When it comes to winding a long day or to seize the moment to rejuvenate one’s senses, Costa Rica provides the ultimate gateway for a plethora of options to relax, relive, and to fade away into a blissful sense of solitude. Indeed, the small Central American nation has balanced its economic aspirations and conservation of nature with the aid of its immensely pragmatic eco-tourism model. While human activity does leave behind ecological footprints and harms the environment there is no denying that such negative effects can be minimized by careful planning, management, and monitoring of tourism-related activities.
To begin with, one must be a bit familiar with the geography of the Central American nation which is known for its active volcanoes and afternoon showers. Spanning about 51,100 square kilometres and sandwiched between Nicaragua and Panama with the either sides facing the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea it offers a lot to visitors. While those unfamiliar may perceive it to be a paradise for beach goers, its five mountain ranges that vivisect the county and tropical rainforests offer a completely different image. Weather is also subject to alterations pertaining to the local climate and while certain places may be just miles apart yet they may endure torrential rain or clear skies. Costa Rica is also known for its rivers out of which the Pacuare and the Reventazon are known for their white water rapids. Falling within the Pacific Ring of Fire, active volcanoes such as the Arenal, Poás, Irazú, Rincón de la Vieja and the Turrialba are the most well-known. Apart from its geographical vastness the sheer amount of biodiversity that it offers despite being a small country is a treat for the eyes. With over 25 percent of its territory being protected it offers around 9500 classified species of plants, 900 species of birds and 250 species of animals. Therefore, for those who want to immerse in the wonders of nature, Costa Rica would not be a disappointment. While the country has a lot to offer, I take the liberty to offer some insight into some of the most sought out destinations.
- Manuel Antonio National Park– Located in Puntarenas, the national park offers a wide range of biodiversity to visitors. It consist of beaches, coral reefs and rainforests. Reaching there is easy and it is a heaven for those who are willing to see various types of flora and fauna. Home to Sloths, Howler and Squirrel monkeys in addition to various types of birds and butterflies it requires some amount of time to explore the park. For surfers one may visit the oceanfront beach, and those who would wish to be surrounded in their own pensive thoughts, there are a lot of beaches inside the park as well.
- Arenal Volcano– Located in the mountains of the Cordillera de Tilarán in the province of Alajuela, it is one of the five active volcanoes in the area and a must see site for budding geologists. In 1968 it erupted leading to the destruction of two villages in the vicinity. Since then the volcano has occasionally rumbled and visitors may be lucky enough to see volcanic ash, smoke or even lava flowing down the mountain.
- Monteverde and Santa Elena Cloud Forests– Santa Elena Cloud Forest was established in the year 1992 whereas the Montverde Cloud Forest was established in the year 1972. Both the forest are known for their tropical climate and humid temperatures coloured by occasional rainfall. It is well known for the presence of majestic birds, butterflies and animals not to mention the different types of plants. One may witness a variety of coloured frogs, reptiles and for birdwatchers, these are certainly two areas that need to be visited.
- Dominical– Known to be a backpacker’s hotspot, this place must be on the cards of those who are looking for some quiet time and even for those who prefer a bit of luxury. Located in the province of Puntarenas, it offers a variety of treats to those who are willing to visit. From surfing to whale watching and hiking this is a one-stop place for all tourists.
- Tamarindo- For those who look forward to exploring on their own without any prior planning, the Tamarindo beach located in the Nicoya Peninsula is highly recommended. Once a quiet town, bustling tourist activity transformed it into a most sought destination for those who are willing to go off the tracks. From surfing, snorkeling, diving, zip-lining, and scuba diving it offers a wide variety of activities to curious tourists. During the months of October till March one may witness Leatherback turtles laying eggs. Playa Grande would be a good place to visit in order to see the famous Leatherback turtles.
- Jaco- For those who cannot do without good-living and yet desire to experience the simplicity of life, Jaco a town located down of San Jose the capital city is a recommended choice. Facing the Pacific Ocean offers visitors luxurious apartments, hotels, and fine living. No wonder quite a lot of ex-pats choose to live here and rewind their lives. One may engage in surfing, swimming, or simply explore the nearby markets to pick up curious. Others may also wish to explore the excellent Costa Rican cuisine and challenge their tastebuds.
