Arenal Volcano at Dusk

Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a small Central American country in that is bordered to the north by Nicaragua, and to the south by Panama. It has roughly 800 miles of coastline, with the Pacific Ocean lying to the west, and the Caribbean to the east.

Young woman with surfboard on beach

Young woman with surfboard on beach

The country boasts an impressive collection of national parks and protected areas that covers nearly 25% of the country’s land area. Costa Rica is also known as a hotspot for ecotourism, with a stunning array of climates, flora, fauna, and landscapes–rain forests, dry tropical forests, volcanoes, amazing beaches, and marshlands.

Positioned12 degrees north of the Equator, Costa Rica’s climate is tropical all year round, with its seasons based not on the traditional four seasons as in the northern hemisphere, but on the average rainfall per time of year. Thus, the country has two periods–the dry season, or summer, and the rainy season, locally named winter. The dry season stretches from December to April, the rainy season May to November.

Popular Methods for Getting Around

One popular way to travel in the country is by public bus. One reason for its popularity is that tickets are cheap (no more than $7 dollars US per passenger), and the transit system covers most of the area of the country. One disadvantage to the bus service is that travel time can become long due to the fact that most routes are based in and out of the major city of San Jose. Also, reservations for a seat on a bus is never guaranteed, so it’s wise to arrive early to ensure your seat. It is also wise to talk to your hotel, they can inform you as to which bus you should take and how often it runs.

For $350-700 US dollars a week, a rental car can be purchased. However, heed caution when renting a car in the country, as many companies may claim damage to the car even if you did not damage it. A way around this is to let your travel agent set up the rental car reservation for you, and be sure to buy the maximum insurance ($20 US dollars/day).

Renting a motorcycle is another popular option. $420 US/week can get you either a chopper motorbike or a dual sport bike. However, keep in mind that the rental company requires a $600 US dollar deposit on any motorcycle rental.

Poas Volcano

Poas Volcano

Taxi is another popular method for getting around Costa Rica. Taxi vehicles are mini-vans, are clean and comfortable, readily available, and have cheap fares. However, beware of “pirate taxis”! AN official taxi in Costa Rica is always the color red and has a yellow-colored triangle on the side with an I.D. number that should match the license plate number. If these numbers do not match, and if the taxi is not a red taxi, do not get inside.

Despite popular belief, hitchhiking in Costa Rica is safe. Local residents are friendly and helpful, especially in rural areas with sparse traffic. Be sure to offer a tip to your driver, and be gracious.

As another travel option, Costa Rica offers two local airlines―Nature Air and Sansa―connecting the major tourist towns. Beware of a limit of carry on baggage of 25 or 30 pounds per person, although Nature Air does permit more baggage weight per person because their airplanes are larger and twin-engine.

Top Things to See and Do

If you find yourself in an observational mood, Costa Rica boasts an impressive array of wildlife to experience―with a quarter of the country designated as national parks and protected regions. Expect to see a wide variety of animals such as primates, tapirs, sloths, insects, and a wonderful collection of birds. Regarding birds, Costa Rica offers over 800 species of birds, which will be especially appealing to birdwatchers―and most hotels in the area offer bird-watching guided tours. The best area for bird watching is the country’s southern region. Finally, Costa Rica is one of the most active countries in the western hemisphere for volcanoes, making the country a great place for those interested in observing volcanoes, with some of the most active being the volcanoes Arenal, Poas, and Irazu.

Tamarindo National Wildlife Reserve

Tamarindo National Wildlife Reserve

Activities for the outdoor enthusiast abound in Costa Rica. For instance, the Central Pacific region of the country boasts many of the country’s best beaches, such as Corcovado and Playa Grande, with many surfing hotspots, especially during the months of August to November, and primarily on the country’s Pacific coast. Rafting is another popular activity in Costa Rica, with the country providing more rivers per square mile than any other spot on Earth, with class I to IV+ difficulties available. Sport Fishing is another popular activity, with the Pacific side of the country known for its Sailfish, Marlin, and Tuna, while the Carribean side is more known for its Snook andTarpon. Biking is also a quite popular activity, with the trails surrounding the volcanic regions being the most popular and exciting. If you love to golf, Costa Rica is also well known for having the world’s lushest, tropical golfing environments in the world. Other activities of interest in Costa Rica are windsurfing, zip-lining, as well as an aerial tram tour, consisting of ski lifts modified for the rainforest.

Tree-top view

Tree-top view

Traditional Food and Drink Options

To satisfy your appetite, Costa Rica offers a simple, yet heart-healthy diet that, aside from the country’s neighboring regional diets, is often not necessarily spicy in flavor. Some of the main dishes in Costa Rica include the following:

Gallo Pinto: A rice and bean dish mixed with cilantro and onion, and consumed throughout the day.

Casado: Mainly served as a lunch diet, it is another rice and bean dish, mixed with meat, fish, or chicken, accompanied with fried plantains and salad.

Also, aside from a vegetarian-friendly eating environment, there exist an abundance of fresh fruit across Costa Rica―mangos and bananas are a staple. Regarding the country’s beef industry, cows are grass-fed, and thus their meat tastes slightly different than traditional North American beef. Also, differences exist in the cuts of beef that are available than what you find in North America.

When looking to quench your thirst, Costa Rica offers a variety of local beverages. For example, if it’s a simple glass of water you’re after, feel safe in consuming tap water as most places in the country have potable water. Also, and for a very low price, bottled water is available. Also available are beverages made from fresh fruits mixed with sugar, and either water or milk. These drinks are called frescos. Another popular local drink is called Cacique, which is basically fermented sugar cane mixed with lemon, and is similar in taste to vodka. If it’s beer you’re looking for, Costa Rica offers up to 8 national beers, as well as many international brands as well. Coffee is a common drink in the country, with many people consuming it not just at breakfast, but as an afternoon break-time beverage.