Costa Rica is a popular destination for eco-tourists, surfers and retirees looking for an unspoilt place in the sun with an affordable cost of living. Straddling the Central American isthmus, Costa Rica has long sandy beaches on both the Caribbean and the Pacific coastline. One third of the country is protected by national parks which cover a range of microclimates and protect a stunning variety of birds and wildlife.
Located just north of the Equator, Costa Rica enjoys year-round tropical temperatures. The dry “gold season” runs from November to April while the showery “green” season runs from May to October. Although the mountains get almost continuous rain in the wet season, the coastal resorts usually only have short afternoon downpours.
San José is the capital city of Costa Rica and is located in the central valley surrounded by impressive mountain peaks. The Museo de Jade is one of the main attractions with an impressive collection of jade jewelry and carvings. Avenida Central is a pedestrianised mall where Central American crafts and clothing are on offer but visitors should be aware that there is a prohibition on the purchase of exotic plants and animals – even though they might be offered for sale.
Cartago is about 25km east of San José and its most famous sight is the Basilica to Our Lady of the Angels with the Black Virgin statue. In the main square, Plaza Mayor, there are several outdoor cafés. Nearby, the Elias Leivi Museum of Ethnography gives a fascinating insight into local customs and culture.
Set on the picturesque Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, Puntarenas prides itself on the variety of attractions it offers its guests. This pretty town boasts a promenade along the seafront with street entertainers and quirky little shops. Beach activities include safe swimming areas and great surfing. Home to a large fishing fleet, it is the ideal place to relish fresh seafood, marinated in lime juice or cooked with spices and onions. The Casa de la Cultura is the city’s arts centre and offers concerts and theatre performances during the tourist season while the waterfront is the place to find local bars, music and nightlife.
On the Caribbean side of Costa Rica is the popular resort of Puerto Limon. Wide beaches offer great diving, snorkelling, deep sea fishing, surfing and sun bathing while the surrounding countryside is green and lush. Guided walking tours provide a look at the Old Quarter of the city, highlighting many major attractions and historic buildings.
Costa Rica’s National Parks can be difficult to reach along roads that in places are little more than dusty tracks but boats and helicopters provide transport to some remote areas. Once there, the rainforest offers fantastic bird spotting and exotic wildlife such as furry sloths hanging from branches. Soar through the trees on a zipline, rappel down waterfalls, go horseback riding, cross swinging rope bridges or ride an aerial tram in these pristine areas. With a generous supply of tumbling rivers crisscrossing the land, quiet kayaking or exhilarating rafting adventures offer more delights for active visitors. A tour of a coffee plantation is very interesting and coffee beans make great souvenirs.
The only way to experience all the different aspects of Costa Rica is by planning a multi-centre vacation combining city, rainforest and beach.