is a region in Costa Rica where a local atmosphere can be
sensed all around, it definitely has to be the Caribbean Coast.
It has a particular history of immigrants from Jamaica, Trinidad
and other West Indies islands, as well as Chinese descendants
who came as workers during the height of the banana exports,
when the railroad San José – Port Limón
was built (1880’s – 1940’s). Furthermore,
unlike other Central and Latin American countries, only 1%
of Costa Rica’s population is indigenous; most of which
lives in the mountains of Talamanca (Western Caribbean).
The Caribbean has the splendor of the beaches and palm trees,
but also the privilege of being one of the few places in Costa
Rica – and Central America – where green turtles
come every year to lay their eggs. Visitors can’t help
falling under the charm of the Calypso music, the local gastronomy
(rice and beans dish, pati, and ginger drink), the little
braids in women’s and little girls’ hair and the
local “Creole” English (known as Mekatelyu).
Northern Caribbean: Tortuguero and Barra
Tortuguero is one of the most important nesting sites in
the world for the green sea turtle, which finds its way
onto the brown-sand beaches every year. Its territories
protect not only the turtle-nesting beach, but also the
surrounding forests, canals and lagoons. Everything in Tortuguero
centres on the waterways; therefore, access is by boat or
air only. It is an ideal place to observe wildlife. Its
peaceful atmosphere and the feeling of being in one of the
most remote places on Earth attract nature lovers; the area
has managed to develop a low-density tourism system.
Cahuita, Puerto Viejo and Manzanillo
Less than two decades ago Puerto Viejo could hardly be called
a town. It has changed considerably since then, but the
beaches are still free (no fees), the surf can be downright
awesome, and everyone appears to be in a state of tropical
bliss, enjoying the hammock culture in full swing. The unique
Afro-Caribbean influence is reflected in the music, and
food. Sights in this picturesque area include Cahuita National
Park (great for snorkeling as it still has coral reef alive),
Gandoca Manzanillo Wildlife refuge, Punta Uva, Puerto Viejo,
Talamanca, and the Kekoldi Indian Reserve.
|The Northern Region covers a vast area
that includes tropical humid forests, wide plains with pasturelands,
an active volcano, and dense, misty woods isolated within
the mountains, not to mention the many attractions and things
to do: canopy rides, river floats, bike rentals, nature trail
walks for leisure or scientific purposes, hot springs bathing,
great scenery, and lots of wildlife.
Sarapiquí, La Fortuna (home of the Arenal Volcano),
and Monteverde, all belong to the Northern Region. This region
is one of the favorites for nature lovers, who will certainly
feel that time is never enough for all there is to do, see
and learn about. The area’s location makes it a great
itinerary connection point. One can easily head towards the
Caribbean, stopping over at Sarapiquí, or from Arenal
to Monteverde and the Pacific Beaches, or even hop from one
volcano to another (Arenal to Rincón de la Vieja),
using the Northern Region as a strategically located starting,
intermediate, or ending point.
The region features three main areas:
La Selva Biological Station (a center owned and managed by
the Organization for Tropical Studies in collaboration with
universities in Costa Rica and abroad), La Tirimbina Rainforest
Centre (sponsored by the Milwaukee Public Museum and the Riveredge
Nature Centre), the Sarapiquí River (ideal for floats
on mild river rapids), and butterfly farms.
La Fortuna (Arenal area)
Hot springs, canopy tours, rental bicycles, birdwatching tours
in Caño Negro, waterfalls, and great hiking places.
