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Costa Rica - Nauyaca waterfall near Dominical

First of all, it’s important to note that Costa Rica is primarily a place of natural attractions, and activities based on proximity to nature.

At the same time, it also offers luxury hotels of the highest standard, as well as cheaper eco-lodge type accommodation. Bear in mind that even at luxury hotels, the aesthetic tends more towards natural colors and earth tones, rather than gold, glittering chandeliers and the like…

Hotels are categorized based on two separate points-based systems: One is the ‘standard’ hotel star rating, while the other is the sustainable ecotourism level rating, scored in green leaves. The more leaves it has, the more accepted it is in local circles. Costa Ricans are proud of this environmental awareness, and they also expect a degree of the same from visitors.

It is a very diverse country, which offers completely different landscapes within just a few hours of each other: there are several active volcanoes and mountain ranges, but also plenty of topical rainforests, and it’s a country where you can experience both the wild waves of the Pacific Ocean and the gorgeous beaches of the Caribbean – even in a single day. The level of biodiversity throughout the country is astounding: We encountered many unfamiliar species of plans and animal in the course of our travels." (l.o., 2016)

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As someone who grew up in the city and is, so to speak, a native of the concrete jungle, the most striking thing about Costa Rica for me was the experience of unspoiled nature, and the proximity to many wild animals. This is the kind of tourism they offer, and they’re very good at it.


The capital, San José, isn’t much to look at, to be honest, though I wouldn’t call it a typical big city either – beneath the dull exterior there’s plenty to interest the traveler. The city center is pretty chaotic; everyone does their own thing, and at first it looks almost as though none of them have jobs to get to, though apparently they work a six day week, with just one day off. There are a few pretty buildings, but also plenty that are run down and dirty. You could see pretty much everything of interest in one day (for some people an afternoon would be enough). There’s a sightseeing bus tour, which offers a bit more than the standard hop-on hop-off service: Refreshments are served, and a band gives a live performance of traditional music on the bus.


It’s a characteristic of Costa Ricans themselves is that they take care of themselves and their appearance: it’s rare to see anyone looking dirty or disheveled. Many dress in fashionable sportswear, and you’ll see all the major sneaker and sports shoe brands represented – a little strange, since it clearly never occurs to anyone to do any actual sport or exercise in them… There are a few exceptions who really go running, but they tend not to wear ‘designer’ gear.
Costa Rican school children all wear uniforms, so at least they’re spared the constant need for expensive, fashionable clothes.


My travels took me to several cities, as well as some villages and even smaller settlements and I saw that with the changes in the landscape between the mountaintops and the valleys, the people changed as well. In some places, I saw sumptuous villas, in other places just a gate overgrown with vegetation, or a long drive leading to a distant house. I saw little huts made from sheets of corrugated iron, and gated communities for foreigners, with sturdy barriers and security staff.
There are some things, though, that I found everywhere, even in the smallest villages: A church, a school, a soda (a little eatery too small to be called a restaurante) and a soccer pitch with stands for spectators (!)


Of course, soccer comes before everything here, and since Real Madrid’s goalkeeper used to be local boy Keylor Navas, it’s naturally become everyone’s favorite team…

As for food, the following more or less covers it: beans, rice, banana, beer and American fast-food chains. The locals’ the not-entirely-healthy notion of what constitutes a balanced diet doesn’t extend far beyond these options.

Costa Rica is a paradise for surfers, and there are lots of beaches with various difficulty grades (of wave?!?), which are often visited by world champion surfers. Among the most famous are the beaches near Nosara Guanacaste (motto: ‘no shoes, no shirt, Nosara’, which pretty much sums it up) Playa Jacó, the beaches at Playa Hermosa, Santa Teresa etc. (I.o., 2017)


Practicals

Transport

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Costa Rica - a suspension bridge in the jungle - Elter photo

Public safety

“The authorities in this Central American country worry that any decline in public safety will harm tourism, so they’re careful to monitor and control those areas of public life which most affect foreign visitors.

Public safety problems are mostly caused by criminal groups involved in the illegal drug trade. These drug gangs, however, do not target tourists, and the kind of money they deal in far exceeds anything they’d find in a tourist’s pockets. Still, you do have to keep your wits about you in the center of town, and especially in the areas around the bus terminals.

