The country of Costa Rica, located in Central America, with Nicaragua bordering the north, the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Caribbean Sea to the east and Panama to the southeast is an absolutely wonderful place to visit. It is home to approximately 4.9 million individuals with various racial backgrounds and Spanish as their native language, a quarter of which live in the metropolitan area of the largest city and capital San Jose.
About a quarter of the area of the Republic of Costa Rica is made up of protected jungle. There is a wide diversity of plant and animal life which are considered very important and usually are very valuable. It is home to roughly 500,000 species which is actually roughly 4 percent of all plant, insect and wildlife species on Earth! Interesting indigenous animals such as the Strawberry Poison Dart Frog that can change its body from red and blue to green with black spots to navy blue, or the White Headed Capuchin Monkey with its clever personality will have animal lovers, like myself raging. Not to mention, hearing a “yo-YIP, a-yip, a-yip” from the Chestnut-Mandibled Toucan with big beautiful bills will have you in awe. For those plant lovers, the Bamboo Orchid and Parrot Flower are simply exquisite. The country is well known for its very progressive environmental policies. It is the only one to meet all five criteria that were established to measure environmental sustainability.
The country’s agricultural industries see high productions in bananas, pineapples, vegetables, rice, coffee, sugar, palm oil, potatoes, corn, ornamental plants and tropical fruits which are exported. It was once a country that depended heavily on agricultural production, but has rapidly evolved and diversified to include pharmaceuticals, finance as well as ecotourism.
Costa Rica boasts geological assets in the form of volcanoes such as the Arenal volcano, Paos volcano and Chato volcano. The name “Costa Rica” literally translates to “Rich Coast”. After all it is sandwiched between the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean which allows it to proudly flaunt great sandy beaches with clear blue water with a backdrop of lush vegetation.
If you are a lover of nature, the outdoors and rich culture this country is one that you should definitely put on your list of places to visit for vacation.
When to Travel
The best time to travel to Costa Rica is in the dry season which is in mid December to April. During the dry season tourists can enjoy luscious sunshine which allows the opportunity to explore the gorgeous rainforests and lounge on the beaches. Although the dry season is the best time to visit, it is also the most expensive as it is the peak season. When planning to visit this country during this time, it is best to book your room and tour reservations at least three months in advance to secure a spot. The prices are at their lowest if you visit between May and November, if you don’t mind getting a bit wet. The forests burst with green foliage during the period of June and July when rain showers pause shortly.
The weather differs in each region and so you will have to keep that in mind when planning your trip. At the Caribbean Sea coast and Northern plains in the thick forests you can expect all year round a steady high humidity and temperature in the ranges of 70 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit. However, you can prepare for lower humidity levels with temperatures that go high into the levels of 90 degrees Fahrenheit during the dry months in the North Pacific regions.
During the dry season in December, you can expect events such as El Tope and Carnival where Costa Ricans celebrate the importance of the country’s agricultural heritage. They do this in San Jose where the streets of the downtown area are left to horses and their riders. The next day the streets are filled with carnival floats, marching bands and street dancers. I don’t know about you, but I love me some good carnival. I enjoyed above all looking at the creative floats of various sizes, shapes and colours. In the first week of January, you can enjoy the Palmeres Fiestas. It follows two weeks of concerts, bullfighting, folklore dancing and general indulgences in alcohol and other recreational items. The Costa Ricans love for parties is extremely contagious. In the months of April and March you can enjoy more festivals and carnivals with a lot more bullfighting. They love their bullfighting. Don’t worry; the aim is not to kill or harm the bull, but simply to dodge it.
In the rainy season from May to November, you can still get in on some festivities as there is the Annexation of Guanacaste Day in July which includes more bullfighting, parades and a lot of drinking in Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste. If you are a mango lover like me, then you will absolutely be captivated by the Mango Fiestas in Alajuela, also known as the “City of Mangoes”. The town celebrates its crafts, parades, music and plenty of mango refreshments. In October the Limon Carnival is a popular Mardi Gras style festival that is celebrated with parades, rum and dancing. How could I forget to mention the loud Caribbean rhythms? This style of music will have you moving your limbs and smiling even if you’re in a bad mood.
Regardless of the season you visit, there are a lot of ways to enjoy yourself. Just depends on if you want to do it wet or dry. I personality do anything I want even if it’s raining. Come on, what’s a nice carnival without a little shower of blessing to cool down the place.
Food and Drink
At the base of all Costa Rican meals are rice and beans. At breakfast time, they are served with other foods ranging from eggs to steak to seafood and are called Gallo Pinto. At lunch or dinner time they have Casado which literally translates to “married”. It usually consists of cabbage and tomato salad, fried plantains and a meat dish of some sort such as chicken or fish. On the Caribbean coast, rice and beans are called “rice ‘n’ beans” and are usually cooked in coconut milk. Now this I find absolutely delicious because I love anything with coconut flavor. It just gives me a sweet Caribbean buzz similar to the one I get when eating Jamaican rice and peas.
For those who have a sweet tooth, you can always reach for the Tres Leches cake which is actually a desert than can be found throughout Central America. Tres leches or three milk, cake is doused with several different forms of milk which include evaporated milk, sweetened condense milk and heavy cream.
Ceviche is another popular dish that is found in Central America. In Costa Rica it is often prepared with tilapia, cilantro, lime juice and finely diced vegetables. It is served in many restaurants, but you will sometimes find it on roadside carts.
Snacks and sandwiches include Tortas, tacos, tamales, gallos, empanadas as well as Arreglados which are little meat filled sandwiches. Costa Ricans love beef and it is cheap and plentiful.
Guaro is the traditional liqueur of Costa Rica and many other places in Latin America. It is a clear liquid distilled from sugar cane juices. Chili Guaro with the ingredients hot sauce, lime juice, guaro and salt is the country’s most popular cocktail and as you can see by the ingredients it is a very spicy shot. The Guaro Sour is simply guaro and lime mixed together for a sour sweet taste.
The food found in Costa Rica can often times be found in other Latin America countries, but will more than likely be prepared differently.
Popular Vacation Spots
San Jose – The country’s capital provides party lovers with great nightlife activities with points of interest like the National Theatre of Costa Rica, Costa Rican Center of Science and Culture and the Arenal Volcano, just to name a few.
La Fortuna de San Carlos – This is Costa Rica’s most active volcano. It routinely bursts lava and ash. The Catarata de La Fortuna is a waterfall pouring from a 70 meter cliff.
Santa Teresa – This is a Costa Rican beach town that offers bright sunlight and gleaming sands. It is perfect for fishing, snorkeling and kite surfing.
Tamarindo – This is a popular spot for surfing, sport fishing, diving and sunning. From October to May leatherback turtles do their thing along the beaches. The sunny sands are lined by bed and breakfasts and luxuory hotels.
The currency in Costa Rica is called “colones”. One US dollar is equivalent to 547.81 colones. Not to worry though as Us dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica. Credit cards are also accepted at most hotels and stores. Although you may bring your cash, there is at least one ATM machine in each town that will allow you to withdraw funds in colones at very good rates. Traveler’s checks are difficult to use in Costa Rica. Larger hotels might accept them, while smaller hotels will almost certainly refuse. Banks are typically open from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM but try to visit in the late morning to avoid before and after lunch time rushes that can cause long lines.
Try to learn some basic conversational Spanish when visiting Costa Rica as it will work out easier for you to communicate with the locals.