The Best Reasons to Travel to Costa Rica
Hottest spot in the world for species diversity
My opinion on why Costa Rica is so fabulous
Costa Rica is a beautiful central American nation located between Nicaragua and Panama. It is rather small, about the size of the state of Vermont, but it is rich in culture and natural resources. A few years ago I had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica while I was in college. I enrolled in a class that consisted of spending 6 weeks studying rural sociology and biodiversity for credit. I had always wanted to visit there and this was the chance of a lifetime. I'd like to share some of my favorite parts of spending time in Costa Rica.
1. The people are so nice. In Costa Rica people are very polite and soft spoken and will always be cordial to you. They are also very clean. Since the entire country is rainforest, the soil there can get very dry and dusty where trees have been removed for homes and cities. People will sweep and mop their tile floors everyday, keeping them absolutely spotless which is no small feat considering all the dust and mud. The only time "ticos," the name Costa Ricans call themselves, do not behave in a mild-mannered way is when they drive! People drive extremely fast and ignore traffic lights and signs. They honk and tail each other everywhere and it is very dangerous to cross the street! In fact, at one time Costa Rica was listed in the top 5 countries for highest rate of auto accidents.
2. The food is fresh and wonderful. It seemed like everything I ate in Costa Rica was extremely fresh and simple. Many meals are made of shredded vegetables or other fresh produce and many people have a lime or lemon tree growing their yard giving them constant access to the tangy juice that freshens up any dish. One of the most tasty meals is Gallo Pinto, a mixture of red beans and rice prepared in a special way to served for breakfast. To this day, I still often want some and wish I knew how to make it. Something to put on your Gallo Pinto or other foods is "Lizano sauce". It is sort of like something between hot sauce and A-1...I don't know how else to describe it, but it is very tasty. Fruit is another must-try in Costa Rica since all the tropical fruit is grown right there. In rural areas, you may see plantations full of bananas, pineapples and papayas, growing on plants that look very odd to non-ticos! The flavor of these fruits is incredible; imagine what a freshly picked pineapple tastes like--amazing!
3. Costs are low for travelers from more developed nations. If you're from the USA, you'll get a big bang for your buck in Costa Rica as the exchange rate between the US dollar and the CR colon strongly favors the dollar. To give you an idea, the current exchange rate is about 500 colones for one US dollar. Traveling along the coast, you can expect to stay in low-cost, modest pensiones and small hotels for less than $30 US per night. Food is also cheap compared to what we are used to; you can find a good meal for less than $5 and shopping at the grocery store will leave you with a lot of cash left over.
Transportation and Conservation
3. Traveling around Costa Rica is very interesting. Outside of more urban areas, there are very few paved roads. One reason is it is very hard to create paved highways through the rolling, jungle terrain (and expensive). Another reason is that keeping the traditional dirt roads minimizes damaging traffic from tourist vehicles. Too many people visiting a single area at once leads to sprawling tourist developments and luxury hotels that many Costa Ricans feel would endanger their precious natural resources too greatly. The peaceful, pristine nature of many areas of Costa Rica are very much worth protecting, so only those willing to endure hours of extremely bumpy, jarring bus rides down rocky mud roads will enjoy the fruits of beauty and solitude found in the coastal towns. Hostels are very fun to stay in instead of hotels because they are usually locally owned, down-home kind of places that give you more opportunity to interact with local culture and are easier on the wallet as well.
4. The very best part about Costa Rica is "la naturaleza"! The glory of the rainforest is so incredible in Costa Rica and no where will you find more species of plants and animals packed into one place. In fact, Costa Rica can boast the title of greatest level of biodiversity in the world! Life exists on every bare surface available there. Even the power lines are covered with small epiphytes (air plants) staking their claim on a small piece of real estate just big enough for them to pull water and nutrients from the air to live. The humidity is one of the major factors in maintaining this high level of life. In the cloudforest, mists rise out of the trees in the morning and rain comes at least once a day (in the wet season). You will never see so many surprising creatures in place as well. Just walking along the roads, I remember seeing huge blue morpho butterflies, a toucan, and three-toed sloth and once even a flock of parakeets flew over my head. Also, all the plants growing along the roadsides are the same ones we buy in garden centers to add an exotic flair to our yards. Imagine seeing hydrangeas as big as junipers and impatiens carpeting the ditches. The tropical plants we pay so much to grow in our gardens are almost like weeds in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica is no doubt one of the most breathtaking places on Earth and I highly recommend visiting there. I do encourage those planning to live there however to not try to recreate their American or European life there. It is sad to see golf courses and resorts being built to cater to affluent expats or watching people knock down rainforest to make a "lawn." Did you know there are no native grasses in Costa Rica? All the grass there was imported to use for cattle grazing and other purposes. So the idea of open areas is totally against the nature of the ecosystem there. It is better to live more like the locals and work with the surroundings rather than against them. After all, if you are going there, why not enjoy it for what it is?
Traveling to Costa Rica is not something you will soon forget and for those wanting to be blown away by Mother Nature, this is the jackpot. Enjoy the easy going pace and beautiful atmosphere there and live the Costa Rican motto, "Pura Vida!"