Our marketing expert, Shona, explains what makes Costa Rica such a great destination.
Across the misty mountains of Monteverde, through the untamed jungles of Tortuguero, and over the sandy beaches of the Pacific coast, Costa Rica is a country jam-packed with incredible natural wonders. Whether you are going on an impromptu solo trek (as Rachel McAdams did), travelling together as a family, looking for a romantic getaway or an adrenaline-junkie-slash-closet-twitcher, Costa Rica has the unique ability of stunning its visitors each time.
My fantastic trip to Costa Rica left me with life-long vivid memories of getting lost in the beauty of the butterfly gardens, manually controlling the tree-top cable car to look at green-tinged three-toed sloths, hiking through the breathtaking Highlands and finding a minute but deadly poisonous frog the size of a coffee bean, and spending many luxurious hours in the skin rejuvenating hot springs.
Because Costa Rica is such a small country, you can tick off your ‘must-see & do’ list within a few days, but to really experience the essence of Costa Rica, consider venturing off the beaten track and trying out these wonderful highlights:
Go in search of the Resplendent Quetzal
Sacred to the ancient Maya and Aztec people, the Resplendent Quetzel (pronounced ket-saal, which means precious in the Aztec language) is a radiant and jewel-toned bird with brilliant blue, green and red colouring, and up to three feet long tail feathers. Though a shy bird, the Resplendent Quetzal can be spotted or recognized by its deep melodious call in the moist mountain forests of the less-visited San Gerardo de Dota Valley. An unequivocal must see, consider going in the dry season between December and April and staying in Trogon Lodge, for the best opportunity to spot this worshipped creature.
Revel in the taste of Costa Rica
Having revolutionised the world, coffee has also had a significant impact on Costa Rica, playing a pivotal role in its development. Near the end of the 1700s, the Arabica coffee plant took root in Costa Rica’s Central Valley, and with perfect conditions of fertile soil, high altitude, and a cool climate, has since become a monumental success. Whilst travelling through the country, you are likely to see the coffee fields spread out in their green and brown mosaics across the hillsides so why not stop along the way to Monteverde for a fragrant ‘pick-me-up’. Cafe Monteverde runs its tours in conjunction with Santa Elena Cooperative, where you can go into the fields and meet the local farmers who handpick the coffee beans for roasting. Once you have given them a hand at plucking the coffee cherries from the bushes and tasting the coffee that you helped pick, you can continue on your way to Monteverde Cloud Forest for some sky-high walking and cliff-ledge jumping.
If you are a fan of coffee, check out our article on the world's delicious Coffee Belt.
A gift from the Gods- where there’s cacao, there’s chocolate
The same conditions that make coffee such a strong growing crop, also allows cacao to thrive. Considered as a gift from the gods, the cacao tree was also very important to the Aztecs and Mayans, who used the cacao beans as currency. Take a tasting tour of the history of chocolate, finding out how it is harvested on the indigenous reserves, dried, roasted, refined and then finally mixed and moulded into velvety creations. If you are staying near San Jose (we recommend staying in the arty Finca Rosa Blanca hotel), visit Sibu Chocolate for an half day tour that weaves culture, history and good humour into a lively and multi-sensory presentation. After the discussion, you will then try an indigenous hot chocolate recipe from the 1500s, classic European-style bonbons, and unusually paired chocolate ingredients, that will all deepen your passion for the veritable ‘food of the gods’.
Become a surfing expert on the beaches of Costa Rica’s South Pacific Coast
Being only nine degrees north of the equator, Costa Rica is not only blessed with year-round tropical weather, but is also home to some of the best waves on the planet. After trekking through the rainforests, emerge from your jungle adventures and land on the white, tan, and brown sands of the Pacific Coast. For beginners and intermediates, try the Mediterranean influenced surf town, Tamarindo, as you test your skills on the blue waters. But for those looking for more of a challenge with less of the crowds, head to Matapalo and Pavones on the South Pacific Coast, where rides can last over three-quarters of a mile and are considered some of the longest in the world. Having established itself in the 1990’s as the ‘it’ destination for eco-tourism, stay in either eco-lodges, El Remanso and Lapa Rios, where you can fall out of bed and land into the waves.