Top Destinations in Costa Rica
Top Destinations in Costa Rica
Semana Santa or Holy Week – EASTER 2016 IN COSTA RICA
PURA VIDA GUIDE TO THE TOP DESTINATIONS
Whether you are religious or not, Costa Rica comes into its own during one of their most celebrated weeks of the year, brimming over with festivities, colorful parades and joyous family get-together´s, where Ticos welcome all visitors alike to join in with their most traditional Easter holiday and for most nationals, the entire Semana is one long vacation! So expect delays and crowds, but equally a wonderful festive atmosphere like no other with the renowned “Tico” hospitality wherever you decide to go.
This year Semana Santa commences on the 20th March (Palm Sunday) and finishes on the 27th March which is Easter Sunday.
In this first article, Pura Vida Guide will take you through a brief choice of destinations to help you plan your Easter break, baring in mind that everywhere is going to be busy, so it´s recommended that you start to book as soon as possible. Following on from this and if you are staying at home, the towns and cities have delightful and fun celebrations to enjoy, so if you are new to Costa Rica, our guide will help you to make the most of their revered traditions during Holy Week and what you can expect for a memorable time in this gloriously diverse country.
FROM THE EXOTIC BEACHES TO THE GREEN AND LUSCIOUS RAIN FORESTS, COSTA RICA AT ITS BEST
Central Highlands in the Puntarenas Province of Costa Rica
Leave your troubles behind and step into a cool, misty cloud forest and deep green foliage in what makes Monteverde an absolute hot spot for eco tourism in the Central Highlands of Costa Rica. These highlands are home to a string of volcanoes, both active and dormant, beautiful national parks and diverse weather A long winding dirt road off of the Pan American Highway leads to the lush mountaintop paradise of Monteverde, which is nestled between two primary cloud forest reserves.
Once you have reached the mountaintop you’ll first come upon the quaint town of Santa Elena. Here you’ll find gift stores, accommodations, a bus stop, restaurants, cafes, a supermarket, banks and much more. Though Monteverde does not have a town center, it is comprised of a dirt road that leads to the Cloud Forest Reserve. Spread out along the walk-able road are hotels, cafes, restaurants, galleries, and breathtaking views.
The spectacular Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve attracts scientists, bird watchers, and wildlife lovers from all parts of the world. Inside the reserve you can explore the virgin forests and multi-century old strangler fig trees on your way to a viewpoint which sits on the continental divide. On a clear day you can see both the Caribbean and the Pacific coasts. The reserve is also one of the few remaining homes of the endangered resplendent Quetzal and to just have the opportunity to see this exotic bird in the wild, is worth the trip alone. So for lovers of nature, there´s no other better place to be than here in Monteverde!
Things to do: Bird Watching, Tram, Zip Lines, Horseback Riding, Hiking, Guided Tours, Coffee Tour
Central Pacific Coast in the Puntarenas Province of Costa Rica
Beyond exotic and set high above the enchanting national park, Manuel Antonio boasts world-class views and beaches one can usually only dream of!
This once tiny town has blossomed into a hugely popular Costa Rican beach destination and is suitable for all ages and groups with an array of activities available to keep you busy or just relax and unwind in this most tropical of paradises. For the lovers of a great night-life, then there´s also plenty on offer to dance until dawn or enjoy the numerous bars and restaurants to suit all budgets and tastes…..just watch out for the monkeys though, as this is the right place to find them in abundance! Manuel Antonio is one of only two locations in Costa Rica where you can see all four types of monkey; spider, howler, white faced and the endangered squirrel monkey, many of which can be visible from your hotel window. The area is also a prime destination for spotting sloths, both in and outside of the national park.
Access to the area is possible along Coastal Highway 34 from either the north or south. The drive itself is popular among tourists as pronounced steep cliffs crash into the blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. There is also a domestic airstrip in Quepos, just 7km away.
Things to do: Zip Lines, Hiking, Guided Tours, Rafting, Catamaran Tour, Mangrove Fishing Tours, Spa´s
ARENAL VOLCANO & LA FORTUNA
Northern Lowlands in the Province of Alajuela, Costa Rica
Perhaps this should be on everyone´s “bucket list” to go and see? One of Costa Rica’s most notable natural features is the Arenal Volcano. This impressive volcano resides within the 29,960-acre Arenal Volcano National Park. Although the volcano entered into a resting phase in 2010 – meaning that its eruptions have paused – it is still the most stunning sight to behold.
