Costa Rica – Around the World from A to Z – C
Costa Rica – Around the World from A to Z – C
This week on our virtual tour Around the World from A to Z, it’s all about Costa Rica. This Central American country has been on my bucket list for a while, and I can’t wait until we can travel again to explore its volcanoes, forests, rivers and waterfalls. I’m planning a women only travel group to this lush tropical destination for when we can travel again. In the meantime, here is some inspiration for you.
Lake Arenal in Costa Rica’s Northern Plains region
You can see the almost perfect conical shape of Arenal Volcano in the distance. The lake can be explored by stand up paddleboard or kayak, you can hike, climb or bike the lower slopes of the volcano along old lava fields, and through the rainforest, or soak away your stresses at one of the many hot springs at nearby La Fortuna.
Let me introduce you to Costa Rica, this week’s featured destination.
Located between Nicaragua in the north and Panama in the south, the Caribbean Sea to the east and Pacific ocean on the west, this Spanish speaking Central American country is a democratic and peaceful nation, whose philosophy in life is “Pure Vida” (pure life) a philosophy that carries through in everything they do.
Costa Rica has been without a military since 1948, and ranked number 16 best holiday destination for 2021 by Condé Nast. Last year, Costa Rica was also recognized as being the safest country in Central America by the 2020 Global Peace Index (a snapshot of the global state of peace). It is also ranked as the 32nd most peaceful country in the world.
It’s safe to say, it is one of the safest countries in the world, and it is good to know that Costa Rica takes health and safety seriously during these Covid times, especially as the country is famous for its Pure Vida lifestyle.
When it comes to accommodations, Costa Rica has also received many other Conde Nast reader’s choice awards for best spa resorts and hotels in the Caribbean and the world.
A small country with a lot to offer
For such a small country (it covers only 0.03 of the world’s surface), it has a lot to offer visitors.
For a start it has 1,228 km of coastline on both the Pacific Ocean (1,016 km) and the Caribbean Ocean (212km), which are less than three hours by car from each other and less than an hour by plane (but I recommend driving as a more sustainable way to travel, plus you’ll get to see more en route. So, if you’re a beach lover, you’ll have plenty to choose from.
There are also four UNESCO World Heritage sites in Costa Rica (one of which is a conservation area, one a national park, one a nature reserve and one is a historical site) to explore. The sites are: Area de Conservacion Guanacaste, Cocos Island National Park, Talamanca Range-La Amistad Reserves and PreColombian Chiefdom Settlements with Stone Spheres of the Diquis.
The country also has five percent of the world’s biodiversity with 26 percent of its territory protected for conservation, which makes Costa Rica especially ideal for nature lovers. Divided into 11 conservation areas comprising 29 National Parks, 58 wildlife refuges, 32 protected zones, 15 wetland areas, 11 forest reserves and eight biological reserves, Costa Rica is also an industry leader in sustainability and is an ideal destination for nature lovers looking for sustainable travel experiences.
Green Honeycreeper, one of over 900 bird species in Costa Rica
Photo via Pixabay.
Activities in Costa Rica
With it’s geographical location in Central America and such a lush and diverse terrain, that includes volcanoes, hundreds of miles of coastline, waterways, with hot springs and waterfalls, plains as well as its proximity to the both the Pacific and the Caribbean, there is an abundance of activities in Costa Rica, especially for outdoorsy peeps, nature lovers and thrill seekers.
Costa Rica is an one of the best destinations, if not THE best, for bird watching—there are over 900 species to spot and the diversity and density of air birds per square kilometre makes bird spotting in Costa Rica very easy. In fact, there are more bird sightings in Costa Rica than in any other county in the world in less travel time.
For those seeking a thrill in nature you can choose to go hiking and/or zip lining through the tropical forests (including hanging bridges suspended 40 metres above the ground), biking up and down mountain slopes, or climbing and rappelling sheer cliffs.
For those who would prefer an adventure without the leg work, horseback riding is the perfect way to explore Costa Rica’s varied terrains such as mountain trails, the slopes of Arenal Volcano or along the coastline (avoiding the beach area).
With the Pacific ocean on the west coast and the Caribbean on the east coast, and hundreds of miles of waterways with hot springs and waterfalls, there are an abundance of water sports and activities including surfing, snorkelling and swimming as well as a variety of wind sports on both coasts, and whitewater rafting and tubing on the country’s fast flowing rivers or stand up paddle boarding, kayaking and diving its slower waterways.
Golf lovers have several championship golf courses to choose from, and fishing is also a popular sport.