Public safety in the city of Limón is also not particularly good, and long-distance, overnight buses are not without certain risks. (2018)

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,, Sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama, Costa Rica you would think might be a volatile sort of place. But it is unique in the region because it has no standing army and has had no civil wars which are pleasing to see. Costa Rica can however be a deceptively risky place to visit. It’s a major transit country for drug trafficking, and in recent years, hundreds of thousands of migrants from poorer neighboring Central American countries have flooded into Costa Rica seeking work. While some have found it, many others do not have regular employment and are desperate enough to commit crimes.

In the 2020 Global Peace Index, Costa Rica is ranked 32 out of 163 countries when it comes to overall peace. This is an increase of two positions from 2019. In Central America and The Caribbean overall, Costa Rica is ranked the number one most peaceful country in the region out of 12. However, the homicide rate increased from 11.9 homicides per 100,000 people to 12.3 in the last year, and crime is still a significant threat to travelers in Costa Rica. While most visitors do not experience trouble, you should exercise common sense safety to avoid becoming a potential target for criminals.

Better to be in a group of people rather than wandering around on your own. Of course, this especially applies to women Hand over cash and valuables if you’re robbed; they’re not worth risking injury for. The money you can replace, there is only one you. Do not carry your passport or too much money with you while you're out and about. Stay low profile, don’t be flash, and be aware that local norms might not be what you are used to.

All visitors are required to carry identification with them at all times, but not necessarily a passport.  There is a growing problem with passport theft, so you better leave your passport at your accommodation (best in a safe). Carry a photocopy of the bio-data page, along with the page that shows your entry stamp into Costa Rica. So minimize dancing in the streets wearing speedos and a big hat.

Solo female travelers should strongly consider staying in places where they can meet other travelers and be with other people particularly if planning to go on hikes, stay out late, or visit remote places. Don’ts Don’t leave your luggage in the racks on buses and trains unless you want to keep an eagle eye on it. Legging down the highway after someone making off with your bag is not fun and if you caught them it could even be less. Don't be showy with your belongings or the way you dress.

Don’t get drunk that very friendly girl or chap might have an ulterior motive. OK, you might have an ulterior motive but you know what I mean.

Snatch and grabs are somehow common. Thieves are grabbing just about anything they can get their hands on. A common crime is pulling watches from unsuspecting visitors as they casually hang an arm out a car window, or snatching sunglasses that are resting on someone’s head.

Mind you I’m more likely to lose the sunglasses than have them stolen which is why mine tend to be so cheaps a thief would be likely to bring them back and complain.

For safety reasons, avoid camping on beaches. Rather find secure accommodation at a lodge or hostel. Anywhere visitors visit frequently will be a target for crime – don't be alarmed, just be careful.

Be cautious of offers of help. Slashing the tires of your car is a common scam. As soon as the tire goes flat, a "good Samaritan" conveniently appears, offering to help change it. Then, while you're out of the car trying to change the tire, the thief's accomplice sneaks in and steals anything of value from the vehicle. Don’t change money off the street. What you get might be fake, someone might count out large denomination notes, you’re distracted, and you end up with a roll of low denomination notes with a large note wrapped around them, or you might just get mugged. Places to avoid in Costa Rica San Jose, like many big cities, can be riskier for travelers, particularly after dark and especially in the downtown area. If you keep your wits about you, you should be able to realize when you’re wandering into a sketchy neighborhood.

We advise you to avoid any of the parks in San Jose at night, as they are considered very dangerous.

(Alan Durant, 2021)


Health

Tap water is drinkable, even tasty in Costa Rica.

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, Don’t drink the water in Limón and Puntarenas. You don’t want a case of Montezuma’s revenge. In other places, the tap water is OK though I noticed Americans, in particular, seem to stick to bottled water. Be careful of drinking spirits. There have been cases of Methanol poising. Methanol can cause headaches, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. I seem to remember this can happen anyway, especially on Friday and Saturday nights? High doses can cause blindness or vision loss. Be cautious while drinking in Costa Rica, particularly in hole-in-the-wall type establishments. (

We advise you to get decent travel insurance. I know if you’re traveling on a budget and you’re young and healthy, it’s tempting to leave it out, but you could have an accident or come down with some nasty tropical illness, and you might be glad of being covered for good treatment and repatriation.

