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Costa Rica is a verdant country in Central America with pristine rainforests, extremely diverse wildlife and a rugged and volcanic landscape. Around twenty-four percent of its land area is designated as protected areas and national parks, which makes it a paradise for eco-tourism. It is one of the few countries in the world without a military, enjoys the highest standard of living among all Central American countries and often tops the list of the happiest places on Earth.
Capital San Jose (affectionately called Chepe) – is located roughly in the center of the country. The city’s various museums, the famed Parque La Sabana – Costa Rica’s largest urban park, and Teatro Nacional – a stunning 19th-century building are the main attractions. San Jose’s vibrant markets and nightlife can also keep you engaged. The neighbourhoods of Barrio Amon and Barrio Escalante are its most popular neighbourhoods. While the former is known for its historic colonial-era mansions (now turned into art museums, hotels and cafes), the latter is a renowned haven for foodies.
Costa Rica’s main highlights are its numerous biodiverse national parks. Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio – accessed from the small village of Manuel Antonio – is made up of pristine rainforests, extensive corals and white-sand beaches, which results in abundant land and marine animals. This is the smallest and most visited national park in the country. Along the lesser developed Caribbean coast in the northeast, lies a major turtle breeding ground – Parque Nacional Tortuguero, accessible only by boat or air. Tens of thousands of green sea turtles arrive here every breeding season to lay eggs. However, the park also houses thick rainforests and needless to say – diverse flora and fauna. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve – near the town of Monteverde, is another natural superstar in Costa Rica. The reserve is a great eco-tourism destination and packed with rich flora and fauna. However, keep in mind that the park doesn’t allow more than 160 people at a given time. To experience excellent hiking and walking amidst lush forests, head out to either Parque Nacional Chirripo or Parque Nacional Corcovado. While the latter is remote and known for its tropical forests, pristine beaches and diverse wildlife, the former is dominated by Cerro Chirripo – Costa Rica’s highest peak. Discovering numerous glacial lakes and watching the sunrise from the peak are the most popular things to do. Both parks offer a somewhat strenuous yet lovely hiking experience.
Costa Rica is also known for its accessible volcanoes and volcano-related adventures. The stratovolcano of Volcan Arenal is the focal point of Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal. There are some great hiking trails to reach the volcano and all of them have beautiful views. The Parque Nacional Volcan Poas is another national park with an accessible volcano. The Turrialba Volcano, on the other hand, is an active one and due to its recent eruptions, is no longer accessible.
Since Costa Rica is squeezed between Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea with long coastlines on either side, surf-culture and laid-back beach towns are omnipresent. In general, the Pacific coast is more developed and better accessible than the Caribbean coast. Jaco, located on the Pacific coast, is known for its vibrant nightlife and surf beaches. The town also makes a great base for exploring the nearby Carara National Park. Mal Pais in Peninsula de Nicoya and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca on the Caribbean coast are also famed for their excellent surf beaches. While the former is a quiet fishing village, the latter offers a party atmosphere and lovely beaches – including the black-sand Playa Negra and white-sand Playa Cocles.
Costa Rica is a stunning melting pot of mountains, sea and jungle. Peace-loving Costa Ricans are happy to share their natural treasures and life of contentment with you. Prices are a little higher compared to other countries in Central America, but then you also get to experience the pure life – pura vida, as the Ticos say.
Costa Rica is one of the few countries in the world without a military.