But for those seeking the ultimate relaxation and well-being experience, Costa Rica is second to none. With 200 hot springs and an several yoga classes, retreats and nature experiences such as forest bathing, earthing (barefoot walks on the earth) and a variety of spa treatments using locally-sourced volcanic mud, coffee, tropical fruits, and chocolate, Costa Rica is paradise.
Jaco Beach on Costa Rica’s Pacific coast.
Photo via Unsplash.
Weather in Costa Rica
If you’re wondering when the best time to go to Costa Rica is with regard to its weather, below are a few tidbits about Costa Rica’s climate and what weather to expect.
Costa Rica has a temperate climate with warm weather all year making it a year-round destination. Annual average temperatures range between 21C-30C (70F-82F). The ocean waters are also warm enough for swimming and water sports all year long.
However, Costa Rica does have rainy or “green” and dry seasons, the timing of which varies depending on the region.
Weather in Costa Rica’s Pacific region
In the Pacific region, which has distinct dry and “green” seasons, you can expect dry weather from December to March. The driest and hottest month of the year is March, while the green season is from May to October, with winds ramping up during July and August leading to the region’s wettest months in September and October.
Weather in Costa Rica’s Caribbean region
Although the seasons are not as distinct in the Caribbean region, you can expect constant rain showers from May to August and November to January. But October has endless sunny days. January is the wettest month in the Caribbean region but most rain falls during the night and in the early morning, which means you have the rest of the day to explore.
Best time of year to travel to Costa Rica?
Any time! It’s a year-round destination. Because of its size, you can be experience the dry or the green season in one day, so don’t discount the green seasons. This is why Costa Rica is so lush and, despite the rain, attractions remain open and many events happen including bird and whale migrations as well as sea turtle nesting.
Also, no matter which region you want to stay in there are two international airports to choose from: San Jose (Juan Santamaria International Airport – SJO) in the centre of the country and Liberia (Daniel Oduber International Airport– LIR) in the north. Border to border, no area in Costa Rica is more than 10 hours’ drive. If you’d like to experience both a dry season and a green season on the same vacation, travel between two regions on the same vacation or stay longer.
Irazú Volcano, Cartago Province, Costa Rica
Picture via Unsplash.
Where to go in Costa Rica?
For nature enthusiasts and adventure seekers there is so much to see, do and experience in Costa Rica, but if you’re short on time, you can’t go wrong exploring the Central Valley region.
With San José as your base, you can fly into Juan Santamaría International Airport and you’ll be in close proximity to volcanos, rainforests rivers, and both the Pacific ocean and the Caribbean ocean.
In Costa Rica‘s capital, you’ll find lively culture in both gastronomy and the arts, and plenty of sites to visit including Catedral Metropolitana, the National Theater, Melico Salazar and the Post Office Building. Be sure to visit the Central Market for souvenirs and to try traditional cuisine.
In the nearby highlands you’ll discover the coffee plantations where the beans for Costa Rica‘s famous coffee are grown. Braulio Carillo National Park, one of the largest protected areas in Costa Rica, is also nearby. Here you’ll find seven diverse habitats as well as mountain forests and river canyons. Barva Volcano National Park, the highest point in Braulio Carillo National Park, sits on the continental divide and is home to one of the most stunning cloud forests in Costa Rica.
In nearby Irazu Volcano National Park you’ll find Costa Rica’s tallest volcano, and Tapantí-Macizo de La Muerte National Park is home to ancient oak and alder forests as well as horseback riding trails. It is also home to 45 species of mammals, 260 species of birds and 30 reptile species.
Of course there are a lot more places to go in Costa Rica (too much for this post), so if you want more ideas to plan your trip, feel free to contact me.
A waterfall near Dominical, Savegre in Costa Rica
I know it’s not food, I just like the pic! According to the photographer, Asap Story, via Unsplash “After hiking through the rain forest for about 30 minutes you pop-out to this breath taking waterfall, seemingly all by itself.”)
Five fun food facts about Costa Rica for the foodies reading this
- Traditionally, lunch is the main meal of the day in Costa Rica. So skip breakfast and wait till lunch to eat.
- The best place to get the freshest and most authentic lunch is at a “soda” (a small, locally owned cafe) in smaller communities or at the local market.
- A Costa Rican staple is its national dish, “gallo pinto” but it is not chicken as the name might suggest – it’s a mix of rice and beans. Most “ticos” (locals) eat gallo pinto for breakfast, however, you can also eat it as a side dish.