There is some risk of mosquito-borne diseases such as Chikungunya virus and Dengue fever. The worst affected areas of Dengue fever are Limon and Puntarenas.

If you’re in that country, you should take steps to avoid being bitten by mosquitoes.
Medical care is of a generally high standard. Ambulance services in remote areas may vary. Only initial emergency medical treatment is available without charge for visitors.

Subsequent treatment will be charged. Get adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation. If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 911 and ask for an ambulance.

You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you are referred to a medical facility for treatment.” (Alan Durant, 2021)






Others

1. Don’t hike, trek or camp alone, but hire a local guide, or go with others and let someone know where you’re going and what time you expect to be back. Ask those people to seek help if you don’t return at the appointed hour.


Background

Costa Rica - national flag - r.g. photo

Costa Rica - national flag - k.s. photo

Destination in brief

Costa Rica in brief

Costa Rica is a Central American country. Costa Rica means,, rich coast”.

Neighbors: Panama (south), Nicaragua (north). Costa Rica has coasts both on The Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. 

Size: 51,100 km² (19,730 mi²) – The landscape is surprisingly diverse for such a small country, making Costa Rica a very attractive travel destination – you can enjoy a Pacific Ocean beach and the Caribbean beach on the same day if you wish.  

Population: 5 million (2020) – 83,6% white or mestizo, 6,7% mulatto – Costa Ricans call themselves Ticos (males) and Ticas (females).

Capital city: San José (1,4 million)

Official language: Spanish (colonial heritage)

Currency: colón (CRC) – USD is widely accepted in tourist areas

Religions: Roman Catholicism is Costa Rica’s state religion, 76.3% of the population identify as Catholic. An additional 13.7% are Evangelical Christians.

Costa Rica has no standing army. They abolished the army in 1948 after their last civil war ended. 

Average net monthly salary: 730 USD (2020) – Costa Rica used to be a relatively wealthy country by Central American standards. It used to be called,, the Switzerland of Central America”, but the country’s economy is weakening. However, the prices for tourist activities increased.

Most frequent surname: Rodriguez

There are usually no street names or addresses in Costa Rica so people give directions via landmarks. When giving someone a home address, Ticos usually say something like: “It’s the blue house just south of where the cow is tied up,” or “It’s 500 meters north of the big tree.”

Public safety: not so good for the locals, but the typical crimes are not committed against tourists

Tourist high season is December-March, around the Christmas and Easter holidays. Some rain is to be expected any time of the year, especially in the coastal areas, in the mountains of the Cordilleras and in the windward valleys.

What to see and do in Costa Rica? 

Most of the worthy tourist attractions are related to the country’s impressive natural wonders: pretty comfortable rainforest tours, harmless wildlife, and volcanoes. Jungle tours are very well organized and there are breathtaking night walks with torches. 

Ecotourism is an accented call in Costa Rica. About a quarter of its territory is under some institutional environmental protection. There is a considerable choice of so-called ecotours.  

There are also lovely beaches and a charming capital city. There are not many cultural attractions as Costa Rica does not have many remnants from ancient times, especially when compared to Guatemala or Mexico. 

Pura vida” (pure life) is a phrase the locals regularly use when asked how they are or in passing to say hello or goodbye. 

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,, Costa Rica is definitely the place for you if you’re into a nature adventure, and spectacular scenery. A touch of glamping perhaps or the more outward bound experience. As long as you’re not afraid of snakes or creepy crawlies you’ll be fine. If you see yourself as the great explorer, hunter, or adventurer Costa Rica could be for you but remember pride comes before a sometimes literally.

You can adapt but perhaps start small and in my case stay small. I’m a bit long in the tooth for things like zip-lining, paragliding, or white water rafting but I did try Kayaking.

A note, if zip lining is the sort of thing you’re mad enough to go in for checking out the record of the company you use. Ending up a crumpled broken heap can put a damper on your holiday. They did try and talk me into the white water rafting but there is only so much terror I’m prepared to allow into my life.