Rising above the rainforest that surrounds its base, Arenal frames the skyline with near perfect symmetry. The immediate area hosts a wealth of activities – including whitewater rafting, waterfall rappelling, hiking and canopy tours – as well as the friendly town of La Fortuna.
Most interestingly, the volcano´s geothermal activity heats dozens of underground flumes which the local landowners have tapped into this natural source to create a number of beautiful hot springs. The variety have an abundance of indulgences such as water-slides, wet bars and cold pools to enjoy all the health benefits and deep relaxation, ending a perfect day in this stunning area of Costa Rica.
Just close-by to Arenal, there is also a 45 minute drive from La Fortuna and near to the town of Venado, where the 1.5 miles of caves is an adventurers dream. There you will see stalagmites, stalactites and subterranean streams with hanging bats, sightless fish swimming in the streams and colorless frogs clinging to the rocks.
Botanists may prefer the Arenal Botanical Gardens, located a few miles outside of La Fortuna and wonder over the 2,500 species of tropical plants, butterflies and birds, but whatever you do, this fascinating area has much to offer!
Things to do: Whitewater Rafting, Waterfall Rappelling, Hiking and Canopy Tours, Hot Springs, Horseback Riding, Botanical Gardens, Volcanic History Tour, Tram and Sky Walks
North Pacific Coast in the Province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica
For more of a touristic break, Tamarindo has evolved from a small fishing village into the area’s most developed and accessible beach town on the central west coast of the Nicoya Peninsula. But despite the recent and ongoing development, Tamarindo still retains it´s laid-back vibe where the unspoiled beaches and biodiversity remain untouched for those seeking the wonders of nature.
Separated from Tamarindo by the Rio Matiapalo is Playa Grande, which is somewhat uninspiring for its pebble-rock seashore. However, surfing is a dream there, whereby the town hosts several international competitions during the year and of course facilitates every surfing enthusiast, regardless of skill, to make the most of the waves.
As a regional hub, Tamarindo offers a place for every budget, but for visitors seeking more luxurious accommodation tend to go south to the Playa Langosta, where the pristine white-sandy beach, near to the Rio San Francisco, has both hotels and restaurants in the high-end of affordability.
Perhaps Tamarindo’s greatest appeal is its proximity to the National Wildlife Refuge which comprises 1,000 acres of dazzling protected forest, including abundant mangroves and estuaries. Just north of town is the Parque Nacional Marino Las Baulas, which offers visitors an opportunity to see the world’s largest reptile, the leatherback turtle, come ashore to lay eggs.
So whether you want just a family beach holiday, a fun place to escape or a wild-life adventure, Tamarindo will not disappoint and it´s a very good reason why so many from San José take the seamless flight to the airport to the area, and Liberia is a close 50 kilometers (31 mi) for visitors already bound on international flights to Nicoya.
Things to do: Shopping, Surfing, Night Life/Bars & Rest, Catamaran Tour
Nicoya Peninsula Region in the Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica
Prepare to kick back and unwind in this sleepy hamlet of Mal Pais and enjoy the relative peace and tranquility, free from the hustle and bustle of daily life. The stretch of beach that is Mal Pais and Santa Teresa is a surfers paradise, where it provides consistent and outstanding swells all year round, set against the back-drop of an idyllic and luscious landscape. The shoreline alternates between long stretches of sand and large patches of rock with a green jungle housing many a mischievous monkey!
This is far from the madding crowd and more of a place to escape to with little, if at all any tourism on offer. There are few services with regards to tours and mainly of the Canopy variety or horseback riding along the beach, but being pretty much free of any development, this is the perfect get-away to clear away the cobwebs and re-charge the batteries!
The nearby Cabo Blanco Absolute Reserve can make an excellent day trip from Malpais. Usually though, a visit requires entering the town of Montezuma, but check with the locals first as quite often the road falls into disrepair and access is not always straightforward.
Accessible by road via Highway 160, or you can take the ferry from Puntarenas to Paquera or Naranjo Beach, and ride a bus or drive the rest of the way. Flights to the nearby town of Tambor are also available via San Jose and Liberia.