The major town within the area is Ciudad Quesada, where facilities
such as health centres, banks, and general service suppliers
Quetzal viewing, Monteverde & Santa Elena Cloud Forest
Reserves, Children’s Eternal Forest, Canopy Tours and
suspended bridges, frog ponds, living snakes museum, trail
hikes, orchid gardens, butterfly farms, and a cheese factory.
|The Central Valley
|The Central Valley and surrounding
highlands form Costa Rica’s cultural and geographical
base. Dense in population in comparison to the rest of the
country, the Valle Central shelters one of every four Costa
Ricans & immigrants. It is also home to the four most
important cities in the country: San José, the capital
city of Costa Rica, and the provincial capitals of Cartago,
Heredia and Alajuela, together providing the most economically
productive region, and gathering the main political and social
institutions, as well as the main health centers (hospitals,
private medical centers, drugstores). Its strategic location
in the middle of the country makes it the starting point of
many activities: museum visits, National Theatre, white water
rafting, rain and cloud forest hiking, mountain biking, as
well as visits to butterfly farms, botanical gardens, picturesque
towns, and coffee plantations, all can be seen while in the
Central Valley. More than 25 one-day activities (both private
and group tours) can be done from San José.
The average temperature in the valley is 24ºC (77ºF)
all year-round, and the altitude ranges from 2000 to 5000
feet (600 to 1500 m). Mountains and volcanoes enclose this
land in a sort of geographical cradle, and are, in turn, some
of the region’s main attractions. In just 20-40 minutes
you can find yourself in the uplands, enjoying the beautiful
view of San José and the fresh mountain breezes. Volcanoes
are also well worth visiting: Poás and Barva in the
northwest, Irazú in the southeast, and Turrialba in
the east. Being the country’s network core has its many
advantages, particularly when it comes to infrastructure.
The Central Valley hosts the main international airport (Juan
Santamaría), which is around 20 to 30 minutes away
from the majority of hotels and lodges. It is also the place
in the country where one can find the most developed hotel
facilities; meetings, conventions, and congresses for large
groups can be easily arranged in and around San José,
with side options for businessmen and for their families,
such as golf courses, shopping centers, a variety of dining
options, swimming pools, and tennis courts among others…
definitely … a wide variety to choose from!
|The North Pacific
|Best known for its beaches, which
indeed are astonishing, the truth is that Costa Rica’s
North Pacific is more diverse and has much more to offer than
only palm trees and ocean waters. Comprising practically all
the province of Guanacaste and part of Puntarenas (which corresponds
to the southernmost tip of the Nicoya Peninsula), the region
is marked by its landscape and history, both unique within
the country. Guanacaste voted to join Costa Rica in year 1824
in a close election that would have otherwise meant its annexation
to Nicaragua; in no other province has this ever occurred.
Another eccentricity: the North Pacific is the only area with
tropical dry forests, open prairie-like spaces, an active
volcano with geysers and boiling mud, old haciendas and cattle
ranches, and sabaneros (the Costa Rican version of cowboys).
A rarely mentioned fact, evident however with a little detailed
observation and sensibility, is the North Pacific’s
folklore. The traditions have even become the icons of Costa
Rican typical culture: the most widely spread national dances,
the Marimba instrument, big homemade tortillas, and other
songs, were inherited and adopted as its own in the rest of
Birding sites, national parks, and local art crafts are daily
expressions of the region’s diversity but, of course,
when it comes to the North Pacific, beaches are a “must”...
and there is one for every type of traveler. Big, luxurious
resorts with plenty of daily activities and nightlife entertainment
in the Papagayo Gulf, boutique hotels with a personal touch
in remote hideaways like Tamarindo, Punta Islita, and Flamingo,
kilometers of unspoiled beaches between Nosara and Sámara,
and towns with an alternative, “retro-style” atmosphere,
like Mal País and Montezuma, all can be found in this
land portion. Not to mention the many activities awaiting:
birdwatching near the Tempisque River, canopy touring, golfing
with great ocean views, some of the best sportfishing and
scuba diving, and horseback riding in mountains and beaches.
