It’s May and that means it’s the rainy season in Costa Rica! Perfect time to go for budget nomads — off-season rates apply and you won’t be encountering more Americans than Ticos, (as Costa Ricans are affectionately called). Besides, it only rains a little in the afternoon — big damn deal!
There’s muchos reasons to visit Costa Rica. It has long been viewed as the most stable country in Central America, unplagued with political uprisings and with a more steady economy than its neighbors. The temperature hovers around 70 degrees year-round in most parts of the country.
While beach bums and thrill-seekers no problem reviving themselves in Costa Rica, the country was also one of the first to appeal to eco-travelers, who go there with the intention of learning about the rainforest and its wildlife.
Like many Southern countries, Costa Rica is threatened by environmental degradation but the government — at the urging of conservationists — is continually striving to funnel the money made off of tourism back into sustaining the environment (and thus the tourism industry).
The rainforest is shrinking, but not as fast as it could be. The country also has few of the massive resorts such as those found in places such as Cancún, which are destructive to the environment and create a chasm between tourists and locals.
Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, lays conveniently in the Central Valley, ensuring that any destination within Costa Rica’s borders is only a few hours bus ride away and getting there is not going to cost more than
Those more at home with urban wildlife may prefer to use San José, or the nearby college area of San Pedro, as a jumping-off point from which to explore other regions. There is a varied intellectual nightlife in San Pedro especially. Music offerings range from salsa and mariachi to reggae and techno clubs. There’s even an underground music scene for those looking to check out shows in Español.
From the Central Valley there are tons of possible day trips to nearby sites such as the active volcano of Volcán Poas and the Guayabon National Archeology Monument. There’s plenty of mountain biking in the area too. Those planning to stay a while may might want to buy one instead of renting. They only cost around a hundred bucks, and with all the colleges in the area, reselling them is easy.
Monteverde: The Town of Quakers and Rainbows
Twenty percent of the Costa Rica is government-protected National Reserves, containing rainforest of various ecosystems.
Costa Rica has 1/25th of the world’s plant and animal species within its borders including 850 species of birds. One of the most elusive and sought-after is the Quetzal. It is considered a symbol of freedom for Central Americans because it cannot survive in captivity. It can be glimpsed at the private rainforest reserve at Monteverde, a not-to-be-missed destination up in the cloud forest in the northern part of the country.
Because of the climate there rainbows are everywhere — triple rainbows in the sky and small circular ones dusting the landscape. Monteverde is like the Land of Oz: you half expect to see elves and find pots of gold.
The locals in the sizable expatriate Quaker population who inhabit the area at blasé about it — they see this anomaly everyday. To add to Monteverde’s surreal feeling there is an extensive butterfly garden where you can walk amongst hundreds of exotic varieties.
Costa Rica’s Best Beaches
The charming English-speaking Caribbean coast is a nice respite for those looking for a break from habla-ing español. Buses leave frequently from San José to the run-down but charming town of Puerto Viejo, in the Limón province, with its black sand beaches and rustic discos. Near Puerto Viejo is Cahuita National Park.
The town of Cahuita is a favorite for those wanting to lounge around in hammocks and make sandcastles all day. There is an extensive coral reef in this area that can be explored with snorkeling equipment. As at most Costa Rican beaches, you can rent a simple cabin on the beach or find a place to camp out under the stars — there’s plenty of hammocks hung about. True city slickers should be warned though — you might get spooked during the night by the cries of the white-faced owl and other wildlife in the rainforest vegetation.
A bit further south at the Manzanilla National Life Wildlife Refuge there are more glorious white white sand beaches and a sustainable resources conserve where you can watch big turtles lay their eggs and perhaps spot manatees, crocodiles and dolphins swimming offshore. An equally glorious beach experience can be had at Manuel Antonio, on the western coast.
Ticos are a delightful lot who enjoy sharing their country. An often-cited cultural drawback is that Costa Rica is not as diverse as their neighbors to the north — the indigenous population of Costa Rica was obliterated by the colonizers. Only six percent of the population are indigenous Bribris who live in the southern region. Those interested in ancient civilizations might want to check out the Mayan Cultural Center in San Pedro.
Visiting Costa Rica is not as inexpensive as some other Latin American countries, but the water is okay to drink and special inoculations aren’t necessary. Many budget-conscious folks get dental work done, if needed, while visiting Costa Rica — they have the same technology as here and it’s much less expensive.
Public transportation is cheap in Costa Rica and you can always find a cabin or room for under
$15 $35 bucks. Also those who are interested in relocating there for a while might find work in Costa Rica, whether it be as a computer systems consultant or a river raft guide.
Whatever adventure you choose in Costa Rica you’ll soon appreciate the unofficial national motto of the Tico’s: ‘Pura vida‘!
You’ll just have to go there to find out the meaning of ‘Pure Life‘ for yourself.
Costa Rica Round Up
• Best rainforest experience: National Wildlife Refuge: Barra de Colorado, near Nicaragua.
-To be seen: cougars, crocodiles, deer monkeys, the green Macaw, Tapir monkeys and and manatees.
• Best beach: Manual Antonio, Northwest Costa Rica.
-To be seen: beautiful beaches with coastal rainforest
• Best Travelers Home base: San Pedro in the Central Valley.
-To be experienced: International social scene, varied entertainment and cultural activities.
From my column, The Vagabond in Go-Go Magazine