Things to do: Surfing, Night Life/Bars, Rest, ATV Tours
Caribbean Coast in the Province of Limón, Costa Rica
Breaking away from Costa Rica culture is the beautiful coastal town of Tortuguero, rich with Afro-Caribbean influence of delicious foods, music and bohemian artisan. Naturally, it is very laid-back and relaxed with the sun-drenched beaches, a magnificent National Park with high reaching rain-forests to marshy lands and wide open canals.
There are no roads leading to Tortuguero, so most commonly it is accessed by boat from the town of Moin, near to Limón. Then a further trip down the canal to the village and its National Park or alternatively, there is a short plane ride directly from San José.
Though relatively small, Tortuguero offers an abundance of activities involving many varied and wonderful wildlife experiences. The habitat is luscious and diverse and highly populated with monkey´s, birds, crocodiles and fish. Most importantly and a “must do” whilst you are there, is to take a guided tour to the beaches at night and watch the protected Green Sea Turtle come to shore to lay their eggs.
The canals offer a myriad of opportunities to spot creatures such as caimans, birds and crocodiles by canoe or kayak with fishing and sport fishing tours also available. There is a little night-life but just a handful of hotels, bars and restaurants along with a few gift shops, so it´s certainly a place to relax and enjoy the very best nature has to offer!
Things to do: Boat Tours, Fishing, Canoe and Kayak, Zip-lining and Suspension Bridges, Turtle Watching, Wildlife Tours
RINCON DE LA VIEJA
Mountainous Range in the Province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica
To escape the beaches, take a trip to enjoy the vast open spaces of the scenic Guanacaste Mountain Range with it´s stunning waterfalls pouring down to the Colorado River and relax in the warm springs and bubbling mud pools for a truly awesome experience you´ll never forget!
Encompassing the mountain range is the Rincon de la Vieja cinder volcano, which sits amid 34,800 acres of National Park territory, where it is still has geothermal activity to produce therapeutic natural spa´s to ease and rest the body after a long day of exploration.
Take a step back in time to “Cowboy Country” with cattle ranching still thriving upon these open lands and where visitors are welcome to horse-back ride through the pastures to see the herds grazing and breathe in the pure, fresh air whilst admiring the magnitude of mountainous landscape. Equally, hiking trails, mountain biking and waterfall swimming will rejuvenate the soul and bring you closer than you ever thought to the beauties of nature.
The best time to go is between April and November, outside of the rainy season, to get the most of the outdoors and see all the magnificent wildlife. A variety of lodging options are available in the small town of San Jorge, which provides a nearby base for entry to the Ricon de la Viieja.
Alternatively there are many accommodations dotted around the area leading up to San Jorge and the National Park, but most are mid to upper-end hotels, haciendas with several bed & breakfasts offering more reasonable rates.
On a clear day, many of accommodations can provide views of the Pacific, Caribbean, and Lake Nicaragua, so prepare for breath-taking views of unspoiled country and all the enchantment this region has to offer.
Things to do: Hot Springs, Rappel Zip Lines, Horseback Riding, Hiking, Mountain Bike Riding
Central Pacific Region in the Province of Puntarenas
Probably one of Costa Rica´s busiest coastal towns, Jacó has much to offer in beach-life, luxury and of course, a wonderful wildlife. Due to it´s proximity, it attracts plenty of visitors from the San José area with only being an hour and a half´s drive away. The beach itself has a 2.5 mile strip which offers world renowned surfing, deep sea fishing, clear water swimming and much, much more!
The town is bustling and busy with all amenities such as a post office, health center and branches of major banks along with an abundance of surf shops, boutiques, hotels, bars and restaurants. Further down the road is the luxurious resort of Los Suenos, a high-end complex consisting of 5 Star accommodations, restaurants, Spa´s, golf course and a stunning sport-fishing port, so whether you are looking to retreat on a budget or spend, spend , spend, Jacó will not disappoint!
Away from the lively town, there are the more peaceful spots to find such as the tranquil Playa Herradura and south of Jacó is Playa Hermosa, which has a 6 mile stretch of black sand beach, perfect for running along the shore or surfing the waves with barely a soul in sight. Here is where the Olive Ridley Sea Turtles come ashore to nest each year, protected by the Playa Hermosa Wildlife Refuge.
