Each year more and more package tourist holiday makers and independent travellers are heading off to the tropics. Of the destinations on offer Costa Rica is undoubtedly one of the most attractive. Tropical rainforests, spectacular mountain ranges and active volcanoes are some of the natural wonders waiting for you but with both Pacific and Caribbean coasts to choose from many visitors also choose to simply unwind for a week or two at one of the many idyllic beach resorts.
Costa Rica was named by Spaniard invaders. It translates literally as 'Rich Coast' based on its fantastic landscape and natural resources.
Costa Rica is bordered by Nicaragua to the North, the Caribbean Sea to the North East, by Panama to the South East and the Pacific Ocean to the South West. The landscape is extremely varied for a small county. Volcanic mountains run from the Nicaraguan border in the North West to the Panamanian border. In the South East is the famed Monterverde Cloud Forest Reserve. In the central plains the major populations are found, including San Jose', the capital. The Caribbean coast is populated with mangrove swamps, sandy beaches. The Pacific coast is rockier. The Nicoya peninsula provides various beach resorts. The Peninsula de Osa contains Parque National Corcovadao; one of Costa Rica's protected rainforests but with over 16 x 3000m plus peaks throughout the country Costa Rica provides a variety of important ecological habitats.
Costa Rica experiences two seasons - wet from May to November and dry from December to April. Temperatures vary between 15 and 26 Centigrade. The coastal regions reach 30C plus in summer. The late December to mid April dry season is traditionally the best climate to visit Costa Rica but the beach resorts are busier at this time. Easter holidays should be avoided as everywhere is booked up several months in advance.
The National Park system began in the sixties. Now there are over 25 National Parks, comprising over ten per cent of the country. Most are there to protect natural habitats and wildlife although some are to preserve areas with important ruins, geological active volcanoes or other natural phenomena, such as the cave system at Parque Nacional Barra Honda. Most National Parks can be entered without permits but a few do require them. Contact Costa Rica Tourist Information Offices for more details.
San Jose, the capital, offers an abundance of cultural activities at its various museums, galleries and theatres. Other things to do in Costa Rica include nature and wildlife watching tours, fishing, surfing, windsurfing, canoeing, river rafting, hiking, mountain biking, horse riding.
Juan Santamaria International Airport 17km outside San Jose is where all international flights arrive. You can drive to Costa Rica from the US through Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua - but it is 4,000km. Many cruise lines stop in Costa Rican ports. Many tour operators in North America and Europe offer package tours of Costa Rica. Public transport is well developed in Costa Rica, especially the bus network. Local flights from San Jose to other regions are possible. Car and bike hires are available but be warned roads are of varying quality.
The capital is 1150m above sea level in the central fertile valley. It is easy to find your way around, very cosmopolitan and surprisingly modern with a variety of department stores, museums, galleries and other attractions. Highlights include the Jade Museum, the world's largest collection of American jade; and the Natural History Museum. The Serpentario, a collection of live snakes and reptiles, and the Insect Museum are popular with the un-squeamish.
This is the fourth provincial capital of the Central Valley and most historic. Founded in 1563, it includes a number of interesting churches and other buildings. Just outside the city is the volcano Irazu. At 3432m this is the highest active volcano in Costa Rica. Nearby there are also a series of hot springs.
One of the more popular destinations in Costa Rica for tourists. Montervede refers to the community of North American Quakers founded in 1951 and also the nearby cloud forest reserve. The first port of call to this area is usually the village of Santa Elena.
This beach is 35km west of Liberia and is the easiest beach to reach at the Peninsula de Nocoya. Popular with scuba dive enthusiasts you will find good dive equipment shops, including hire and tuition. Boat and surf hire is also available as are a number of good hotels, bars and restaurants.
This is a 800 hectare private reserve near the mouth of the Rio Pacuare about 30km North of Puerto Limon in the Northern Caribbean area. Nature charities protect the area which includes a 6km stretch of beach used as a nesting ground for giant leatherback turtles between March and June. Green Turtles also nest from June to August. Volunteers patrol and work the reserve, including overseas visitors who stay in lodges and cottages.
Nice Southern town about 980m above sea level which provides a change to the heat of the nearby lowlands. Was founded by Italian immigrants in the 1950s. Provides a superb drive to and from it among spectacular mountain and lowland scenery. Nearby attractions include the splendid Wilson Botanical Gardens.
Major pacific coastal town with about 50,000 inhabitants providing excellent beaches and other attractions, including nearby wildlife reserves and biological reserves and a national marine park. Fishing, surfing and horse riding are possible here and there are good museums, restaurants and hotels. The town was once the country's major port and also a major centre for trade and shipping.
Less is known about the ancient peoples of Costa Rica than other Central American countries. The pre-Columban people of this region were less in number and less developed than major ancient Latin civilisations the Mayas and Aztecs. Costa Rica is dotted with ancient archaeological sites though, including remains of major settlements which contained populations of over 20,000 Indians. Spanish colonisation began in the 16th Century. Central America became independent of Spain in the 1820s. Costa Rica has since developed into a stable democracy with a growing economy developed around coffee production and increasingly eco-tourism.
Some cases of malaria are found in lowland regions. Drinking water is generally safe in the capital but boil or choose bottled water outside it. Stock up on insect repellent. Although crime is not a major problem in Costa Rica take sensible precautions in cities and consider organised tours with guides for the remoter regions.
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