- Another fun fact about gallo pinto… apparently Costa Rica and its neighbour, Nicaragua, where it’s also the national dish, argue over which country originally created the dish – so when you visit and eat this dish, keep quiet, and don’t let on you know about the argument.
- A few other favourites to look out for if you visit Costa Rica are hand-made tortillas, ceviche (which is made of fresh fish and lime juice), Caribbean rice and beans (a rice and bean dish with spices and coconut milk), and plantain tart. If you visit the South Caribbean region, you’ll also get a chance to taste the region’s famous creole and Caribbean seafood.
- Due to the fresh, clean air and its year-round warm climate, Costa Rica’s food is very healthy for you (oh no…we can’t eat healthy on vacation!). Some locally grown favourites are fruits such as papaya, mango, pineapple and watermelon. (I lied—there are 6—I liked the alliteration with five!)
PS: Did you know, the water is also drinkable in Costa Rica? Oh and coffee…did I mention the coffee? It’s world renowned and on a visit you can sip on fresh locally grown and ground coffee every morning when you wake up.
Mistico Arenal Hanging Bridges Park, Alajuela, La Fortuna, Costa Rica
Bridges, like this one at 40m above ground, ensure you can explore the jungle safely. They also protect the environment! Pic via Unsplash.
Is Costa Rica safe for solo female travellers?
As mentioined earlier in this blog post, Costa Rica is a peaceful country, one of the safest countries in the world, and the safest country in Central America.
Generally speaking, Costa Rica should be safe even for solo female travellers. However, you should always take the usual safety precautions which I highlight here.
As well, despite its high safety rating, some activities in Costa Rica can be dangerous if not practiced safely. So here are a four travel safety tips to help you stay safe when you explore Costa Rica’s wonderful regions.
- Be sure to only book tours offered by authorized travel agencies and confirm a tour company has an operating permit from the Ministry of Health, insurance policies and certified tour guides.
- Before going on a tour, check local weather conditions and forecasts
- Listen to or read safety instructions and regulations before beginning an activity
- Even though crime rate in Costa Rica is lower than other destinations in Latin America, never leave belongings unattended, lock car doors and use authorized parking lots.
Beautiful waterfall on Celeste River in Tenorio Volcano National Park, Guanacaste Province, Costa Rica
The river is famous for its unique turquoise colour. A hike to the waterfall takes about an hour and along the route are several hot springs. Pic via Pixabay.
Sustainable Tourism in Costa Rica
In October last year, I shared some tips on how we as travellers can practice sustainable tourism in my blog post, Rethinking Travel in a Post-Pandemic World, which you can read here, but when visiting Costa Rica how can you be sure you are choosing travel services that also use sustainable practices?
Well, since Costa Rica is a leader in sustainable tourism, it’s quite easy.
Sustainability is ingrained in Costa Rica’s culture. Not only does this Central American country have the goal to be the first carbon neutral country in the world by 2021 and to become carbon-free by 2050, the evolution from Ecotourism to Sustainable Tourism started as long ago as the 1980s in Costa Rica.
All regions of the country are committed to sustainable practices—in ALL industries not just tourism—with around 350 tourism businesses awarded the CST (Certification for Sustainable Tourism)—a voluntary program introduced in 1997 by the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (ICT) / Costa Rica Tourism Board.
The CST program is quite detailed and the process to become certified is very rigorous (too detailed for this post). However, the aim is to motivate tourism companies to positively impact the natural environment, society and economy by using sustainable practices such as recycling, saving energy, proper waste disposal, conservation of the natural environment and a better system management.
For a company to receive the award, they have to meet the strictest sustainability requirements, which means around 350 Costa Rican companies in the tourism sector practise responsible tourism. These companies don’t just include accommodations, but also gastronomy, theme parks, rental vehicles, hot springs and spa companies, tour operators, and various institutions and organizations, and they can be recognized by the sustainable tourism badge.
For you, the traveller, to determine whether the services you plan to book or use in Costa Rica use sustainable practices, you can easily check to see if they have been awarded the CST. The CST badge will be displayed on their website, and on doors or windows at their establishments. You can also find a list of all tourism businesses that have been awarded the CST on the Costa Rica Sustainable Tourism website.
Did this article inspire you to add Costa Rica to your bucket list?
If you’re a female solo traveller and would like to be notified when the details of the all-female trip to Costa Rica are finalized, or would like to receive other travel inspiration, please join my mailing list.
Hummingbird, Puntarenas Province, Monteverde, Costa Rica. Taken at Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Preserve. Pic via Unsplash.