Discover Costa Rica
San Jose, Caribbean Coast, Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, Nicoya Peninsula, Osa Peninsula and Pacific Beaches
As wildlife holidays go, you can’t get much better than Costa Rica. This is the country that invented ecotourism, drawing visitors to its national parks and undeveloped protected regions. Thanks to its immense biodiversity it is home to an enormous array of creatures, from the red-eyed tree frog to the howler monkey, and its animal-loving population allows wildlife to venture freely. In the heart of Central America, the ‘happiest place on Earth’ is wedged between the Caribbean and the Pacific Coasts, divided into 20 natural parks, eight biological reserves and a further number of protected regions.
The people of Costa Rica, known as ‘Ticos’, are renowned for their warmth, greeting friends and visitors alike with the phrase ‘pura vida’, meaning good life. Costa Rica holidays have a worthy place on many travellers’ bucket lists; aside from the wildlife spotting opportunities, the prospect for adventure is limitless.
Costa Rica tours are the ideal way to get under the skin of the country, hiking along high-altitude trails, burrowing through dense jungle, zipping through the canopy on a squeal-inducing zip line or bouncing down white water rapids with an experienced guide. So what’s not to love? The scenery is stunning, the people friendly, and the infrastructure the best in Central America. The smaller size of the country means you can fit it all into a two-week trip. The best time to visit Costa Rica depends on what you’d like to see, so it’s best to speak to an expert for more details – we’d happily talk through your requirements, whether you’re keen for a wildlife expedition, family holiday with a difference or an active honeymoon.
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REGIONS OF COSTA RICA
Most Costa Rica holidays start in the capital of San Jose. Located in the Central Valley, the city is surrounded by farmland and coffee plantations – your morning cup may just be the best you’ve ever tasted, accompanied by the traditional breakfast dish of rice and beans, known as ‘gallo pinto’. From the capital you can easily embark on tours into the valley, such as white-water rafting, hiking and mountain biking. The city, and indeed the rest of Costa Rica, will be easier to visit from May 2016 thanks to a new British Airways route direct from London Gatwick. Get past the traffic and the city may surprise you. In contrast to the unspoilt scenery that cloaks the rest of the country, San Jose is more of an urban jungle, and the historic neighbourhoods such as Barrio Amon are full of colonial mansions, galleries and vibrant music venues.
The warm waters of the Caribbean lap gently against Costa Rica’s dreamy Caribbean Coast. The calm seas attract green sea turtles from July to September, who come ashore to nest on the golden beaches. Because of this, much of the region is protected and you won’t find the same infrastructure here that you’ll find on other Caribbean coastlines. It’s a little more rugged and rustic, but this is all the more appealing for wildlife spotters as it allows nature to thrive. Many people come to enjoy the spectacular natural setting of Tortuguero National Park, accessible only by air or water. Afro-Caribbean roots mean this bustling village has a strong identity of its own, quite different to the rest of Costa Rica.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is a three hour journey from San Jose, set in a high elevation which gives it its name. When the conditions are ideal the canopy is wreathed in dense patches of cloud, wrapping itself around the treetops which teem with wildlife. Monteverde and neighbouring Santa Elena are well regarded regions to visit for bird watchers, as they are home to the resplendent Quetzal, a vibrant bird of the brightest shades of scarlet and emerald green.
The coastal region of the Nicoya Peninsula is home to the most popular beach destinations in Costa Rica, mainly due to its reputation as a surfers’ paradise. The sapphire waters along the coast curl into near-perfect barrels attracting a hedonistic crowd of laid-back surfers, boarders and beach lovers. The boot-shaped peninsula used to be accessible only by boat, however developments have laid down bumpy roads with magnificent coastal views. Puntarenas is the largest urban area, stretching along a narrow spit of sand, while Montezuma is a beachfront town at the end of the road. If you’re looking to switch off, this is the place to come.
The Osa Peninsula is tucked away in the south-west of the country, making it much less accessible and therefore a more rewarding destination for those looking to experience the ‘real’ Costa Rica. Lying at the heart of the peninsula is Corcovado National Park, where the astonishingly varied biological diversity led National Geographic Magazine to name it the ‘most biologically intense place on Earth’. The park is home to almost half of the country’s species of birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians, in a remote and primitive rainforest area where few people roam. On the northern side of the Osa Peninsula is Drake Bay, where the lush forests, miles of beaches and plethora of wildlife makes for an ideal place to indulge in diving, snorkelling, riding, hiking and wildlife watching.
First and foremost, Costa Rica is not your typical beach destination, but the Pacific Beaches are undeniably beautiful. The sandy shores thread the coastline for over 800 miles, attracting surfers and nature lovers alike. Halfway between the Nicoya and Osa peninsulas, Manual Antonio National Park is the smallest reserve in Costa Rica but also the most visited, due to its tropical forests and creamy white beaches. There are a number of endangered species here, so if you’re eager to spot spider monkey, howler monkey, sloth, iguana, armadillo or scarlet macaw this national park may suit you.