Anyone who’s been to Costa Rica will be familiar with the term “Pura Vida”. Literally translated, it means “simple life” or “pure life”, but in Costa Rica, it is more than just a saying – it’s a way of life. Costa Rica has been named one of the happiest countries in the world, mostly because its inhabitants (Ticos and Ticas) have a very relaxed, simple way of looking at life. No worries, no fuss, no stress. To them, “Pura Vida” means being thankful for what you have, living in the moment and not dwelling on the negative.
And that’s exactly how I would describe Johnny, our fantastic guide on our two-week tour around Costa Rica. Probably the most positive person I have ever met, Johnny’s enthusiasm for life, his great love of Nature and his “Never Give Up!” attitude were infectious. He is incredibly proud of his beautiful country… and for good reason!
More than 25% of Costa Rican land is protected national parks and refuges, which is proportionately more than any other country. And while Costa Rica only takes up 0.03% of the planet’s surface, it holds 5% of its biodiversity! Monkeys, sloths, nesting Green turtles, toucans, scarlet macaws, caimans, crocodiles and a whole load more can be observed in their natural habitats. With stunning beaches to be found on the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and the chance to stay in superb eco lodges set in verdant rainforests, it is easy to see why Costa Rica is a Nature lover’s dream destination.
Here is a quick overview of my travels in Costa Rica, with more details on each to follow soon…
From the capital San Jose, we travelled north-east to Tortuguero, famous for being a nesting site for the endangered Green turtle, with Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Giant Leatherback turtles also found in the region. Accessible only by boat or light aircraft, Tortuguero National Park comprises a vast network of waterways, canals and swamps, perfect for spotting monkeys, caiman, iguanas, butterflies and over 300 bird species.
Leaving Tortuguero, we journeyed to the region of Arenal, which was Costa Rica’s most active volcano until 2010. The area is still famous for its hot springs, La Fortuna Waterfall, and the rainforest of Arenal National Park.
From Arenal we travelled to the Tilaran Mountain Range in the Central Highlands to Monteverde, literally meaning ‘Green Mountain’. Here we explored the Santa Elena Cloud Forest Reserve, world-famous for its biodiversity, including a huge range of flowers, ferns, mosses, vines and orchids.
Our journey onwards followed the Pan-Am Highway south-easterly along the coastline to Manuel Antonio. The National Park consists of a vast marine reserve as well as 1,700 acres of mangrove swamp, primary and secondary rainforest. White-faced Capuchin monkeys and two- and three-toed sloths are frequently sighted in this area, and Manuel Antonio’s beaches are considered to be some of the most beautiful in the country.
Travelling south, we were now in the dense jungle, at the beautiful Esquinas Rainforest Lodge. Set in primary rainforest and bordered by the newly created Piedras Blancas National Park and Golfito Nature Reserve, Esquinas lodge was definitely a highlight of the trip.
Taking a north-westerly turn over the Cerro de la Muerte mountain range, we journeyed to our final destination, the Savegre Valley. The cloud forest of Savegre is one of the best places in Costa Rica to see the colourful Resplendant Quetzal, as well as another 170 bird species, including hummingbirds, tanagers and trogons.
Travel Log and Tips
I travelled to Costa Rica in August 2017 with Exodus Travels, on their 16-day Discover Costa Rica trip, flying direct from London Gatwick to San Jose on British Airways.
The tropical rainy season (May through mid-Nov), also known as the “green season”, is a great time to visit Costa Rica. It’s generally less congested, the jungle is lush and flowers bloom. You do need to be prepared at all times for sudden heavy downpours and “Never give up!” as our guide would say…. always carry a waterproof jacket or poncho, which is actually great for pulling on quickly and covers your backpack too, and a waterproof bag for keeping cameras and other electronic equipment dry. Waterproof boots or sturdy walking shoes are essential for muddy trails (wellies are provided by the Esquinas Rainforest Lodge). I recommend packing layers of quick-drying, wicking clothes as the climate is generally hot and very humid… but it’s important to bring some warmer layers (fleece, sweater) for the cloud forests, where temperatures can dip quite low in the high altitudes.