Should you want to know even more about Costa Rica, I recommend that you start with the official travel website of the Costa Rica Tourism Board.
Or if you're from the one-picture-is-worth-a-thousand-words contingent, head over to John Skiffington's photo gallery, which has pictures made by the pro photographer and longtime Costa Rica resident. Otherwise, here are the basics:
Costa Rica is:
- located below Nicaragua and above Panama
- bound by the Caribbean on its eastern shore and the Pacific Ocean to the west (with lots of pristine coastline)
- a tranquil country with a stable democracy and no army (which allows the government to spend more on health, education, and ecology, making for the highest standard of living in the region)
- about the size of West Virginia
- considered by many to be a genuine tropical paradise where visitors can revel in the pleasures of ecotourism
- a unique place with exceptionally diverse scenery including tropical rain forests, 9 active volcanoes, hot spring spas, unspoiled white sand beaches, rivers and waterfalls, and many national parks
- a latter-day Garden of Eden with an awesome display of biodiversity: 5% of all species of plants and animals, 10% of the world's species of birds, more than 50,000 insect species (yuck) and 2000 orchid species exist here
- a place where tourist lodging is surprisingly inexpensive
- and a "Land of Natural Beauty and Warm People" as per the travel cliché (which may well be true).
Blessed with a warm climate, Costa Rica does have two distinct seasons. The dry one runs from December to April, and the rainy season from May to November. Temperature varies depending on region. Year-round, the average water temperature is 80 degrees Fahrenheit.
Places to Go, Things to See
San José is the capital and also the largest city. From there, you can fan out and get to know the country better by taking a day tour -- of Irazu Volcano, go whitewater rafting, or visit an oxcart factory where painted carreras made from exotic hardwoods are for sale. Within the city, there are plenty of places to eat and Club Colonial, a 24-hour casino.
But the real draw is the less inhabited places. Manuel Antonio on the Pacific Coast is regarded as one of the ten most beautiful spots in the world. The Caribbean Coast teems with wildlife; monkeys, sloths, toucans, manatees, jaguars, and 405 species of birds make their home here. Thousands of green sea turtles come to shore each season to lay their eggs between July and October.
Part of the appeal of Costa Rica is the chance to dive in two oceans: the time it takes to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific is approximately seven hours. You can access scuba dive information on Bill Beard's Diving Safaris site.
Surfing is another popular pursuit, as is swimming in the South Pacific and warm Atlantic.
On land, a couple can combine sightseeing with sports adventures. Breath-taking activities include mountain biking, rafting, climbing, whitewater canoeing, kayaking, bungee jumping, camping out, and horseback riding through the rain forest. Don't count on playing lots of golf here. There are no public golf courses, although some hotels maintain their own.
Costa Rica boasts hotels and restaurants for all tastes and budgets. If you truly want to get away from it all and be among nature, consider El Silencio, a cool, quiet eco-lodge 5,000 feet above sea level. Better hotels and all-inclusives are more plentiful in beach areas, such as Guanacaste province. Find a comprehensive list of Costa Rican hotels here.
Tourism is an important part of the economy, and most tour operators can transport you straight from your hotel to the activity you're interested in. Also, the main tourist attractions are easily accessible. However, if you're planning to explore on your own and head into rugged terrain, consider renting a 4x4 wheel drive.