Costa Rica is a small country in Central America, bordered by Nicaragua, Panama, the Caribbean Sea to the east. It has a population of around 4.5 million, of whom nearly a quarter live in the metropolitan area of the capital and largest city, San José.
Traveling thought Costa Rica for 4 weeks in the spring of 2014 we have been able to get a good overview of the country. Even if just being able to spend 4 weeks there. We visited almost all of the regions we had prior planned to visit as well as both Oceans: Caribbean and Pacific shore. Very different indeed. Mainland region as well as Volcano area and of course a few days in the Capital San Jose. We drove from one place to another stayed 2-3 days there and went to the next location. We did manage to visit all of the seven provinces: San Jose, Alajuela, Heredia, Cartago, Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limon. Even the Arenal Volcano is one of the ten most active volcanoes in the world while staying there the volcano was rather “tranquillo”. All the experiences and the impressions we had in this short time was just amazing.
A real information overload. Every day we saw new places and people and regions and local food. We stayed at 10 or more Hotels in total. The photos and now this blog article help us to process all of those experiences and impressions and new ideas we got from that road trip. I have also found out that waiting a while before starting to edit or process impressions can help to gain some distance.
You can see my most interesting photos of Costa Rica on Flickr.
Costa Rica road trip
For us it was great experience. A four week road trip to explore Costa Rica. Getting around in Costa Rica can be challenging because there are very few street signs and even fewer addresses.
We rented a little Suzuki Jeep with GPS and off we went.
Image: As you may know I try to get the most authentic photography captures. Here for example this truck driver which was driving by and had a glance at me for a short instant. Costa Ricans refer to themselves as Ticos (males) or Ticas (females).
Image: Of course we landed many times outside of the road. Here we found a huge DOLE banana plantage which was the size of a entire valley! They have a several own bridges and a own hospital and also a own airstrip for small airplanes. Many of the old steel bridges in Costa Rica have had their best years behind them but stand firm.
Our impression of the country in a nutshell
In San Jose and all around Costa Rica we spotted hundreds of old US school buses. The nord American (USA) influence seems to have been shaping Costa Rica the last 20 or 30 years. Geographically speaking it makes very well sense. It’s extremely near from the US by plane and most people in the city’s do speak English. It’s not yet like Puerto Rico who is officially part of the US but it’s clearly pro US.
From a European point of view this is very clear visible. We have been talking to many local people from the urban areas as well as people living far away in the mountain villages and most tell the same story. Everything is expensive not only for the tourist but also and even more for the local people. It seems as if almost everybody is trying to sell something in Costa Rica. A parcel of land, a car, a villa, anything you name it. We have experienced that most people we have meet where where friendly. Naturally people outside of the city’s are *more* friendly than the others but this is a global phenomena – I believe.
The language is unique they love to use words such as: tico, gallo, pinto etc…
It is probably one of the most or the most expensive country in Latin America.
Image: Cycling Tico with Machete in the Limon Region of Costa Rica. In the countryside there are a lot of folks carrying machetes (really long, sharp knives which are usually used to cut foliage in the jungle). Here almost everyone has one for day to day gardening and construction purposes.
Image: The advantage of a Road trip is that you decide on the speed of the exploration. We where able to stop every where and take photos or explore by foot or just stay at a Hotel without having to reserver in advance.
Image: Some landscapes have something from Australia or Africa but it’s Costa Rica
Image: The landscape in Costa Rica is highly diverse. The terrain shifts between hills, valleys, forests, mountains, volcanoes, wetlands and plains. Land near the coastline is of lower elevation, and aside from a number of elevated but flat valleys in the interior of the country, the majority of inland areas consist of rugged mountains, many of which are actually dormant volcanic peaks.
Pura Vida = Costa Rica
Image: Costa Rica “Pura Vida” lifestyle – happy people. The term has been present in Costa Rican dialect for some 50+ years. Pura Vida has a simple English translation but a far more profound meaning to the people of Costa Rica. Pura vida. Pronounced POO-rah VEE-dah, in English means, “Pure Life”.
