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Explore Central America: Nicaragua, Costa Rica & Panama13 days from $2,999 (USD)
Central America offers a feast for the senses.
Lovely, peaceful Costa Rica is calling. Nestled in the heart of Central America, kissed on either side by the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean, there exists a land of stunning natural beauty where exotic animals run free over some of the most exquisite landscapes you can imagine! Almost a quarter of the land is taken up by natural parks and preserves, and the coastlines are traced by white and black sand beaches. Costa Rica is routinely ranked among the greenest countries in the world, and is a hotspot for ecotourism. All of this is to say nothing of the country’s famous volcanoes, many of which are active. The jungles are verdant and deep, sheltering turtles, teeny-tiny tree lizards, monkeys, big cats, and the chatty, colorful scarlet macaw!
Costa Rica is a mecca for adrenaline-seekers. Fancy a vacation chockablock full of heart-racing outdoor pursuits like hiking, rafting, kayaking, and diving? You’ll come to the right place. Ever dreamed of catching a zipline and cruising through the jungle canopy? This is the country that originated canopy touring! Exhilarating sports fishing will reel in big catches, too. Snorkeling the clear blue waters beneath the sultry equatorial sun will keep you enthralled all day long.
Active pursuits aren’t your only options here, however. A long, storied history is reflected in the abundance of pre-Columbian ruins and treasure present, including gold and semi-precious stones as well as the enigmatic stone spheres scattered throughout the land. Kids love Costa Rica—little ones love tromping through the trees, and the plentiful, charismatic wildlife tends to steal the show. Honeymooners, too, will find no small amount of magic in the air. Forests shrouded in gauzy mist, sun-baked shores, cozy small towns… it’s all here. No matter what your pleasure, you’ll find it tucked away in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica Top Sights
The Costa Rican capital is the place to go for a peek at the country’s rich history. The enormous National Museum of Art and Culture occupies an entire city block and encompasses several smaller museums devoted to the national arts. Traditional dance performances can be seen here, along with avant-garde works by emerging Central American artists. At the Gold Museum, pore over the glittering spectacle of pre-Columbian treasure. Not far away is the Jade Museum, dedicated to ancient works of the semi-precious stone; some are over two thousand years old. Let the sights and smells of the Central Market guide you to its stalls for souvenirs and yummy eats! Be sure to enjoy plenty of coffee. Costa Rican beans are some of the best in the world, and there’s nothing so pleasurable as sipping a steaming cup of joe from your hotel overlooking the bustling street below.
Of Costa Rica’s many popular volcanoes, Arenal is the most active. In fact, Arenal ranks among the top ten most active volcanoes in the world! Hiking the peak and checking out the natural wonders of the land—geothermal springs and lakes are lovely, as is La Fortuna waterfall—are common diversions, along with some world-class birdwatching. In the evening, the glowing red trails of lava flows make a hypnotic sight. Nothing beats a luxurious soak in the hot springs after a long day, and opulent spa-like amenities don’t hurt, either! Floating safaris down the Penas Blancas River offer glimpses of iguanas, sloths, and crocodiles.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest is shrouded in mystery—literally! Thanks to nearly year-round 100% humidity, a fog hangs in the trees of this altitudinous nature preserve. Visiting is a surreal experience. There are eight distinct biological zones in the park, giving rise to an amount of biodiversity astounding for even the very diverse Costa Rica. Over 2,000 plant and tree species, 400 species of birds, 100 species of mammals, and 1,200 species of amphibians and reptiles call Monteverde home. Tour coffee and sugar plantations, or visit the butterfly garden for a look at the delicate, multicolored beauties flitting around. Zipline and canopy tours are outstanding ways to take in a birds-eye view of the rainforest scenery—the former is quite famous and jealously defended by locals as “the” original zipline tour!
Beachy, laid-back Manuel Antonio is the vacation capital of Costa Rica. Hot sun, sandy beaches, great nightlife, and all the beauty of nature preserves and national parks you could want… what’s not to love? Plenty of nice eateries and lodgings are concentrated in this area, thanks to the large amount of annual visitors. You’ll never want to leave. One of the best ways to explore the gorgeous terrain is on horseback. You’ll investigate the area’s caves and hills, along with the wave-kissed shore. Go whale watching off the Pacific Coast for looks at humpback and pilot whales! Just a brief boat ride away are the mangroves of Damas Island, the twisted exposed roots of which shelter crocodiles, boas, and anteaters.