I have Kayaked before so I manfully headed off into the current trying to look intrepid, I was almost immediately stuck on a shallow bit. It might have been a sandbank, rock or for all, I know a crocodile. The guide rescued me in the end and I had a nice slightly worried time splashing down the gentle stream I was on. The guides are experts, or so we’re told, but having the other know-all Kayakers falling about with laughter doesn’t do anything for your self-esteem.

I think the best thing about Costa Rica is probably the wildlife and the scenery. Costa Rica is a beautiful country that essentially invented the eco-tourism holiday. It boasts a great climate, friendly people, beaches, wildlife, and enough adventure travel opportunities to fill a month-long holiday.  (Alan Durant, 2021) "

Geography

,, Costa Rica is probably visited for its wildlife as much as for anything else. Costa Rica is with all sorts of snufflers, flappers shufflers hoppers and slithers tucked into its rather stunning landscape bursting with nature and beauty in fact it’s one of the most biodiverse corners of the globe. You can see all sorts of animals there. The beauty of it is that you don’t necessarily have to go far to find them, many people simply walk out of their hotel and come face to face with fascinating creatures of all sorts.

There are more than 500,000 species of plants and animals existing in Costa Rica. An incredible 25% of Costa Rica is protected land, providing sanctuary to the various flora and fauna that exist here, and within that, you can find 28 national parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forests and 8 biological reserves.

The star of the scene is the Sloth it being something of a poster boy for Costa Rica. They give the impression of being slow, in fact, they are slowly progressing through the treetops. They are easy to see even just when you are wandering around. Everything about their movement is slow, including their digestive system. Apparently, they only go to the loo, about once a week luckily they climb down the trees rather than doing it on your head which is greatly reassuring. Apparently, about a third of their body weight is made up of their digestive systems, presumably jammed with leaves. Their long, sharp claws allow them to cling to trees and swipe away any predators so a good idea to stay out of claw reach. You could end up looking like you’ve been through a paper shredder. You might think sloths sleep all day and they do spend an average of 8 to 10 hours snoozing, but the rest of the day is spent moving perpetually slowly in search of food. You can quite easily spot them in Manuel Antonio National Park and Tortuguero National Park, but keep an eye on the trees wherever you are and you’re likely to spot one or two in the distance. It’s also quite common to spot them in treetops when you are travelling between destinations. With their brightly coloured bills and necks, they stand out against the rainforest landscape and are relatively easy to spot in the rainforests, even from a distance. They are found throughout Costa Rica In a way they mirror the laid back attitude of the locals.

Then of course there are the Howler Monkeys. They are noisy things known for their loud howls and screams, which can be heard from up to 3 miles away. The howler monkeys are quite large in size and are covered in black fur making them distinct from many of the other monkeys found in Costa Rica. You can see them in most of the forested areas. I’m more than a little wary of the and I wouldn’t advise trying to stroke one if you want to keep your fingers but don’t worry they are not keen on interacting with you.

Now I like frogs and the Red-Eyed Tree Frog is a prime example. This brightly coloured amphibian is often plastered over Costa Rican wildlife brochures. “They live in humid lowlands, often near rivers and ponds which makes the steamy Costa Rican rainforest the perfect home for these small yet vibrant creatures. The red-eyed tree frog has adapted perfectly to keep itself safe from the many predators in the county. Remaining motionless for a large part of the day, they will open their eyes wide and spread their toes to show off their startling colours. This shocks predators and gives the frog enough time to jump to safety.” (Costa Rica Tourism Board) “They can often be seen in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Tortuguero National Park and Manuel Antonio National Park.” (Costa Rica Tourism Board)

Also animal of note, there are loads of butterflies which I really enjoyed also the hummingbirds and as interesting if not so appealing the crocodiles. As a point of interest,

I get confused between crocodiles, alligators or Cayman. They are all very bitey so I didn’t get close enough to ask. Even scarier is the Cadejos is fantastic and luckily mythical, at least we hope so, animal, looking like a big dog with thick long black hair,  hot red eyes, Jaguar teeth’s and goat feet’s. The spectre appears at night, dragging its chains in the street. Apparently, it tends to turn up when you’re drunk, who would have thought it. Luckily it doesn’t attack you it just scares you half to death. Parents, who in my opinion should now better use the threat of it to frighten their children into obedience. Taken in all if it's not a vibrant nightlife your after but a peek at nature in all its wonder you’ll like it. Alan Durant, 2021)

