Costa Rica is a lush and vibrant tropical country located in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. The beautiful blue waters of the Pacific Ocean border Costa Rica to the west and the warm, crystalline waters of the Caribbean Sea border Costa Rica to the east. In contrast to many Latin American nations, Costa Rica has generally enjoyed peace and political stability, thus attracting travelers and expatriates from across the globe.
Costa Rica consistently ranks among the top Latin American countries on the Human Development Index (HDI). The HDI ranks nations by level of “human development” based on life expectancy, education and per-capita GDP. According to the Happy Planet Index, performed by the New Economics Foundation, Costa Rica is ranked #1 as the happiest country in the world in regards to the population’s well-being.
In 2007, plans were announced by Costa Rica’s government to become the first carbon neutral country in the world by 2021. The 2010 Environmental Performance Index also ranks Costa Rica as 3rd in the world for the environmental performance of its policies.
Costa Rica Government
With 59 years of uninterrupted democracy, Costa Rica has historically avoided widespread violence in Central America, unlike many of the surrounding countries. It has a strong constitution and the government operates as a democratic republic.
Known for its peaceful democracy, stunning natural beauty and relaxed lifestyle, Costa Rica is often referred to as the Switzerland of Central America. Costa Rica has peacefully existed without an army since 1949 when it was constitutionally abolished. It is also included on the list of The World’s 22 Older Democracies as the only Latin American country to have a steady democracy since 1950.
Costa Rica Climate
Costa Rica’s climate is tropical year-round due to its location 10 degrees north of the Equator. However, each region varies in regards to elevation, rainfall and topography, creating numerous micro-climates throughout the country. Costa Rica’s weather patterns are divided into two categories; rainy season and dry season. Typically, the dry season is known as summer and runs from December through April. The rainy season is known as winter and runs between May to November.
Costa Rica Culture
Costa Ricans, known locally as “Ticos” or “Ticas”, are famous for their relaxed lifestyle and culture. Costa Rica’s most recognizable phrase is “Pura Vida”, which literally translates to “Pure Life” and can be used in a multitude of ways. It is a reference for living the good life full of family, friends, fun and beautiful surroundings. “Pura Vida” is often used in greetings, salutations and as a celebratory remark.
Costa Rica’s traditional cuisine consists of hearty meals made of local produce, with influences from the Native American, Spanish and African. Typically, meals include rice, beans, plantains and some form of protein; either chicken, beef, pork, fish or eggs. On Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast, the cuisine is a blend of typical Tico dishes and tropical Caribbean fare, with heavy influences from stemming from Jamaica. As expats from around the world continue to make Costa Rica their home, the cuisine is ever-expanding and changing. International fare, including North American, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, Mexican and Peruvian, can all be found in many of the popular beach vacation destinations throughout Costa Rica.
Costa Rica Flora and Fauna
Costa Rica is celebrated for its lush, vibrant flora and exotic fauna. Approximately 25% of Costa Rica is designated as protected national parks, more than any other country in the world. The country boasts 5% of the world’s biodiversity yet only holds 0.25% of the world’s landmass. The National Conservation Areas System protects a total of more than 186 areas, including 32 national parks, 51 wildlife refuges, 13 forest reserves and 8 biological reserves.
Costa Rica is home to a variety of wildlife, including squirrel monkeys, howler monkeys, spider monkeys, white-faced capuchins, two-toed and three-toed sloths, over 700 species of birds and a wide variety of butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, mammals and marine life. The spiny-tailed iguana, which can be found in many of Costa Rica’s national parks, is famous for being the world’s fastest running lizard.
Manuel Antonio National Park is one of Costa Rica’s most visited national parks, averaging 150,000 visitors annually. Travelers flock to this magnificent park for its stunning and secluded beaches, maze of hiking trails and, of course, to witness some of Costa Rica’s wildlife in their natural habitat! Manuel Antonio National Park is home to monkeys, sloths, coatimundis, toucans and scarlet macaws, to name just a few of the possible wildlife sightings!
Corcovado National Park, located on Costa Rica’s Osa Peninsula, is internationally renowned among ecologists for its biodiversity. Travelers can expect to see an abundance of wildlife including all four monkey species, four species of sea turtles, tapirs, crocodiles, and even jaguars. Corcovado National Park houses nearly 400 species of birds, 139 species of mammals and 116 types of amphibians and reptiles.
The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve is highly praised as one of the most exceptional wildlife refuges in the New World Tropics. It features over 100 mammal species, 400 bird species and 2,500 plant species. There are 5 cat species, 30 different types of hummingbirds and more than 400 varieties of orchids. Monteverde Cloud Forest has over 24 kilometers of hiking trails to explore, providing plenty of opportunities to see the magnificent Costa Rica flora and fauna that thrives within the forest.
Tortuguero National Park, located on Costa Rica’s Caribbean coast in the province of Limon, is recognized for its annual nesting of sea turtles. Green turtles, giant leatherback turtles, hawksbill and leatherback turtles can all be found at Tortuguero National Park. Additionally, visitors can also expect to see monkeys, sloths, reptiles and over 300 species of birds.
