Bordered by Nicaragua to the north, the Caribbean Sea to the northeast, Panama to the southeast, the Pacific Ocean to the southwest, and Ecuador to the south, Costa Rica (Rich Coast in Spanish) is one of the most bio-diverse countries.
Perfect for adventure holidays or lazing on the beach, Costa Rica is living by its motto – pura vida (pure life).
Do you know the way to San José? Costa Rica’s capital sits almost centrally in the country and the first impression may not be the best, but dig deeper and you’ll find a city of historic neighbourhoods, fantastic gastronomy, excellent nightlife, and museums of precious metals and stones.
In Barrio Amón, you’re in for an architectural treat. Cafetalero (coffee grower) mansions from the late 19th and early 20th centuries have been converted into hotels, restaurants and contemporary art galleries.
The hip neighbourhood of Barrio Escalante has become the city’s gastronomic centre, with streets lined with restaurants, cafés, bakeries and bars. The most popular is Calle 33 which has been given the name Paseo Gastronómico La Luz (La Luz Restaurant Promenade) in honour of a small grocery store that used to stand on the street’s corner. At the weekends, the evenings are buzzing as foodies descend on the area.
On the food and souvenir trail, you shouldn’t miss the Mercado Central. The crowded indoor market still has that old-world feel, with stallholders selling everything from coffee beans and spices to cheap pura vida t-shirts (not locally made!)
For a resume of Costa Rican history, head to the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica. The pockmarked walls bear testimony to the fierce fighting during the 1948 Civil War, but the entrance is far more tranquil – a gorgeous glass atrium housing an exotic butterfly garden. Inside are exhibits from ongoing archaeological digs and artefacts from colonial and early republic times.
San José’s most popular attraction is the National theatre (Teatro Nacional), which can be found in the Plaza de la Cultura. Built in 1897, it has a neoclassical facade flanked by statues of Beethoven and the famous 17th-century Spanish dramatist Calderón de la Barca. The marble lobby and auditorium are lined with paintings depicting various facets of 19th-century life. The most famous painting is Alegoría al café y el banano, a canvas showing coffee and banana harvests from a rather idyllic perspective! Hourly tours are worth taking.
Costa Rica’s landscape is diverse with volcanoes, rainforests and cloud forests, thundering waterfalls and mighty rivers. This natural setting presents the adventurous traveller with a variety of activities from rafting, windsurfing, diving, kayaking and surfing.
If you’re a surfer, then Costa Rica will spoil you rotten with more than 50 breaks on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. Plus, the water is warm all year round. For those new to the sport, don’t worry – the majority of beach communities offer board hire and lessons.
The most famous beach is Salsa Brava, on the Caribbean Coast at Puerto Viejo de Talamanca. Powerful waves break over the coral reef, making it ideal for the seasoned surfer. The jungle beach of Playa Pavones, in the far southwest, is renowned for having one of the longest rides in the world, a notorious three-minute left point break.
Playa Tamarindo on the Pacific coast has a gentle surf, so is better suited to beginners and the semi-experienced; while nearby Playa Langosta will keep the surf savvy happy.
If you want to ‘be like Tarzan’, then ziplining through the jungle canopy is for you! The main destinations are around Volcán Arenal and Monteverde, with a dozen cables crossing the Río Arenal canopy.
Trips include waterfalls and entry to the resort’s thermal pools and swimming pool. The 3km of cables at Selvatura in Monteverde has 18 platforms and the chance to take on the huge Tarzan swing. You’ll be squealing like a little kid!
White Water Rafting
Get the heart racing with miles of churning river. Choose from – Pacuare, Reventazón, Sarapiquí, Tenorio – they’re all good or, do them all.
The rapids range from Class I to Class V, but there are smooth stretches so you can take in the gorgeous jungle scenery and animal life. It won’t all be a watery blur!
Costa Rica’s small lands hold around 5% of the earth’s biodiversity with half a million species – from insects to sloths. It’s developing a sustainable infrastructure and has a National System of Conservation Areas, which preserves 25% percent of the territory through law.
Wherever you look from the treetops to the jungle floor, mangrove swamp to the ocean, you’ll be able to spot wildlife. Colourful toucans and scarlet macaws, the slow-moving sloth and the white-faced capuchins, caimans, tropical fish, dolphins and sharks – it’s a conservationist’s heaven.
Tortuguero National Park
On the northeast coast of Costa Rica, Tortuguero is one of the country’s main tourist icons, internationally recognised for its protection of the largest green turtle nesting beach in the Western Hemisphere.
It’s impossible to reach by car, you can only travel there by boat, and this removal from modern life makes it feel even more peaceful and a haven for an abundance of wildlife.
You’ll be as laid back as the sloths hanging out in the trees above you as you float down the river.
Ballena National Marine Park
Viewed from the air, the Ballena National Marine Park appears to be shaped like a whale’s tail.
It’s the favourite spot for humpback whales and several types of dolphins. Humpback whales arrive every year (from July to October) to carry out their reproductive cycles near the tombolo (whale’s tail).
Inside the park, you can walk along the beaches, snorkel or scuba dive at the tombolo and see a variety of marine life, or take a boat trip to nearby islands.
Jaguar Centro de Rescate
Named after its original resident, the jaguar, the wildlife rescue centre in Playa Chiquita focuses mostly on other animals, including sloths, alligators, anteaters, snakes and monkeys.
Founded by zoologist Encar and her partner Sandro, a herpetologist, the centre rehabilitates orphaned, injured and rescued animals for reintroduction into the wild. Different tours and accommodation are available, all of which help sustain the centre.
If you’d like to be part of the project on a more long-term basis, volunteer opportunities are available (currently aroundUS$350 including accommodation), but you need to commit to at least one month.
Improve your mental and physical well-being with a trip to Costa Rica. Free your soul, shake off the stresses of modern life and start adopting healthy habits and activities into your lifestyle. You’ll return from Costa Rica a new person.
Costa Rica is one of the planet’s blue zones, or longevity areas. The pura vida lifestyle is the secret to that longevity, alongside the natural calcium-rich water and family lifestyle.
Take your pick from wellness activities that put you back in touch with nature. Go trekking, take forest baths (breathing in the fresh air of the forest), walk barefoot on earth and sand (earthing), and tuck into the healthy food in a natural setting.
The volcanoes of Costa Rica provide the rich mud perfect for body wraps. Coffee, chocolate and tropical fruits are also used to moisturise the skin. Hydrotherapy and the hot springs allow positive energy to flow throughout the body.
Living the pura vida is definitely good for mind, body and soul.
If you’re a CLC World Member and would like to experience Costa Rica, contact CLC World Travel, your personal travel agent. They can arrange a tailor-made Costa Rica holiday just for you, from flights, transfers and accommodation to guided tours.