The North Pacific is currently experiencing a significant
turning point. The opening of the Daniel Oduber International
Airport in Liberia has encouraged the region’s economy
and highlighted its attractions. Today this is the doorway
to Costa Rica for many travelers, and for some, perhaps the
only region in the country they get to visit.
|The Central Pacific
|This thin strip of coastal land that
descends from the port of Puntarenas to the southern warm-hearted,
non-touristy coastal village of Uvita is virtually separated
from the Central Costa Rican territories by the country’s
highest mountain range: the Talamanca Cordillera. In the region
one can find the closest beaches to San José (2 –
2 ½ hours driving), like Jacó and Herradura.
Most international cruise ships arrive in Puerto Caldera (near
Puntarenas), which makes it a popular starting place for some
one-day activities, for instance, visits to the Poás
Volcano, Coffee Tours, City Tours of San José, and
Canopy Tours among others.
The Central Pacific is ideal to go hopping from one beach
to another, especially if one is eager to get different “beach
feelings” in a short time. Jacó and nearby Playa
Hermosa, as well as Dominical, are surfers’ hot spots,
whereas Manuel Antonio National Park has become the undisputable
region’s main attraction for nature lovers who want
comfort and some restaurant/ bar options after the treks through
the trails, and Uvita hosts small hotels, in a cozy, not-so-developed
area where one can still enjoy a strong local town atmosphere.
If you are an active traveler and wish to invest your spare
time in nice activities, there is plenty to do like Golfing
at Los Sueños, horseback riding, sportfishing in Quepos,
and canopy touring in Jacó and Manuel Antonio.
The Coastal road has magnificent scenery, with miles of oil
palm-tree plantations, great ocean views with mountains rising
up almost directly from the sea, and in the beautiful Carara
National Park you can, with a little luck, see scarlet macaws.
The region is rather humid and in the rainy season strong
showers refresh the afternoons… perfect to cuddle in
the room and take a long siesta!
|The South Pacific
|One of most impressive regions
in the country, for its vast areas of complete wilderness
and primary forests, the South Pacific gives travelers the
sensation of being in Costa Rica’s ultimate frontier.
There are three main areas to visit: the Corcovado National
Park, the town of Golfito and its surroundings, and the mountainous
Chirripó National Park & La Amistad International
There is plenty to see both for nature and rural-lifestyle
lovers. Visitors find it charming and challenging to walk
through tropical humid forests of Corcovado, abundant in flora
and fauna; get in touch with the rural life in San Vito (with
its amazing Wilson Botanical Gardens), or hike the country’s
highest peak - Chirripó. There are basic lodging options,
but the region – particularly Corcovado’s surroundings
– offers a wide scale of places to stay at, from the
budget hotels and cabins, to upscale deluxe wilderness lodges.
Different means of transportation are used to reach this remote
area: airplane, boat, and ground vehicles.
Corcovado and surroundings
Besides its natural beauty, the Osa Peninsula (where Corcovado
National Park is located) is home to many endangered species,
such as the endemic Scarlet Macaw, the Titi monkey, and Jaguars
(rarely seen). It is also a divers paradise, especially in
the surroundings of the Caño Island. Moderate diving
skills are required, and a PADI license shall be shown before
taking any diving tour.
Golfito and surroundings
Golfito, a former banana company enclave, is the main town
in the South Pacific Region. Since the creation of a tax-free
zone there, in the early 1990’s, it has become an important
economic area, hosting visitors from all over the country
and abroad. Some of Golfito’s highlights include: taking
a boat ride along the Gulf to spot dolphins, go sportfishing,
walk in the Peñas Blancas National Park, and visit
the Wilson Botanical Gardens in San Vito town.
This Park hosts the country’s highest peak (3,820m.
/ 12,533 ft). It is an ideal place for moderately fit trekkers.
Visitors experience changes in the vegetation as they climb
up, from the dense tropical forests, to high altitude landscapes,
with small trees, bushes, and old glacial lakes. No camping
is allowed and visitors can only stay at the mountain shelter
(with a maximum capacity of 40 people), so make sure you
let us know with anticipation your travel plans to consult