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Holidays in Costa Rica

Understanding Costa Rica

Costa Rica has bewilderingly diverse landscapes, flora, and fauna From rain forests, to dry tropical and temperate forests, to volcanoes, to Caribbean and Pacific beaches, to high mountains, and marshy lowlands



Flora and fauna

Costa Rica is one of the world's most popular destinations for eco-tourists because of its biodiversity It has been stated in various places that Costa Rica may contain as much as 6% of the world's plant and animal species in an area the combined size of the US states of Vermont and New Hampshire Both tropical plant and animal species abound in Costa Rica Some of the more impressive plants range from huge ficus trees with epiphytes abounding on their limbs to approximately 1500 different orchids The animals are equally as impressive, whether it's a jaguar the largest cat in the New World, the ever-elusive Margay, or the wonderful birds like the green or scarlet macaws lapas in Costa Rican Spanish The amphibians are also quite impressive; the poison dart frogs with their bright colors are bound to catch your attention, or the giant cane toads


Talking in Costa Rica

Spanish is the main language in Costa Rica All major newspapers and official business are conducted in Spanish English is used widely in areas populated by international tourists, and information for tourists is often bilingual or exclusively in English A number of businesses operated by European proprietors can accommodate guests in Spanish, English and their native languages

Some Costa Rican expressions:

  • Ma'e, used akin to the English word "dude", although literally meaning something more like "idiot" Generally spoken among friends It's pronounced 'my'
  • Pura vida, literally translated as "pure life," is an expression endemic to Costa Rica It can be used in several contexts, as an expression of enthusiasm, agreement, or salutation It's pronounced 'poora veeda'
  • Pulpería, a general store
  • Tuanis, means "OK" or "cool" Taken from English phrase "too nice"

A prevalent version of slang in Costa Rica, and other regions of Latin America, is called "pachuco" or "pachuquismo," and is used by across social classes and understood as a "friendly" way of speaking

The traditional spanish "vos" form as in "vos sois" - you are is not commonly used in Costa Rica or in Latin America generally, yet they understand it and have no problem using it with gringos or others who may have learned it Most people use the alternate informal but correct "vos" as in "vos sos" - you are which is common in Argentina, Uruguay and some other countries in Latin America

Limonense Creolé

As well as Costa Rican Spanish, there is also an English-based creole language spoken in Limón Province Puerto Limón on the Caribbean Sea coast of Costa Rica It is called Limónese Creole also called Limón Creole English or Mekatelyu Limón Coastal Creole is similar to varieties such as Colón Creole, Mískito Coastal Creole, Belizean Kriol language, and San Andrés and Providencia Creole The name Mekatelyu is a transliteration of the phrase "make I tell you", or in standard English "let me tell you"

What to see in Costa Rica

Wildlife - Costa Rica is world famous for having an incredibly high level of biodiversity throughout its tropical forests this covers what you may hear referred to as rain forests, cloud forests, and dry forests There are tropical mammals such as monkeys, sloths, tapirs, and wild cats as well as an amazing assortment of insects and other animals There are many many birds both migratory and resident - more on that below With 25% of the country being national parks and protected areas, there are still many places you can go to see the abundant wildlife and lush vegetation of the country Just like anywhere, the farther you get off the beaten path, the more likely you are to see a wide variety of flora and fauna

There is such biodiversity in Costa Rica not only because it's a land bridge between North and South America, but also because the terrain is so varied and there are weather patterns moving in from both the Pacific and Atlantic/Caribbean There are impressive volcanoes, mountain areas, rivers, lakes, and beaches all throughout the country There are many beautiful beaches - most of the popular ones are on the Pacific side but the Caribbean has many excellent beaches as well

Bird Watching - One of the most wonderful activities for people who love nature is bird watching You can enjoy bird watching in many areas of Costa Rica Due to the great diversity of climates, temperatures and forest types in Costa Rica, there is a wonderful variety of birds, with over 800 species Some helpful books available on bird watching are Birds of Costa Rica by F Gary Stiles and Alexander Skutch Cornell University Press or An Illustrated Field Guide to Birds of Costa Rica, illustrated by Victor Esquivel Soto These books can be found at certain bookstores in San José or before coming to Costa Rica They are both heavy books; many people tear out the plates of the Stiles & Skutch book to carry into the field and leave the rest of the book in their car or room Plastic cards with the most common birds are available for many areas and are sold at gift shops

