10 reasons to go to Costa Rica

Posted by Sarah Duff on 29 April 2014 Tags:, , , , , , , , ,

With spectacularly beautiful beaches, volcanoes and forests teeming with wildlife and birds, and adventure activities galore, Costa Rica has something to please everyone. Here are 10 reasons why you should put the Central American country on your travel wishlist.

Suspension bridge in Monteverde Cloud Forest, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is a long journey from South Africa. There’s no easy way to get there: I flew from Cape Town to Johannesburg to Sao Paulo in Brazil, to Bogota in Colombia and finally to San Jose, Costa Rica’s capital – a total travelling time of 40 hours. You can fly via Europe or the US (where you need transit visas) but it’s not much quicker.

So why make that long trip to the other side of the world?

The answer is: because Costa Rica is an amazing country of spectacularly beautiful forests, volcanoes and beaches and something to please everyone, from adventure activities, wildlife encounters, surfing, yoga retreats to bird watching. It’s also safe, friendly and easy to travel in. What more could you want from a destination?

Here are my top 10 reasons to put Costa Rica at the top of your travel wishlist.

1. To find happiness

Meeting friendly locals in Costa Rica

Costa Rica has been ranked as one of the happiest countries in the world, based on its high quality of life, good life expectancy rate and small ecological footprint. The country abolished its army in 1949, and it’s been one of the most peaceful countries in Latin America for the past five decades. The main saying in Costa Rica is “Pura vida” which means the good life – something that people say all the time, with big smiles on their faces. Often when you ask people how they are, they respond with “Pura vida”. It’s inspiring, infectious and incredibly heart warming to spend time in a country that has so much invested in being joyful. The rest of the world could definitely learn a thing or two from Costa Ricans’ approach to life.

 

2. Eco tourism

Cruising the canals of Tortuguero National Park

I’ve never been to a country that wears its green credentials on its sleeve as proudly as Costa Rica does. The country is one of the top eco-tourism destinations in the world, and it’s easy to see why: over a quarter of Costa Rica is protected land, the government is very active in conservation efforts and the country plans to become the first carbon neutral nation by 2021. Costa Rica’s eco commitment doesn’t seem like tokenism: the local people and guides we met were genuinely enthusiastic about conservation, most hotels have watercoolers to encourage guests not to buy plastic water bottles, and there are recycling bins almost everywhere you go.

 

3. Birds

Birding in Tortuguero National Park

Costa Rica has a whopping 900 species of birds, from the incredibly beautiful green-and-red resplendent quetzal (which I was lucky enough to see while zip lining through Monteverde Cloud Forest) to glorious scarlet macaws and 54 species of jewel-coloured hummingbirds. In just over a week of travelling through Costa Rica we saw dozens of species, including the elusive great potoo, the pretty northern jacana and four species of herons. I’ve been teetering on the edge of becoming a birder, but Costa Rica was the trip that took me to the other side: I’m now a committed twitcher.

 

4. Wildlife

Sloth spotting in Manuel Antonio National Park

Costa Rica is staggeringly diverse when it comes to wildlife. With half a million species, it’s home to 4% of the world’s total species, which is quite something for a relatively small country. In fact, it’s considered to be one of the planet’s most biodiverse nations. Expect to see butterflies, frogs, (incredibly cute) sloths, snakes, loads of monkeys, anteaters, caimans, bats and iguanas. More rare are the cats: jaguars, ocelots and pumas.

All over Costa Rica there are opportunities to encounter the country’s wildlife, whether it’s going on a canal cruise in Tortuguero National Park under tunnels of trees (which felt like being in the Amazon), or a catamaran cruise with dolphins in Manuel Antonio National Park, or walking through the misty Monteverde Cloud Forest. The best thing is that Costa Rica’s amazing animals are everywhere: monkeys hanging out in the trees outside your room (or even inside your room), sloths sleeping in trees next to the highway and crossing the path next to the park entrance and raccoons coming to watch you eat a post-hike snack in the car park.

 

5. Forests

One of Costa Rica’s beautiful cloud forests: Monteverde

What I loved most about Costa Rica was its magical forests, where time seemed to stand still the air was alive with the sound of insects and birds and everything smelled like green. Much of the country is forested with either humid, tropical rainforests and misty, cool cloud forests, which you can explore on guided hikes and by walking on shaky suspension bridges.

 

6. Zip lining (and other adventures)

Zip lining through Monteverde Cloud Forest

 

Costa Rica is an adventure lover’s dream destination. Just about everywhere you go in the country there seems to be some kind of adrenaline-inducing adventure on offer, from white water rafting to zip lining through forests. My favourite adventure was cayoneering in the Lost Canyon near Arenal volcano, which involved abseiling down sheer rock faces and scrambling through the canyon and jumping into cold pools under a cover of huge trees.

 

7. Beaches

Beach days in Manuel Antonio National Park

Costa Rica has two coasts – the Pacific on the west and the Caribbean on the east – lined with over 1500 kilometres of beautiful beaches, with sand ranging from cappuccino to icing sugar, flanked by palm trees and rainforests. My favourite beach was in Manuel Antonio National Park on the Pacific side. Not only was it a perfect beach, with a long stretch of white sand and palm trees for shade, but to get there you have to walk through a forest where you can spot sloths, birds, lizards and monkeys – so you get a wildlife walk and beach bumming in one.

 

8. Turtles

The beach in Tortuguero National Park where you can spot turtles nesting

Tortuguero National Park, on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, is the Western hemisphere’s main nesting site for green turtles: during the nesting season (April to October) there are as many as 700 turtles laying their eggs on a 30-kilometre stretch of protected beach. You can hire a certified guide to take you to the beach at night to watch turtles nesting – a truly magical wildlife experience which feels like watching a dinosaur in action. (Read more about my turtle nesting experience here.)

 

9. Volcanoes

A view of Arenal volcano

Costa Rica sits on the Pacific Ring of Fire (almost a Johnny Cash song) – an area of high volcanic activity. The country has 122 volcanoes, of which four of active. The most famous of Costa Rica’s volcanoes is Arenal, which was active up until 2010: it hasn’t spewed lava since then, but it does smoke constantly (which makes for great photos). Around Arenal and some of Costa Rica’s other volcanoes you can go hiking and mountain biking on lush hilly slopes and (my favourite) soak in hot springs. There are hot springs all over the place in the area around Arenal, and many hotels have their own hot springs, or you can go to a hot spring resort and spend an evening swimming around in pools as warm as a bath, drinking pina coladas (highly recommended).

 

10. Surfing

Beach days in Manuel Antonio National Park

Surfers love Costa Rica: the swells and breaks are great, water is warm year-round and the surf is good on both the Caribbean and Pacific sides. There are plenty of surfing schools and retreats lining the coasts, especially on the Pacific (where you can find the best waves during the rainy season fromMay to November.

 

You can fit all of this and more into Contiki’s 12-day Costa Rica Unplugged tour. To find out more about this awesome trip, check out the itinerary, or read my blog about it here.

If you’d like to win yourself a spot on a Contiki Costa Rica Unplugged trip, share your best photos of the ocean on Instagram with the hashtag #contikistorytellers before 31 May 2014.

This blog post was originally published on Duff’s Suitcase.

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