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Head to Costa Rica for wonderful wildlife, spectacular scenery, cracking coffee and much more besides…
Costa Rica is a Central American beauty. As well as brimming with natural wonders, the country is home to friendly people, fantastic coffee and fabulous accommodation.
Here, squeezed between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, you’ll find the kind of tropical adventure this part of the world is renowned for. But there are also sights you’ll see nowhere else, that are quintessentially Costa Rican – or as the locals might say, más Tico que el gallo pinto (more Costa Rican than a spotted rooster). More on spotted roosters later. To tempt you to this unique place, A&K’s Rosanna Milburn has put together an A-Z of Costa Rica, showcasing the very brightest of its highlights.
Arenal Volcano is considered Costa Rica’s youngest and most active volcano. This jungle-green giant dominates the view over the surrounding national park in San Carlos. We recommend travelling seven kilometres to La Fortuna, a charming town set beneath the volcano. Here, with Arenal as your backdrop, you can experience a wealth of outdoor activities including rafting, zip-lining and crossing the famous hanging bridges. Clients can unwind in Costa Rica’s largest network of naturally flowing hot springs at Tabacon Resort & Spa.
Costa Rica is a natural wonderland. In fact, it boasts the world’s highest density of biodiversity. The country is home to more than 500,000 animal species, including hundreds found nowhere else. Sloth slumber high in the canopy, capuchin monkey swing in the tree tops, ocelot prowl in the forests and tropical frogs hop from leaf to leaf. Corcovado National Park is especially worth a trip, with close to three per cent of Earth’s biodiversity within its boundaries.
Costa Rican coffee is some of the best in the world. The plants grown and hand-picked at high altitude, especially in the canton of Tarrazu, are renowned for producing a rich, full-flavoured drink. Coffee production has taken place here since the late 18th century, and Costa Ricans regularly gather around of an afternoon for a spot of java and a side of baked treats. What better way to fuel your adventure in Costa Rica than by indulging in a cup of locally grown, organic and Fair Trade coffee?
With the Caribbean Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, it should come as no surprise that Costa Rica is a diver’s paradise. Like the country’s dense jungles, the coastal waters teem with wildlife, including orca, manta ray, whale, shark and dolphin. Explore the wrecks and artificial reefs of Tortuga Islands; spot hammerheads in the National Park waters of Cocos Island; discover underwater caves in the Catalina Islands; or snorkel to see more than 400 species of fish amidst the coral of the Cahuita National Park. Wherever you go, you’re in for a treat.
Costa Ricans have an enviable back-garden of jungle, mountain, beach and ocean. This magical amalgam is a draw for travellers the world over, and eco-tourism is now one of the country’s major industries, out-earning Costa Rica’s major crop exports of coffee, banana and pineapple. Over the years, the government has implemented policies to protect and preserve this beacon of biodiversity.
Some properties stand head-and-shoulders above the rest – in this case, literally. Finca Rosa Blanca is situated high up on a hill in the midst of a coffee plantation. Its central valley location puts you within easy reach of volcanoes, cloud forests and national parks. Each of the property’s thirteen suites is full of charm and character, decorated with patterned tiles and bucolic murals. Many grant you views over the gorgeously green surrounds. This is a dream choice for coffee lovers on a Costa Rican holiday.
Gallo pinto – or spotted rooster – isn’t just the name Costa Ricans give to a particularly colourful cockerel. It’s also the name lent to an age-old staple of Costa Rican cuisine, consisting of rice and black beans. It’s a versatile base, and you’ll often find a range of ingredients thrown in the mix, including lashings of Salsa Lizano (the Costa Rican equivalent of Worcestershire sauce). We ate Gallo Pinto nearly every day for breakfast during my recent visit here.
Costa Rica is one of the happiest places in the world – which won’t be a surprise to those who have travelled here. The 2018 Happiness Index ranked Costa Rica 13 out of 156 countries based on everything from life expectancy to generosity, whilst the Happy Planet Index put the country in the top spot.
The conquistadors were far from the first to settle in what is now Costa Rica. Before the arrival of the Spanish, the land was populated by a wide variety of indigenous peoples. To this day, about 2.4 per cent of Costa Ricans identify as members of these ancient tribal groups, with many keeping the old traditions alive.
If Costa Rica was a colour, it’d definitely be green. 51 per cent of the country is forested, and this lush canopy provides a home to thousands of animal and plant species. Explore the jungle on foot during a walking safari, or – if you’ve a head for heights – take to the tree tops for a rope bridge crossing and zip-lining experience. The country’s national parks, such as Corcovado and Cahuita, house the best-preserved rainforests.
With ocean on either side and a large network of rivers, opportunities for a scenic kayaking excursion abound in Costa Rica. Spot wildlife on the banks as you weave between mangroves in the Osa Peninsula, glide along Lake Arenal for an unbeatable view of the volcano or take to the ocean for a tour of the Curu National Wildlife Refuge. Kayaking in Costa Rica is the ultimate way to immerse yourself in nature.
Stay at Latitude 10 to be moments away from the beach during your holiday to Costa Rica. This eco-friendly retreat is nestled on the Santa Teresa coast, a romantic spot where you can surf, snorkel or horse-ride to your heart’s content. It’s particularly suited for active couples.