The eponymous national park is famous for the annual nesting of sea turtles, as well as its miles of canals teeming with protected species like alligators and manatee. Sloths and monkeys occupy the trees! The jungle is quiet save the hoots, whirs, and whistles of wildlife—it affords peace like you’ve never known. At nighttime from November to January (summertime), you can see baby turtles creeping towards the sea for the first time with nothing but instinct to help navigate the sand. Boat tours are a great way to take in the sights, as an elaborate river system crisscrosses the island. You’ll come face-to-face with itty-bitty tree frogs, howler monkeys, and iguanas! The Del Monte and Chiquita banana manufacturers both have plantations on the island that are open for tours and education about one of the country’s leading exports.
National Geographic has called this national park “the most biologically intense place on Earth.” It is one of the most isolated of Costa Rica’s preserves, and therefore one of the post untouched and pristine. It’s a significant hub of ecotourism. Each of the four monkey varieties native to Costa Rica can be found here, along with sharks, big cats (jaguars and ocelots), snakes, macaws, toucans, and others! 4x4 safari tours of the jungles will bring you up close and personal with the scaly, furry, or feathered residents of Corcovado, and kayak tours are popular as well. The town of Sirena, named for mermaids, is the closest gateway to Corcovado. It’s a sleepy place replete with natural beauty, and considered a can’t-miss part of visiting the area.
|Capital: San Jose|
|Primary Airports: Juan Santamaria International Airport (SJO), Daniel Oduber International Airport (LIR), Limón International Airport (LIO)|
|Government: Democratic Republic|
|Currency: Costa Rican colon (CRC)|
|Population: 4,805,000 (2012 est.)|
|Electricity: 120V/60Hz (American plug)|
|Time Zone: UTC -6|
Costa Rica Travel Reviews
Costa Rica: Understanding Pura Vida
I traveled to Costa Rica for the first time about 10 years ago and have returned with my family four times since. Everything positive you hear and read about to Costa Rica before you get there is true. This is a country that is brimming with natural beauty, and the people are super nice. People of Costa Rica are known as Ticos, and they sum up their approach to life with just two words: “Pura Vida,” which translates into “Pure Life.” I quickly found out about Pura Vida upon landing; one of our suitcases was missing and would not arrive until the next day, but the nice staff at the airport and San Jose and at the boutique hotel we stayed at in the nearby city of Alajuela made us feel at ease and took care of everything.
Our first trip to Costa Rica was on a budget, and we really wanted to tour an active volcano. We took a bus from downtown Alajuela that cost less than $5. The bus left from a bustling terminal that was a little rough around the edge; it was early in the morning so we had a simple, yet delicious, breakfast at a hole-in-the-wall cafeteria in the terminal. The ride was very extremely scenic and the sight at the crater was breathtaking. The bus drops you off at the entrance of the national park and comes back to pick you up a few hours later. The Poas volcano was quite active at the time we visited, and we were able to see smoke, steam and ash emerge from the calderas. We really loved Costa Rica then and returned four more times.
Beach Getaway to Playa Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica
I recently traveled to Manuel Antonio, Costa Rica with my mother for a girls getaway. This beach is considered by many as one of the most beautiful beaches in the country, if not the world. With white sand and crystal-clear water, there's no guessing just why it has become so popular. We loved hanging out at the National Park, where we saw sloths, howler monkeys, white faced monkeys, toucans and iguanas. Be sure to ask for a professional, official tour guide so you can learn the names of the animals and spot them as easily as possible. You'll find an amazing hotel, La Posada, is right by the park. By staying there we got to enjoy monkey visitors throughout the day from the comfort of our hotel deck. Seeing them leap from tree to tree while swimming in the pool was an unforgettable experience!