Costa Rica - Arenal Volcano (Volcán Arenal) - y.m. photo

Costa Rica - Poás Volcano (Volcán Poás) - y.m. photo

Costa Rica - Monteverde cloud forest park - Mantled howler monkey - k.s. photo

Climate

Weather is often a determining factor in travel, but the truth is that I’d recommend Costa Rica at almost any time of year. As usual in the tropics, there are two seasons (the dry season runs from December to April, while the rainy season runs between May and November, but the temperature is more or less the same all year round: warm and humid. Given its geography, though, you’re almost certain to be able to find somewhere sunny. A characteristic of the wet season (May to November) is that it’s generally sunny in the morning, with showers through the afternoon and evening, together with occasional heavy downpours, before clearing again for the next morning. Prices are lower during this season, so if you’re not afraid of getting soaked, and are more interested in exploring, then I’d be inclined to recommend this period. Of course, it’s even better to travel there during the dry season (December to May) but you do have to be aware of the high humidity. Rain may come at any time of year. (L. O. 2017)

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,, December through April is the dry season. This is also Costa Rica’s high season. May through November is the rainy season, euphemistically called the “green season.” Afternoon showers are common during the green season and it’s slightly cooler than the dry season but wet can really mean wet-though it's good for the forest through scrapping the mold of yourself is a bit of a chore. There are periodic hurricanes in September and October, which are by far the quietest months also they are when prices are lowest. Costa Rica is rarely severely impacted by hurricanes, no need to lash yourself to a tree unless it's what you're into. Having said that I have to say that the area of Osa gets too much rain in September. Costa Rica is an adventurous sort of place but as I said pride comes before a fall, bite, sting being completely lost sweaty, wet and itchy, or any permutation of those. (Alan Durant, 2021)

Gastronomy

,, Gallo Pinto is a breakfast dish made of rice and beans (well, that’s no surprise!). The cuisine itself has roots in Costa Rican and Nicaraguan culture and is typically referred to as just “pinto” by the locals. Suppose you order a Casado at a restaurant in Costa Rica. In that case, you can expect to be served a plate that contains the following: rice, beans, salad, tortillas, fried Platano, Maduro, and meat (beef, pork, chicken, or fish). That is excellent black bean soup. Olla de Carne Can beef stew be considered soup? It can occur in my world! It reminds me a little of the Hungarian Goulash. Patacones Patacones are deep-fried delicious. It’s mainly served as a snack and consists of flattening plantains and frying them two times. (Alan Durant, 2021)


Attractions

National parks


Parque Nacional Volcán Arenal

That national park is approximately 17km west of La Fortuna. The main park entrance is on the road to El Castillo (turn off the main road 13km west of town). It’s easiest to reach the park by car or on a tour. Otherwise, take any bus to Tilarán and ask the driver to let you off at the turnoff.

Parque Nacional Marino Ballena

,, Famous for its wide, 4km-long beach, part of which is shaped like a whale's tail. Great place for seeing whales, until I arrived, no sign of one. Other people see whales when they are walking down the King's Road but I seem to be doomed never to see one. Hopefully, you’ll have better luck. (Alan Durant, 2021)


Costa Rica - Corcovado National Park

San José

Costa Rica - San José - Metropolitan Cathedral (Catedral Metropolitana) - Elter photo

Costa Rica - San José - National Theatre - j.c. photo

Beaches

Playa Cocles

,, Playa Cocles I was told had gentle surf. Maybe I strayed but I ran down the beach like an extra from the bay watch, dived into the sea, and was promptly thrown back up the beach. I’m not a great swimmer and worse surfer but it’s still a bit embarrassing. As I say maybe I’d strayed. It was suggested to me that perhaps I was at nearby Salsa Brava. The surfer dude I talked to said, “it has steep lefts and rights, which break (and often dump) on the steep sandy beach,” whatever that means, though I understood the dump on the beach bit. (Alan Durant, 2021)

Museums

Museo de Oro Precolombino y Numismática This three-in-one museum houses an extensive collection of Costa Rica's pre-Columbian gold and other artifacts, including historical currency and some contemporary regional art. The museum, located underneath the Plaza de la Cultura. It's well worth a visit.



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