Places to Visit in Costa Rica
Costa Rica, which literally translates to the “Rich Coast”, is comprised of seven provinces: Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas and San Jose. The seven provinces are divided into 81 districts which are each directed by a democratically elected mayor. Each province boasts popular places to visit in Costa Rica including many pristine beaches frequented by travelers on vacation in Costa Rica.
Playa Manuel Antonio
Don’t forget to pack your camera! Known for its incredibly diverse ecology, visitors flock to Manuel Antonio in hopes of getting up close and personal with some of Costa Rica’s extraordinary wildlife set amidst the picturesque backdrop of the rain forest. Hike the trails throughout Manuel Antonio National Park, taking time to bask in the sun at any or all of the five stunningly gorgeous protected beaches where iguanas, howler monkeys, squirrel monkeys, capuchins and sloths roam freely.
Renowned for sport fishing and Manuel Antonio National Park, the second most visited national park in Costa Rica, Manuel Antonio also places in the top ten for best beaches in Central America. Indulge your palette in a gastronomical affair where restaurants run the gamut from traditional Tico fare to freshly caught seafood to world-class international cuisine. With its vast selection of restaurants, bars, clubs, eco-tours, boutique shops and artists galleries, Manuel Antonio offers entertainment for all ages and is fun for the whole family. Enjoy some of the best views of Costa Rica from one of our luxury villa balconies perched upon the mountain-top.
Jaco is one of the closest beaches from San Jose. It is located about an hour and a half away and serves as the quickest get away for the land locked locals of the Central Valley. This Pacific paradise has warm water, year round consistent surf, and excellent sport fishing with a beachside setting. Things have really picked up as surfers and anglers from all over have come visiting Costa Rica. Jaco has become one of the most developed towns in Costa Rica due to the steady flow of retirees coming down and buying up plots of land with the construction of new small businesses. Here you will find fast food restaurants, paved roads, small strip malls, and an abundance of night life.
Along the outer edges of Jaco you will still find plenty of greenery visible on the hillsides surrounding the area. The surf is definitely its main attraction and you are guaranteed swells consistently on most days. This beach town is definitely a party destination and is very popular with spring breakers. As for the angler in you, sport fishing enthusiasts looking for a good time will not be disappointed. The beach itself runs about 3 km and is lined by hotels and restaurants on the road that runs right behind it. There are plenty of activities in Jaco. Almost everything is within walking distance but there is still the option of renting bikes or scooters. The beach is normally safe for swimmers however it does have the reputation for riptides and you still should be cautious. The southern end of this beach is the calmest. Hiking up Miros Mountain along the rain forest trail is another local past time. Only a few kilometers in you reach spectacular views of Jaco and Playa Hermosa. There is horseback riding, kayaking, boat tours, hang gliding, and spa services. These are just a few of the many adventures that Jaco has to offer.
Playa Hermosa is located just 5 km south of Jaco. Although it is very close to Jaco, construction here has not overdeveloped yet. There are only a few simple hotels and cabinas. These waters are amongst the most consistent monstrous waves anywhere. You can go down to the beach nearly anytime and find a great surf awaiting you. It’s no place for beginner surfers and can only be strongly recommended to advanced ones. The huge waves and strong undercurrents are relentless. This is truly a surfer’s paradise and an annual surfing competition is held here every August. Due to it being very low key accommodations are very limited here. Most travelers choose to stay over in Jaco due to the accessibility of more taxis, restaurants, and night life.
Playa Tamarindo, Guanacaste, is an idyllic setting not only for vacationing groups of families and friends, but is also one of Costa Rica’s premiere destinations for weddings and honeymoons. Lush vegetation of dry forest separates Tamarindo’s shoreline from its main road, allowing the picturesque vista to remain exquisitely intact. Expansive views of the Pacific Ocean provide the ultimate backdrop guaranteed to impress photographers worldwide.
Visitors craving an action-packed Costa Rican adventure will surely delight in the plenitude of activities to choose from; whether trying something new or indulging in a favorite local pastime. For those itching to get their feet wet, Tamarindo offers world class scuba diving, sailing, sport fishing, surfing, kayaking, parasailing, snorkeling and windsurfing. Prefer to stay on land? Shoot the links at one of the finest golf courses in Central America, traverse Costa Rica’s rugged terrain on a jungle safari tour or explore the mountains on a guided horseback ride or mountain biking excursion.
Tamarindo boasts several bakeries, an outdoor farmer’s market and over 40 restaurants featuring local and international cuisine. Whether carnivorous or herbivorous, Tamarindo’s vast dining selections please all palettes.
If heading north from Tamarindo, Playa Grande (Big Beach) is an enchanting destination worth seeing. As one of the most important nesting sites for leatherback turtles, Playa Grande and the adjacent land is part of Las Baulas National Marine Park. Schedule a turtle-watching tour before arriving to ensure the opportunity of witnessing these majestic reptiles march from the Pacific Ocean to their original birthplace, clutching the eggs of their offspring.