Costa Rica is a popular destination for travelers wanting to experience Central American culture, food and adventure. The country boasts a stable democratic government, and with its strong Spanish roots, visitors wanting to practise their Spanish will have many opportunities. For those travelers who don’t speak Spanish, no worries. The country boasts a well-educated workforce, who for the most part, are conversant in English. With 2 million plus visitors per year, it’s important to research your accommodation options prior to arrival. Costa Rica Rental Properties is an excellent choice.
San Jose, Costa Rica
Many international visitors arrive by air, usually landing at the Juan Santamaria International Airport, 20 kilometres west of its capital, San Jose. Theatre, music, and world-class museums, the city is a cultural mecca. During the day visitors can immerse themselves in the country’s rich history at The Gold Museum (Museo de Oro Pre-Colombino). The museum is home to one of the largest collections of pre-Columbian gold in the Americas. International visitors pay an admission fee of $9US, and that includes entrance to a numismatic museum housing bills and coins dating back hundreds of years. The Costa Rican National Museum (Museo Nacional de Costa Rica) located at the old fort showcases a timeline from Pre-Columbian art to the present day. Located between Parque Espana (Spain Park) and the National Library, The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (Museo de Arte y Diseño Contemporaneo) will delight contemporary art lovers. The museum houses a permanent collection of 900 pieces, plus numerous temporary exhibits throughout the year. Guided tours are available.
Markets are high on my list wherever I travel. In San Jose when hunger hits, or you need a museum break, its time to experience San Jose’s Central Market (Mercado Central). Occupying a city block, the market features over 200 shops, stalls, and sodas (inexpensive family-run restaurants). Be prepared for the crowds. Tens of thousands visit the market daily. Wandering through the maze of narrow alleys you’ll find a variety of fresh food, local handicrafts/souvenirs, snakeskin boots, herbal remedies, and much more. You’re sure to find something for everyone on your gift buying list.
To quench your thirst, treat yourself to a refesco, a mixture of freshly squeezed juices, water, and sugar, at Soda Los Angeles on the markets southwest side. If its food you want, try the olla de carne with beef short ribs, or a Casado (a hefty plate of fried plantains, beans, and rice with meat, chicken, or seafood), at Soda Cristal in the market’s centre. Finish off at Cafeteria y Cafe Central on the northeast end. Order the cafe chorreado, which is brewed using mild peaberry beans. The barista pours hot water over a coffee-filled sock sitting on top of an aluminum pot known as a chorreado. The perfect brew to finish off your market visit.
Be sure to include an evening at the theatre in your city itinerary. The National Theatre (Teatro Nacional de Costa Rico), decorated with Italian marble and a neo-classical facade, entertains theatregoers with both local and international performances. Try to take in a performance of the Concert Symphony Orchestra or Flamenco duos.
Tortuguero National Park, Costa Rica
Leave the culture and food of San Jose for an adventurous date with nature at Tortuguero National Park. There are numerous options available to travel between San Jose and Tortuguero. Check here for complete transportation details. The majority of visitors are drawn here to see, first-hand, sea turtles nesting. Tortuguero is one of several places in Costa Rica where visitors can witness these slow-moving, lumbering creatures leaving the ocean, preparing their nests in the sand and finally laying their eggs. Between June to November the Atlantic Green turtles (Chelonia mydas) nest here. Then, from February to July, Tortuguero is the nesting ground for the much larger Leatherbacks (Dermochelys coriacea). Do not show up unannounced during nesting season. A certified guide and advanced reservations are mandatory for beach access after dusk or before dawn when the turtles are nesting. The turtles nest only at night.
You can also take the opportunity to explore Costa Rica’s rainforest during your stay in Tortuguero. Vistors can hire a boat and cruise down one of the many canals. Your guide will sail down the most scenic routes, naming every animal and plant along the way.
The beaches in Tortuguero are not the best for swimming, but they are a beachcombers paradise with miles and miles of white sand.
Cahuita, Costa Rica
Now, head to the beach for some snorkeling, sunbathing, and beachcombing. Three to four hours from Tortuguera is the laid-back beach town of Cahuita in Limon Province. Offering warm, calm waters, the stunning black sand beaches welcome sun lovers. Cahuita is still relatively unknown, so be sure to get there before it’s discovered by the masses.
When you need a beach break head for Cahuita National Park with its wildlife and 600 acres of living coral reef. A coastal walking trail from the Kelly Creek Ranger Station to Puerto Vargas is perfect for viewing wildlife. Monkeys and sloths are often spotted playing and eating in the trees. There are two shipwreck sites just off the coast, which can be explored on a diving trip.
Give your taste buds a treat and sample Cahuita’s unique Afro-Caribbean cuisine. Visit a nearby chocolate factory and museum, where visitors can learn about the history of cocoa in Costa Rican culture and make chocolate using traditional methods.
From turtles to chocolate and everything in between, there’s something for everyone in Costa Rica.