When it comes to popular holiday destinations, Costa Rica is a relative ‘newbie’ for the UK market. The Central American country is bordered by Panama and Nicaragua, and roughly a quarter of its land is made up of protected jungle and rainforest, which is teeming with wildlife including spider monkeys and sloths. The area is known for its volcanoes and biodiversity, but as well as this, its Caribbean and Pacific coastlines also make it the perfect destination for a beach holiday. In November 2017, National Geographic magazine named Costa Rica as The Happiest County in the World. The inhabitant’s philosophy is to live a simple life, free of stress and with a positive, relaxed feeling. One of the most recognised phrases you will hear upon travelling to Costa Rica is ‘Pura Vida’ which literally translates to ‘pure life’. This is used in many contexts, including as a greeting, or as a response to asking someone how they are. To the locals, Pura Vida is more than just a phrase; it’s a way of life.
When I was planning my trip to Costa Rica, I spent a lot of time researching, partly due to the fact I had never been before, nor did I know anyone who had, and partly because of the tropical weather which is present many months of the year, I wanted to try and time my visit just right. Costa Rica’s green season stretches from May to October, and while many people assume that these months are a complete washout, this isn’t always the case. Different parts of the country have different weather climates, and so it really depends on which region you want to visit.
Two of the UK’s biggest airlines fly direct from London to Costa Rica. One of these flights lands into San Jose, which is the capital and the other flies direct into Liberia, on the pacific coast. For the pacific coast beach regions, green season does not mean daily downpours, in fact you can expect warm and sunny mornings with high temperatures which carry into the afternoons, followed by a couple of hours rainfall later in the day. Some days, it doesn’t rain at all.
I chose to travel at the end of October, although it’s still green season, the chances of rain are lower than earlier in the year, however its then that the country is at its most vibrant, the vegetation is lush, it feels like the country has sprung to life! Because Costa Rica is a tropical country, and made up largely of rainforest, there is always a chance of rain. However, this is more than worth it to experience this beautiful and interesting destination.
I flew into Liberia, on the Pacific coast, and stayed in the resort of Papagayo Bay, which is approximately 20 minutes from the airport. The first week of my trip the temperatures were in the high 30’s, with approximately one hour of rain every afternoon. By the second week it had cooled slightly to the early 30’s, and I had no rain at all. Papagayo Bay was the perfect base, it provided a beautiful beach location, with easy access to get out and explore. It is also just a short taxi ride from the town of Playa Del Coco, (Coco Beach) which has and abundance of shops and water sports during the day, as well as being a fishing hotspot. In the evenings there’s plenty of laidback nightlife, including a Hard Rock Café. You can flag a taxi or jump on the local bus, and explore the towns independently, as there is a very low crime rate and the locals are friendly.
There is so much to see and do in Costa Rica, and you can make the most of this by going on guided tours through the country or if you feel adventurous you can rent a car and do it independently. I chose to stay in one hotel for my two weeks as a base, and go on day trips across the country to see as much as I could. I wanted the best of both worlds - a luxury 5 star resort which was perfect for relaxing and pampering on my rest days. The hotel was made up of little bungalows spread around the hillside, with beautiful sea views and wonderful service, and some of the best hotel food I have ever experienced.
Standing at over 1600 feet, Arenal volcano frames the skyline, and is Costa Rica’s most famous natural feature. This was formerly one of the most active volcanoes in the world, and although it last erupted in 2010 and has since become dormant, it’s still amazing to look at while sat in one of its many hot springs with a cocktail in hand.
Another of Costa Rica’s spectacular attractions is the world famous Monteverde skywalk, which is inthe cloud forest area of the country. This is a network of wooden suspension bridges, some as long as 170 metres, spreading across the canopy of the forest and making you feel like you are walking amongst the clouds. There are a couple of different options when it comes to these bridges, with some being a bit easier for the less mobile, while still allowing the incredible birds eye views. Palo Verde national park provides sanctuary to a high population of wildlife, including monkeys and exotic birds. Here you can take a trip down the river and witness these animals up close and personal and in the trees on either side of your boat.
In rural parts of Costa Rica, it’s not uncommon to come across a sloth making its way oh-so- slowly across the road. But if you don’t have time to wait around, why not visit one of the sloth sanctuary’s dedicated to the care and rehabilitation of rescued sloths. If you are lucky, you may even see one of the babies…there are few things in the world cuter than a baby sloth! I visited an eco-lodge in the Tenorio Volcano national park, where I saw sloths and some incredible Costa Rican tree frogs. For the adrenaline junkies, there is nothing quite like zip lining through the rainforest at spectacular heights, followed by white water rafting and tubing down the waterways. Or if that isn’t quite your scene, you can also explore the country at your own pace on horseback.
The opportunities are endless in Costa Rica, an abundance of wildlife, beautiful scenery, fantastic surf areas and incredible adventures, the sky is quite literally the limit. You can also easily tick off another country from your world travelling list while you are there, next door neighbours Nicaragua and Panama are easily accessible, with many tour companies offering excursions over the border to visit the Masaya Volcano in Nicaragua, which currently has a live lava lake.
Costa Rica was a once in a lifetime experience, leaving me with memories that will last a life time. My favourite day was visiting and swimming in the 12 metre high Llanos del Cortez waterfalls. Relaxing yet breath-taking all at once. From swimming in waterfalls, to sunset kayak trips, and waking to the sound of the howler monkeys in the trees every morning. Costa Rica has something for everyone, whether you are someone who likes to take your walking boots on holiday, or you prefer to stick to your flip flops, you will find your place in this beautiful country.