‘Pura Vida!’ That’s what you’ll hear as a welcoming greeting all over Costa Rica. The literal translation is ‘pure life’, which makes sense in a country that embraces ecotourism, conservation and healthy living.


The country encompasses all that is great about Latin America and you can take your pick from rainforests, beaches, volcanoes, a cloud forest and a huge diversity of flora and fauna.


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San Jose and the Central Valley

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What to see: Costa Rica’s capital doesn’t have many attractions, but most tourists begin their trip in the city as the majority of flights arrive here. The Gold Museum is worth a look, as are the coffee plantations, one of which produces the renowned Cafe Britt.

Guides explain how the coffee is among the best in the world because the beans are hand-picked. Venture a few hours outside the city into the Central Valley, home to three of the country’s best-known volcanoes, Irazu, Turrialba and Poas.

Wildlife fans will love La Paz Waterfall Gardens, near Poas Volcano, with its butterflies, frogs, hummingbirds and orchid garden.
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The Caribbean Coast

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What to see: The infusion of native African and Jamaican cultures has given the Caribbean coast a unique vibe, where you can hear reggae music and eat delicious food flavoured with coconut.

Nature lovers flock to Tortuguero National Park, in the North Caribbean region, the country’s most biologically diverse area. It’s best known as the nesting site for the green sea turtle, but it’s also flush with 400 tree species, 2,200 plant species and 400 types of bird.

Surfers love the beaches, particularly Playa Bonita, where huge waves crash on the shore. The beaches of the South Caribbean are picture-perfect, with multi-coloured sands that range from yellow to black.

Many activities are possible, including boat tours, diving, surfing, hiking, turtle and birdwatching, horse riding and kayaking.

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Monteverde

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What to see:
Popular with honeymooners thanks to its tranquillity and abundance of nature, the Monteverde cloud forest reserve has thousands of insects, butterflies, plants and animals. Jaguars, larks and umbrella birds have all been spotted here. View the monkeys, snakes and birds that live in the treetops by gliding on a zipline, walking along a suspension bridge or by riding an aerial tram.

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The Northern Plains

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What to see: Rising dramatically out of the tropical rainforest is the active Arenal volcano. It’s an impressive sight on a clear night when it’s possible to watch the steady eruption of lava and steam.


Arenal Volcano



Stay in the middle of the rainforest in a lodge in the lush and green wildlife-rich region of Sarapiqui. Take a boat trip and spot wildlife including iguanas, bats, monkeys birds and lizards. The Collin Street Bakery pineapple plantation is also worth a visit – its produce is unrecognisable from the little pineapples on our supermarket shelves.

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The Pacific Coast

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What to see: Costa Rica’s Pacific Coast is hailed as one of the world’s top surfing destinations thanks to the strong and continuous waves of beaches such as Playa Dominical and Playa Hermosa. And at less than two hours from San Jose, the surf is easily accessible for international visitors.

Beyond the beach is tropical rainforest Manuel Antonio National Park, home to squirrel monkeys and raccoons. If you prefer to see more fearsome creatures, crocodiles and caimans can be spotted at Finca Baru del Pacificio National Wildlife Refuge.

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Guanacaste


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What to see: Probably the most touristy region of Costa Rica, Guanacaste is awash with sandy beaches and hotels to suit every budget.

Tamarindo is a surfers’ paradise and when night falls, the region comes to life with a good choice of bars and clubs.

Liberia is the region’s major tourist area as international airlines, including First Choice, fly here. The town is known as the ‘white city’ owing to its old whitewashed buildings and wide, light streets. For traditional entertainment, check out a Liberian Rodeo, abuzz with local music and dance.

Guanacaste National Park has two volcanoes and it is possible to spot congo monkeys, giant anteaters and pumas in Volcan Tenorio National Park.

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General information

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Accommodation:
Hotel accommodation is of a good standard, with luxurious five-star properties in popular beach resorts such as Guanacaste. For an authentic experience, stay in a hacienda or a rainforest lodge such as La Quinta Country Inn in Sarapiqui. Surrounded by beautiful palm-fringed gardens, this lodge offers simple bungalow-style rooms in a tropical setting.

Flying time:
London to Liberia takes 10-and-a-half hours.

Airlines:
First Choice is the only airline that flies direct to Costa Rica, from Gatwick into Liberia. Iberia flies to San Jose via Madrid. British Airways, Continental and American Airlines all fly via the US.

Tour operators:
Abercrombie and Kent, Collette Worldwide, Cox and Kings, First Choice, Sunvil, Thomas Cook, Tradewinds.

Currency:
Costa Rican colon. It’s not possible to buy this currency in the UK, but you can change sterling in Costa Rica.

Visa requirements:
None unless you plan to stay for more than 90 days.

Jabs:
Hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations are recommended.

Pitfalls:
Violent crime against tourists is on the increase. Avoid being a victim by not wearing jewellery or carrying large amounts of cash. Lock valuables in hotel safes.

Weather:
The Caribbean and Pacific coasts enjoy hot temperatures year-round, while the mountainous regions are cooler. The rainy season runs from May to October.

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Itineraries

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Five days

Ecotourists should spend a few days exploring Sarapiqui where it is possible to stay in a rainforest lodge and visit a chocolate or pineapple plantation. Adventurous travellers should spend a few hours white-water rafting along the Pacuare River and gliding along a zipline through the rainforest.

Two weeks

Spend a few days wildlife spotting in Tortuguero National Park, then head inland to be wowed by the active Arenal volcano. Activities here include hikes to the volcano, canopy tours, mountain-biking and horse riding. Travel by boat and jeep to reach Monteverde, a cloud forest that is home to 500 butterfly species.

Staying longer

Surfers or beach bums could take a lengthy tour of the country’s stunning Pacific and Caribbean coastline.