Costa Rica is a country defined by its own motto: ‘Pura Vida’. A nation located in Central America that lacks an army, which remains open to visitors like few others, with half of its territory covered with forests and jungles, and 25% of it protected under the figure of reserve or natural park. It is logical, therefore, that it is considered one of the best valued destinations by travelers from around the world. The nickname of green paradise could be stamped on the Costa Rican flag, a country with a surface similar to that of Extremadura or Aragon, but with one of the richest indices of biodiversity on the entire planet.
A destination of adventure, but also of relaxation, that allows you to walk on the trees of a cloud forest listening to the cry of the howler monkeys and end the day drinking some mojitos in hot springs under the skirts of an active volcano that does not stop roaring . This is Costa Rica and that is precisely the pure life.
Carate Beach in Costa Rica
In Costa Rica you can wake up on a Caribbean beach and watch the afternoon sun set on the Pacific. All in one day! But for those of us who like to travel with enough time and absorb every moment, I am going to tell you which are my favorite places to see in Costa Rica and that you should not miss for God’s sake.
The moment I discovered ‘Pura Vida’ in Costa Rica
A few years have passed since I first traveled to Costa Rica, and I dared to write a diary (which, by the way, I never finished). When this blog was only a few months old, I spent almost 3 weeks in the Central American country, combining it with a getaway to the Panamanian archipelago of Bocas del Toro (and its mythical Sneakers Cays, where the Survivors reality show was recorded for the first time). It was my first trip focused almost entirely on the most authentic nature, on looking for different species of animals in jungles, forests and reefs and learning a lot about these types of adventures (Inti, friend, I do not know if you will be reading me, but I will always thank you that you will teach me so many things).
There I would learn what it means to look nature directly in the eye, I would photograph the little frog that is currently part of the El Rincón de Sele logo and I would realize that observing wild animals would become one of my greatest passions. Because destinations like Alaska, Botswana, the Galapagos, the Yacuma Pampas, Borneo, Kamchatka or Komodo would arrive much later.
Costa Rica was the first country to provide me with many incredible experiences related to the environment. For example, how to swim with sharks, learn to differentiate the many poisonous frogs of the genus dendrobates, watching the parsimony with which a sloth climbs a tree, wake up to the screaming of howler monkeys, sight a basilisk run above the water, attend several turtle nesting, admire the flight of macaws or toucans and sail in a canoe passing by alligators that did not take their eyes off us. And even listen to the roar of a volcano as imposing as Arenal.
What to sight in Costa Rica for a trip of about 15 days?
After reviewing that adventure, I have prepared a summary with the 8 essentials for a trip to Costa Rica of approximately 2 weeks in which we will get right to the idea of how much this country has to offer:
Tortuguero National Park
Just for the mere fact that it is reached by boat (or the most fortunate by plane or helicopter) and not by road, they make this a destination like few others. On the one hand, he lets himself be carried away by the Caribbean rhythm and coconut milk, dressing the most typical dishes that are served in wooden huts with brightly colored makeup. But on the other, it allows you to take a look at the beaches where sea turtles come to lay their eggs at night.
This is a show that pays for the trip to this corner of the Costa Rican Caribbean on its own, but not the only one, since inland a network of canals arises that can be traveled by canoe and that will make one believe sailing through the Amazon . You can enjoy on board (if the route is by boat without a motor, much better so as not to scare or disturb the animals) an early morning in the company of the animals that can be seen and heard from the trees, and pass by a alligator that does not take his eye off you.
In a trip of this type we must be responsible so as not to affect the environment we visit in the least. And I don’t just mean not throwing papers on the ground. If you go on an outing to observe turtles, it is advisable to pay attention to the guide assigned to us and not use flashlights or flash from cameras. The turtles that see these lights are scared and may not spawn on the beach where they were born, creating great damage to an already threatened species. On the other hand, it would be good that in the routes that are made by boat through the canal area, ask that the motor not be used and avoid any annoyance to the animals as well as a terrible noise pollution capable of breaking that symphony of sounds that is capable to generate nature.
In a country with lots of volcanoes, and not a few that are active, there is an undisputed king who is part of any journey that is made in Costa Rica. El Arenal is a real volcano, the kind that even a small child would know how to draw, and that sometimes, if the clouds do not cling to it selfishly, we will sight lava come out of its crater and hear the tremors and explosions that happen in the inside such a cauldron.
