A Costa Rica vacation is unlike other south sea destinations where physical hedonistic pursuits are the only activity, though the country can answer those needs with flying colors. Many Costa Rican vacations limit time at any of the hundreds of pristine beaches on two warm oceans, to experience the wonders found within the country. Try tramping through some of the densest virgin rainforest on the planet, or hike to the top of a Mount Chirripo, nearly four kilometers above sea level through the chilly cloud forests, and on a clear day see both oceans at the same time. Some even volunteer to participate in various eco projects, including establishing and maintaining rainforest trails, digging at an archaeological site, or protecting nesting marine turtles.
However, most visitors staying with us prefer to travel at an easier pace. There are several major tours in Costa Rica to choose from. The most popular is an organized one-day tour called the Highlights “Four in One” Rainforest tour. It is run by several companies out of San Jose taking guests on a learning adventure through ten different climatic zones. They bus up the coffee and ornamental flower laden interior mountains, through a cloud forest to peer into the smoldering 2707 meter high Poas Volcano. Later they descend the Central Cordillera Mountain Range to a butterfly and hummingbird refuge leading to the beautiful rainforest Waterfall Garden Park. Descending farther and skirting Braulio Carillo National Forest, they pass small villages, pineapple, banana, heart of palm and sugar cane plantations to the warm humid Sarapiqui River basin for a covered boat ride. Here they see giant green and orange iguanas basking in the sun, howler and white faced monkeys, sloths, egrets, herons, toucans, vultures and even the occasional crocodile or cayman.
One Costa Rica volcano tour takes tourists to the base of cone-shaped Arenal, where they hear the angry giant Arenal rumble, and on a sunny day see several plumes of smoke and ash explode off its peak. Many hot springs seeping from the volcano have been turned into popular tourist attractions, mazes of soothing hot water streams, waterfalls, cataracts and slides, all done in gorgeous park-like settings with a view of Arenal Volcano as it puts on an awesome show. On a starry night you can see huge boulders of brilliant orange lava bouncing and crashing down the sides of Arenal, exploding into hundreds of pieces.
There are cruise boats and a catamaran ride through the historic pirate islands near the Pacific Port of Puntarenas, or world class Costa Rica white-water rafting on a warm thirty kilometer stretch of the Pacuare River where Steven Spielberg produced “Congo”. After some accidents a few years ago, Costa Rica canopy tours have new safety regulations permitting tourists to zigzag down the side of a mountain high above the rainforest. Unfortunately most the animals advertised that you will see have been scared away long ago, but it is still a thrill. There are tours to ancient Christian ruins in the Orosi Valley, hands-on coffee finca tours, bicycle tours, butterfly farms and even a city tour.
Many tourists who travel around the country on pre-programmed tourist routes think Costa Rica has most of the makings of a First World country. But they often travel in Costa Rica in a sort of bubble, protected by their air-conditioned tour bus or rental car, eyes glued to the windows as it whizzes through the city and countryside, along pre-chosen attractive corridors displaying the country’s most attractive features. Costa Rica travel draws several pictures in their minds, European-style mountain living, pristine palm-lined beaches, hot springs flowing from volcanic mountains surrounded by the rich volcanic soil that has been created, twisting mountain roads with magnificent views over the green Mesita Central or distant oceans, the hustle of a rural-thinking city trying to catch up to the modern world, and the handsome peace loving family oriented Ticos who have successfully toiled the land for generations.
The United Nations annual Human Development survey recently ranked Costa Rica first in Central America and third in Latin America behind Argentina and Uruguay. It has a 96% literacy rate with compulsory education until age fourteen, though education lacks in funding and thus quality, especially in the more remote areas. The country does have an advanced universal health care system exemplified by a life expectancy comparable to the wealthiest nations.