So you’ve visited a couple tropical
countries where English is the second language. You’re comfortable with
independent travel beyond resort boundaries. You appreciate the differences
separating cultures and love authentic-but-safe adventures. And now you’re
ready to take the next step in worldly travel with exotic flair.
A Costa Rica vacation could be your calling.
It’s not hype to say this friendly Central American country is the epitome of an eco-tourism paradise. The math is dizzying: two oceans, 12 ecosystems, 850 bird species, 9,000 types of flowers,
2,000 species of butterflies –- a place where six percent of Earth’s species can
be found and 27 percent of land is protected.
In fact, "eco-tourism" was coined
here around 1980 as nature seekers flocked to the Monteverde Cloud Forest
Reserve. As early adopters of the trend, Costa Rica tourism providers are as
seasoned as they come and know every nook and cranny of a green nation that
could fit inside West Virginia.
If you want to wander the flanks of
smoldering volcanoes, explore jungle preserves resonating with monkey cries, shuffle
along palm-lined beaches fringed by coral reefs, and visit quaint colorful
villages, this is the place where you can easily do it all.
Where to go for first-timers? After
three tours, here are a few of my top Costa Rica vacation picks:
Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve -– At over 12,000 acres, the "Green Mountain"
straddles the Continental Divide at 4,662 feet and is shrouded in nearly
perpetual misty clouds fittingly crowned by rainbows. Hike its enchanting
trails and watch for the scores of hummingbird and orchids species.
Santa Elena –- A few minutes from Monteverde, the village is excellent
for mountain lodging and its acclaimed Butterfly Garden.
Visit the Santa Elena Reserve, similar to Monteverde but sporting suspended
canopy bridges that add a degree of high adventure.
Arenal –- Volcan Arenal is one of the Western
Hemisphere’s most active volcanoes. Night-time views of the red
lava flows are surreal. On the eastern side, the town of Fortuna is a base from which you can take in
the show and explore the verdant countryside. While you’re at it, don’t miss
the chance for a therapeutic soak at the gorgeous Tabacon Grand Spa Thermal
Jaco –- This central Pacific beach town is hopping with cool
cantinas, restaurants and hotels, plus it makes for a fantastic staging area to
explore the region. Local beaches are well-known for surfing. To the north,
check out the Tarcoles River and its monstrous
crocodiles, then hike the shady trails of the Reserva Biologica Carara and see
its immense waterfall.
Tamarindo –- On the northwest Peninsula de Nicoya, Playa Tamarindo
is worth a couple days’ layover. Surfing, windsurfing, scuba diving, a wildlife
refuge, a wide clean beach, excellent lodging and a colorful village populated
by locals and Expats alike all make for a quintessential –- and interesting –-
Costa Rican experience.
–- Arguably the most scenic rafting river in Costa
Rica, the Pacuare offers a classic multi-day whitewater
experience as it plunges from the highlands to the Caribbean.
Several rafting companies in San Jose book trips.
Here are a few of my photos:
Related Orbitz resources:
By ski, bike, kayak, safari vehicle and on foot, Ted Alan Stedman has
journeyed in six continents and hopes to soon close in on number seven:
Antarctica. The Denver-based writer is a former ski journalist for the
Rocky Mountain News, and these days is a regular contributor to Sport Diver, Islands, Sunset, Outside and Outdoor Photographer magazines.