There are many reasons to visit Costa Rica and certainly one of them is that it is considered to be the ‘greenest’ country in the world. Costa Rica, which means “Rich coast” is situated in Central America and is home to a rich variety of plants and animals and has the largest percentage of protected areas in the world. The people of Costa Rica are also proud of their universal health care and public education systems and their astounding literacy rate of 94.9%.
I first went to Costa Rica 17 years ago with my daughter who was 11 years old at the time. We stayed at Jaco Beach, which was just a simple strip with a few open-air restaurants (and a dangerous beach). From what I hear, we wouldn’t recognize it today, but we had lots of fun, taking expeditions to Manuel Antonio National Park, the Mt. Irazu volcano, and through the Orosi Valley.
I visited Costa Rica twice recently, focussing on Arenal and Tamarindo.
Plan to stay a few days in this area for there is much to see, such as the Arenal Volcano (the most active volcano in Central America), Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve (home to about 2,000 plant species, 400 types of birds, and more than 100 species of mammals), and Lake Arenal. There are hot springs, hanging bridges, rain forests, cloud forests, canopy tours, tropical gardens and incredible wildlife.
When I visited last year, I stayed outside of La Fortuna right at the bottom of the Arenal Volcano. The property has wonderful gardens and the volcano was visible the whole time I was there, which I understand is not always the case.
When other family members visited this year, they stayed at Lake Arenal, which worked really well for them although the weather was rather cold and rainy.
I spent two weeks in Tamarindo last year and it was no hardship to return for another two weeks this year. If you read some of the on-line travel forums you will probably avoid the place because some say it’s too touristy. I urge you to put that into perspective. It is real. The roads are unpaved and the shops are simple. It has lots of restaurants and a great grocery store where you can buy just about everything you need. The beach is super and the surfing great. It’s easy to walk around and there are lots of taxis about. The people are friendly. The weather was perfect every single day that I was there: hot and sunny.
If you want a place that is smaller and a bit more laid back, go further south to Playa Samara and you’ll find just that. If surfing is your main thing then head to Nosara, a place young surfers rave about.
There is a good variety of places to stay in Tamarindo—hostels, a range of hotels, inexpensive apartments (I rented a place with kitchen for two weeks for $300/week) and more luxurious places such as where we stayed this year.
It is very easy to get around Costa Rica and there are different transportation options. Depending on my itinerary, I’ve flown into both San Jose and Tamarindo international airports. The shuttle bus system is extensive and efficient. The shuttle from La Fortuna to Tamarindo, for example, took about four hours and cost $38. There are a number of internal flights and the one I took from Tamarindo to San Jose was $75, but you should be forewarned that the road to the airport is little more than a cow path, staff were asleep on luggage carts when I arrived, they tried to charge me for overweight luggage that wasn’t overweight, and the runway is tiny so the plane had to turn around in a field. This year when I was there with extended family, people rented cars and hired vans.
Costa Rica is a delightful destination where nature and not monuments reign supreme.
By Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses 2011