Costa Rica by region
Central Pacific Coast
South Costa Rica
North Costa Rica
The Central Valley is geographically as well as economically and socioculturally the heart of Costa Rica, located between the Central Volcanic mountain range and the Talamanca mountains, at about 1000 to 1200m above sea level. Because of this location it has a very pleasant eternal spring climate, with an average daily temperature of around 22̊ C. The area accommodates some 2.5 million inhabitants, more than half of the total population, spread over the four largest cities in the country, San José, Alajuela, Cartago and Heredia. More than 80% of all industry is located here, but agriculture is not unimportant because outside the cities, on the fertile flanks of the volcanoes, there is still a lot of fruit and vegetable cultivation.
The capital city of San José has only 300,000 inhabitants but is visited daily by 1 million people, so it is always very busy and lively. Here you can find the most beautiful museums in the country, including the Gold Museum, Jade Museum and National Museum, located in the imposing Bella Vista Fort, an old army barracks. The National Theater in the center of the center is also worth a visit because of its beautiful interior. Other beautiful buildings are the Melico Salazar Theater (Parque Central) and the Central Post Office (Calle 2). The Mercado Central (Central Market) is also a must if you want to taste the atmosphere of the daily life of the Costa Rican. There is everything for sale, from meat and fish, fruit and vegetables to cowboy hats and machetes, and you can eat delicious and dirt cheap in the so-calledsodas , small, simple restaurants where predominantly typical dishes are served.
In the Central Valley you can also visit the volcano Poas, often combined with a visit to a coffee plantation, or the volcano Irazu, with a stop in the former capital Cartago for a visit to the Basilica of the Virgin of the Angels, the most important place of pilgrimage in the country. Not so far away you will also find Jardin Lankester, a large botanical garden with numerous species of orchids.
Guanacaste is a province in the northwest with a very dry and sunny climate. Even in the rainy season (May-November) it rains much less here than in the rest of the country. Along the west coast of the Nicoya peninsula are dozens of beautiful beaches with a huge variety of hotels, from the super-deluxe Four Seasons Hotel and other large all-inclusive resorts in the Gulf of Papagayo to simple backpackers’ hotels in Montezuma, and everything in between . The most visited beaches here are Playa del Coco, Playa Flamingo, Tamarindo and Samara. In Playa Ostional, in the second half of the year, an arribada is held monthly (usually just after the new moon)place, a unique natural phenomenon where hundreds of Ridley sea turtles come ashore to nest. Turtles, the largest reptiles in the world, come ashore in Playa Grande, near Tamarindo, between October and February, but to a much lesser extent.
But Guanacaste is much more than sun and sea. Just below the Nicaraguan border lies the National Park Santa Rosa, a unique dry tropical forest that is completely bare in the dry season, but every year becomes lush green in the rainy season. Palo Verde National Park is a swamp area around the lower reaches of the Tempisque River, with healthy populations of storks, spoonbills, cormorants, kingfishers, etc., a must for birdwatchers. But the most remarkable national park in Guanacaste is undoubtedly Rincón de la Vieja, located around the eponymous volcano with boiling mud pools, steam holes and sulfur lakes everywhere, and a network of adventurous hiking trails to craters and waterfalls.
Finally, Guanacaste is also known for its haciendas , vast cattle farms with savanna-like meadows that are managed by the sabaneros , the Costa Rican cowboys. Horse riding in the company of such a local sabanero is always a memorable experience ….
Central Pacific Coast
This area covers the Pacific Ocean coast from the port city of Puntarenas in the north to the surfers paradise Dominical in the south. In between are Jacó, the largest and most developed resort in the country, and Manuel Antonio, near the former banana port Quepos. Jacó is known for its good surfing and lively nightlife, while Manuel Antonio attracts the visitor with beautiful palm beaches, spectacular sunsets and a national park full of wildlife. This is probably the best place in the country for observing monkeys, sloths, nose bears and iguanas.
Another protected area that pays off is the Carara National Park, a unique tropical forest in the transition zone from the dry north to the wet south. Giant forest giants here harbor toucans and noisy yellow-winged macaws, and in the meandering Tarcoles river there is the largest population of crocodiles in Central America. From a nearby bridge over that river you are guaranteed to get a good look at some, and sometimes dozens, of those 4m-long meat eaters.
The Central Pacific coast is only a 2 to 3 hour drive from San José and is therefore also a very popular holiday destination for Costa Ricans, especially in the period around Easter and New Year.