Costa Rica's list of birds includes:

  • 16 species of parrots including the fabulous scarlet macaw
  • 50 species of hummingbirds
  • 10 species of trogons with the resplendent quetzal as the jewel
  • 6 species of toucans, including the keel-billed and chestnut-mandibled
  • Half the bird species in Costa Rica are passerines including warblers, sparrows and finches
  • 16 species of ducks, including the fulvous whistling, white-faced ruddy and American wigeon
  • 13 species of falcons, including the peregrine falcon, merlin and American kestrel
  • 36 species of prey, including the gray hawk, swallow-tailed kite, solitary eagle and northern harrier
  • 6 species of cracidae which look like turkeys
  • 8 species of new world quails
  • 15 species of rallideas including the rufous-necked wood-rail, American coot and ruddy crake
  • 19 species of owls including the black-and-white, Costa Rican pygmy, central American pygmy and striped
  • 3 species of potoos including the great, northern and common
  • 16 species of woodpeckers, including cinnamon, chestnut-colored and pale-billed

The coastal list of birds includes:

  • 19 species of herons & wading birds such as the great blue heron, great egret, boat-billed heron, reddish egret and yellow-crowned night-heron
  • 2 species of recurvirostraide which are waders and include the black-necked stilt and American avocet
  • 2 species of jacans including the northern and wattled
  • 34 species of scolopacidae including the short-billed dowitcher, spotted sandpiper, wandering tattler, surfbird, and red phalarope
  • 9 species of gulls including the gray, Heermann's and ring-billed
  • 14 species of sternidae terns including the gull-billed tern, Forster's tern, least tern and white tern
  • 4 species of vultures including the the king vulture
  • 24 species of doves and pigeons
  • 11 species of swifts including the black, spot-fronted and Costa Rican
  • 6 species of kingfishers including the green, Amazon and American pygmy
  • 5 species of threskiornithidaes including the roseate spoonbill and white-faced ibis
  • 2 species of ciconiidae including the wood stork and jabiru

Good Bird watching spots include:

  • Monteverde Cloud Forest has more than 400 species of birds, including resplendent quetzals
  • Tortuguero National Park has 300 species of birds
  • Santa Rosa National Park has more than 250 species of birds
  • Cahuita National Park has toucans, parrots, rufous kingfishers; the park is on the beach
  • La Sevla Biological Station in the northern lowlands has 420 species of birds
  • Helconia Island has 228 species of birds
  • Corcovado National Park has 400 species of birds and 1,200 scarlet macaws
  • Huedal Nacional Terraba-Sierpe has a myriad of birds along the coast and swamps
  • Carara National Park has 400 species of birds
  • Tárcoles has 400 species of birds and great river tours highlighting crocodiles
  • Whale Marine National Park has frigate birds, boobies, ibises and pelicans
  • La Amistad National Park has 500 species of birds including resplendent quetzals
  • Manuel Antonio National Park has 350 species of birds and three lovely beaches

Most hotels, as well as tourist information centers, will provide bird watching guides, maps and other essentials for bird watching Unless you are an experienced neotropical birder, it can be a lot more productive to go out with an experienced birding guide Do not forget to bring a hat, rain gear, boots, binoculars and camera In hot areas, an umbrella can be more useful than a poncho or jacket Southern Costa Rica is generally considered the better option for bird watching

Volcanoes -Costa Rica is one of the most seismologicly active countries in the western hemisphere, and as a result several volcanoes have sprouted over the years- most notably volcanoes Poas, Irazu, and Arenal

What to do in Costa Rica


Costa Rica is a country with an extraordinary wealth of things to do, but regardless of your travel interests, you're going to want to spend time at one of the country's great beaches The lion's share of beach tourism is concentrated on the Pacific side, in the Central Pacific region near San José, the Nicoya Peninsula, and in the dry tropical forests of Guanacaste Less touristed, but no less beautiful are the beaches in the tropical rainforest of the southern Pacific coast near Corcovado National Park, or on the exotic, rastafarian, eco-tourism paradise of the Caribbean side

While some of the best beach vacations will be found on tiny quiet beaches off the beaten path, or even at exclusive resorts, here's a quick list of the country's biggest and most popular beach destinations:

  • Corcovado — the main beach on Costa Rica's Osa Peninsula, with black sand beaches fronted by the thick Costa Rican tropical rainforest
  • Dominical — probably the biggest surfing destination in the country, with a good nightlife scene
  • Jacó — the party beach city right by San José, a surfer's paradise full of nightlife and casinos
  • Montezuma — the bohemian option, on the Nicoya Peninsula, full of dreadlocks, surfers, and what you would expect would come along with them known as "monte fuma" by the locals
  • Playa Grande — this tranquil white sand beach is home to the largest nesting site for the leatherback sea turtle on the Pacific coast, as well as, one of the best surfing waves in the Guanacaste Province
  • Tamarindo — the upscale option, with beautiful beaches complemented by boutique shopping and high class dining
  • Tortuguero — the Caribbean side's most famous beach, which caters to eco-tourists looking to explore the rainforest and spot some manatees


Costa Rica is one of the countries with more rivers per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world Anywhere you go you will find some kind of float trip to enjoy nature from a very unique point of view

For many years, the rafting Mecca of Costa Rica was Turrialba, a large town embedded in the mountains near the Reventazon and Pacuare Rivers, on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica Second in popularity was always the Sarapiqui River shed which pushed the opening of rafting companies near the Arenal Volcano Then, rivers such as the Penas Blancas now dammed and Toro started delighting rafting enthusiasts in the northern slopes of the country

Nowadays there is a wide variety of exciting river trips offered in Costa Rica On the Pacific slope is the river with the largest volume, El General This river is famous for multi-day adventures and for being an incredible playground for kayakers As part of this watershed is the Coto Brus River Further north, on the central Pacific coast, are the Savegre and Naranjo Rivers In this area you have the opportunity to enjoy both half-day trips on the Naranjo River and 1-to-2-day trips on the Savegre River Near Canas, Guanacaste there is the Corobici River widely known for being an excellent nature float trip, and the Tenorio River, which started running commercially soon after the new millennium

As for recommendations, the quintessential Pacuare River Class III-IV is at the top of the list, and even better if you have time for a 2- or 3-day adventure If you are interested in similar trips, the Savegre River Class III-IV is an excellent alternative for an overnight

If you want more adrenalin, the Chorro Section Class IV+ of the Naranjo River, near Manuel Antonio, Quepos is the most exhilarating rafting trip of the country This section is run from December to May

As for nature-oriented trips, the Penas Blancas River would be the perfect example of the biodiversity of the country Most likely, any of these rafting trips will be the highlight of your active vacations, so don’t miss your chance to paddle one


Costa Rica has some of the best Sport Fishing in the world and is the first country to practice catch and release fishing The Pacific side has incredible fishing for Sailfish, Marlin, Dorado, Tuna, Wahoo, Roosterfish, Snapper, and more The Caribbean side and Northern regions of Costa Rica are famous for big Tarpon and big Snook Over sixty-four world records have been caught in Costa Rica Half day, Full day and Multi-Day Trips are available


Costa Rica has many surfing hotspots The best time of year to surf is from November - August

The Pacific coast, particularly in the Central Pacific and Guanacaste, has some of the best surfing in Central America

In the Guanacaste there are several beaches to choose from if you intend to go surfing Among them, Playa Negra and Playa Grande are two stand out breaks Playa Negra breaks over a shallow lava reef producing fast hollow waves for advanced surfers only Playa Grande is the most consistent break in the area with surfable conditions most days of the year6 It breaks over a sandy bottom and is good for beginner and experienced surfers

Tamarindo is a good beach to learn how to surf, whilst Playa del Coco offers advanced surfers the chance to surf at Witches Rock and Ollie´s Point On the Caribbean side there are beautiful beaches, but limited surfing prospects

The southern Costa Rica area has two very good spots for surf: Dominical and Pavones Beach Pavones Beach has thick, heavy waves which consistently barrel and can get really big It's little known, but picturesque and untamed; Definitely not for the light hearted


Costa Rica has great mountain biking routes, particularly near Irazu, Turrialba and Arenal Volcanoes There is popular dirt road that connects Irazu Volcano and the foothills of Turrialba Volcano that is perfect for mountain biking, as it traverses the mountain and presents great views of the Cartago Valley weather permitting, of course

The area around Lake Arenal is also a great spot to bike You can circle the lake in one long day, or break up the ride in two sleeping in Tilarán or Nuevo Arenal The use of mountain bikes is a must, since the southern shore of the lake is unpaved

