature is in one of the many national parks, and better still, with a knowledgeable guide.

Manatus Wildlife TurtleSea-Turtles

Excellent places to observe animals are around waterways or lakes. Thus, Tortuguero National Park offers a very rewarding experience, not just for turtle observation. But if you visit this are between July and September you may visit the beaches with a guide to watch sea turtles lay their eggs. It is the only nesting site for Loggerhead turtles in Costa Rica.

Other species, such as Olive Ridley and the Pacific Green Turtle only nest on certain beaches along the Pacific coast, most notably in northern Guanacaste and Nicoya peninsula.

 

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