Costa Rica is a popular destination for a lot of retirees, Spring-breakers, and Summer vacations. The country is filled with lush jungles and expansive mountainscapes, all surrounded by crystal beaches. However, the beauty of the country goes a lot deeper than landscape. It is a country filled with activities for everyone, from beach days on Tortuga Island to nature walks and zip lining through national parks.
The Caribbean side and the Pacific side
One thing that is important to know about the country is that there are two sides – the Caribbean side and the Pacific side. The Caribbean side offers white sand beaches and a Jamaican influence in their culture and food. Puerto Viejo is a popular destination on the Caribbean side and is one that I recommend. You are more likely to encounter English speaking locals on this side of Costa Rica.
The Pacific side is Latin-influenced with typical Tico (native) culture and food. Uvita, La Fortuna, and Manuel Antonio are popular destinations on this side of the country.
What to look for in Costa Rica
Take a drive along the main highway of the South Pacific coast and you will find hidden waterfalls underneath bridges and tucked away in secret locations only the locals know. Even some lesser known beaches are vacant during the week, offering a secluded escape in paradise. Small towns in the Osa Peninsula also offer fresh-water rivers with views of the sun as it sets behind the mountains.
Being an environmentally-friendly country comes with plenty of wildlife thriving in their natural habitats. Howler monkeys, scarlet macaws, and sloths can be seen in the trees in the local neighborhoods and beaches.
Another secret of Costa Rica is the Indigenous Tribe that lives in the mountains of Puntarenas Province. This tribe speaks its own dialect of spanish, and the history of why is quite interesting! You can find tribal masks, naturally-dyed cotton bags, and other hand-made items in their souvenir shop if you decide to take a tour.
The best food in Costa Rica
First and foremost, the seafood is always a good choice as its always fresh and local. Junk food is on a whole new level – Grab a hot dog piled high with lettuce, potato chips, cheese, onions, and smothered in ketchup and mayo on the beach of the Puntarenas Peninsula. Or, try a bag of Doritos filled with ceviche. The tacos never fail either and are also smothered in ketchup and mayo. (On that note, the ketchup is a lot sweeter than in the States, so prepare your taste buds!)
Fruit and fresh juice never go out of style. Find a fruit stand and expect the most delicious exotic fruits and fresh coconuts available. You’re likely to find a few different versions of your favorite fruit, from mango to passion fruit to avocado. Fresh-made, all natural juice is sold in plastic bags (similar to sandwich bags), along with apretados – an ice cream made from goats milk and your choice of fruit, chocolate, or cream flavor.
A common dish that every traveler in Costa Rica must try is a casado. Casado is a typical Tico dish consisting of your choice of meat, rice, beans, plantains, and a small salad. A dish typically eaten at breakfast is gallo pinto, which is fried beans and rice usually served with eggs.
Patacones are fried plantains that you see on the menu at most local restaurants. Paired with beans and a shredded meat similar to pulled pork, this is a filling dish for lunch.
Arroz con leche (you may know it as rice pudding) is also a common dish made by the matriarchs of the household. Usually made with cinnamon, raisins and fig, it can be enjoyed hot or cold.
Life in Costa Rica
Life is lived on Tico Time, meaning ‘I’ll get to it when I get to it.” The people are very relaxed, responding with ‘Pura Vida,’ to almost anything. The smaller cities and communities are very family oriented, live simply and with less. Most houses include a pila, a concrete sink where clothes are washed if the family doesn’t own a washing machine. Air conditioning and hot showers are a luxury, only available to those more well off and in high-tourism areas at hotels and resorts.
The locals are also very friendly, yelling ‘Buenas,’ to everyone as soon as one enters the supermarket or passes them in the street. In most areas, they are also very friendly and helpful towards foreigners and even appreciate when you speak in Spanish to them, no matter how strong your skills are.
There are two seasons in Costa Rica – Summer and Rainy season. Rainy Season starts around the end of March and lasts until November. During these months, everything is usually done in the morning, from laundry to trips to the beach, as the rain doesn’t start to fall until the afternoon. From mid-November to March is hot all day long with showers far and in between, allowing trips to the beach or anywhere else to be made any time of the day. This is usually the recommended time for tourists to visit.
The environment of Costa Rica
Costa Rica has one of the highest percentages of national territory marked for conservation sitting at 30%. The country encourages eco-tourism, which basically means immersing yourself into exotic wildlife while gaining awareness of conservations efforts.
There are a handful of animal sanctuaries, from sea turtles to jaguars, that are dedicated to the rehabilitation and conservation of wildlife. At some of these sanctuaries, tourists are able to see up-close the efforts made for these animals. At the same time, volunteers may get a hands-on experience, collecting data and other vital information for researchers. Other volunteer projects include jungle conservation and teaching English to local communities.
Costa Rica truly is a country filled with rich coasts and rich history. Latin cuisine and culture offer a different perspective on life. Furthermore, Costa Rica provides plenty of opportunities to enjoy paradise in a whole new way with ecotourism excursions that benefit the jungles and wildlife of the country. It is a highly recommended destination for anyone in search of a simple beach vacation or to travel with a purpose.