The Nicoya Peninsula also has great riding, particularly the stretch between Sámara, Puerto Coyote and Malpais There is a coastal road that connects these three beachtowns


Costa Rica is also know as a haven for some of the most lush, tropical golfing environments in the world At any course, you can expect to an ensemble of exotic, indigenous animals; jungle; mountainous terrain; and a surreal, blue ocean painting a brilliant, seclusive experience

Courses are located in 3 major areas of Costa Rica: Guanacaste, San Jose and Mid Pacific Due to road conditions, you should check the driving times between courses

There are many tournaments during the year that any traveler can participate in Most courses offer shoe and club rentals

Other Active/Extreme Sports

Wind surfing in the Tilarán area is some of the best in the world

Buying stuff in Costa Rica

The local currency is colónes named after Columbus Spanish: Colón The rate of change is about 534 colones for 1 US dollar, or 657 colones for the euro Money exchange is provided at most banks, however it is recommended to do so at the state banks, especially the Banco Nacional, since they have lower rates There is also a money exchange service at the airport, but it is outrageously expensive But note that the use of US dollars is quite common; in the tourist setting, almost everything is priced in dollars but sometimes prices are cheaper in colones Note that when a price is quoted in "dollars", the speaker may be thinking of a dollar as 500 colones; so it is always worth checking whether this is what is meant

You can find ATMs in most places They normally dispense US dollars and colones With Visa you get money at almost all ATMs If you've got a MasterCard try the ATMs in the AM/PM supermarkets, they give you up to 250,000 colones c 500 US$ Another option are the ATH-ATM's but they just give you up to 100,000 colones c 200 US$ each transaction

You might get a discount usually between 5% and 10% when paying in cash

Traveler's checks are rarely used When paying with traveler's checks, unless for hotel nights, change them first at a bank Expect long delays with traveler's checks at the bank, lots of stamping, the higher up the official at the bank the more stamps they have Dollars are easier

The most common souvenirs are made from wood Unless it's marked as responsible plantation grown wood, it is most likely not and may be contributing to the deforestation of Costa Rica — or even Nicaragua or Panama!

Most visitors returning home are not allowed to bring back any raw foods or plants Accordingly, the single most desirable commodity for visitors to take home may be roasted not green coffeeconsidered by many as some of the world's best Numerous web sites explain the fine qualities of various growing regions, types of beans, types of roasting and sources for purchase Best prices come by purchasing several sealed bags of 12 ounces or so And experts definitely recommend buying whole beans entero: in any kind of storage, they last longer, and ground coffee there often contains sugar because preferred by locals The stores in San Jose airport will sell you excellent coffee, but other good quality blends can be found in local supermarkets and direct from the roasters It can be an expensive but delicious habit If you're serious about your coffee, bring at least a partially-empty suit case and fill it with perhaps a year's supply web sites explain how to store it that long Take care with tourist outlets where small quantities may cost as much as ordering on the Internet

Food and eating in Costa Rica

Costa Rican cuisine can be described as simple but wholesome The spiciness often associated with Latin America has typically originated in Mexico, most Costa Rican foods are not spicy, but, as they simmer in a large pot, the flavors are blended

Gallo pinto is a mixture of rice and beans with a little cilantro or onion thrown in While more common at breakfast, it can also be served at lunch or dinner

Casado, which means married, is the typical lunch in Costa Rica, containing rice and beans with meat, chicken or fish, always served with salad and fried plantain

Plato del dia, is the 'Plate of the Day' and is often a Casado, but has the meat or fish selection of the day Usually around 500 USD and includes a natural juice

Good, fresh fruit is abundant in variety and low in cost Mercados provide an excellent place to sample fruit and other Costa Rican fare, with many including sit-down snack bars You are encouraged to experiment because some of the local fruits do not "travel well" as they are bruised easily and or have a short shelf life The mango found in store in North America are much more fibrous and less sweet than the mangos found in Costa Rica The fingerling bananas are much more creamy and less tart than the ones found in North America

Be sure to stop off at a restroom along any of the roads: a casado and beer will cost ~$3

Don't forget to try the Salsa Lizano that you will surely find at any restaurant It is a mild vegetable sauce that has a hint of curry and is slightly sweet It's often referred to as Costa Rican ketchup It tastes good on just about anything! Bring some home with you! You can find smaller sized bottles at any market