One can try to go around it from the town of La Fortuna through highways and paths that allow us to sight an exhausted half that seeks to cover its frontal position, still very leafy. But good fun is watching (and listening) at night from the warmth of the hot springs that lie just below you (Tabacón Hot Springs is the best-known natural spa in the area) while a bartender offers you a cocktail with which one will believe be swimming inside the volcano.
Recommended excursions from this area (with Spanish-speaking guides):
• Tour to the Chato and Arenal volcanoes
• Hiking along the Celeste river
• Rafting down the Sarapiquí River
• Horseback riding to the Fortuna River waterfall
• Kayak on Lake Arenal
• Tour of the hanging bridges of the Arenal rain forest
Its conical silhouette is not as suggestive as that of Arenal, but the Poás volcano does not need it because it allows you to climb to the top of a vaporous crater (the largest in size in the country) that emanates sulfur in emphatic fumaroles. Let you see it before the fog covers it completely, which happens sooner than we would like, which requires getting up early with good and praying to the spirit that lives in Poas to have mercy on us and us. show your volcanic beauty.
It is not the law, but it is usually recommended that the visit to the Poás volcano be carried out first thing in the morning (at 8:00 am the accesses open) since throughout the day the clouds take over the crater and not allows you to see absolutely nothing. But if it happens that we find it with fog, let’s not lose heart that in a matter of minutes the fog can give us a truce.
In general, it is usually a visit for the first or last day of travel, given its proximity to San José and the international airport in Alajuela.
In the province of Guanacaste, and we pass to the Pacific, the turtles also come to nest. In protected places like Ostional there are nights in which not one or two come, but hundreds of them in the same day to give our eyes one of the greatest shows that we can attend on a trip to Costa Rica. Always accompanied by a guide, without using lights that damage or scare these marine animals, we can see how the beach becomes a nursery full of turtle eggs that will come out the following month. It is a very Darwinian event because out of a hundred eggs, a turtle may survive that, if it can (or rather, if they leave it), will return to the same beach where it was born to give meaning to the cycle of life.
Not long ago, the images of hundreds of people in Ostional in an extremely disrespectful attitude and taking selfies while a very high number of turtles were laying their eggs went viral and the internet. Once again we appeal to the responsibility, not only of the travelers, but also those of the authorities who must ensure that these types of things do not happen. Below, you can see a shameful one featured on a Costa Rican newscast:
Manuel Antonio National Park
It is the most touristy and crowded town, by far, in Costa Rica. Perhaps what the city is, with hotels, lodges and apartments galore, is the most impersonal and least liked facet of the Central American country, but it has the asset of Manuel Antonio National Park, which is beautiful and offers very interesting tours around the beach. Few places in the world allow a greater number of marmosets to be observed closely and the sunsets on the beach are like a postcard. And it is not a bad base precisely to start exploring the Costa Rican Atlantic coastline and go down, who knows, to Drake Bay and penetrate the Osa peninsula. It is recommended to consider an excursion with an expert guide to get the most out of this area of Costa Rica.
Did you know that in the forests of Costa Rica you can see 4 types of monkeys? The spider monkey (AtelesGeoffroyi) is distinguished by the length of its limbs, and by the handling of its prehensile tail to perform pirouettes and support itself on the branches of trees. On the other hand, the howler or howler monkey (Alouattapalliata) that emits a sound that can be heard from miles away. The squirrel monkey, better known as the marmoset (Saimirioerstedii), which is the smallest of all and whose presence is mainly focused on certain areas of the Pacific coast such as Manuel Antonio and the Osa Peninsula. And finally, the capuchin or white-faced monkey (Cebuscapucinus), with pink skin on its face and white head (the rest of the body is black), which has no trouble getting down to the ground to eat.
Corcovado National Park
If you like to hike through the jungle and find practically no one on your way, Corcovado is the place in Costa Rica you should try to get to, no matter how difficult it may be. There is no normal road, but a sandy road that floods in the rainy season and a laughable airport in Carate. That is the PARADISE that I was looking for on that trip; a corner with 3% of the biodiversity of the entire planet where macaws dress the sky in red, whales let their tail flicker close to its many kilometers of beaches. Virgin and jungle trekking offers you a greater probability than anywhere else of being able to follow in the footsteps of the puma, jaguar, tapir or ocelot.