The Caribbean coast stretches for some 125 miles between Panama and Nicaragua. The region is sparsely populated, but has splendid beaches, excellent fishing, great water sports and it gives endless opportunities for getting close to nature. The entire Caribbean Coast is the province of Limón, the country’s most culturally diverse region. There is a significant indigenous population, as well as more than 100,000 descendants of Afro-Caribbeans who arrived on the coast starting in the late 1800s. Today the native Indian heritage is still apparent and Caribbean culture is even more dominant in music, food, language and even politics.
Costa Rica Coast
The Caribbean coast is picture perfect. The sand is white and the water is turquoise. Back from the coast, you have the Talamanca Mountains. Here, you get magnificent views of the Caribbean and the surrounding mountains and valleys. The breeze is fresh and the wildlife abundant with 70% of the coast being protected.
There are various stunning beaches and national parks in the southern area of the country also bordering the Pacific Ocean.
Landscape of Costa Rica
Rainforests boast the greatest species diversity of any ecosystem. The consistently warm temperatures and abundant precipitation provide a superb environment for a plethora of plants, fungi and animals. The rainforest is truly multi-layered. Ferns and mosses coat the ground; short foliage and tree ferns occupy the next level; growth-stunted trees vie for holes in the canopy; shade-loving trees create a mid-level; and all are blanketed by the canopy of full-grown trees, sometimes reaching as high as 190 feet.
Food and fruits in Costa Rica
Did I mention the food yet? It’s quite healthy!
Depends what you choose but there is quite a variety and the quality is really very good. The local fruits are just sooooooooooooooooooooo tasty it’s impossible to compare to the same labeled fruits in Switzerland or Europe – they taste like nothing even similar.
The fruit of red bananas is similar to the fruit of yellow bananas, but red bananas taste like as if you eat banana and raspberries at the same time. Red bananas come from Costa Rica and are a favorite in Central America, Mexico and in some areas in Australia.
Red bananas have a distinctive red to purple skin, rather than the more conventional yellow bananas and are usually smaller than regular yellow bananas. This fruit has soft and creamy texture in cream to slightly pink color. The color comes from the beta-carotene red bananas contain, and the aroma reminds of sweet strawberries.
Red bananas can be consumed when their skin starts getting dark chestnut-red color and few brown spots. It is better not to consume the fruit if it is too soft and has intense flavor, because of the fermentation process which causes loss of enzymes and development of some dangerous bacteria.
Image: The Morinda citrifolia healing plant – Parque Nacional Cahuita. Morinda citrifolia is a tree in the coffee family, Rubiaceae. Its native range extends through Southeast Asia and Australasia, and the species is now cultivated throughout the tropics. English common names include great morinda, “Indian mulberry”, noni,”beach mulberry”, and “cheese fruit”.
Cacao (Cocoa) Theobroma cacao – You might not know it when you see it but chances are this is your favorite fruit on the planet and has been for years. If you are visiting Costa Rica on a family vacation it is worth showing the kids where all those chocolate candies got their start. It got a bit of a different start than you might expect as when the Spanish arrived to the America’s the Cacao fruit was a very important part of the Mayan culture.
Image: Sun driving cacao seeds in Costa Rica
The pronunciation that he Mayans had was Cha-Cha-Agua which sounds like “caca-agua” in Spanish and if you know a little bit of Spanish you will know that translates into poop-water. Sure enough if you try a Cacao fruit that will be your first impression because without the long process of fermentation and additives the fruit is bitter and tastes horrible.
Guanabana (Soursop) – This is a very large fruit that can way up to almost 5.5lbs. It is a large green oval shape with spines. Each fruit is made up of 60 – 100 non-edible seeds. It is commonly used to make sweet juices, candy, and ice cream. Many studies show that this fruit is very affective in helping the body to cure cancer. It has been studied that certain properties in the leaves kill cancer cells while leaving other cells in the body unharmed. This fruit is high in carbohydrates particularly fructose. The leaves of the tree are used among many different Indians in the tropics for medicinal purposes. Some of the uses have been boiling the leaves in water to reduce fever and smashing leaves together and rubbing over irritated skin which helps faster healing and is known to help prevent scars. The water from the leaves after soaking them can be used to help with head lice also.
Image: Avocados are available year-round in Costa Rica
This citrus fruit is similar to the orange. Mandarin oranges are round but a bit flattened at top and bottom. The rind transforms from green to orange and yellow, and is easy to peel off. Mandarins can be easily taken apart into smaller pieces, and these segments can be added to a fruit salad or eaten by hand. The fruit itself is juicy and sweet, ideal for a fruit juice. In addition to the regular citrus characteristics (high levels of vitamin C and minerals), mandarins are also a good source for vitamin A.
