The tiny tropical paradise of Costa Rica is fast becoming recognised as one of the most beautiful countries in the world and thanks to a new direct flight from London to San José launching last year, accessibility to one of Central America’s smallest countries has never been easier.
Incredibly diverse, with two coastlines, rainforests and cloud forests, and a host of volcanic regions and waterfalls, there’s something in Costa Rica to suit everyone. Where else can you spot turtles nesting on the Pacific coast or zip-line through the misty canopies of a cloud forest in one trip? We think Costa Rica is one of the most captivating places on the planet, but what makes it so special?
The ‘Pura Vida’
Costa Rican’s have a heart-warming cultural philosophy that effortlessly describes their way of living. Pura Vida – translating to pure life –living with simplicity, enjoyment and as naturally as possible. According to the most recent Happy Planet Index Costa Rica is the most satisfying place to live in the world. Extremely environmentally aware, Costa Ricans’ are incredibly proud of their country and are keen to show visitors the country’s rustic beauty – renewable energy is a must, beaches are untouched, and rather than focusing on the traditional star ratings for accommodation, the Costa Rican tourist board awards a ‘five green leaf system’ to hotels and lodges for their eco-efforts.
Visiting Costa Rica
Though the peak time to visit Costa Rica is during the dry season (between December to April), the warm tropical climate makes it the perfect year-round destination to visit. The low season is normally the prime time to see the turtle hatchlings, and it is worth noting that the climate in the mountains and cloud forests are always cooler and rainforests will be wet. With so much to see and do, travelling around Costa Rica is a must, however it is not without its challenges; driving is fine and often the best mode of transport, but we recommend a hassle-free way of seeing the island on one of our small group escorted tours.
The cloud forest
In the stunning cloud forest of Monteverde, view the lush vegetation and exotic wildlife from within the treetops as you skywalk through the forest, or head to Selvatura Park and release your inner Tarzan as you zip-line through the spectacular cloud-covered canopies. The cooler temperatures of Monteverde are also the perfect conditions for cultivating coffee, so while here, immerse yourself within the local culture and explore the fascinating production process behind one of Costa Rica’s greatest exports.
Costa Rica boasts no less than 12 unique ecological zones and has one of the greatest biodiversity’s in the world. The contrast of habitats has attracted more than 500,000 different species, making it the dream destination for spottting wildlife.
There are over 50 hummingbird species endemic to the country, particularly within the tropical lowlands and the cool temperate of the cloud forests. Hidden in the treetops you’ll also likely spot a colourful toucan or hear the noisy recognisable chatter of a scarlet macaw. The languid sloth can be found within most of the national parks and reserves, and though renowned for camouflaging, you’ll likely spot a two-or-three-toed sloth dwelling in the trees. Look out for a glimpse of a white-faced capuchin or spider monkey while trekking the forests, and listen out for the distinctive call of a howler monkey high up in the trees.
The Corcovado and Manuel Antonio National Parks both provide the rare opportunity to spot an endangered squirrel monkey, and are home to an abundance of other unique inhabitants – head to Corcovado to see a spectacled caiman or the famous poison dart frog, or relax on the white-sand beaches of Manuel Antonio and look out for a wily raccoon or monkey traipsing across the sand.
Between July and December, you’ll find that many beaches become important nesting sites for turtles. Head to the Ostional Beach in the Nicoya Peninsula to watch Olive Ridley Sea Turtles arriving at the beach in huge numbers, or venture to the tranquil Caribbean coast in Tortuguero National Park to witness the green sea turtles laying their eggs in the sand.
There are over 200 volcanic formations in Costa Rica. One of the most popular volcanoes is the quintessential, conical-shaped Arenal Volcano, set just above the quaint town of La Fortuna. Dormant since 2010, follow the 1968 Arenal trail and trek the paths formed by the original lava flow, or enjoy a more sedate afternoon relaxing within one of the many volcanic hot springs in the area. For the ultimate rainforest adventure, meander along the series of hanging suspension bridges, and experience the surrounding rainforest and arid lava fields from a unique and unrivalled perspective.
Each waterfall in Costa Rica is as breathtaking as the next. The Rio Celeste Waterfall in the Tenorio Volcano National Park for example, is renowned for its striking cerulean-blue colour and lush rainforest surroundings, while the huge 70-metre-cascade of the La Fortuna Waterfall at the base of the Chato Volcano is simply picture-perfect.
You’re never too far from the coastline and with both the Pacific and Caribbean seas bordering its shores, Costa Rica is host to an array of idyllic coves and beaches. Playa Conchal in the Guanacaste Province is a great spot for snorkelling and shell combing, while the picturesque white sands of Playa la Macha in Manuel Antonio provide the perfect escape for a relaxing beach stay. The sweeping coastline of the stunning Nicoya Peninsula is renowned for surfing with its great ocean swells and uncrowded beaches.