Costa Rica – which means “rich coast” in Spanish – is a country in Central America so well known as a nature travel destination that tourism earns more foreign exchange than bananas, pineapples, and coffee exports combined.
That’s not surprising information when you consider the variety of natural habitats that exist in Costa Rica and the country’s penchant for preservation.
With coastlines and beaches on both sides of the country, and an interior blanketed with volcanoes and rain forests, the biodiversity of flora and fauna entices bird watchers, water sports enthusiasts, adventurers, and ecotourists alike.
A couple of years ago my husband and I decided to see what all the fuss was about. Because we don’t speak Spanish, we booked an escorted tour with Caravan Tours and it turned out to be an excellent choice. For an all inclusive $995 per person, we spent ten days traveling Costa Rica from coast to coast and pretty much everywhere in between.
Here are the best of the highlights of a Costa Rica on the cheap tour that you can experience for yourselves.
Soaring through the canopy
Over 11 percent of Costa Rica is protected by the country’s extensive national parks system – more than 25 national parks that encompass and protect beaches; rainforests, cloud forests, and the less familiar dry forests; volcanoes, both dormant and active; and wildlife refuges, making Costa Rica one of the top ecotourism sites in the world.
To gain a better understanding of the biodiversity and the importance of the rainforests of Costa Rica, ride one of the country’s aerial trams through the rainforest canopy for a unique and educational excursion among the skyscrapers of the rainforest; then follow your guide along the trails of the forest floor to learn more about the four levels of a rainforest and the varying flora and fauna that lives in each.
It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature
I would venture to speculate that Costa Rica has more volcanoes per capita than any other country on Earth. There are three volcanic range systems, encompassing perhaps hundreds of volcanoes.
But if you’re interested in active volcanoes, there are three that stand out: Arenal is probably the most well-known because of its more recent activity – up until December of 2010, it was actively spewing hot gases and steam on a regular basis; Poás is the most accessible active volcano as it’s not far outside of San José, capital city of Costa Rica; and for spectacular panoramic views, Irazu can’t be beat – on a clear day you can see the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, both at the same time.
One special advantage of all this geothermal activity is the preponderance of hot spring resorts available to visitors and residents alike. Baldi Costa Rica, just outside of the town of La Fortuna, offers 25 pools with a range of temperatures from 35 degrees Celsius to 65 degrees, along with spectacular views of Arenal Volcano.
The best time to go for volcanic views is during the months of May through November – the rest of the year can be too cloudy to see anything, even if you’re standing on the rim of the crater.
Peril on the beach
If you’re going to be exploring Costa Rica and you’re even slightly interested in ecotourism, a visit to Tortuguero (loosely translatable as “turtle haven,” or “land of turtles”), where you’ll find the village of Tortuguero, Tortuguero National Park, and an abundance of wildlife, including the nesting green sea turtles for which the place is named.
Take a guided turtle tour – perhaps espying tiny hatchlings making their arduous and dangerous journey to the sea as we did; board a scenic boat or kayak excursion to navigate the canals and lagoons while discovering a teeming cauldron of wildlife species, both aquatic and land-based; and spend some time in the little village of Tortuguero (which can only be reached by boat or by air) to explore the streets lined with colorful wooden houses on stilts, and meet some of the charming and friendly villagers.
Tortuguero could very well be the highlight of your trip!
We experienced all of this and much more – comfortable transportation, a knowledgeable guide, cushy lodging, all entry fees, and delicious meals all included – for less than $100 per day, and Caravan Tours still offers the same tour at the same Costa-Rica-on-the-cheap-price.