Last week, after I posted my article on "My Top 10 Experiences Around the World," a reader asked why the Americas were not included in the list. Costa Rica is one of my favorite vacation locations in the world -- here is an article and love letter to my Central American paradise.
The Pacific coast of Costa Rica is characterized by aquamarine waters, deep green cliffs, lush rainforests, and starched white sailboats. To reach this beautiful part of the country, fly into Liberia airport and drive out to the coast through the long spans of grass smattered with thin cattle. The Pacific coast offers entertainment for any and every type of traveller -- the couple, the adventurer, the relaxer, and the family. Here is a list of my top experiences and locations to visit while there.
1. Exploring Rincon de la Vieja
Do you dream about discovering a volcano? Rincon de la Vieja is one of the six active volcanoes in Costa Rica and is surrounded by bubbling mud pools and hot springs renowned for their healing properties. Set in a national park, this volcano features extraordinary hiking trails, horseback riding through the mountainous surroundings, zip-lines strung across the rainforest, and striking waterfalls ready to be explored and swum through.
2. Zip-Lining at Witch's Rock
Witch's Rock's zip-line courses permit peeks through the dense forests onto the ocean and allow zip-liners to rush through the trees, listen to the whoops of the Howler Monkeys, and sneak peeks at the Capuchin Monkeys. For anyone who has dreamed of flying -- as I often have -- zip-lining is the experience for you.
3. Surfing at Playa Tamarindo
Playa Tamarindo is located on the northwest coast of Costa Rica, south of Liberia, and is one of the most heavily visited surfing hotspots in Costa Rica. Whether you are an experienced surfer or a beginner on the board, Playa Tamarindo offers the perfect waves and a great opportunity to meet other surfers.
4. Horseback Riding
Explore the jungles or beaches of Costa Rica on horseback. Select one of many tourism companies that offer horseback riding experiences from a two-hour ride on the beach to a multi-day (or week) excursion across Costa Rica for the equestrian enthusiast. I chose a shorter jungle tour and vastly enjoyed the experience of learning how to maneuver my horse through the foliage and low branches.
5. Jet Skiing
Rent a jet ski through one of the many local companies and set out onto the bays lining the coast; the slight waves and beautiful vistas offer an exciting and bouncy trip across the water. The waters are clear enough to look down and see the schools of fish flurrying in the ocean's depths. And never discount the pure joy of racing across the waterfront, quickly and smoothly, the mist of sea spray dazzling in the sun, the winds free and unadulterated.
6. Eating a Traditional Costa Rican Meal
Venture into one of many traditional Costa Rican restaurants and enjoy a delicious meal with hearty plantains, meaty yucca, flavorful meats, and perfectly cooked rice and beans. My favorite restaurant is set on a patio outside Liberia, the tables open to sun and rain, the food plentiful and freely flowing.
7. Studying Traditional Costa Rican Artisanship
If you are looking for a souvenir of your visit to Costa Rica, be sure to stop in at local stores and markets and study the bright works of art. Popular pieces include intricately carved wooden boxes, shining lacquered paintings of parrots, butterflies, and monkeys on pieces of wood, or colorfully beaded necklaces and bracelets. Another treat that never fails to please is the Britt brand of chocolate covered espresso beans.
8. Learn Spanish in a Language School
In several schools across Costa Rica, international students of all ages have the opportunity to learn Spanish and soak in cultural experiences through unique programs. If you have always wanted to learn Spanish, plan an educational vacation to Costa Rica -- and gain both the experiences of a lifetime and a new language for your resume.
9. Observe the Local Wildlife
From the rivers to the oceans to the jungles, Costa Rica does not disappoint with its exquisite, vivid animals. Check out the lazy crocodiles in the mud flats or the swarms of bats streaming through the air; look for the flash of sapphire wings in the forests to spot a Blue Morpho butterfly. Coatamundis are the unique cousins of raccoons that can often be seen ambling along roadsides and many species of monkeys swing across the branches, howling into the air. Sometimes it is possible to spot leaping dolphins off of the coastlines. Peek out your window at the multitude of gem-toned birds that stare at themselves inquisitively in the glass.
What is your favorite Costa Rican experience? Let me know in the comments!
*All photographs courtesy of author