Livin’ La Pura Vida!
Crossing the border from Nicaragua into neighbouring Costa Rica you may well be tempted to ask the question: what in the name of Anastasio Somoza Garcia happened here?
For where Nicaragua can be likened to the black sheep of the family – dishevelled, temperamental and prone to disaster, Costa Rica is surely the family swot – fair-of-feature, well-presented and properly pleased with itself.
More than a quarter of the country is dedicated National Park, Wildlife Refuge, Forest and Indian Reserve, together making up the largest protected area on the planet. Amazingly, this little Latino country also ranks up in the top five greenest countries worldwide. And while I’m bigging up its savvy environmentalism, it behoves me to mention that Costa Rica also abolished its army in 1949, and to this day employs more teachers than policemen. Nice work, frankly.
So it’s safe, it’s beautiful and it’s pretty easy to get around either by local bus, rented car or, for the adventurer, horseback. You can cross from the Caribbean coast to the Pacific in a few hours (eliminate horse option)… but there’s so much to see and do along the way that I recommend you make like a Tico and tranquillo!
There are active volcanoes outside of the capital, San Jose, that you can see bubbling and boiling up close. Walk high up in the Monte Verde Cloud Forest canopies on suspended walkways and spot all sorts of interesting plant and birdlife. I know people who have visited purely because they’re closet ‘twitchers’ (you know who you are). I may or may not have spent four hours in full camo-gear, holed up in a tree, squinting through long range military binoculars for a glimpse of the Resplendent Quetzal. Because it’s worth it. And each day there appears to be a rarer/stranger animal to track – Short-tailed Fruit Bat, Fer-de-lance, Three-toed Sloth, Two-toed Sloth, Spiny-tailed Iguana, White-headed Capuchin, Jaguar… and what of the Coatimundi?
Others may visit for the adventure sports. Personally, I’d suggest not surfing the famous Salsa Brava in Puerto Viejo unless you’re really REALLY good. Trying to impress will most likely get you killed… or at the very least you may be scraping coral out of your forehead for years to come. There are also some awesome rapid-filled rivers for white water rafting or canoeing in Turrialba and if it’s deep water you’re after, diving all the way down the Pacific coast, in particular Caño Island, is nonpareil.
As with any paradise, there’s always something evil lurking behind the rosy-red apple. In two words: Spring Break. This savage fiesta (fiasco?) can be avoided by choosing another time of year to go… alternatively stay in more out-of-the-way coastal towns or spend more time in or close to the reserves. Luckily, you won’t find a single specie of party animal there.