BY T. FOSTER JONES
COSTA RICA IS not a big country. However,
its relatively small size (about the size of
Denmark) belies the wealth and variety of
the natural resources and immense biodi-versity one can experience in this rugged,
bicoastal Central American country.
The Pacific side features scalloped
bays and clear blue-green waters ripe for
sur;ng, scuba diving and snorkelling. To
the east, the Caribbean coast is lined with
lush rain forests and labyrinthine rivers
teeming with wildlife. Running down its
centre is the Continental Divide, dotted
with numerous volcanoes and rain and
cloud forests to explore. Known for its
progressive environmental policies, the
country is home to roughly ;; national
parks and protected jungle, with an
almost unimaginable number and variety
of birds, mammals, reptiles and more.
Seeing the country solo
A friend and I started our trip in Playas
del Coco, in the province of Guanacaste on
the Paci;c coast, to scuba dive in search
of the giant manta rays that populate the
area in January, and then to explore some
of the inland forests and parks. We were
amazed by the abundance of underwater life, including spotted rays, devil rays,
sharks, turtles, moray eels and a host of
Afternoons and evenings were spent
sitting on the beach, reading, walking
the streets of town, stopping in the shops
and enjoying a variety of delicious Costa
Rican dishes and some of the local musical entertainment.
We hadn’t rented a car, so heading
inland to Rincon de la Vieja National Park
required hiring a taxi for the hour-long
ride. This ;;,;;;-acre national park is
home to a combination of volcanic peaks
and craters, as well as tropical forests,
which provide a safe haven for a host of
;ora and fauna, such as pumas, jaguars,
spider and white-faced monkeys, kinka-
jous, sloths and tapirs.
Costa Rica by grupo
After my friend headed back for home,
I headed to San José, where I caught a
small plane to Tortuguero National Park,
home to a large sea turtle preserve on the
Caribbean coast. After landing I joined a
tour group; we boarded small boats and
headed up one of the many rivers in the
area, stopping frequently to observe and
photograph the myriad birds, sloths,
howler monkeys, crocodiles, caymans
and other creatures in the area.
From Tortuguero, the next day we
headed farther upriver, and then boarded
a bus for a three-hour drive southwest to
Arenal Volcano National Park, stopping
for a pineapple plantation tour.
Early the next morning, we were
shuttled to the park and up into the cloud
forest for a day of zip lining and hiking.
If you have never experienced zip lining, soaring ;; metres (;;; feet) above
the forest canopy at ;; kilometres per
hour is an excellent way to be introduced
to the sport. Seven zip lines later, I headed
to the hot springs for an evening of blissful relaxation.
The next day involved heading west to
the Tenorio River for some whitewater rafting. I ended the day where I had started my
trip two weeks earlier, on the Paci;c coast
in Guanacaste. The following morning we
explored the coast on a large catamaran,
anchoring in a small bay perfect for swimming and snorkelling. That afternoon,
happy and suntanned, I caught a ride to the
Liberia airport for my trip home to Seattle.
Going on your own in Costa Rica works
well if the plan is to mostly stay put, with
minimal travelling around. The pace of
the country is leisurely and relaxing, and
there is enough to see and do without hav-
ing to go far. Although small, the country
has only a couple of main highways, and
many roads are hilly and curvy, so travel
times can be lengthy. If you do want to
explore, renting a car is your best bet, but
be prepared for delays due to construction
or other tra;c challenges.
When you do decide to make the trip
to Costa Rica, be prepared for a unique,
transformative experience, one that will
keep you returning for years to come. C
The many ways to
enjoy Costa Rica
Costco Travel offers vacation packages to
Costa Rica. To explore all of the options,
click “Travel” at Costco.ca or call 1-855-
Arenal Volcano National
Park is an excellent rain
forest, cloud forest
and zip-line destination.
Tree sloths would most likely
prefer the pace of solo travel.
The Gulf of Papagayo,
on the Paci;c side of
Costa Rica, has numerous
bays for exploration.