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Central American Adventure

Costa Rica’s rich biodiversity and stunning natural beauty call to travelers who seek something out of the ordinary.

World travelers have discovered a Central American destination that is beautiful, offers a slew of activities, and doesn’t devour the pocketbook. It’s Costa Rica.

volcano

Above: Arenal Volcano is the most active of all of Costa Rica’s volcanoes.

In Title: Hot springs form waterfalls within Arenal Volcano National Park.

Below: Snorkeling and scuba diving showcase rich marine life. Costa Rica Tourism Board photos

fish

Costa Rica is a small (19,700 square miles) mountainous country in Central America with tree-lined tropical beaches whose warmth is exceeded only by the friendly people. Vividly colored birds and flowers are everywhere. Activities include zip lines, whitewater rafting, surfing, sport fishing, and golf. There are more than 500 lodging options to choose from, including everything from cozy bed and breakfasts to luxury resorts with hot springs and spacious spas.

Biodiversity

Costa Rica’s stunning scenic heritage unfolds in an ever-changing panorama of steaming volcanoes, forested mountains, dramatic skies, and bucolic countryside. Dark lowland jungles give way to rolling savannas, while Pacific surf crashes against rocky shorelines in sharp contrast to the tranquility of palm-fringed beaches.

Nestled between Nicaragua and Panama, and bordered by the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea, mountainous Costa Rica shelters 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity. More than a quarter of its lands are protected conservation areas, protecting an astounding amount of plant and animal life.

Costa Rica’s six active volcanoes vividly remind visitors of the awesome power contained in the earth’s thin mantle. Anyone peering into Poas Volcano’s mammoth crater with its boiling sulfurous lake is reminded just how tenuous is man’s supposed dominion over the world. Arenal, the most active of all of Costa Rica’s volcanoes, booms and rumbles with an unnerving consistency, and its nocturnal pyrotechnics have impressed thousands of observers. Located within a national park, Arenal is joined by Chato Volcano. The park is part of the larger Arenal Conservation area, which includes Tabacón Hot Springs of Lake Arenal.

Dozens of inactive volcanoes are found in Costa Rica. At Irazú Volcano National Park, some of the land resembles a moonscape.

Forests and rainforests give different experiences to travelers. The forests on the upper slopes of Costa Rica’s mountains and volcanoes are frequently draped in mist and clouds. Algae, mosses, and lichens get a foothold on the constantly wet surfaces, providing a place to which orchids, bromeliads, fern, and innumerable plants can cling. So prolific is this epiphytic growth in the cloud forest that bare branches are virtually non-existent.

Costa Rica’s rainforests harbor thousands of known life forms. They are among the last strongholds of biodiversity on earth. At dawn, the rainforest is quiet, but later resonates with the songs of birds. In the heat of the day, its stillness is punctuated by the insect-like call of poison dart frogs, the rasping of cicadas, or the whistled notes of wrens and antbirds.

The dark cool interior of the primary rainforest is surprisingly free of entangling vegetation. Still, a vast number of flowering trees, shrubs, and plants in every color of the rainbow are all part of the infinitely rewarding experience with tropical nature.

Zip lines dangle over deep valleys as adventurous tourists slide down, awed by the activity in the forest canopy.

Those who venture beneath the seas will find Costa Rica’s waters teeming with fish and countless other creatures. From anywhere in the country, the warm surf is only a few hours away. The northwest Pacific Coast offers scuba diving in a magnificent setting throughout the year, with more than 20 local dive sites, many in the Gulf of Papagayo in the Guanacaste region. Huge schools of fish are the norm, and eels, sharks, rays, and puffer fish are commonly observed.

Fun on the water also is popular here. White-water rafting on Costa Rica’s wild and scenic rivers is one of the most popular adventure sports in the country. World champions have called Costa Rica’s Lake Arenal one of the globe’s top five windsurfing spots.

More activities and attractions

Costa Rica’s rich marine life also means excellent sport fishing. Along the Pacific Coast from the Gulf of Papagayo all the way to Golfito, anglers find some of the best blue water and inshore fishing in the world.

For a real workout, bike along mountainous terrain, byways, and forest trails. Horseback riding in Costa Rica can take you along beaches, country roads, through pastures, and along forest trails.

National parks are ideal for trekking, although you definitely need a guide if you plan to venture away from well-marked trails.

If you want to simply relax, Costa Rica has more than 621 miles of beautiful white and black beaches along the shoreline. Many beaches are wild and undeveloped, while others have cabins to rent or small Costa Rican-style hotels.

Attractions like Lankester Gardens, which is associated with the University of Costa Rica, showcase thousands of orchids that are found in the country. Butterflies inhabit a garden near La Paz Waterfall, which is close to Poas Volcano. The Center for Agricultural Research and Education (CATIE) outside of Turrialba offers tours of its gardens, an excellent spot for viewing birds and plants. The popular Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica is 30 minutes south of Limón on the Caribbean side of the country. It’s open for tours.

But no matter what type of vacation you seek here, the spontaneous hospitality of the Costa Rican people can make your experience extra special. A smiling face and helping hand to friends–both old and new–is almost second nature to them. You will be surrounded by a naturally beautiful country and its people in Costa Rica.

Tom Crosby is a contributor from Charlotte, N.C.

July/August 2015 Issue

BEFORE YOU GO

Pleasant Holidays, Adventures by Disney, and Tauck offer vacation packages to Costa Rica. See your AAA Travel professional to help you plan a getaway. Find a list of offices.

Spanish is the language spoken in Costa Rica, though English also is spoken in heavily traveled areas. A valid passport is required for entry into Costa Rica. No tourist visa is needed for stays less than 90 days, but tourists must present a return airline ticket. Visit the passport and international travel section of www.travel.state.gov for more information. Major airlines serve Costa Rica, including Southwest Airlines, which started service in March from Baltimore to the capital of San José. Southwest is due to begin service from Houston to San José in October. The exchange rate at press time was 1 USD ($1) = 525.810 CRC (Costa Rican Colon).


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