Another Costa Rican phrase to add to your travel dictionary, media naranja means half an orange, but is used as a term of endearment for one’s soul mate. If you and your media naranja are on a romantic holiday here, get into the spirit of things with some of the local lingo.
Every morning at 7am, radio stations across Costa Rica play the national anthem. It’s a stirring song about the country’s unsullied blue sky and its hard-working and loyal people. If you’re looking for the perfect wake-up call whilst on holiday here, it’s just the thing – although the hymn of the rainforest is a strong contender.
The Osa Peninsula is a mecca for wildlife. Here you’ll find the rainforests of Piedras Blancas National Park, home to amazingly diverse flora and fauna. To make the most of this beautiful region, stay at Playa Cativo, a secluded eco-lodge situated in a rainforest and accessible only by boat (the journey to the property is part of the adventure). This is a great place for a guided nocturnal safari. Discover a rarely seen side of the rainforest as its evening creatures stir to life.
Head to Costa Rica on holiday, and you’ll probably hear a “pura vida” or two. Meaning ‘pure life’, this expression is a Swiss-army-knife in conversation, working as a greeting, farewell and upbeat exclamation. It’s also a way of life for Costa Ricans – or Ticos, as they call themselves. Simple, pure living, which you’ll experience first-hand.
Keep an eye out for the resplendent quetzal during your Costa Rican holiday. Venerated by the Aztecs, this gorgeously green and red tropical bird loves the lush green forests and humid highlands here. Improve your chances of seeing these and 400 other species of bird by heading to the cloud forest of Monteverde. Clients can explore this orchid-rich reserve on one of the many well-maintained trails; walk across the canopy bridge or take a nocturnal tour which begins just before sunset.
Experience pura vida with a stay at Rio Perdido. This enchanting hotel is surrounded by a private reserve of lush forest and sparkling springs. Adventure lovers can hike or mountain bike along trails, zip-line and swing through the trees, or take to the waters for a spot of white-water tubing. After all that action, soothe yourself in the thermal pools. For the ultimate panorama, head up to the nearby Mesa Norte look-out; on the horizon, you can see the three towering volcanoes of Guanacaste.
The sloth always looks content, presumably because it takes life so easy. These unusual creatures can be found hanging with their claws from trees throughout Costa Rica, but you’re especially likely to spot them in Manuel Antonio Park – it’s a sloth paradise located on the Pacific coast. The slow-motion tree dwellers live in symbiotic harmony with their surroundings, and Costa Ricans have certainly taken a leaf out of the sloth’s book.
Another Costa Rican native which takes things slow, turtles can be found on beaches across the country’s coast. Witness hawksbill and green sea turtle nesting in the Tortugero National Park. It’s a great destination for families, as you can all hop aboard a boat for a scenic cruise around the shore, spotting wildlife as you go.
Honeymooners seeking romance in the rainforest will find their hearts aflutter in Uvita. This quiet spot on the coast features the jungle of Marino Ballena National Park on one side, and the Pacific Ocean on the other, with a gorgeous sandbar between the two. Stay at Kura Design Villas for an unbeatable view. This adults-only boutique property is nestled high on a hill in the rainforest, and is just the place for couples to disconnect.
As a holiday destination, Costa Rica is hot in more ways than one. The country lies within the Pacific Ring of Fire, a volcanically active region which stretches from Oceania to South America in a horse-shoe shape. There are around 100 active volcanic formations in Costa Rica alone, including five active volcanoes. As well as being postcard-perfect landmarks and hiking destinations, these majestic volcanoes contribute to the fertility of the surrounding land, helping the country’s lush, diverse eco-system thriving.
If your idea of fun is a thrilling white-water rafting excursion, we recommend heading to the banks of the Pacuare River. In your raft, follow the river’s dramatic course through rugged canyons and tropical rainforests. It’s an immersive way to explore Costa Rica’s wilds. For easy access, stay at Pacuare Lodge, an exclusive jungle hideaway located right on the riverbank.
Xandari Resort & Spa is a special place to spend your Costa Rican escape. This 26-villa retreat is spread across a 16-hectare plantation, six kilometres outside of Alajuela city. You have a whole forest on your doorstep to explore: waterfalls, rivers and hiking trails; and birders are especially spoilt. Plus, the farm-to-fork food served here is an authentic taste of Costa Rican cuisine.
Due to its proximity to the equator, Costa Rica is hot all year-round – so you can bid the winter chill goodbye. The country has two main seasons, rainy (May to November) and dry (December to April). We recommend heading to the Caribbean coast in summer, and the Pacific coast in winter.
With jumbles of jungle carpeting so much of the country, Costa Rica makes it easy to get in touch with your inner monkey. Rather than swinging like a capuchin, though, we recommend a zip-lining experience. Thrill seekers can get a unique view of Arenal Volcano whilst zip-lining through the forest at speed. Alternatively, the Skytram puts you 975 metres over the surrounding forest for a spectacular view.
Adventures in Costa Rica don’t come more active than on this tailor-made tour
Experience the thrills of the rainforest and soak in hot springs beneath Volcano Arenal on this classic Costa Rican holiday
Stare into volcanic craters, relax on tropical beaches and spot endangered species on this incredible tour of Costa Rica