South Costa Rica
Touristic still the most pristine region in Costa Rica, with hundreds of thousands of acres of virgin wilderness and a rugged coastline where long deserted beaches are interrupted by rugged rock formations. Along that coast, it is relatively easy to spot dolphins and humpback whales, especially in the Marino Ballena National Park and around the uninhabited Caño island, where it is also good snorkeling and diving. On the banks of the Sierpe River one finds vast, almost impenetrable mangrove forests and on the Osa peninsula lies the largest piece of uninterrupted lowland rainforest in Central America, with a biodiversity comparable to the Amazon. In the Corcovado National Park, for example, all four species of monkeys can be found in Costa Rica, as well as tapirs, anteaters, boas and wild boars, and it is one of the few places in the country with healthy populations of wild cats including jaguars and cougars. The vegetation is no less impressive, with almost 500 species of trees including bizarre strangler figs, huge kapok trees and endless rows of coconut trees where forest and beach meet.
Further inland lies the Cordillera de Talamanca, the longest and highest mountain range in the country, more than 200km of uninterrupted protected area with cloud forests, oak forests and pàramo, a steppe-like landscape above the tree line. Here lies the highest mountain, the 3820m high Chirripó that can be climbed on a three day trek. San Gerardo de Dota, a picturesque mountain village at about 2000m, is located in the mighty beautiful valley of the Savegre River, where quetzals and other colorful highland birds are observed throughout the year.
North Costa Rica
The undisputed attraction in the so-called Zona Norteis the Arenal volcano, and rightly so. With its perfect conical shape and daily eruptions, this majestic mountain is the ideal example of a volcano. Especially in the evening, in clear weather, the glowing lava flows are an unforgettable spectacle. But also during the day, when walking in the Arenal National Park, you can hear and see the intense activity of this rumbling colossus from a safe distance. In the thermal baths at the foot of the volcano it is wonderful to relax and from the nearby village of La Fortuna you can undertake all kinds of excursions such as rafting, quad biking or mountain biking. Also popular is a day trip to Caño Negro, a game reserve in the far north of the country, on the border with Nicaragua, where you can almost certainly see howler monkeys and caimans during a three-hour boat trip,
To travel from Arenal to Monteverde you have to go all the way around the 32km-long Arenal lake, a fantastic route that lends itself to numerous photo stops. Monteverde is located at the top of the Tilaran mountains, at about 1500m altitude, and is popular with travelers because of its fairytale cloud forest with quetzals and hummingbirds. In addition to the many walking options on the ground floor, you can also get acquainted with the crown layer of the forest, the so-called canopy . You can walk through that canopy through high-tension suspension bridges or glide along the sturdy cables of an adventurous canopy tour …
Also in the Zona Norte is the Sarapiqui region, the flat drainage area of the river of the same name. Here you can stay in beautiful jungle lodges or cozy family hotels. Birdwatching is the main attraction, but besides toucans, woodpeckers and weaver birds you can see here brightly colored poison dart frogs or armadillos. You can also go rafting here or take a look at a pineapple plantation and packing hall.
Here, near the port city of Limon, is where 1502 Christopher Columbus landed to baptize this country Costa Rica-rich coast, because of its overwhelming natural wealth and beauty. Even though, since that time, a lot of forest has been cut down to make way for banana plantations and livestock farming, yet a lot of rainforest remains intact. In many cases that jungle grows to the beach, such as in the Gandoca-Manzanillo Reserve and in the Cahuita National Park, where you can also snorkel nicely over the surrounding coral reef. In the colorful villages of Cahuita and Puerto Viejo there is a very relaxed and cozy Caribbean atmosphere and you can taste a completely different culture here than in the rest of the country. The population here is largely of Afro-Caribbean origin and that is expressed in the language, music as in the local kitchen. English is more than Spanish, reggae and calypso, more than salsa or merengue, and coconut is used in many dishes.
On the Caribbean coast, in the northeast of the country, Tortuguero is the highlight of their trip through Costa Rica for many visitors. Here you look for wildlife from small boats that glide through the jungle almost silently. After all, roads are still non-existent in this remote area and paths are often impassable because of the mud. In addition to 26,000 hectares of primary rainforest, the Tortuguero National Park also protects a 35km long beach known as the main nesting place for the green sea turtle in the Western Hemisphere. Between July and October, hundreds of sea turtles come to the beach every night to dig a pit and deposit almost a hundred eggs, a natural spectacle that you can only attend under the strict supervision of a local guide.