"Pura vida!". It is with these two words full of benevolence that Costa Ricans greet each other, from the Pacific coast to the Caribbean coast. An expression of happiness, it literally translates to "pure life", a perfect description of the wonder that awaits visitors to the volcanoes, parks and beaches of Costa Rica. As a bridge between North and South America, the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, Costa Rica is the ultimate nature and adventure destination for the whole family.
A green paradise
If Costa Rica is home to 5% of the planet's biodiversity, it's because nearly 30% of its surface is protected thanks to 26 parks and 8 natural reserves, which offers the possibility of numerous hikes, canopy tours, birdwatching or horseback riding. And this is not new! Sustainable development is a way of life, adopted by all citizens and embraced by visitors
Costa Rica has set the ambitious goal of being the first carbon neutral country by 2021. To ensure that accommodations blend seamlessly into their splendid setting, the CST (Certificado de Sostenibilidad de Turismo) program, recognized by the United Nations World Tourism Organization, was designed to distinguish establishments that follow a sustainable management model. They are awarded "leaves" - up to 5 - which are a bit like our stars, but with a sustainable tourism version. In these lodges, in the middle of the luxuriant nature, the amateurs of ecotourism will be delighted to discover solar panels, equipments in recycled materials or menus concocted with products of the garden. The population has understood the importance of conserving its biodiversity. In Tortuguero, one of the country's most popular destinations on the Caribbean coast, former turtle hunters have become... excellent local guides, proud to protect their rich environment.
Caribbean: a cultural break
Many visitors come to Costa Rica for its Poas and Arenal volcanoes as well as for its tropical forest and forget that the country has nearly 1,500 kilometers of virgin coastline, protected by a law against construction development. Why not take advantage of it on the Pacific or the Atlantic? The Caribbean coast borrows the culture of the neighboring Caribbean islands. It can be found in the cuisine of the Misses, with the famous rice & beans, but also in the music and in the idle atmosphere of the small villages of Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. From Tortuguero, it's worth taking the boat to Limon, a colorful and nonchalant town, to get a taste of the Caribbean
The deserted beaches of Cocles, Chiquita and Manzanillo, with coconut palms laid down by the wind and crystalline waters, will delight swimming enthusiasts while divers will explore the coral reefs of Gandoca - Manzanillo with their snorkel, after a hike in the reserve. Without forgetting the park of Cahuita, one of the most beautiful of the country. It is necessary to say that the tropical forests offer to its expanses of white sand a picturesque framework. With the family, we will not miss to go to Aviarios del Caribe, the refuge of the sloths, this emblematic animal of the country which moves very slowly and whose friendly smile attracts the affection of the visitors
The Pacific, an ocean of adventure
Direction the Pacific coast, in Guanacaste in the North more precisely, where the adventurers can, after having devoted themselves to the white water sports in Sarapiqui or in Arenal, try surfing and sailing. The calm waves of Playa Hermosa - aptly named - are perfect for families. It is located in the Gulf of Papagayo, known for its international brand hotels and luxury residences, and for its quick access from Liberia, the country's2nd international airport. Conchal Beach on the Gold Coast, with its millions of crushed shells, is one of the most exotic beaches in the region. It is ideal for snorkeling and enjoys an idyllic climate all year round, while Tamarindo, a few kilometers away, is a well-known spot among surfers from all over the world. For a wilder atmosphere, you should venture out on the trails of the Nicoya Peninsula. Without going as far as Mal País or Montezuma, you can find beautiful isolated beaches around Samara, in Barrigona, Buena Vista or Playa Carrillo.
The central and southern Pacific, where the mountains meet the sea, now has an excellent route to the Osa Peninsula, the jewel of the country, whose beaches in Corcovado Park are frequented by macaws and all kinds of mammals. Around the Carara Park, south of Puntarenas, you will find the most beautiful hotels of Costa Rica, isolated in the hinterland, on the mountainside, with the sea as far as the eye can see. The surfers will choose the spot of Jaco known universally, that of Dominical with its so characteristic atmosphere or Pavones and its long left, after the Golfo Dulce.
Within the Manuel Antonio Park, the beautiful beaches of Espadilla, Blanca and Puerto Escondido offer walkers a direct contact with the exotic fauna. Before heading to the Osa Peninsula, families will stop at the tombolo of Marino Ballena Park in the hope of seeing cetaceans during a boat ride, before taking a lunch break in Ojochal, an international community with some of the best restaurants
Sodas and fusion cuisine
When it comes to traditional cuisine, the main showcase of Costa Rican culture, hotels offer gallo pinto (rice mixed with black beans and eggs) alongside the continental breakfast, served with coffee from local fincas. The casado (Spanish for married man) is the worker's staple dish: again, rice with meat or fish, black beans and a salad. These are the cheap meals found in popular canteens called sodas and in markets, such as the one in San José, the capital.
Costa Rican restaurants, however, offer much more than its typical dishes, gallo pinto for breakfast and casado for lunch. Grilled meats, fish and seafood, tropical fruits and sun-ripened vegetables are all part of the tico chef's basket - the short name given to Costa Ricans. You can even find cheese in the Central Valley! Vegetarian and even vegan options are growing at a rapid pace in the cities, proof of the inhabitants' concern for their well-being. There are good restaurants in San José and all over the country. They offer fusion cuisine - a word that you discover as you taste it. The menu is elaborated from local products, but the dishes are revisited. Seafood lovers will not miss the wild oysters or the ceviche, raw fish "cooked" in seasoned lime juice. Peruvian and Mediterranean influences are found in some restaurants, as well as Asian and Japanese cuisine
As for drinks, in addition to the many fresh fruit juices, coconut water, full of vitamins, is as refreshing as it is fun to drink from the nut.Agua dulce, another typical beverage, is made from cane sugar. As for alcoholic beverages, it is during local festivals that travelers will discover the best traditions of the country!
When is the season? The dry season, from December to April, is the high tourist season. The low season corresponds to the green season or rainy season. The Caribbean coast and the North are drenched with rain but it is usually mild on the Pacific coast. Prices drop considerably. It is best to avoid Holy Week, as hotels are full and shops are closed.
Getting there. Average price of a flight from Paris to San José and back: from €850 to €1,400.
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