An eco-traveller’s paradise, Costa Rica has luscious, tropical landscapes like nowhere else on earth. Sky-high mountain rainforests teeming with wildlife creep down to giant expanses of white sandy beaches. Misty waterfalls trickle over craggy precipices while hot volcanic springs bubble away invitingly. In fact, Costa Rica is so blissfully laid back and in harmony with nature that locals (Ticos) greet each other with pura vida (pure life) instead of ‘hello’. Our insider’s guide to Costa Rica reveals all its exotic highlights you must check out when you visit.
SEE & DO
Costa Rica is never short of a picture-postcard beach to unwind on and Playa Carrillo on the Nicoya Peninsula is lesser-known but ultra visit-worthy. A crescent–shaped stretch of sand framed by mountainous greenery, it rarely gets crowded which makes it the perfect spot for snorkelling around its coral reef, kayaking or just kicking back with a book under a shady palm.
Tortuguero National Park
For some prime sea turtle spotting, Tortuguero National Park is the place to jump into a boat and hit the waters. Located on the northern side of Costa Rica, the park is a protected wilderness area whose beaches, lagoons and rivers are turtle nesting grounds. You’ll catch howler monkeys leaping between trees and toucans gliding through the air as you coast along the park’s canals.
Monteverde Cloud Forest
Tiptoe through vertiginous rainforest canopies across Monteverde Cloud Forest’s aerial walkways while getting a bird’s-eye view of the magnificent flora and fauna. Covering an astonishing 35,000 acres of tropical rainforest, Monteverde is one of Costa Rica’s best spots to get up close and personal with some serious biodiversity. Expect exotic, orchids, sleepy sloths and butterflies galore.
You can’t miss its conical peak rising majestically into the air, occasionally emitting a plume of gas. Arenal Volcano is a commanding presence on Costa Rica’s landscape and the national park that surrounds it begs to be explored. The best way to discover the magnificent surroundings are by trekking around the quiet side of the volcano over ancient lava rocks, before taking an invigorating dip in a thermal pool.
Look beyond the modern urban sprawl of Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose and you’ll discover quaint Spanish colonial streets, pretty parks and an abundance of Latin American charm. San Jose (or ‘Chepe’ as it’s known to Ticos) is home to great cultural institutions like the National Centre of Art & Culture and Costa Rican Art Museum.
DINE & DRINK
Costa Rica’s national dish is Gallo Pinto, meaning ‘spotted rooster.’ You won’t find a chicken in sight though, it’s a combination of rice and beans fried with spices. You’ll find Gallo Pinto almost everywhere at any time – especially with eggs for breakfast. Seek out ceviche (raw seafood ‘cooked’ with fresh lemon) and chicharron (fried crispy pork) when dining out too.
Perhaps’ Costa Rica’s most famous exports, coffee and excellent chocolate should form a stop on your trip when travelling here. Costa Rican chocolate is especially tasty because of the high cacao content; you can find handcrafted, stone-ground chocolate all over the country. Pay a visit to an artisanal chocolatier workshop like Sibu, in the town of San Isidro de Heredia, to see how chocolate is made at source.
Grown at a high altitude, with a robust, rich flavour, Costa Rican coffee is acclaimed for having the finest flavour profile. The volcanic soil helps nourish the coffee plants lending a bright and fruity taste. Take a visit to a coffee plantation at one of the main coffee producing provinces of Sarapiqui, Tarrazu or Volcan Poas.
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