Carrie first visited Costa Rica in 2005, and since then, has been back at least six times. She took me for the first time last year, and I fell in love instantly, too. We made our second trip to Costa Rica as a couple only four months later in June, and by the time you’re reading this, we’ll have returned yet again, this time, with our girls Reese and Abby.
Lots of people have asked us- Why Costa Rica? Well, let me tell you….
History and Tourism
Before my first trip there, I actually did a lot of research on Costa Rica (because, nerds). What I found out about their values and culture got me extremely excited to go there!!! Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, located between Nicaragua and Panama, with a year-round tropical climate. Historically, Costa Rica has remained free from much political turmoil. Costa Rica is also unique in several other ways. They abolished their army in the 1940’s, opting instead to invest in education and health care systems for their citizens. Costa Rica has the largest percentage in the world of landmass dedicated to national parks and protected areas, at just over 25%. The New Economies Foundation reports that Costa Rica is #1 in the world for happiness, and is also the “greenest” country in the world. All of that alone makes it sound like a great place, huh?
Costa Rica as a tourist destination is still arguably a pretty well kept secret, although yes, it is gaining in popularity! If you’ve been a little hesitant or felt intimidated at the thought of traveling outside the US, I would definitely recommend considering paying Costa Rica a visit. Costa Ricans, or “Ticos” as they call themselves, are extremely friendly, laid-back, and welcoming of United States tourists. Costa Rica is easily accessed by the US by flying into San Jose, the capital city. From there, it is relatively easy to either rent a car, or as I’ve also recommended, you can utilize the well developed system of public transportation available. There are bus lines that run from San Jose to most major destinations around the country daily, for a very reasonable fee. In many areas of the country, there are also ferries or high-speed boats that can take you from one area to another. We have utilized all of these forms of transportation at one point or another on our visits. Spanish is spoken in Costa Rica, and it will be helpful to know a few phrases, especially if you’re traveling to a more rural part of the country where you’re less likely to encounter people that can speak English. Plus, I just think it’s always in good taste to learn some of the native language of whatever country you’re visiting.
With so much landmass dedicated to national parks, it’s no surprise that visiting wildlife areas and outdoor activities are so popular. When Carrie and I visit, we enjoy visiting the beach, snorkeling, hiking, biking, fishing, and observing the abundant wildlife. Costa Rica is known for it’s bird populations. We’ve observed Trogons, Hummingbirds, flashy-and-they-know-it Scarlett Macaws, the very forward and not shy Magpie Jay (one once stole food from my hand that was mere inches from my mouth), and gorgeous Keel-billed Toucans. Of course, seeing families of monkeys in the canopy overhead is always a highlight of any trip. Costa Rica is home to four species of monkeys; the Central American Squirrel Monkey, White faced Capuchin, Howler monkey, and Geoffroy’s Spider monkey. We have observed two of these species; Capuchins and Howler monkeys. The “howl” of the Howler monkeys is unmistakable and loud! It can be heard for up to a mile away. My very first morning in Costa Rica, it was the Howler Monkeys that woke me up. I’m glad Carrie was there to tell me what that deep, rumbling roar-like sound was! Personally, the Howler monkeys are my favorite. They go about their business in the trees, eating fruit and “yelling” at the young monkeys to keep up with the group.
Capuchin monkeys can be a little more forward with humans. Carrie and I once came upon a family group of Capuchins while hiking in the Cabo Blanco Nature Preserve. One of them kept running around in the trees over our heads, coming down and shaking branches at us every time we tried to pass by! The experience did make for a hilarious picture, though.
Cuisine and Accommodations
Costa Rica is not necessarily known for its food, but this foodie LOVES the cuisine there! I think the food there is wonderful in it’s simplicity and freshness. A “Soda” is a small, traditional Costa Rican roadside restaurant. They are all over! You’ll have to try a “Casado”, a traditional Costa Rican meal with rice, beans, your choice of protein, seasonal vegetables, salad, and usually either fried plantains or yucca. Grab some Gallo Pinto for breakfast, and don’t forget to order fruitas y aqua or fruitas y leche, horchata de arroz, Costa Rican coffee, or an Imperial to drink!
Costa Rica offers everything from resorts to hotels, vacation rentals, and even modest hostels. Whatever your budget, you can find something to suit it in Costa Rica. We especially favor the vacation rentals we an find on Airbnb- you can find some seriously great deals and stay at some very unique places!
All of that said, I think the best part about Costa Rica, the thing I appreciate the most- is the culture and “vibe”. Think laid back, folks. And I don’t mean that US mentality of “I’m going to now schedule myself the next 5 minutes to relax and then go back to multi-tasking and trying to get 50 things done before tomorrow”- I mean laid back. Relax. Really relax like you never have in your life. No one is going to care, judge you, or think you’re lazy. Everyone expects you to chill, enjoy yourself, and “waste” a few days laying around in a hammock, gazing at the ocean. Wander down some rarely traveled road and get lost for a while. Pura Vida! You’ll hear it everywhere, as a greeting, when saying goodbye, if you’re getting a little nervous that the boat you’re on is going to capsize (true story). Directly translated, it means “pure life”, but it’s also used to mean “relax, everything is going to be ok”. And you know, it really is. It’s an entirely different value system about what the good stuff in life really is. My first visit came at a time when I was deeply questioning my own values, the trajectory of my life, and what I really wanted out of the rest of it. Perfect timing.