What are you missing out on by not making Costa Rica your next Adventure?
Boasting an abundance of wildlife, a vast array of flora and fauna, rich culture, and endless opportunity for adventure, it’s no wonder that Costa Rica is the most visited country in Central America. Literally meaning “Rich Coast,” not only does this tropical paradise offer some of the world’s most spectacular beaches along its coasts, but also endless places to explore throughout its interior.
While Costa Rica has always been a land thriving of lush vegetation and diverse wildlife, the region was only sparsely populated by various indigenous peoples. It is said that Christopher Columbus first dropped anchor here in 1502, followed by other explorers who took the region under Spanish rule. Costa Rica was part of the Federal Republic of Central America in 1813, but it wasn’t until 1847 that it was formally declared independent. In 1869 the country established a Democratic government. Following a brief civil war in 1948, the country abolished its army, making it one of only a few sovereign nations without a standing army.
Location and Geography
Costa Rica is a tropical Central American country that is part of the land bridge that connects North and South America. It borders the Caribbean on its East Coast, the Pacific Ocean on its West Coast, Nicaragua to the North, and Panama to the South.
Contrary to what some believe, Costa Rica is NOT an island!
Costa Rica is divided into seven provinces: Guanacaste, Alajuela, San José, Limón, Heredia, Puntarenas, and Cartago. Regardless of which province or provinces you visit, you will never be at a loss for things to do.
It is home to over 200 volcanic formations- 6 which are still active volcanoes, more than 25 breathtaking waterfalls, lush rainforests, mystical cloud forests, swift rivers, vibrant gardens and some of the world’s best white sand and black sand beaches. Seriously, you can’t go wrong!
Since Costa Rica sits near the equator, it is typically hot all year round. The country offers a tropical and sub-tropical climate and experiences two different seasons of weather. The Dry season is from December to April, and the Rainy season from May to November. Although, if you are visiting a rainforest, you can almost certainly expect some rain regardless of when you visit!
Even during the “dry” season the East and Caribbean Coast tend to see the most overcast, humid, and rainy days. Contrary to the rest of the country, December typically sees the most rain. However, I have been in southern Limón in December and only experienced one rainy day throughout our stay.
The Pacific coast is warmer, drier, and sunnier than the East Coast, however, the further south you go, the shorter of a dry season you will experience.
Costa Rica is almost always spared by hurricanes, but that does not put them out of harms way entirely. The Northeast region is affected, mostly indirectly, by heavy winds and rains during hurricane season, which is from June to November.
Costa Rica is thriving with an abundance of tropical plants and animals. It is world famous for having an incredibly high level of biodiversity throughout its many tropical forests. So what makes it so diverse?
Volcanoes- Costa Rica is home to over 200 volcanic formations, with 6 of them still being active! The active ones are the Poás, the Rincón de la Vieja, the Tenorio, the Irazú, the Turrialba, and the Arenal.
National Parks and Protected Lands- Hosting more than 5% of the world’s biodiversity, at least 25% of Costa Rica’s land is dedicated to 28 national parks, 19 forest and biological reserves, 58 wildlife refuges, 15 wetland areas, 32 protected zones, and 12 other conservation areas making this a nature-lover’s paradise!
Some of the most popular National parks are Tortuguero National Park- which is only accessible by boat or plane, The Corcovado National Park- dubbed “the most biologically intense place on earth” by National Geographic, Arenal Volcano National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park, and Palo Verde National Park.
Forests- Costa Rica proudly hosts 6 types of forests: Tropical Rainforests, Tropical Dry Forests, Cloud Forests, Mangroves, Lowland Rainforest, and Riparian Forests. And with over 9000 different species of plants, each is just as remarkable as the next!
If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to walk around in the clouds, you simply can not miss the Monteverde and Santa Elana Cloud Forests! The thick, dense fogs that whirl around you make you feel as if you are in a whole different world. But it’s not just the mystical mists that will leave you spellbound… the rich vegetation that thrives due to the abundance of water boast vibrant colors that can even be seen through the thick clouds! And on top of all of that, this ecosystem is perfect for all sorts of wildlife, including all of Costa Rica’s big cats! Costa Rica’s cloud forests are unlike anything you will find anywhere else on Earth, so if you ever get the opportunity to check them out, do NOT pass them up!
And because I’m a big tree person, here are some of my favorite unusual trees of Costa Rica: the Ceiba, the Strangler Fig, the Pachote, the Walking Palm, the Ti Plant, the Banyan, and the Rainbow Eucalyptus (even though it’s not indigenous to the country.)