- Tortuguero National Park- As the name suggests if one wishes to observe turtles and their habitat, the Tortuguero National Park located in the province of Limón is on the cards. Not only turtles, but one may also be able to see a variety of other amphibians, birds, and even the elusive Tapir and the Iguana. While surfing and swimming cannot be done as the waters are infested with sharks, one may opt for a casual walk down the beaches. Hiking and boating are also options for those who want to go off the beaten path.
- Osa Peninsula and Corcovado National Park- the Puntarenas province also offers some surprises in the form of the Corcovado National Park that was established in the year 1975. Known for its rainforest it offers a glimpse of long winding forest trails that are tempting to those who have the energy and the gusto to walk the extra mile. Known for its variety of animals and birds, one may actually spot quite a few. The Osa peninsula is also known for bearing the fruits of conservation efforts and is a perfect example of how tourism and protection of the environment can go hand in hand. Puerto Jiménez being the largest town also offers both cheap and luxurious accommodation for tourists.
- Irazú Volcano National Park- One of the most iconic volcanoes in Costa Rica and located in the province of Cartago. Marked trails lead to its many craters which are reminiscent of pre-historic volcanic activities. Standing at 3,342 meters tall its principal crater is around 300 meters deep and 1,050 meters in diameter. The Diego de la Haya crater is considerably smaller but the lime green lake is one of the most avowed tourist attractions.
- Rincón de la Vieja National Park- Costa Rica’s most enthralling national park boasts of a 9 kilometre trail right up to the summit and while traversing one may observe miniature ecosystems. As one climbs up, it may be taxing but the view from the summit is quite breath-taking. For those who are not willing to challenge themselves, smaller trails exist which may lead to waterfalls and hot springs. One may witness a charade of ecosystems with various species of flora and fauna notably the iconic Sloth, Tapir, monkeys, and wild boar. If one is lucky enough it would not be difficult to spot large cats such as the Ocelot, Jaguar, and the Puma. Indeed a treat for ailurophiles.
- La Paz Waterfall Gardens- located on the slopes of the Poás Volcano, a privately owned garden is a must-visit the site for nature enthusiasts. Spread over 70 acres of land, it houses a 37 meters plunging waterfall. If that does not suffice, one may also have the option to visit the ranarium or frog exhibit, butterfly exhibit, jungle cat exhibit and also the serpentarium which houses over 30 species of snakes found in Costa Rica.
- Poás Volcano- Another major attraction for tourists and located in Alajuela it last erupted in the year 1954. Safe to visit it offers a sensational geological wonder for visitors. One may witness craters that are either dry or have transformed into beautiful green lakes, steam rising from the cracks, and even latent volcanic activity in the form of bubbles and mud seeping through the volcanic craters. One may also experience hiking and walking trails where experienced guides will fill in with the details about the volcano and the once majestic creation that it was.
- Arenal Volcano- Again located in the province of Alajuela, the majestic volcano should be on the visitor’s list. At 1670 meters it may not be an imposing natural structure but if fortune favors then one may be able to witness some moderate volcanic activity. Apart from that one may walk along the hanging bridges and see the imposing La Fortuna waterfall.
For those who want to soak up in history, Costa Rica has a lot to offer. From the Museo Nacional de Costa Rica to the Museo de Oro Pre-Columbine they offer a variety of historical sightings and artifacts which are carefully preserved. The National Park of Costa Rica exhibits the heroism of ordinary citizens who fought against the recolonization of their Patria. The Central Cathedral, Iglesia de la Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, Iglesia de San Jose de Orsi, Iglesia de San Rafael, and the Basilica de Los Angeles are some churches that would inspire faith and devotion. The Teatro Nacional de Costa Rica and the Plaza of Culture are other places that one may explore. The pacifist Central American nation certainly has a lot to offer for globetrotters ranging from exquisite biodiversity to historical monuments. The food, ambiance, and people are wonderful and add to the charm. Indeed, as one of the happiest countries in the world, it is indeed a cynosure. Whether one wishes to experience some hard-earned solitude away from the bustling cities in the sunny ambiance of a beach, or engage in walking down the calles exploring curious or wishes to test the prowess of their adrenaline, Costa Rica is the place to visit and experience their Pura Vida way of living.
Dr. Arnab Chakrabarty
Guest Lecturer, Department of International Relations,
Sikkim University, Gangtok, Sikkim, India.