Coordinates: 9°55′59″ N 84°04′59″ O
If you know anyone from Costa Rica you have definitely heard the phrase Pura Vida (a literal translation would be Pure Life, but Full of Life works best). I have a very good Tica (the colloquial term used for natives) girlfriend that uses it as often as I say chévere. But it was not until I visited this beautiful country and mingled that I understood it is not a coincidence that they decided to adopt (I read from a 1956 Mexican movie) such a perfect phrase to either greet, part or establish all is good. Costa Rica differentiates from its Central American neighbors for being a country without an army and for having democracy and nature as its best allies. Characteristics that won it the "Switzerland from Central America" nickname and make it a very attractive destination, especially if you are into ecotourism. We used my Swiss husband’s birthday and a week vacation time as a juncture to tour around and forge our own opinion!
Its location between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean provides for diverse natural beauty. As we were travelling from Puerto Rico, we decided to forego its famous beaches and concentrate on new adventures for us and distinctive to the country, like its volcanoes. Costa Rica, formed by volcanic activity over 75 million years ago, has over 112 eruption sites, the Arenal Volcano among them. As it is one of the ten most active in the world and due to its striking lava emissions in the past, Arenal is a top touristic attraction. Although a bit anxious by the dynamic nature of this volcano, we decided to visit.
Arenal is about three hours from the capital city of San Jose, thus we decided to stay a couple of days. Upon arrival at La Fortuna district, the volcano dominates the scenery. It feels like he goes along with you in every excursion to be enjoyed there that go from thermal baths to hanging bridges over the rainforest or kayaking in Lake Arenal or horseback riding. What they do not recommend is getting close to the crater as the gases it exudes can be toxic. However, you can do that in volcanoes closer to San Jose, like the Irazú, about an hour and a half away and the tallest and biggest in the country, and the Poas, which is about fifty-five minutes away.
Although a country with little territorial extension, it is among the twenty richest worldwide for its biodiversity. It must not be a coincidence that a method to inspect its richness, with as little impact as possible, was invented here: from the forest canopy. A series of suspended cables attached to the trees permit one to slide, through the use of a pulley secured to alpinism equipment, between wooden platforms placed over 100 feet. This type of touring, inspired by the research approach used by biologists, allows for Tarzan-like forest exploration!
You can do this type of excursion at different parks; we chose one at the Turrubares town, about fifty minutes from the capital. We were surprised to learn children, starting at six years of age, are allowed to participate! But we understood after experimenting their safety procedures. Following the aerial tour, many parks offer on foot exploration, so visitors can admire its fauna up close. We were interested in its colorful butterflies and carefully tried to spot the local tiny frogs that seem to be wearing blue jeans and are extremely poisonous.
Cultural Fine Points
On the way to our natural adventures, we stopped at key cultural sites such as the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de los Angeles, located at Cártago City. Every year thousands engage in la romería, a pilgrimage they start at home and finish at the Basilica, where they go to give thanks or to fervently petition a favor. We also visited one of their most beloved public buildings, the National Theater. With a neoclassic façade, the Theater was built in 1897 and sits at the south side of San Jose’s Culture Plaza. We closed our visit to the Capital by walking the famous National Arts and Crafts Market at the Democracy Plaza. In search of the perfect souvenir, we strolled a street crowded with kiosks where you can candidly admire not only their colorful crafts, but an idiosyncrasy that is full of life.
Conscious Travel Practices:
1. Learn about the culture of the country.
2. Promote the economy by doing the local excursions.
3. Do adventure tourism with caution.
4. Learn about the flora and fauna of the place.