Costa Rica is an incredible paradise that has been rapidly discovered by tourists. This small country is filled with pristine beaches, ancient forests and towering volcanoes, but its new popularity has taken its toll on the culture in many areas. Most of the prime western beach property has been filled with California-style mansions and fancy hotels that do not blend very well with the culture. But the less popular regions still offer a very positive cultural experience, so a carefully planned trip can avoid the glitz, and provide a great experience for a budget traveler.
Arriving and Leaving
Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, has become a very busy city that can be quite annoying and sometimes dangerous. Nearby Alajuela offers a much more tranquil atmosphere, and is only five minutes from the airport. If you are headed for the famous beaches of the Nicoya Peninsula, the new airport in Liberia is the best option.
The highest mountain in Costa Rica is 12,530 feet above sea level, and offers a pleasant reprieve from the warm coast. The well-marked trail to the summit starts in the very pleasant village of San Gerardo de Rivas, and climbs more than 8,000 feet through a pristine, ancient forest filled with rare plants and exotic birds. The forest changes constantly with the altitude and turns to grassland at about 10,500 feet; a very welcome hostel is waiting at 11,100. (Reservations are required.) The view from the summit is incredible, and can include both oceans on a clear day. The park and surrounding area offer a wide variety of easier trails that are equally spectacular, and there are some slightly lower summits that are rarely climbed.
The Osa Peninsula
The southwestern corner of Costa Rica is a pristine paradise filled with ancient forests, remote beaches and a few very rough roads. The Corcovado National Park encompasses more than half of the peninsula, and is home to the largest virgin rain forest in the country. Hundreds of remote beaches border the ancient forests, and the trees are filled with scarlet macaws and a large variety of rare wildlife. Transportation can be challenging, but the hardy traveler is rewarded with a stunning setting for hiking, bird-watching, sea kayaking or swimming. Puerto Jimenez is accessible by bus, ferry or plane, and is a great starting point for Osa adventures. A variety of local travel companies offer equipment rental, guides and transportation to the remote corners of this spectacular wilderness.