Another amazing place to visit is the Rio Tarcoles, which borders the Carara Biological Reserve, (about 9.3 miles north of Jacó), to witness the American crocodile close-up. Boat tours are a must to see these pre-historic creatures en-mass, many of which grow to be several meters in length. At the mouth of the river, the Guacalillo mangroves play a vital part in the survival of many species of wildlife including white-faced monkeys, peccaries, caiman, coatimundis and a whole variety of birds, including the wealth of scarlet macaws coming home to rest among the tress.
Things to do: Kayaking, Zip Lines, Surfing, Sport Fishing, Rafting, Night Life/Bars & Restaurants, ATV Tours, Golfing, Spa´s
South Pacific Coast in the Province of Puntarenas, Costa Rica
For those seeking adventure and a quest to find paradise, then Drake Bay by all reckoning, should be high on the list. It´s by no means an easy place to get to, but that´s part of the fun and mostly, river-taxis are the best bet to transport yourself there and enjoy the 2 hour excursion down the Río Sierpe. There are routes by car, but quite often the roads are flooded, particularly during rainy season, so it all depends upon which time of the year you go. Also, there is a small airport quite close to the town of Drake Bay, with direct 45 minute flights to and from San José and they leave daily, if you want to get there fast.
Once you are there, expect to see an enchanting array of both wild creatures and marine life, where just offshore, whales and dolphins regularly congregate in the temperate waters of the bay. If that is not enough then the rustic area around the bay provides a plethora of activities at your disposal. These include scuba diving, swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, horseback riding, hiking (Corcovado National Park), sport fishing, bird-watching or exploring the miles of deserted picturesque coastline.
One of the top attractions you won’t want to miss is Corcovado National Park. Boasting more than 39 kilometers of beaches and 13 major ecosystems – including the last old growth wet forest on the Pacific coast of Central America, this park is Costa Rica’s prize possession. It is the country’s largest national park, encompassing almost a third of the Osa Peninsula that’s home to a wealth of biodiversity. You stand a good chance at spotting some endangered species, such as jaguars, baird’s tapirs, scarlet macaws and white-lipped peccaries.
The name Drake Bay was given after Sir Francis Drake once visited the shores and still remains a remote destination as it ever was. However, it does have a sizable selection of accommodation, although do book beforehand with most places only offering a few rooms. No-frills cabins, comfortable eco-lodges, boutique luxury resorts, and even tent camping on the beach are all available, but the more high-end options are generally located outside of the town.
Things to do: Bird Watching, Hiking, Scuba Diving, Guided Tours Boat Tours, Wildlife Adventure
Caribbean Coast in the Province of Limón, Costa Rica.
This small port town beckons visitors to experience Costa Rica´s most eccentric side with it´s cultural mix of Afro-Caribbean, Bribri Indian, Tico, Hippyesque and a little bohemian thrown in for good measure! There was a time when the only travelers to the little seaside settlement, once known as Old Harbor, were intrepid surfers who padded around the quiet, dusty streets, board under arm, on their way to surf Costa Rica´s most famous wave, the Salsa Brava. That, certainly, is no longer the case. Now, this burgeoning party town is bustling with tourist activity with street vendors, stylish eateries serving global fusion cuisine and intentionally rustic bamboo bars pumping out reggae music and Latino.
Despite that reputation, Puerto Viejo nonetheless manages to hold on to an easy charm, with it´s palm laden, ragged shoreline, nearby Cahuita National Park and Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge. Here it spectacularly contains forest, lagoons, coral reefs and white sand beaches and it´s one of the most exotic places on the entire South Caribbean coast in Costa Rica. Everywhere, there are beautiful birds, butterflies and animals to be seen. Look out for monkeys and sloths in the trees alongside the road as you cycle or walk as this is truly the best place to witness them in their natural habitat.
Puerto Viejo is one place to suit all budgets, from back-packing to the ultimate luxury accommodation and whether you are looking to party, chill-out, take to the surf or seek out the beautiful wildlife, this place pretty much has it all!
Things to do: Biking, Snorkeling, Night Life, Wildlife, Surfing, Spa´s
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