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Costa Rica

By Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin Section editor Profile
A very lush, green country, Costa Rica is a place where fauna and flora flourish. The aptly named 'Switzerland' of Central America shows the way for the development of eco-tourism with its green forests galore, numerous volcanoes at the heart of protected nature parks and its long beaches on the Pacific and the Atlantic coasts. This is one of nature's kingdoms meaning more and more people are starting to travel to Costa Rica.

Travel guide

The Costa Rican capital

Costa Rica's buzzing capital, San José, is a great base for your adventures, as well as being worth a visit in its own right. Head downtown to explore the exquisite collections at the Jade Museum and Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Both facilities house dazzling and rare pre-Columbian artifacts.

Reggae in Puerto Viejo

If you enjoy getting down to a bit of reggae on a Saturday night, visiting Puerto Viejo is definitely recommended. Down at Puerto Viejo there's a whole plethora of bars and clubs to have an explore around, for example The Lazy Mon at Stanfords, which hosts bands and DJs on a Sunday or the open air bar Tex Mex which serves two for one drinks and boasts a great view of the local town. If you happen to get peckish half way through the night, The Point is just around the corner, serving up great burgers and bar nibbles. Most of the bars here also do super cocktails.

Manuel Antonio national park

This national park is notorious for being home to one of the greatest selections of biodiversity in the world. It has over 109 species of mammals and 184 species of birds and as you step deeper the terrains of the park continue to change for example one minute you're walking through a tropical forest, the next you're faced with a lagoon, a mangrove field or a gorgeous sandy beach. Some of the creatures that live in Manuel Antonio include white-faced and howler monkeys, two and three toed sloths, iguanas and the squirrel monkey.

Parque Nacional Corcovado

This nearly 11,000-acre misty rainforest is known for its diverse wildlife, between 7am and 9am being the ultimate time for wildlife sightings. Buzzing insects and chirping birds can be seen and heard as you stroll through the verdant jungle and while trekking along the hazy trails. You're likely to also spot macaws, tapirs, jaguars, spiders and howler monkeys - not to mention the 23 miles of beach here!

Montezuma (and not the chocolate)

Leave all your worries behind in this bohemian-esque village where hippies, artists and naturalists hang out. However, the relaxed atmosphere isn't the only reason to visit this town it also has some of the most stunning beaches and waterfalls where there's the option to get involved in yoga classes, eat out in veggie friendly dining rooms and stroll along the coastline. The odd capuchin monkey might also be hanging around waiting to greet you. If you're looking to spend a late evening in this town, a hidden gem is Chico's Bar in the middle of the town, it has a dance floor that looks straight out on the street on one side but on the other there's a great view of the beach, you can also eat out here.

Caffe Britt Finca

If you're into your coffee, it's essential that you take a tour around Café Britt Finca, one of the most famous coffee roasters in the world. The plantation was opened to the public in 1991 and offers an hour and a half tour of its plantation, ending with a coffee sampling of all the different blends and also some chocolate treats. There's the opportunity to buy any of the products sampled which are offered at discounted prices for tour participants. VIP coffee tours are also an option, allowing you to visit the nursery and roasting farm as well as the plantation for a group or corporate event.

Tabacon Hot Springs

The Tabacon Hot Springs can be found at the foot of the Arenal Volcano and are great for those fond of the water paired with relaxation. Entrance is completely free; the only thing that you'll need to pay for is a towel so make sure you remember your own. There's five different springs to choose from, some much hotter than others so you're sure not to get bored and switching between cold and hot can be very good for the circulation. There's also a swim up bar and a waterslide where cocktails can be enjoyed whilst swimming around in the pools.

Monteverde and Santa ElenaThe Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is where some of the best-kept forest in all of Costa Rica can be found. It is known as a cloud forest, not a rain forest, due to its elevation of 4,724 ft above sea level. Some of the best bird-watching can be done here.

Guanacaste

Costa Rica's 'Gold Coast' is one of the nation's most unique destinations and that's not just because of its secluded beaches. The region's dry, sunny savannas contrast with the misty cloud-covered rainforests found in other parts of the country. Even better is the fact that between December and April you'll be treated to nigh-on endless sunshine.

La Paz waterfall gardens

Short for 'Catarata La Paz' (or 'peace waterfall'), La Paz may seem quiet and still at first glance. But take another look, and you'll find this rainforest buzzing with activity. From croaking frogs and fluttering butterflies to rumbling jaguars and howling spider monkeys, there are plenty of creatures to be found in this wildlife-lover's paradise. And there is much for nature-seekers to admire too, from the garden's five flowing waterfalls to its colorful orchids and sea of leafy green canopies.

Our Editorial team's advice

At least ten days are necessary to visit the great sites of the country such as the Irazu and Arenal volcanoes, lake Arenal, the National Park of Tortuguero, the National Park of Manuel-Antonio, as well as to spend a few days relaxing on the beaches. You should not hesitate to discover this country on your own or in a group, without a guide, as the country is peaceful and very well developed on a tourist level.

Tortuguero National Park sits tucked away in a northeastern pocket of the Caribbean coast. Tied to Costa Rica's mainland by weaving rivers and canals, this isolated park lures nature-seekers looking for a remote piece of jungle paradise. The park houses white-faced monkeys, toucans, jaguars, bright lizards, red-eyed frogs and blue morpho butterflies. Plus, at various times during the year, visitors can spot sea turtles (green, leatherback, hawksbill and loggerhead) nesting in the area.

