Costa Rica is a prime travel destination known for its sandy beaches, national parks, diverse wildlife, and even volcanoes. Tourism has become a mainstay of the country's economy, welcoming more than 3 million visitors in 2018. Costa Rica is most popular for its ecotourism attractions—Manuel Antonio National Park, the Arenal Volcano, and turtle nesting sites, among others—as well as adventure tourism opportunities like backpacking, surfing, and hiking. Whether you're looking for a lazy beach vacation or something a little more athletic, make sure you purchase Costa Rica travel insurance to protect yourself against the unpredictability of international travel.
Costa Rica lies toward the southern end of Central America, bordered by Nicaragua to the north, Panama to the south, the Pacific Ocean to the west, and the Caribbean Sea to the east. The distance from the ocean to the sea is just 75 miles at the country's narrowest point. Costa Rica has a population of about 5 million as of 2018; its capital, San Jose, and surrounding metropolitan area account for more than 2 million of those. The country has a reputation of being the most stable, democratic, and progressive in Central America. It boasts one of the highest literacy rates in the Western Hemisphere (more than 90%) and is known for its commitment to environmental protection initiatives.
Beaches and National Parks
Manuel Antonio National Park, located on Costa Rica's southwestern coast, is one of the most popular travel destinations in the country; it's even been listed as one of the 12 most beautiful national parks in the world. The park offers four long stretches of beach for sunning, swimming, and snorkeling. Its forests are also a great spot for observing wildlife. Even on unguided tours, you don't have to leave the beaten track to see sloths, monkeys, birds, iguanas, and more. The area provides miles of hiking trails to explore on your own or with tour guides. The adjacent town of Manuel Antonio is packed with hotels, restaurants, and shops to help break up the day.
Three of the country's most accessible beaches lie along the north Pacific Coast. Tamarindo is a popular tourist center for surfing and other beach activities. Waves of varying sizes offer surfing opportunities for newbies and experts alike. The town also offers plenty of spots for food and lodging. Just south, Playa Langosta is a quieter, less crowded beachside community that offers similarly ideal surfing conditions. Playa Grande is a beach open to the public but heavily protected because it's a popular nesting site for leatherback turtles. Between October and May, turtles come ashore to bury their eggs in the sand and return to the ocean. Leatherback turtles can grow to be seven feet long and weigh up to 1,500 pounds. Police patrol the beach each night after 6 p.m. to help protect these nesting sites. Playa Grande also offers hiking and surfing opportunities, as well as a small bay ideal for snorkeling and swimming.
Corcovado National Park, located on the remote Osa Peninsula, is the site of the only tropical primary lowland rainforest in the world. The forest plays home to a wide variety of endangered plant and animal species like the Harpy Eagle, the Harbor Squirrel Monkey, the Baird's tapir, jaguars, poison dart frogs, anteaters, and four species of sea turtles. Hiking through the forest is a common pastime here, and four ranger stations lie spaced throughout the area. Popular activities in the area beyond wildlife observation include diving, snorkeling, and fishing. Combined with the nearby Drake Bay, which offers secluded beaches and cozy lagoons, the area is a prime ecotourism hotspot.
Arenal Volcano National Park, located near Lake Arenal in the north-central part of the country, is centered around the Arenal Volcano. The volcano stands more than 5,300 feet tall and last erupted in 1968, when it killed 82 people and destroyed two villages. It's still not quite dormant; visitors might observe a column of ash or a trail of glowing lava streaming down the side. The park is also home to a second volcano, the Chato Volcano, whose peak has collapsed and created an emerald lagoon in the center. The park's diversity of wildlife is also notable, featuring representatives of about half the country's native species.
If you're worried about a volcanic eruption disrupting your holiday, consider purchasing trip interruption or trip cancellation insurance. Coverage during a volcanic event can be tricky, so make sure to read and understand your plan before you pull out your credit card.
San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, lies in the center of the country. The city is named after Joseph of Nazareth and is the most popular urban destination in Central America. San Jose is home to numerous historical and cultural attractions that draw millions of visitors a year. The National Theater, completed in 1897, is considered the most impressive historic building in the city. It features a façade with Renaissance columns topped with statues symbolizing Dance, Music, and Fame. The inside features more statues and murals about life in Costa Rica. The auditorium seats more than 1,000, and the theater is home to a gallery displaying the work of local artists.
Museums in San Jose include the National Museum of Costa Rica, featuring artifacts and exhibits related to the country's geological, colonial, archaeological, religious, and modern history; the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, containing more than 1,600 artifacts of pre-Columbian gold; the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design; and the Jade Museum, which holds the largest collection of pre-Columbian jade artifacts in the world. Also, make sure you save time for Central Park, Morazan Park, National Park, and Democracy Plaza.
Costa Rican Cuisine
The cuisine of Costa Rica is typically mild and heavily relies on the region's fresh fruits and vegetables. Black beans and rice are a staple in almost every meal; gallo pinto, a stir-fried mix of the two with spices like cilantro and red pepper, is the national dish. Potatoes and plantains are also common. Salsa Lizano is a popular Costa Rican condiment and has been compared taste-wise to Worcestershire sauce. The traditional lunch meal is called a casado and typically features rice and beans (unmixed); protein like beef, pork, or chicken; salad; and extras like fried plantains, cheese, and tortillas. Tamales are traditionally served at all celebratory events, especially at Christmastime. Popular snack foods include empanadas, fried yuca, and mini tacos.
Costa Rica Travel Insurance
As you're planning your vacation, we highly recommend that you purchase travel health insurance and travel insurance. Travel health insurance primarily provides medical coverage while traveling outside your home country and includes benefits like emergency medical expenses, trip interruption, emergency medical evacuation / repatriation, return of mortal remains, accidental death & dismemberment, and ancillary benefits like natural disaster relief and return of minor children. Travel insurance is intended to provide coverage for prepaid, non-refundable expenses, and standard benefits include emergency medical expenses, trip interruption, lost luggage, and coverage of travel delays, passport replacement, emergency cash transfer, rental car coverage, concierge services, and ID theft assistance.
Travel safely, and Pura Vida!