The beach town is small enough to walk around in and we loved spending time getting exercise, instead of behind the wheel. While you're soaking up the rays, grab a granizado. This refreshing treat is made from condensed milk, shaved ice, flavored syrup and powdered milk. Delicious! Vendors often sell small trinkets on the beach for lower prices than what you'll find in the local tourist market. We found it worth the money to spend a few extra bucks on lounge chairs and umbrellas as well. Finally, don't forget to check out Claro Que Si, a fantastic seafood restaurant with a mesmerizing view.
Summer Visit to Costa Rica
After three short trips to Costa Rica with a high school group, I ventured out by myself in the summer. I stayed with a family near Tres Rios and frequently visited San Jose, Heredia and Jaco Beach. San Jose is a busy and beautiful city, from the street food to the beautiful sights, you'll never run out of stuff to do and see. If you go, you absolutely have to visit Volcan Irazu, where After Earth was filmed. The volcano itself was absolutely gorgeous, but the tropical foliage that grows in the area is beautiful and makes for perfect pictures. Bring comfortable shoes, though, because it's quite the hike. If you're feeling adventurous, check out Costa Rica Sky Adventures for a fun time zip-lining through the rainforest past Arenal Volcano. It's a great time, and sure to be a highlight of the trip. No matter what area of Costa Rica you travel through, you'll never run out of things to see. Out of the entire trip, I enjoyed the sunsets the most, but in dry season. If you visit in rainy season, prepare for a 3pm rain interruption every day. But this makes for great memories, as some of the most enjoyable memories took place running into hole in the wall restaurants to get out of the rain. There's a lot to do in the city, but the countryside is absolutely beautiful.
My Costa Rican Adventure
My grandmother took my aunt and uncle and I to Costa Rica one summer. We stayed in San Jose. My most memorable times were the day trips we took. One favorite was a guided tour through the rain forest of Howler monkeys. Their howls were fascinating and a little scary. Bring bug repellant and wear comfortable clothing and shoes. We visited the Caribbean region for the gorgeous beaches. After finding our way there, we saw different varieties of medium-sized lizards roaming the beach which was surrounded by tropical forest and crystal blue water. The water was saltier than I’ve ever tasted. Close by in the town of Quepo are little shops with local artwork, authentic clothing, food and other items. If you adventure out on your own and don’t speak Spanish, get a Spanish translation gadget. We should have! “Ticos,” the Costa Rican people, are hospitable and always tried hard to help us. The food is delicious and made with their abundance of fresh fruits and vegetables as well as rice and bean dishes. Try the sweet fried plantains and the Chicharrón, a crispy pork dish. Another day we explored the rural areas off the Pan-American Highway. We drove through mountains with views of open fields, horned cattle and rural houses. Our night out in San Jose was a whirl of flashing lights, clubs and restaurants. Costa Rica is the most diverse and exciting place I’ve ever been. Every day was an adventure!
Dominical and Manzanillo
We spent a couple weeks in Costa Rica. We started in Dominical, staying in a condo overlooking the rain forest and just a 5 minute walk to a secluded beach. We had perfect weather in December for just reading out in the sun and swimming. We then went to Manzanillo, which had more unpredictable weather in December. It was sunny for the most days, with the rain mostly happening at night. We were able to find a private home on VRBO for about $100/night that was surrounded by rain forest (we heard howler monkeys every day), and less than a 2 minute walk to get through the trees and get to our own secluded part of the beach. It was very relaxing--we shopped at the local market and made a lot of food, made fresh fruit cocktails, read, played board games, and swam. We were hoping to go scuba diving, but Manzanillo closed down its dive shops. Manzanillo is a totally sleepy, small town with basically one restaurant/bar (and a couple lunch spots/cafes), so if you're looking for a lot of energy, this wouldn't be ideal, but if you want a relaxing getaway, it's a great spot. We also rented bikes and went to nearby Puerto Viejo to try out a couple restaurants. We had the best fish of our lives at Lazlo's Catch of the Day, which we just recognized from seeing the sign on TripAdvisor. Puerto Viejo's beaches aren't as nice or secluded, but it has a lot of restaurants, shops, bars, and other tourist-centered developments.
Zip lining in Costa Rica
Our All inclusive resort was very remote and built into the side of a mountain. There were daily activities for everyone ~ we chose to take side trips most days. Loved the monkeys on the beach and the volcanos.