The village of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, located on Costa Rica's Caribbean coast, comes alive with reggae music, funky bamboo bars and a wild nightlife. Surfers crowd coconut-fringed Cocles Beach; nature-lovers venture inland to explore rainforests; and foodies check out downtown's delicious cuisine. Off the beaten path, you'll find dusty biking and walking paths running through tropical farms and gardens, while on the coast you'll discover remote bungalows and empty stretches of sand.

Pavones is the second-longest left-hand surf break in the world and is known the world over as a result. The village is still really far off the beaten track so you'll feel like you're in 'real' Costa Rica as you enjoy la vida pura. Even experienced swimmers should be wary as, even though waves with a strong current can be more fun, they can also be fatal. Make sure that you are and others around you are aware of the potential dangers before diving in head first!

Separated from the mainland of Costa Rica by the Gulf of Nicoya and the Tempisque estuary, the Nicoya Peninsula is home to some of the most isolated and beautiful beaches. Here you can find everything from wonderful nature reserves to world class hotels and beach resorts, quaint rural towns, amazing sunsets, some of the best surfing on Costa Rica's Pacific Coast and even Tico cowboys.

Take it slow with the slowest of them all! In Costa Rica's Sloth Sanctuary, you can take a two-hour guided tour which gives you an introduction to sloths and what makes them unique: their physiology, biology and behaviour. This also includes a placid canoe trip to experience the rainforest from a different perspective.

Coffee production has played a key role in Costa Rica's history and continues to be important to the country's economy. If coffee's your thing then you'll find a coffee plantation tour absolutely great - the pure and natural taste is out of this world!

There's no need to apply for a visa if you're coming from a country that's a member of the European Union and you're staying for less than three months.

The tropical climate means that the country has both a humid and dry season. The temperature doesn't really vary that much during the whole year but the rainfall is most heavy from May to November. The ideal season to visit is from December to the end of April. However, that's still the touristiest season.

Since the roads aren't the most developed, journeys by taxi, bus or van can sometimes take quite a while. Going to San Jose is definitely recommended to see the museums and markets like the National Museum which dates back to pre Colombian times and also the Jade museum.

Although there's not usually much trouble here, tourists do get their passports stolen quite often, it's therefore advised that travelers don't leave large amounts of money or important documents lying around in their hotel.

A trip to Costa Rica is definitely the perfect opportunity to stock up on rum; some of the best brands include the Centenario, Abuelo and Cacique.

pros

  • +The great diversity of ecosystems.
  • +The possibility of combining seaside holidays with nature adventures.
  • +The kindness of the inhabitants

cons

  • -The state of the roads is particularly appalling.
  • -There are no direct flights from London to San José.
  • -The tourism industry is driving prices up.

Traditions

As in all Latin American countries, Costa Ricans or 'the Ticos' have got rhythm. There are very few events which take place without there being dancing involved and there is not one village without a dancefloor. With regards to the etiquette of greeting, men tend to grip forearms instead of shaking hands, when they know each other well.

Religious parties often are held throughout the country. Aswell as these parties, regional celebrations are often popular and are held in the local villages. There's even an astonishing amount of festivals. Amongst the main celebrations, the Arts Festival in March is included, the International Music Festival in July and August, the national independence party on the 15th September with parades and fireworks and the Puerto Limon carnival on the 12th October. December is the busiest month for festivities, for example the Los Negritos party, the fiesta de la Yeguita on the 12, las posadas on the 15th and the New Years Eve parties which start on the 26th.

Food

Varied and tasty, Costa Rican cooking is normally composed of beef, pork or chicken served with rice and black beans (variants are obtained through different sauces and vegetables). A classic Costa Rican dish is called le Casado and is prepared with rice, steamed black beans, accompanied by vegetables, meat or fish, plantain and fried cheese. These dishes are normally cooked in big quantities so that they are able to be used over the course of the next few days. Grilled fish is also excellent as well as the delicious flat cakes made with sweet corn.

The true 'Tico' breakfast has Gallo Pinto written all over it, this consists of rice and refried beans, which goes really well with rice crackers and natilla, which is almost like crème anglaise. Fruit is readily available all over the island: there are watermelons, pineapples, passion fruits, bananas, mangos, melons, guavas, and more. More so than on the Pacific side of the country, the Atlantic dishes are strongly influenced by Caribbean cuisine.

Of course we can't forget about the Costa Rican coffee, which is greatly consumed and famous worldwide. Costa Rica also produces rum of excellent quality. If you are eating out, you can eat very cheaply in the Sodas, which are typical small restaurants with set menus.

Ideal Weather Search

Find weekly weather forecasts for Costa Rica . Different criteria make it possible to predict with precision the best time of year to go to Costa Rica . A comprehensive weather score, made up of temperature indicators, bad weather predictions, sunshine levels and wind speeds, will allow you to choose the activities best suited to the weather conditions and therefore make the most of your holiday in Costa Rica .

Reviewed hotels

Dmitry Petrounin Dmitry Petrounin

Our journalists' reviews for you 20 hotels Costa Rica . Take a look at our hotels, their facilities or their value-for-money score according to your departure dates so that we can find the best offer to suit you Costa Rica . Book a hotel Costa Rica it's never been so simple !

Souvenirs

The handicrafts here are rich and diverse; there are various silver and gold pre-Colombian replicas, small wooden decorative pieces, wicker baskets from Guanadaste, leather objects, and traditional painted wooden Carretas or small carts which are so typical of Sarchi, the artisan centre of the country. You will also find a great number of t-shirts, boasting the eco-friendly philosophy of the country, as well as infinite supplies of rum, the best varietes of which are Centenario, Abuelo and Cacique. Shops and stores are open from 9:00 am to 7:30 pm Monday to Saturday.

Package holidays in Costa Rica

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