Costa Rica doesn't have the sheer diversity of Guatemala but it certainly makes up for it in its beauty and wildlife. This country is simply stunning! Europe is a barren, yellow desert compared to this peaceful, lush country.
It has a fascinating political stance in that for many years now it has been the only nation in the World without any Armed Forces of any description. This is even more astonishing considering its location amongst its trigger-happy neighbors, the fact it appears to work and that it was conceived of an idea by H.G. Wells!!
13% of Costa Rica's land area is set aside as National Park, with another 14% considered officially protected. Obviously, the 36 National Parks are not so easy to visit by Public Transport. Hiring a jeep is a wise move in order to see the heart of the country in all its glory. However, it is not compulsory, besides the high rental charges are somewhat off-putting.
1. San Jose- I'm afraid this just seemed like yet another dull Central American city, with its fair share of crime and monotony!!
2. Volcan Arenal- Undoubtedly this is one of the highlights of all my travels worldwide. I will remember this active volcano with its lava careering down the mountainside forever. A combination of exhilaration, frustration and fear comes in waves throughout your stay here. Exhilaration when you see your first lava flow, or indeed any lava flow. Nighttime is the time to see this phenomenon. The adrenaline rush of watching the bright orange stream of molten rock audibly crunching its way downwards through the undergrowth is quite simply awesome! However, the top of the volcano is often shrouded in cloud, hindering your view. It's possible to climb up the lava trail and sit near the cone watching the steaming rocks thundering their way past - yes past!! You sit there watching this all happening around you, ready to sprint for your lives just in case a renegade rock should decide to tumble your way.
There's a restaurant at the bottom of the volcano at the point where lava is currently heading; dine there for a truly amazing experience; They offer quite a cabaret! Also, the local waterfall is well worth visiting.
3. Volcan Poás- Stunning, multi-coloured, fuming volcanic crater. This one can be climbed and peered into from above unlike Arenal. If you get caught out by the clouds, be patient and keep your cameras at the ready. The lake is a pleasant walk through forest but the crater is certainly the highlight. Remember to enjoy the scenery on the way up and down and marvel at just how green Costa Rica is!
4. Catarata La Paz- A short drive fron Poás, you will come upon a beautiful waterfall, arguably Cost Rica's most famous, cascading down the flanks of Poás and blasting into a small pool by the side of the road. Well worth a stop to breathe in this envigorating power. You can walk around the back of the fall and stand fully behind it. Wonderful for photos and remember to get the excellent shot about a mile down the road looking back through the green forest.
5. Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve- Monteverde offers you primary rainforest and everything that goes with it. It is definitely worthwhile paying for a guided tour if you want to stand a chance of spotting anything more than a plant that looks like the one at home and a few butterflies. Here you will find an enormous assortment of plantlife (and yes, they often are just larger versions of those that we have at home but these plants are massive) and its associated wildlife, including snakes and tarantulas! Every birdwatchers dream is to spot The Resplendent Quetzal, a colourful bird ressembling a punk. Keep your fingers-crossed and hope your guide is on form and you might just be lucky like we were! Hummingbirds are everywhere and photo opportunities abound. You can stay either in Monteverde or nearby Santa Elena.
6. Montezuma- This a lovely beach resort on the Pacific Ocean where you can relax and catch some well-deserved rays after storming your way around the beautiful National Parks of Costa Rica. The beach is beautiful and seemingly endless. It's a true backpacker community with lovely little cafes and events laid on. One drawback of the place is the size of the rollers that continue to crash onto the beach. Surfers would love it here and the waves provide fantastoc photo opportunities but swimming is hazardous! However, a week here passes with ease. You can fly to Montezuma in a little fourteen-seater plane from San Jose if you don't want to spend a whole day getting there.
7. East Coast- We only had enough time to visit one coastal area so we opted for Montezuma, however we've heard the villages on the east coast such as Cahuita are lovely and offer the visitor a laid-back, relatively tourist-free, culturally diverse experience with pleasant beaches and National Parks.
8. Sarchí- Costa Rica has some wonderful handicrafts, especially woodwork. If you haven't found any on your travels and you want to stock up before you leave, Sarchí is the place to come. It is jam-packed full of craft shops offering you a massive selection. It is about an hour or so north-west of San Jose. While you're here, go and have a look at the wonderfully-clourful church in the Square.