Costa Rica has a democratic government and friendly inhabitants happy to practice their English. More than 23 percent of its area has been set aside as nature preserves. Bounded on one side by the Caribbean and on the other by the Pacific, the country is blessed with spectacular coastlines, plus a mountainous interior carpeted by rainforest that contains the richest biodiversity on earth. Wildlife species include howler monkeys, three-toed sloths, spiny anteaters and sea turtles. The central mountainous area around San José enjoys a pleasant temperate climate. Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are tropical, with May through October being hot and humid. The best time for a visit is January through April.
Hotels With Limited Services
Some of the most transcendently beautiful landscapes can be accessed only by staying at properties with limited services, including, in many cases, a lack of air-conditioning. The best approach, therefore, is to start by “roughing it” at one or two of the best ecolodges before decamping for the sophisticated resorts on the Pacific coast.
I once rented a car in Costa Rica, but I strongly recommend hiring a driver instead. Even with a GPS device, navigating Costa Rica’s often signless roads can be stressful.
Kayak Through a National Park
From Arenas del Mar, it’s easy to make an excursion to Marino Ballena National Park on the coast. With a guide from Bahía Ballena Kayaks, we paddled in tranquil mangroves, drank fresh coconut water in a former coconut plantation along the beach and kayaked out to the end of the famous “Whale’s Tail,” a spit of sand extending from the beach to a line of rocks parallel to the shore, the whole of which did indeed resemble its namesake.
Tortuguero National Park
Those willing to overlook the rusticity of Tortuga Lodge on the Caribbean coast will be amply rewarded by unforgettable excursions into the surrounding environment of Tortuguero National Park. The lodge’s jungle boats take guests along narrow channels on wildlife trips to spot caiman, three-toed sloths, bats and an incredible array of birds. Guided fishing excursions and tours of a nearby sea turtle conservancy center, plus cultural visits to the neighboring town of San Francisco can also be arranged.
Costa Rica’s Best Rum
Ron Zacapa of Guatemala and Flor de Caña of Nicaragua have both developed something of a following in the United States in recent years, but the most important brand of Costa Rican rum, Ron Centenario, remains relatively unknown. Younger versions of Centenario work beautifully in cocktails, but I especially enjoyed sipping the Centenario 20 años Fundación neat as a digestif. A solera-style blend of rums aged up to 20 years, this spirit smells enticingly of caramelized banana and coconut, and it tastes elegantly smooth and rich, with notes of molasses and sweet tobacco.
The Pacuare River
The warm and scenic Pacuare River provides an ideal introduction to whitewater rafting, with rapids that are exciting, not terrifying. Dinosaurs would surely have felt at home in the thriving primary rainforest clinging to the vertiginous riverbanks, which occasionally narrow into dramatic gorges. The Class III and IV rapids we braved required more courage of spirit than physical stamina, and often we could simply relax and float.
To phone hotels in Costa Rica, dial 011 (international access) + 506 (Costa Rica code) + local numbers in listings.
One hour behind New York (EST).
The central mountainous area around San José enjoys a pleasant temperate climate. Both the Caribbean and Pacific coasts are tropical, with May through October being hot and humid. The best time for a visit is January through April.
Pavas, San José, Tel. (506) 2519-2000.
Colon (CRC). Fluctuating rate valued at CRC586 = US$1.00 as of June 2019. Note: All of our suggested hotels quote rates in US$.