Animals and Wildlife
While Costa Rica is known for their many sloth sightings, there are many more equally impressive animals throughout the land. In fact, the country provides habitats to 130 species of freshwater fish, 160 species of amphibians, 208 species of mammals, 220 species of reptiles, 850 species of birds, 1000 species of butterflies, 1200 varieties of orchids, and 34000 species of insects… and still counting as new species are discovered every day! If that doesn’t impress you, nothing will.
Some of the animals you may want to keep your eyes open for include jaguars, anteaters, spider monkeys, capuchin monkeys, howler monkeys, sea turtles, coatimundis, poison dart frogs, tarantulas, cane toads, scarlet macaws, crocodiles, tapirs, iguanas, and bull sharks.
Things to do
The list of things you can do in Costa Rica is endless. There are guided tours you can take in every part of the country, or you are free to explore on your own.
Some of the most popular tours include wildlife tours, night wildlife tours, hanging bridges tours, coffee tours, chocolate tours, volcano tours, cloud forests tours, tours of National Parks, fishing tours, waterfall tours, and so much more.
You may also be interested in kayaking, bioluminescence kayaking, scuba diving, snorkeling, ziplining, fishing, repelling down waterfalls, hiking up volcanoes, river rafting, hot springs, hiking, surfing, golfing, or simply relaxing and taking it all in.
*Fun Fact* Paquera on the Nicoya peninsula is one of the only places in the world where you can see bioluminescence waters year-round! We got to go bioluminescent kayaking one of the nights we were there, and it was one of the coolest things I’ve ever experienced! If you ever get the chance to do this, I highly recommend it!
What Else to Expect
Costa Rica has two international airports: San José (Juan Santamaria International Airport – SJO) and Liberia (Daniel Oduber International Airport- LIR). Though, don’t let the name fool you, the San José airport is actually in Alajuela.
Driving in Costa Rica is quite an experience. Thankfully, every time I’ve been there my husband has driven. With steep hills, unpredictable traffic, and narrow roads throughout most of the country, it’s enough to give anyone a bit of a panic attack. To make the adventure even more exciting, most roads are unpaved and unmarked. Outside of the San José most streets are not even named, and directions are given by landmarks. (Which is the only way I know how to give directions anyways.)
You can rest assured that, even though Spanish is the official language, English is widely spoken throughout the country. In fact, most Costa Ricans are comfortable speaking several languages, which is more than I can say for myself.
Make sure to bring bug spray, sunscreen, and a jacket! Being in such high humidity is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other insects, so be sure to get something strong. Speaking of strong, how about that equator sun? You’ll want a waterproof (sweatproof) sunscreen with a high SPF to protect your skin. And, even though you might not think it gets cold this close to the equator, I can assure you it does. Bring at least one pair of long pants and a jacket, especially if you are staying in the mountains where the evenings can be quite brisk.
My Own Experiences
So far, I have visited 5 of the 7 provinces of Costa Rica and have experienced many amazing things. I’ve seen the Pacific coast, the Caribbean Coast, and a fair amount of what’s in between. Of all the places I’ve seen so far, La Fortuna has been my favorite part of the country. With the Arenal Volcano and National Park, coffee tours, the hanging bridges through the lush rainforest, waterfalls, Lake Arenal, and (my personal favorite) the hot river, you just can’t go wrong!
Or, maybe it’s Montezuma. The quiet, little bohemian town at the bottom of the Nicoya Peninsula with the laid-back vibes and great music. Warm Pacific water, perfect sunsets, eating breakfast with monkeys, and very few people, made Montezuma one of the most tranquil spots in the country. We also took advantage of the fact that we were within walking distance of the Montezuma waterfalls. It was quite a hike to get there, and I did most of it in bare feet, as my sandals broke halfway down… but it was all absolutely worth it!
Or, quite possibly, it could be Manzanillo and Cahuita … A little more lively than Montezuma, but with the same laid-back vibes on the Southeastern Caribbean Coast. The Gandoca-Manzanillo Mixed Wildlife Refuge Park is a must-see, and the street market shopping and nearly empty beaches made the perfect blend of friendly, yet secluded. And just a short drive up the coast is Playa Negra- one of Costa Rica’s remarkable black sand beaches! If you’ve never seen a black sand beach, you are missing out on some truly magnificent sights!
I hope you enjoyed learning all about Costa Rica. All in all I give it 5/5 stars. You could spend a year there and still not get to see everything that this amazing country has to offer. It is the perfect place for a honeymoon or a couples retreat, ideal for a friend’s trip, kid friendly for a family vacation, and a adventure lover’s paradise! As a travel planner, this is always one of the top places I recommend to clients who are looking for a great vacation with a little extra adventure! And if you’ve never been there, I want to extend that recommendation to you as well! Don’t miss out on what others are raving about, because I assure you, they’re not exaggerating!
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