Also as per usual in Central America standard breakfast fare is a ham sandwich, so people averse to eating pork might be advised to check out a grocery market for something else Many Ticos will go to a local bakery and buy a loaf of white bread

Vegetarians will find it surprisingly easy to eat well in Costa Rica

Don't forget to tip tour guides, drivers, bellboys and maids Restaurant bills include a 10% gratuity but leave an extra tip for good service North Americans often get better service because they are used to tipping separately, but it's not necessary

The beef cattle are raised on grass; the meat will taste differently from corn fed cattle The cuts of meat at the local restaurants are also different Chicken tastes like chicken

Drinking in Costa Rica

Most places have potable water, so don't worry about drinking tap water Bottled water is also available at low prices

Refrescos are beverages made from fresh fruit cas, guanabana, sandia/watermelon, mora/blackberry, fresa/strawberry, granadilla/passion fruit, sugar and either water or milk All sodas mom and pop diners serve these You can also easily buy the standard international soda pops 'Fresca', 'Canada Dry' and the local 'Fanta Kolita' fruit punch are recommended

The national drink is called guaro, which is made from fermented sugar cane It is similar to vodka, and is usually drunk with water and lemon Note that it's not a very "clean" liquor, so exercise caution

There are approximately 8 different national beers available and most international, which are sold in cans, bottles and even kegs The most common beers in the country are Pilsen and Imperial: all bars and restaurants serve both Bavaria, "Bavaria Negra" dark and Bavaria Light are considered higher quality but more expensive, Rock Ice and Rock Ice Limón lemon flavor has a higher alcohol percentage and is less common in rural areas Heineken is locally made under license and is more expensive as well

Ready-to-drink coffee is excellent and considered again to be among the best in the world

Accommodation in Costa Rica

You can find many places to stay all over Costa Rica, including hotels, aparthotels, condos, vacation rentals, and cabinas Vacation Homes, Cabinas, and Condos can be less expensive than hotels and provide more flexibility in your adventure to Costa Rica Free accommodation or hospitality exchange networks such as the "Hospitality Club" or "Couchsurfing" are also becoming increasingly popular They offer a great way to save money by not paying for accommodation but getting to know the local culture through the locals' eyes

Working in Costa Rica

The local newspaper, La Nación, has an extensive jobs listing every Sunday and Monday You must be a resident or be sponsored by a company to work legally in Costa Rica

The print and online versions of the Tico Times, the Yahoo! group "Costa Rica Living" and the online newspaper AM Costa Rica are other great resources for people considering long term stays in Costa Rica There's also a book called Living Abroad in Costa Rica by Erin Van Rheenan that would be very helpful

Costa Rica is an open business country and investors are always welcome, so if you or your company is interested in founding a new or buying a business in Costa Rica, it is best to contact a Costa Rican lawyer about your interest in investing


There are several opportunities to engage in volunteer work in Costa Rica Volunteer projects range from turtle conservation, building houses, teaching English and community development work

Affordable organizations such as ISV Costa Rica 7, Travel to Teach 8, International Cultural Youth Exchange 9 and Volunteer Visions 10 are able to arrange work for international volunteers in Costa Rica and other countries in the region Other volunteer programs can be found at Tico Times Science and Environment 11

Cities in Costa Rica

alajuela  alajuelita  aserri  atenas  bagaces  batan  buenos aires  calle blancos  canas  carmen  cartago  chacarita  cinco esquinas  colon  concepcion  concepcion  corredor  curridabat  daniel flores  desamparados  escazu  esparta  florencia  golfito  grecia  guacimo  guacimo  guadalupe  guadalupe  guapiles  heredia  ipis  juntas  la cruz  la suiza  liberia  limon  los chiles  matina  mercedes  miramar  naranjo  nicoya  orotina  pacayas  palmares  palmar  palmar  paraiso  parrita  pital  pocosol  puerto cortes  puntarenas  purral  quepos  quesada  rio segundo  roxana  sabanilla  san antonio  san antonio  san antonio  san diego  san felipe  san francisco  san francisco  san ignacio  san isidro  san isidro  san josecito  san jose  san jose  san juan  san juan  san marcos de tarrazu  san miguel  san pablo  san pedro  san rafael abajo  san rafael arriba  san rafael  san rafael  san rafael  san rafael  san ramon  santa ana  santa cruz  santiago  santo domingo  san vicente  san vicente  san vito  siquirres  tilaran  tres rios  turrialba  upala  zarcero  

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