Corcovado is a National Geographic documentary in itself, quite an adventure. A few lodges (and luxurious Luna Lodge type) as well as some other camping sites are the only accommodations before making the way and touring the park for several days from the south. I have to confess that this jewel of the Osa Peninsula, an appendix of Costa Rica very close to Panama, is my favorite. Because I have never felt loneliness in such a way, because behind that curtain of trees and waves I have lived the loudest nights of my life (you know, nights in the jungle are not exactly silent). And because howler monkeys wake you up at the beginning of the day is something wonderful…
Did you know that Corcovado is home to more than 200 species of mammals, including the main felines of the American continent that include the jaguar, puma, yaguarundi or ocelot? There have been multiple sightings of puma by tourists who make the trail to La Sirena, although the difficulty in finding this animal is very complex. Another of the great ones that is occasionally seen in the Osa Peninsula is the tapir. It is common to find the scarlet macaws, which have disappeared in much of Central America and Corcovado continues to be one of their favorite sanctuaries.
By the way, the most common access by vehicle is through the north of the Osa Peninsula from Drake Bay (from which there are a lot of options and possible excursions to move through the park both through the jungle and by sea), although I was lucky enough to meet him. to the south after taking the road route between Puerto Jiménez and Carate. I have never seen such a large number of macaws in my life! It is an absolute spectacle.
Cold nights and hot, wet mornings in a cloud or rain forest that is located in this high altitude paradise. In Monteverde, where the sloths cling to the trees and the lushness of the landscape cannot be greater, travelers can walk over suspension bridges and pass over a totally green tapestry that likes to cling to the mist. There I could hear the hollow sound of the quetzals that flutter there between the months of March and July, or go out to look for reptiles and tarantulas that were hiding in the thicket. Monteverde is the great hall for nature lovers, but it is also the fun capital of Costa Rica, as it has places to practice canopy, which is a zip line through which you can go from one tree to another with the ground more than 30 meters. Probably the best canopies in the world are there.
Without a doubt, one of the best places in the world to go canopying is Selvatura Park in Monteverde. It also has a hummingbird garden and an insect museum that are fabulous.
If you can, try taking a guided tour at night and you will see how the cloud forest is teeming with life when the sun goes down. The thermal sensation varies radically between day and night. You can go from wearing short sleeves to wearing a jacket. Although it is obvious, do not travel to a rainforest without a rain jacket.
Sele doing canopy in Monteverde (Costa Rica)
And finally, we return to the Caribbean, very close to the Panamanian border and the Bocas del Toro archipelago, which stand as one of the attractions of that country. But without leaving Costa Rica we are left with another Caribbean and quasi-Rastafarian face in which to know what the Pura Vida that the Ticos boast so much about consists of. Also perfect for hiking and even diving. It is not difficult to find yourself among sharks just a few meters from a coastline full of palm trees.
When we travel abroad it is convenient for us to be protected against everything that may happen to us. It never hurts to carry a good policy that covers us at the destination, in this case Costa Rica, in the event of possible accidents, illnesses or setbacks (theft, loss of luggage, etc.) that may imply an extra cost afterwards. In my case, to travel to the country, I used IATI Travel Insurance because it seems to me that it has higher than average coverage, they advance the money if a problem occurs and they offer personalized and immediate treatment in your language.
Readers of this blog can contract the IATI Travel Insurance that best suits what they are looking for with a 5% discount (which is applied directly by entering this link or clicking on the image). They have also put the batteries adding anti-Covid19 coverage with which to travel with greater peace of mind and protection in times of pandemic.
In Costa Rica the currency is the Colón, although dollars are mostly used and accepted. In fact, many of the prices that are found come in this currency. You can exchange dollars before leaving and avoiding the abusive ones at the airport or at the hotel on duty. More than exchanging dollars, they bring them home to you. For this type of things, I use Ria Currency Exchange and, in just 48 hours, I already have cash to travel to Costa Rica or wherever.
I could continue talking about Costa Rica adding wonderful destinations such as Samara, Rincón de la Vieja, Gandoca-Manzanillo, Puerto Viejo, Isla del Coco, Braulio Carrillo National Park or another volcano like Tenorio, but we would find ourselves again with the eternal limitation of time, of having to choose, of looking at the sky and screaming that you do not want to go home, because life moves in Costa Rica. Yes, LIFE, just like it is written, with capital letters…