Costa Rica knows many different types of bananas, varying in color, shape and size. As a result of the abundance and wide availability of this fruit, it provides for a cheap snack, which needs no preparation whatsoever. However, there are several other ways in which Costa Ricans consume their bananas. A tasty drink is prepared by combining banana and milk. In the department of Carazo, overripe bananas are furthermore used to create vinegar. This same type of banana can also be baked and served with hot cheese.
Image: Coffee production has played a key role in Costa Rica’s history and continues to be important to the country’s economy
Image: Green Papaya – Deliciously sweet with musky undertones and a soft, butter-like consistency, it is no wonder the papaya was reputably called the “fruit of the angels” by Christopher Columbus
Image: Costa Rican mangoes are rich and juicy – like biting into a velvety fruit covered in mild honey sauce. Native to India, these tropical delights are in season year-round, so you can enjoy them any time!In Costa Rica the large mango fruits are known as mangas, while their smaller counterparts are called mangoes. Mangas are the most familiar variety – oblong, about the size of a softball, and with smooth flesh – while mangoes are smaller than a baseball and have a slightly stringy fruit. Both are common throughout the country, and almost every yard is home to at least one mango tree.
Animals in Costa Rica
We have never seen such a diversity in animals which where free or half free in any other country so far. Just awesome!
Image: The different species of lizards range through a diversity of habitats, normally frequenting humid areas of foothills and mountains, but also can be found ranging down into the drier grasslands, staying close to rivers and streams. These are Secretive by nature, they hide under windfall, bushes, and in rocky cracks. Many
parts of Costa Rica, national Parks are the natural living place of lizards.
In addition, the rainforests of Costa Rica house some 200 mammals and nearly 700 different reptile, amphibian, and fish species demonstrating the lush biodiversity contained within the borders of this truly “Rich Coast”.
Costa Rica has approximately 850 bird species, 600 of which are non-migratory. The other birds migrate during the North American winter, making a stop in Costa Rica before continuing on to South America.
Image: Around 600 iguanid species are around the world and 38 can be found in Costa Rica. The three most common ones are Green Iguana, they can be found in most part of the Costa Rica tropical climate and National parks. The other species is Ctenosaur. Theses can be seen in the dry areas of Costa Rica, they are mainly herbivores. They have similar length like green Iguana but they are best hunter.
More than 600 of the Costa Rican species are permanent residents, and upwards of 200 are migrants, spending portions of the year outside of the country, usually in North America. The list includes the ever evasive, but spectacular, Resplendent Quetzal as well as over 50 species of hummingbirds, 15 parrots (including the scarlet macaw and six toucan species like the keel-billed toucan and the mandibled toucan.
It’s virtually impossible to travel to Central America without seeing a monkey! There are nine species of monkey living in Central America and luckily only one of these is classified as “critically endangered”. Watch out for the black and mantled howler monkeys, Geoffroy’s tamarin, Squirrel monkeys and the Panamanian night monkey to name but a few, when exploring the reserves.
Costa Rica is an exciting place to visit for its abundant wildlife and its beautiful national parks, reserves and wildlife centres. A perfect environment that shelters animals such as sloths, silky anteaters, and even poison arrow frogs.
The Scarlet Macaw lives high in the trees of lowland deciduous or tropical evergreen forests that are solid or patchy.
Dendrobates auratus has many color variants. Most of them are black and either green or light blue, with the black in bands or spots. The Hawaiian frogs are metallic green or brownish-black. The adults are approximately 4 cm long. As is true of most frogs, adults have a fused head and trunk with no tail. Tadpoles use gills to breathe, unlike the adults, which breathe through lungs. Tadpoles also lack legs and have tails, which is appropriate for their watery habitat. Another important physical characteristic of D. auratus is the poison glands located throughout the surface of their body. Their bright colors are believed to encourage predators with color vision to avoid the frogs.
No nut is too big for squirrels in Costa Rica – a coconut is just quite enough for a quick lunch. This one was scurrying through trees, playing around, or excitedly defending its favourite tree against competitors.